Tibetan language being replaced by Chinese, warn campaigners

An exiled Tibetan living in Scotland has condemned China following a new report revealing that children in rural areas of Tibet are being taught Chinese at the expense of their native language.

A new report by Human Rights Watch reveals that the Chinese government’s education policy has accelerated the demise of classes taught in the Tibetan language in primary schools across Tibet.

In response to the report, exiled Tibetans said the human rights situation in their homeland is getting worse. They pointed out that the Chinese authorities in Tibet even imprison people for having a picture of the Dalai Lama at home.

The new report is called “China’s Bilingual Education Policy in Tibet – Tibetan-Medium Schooling Under Threat”.

It says that China’s education policy in Tibet, also known as the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), is significantly reducing the access of ethnic Tibetans to education in their mother tongue.

Ban UK citizens going to China for organ transplants, say Scots MPs

Since the 1960s Chinese has been the language of instruction in nearly all middle and high schools in the TAR, where just under half of Tibetans in China live.

But new educational practices introduced by the government in the TAR are now leading more primary schools, and kindergartens, to use Chinese as the teaching language for Tibetan students.

“The government policy, though called ‘bilingual education’ is in practice leading to the gradual replacement of Tibetan by Chinese as the medium of instruction in primary schools throughout the region, except for classes studying Tibetan as a language,” Human Rights Watch said.

“The trend towards increased use of Chinese in primary schools in Tibetan urban areas has been noted for several years, but there are indications that it is now becoming the norm there and is spreading to rural areas as well.”

The official position of the TAR authorities is that both Tibetan and Chinese languages should be “promoted,” leaving individual schools to decide which language to prioritise as the teaching medium.

However, Human Rights Watch suggests that TAR authorities are using a strategy of “cultivated ambiguity” in their public statements. This allegedly involves using indirect pressure to push primary schools, where an increasing number of ethnic Chinese teachers are teaching, to adopt Chinese-medium instruction at the expense of Tibetan.

“Many of the Tibetans we talk to tell us they are indeed keen to ensure that their children speak Chinese… but not at the cost of Tibetan-language education,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch.

“The idea of truly bilingual education is great and desirable. But that’s not what’s really on offer.”


John Jones, of Free Tibet, said: “Tibetans face countless attacks on their civil rights, but in the background we can also see the steady eradication of their culture, including one of the cornerstones of their identity – the Tibetan language. The ability to speak more than one language is a priceless gift. But the CCP’s so-called ‘bilingual education’ policy is being used to forcibly incorporate Tibet into the People’s Republic of China.

He added: “The CCP risks doing lasting harm to Tibet’s unique culture by restricting opportunities for young Tibetans to learn their native language. And it is fully aware of this. China’s international allies and trading partners should be firm in pushing the CCP to respect Tibetans’ rights and learn their own language.

“They should also show solidarity with Tibetans such as Tashi Wangchuk who have been jailed for their efforts to protect their mother tongue. Human Rights Watch have done some exemplary work on Tibet and we are thrilled and grateful to see the release of this report.”

Tibetan human rights ‘getting worse and worse’

Human Rights Watch’s report comes after Tibetans around the world marked an important anniversary on 10 March. This was the day they commemorated the 61st anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, now under Chinese control.

Tibetans living in Scotland held a peace gathering in Edinburgh to mark the date. It was hosted by Reka Gawa, who runs a Tibetan cafe in Newington, Edinburgh.


Gawa has lived in Scotland for 18 years. Her parents fled from their homeland Tibet to India in 1959, around the same time as the Dalai Lama, after China occupied Tibet.

Gawa was born in a Tibetan refugee camp in north India called Dekeyling, as the family could not return. She still has relatives in Tibet.

“The current situation regarding human rights is getting worse and worse,” she told The Ferret.

“The Tibetan flag and national anthem are banned, and people cannot even keep a picture of his holiness (Dalai Lama) in their home. According to the Chinese government it is a crime and you will be put in prison for that.”

Gawa added: “Chinese officials closely monitor and control religious activity at the monasteries. Tibetan writer, singers, artists and teachers are jailed for celebrating Tibetan national identity and for criticisms of Chinese rule.

“Since 2016 Larung Gar (a religious institute) has been the target of major assault. Thousands of individuals have been evicted and thousands of homes demolished – and these removals still continue even today.”

In London on 10 March more than 100 people protested to mark 61 years since the 1959 uprising and to protest Beijing’s ongoing occupation of Tibet. The protest began opposite Downing Street and finished outside the Chinese embassy. Protesters carried placards about ongoing human rights abuses in Tibet and chanted “Stop the killing in Tibet.”

Speakers at the demonstration included Tibetan community leaders, UK Conservative MP Tim Loughton, World Uyghur Congress representative Rahima Mahmut, and Tiannanman Square survivor, Shao Jiang.

“It is with sadness that we commemorate sixty one years,” Loughton said. “If this demonstration was happening in Lhasa, it wouldn’t last very long.”

The Chinese Embassy in London has been asked to comment.


  1. This is entirely in accord with the Chinese state’s practice of eradicating minorities by forced assimilation, penalisation of culture and the distribution of pecuniary advantages to members of the Han majority, as well as the practice (widely used in the British Empire) of social pressure on children to force majority-language usage, cutting them off from their families and culture. Other minorities have experienced the same: Mongolian is under the same pressure in Southern Mongolia (inside the borders of the People’s Republic of China) and Manchurian has all but been eliminated. (The last imperial dynasty was Manchu, and the previous one was Mongolian.)

  2. Why is this even a story?Manadarin is the national language and obviouly should be taught in schools across China. There are hundreds of local dialects and that is taught at home usually. Why is Tibet region any different? You don’t habe Welsh or Scotish complaining about English…. because why do people learn languages.. to comminicate…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hi! To read more you need to login.
Not a member yet? Join our co-operative now to get unlimited access.
You can join using Direct Debit, payment card or Paypal. Cancel at any time. If you are on a low-income you may be eligible for a free sponsored membership. Having trouble logging in? Try here.
Hi! To read more you need to login.
Not a member yet?
Hi! You can login using the form below.
Not registered yet?
Having trouble logging in? Try here.
Back our next investigation
Can you help us find out who really runs Scotland?