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Lhasa Seeks to Restore Use of Tibetan Language

May 13, 1988|DAVID HOLLEY | Times Staff Writer

LHASA, Tibet — After decades of suppression and neglect, attempts are being made to restore the Tibetan language to a predominant position in the public life of this region.

The moves are part of efforts to ease the bitter anti-Chinese sentiments of many Tibetans, feelings that erupted last fall and again in March in violent rioting against China's control of Tibet.

Under a resolution approved last year by the People's Congress of the Tibet Autonomous Region of China, government offices in Tibet are instructed to try to use Tibetan as their primary working language beginning July 1. The Chinese language would be secondary.

More use of Tibetan in secondary school education is also envisioned.

Government and Communist Party supporters of the resolution believe that more use of Tibetan would help defuse sentiment for Tibetan independence and contribute in general to economic and social development here.

"All our cadres . . . must master the Tibetan language," the Panchen Lama, the second-ranking leader of Tibetan Buddhism, said in a speech to the regional People's Congress earlier this year. "This is of great importance."

(Tibetan Buddhism's top leader, the Dalai Lama, opposes the government and lives in exile in India.)

A complete changeover to use of Tibetan in government offices this summer is impossible, however, because too many ethnic Chinese officials posted to Tibet are unable to function in Tibetan, a fact acknowledged in last year's People's Congress resolution.

"Due to the fact that many ethnic Chinese cadres working in Tibet do not know Tibetan, it is very hard (for them) to exchange feelings and ideas with the Tibetan masses," the resolution stated. " . . . What is particularly serious and of far-reaching harm is the fact that many schools do not teach Tibetan."

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Although the resolution places considerable emphasis on the study of Tibetan by ethnic Chinese, there is little evidence that many Chinese feel any commitment to learning such a difficult language when mastery would only tie them more tightly to Tibet. With its harsh environment, Tibet is viewed by most Chinese as an extremely unattractive place to live.

The Panchen Lama, who also holds the largely honorary position of vice chairman of China's National People's Congress, complained bitterly to the regional congress about the lack of progress in acting upon the resolution. The proposal was originally made by the Panchen Lama and Ngapoi Ngawang Jigme, another ethnic Tibetan official.

As an example of the need for improved Tibetan language skills among ethnic Chinese working in Tibet, the Panchen Lama, who normally resides in Beijing, cited what he called "untruthful news reports" about the anti-Chinese rioting last October.

False reports prepared by Chinese journalists aroused "great complaints " from the people, the Panchen Lama said. In a scathing critique that touched only briefly on the issue of intentional distortion, he placed much of the blame for the untruthful reporting on language incompetence.

Despite the Panchen Lama's complaint about lack of action, Dorje Ngodup Changngopa, deputy director of Tibet's education department, said in a recent interview that the department has drawn up plans to gradually implement Tibetan-language instruction for all Tibetan children through the junior high and high school levels, retaining the study of Chinese as a second language.

Until now, junior high and high school education in Tibet has been conducted in Chinese, he said.

The goal of Tibetan language instruction through high school is still some distance away, Changngopa said.

"There are not enough qualified teachers," he said. "First we want to establish one or two schools, like experimental schools, where Tibetan will be used in teaching all subjects."

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