Edward Wong, "Tibetan Entrepreneur Has Been Illegally Detained, Family Says" (NYT 3/10/16)
A Tibetan entrepreneur who is a vocal but moderate advocate for bilingual education in schools across Chinese-ruled Tibetan regions has been illegally detained by the police for one and a half months, his family said.
The man, Tashi Wangchuk, 30, who lives with his parents in the western town of Yushu, has written about language policy on his microblog. He has highlighted the dearth of meaningful Tibetan language education and expressed concern that many Tibetan children are unable to become fluent in their native language, a widespread worry in the ethnic group.
I post this primarily as a news item, but I also wish to point out a fact about Tibetan people, language, culture, and history that many non-specialists may be unaware of. Namely, much (if not most) of the news that we hear about Tibetan self-immolations, detentions, disappearances, imprisonments, unrest, and so forth actually take place outside of "Tibet Proper". Tibet Proper is large — 474,300 mi². We may compare that with the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region at 642,800 mi², which is 1/6th of the whole of China (3.705 million mi²).
Tibetan is also spoken in a number of other sizable provinces of the Peoples Republic of China: Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu, Qinghai. Tashi Wangchuk, the subject of the above article, is actually from Qinghai, and the Dalai Lama himself hails from that province. See also these posts:
"Tibetan –> Chinese –> Chinglish" (11/11/15)
"Hide the satisfied store in statue of Buddha" (7/18/12)
Some of the largest and most spectacular Tibetan Buddhist monastic establishments are located outside of Tibet Proper, e.g., Labrang, which is in Gansu province and is situated less than a hundred miles from Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu, and less than four hundred miles from Xi'an in the Central Plain, one of the most important cities in the history of China.
Tibetic languages are also spoken in vast areas of South Asia and Central Asia. During the medieval period, Tibet vied with China for control of the eastern half of Eurasia, occupied Gansu for nearly a century (making Tibetan the politically and culturally dominant language and even using Tibetan script to write northwest Sinitic [Takata Tokio and W. South Coblin both have scholarly works documenting this]), and came close to gaining control of the Central Plain in the East Asian Heartland.
See Christopher Beckwith, The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia: A History of the Struggle for Great Power among Tibetans, Turks, Arabs, and Chinese during the Early Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987).
I won't go into these historical events further in this post, but will simply say that — just in terms of the distribution of Tibetan speakers within the PRC today — if all the areas where the language is current were added to Tibet Proper, the total would probably amount to as much as that of Xinjiang (i.e., 1/6th of China), making the Uyghur regions and the Tibetan regions constitute fully 1/3rd of the whole of the PRC. Now, if you add in Inner Mongolia, with its 456,800 mi², you can see why the government is extremely nervous about separatist tendencies in all of these non-Sinitic areas that were incorporated into the Manchu empire during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).
Moreover, in politicoreligious terms, the ties between Tibet and Mongolia have been exceedingly close for many centuries, as is exemplified by the name of the Dalai Lama, which is a combination of the Mongolian word dalai meaning "ocean" (a translation of the Tibetan name Gyatso) and the Tibetan word bla-ma བླ་མ་ meaning "guru, teacher, mentor".
In terms of language policy, China is confronted with the dilemma of inhibiting the continuity of cultural and religious traditions that run counter the goal of national unity under the Han ethnicity on the one hand and permitting the use of mother tongues, a right that is supposedly guaranteed by Article 121 ("Use of local language") of the PRC constitution, on the other hand. However, when I went to check that article in the supposedly complete text here, I found: "deleted".
On the official website of the Chinese government, I found these articles:
Article 4. All nationalities in the People's Republic of China are equal. The state protects the lawful rights and interests of the minority nationalities and upholds and develops the relationship of equality, unity and mutual assistance among all of China's nationalities. Discrimination against and oppression of any nationality are prohibited; any acts that undermine the unity of the nationalities or instigate their secession are prohibited. The state helps the areas inhabited by minority nationalities speed up their economic and cultural development in accordance with the peculiarities and needs of the different minority nationalities. Regional autonomy is practised in areas where people of minority nationalities live in compact communities; in these areas organs of self- government are established for the exercise of the right of autonomy. All the national autonomous areas are inalienable parts of the People's Republic of China. The people of all nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages, and to preserve or reform their own ways and customs.
Article 121. In performing their functions, the organs of self-government of the national autonomous areas, in accordance with the autonomy regulations of the respective areas, employ the spoken and written language or languages in common use in the locality.
Article 133. The Supreme People's Procuratorate is responsible to the National People's Congress and its Standing Committee. Local people's procuratorates at different levels are responsible to the organs of state power at the corresponding levels which created them and to the people's procuratorates at the higher level. Article 134. Citizens of all nationalities have the right to use the spoken and written languages of their own nationalities in court proceedings. The people's courts and people's procuratorates should provide translation for any party to the court proceedings who is not familiar with the spoken or written languages in common use in the locality. In an area where people of a minority nationality live in a compact community or where a number of nationalities live together, hearings should be conducted in the language or languages in common use in the locality; indictments, judgments, notices and other documents should be written, according to actual needs, in the language or languages in common use in the locality.
Small comfort for Tashi Wangchuk, who molders away in jail without having been charged with any crime because he was trying to keep Tibetan language education alive in his native locale.