A Generation in Peril: The Lives of Tibetan Children Under Chinese Rule
II. Education

C. Educational Content

As Chen Kuiyuan candidly proclaimed at the Fifth Regional Meeting on Education, the paramount goal of CCP educational policy in Tibet is to secure the 'loyalty' of Tibetan children to the 'great motherland and the great socialist cause.' In other words, the primary objective of school in Tibet is not to educate but to indoctrinate. This approach violates China's international legal obligation to direct education toward the child's development and well-being, not the state's political interests.

The CCP's manipulation of education to ensure its political control in Tibet is not a new development. According to TIN, educational policy throughout China since the PRC's founding has vacillated between two broad philosophies in some tension with one another: the so-called 'quantity' and 'quality' theories. The quantity theory emphasizes mass ideological education. Mao and other hard-line communists promoted this philosophy in an effort to mould China's youth into a model socialist society. The quality theory, by contrast, advocates directing resources toward the academic and technological training of a select educational elite, in an effort to accelerate China's economic development. This theory prevailed in the early 1950s and reemerged in the more liberal era associated with Deng Xiaoping. But the perceived link between the quality theory's devaluation of ideological indoctrination and the political protests that erupted in Lhasa in 1987 caused hard-liners in the CCP to reassert the quantity theory in Tibet and to advocate a reversion to mass political indoctrination as a tool of social control. This trend, as Chen Kuiyuan's express endorsement of ideological education reveals, persists today.

The content of education in Tibetan schools thus tends to reveal the state's underlying goal of fostering political loyalty among Tibetan children. China subordinates the academic and personal development of Tibet's children to the objective of ensuring their ideological and social conformity. The language and curriculum policies in Tibetan schools provide evidence of this trend. In general, Tibetan children reported that they learned in the Chinese language and about Chinese culture, history and politics. Tibetan history and culture, by contrast, received at best a few token references. For the most part, children said that their school teachers and staff ignored, denigrated, prohibited and at times punished references to Tibetan culture, particularly its religious traditions.

At the same time, the quality theory apparently continues to exert some influence on education in Tibet. Secondary education, particularly higher education (college or professional school), remains the exclusive province of an elite selected by board exams. These tests are administered mostly in Chinese. Tibetans - even those who excel in the state-run primary schools - therefore remain at a disadvantage. While Tibetan may remain the medium of instruction in a few Tibetan primary schools, only by mastering Chinese can Tibetan children hope to secure access to a higher education. Even then, the discriminatory effects of guangxi and bribery often prevent bright Tibetan students from attending the higher quality secondary schools attended by their Chinese peers. Together, these factors operate to exclude most Tibetan children from attaining the academic achievement and professional training they need to improve their social and economic status. Furthermore, the denigration of Tibet's language, history, culture and religion reinforces in the minds of Tibetan children a pervasive sense of cultural inferiority.

Quantitatively, despite the hurdles to access described above, secular education is now available to a greater proportion of Tibetan children than it was fifty years ago. Qualitatively, however, China's educational policies fail to promote Tibetan children's development and well-being. On the contrary, as the ICJ concluded in 1997, 'rather than instilling in Tibetan children respect for their own cultural identity, language and values, as required under the [CRC], education in Tibet serves to ideologically indoctrinate Tibetan children and to convey a sense of inferiority of their own culture, religion and language in comparison to the dominant Chinese culture and values.' Our research suggests that today, three years later, this conclusion continues to capture the effect of China's system of education on Tibetan children.

1. Language Medium

Chinese law guarantees all of its 'minority nationalities' the right to learn and use their native language. The 1984 Law on Regional Autonomy gives minority nationalities 'freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages and . . . to preserve [their] own customs.' It also instructs local governments that '[s]chools where most of the students come from minority nationalities should, whenever possible, use textbooks in their own languages and use these languages as the media of instruction.' Aside from these guarantees, as a practical matter, most Tibetans simply do not speak Chinese. Government officials have therefore stressed the importance of using the Tibetan language to promote economic development and to disseminate government policies and propaganda effectively.

For two main reasons, however, Chinese remains the principal language of civil affairs, government and most education. First, implementing a Tibetan language policy among the largely Chinese social, economic and political elite who govern Tibet has proven difficult. Second, local authorities recognize the connection between the Tibetan language and the Tibetan people's consciousness of a distinct national identity. As a result, Tibetan, which theoretically remains the official language of the TAR, is marginalized. Tibet's primary schools mirror this state of affairs. We found that most stress the alleged superiority of the Chinese language for academic and professional success. They treat the Tibetan language, by contrast, as more of an 'elective' course, which Tibetan students alone may opt to study.

With the exception of monastic-affiliated schools and a few local community schools, Chinese is the prevailing medium of instruction in Tibet's primary schools. Several Tibetan children reported that they learned in their own language from grades one through three, but thereafter all instruction shifted to Chinese. Only Tibetan language class itself, from which Chinese children were exempted, continued to be taught in Tibetan.

The experience of one boy from Lhasa is typical: For the first three grades, school staff placed him with other Tibetans in a separate 'Tibetan' stream. His Chinese peers learned in Chinese from the outset. After the third grade, the sections combined. Chinese became the language of instruction for all classes except Tibetan language. In 1996, while he was still in primary school, he said that authorities modified this policy to eliminate Tibetan-medium instruction entirely. Thereafter, all Tibetan students began to learn in Chinese from the first grade. This account confirms reports of a major policy shift in Tibet's primary schools, officially declared in April 1997. CCP authorities announced they would introduce Chinese as the primary medium of instruction from the first grade in all state schools in the TAR.

Another boy from Lhasa reported that, while both Tibetan and Chinese were taught at his primary school, far more emphasis (four hours per day) was placed on the latter than the former (one hour per day). Children from Tibetan regions outside the TAR related similar policies. For example, of the eight class periods per day that one girl from Kham described, only one - Tibetan language itself - was taught in Tibetan.

Many Tibetan children found learning in Chinese both alienating and an impediment to their understanding. A boy from Lhasa knew several Tibetan students who dropped out because they were frustrated with being 'forced to study Chinese.' Tibetan students, according to another child from western Tibet, generally paid less attention because they had difficulty understanding the lessons taught in Chinese.

Academically, the Tibetan language appears to be regarded as an unimportant or futile subject. One girl who attended a mixed school in Lhasa reported that her Chinese teachers and peers considered Tibetan a 'lower' language, one that would soon 'vanish.' Another student's teacher in a Lhasa primary school told him that Tibetan 'won't get you any food.' Several other students told us that 'if you fail in Tibetan, it doesn't really matter, but you must do well in Chinese.' The reason for this is readily apparent. After the first three grades, most tests - and all state board exams - are administered in Chinese. Furthermore, advanced Chinese language skills appear to be a prerequisite for most good jobs in Tibet. Tibetan children expressed a strong desire to learn written and spoken Tibetan. But primary schools in Tibet have effectively relegated it to the status of a second language.

2. Political and Ideological Curriculum

For many Tibetan children, Chinese primary school education is overtly political. While the three most common subjects taught in primary school - Chinese, Tibetan and mathematics - appear 'neutral' politically, others, such as history and social studies, frequently aim to inculcate loyalty to the state or indoctrinate Tibetan children in the PRC's version of socialism. Several reported being forced to pledge allegiance to the Chinese government. National pledges in public schools are common in many states and need not be objectionable. International law emphasizes, however, that children, no less than adults, must be permitted to exercise the right to freedom of speech. National pledges must be voluntary. Yet several students reported that they risked humiliation, beatings and even expulsion if they refused to swear loyalty to China. In 1996, said one boy from Amdo, '[we] were made to pledge that we like China and that Tibet is a part of China. The Chinese willingly make the pledge, but if the Tibetans don't, they will be beaten.' Another child from Chamdo recounted that, if Tibetan students refused to recite the pledge, the teacher handed them over to the school's administration, which refused to allow them to eat and 'would make us stand in front of everyone and embarrass us.'

At most schools, children reported, teachers respected and celebrated Chinese holidays. By contrast, they ignored, discouraged and even banned celebration of Tibetan festivals (such as Losar, the Tibetan New Year) at schools. Some children told us that teachers forced them to sing Chinese national songs, often as a daily routine. 'The worst time,' recalled one girl from central Tibet, 'was when we were forced to sing a song for Mao Zedong even if we refused.' While some Chinese songs, customs and festivals may have been politically neutral, often these activities had a political objective. For example, a girl from Kham described a Chinese funeral ceremony in which she was forced to participate after a Chinese government leader died. Teachers gathered the students together at a large school and made them wear a red badge and a black belt for three days. Children were told to 'cry as if their own father had died.' Teachers informed the students that the government official had died for the Chinese and Tibetan people. Although Tibetans and Chinese have different names, the teachers explained, they are 'one blood, the same.'

In addition to Chinese, Tibetan and mathematics, children reported that some primary schools teach communism, Maoism and Chinese history. Students who did study Chinese history told us that, despite China's insistence that Tibet has always been an integral part of China, their history teachers rarely if ever mentioned Tibet. The few references emphasized only the alleged benevolence that China had shown to Tibet throughout history. Some Tibetan parents apparently choose to keep their children at home because they do not want them exposed to the ideological indoctrination that characterizes Chinese primary schools. The father of one Tibetan boy in Amdo told him not to attend school because 'they will try to teach you Chinese ideology and only teach Chinese language.'

Not surprisingly, the most severe forms of ideological education that we heard occurred in monasteries and nunneries, where 'patriotic reeducation' campaigns initiated by the Third Forum continue in full force. While this report does not focus on the broader issue of religious freedom in Tibet, we note these cases because some Tibetan children unable to attend secular schools receive their only education in monasteries. One boy from a region near Lhasa recalled that in 1997 authorities arrived at his monastery, tore down pictures of the Dalai Lama and replaced them with portraits of the Chinese-designated Panchen Lama. For the next two weeks, Chinese cadres forced them to read books vilifying the Dalai Lama, after which time they were 'tested' on the material. Monks who passed received a 'red primary card,' allowing them to remain at the monastery indefinitely. Those who failed received a 'blue temporary pass' that permitted them to stay for only three months:

During the exams, the Chinese would surround us with guns and demand we answer the question, 'Who is the destroyer of world peace?' The right answer would be the Dalai Lama. Since we were so young, I would answer, 'I don't know.' I was fifteen.

A young nun from central Tibet recalled being forced to answer similar questions: 'Is Tibet a free country? Should you oppose the Dalai Lama?' If she refused to answer, the Chinese officials placed her and other young nuns in 'study groups' intended to teach them the right answers. Many of the older nuns, however, were simply expelled for giving the wrong answer.

3. Repression of Tibetan Culture, History and Religious Expression

Tibetans, as a people, are entitled to determine the content of their children's education. Nevertheless, since the Chinese government categorizes Tibetans as a 'minority nationality,' international law obliges it to permit every Tibetan child 'to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practice his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language.' But whether they attended state-run or community schools, Tibetan children reported that no one taught them about Tibetan culture, history or religion. In most schools, we found, children who manifest their Tibetan heritage - by expressing their religious beliefs, wearing traditional Tibetan dress or ornaments, or speaking about a Tibetan history distinct from that of China - suffer ridicule, corporal punishment or abuse from their Chinese classmates. In a few Tibetan community or private schools, children said that their Tibetan teachers would at times secretly teach them about Tibetan culture, history and religion. But these teachers always emphasized the danger, to both themselves and the children, of repeating any of these lessons publicly.

Little, if any, Tibetan history is taught in most schools. The only Tibetan history that one boy from Lhasa could recall learning, for example, was the date the Potala was built. Another agreed: '[A] little about the Potala - the idols and how they were built - in the fifth standard [i.e., grade].' Even at a Tibetan private school near Lhasa attended exclusively by Tibetan students, the teacher, who did instruct the children in morning Tibetan prayers, would not risk teaching them Tibetan history. At another school in Lhasa, however, one boy recalled that his favorite teacher, whom he felt had 'sincerity for his country,' would occasionally risk teaching Tibetan history:

The children were not good in Tibetan history and culture. The Tibetan teacher would ask: 'Which was the first king of Tibet?' And when we wouldn't know, he'd say, 'Shame on you! You are Tibetan, you should know.' He didn't do this often though, because if the Chinese found out, they wouldn't like it.

Tibetan culture likewise suffers systematic marginalization and repression. One child told us that teachers at his primary school in Lhasa beat students for singing Tibetan songs. Many children said they were forbidden to celebrate Tibetan holidays at school. School authorities prohibited students from wearing Tibetan clothes or religious ornaments. One girl from central Tibet told us that school authorities harassed her for wearing her chuba (traditional Tibetan dress). A boy from Kham said that, though the school did not require any special uniform, 'if you wear a chuba at school, they imprison you and your parents.' Another boy told us that teachers at his primary school in Lhasa permitted him to wear Tibetan clothes once each year, on 'children's day.' Apart from this, Tibetan culture was generally not tolerated. 'When I look back,' he recalled, 'I realize I did not even know what a Tibetan flag looked like.'

The most draconian strictures children reported involved Tibetan Buddhism, especially expressions of respect for the Dalai Lama. Children told us that most of their schools prohibited all discussion of Tibetan religion. Carrying photos of or speaking about the Dalai Lama would virtually always result in severe punishment. Chinese teachers at a school in Lhasa told one girl that 'religion makes you crazy.' If Tibetan students spoke about the Dalai Lama, she said, they and their siblings would be expelled. If their parents worked at the school, they would be fired. On one occasion, another boy from Lhasa saw Chinese authorities take away photos of the Dalai Lama and burn them: 'I said to the Chinese, What are you doing with our religious teacher, burning his picture like that?' and they replied, Mind your own business,' and they kicked me.' The Chinese school administration at one primary school in Amdo, attended exclusively by Tibetans, expelled another student for owning a copy of the Dalai Lama's autobiography.

Many children told us that, because their parents and Tibetan school teachers lived in perpetual fear of being turned over to state authorities for 'political' speech, they had never heard of Kundun (as most Tibetans refer to the Dalai Lama) or Tenzin Gyatso (the Dalai Lama's name) before arriving in India. 'Maybe my mother wanted to tell me,' one student reflected, 'but since we were children, she was afraid we would go out and talk about it. I learned about Kundun when I came here [to India].' According to another girl, teachers often remained silent about the Dalai Lama and other 'political' topics around Tibetan children because they worried that the children's unwitting indiscretion might result in their imprisonment, dismissal or other harassment.

One Tibetan teacher, who fled to India in November 1998, taught at a state-run primary school in Amdo. He explained that Chinese strictures forbade him from teaching Tibetan culture or history. All his teaching materials came from Chinese offices. They consisted of books on Chinese culture and history, which had been translated into Tibetan. Most of these, he said, were propaganda intended to indoctrinate Tibetan children in Chinese culture and politics. He and the other Tibetan teachers wanted to teach students about Tibetan culture, history and religion. But he said that Chinese authorities would expel and even detain anyone for teaching these subjects, which are considered 'political.' The experience of another Tibetan teacher who taught at a primary school in Amdo provides an example of this treatment. In March 1999, Chinese officials sent him to Lhasa for a two-year teacher training course. In April, however, security officials arrived and accused him of being a 'reactionary' because he had taught his students Tibetan culture and history. They instructed him to return home for investigation by a security council. Fearing for his safety, he instead fled to India, where he arrived in May 1999.

Both at school and in the home, harsh laws and regulations restrict discussion of Tibet's history, limit manifestations of Tibetan traditions and punish expressions of Tibetan religious beliefs, creating an atmosphere of pervasive hostility to the Tibetan cultural identity. This appears to intimidate many educators and parents into remaining silent, preventing them from fulfilling their natural role as teachers of Tibetan culture. Primary schools in Tibet, far from permitting each Tibetan child 'to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practice his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language,' accelerate the atrophy of Tibetan children's cultural identity.

D. Discriminatory Treatment and Harassment -->