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

D. Discriminatory Treatment and Harassment

Finally, overt ethnic discrimination exists in many Tibetan primary schools. Apart from instances of discrimination in corporal punishment and the admissions process for secondary school, Tibetan children told us that Chinese students often paid lower fees than they did, received free food and supplies that Tibetans had to purchase themselves, and at some mixed schools, enjoyed separate, higher quality, classrooms - or even had wholly separate schools with better facilities. Many students also said that, when fights between Tibetan and Chinese children broke out, teachers punished Tibetans far more severely. In other cases, they ignored or even encouraged the harassment of Tibetans by their Chinese classmates.

With respect to school facilities, a number of Tibetan children in mixed schools reported that school administrators segregated Tibetan from Chinese students. In a few cases, accounts suggest that the classrooms were, in effect, 'separate but equal.' According to most, however, Chinese children learned in superior facilities. For example, one child reported that the 'Tibetan' classroom at her school in Lhasa would frequently flood from rain and a broken faucet, while the 'Chinese' classroom was new, well-situated and dry. Similarly, a Tibetan medical aide from Amdo told us that his village had two schools. The 'Chinese' school served primarily Muslim Chinese (Hui) students, who comprised the majority of the population in his region. This school contained modern facilities, including laboratories and other science equipment. The 'Tibetan' school, by contrast, served exclusively Tibetan students and lacked modern equipment and learning facilities.

In another case, a Tibetan boy told us that, while both Chinese and Tibetan students used the same classroom at his school in Lhasa, the teachers taught the Chinese children first. Tibetan children waited outdoors. When their turn for instruction arrived, often there was not enough time for the lesson. If it rained, many Tibetan students chose to go home without instruction rather than wait for hours in a downpour. Some children also said that they paid for items, such as pencils, textbooks and other school supplies, that Chinese children received for free. '[O]nly the Chinese were . . . provided with pens, tables, rugs, etc.,' said one child. 'The Tibetans received no books or pens. It was required that the Tibetans purchase these.' One boy from Lhasa told us that only Tibetan, not Chinese, children paid a fine of 50 yuan for misbehavior, a sum he believed went directly to the teacher.

Tibetan children in mixed schools also reported being forced to perform labor and other tasks from which Chinese students were exempt, such as cleaning toilets, sweeping, cooking for the teacher or being sent on 'work errands.' For example, a girl from Kham related that Tibetan students, but not Chinese, were expected to cut wood at the teacher's home. Tibetan children at another boy's primary school in Lhasa were told to clean the blackboards and sweep the floors because, the teacher said, the Tibetan children were 'dirty.' Chinese teachers at this school also referred to Tibetan students as 'donkeys' and refused to talk with them between classes. Some Tibetan children reported that they received more homework than their Chinese peers or were punished more severely for poor performance on exams. According to one boy, Tibetan children at his school who retaliated against bullying by Chinese students or who misbehaved were put in a special class. The class consisted solely of Tibetans. The school's Chinese principal referred to it as the 'trash can' or 'dust bin':

I was in Chinese language class, which is very difficult for me. I was playing with a deskmate. There was a terrible Chinese teacher, and she hit me with a stick. I touched my forehead and it was bleeding. I yelled at her and she started hitting me and I ran away. My parents came to school to complain. Then I was put in the 'dust bin' class.

At some mixed schools, fighting between Tibetan and Chinese students seems to be common. One boy from Amdo said he would be physically attacked by Chinese students 'if I say I am Tibetan.' Recourse to authority was useless, he continued, because 'if we go and complain, the Chinese fathers are the police. Most of the parents of the Chinese students are officials.' Another related that, 'when we [Tibetan students] took money to school, Chinese students would steal it, so we had to hide the money in our socks.' Again, this boy said, telling teachers about this and other abuses was futile, because they showed favoritism to Chinese children.

Apparently, some fights between Chinese and Tibetan children become extremely violent and dangerous. A Tibetan monk, now living in exile, noted that it is not uncommon for children to carry weapons to schools in Lhasa and other cities. A Tibetan boy from Lhasa told us that Chinese students frequently bullied him. On one occasion, Chinese boys sitting on a rooftop threw dirty water on him and his friends. Another student recalled that when a Tibetan classmate wore a photo of the Dalai Lama around his neck, the Chinese students attacked him and bloodied his face. This led to a larger fight between the Tibetan and Chinese students. Yet only the Tibetans, he reported, were punished. It remains difficult to determine the frequency of these incidents of ethnic fighting between Chinese and Tibetan children, but accounts suggest that they are far from rare. 'When I was walking,' recalled a boy from Kham, 'a group of Chinese students hit me with an iron, and one picked up a piece of glass and hit me in the eye.' Indeed, some Tibetan children told us they did not attend school because they feared such assaults by their Chinese classmates.

In Tibet, Tibetan children learn that Tibet's history is an insignificant component of Chinese history, that Tibetan culture is a subset of 'Chinese' culture, that the Tibetan language is 'useless' and that Tibetan religious beliefs are a mark of shame. Most Tibetan children eventually do learn - through relatives, illegal books, monastic teachers and other non-state sources - of their cultural heritage. But they nonetheless remain, within Tibet, incapable of pursuing a Tibetan education. Moreover, the apparent policy of shutting down or taking over the management of private and monastic Tibetan schools seems to be closing off the few remaining avenues for children to receive a Tibetan education.

The atmosphere created by the PRC's educational policies in Tibet has contributed to the rapid growth of a subclass of undereducated and unemployed young Tibetans, particularly within urban centers like Lhasa. For example, one young Tibetan from Lhasa, who escaped from Tibet in 1998 at the age of twenty, explained that, without any knowledge of Tibetan, Chinese or English, he could not find work. During a typical day, he roamed Lhasa, stopping in at various clubs, bars and restaurants. After a few years, he joined a street gang, which led to several arrests for fighting and minor theft. The lack of well-educated and technically-skilled Tibetans has become an additional justification for China to invite more Chinese settlers into the TAR. There, they tend to occupy the better jobs and government positions.

China has made some progress in expanding educational access for Tibetan children. This is largely because, prior to 1950, Tibetan society focused principally on monastic, rather than secular, education. China's current system, however, fails in most respects to meet its obligation to provide Tibetan children with an education directed to their development and well-being. Rather than fostering an understanding of and respect for Tibetan children's language, history and culture, China's educational system seems - in practice if not design - to disparage these subjects in a way that can inculcate in Tibetan children a sense of cultural inferiority.