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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Education and "Cultural genocide"

Save Tibet.Org

It has been argued by some that China's policies toward the Uygur of Xinjiang and the Tibetans amount to nothing short of "cultural genocide", the wiping out of a culture.

Many others claim that the term "cultural genocide" is much to easily used when discussing Chinese ethnic policies.

I try to make distinctions when analysing Chinese policies as to what they are meant to do and what they actually end up doing.

For example the Uygur, and to a lesser degree the Tibetans, claim that Han ethnic flooding of their respective regions are policies of "Cultural genocide". By that they mean that the Government has taken a conscious decision to populate these areas with Han "immigrants" for the express reason of diminishing the preponderance of the native peoples and diluting their culture to a point that it loses all relevance.

I have argued that yes, the policies of the Chinese along these lines is ,without doubt, having this effect but they can not be called policies of "cultural genocide" because this was not the reason for their original implementation. In other words it is a side effect of a medicine administered for another malady.

In the case of "ethnic flooding", questions of economics, strategic positioning among many others have taken far greater precedence in the mind of Beijing than the idea of destroying the culture to aid in it's peoples total assimilation into the great Han "Oneness"

Having said that though, Beijing could not have been unaware that their policies were having this affect and as such should have introduced counter measures that would lessen these "side effects" of what they saw as being a necessary medicine.

Han migration to Tibet and Xinjiang is having an enormous impact on the respective cultures. In the case of the Uygur when you go from being the dominant ethnic culture by a factor of 10:1 in 1949 to being just on par or below in 2004 the effects are huge. I do not think that I am aware of any case in history where the indigenous people so quickly became the minority. I am sure that it did not happen that quickly in America and it certainly did not happen that quickly in Australia.

As such a government should have been cognisant of the the side effects and taken the appropriate action to lessen the impact.

Now the lifeblood of a culture is it's language. Once a language begins to fade so does the culture, once a language dies so too does the culture die.

The linked article talks about education generally in Tibet but also about the Tibetan language. Every thing said can almost be mirrored exactly for Xinjiang and the Uygur. The Chinese are consistent if nothing else in this type of thing.

Ms. Lhadon Executive Director, Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy speaks about how Tibetans in Tibet are being educated in a system that seeks to sever them from their past, promote assimilation, and eradicate nationalist sentiment by denying them the right to education in their own language.

She claims also that the "Tibetan language has essentially lost any practical value in Tibet, with the exception of having to operate in small rural towns or among nomadic groups...

Now it can not be argued that, in a modern world , an ethnic group should exist in total isolation of others. For better or worse the Uygur and the Tibetans must function in an increasingly Han dominated environment.

They need to work and to interact, their children need the opportunities of higher education. This can not be achieved by speaking only Tibetan or only Uygur. But there are compromises that can be made, accommodations can be provided for.

The Chinese should not allow either language, the Tibetan or the Uygur, to die out or at best become irrelevant, that would be a travesty. The Tibetans and Uygurs on the other hand should not expect to live in total isolation and to practice their language in denial of reality.

The education policies of the Han Chinese are adversely affecting these two languages, again maybe not as a conscious premeditated policy but certainly as a side effect. This should be realised, acknowledged and measures put in place to counter balance.

It will be too late when like, the Manchu language, these culturally important languages fade out and die forever.

Linked Article Read Rating: Worthwhile