Culture Clash over Teaching Tibet Tibetans Say Chinese-Run Schools Are Part of an Assimilation Campaign

By Kevin Platt, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, September 24, 1999 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Culture Clash over Teaching Tibet Tibetans Say Chinese-Run Schools Are Part of an Assimilation Campaign

Kevin Platt, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor

The clashing colors and symbolism of the gilded hilltop palace of the exiled Dalai Lama and the camouflage-green outpost of the Chinese Army that surround the Lhasa No. 1 middle school in many ways reflect a larger battle over Tibet's future.

While Beijing claims that the school and others like it being built across the Tibetan plateau are helping prepare residents of this long-isolated land to rise through Chinese society, Tibetan exiles say the Communist-run education system is aimed more at erasing cultural identity.

In China's view, the school "provides a level playing field for Chinese and ethnic Tibetan students to compete, and a fast-track to upward mobility," says Xia Zhu, an expert on Tibet at the Chinese Ministry of Education.

Classes at the school, like many throughout the Himalayan region, are predominantly conducted in Chinese "to allow graduates to enter the government, higher education, or business throughout China," Mr. Xia adds.

But Tibetan nationalists say the school's slighting of the Tibetan language and the integration with students from China proper reflect Beijing's strategy of gradual assimilation of the region's once- unique culture.

Like Lhasa's top middle school, much of Tibet is caught in the middle of a disagreement between China and Tibet's government-in- exile.

The two sides disagree on everything from whether education levels have risen or dropped since the Dalai Lama's fall from power, to whether the ultimate goal of schooling here is integrating Tibetans into Chinese society or cleansing the region of its Tibetan Buddhist roots.

Three or four years of schooling

Tom Grunfeld, a Tibet scholar at Empire State College in New York, says that "literacy levels have been dropping in Tibet for the last 15 years.

"The stark reality is that most Tibetan students now receive only three years of formal education," Grunfeld adds.

He cautions, however, that Tibet was no educational paradise prior to the Chinese invasion. "There was no serious education system {in Tibet} before 1950 except in the monasteries," he says. "Tibet was in 1950 essentially a medieval, feudal country."

Xia Zhu says that the government ultimately hopes to bring Tibet into the 20th century by investing in schools and infrastructure, but he concedes that less than 15 percent of Tibetans who begin school ever complete a secondary education.

Members of the Dalai Lama's India-based government-in-exile, along with human rights monitors in the West, also say Beijing is denying a large proportion of the populace a basic education.

"The scarcity of schools in Tibet is a deliberate policy on the Chinese government's part to eradicate the Tibetan identity," says Mary Beth Markey, a spokeswoman at the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet.

Education official Xia Zhu, himself an ethnic Tibetan, concedes that "41 percent of Tibetans are functionally illiterate," but he says that the figure has been dropping since the party replaced the Dalai Lama at the peak of Tibet's power pyramid.

The US State Department, in its annual human rights report on China for 1998, said that "The current illiteracy rate for all Tibetans is approximately 40 percent, and in some areas it reaches 80 percent." Tibetan rights groups say those figures compare with a 15 percent illiteracy rate for China.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Culture Clash over Teaching Tibet Tibetans Say Chinese-Run Schools Are Part of an Assimilation Campaign


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?