An April circular by the Chinese Ministry of Education on student admission criteria at Tibetan universities has been harrowing and discriminating to say the least.
The circular said that prospective students must state their “political attitude and ideological morality” to be considered for admission.
It also said that students should not be involved in religious movements and students who are proficient in Marxist theory should be preferred.
Since Beijing started occupying Tibet, it has meticulously introduced policies to dismantle the Tibetan education system, which is closely tied to its rich monastic tradition, and has even pulled students from Afghanistan and eastern Europe to Tibet.
Initially, Beijing mainly targeted primary education, including by preventing Tibetans to even linger near monastic institutes, and it continues to do so to this day.
Now Beijing’s attention has shifted toward higher education, and it is launching a relentless attack on universities, including through policy changes that highlight its negligence toward authentic Tibetan education, with the ultimate goal of depriving Tibetans of their identity and language.
The initial attack on the Tibetan education system began during the Cultural Revolution, when the monastic system, recognized as the cornerstone of Tibet’s education system, was wiped out in terms of its physical structure and personnel. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) seized on this vacuum to indoctrinate and culturally assimilate Tibetans.
Dawa Norbu, a former professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, wrote in his book Tibet: The Road Ahead that he and many other young Tibetans during the initial years of Chinese occupation were forcefully indoctrinated.
The CCP was to an extent successful, but its strategy proved to be a double-edged sword, as Tibetans now know that they are different from Chinese.
The end of the Cultural Revolution set the stage for the renaissance of Tibetan education. Great lamas and academics were able to continue their work at the few surviving monasteries.
Tibetans who remained in their homeland, led by the late 10th Panchen Lama and other charismatic individuals, wittingly used then-Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s (鄧小平) drive to educate China to their benefit and introduced “modern education with Tibetan characteristics.”
However, even after their moderate success, the situation in Tibet’s education system remained dire. This was elaborated in the book Wangdu’s Diary, written by Wangdu, an exiled Tibetan who was part of a fact-finding delegation that in 1980 toured the region to appraise its education system.
He was shocked that most schools lacked basic facilities and was taken aback by the high number of ethnic Han teachers.
Since the beginning of the occupation, the leaders in Beijing have been referring to themselves as saviors and liberators.
The CCP started dismantling the Tibetan education system, which — except for the few modern schools set up in Lhasa by the late 13th Dalai Lama — was mainly centered on monastic institutes.
Beijing set up schools with the goal not to educate Tibetans, but rather to brainwash and indoctrinate them with Marxist thought, which morphed into Mao Zedong (毛澤東) thought and later the ideas of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平).
Beijing implemented a bilingual education policy in Tibet and other occupied regions (or, as Beijing calls them, “minority regions”).
Those policies refer to principles enshrined in the Chinese constitution, which stipulate that the languages of minority regions be protected and preserved.
However, the policies sought to achieve the exact opposite, and promote a deeper penetration of the Chinese language and Chinese narrative in those regions.
Since those policies’ inception, large numbers of Tibetans have gone through this indoctrination-focused education system.
An alarming report published by the Tibet Action Institute in December last year highlighted the grim reality.
Based on testimonies, the report, titled Separated From Their Families, Hidden From the World, showed that 78 percent of Tibetans have attended Beijing-run boarding schools where classes are primarily taught in Chinese, depriving them of their identity and language.
It is worrying to witness China’s colonial activities in Tibet, especially as China has its own traumatic colonial experience.
Chinese interference with the Tibetan education system has gained pace since Xi took office.
Xi has not only continued Beijing’s Tibet policy, but is enforcing it more strongly, including by introducing restrictions that prevent Tibetans from attending China’s best educational institutions.
Even Tibetans who complete their higher education are looked down upon, creating an apartheid-like environment where Tibetans are largely unemployed and remain segregated, even in Tibet.
The outdated, draconian practices Beijing is implementing in Tibet are concerning.
Tenzing Dhamdul, a Tibetan refugee, is a research associate at the New Delhi-based Foundation for Non-Violent Alternatives, a peace studies institute focused on Tibet, China, India and the larger Transhimalaya region.
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