BEIJING — Thousands of Tibetan students have staged protests in northwestern China, angry at being forced to study in the Chinese language, a London-based rights group said.
Up to 9,000 students from six Tibetan schools took to the streets Tuesday in Qinghai province’s Rebkong county calling for respect for their ancient culture, Free Tibet said, quoting eyewitnesses in the area.
The protests were sparked by education reforms in Rebkong requiring all subjects to be taught in Mandarin and all textbooks to be printed in Chinese except for Tibetan-language and English classes, the group said in a statement.
The area — a hotbed of anti-China feelings — is home to three important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries.
It was the scene of violent anti-Chinese protests in March 2008 that started in Tibet’s capital Lhasa and spread to nearby regions with heavy Tibetan populations such as Qinghai.
Many Tibetans accuse China of a campaign to water down their culture in a bid to increase its control over the remote Himalayan region, where resentment against Chinese rule runs deep.
“The use of Tibetan is being systematically wiped out as part of China?s strategy to cement its occupation of Tibet,” Free Tibet said.
A county education official who declined to give her name told AFP by phone Wednesday the “issue was resolved yesterday,” but refused further comment.
Officials at county government headquarters declined to comment.
Free Tibet said students from Rebkong’s National Senior Middle School marched from school to school, joined by swelling numbers of students, and then gathered outside the county government building.
“Unusually for a protest of this size in Tibet, police did not interfere,” the group said.
But it expressed concern that “protesters may be detained or otherwise punished” in the days or weeks ahead.
China — which says it “peacefully liberated” Tibet in 1951 — has tightly controlled the Himalayan region ever since, imposing an iron fist since 2008.
China says 21 people were killed by rioters during the 2008 unrest. Exiled Tibetan groups say more than 200 Tibetans died, mostly at the hands of Chinese security forces, and that thousands have been rounded up in the aftermath.