Police in Tibet 2012

Language restrictions and constant surveillance: A Tibetan refugee’s account

Earlier this year in spring, our research partner Tibet Watch conducted a series of interviews with a group of newly arrived Tibetan refugees in Dharamsala, northern India, who escaped from occupied Tibet. 

In this fourth interview, a refugee from Golog Prefecture, eastern Tibet, recounts the forced installation of the Chinese phone app National Anti-fraud Centre. The app was developed by the Ministry of Public Security and launched in March 2021 to detect spam calls and texts, but has raised numerous concerns about user data and privacy.

He also shares observations about the dominance of the Chinese language in the schools, the disappearance of the Tibetan pastoral community as a consequence of grassland fencing and a grazing ban, and his choice to leave the monastery he enrolled in to escape to India.

The following account is in his own words. We have kept his identity anonymous and omitted a few geographical details, including his native county.

You can read the previous interviews here: Interview 1, Interview 2, Interview 3.

I was born and raised in XX County. I attended the First Vocational Training School in Xining after finishing my junior school in the county. Most of the students in the school were Chinese, and only a few Tibetans were admitted to this school. The curriculum and medium of instruction are Chinese and so too are most teachers. These county schools did have their own libraries. Most books are about literature, novels, science, and history, and are available in both Tibetan and Chinese languages. They are pseudohistory though, not real like The Political History of Tibet.

There are two schools in XX County; a middle and a high school. Although there is a Tibetan language class, and teachers of both Tibetan and Chinese descent, the curriculum as well as the medium of instruction are most of the time only in Chinese language. Tibetan as a language class and medium of instruction exist only in name. In general, if you do not study in the Chinese language or depend solely on Tibetan medium instruction, there is no possibility of progress in your studies and career. Because it is carried out and available only in Chinese medium.

On our way home during school vacation, we have to go through numerous checkpoints. Our luggage and backpacks, other accessories, and even mobile phones are scanned and searched. Moreover, we were instructed to download and install a security application (国家反诈中心) which, if found deleted at the next checkpoint, we were forced to download and install again.

It looks like a surveillance app that tracks all our movements and places of stay. Some Tibetans confided that it tracks not only our movement but also has built-in automatic voice recording and photo-sharing functionalities. So every time I travel, I have to download, install this app, and uninstall it upon reaching my destination.

Police in Golog promoting anti-fraud materials in 2021

Police in Golog promoting anti-fraud materials in 2021

Unless you have a good relationship [with the authority] and support, it is very difficult to get a professional job even if you have a degree from a Chinese university. Maybe there is no equal number of jobs available for the growing number of graduates. That is why most of these graduates are left with no choice but to find a job somewhere else and even accept a low-paying one.

Although I am from a nomadic family, I don’t remember much of that life because I grew up in the county. However, the nomadic community is rapidly decreasing since the grassland area for grazing was reduced whilst each household was imposed with limits on the number of livestock they are allowed to keep. Grasslands were divided and reduced for grazing. There are many people in the “resettled” nomad camp near XX County but I don’t know their condition well enough.

After my graduation, following my wish, I enrolled at the XX monastery. There were around 200 monks. There is a Monastic Management Committee in the monastery. As with all other areas of Tibet, individuals aged above 18 are granted admission to the monastery. But I stayed there for only a few months and then I fled to India.

Information supplied by Tibet Watch

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