Throughout 2023, Free Tibet’s research partner, Tibet Watch, has been conducting a series of interviews with a group of newly arrived Tibetan refugees in Dharamsala, northern India, who escaped from occupied Tibet.
In this final part, the refugee, a forty-year-old woman from central Tibet, details how the Chinese government has invested significant money in civilian and military infrastructure on Tibet’s borders with India, describes the effects of the residential boarding school system on the Tibetan language and briefly talks about the reaction inside Tibet to Tibetans seeing a video of the Dalai Lama in early 2023.
This interview was conducted on 21 September and is the sixth in the series (previous testimonies can be found here: I, II, III, IV, V). The following account is in her own words. We have kept her identity anonymous and omitted a few geographical details for security.
Another development in Tibet is related to border area development. China is spending a huge amount of cash on people residing at the border. They are spending money to buy people’s loyalty. My home-village is at the border, so everyone is getting paid to live at the border. You have to stay in the village to get paid. You can’t refuse it either. They also give different things like fridge, flask and so on in the name of “gifts” from Xi Jinping. These are also common in non-border areas like Shigatse.
The military is massively deployed at the border. Even the villagers in the border area are asked to patrol. My mother and my family were asked to patrol the border area. Some Tibetans were also involved in passing information and [causing] the arrest of Tibetans who were trying to cross the border to escape to India. That’s how money is being spent in the border area.
When I was young, there were few military people in the area but their presence has now hugely increased. There were four to five military units in early 2000 when I was there: 1) 海关, Haiguan 2) 边防, Bianfang 3) 伍张信 , Wu zhang xin and 4) 中及人, Zhong ji ren.
There are other few small units but I don’t know the names. I heard that quite a few Chinese armies lost their lives during the Galwan war, but this information was being kept secret.
In general, they are trying to recruit Tibetans but they do not manage to recruit many
There are lots of new nomad settlements in Tibet Autonomous Region. My friends from a village in Shigatse – which is near the Nepal-Tibet border – recently told me that the authorities told them to resettle in Lhasa. I don’t know the reason for the resettlement. It is yet to be done.
But there were many people from Kham Chamdo who were resettled in the Medro Gongkar area. It was a huge town and I went there recently. All the houses were built in a similar structure. We can easily recognise it as it is huge, built in the same style and even the roof has the exact, same colour. Villagers from one village were divided into three different settlements.
There were nomads from Kham who were resettled in Tsal Gungthang near Lhasa. Many from Nagchu were also resettled in Lhasa. I heard that they are facing difficulties because they are mostly nomads and they are not used to new lifestyles. I think most of the people living in sparsely populated remote areas are being asked to move and resettle in the city. I think it is an attempt [by the government] to make it easier to control everyone. I heard the nomads have been told that the resettlement policy is to ensure the protection of ecology and grassland.
Boarding school and precarity of the Tibetan language
China has set up pre-school boarding (བུ་གཅོལ་ཁང་།) schools in every village in Tibet. They have made it compulsory for all. If their children were to enrol in school for education, their children have to have grades of three years of pre-school boarding. During our time, we have few boarding schools and children aged only above six or seven were being enrolled. Now, children at the age of three are being sent to boarding pre-schools and it is compulsory too.
Tibetan kids who are becoming fluent in Chinese and Tibetan language are manifesting a lot of concerns. Even when they read Tibetan texts, they read slowly. And they read like a Chinese person reading Tibetan.
They are mixing Chinese language in every conversation. Their competency in Tibetan language is very low and Tibetan parents are worried about their children’s Tibetan-language skill. They are complaining that their kids are failing in the Tibetan language exams, and they are trying to send their children to Tibetan coaching classes. The Chinese language is being taught everywhere.
My friend who is studying in a medical institute in Lhasa recently told me that they were learning the Chinese language and she is taking coaching classes in the Chinese language.
The primary goals of Chinese language teaching and education are to promote Chinese civilization and culture among Tibetans and suppress or wipe out Tibetan culture, civilization and language.
Tibetans are extra cautious and conscious about the status and prospect of Tibetan language’s survival.
I saw a video of His Holiness in April on Douyin. I don’t know the reason his videos were allowed on the social media platform. Videos of His Holiness with an Indian child were allowed to circulate in an attempt to mock him and they thought the Tibetans would feel disgusted but it backfired on them.
Tibetans in Tibet were so happy to see him finally. They were more than overjoyed and all commented with tremendous praise. So the authorities were left with the only choice to block it again.
Their policy backfired on them. It was so good because Tibetans who are younger than me have never seen him in their life. But now, they can recognise him. They have seen him. And they will remember.
Information supplied by Tibet Watch.