First Uyghurs, Now Tibetans Being Targeted For Forceful Assimilation In China

Dr. E.C. Beuck
Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist PartyPhoto byPhilippines Department of Foreign Affairs via Wikimedia Commons

Since 2017, the Chinese government has been accused of arbitrarily detaining over a million Uyghur Muslims in reeducation camps in the region of Xinjiang in northwestern China. In addition to being detained by the Chinese government, these people have been subjected to human rights abuses such as forced labor and involuntary sterilization among others. The nature of these actions committed against the Uyghur population in Xinjiang has led to the United States and other countries labeling what China is doing as genocide. Despite information continuing to come to light about these events in China, a recent attempt to hold a debate at the United Nations Human Rights Council on China’s treatment of its Muslim population did not pass. For China’s part, it has continued to deny any of these abuses.

Yet while significant attention has remained fixed on the situation in Xinjiang province, considerably less so has been directed to the residential school system in Tibet that China has instituted, which appears to be operating as a mandatory large-scale program to assimilate Tibetans into the majority Han culture of China. Part of this education is that Tibetan children have a compulsory education curriculum that is given in Mandarin Chinese with no access given to culturally-relevant or traditional learning. Indeed, the government schools run by China do not allow for any substantive study of the Tibetan history, culture, or language. Without exposure to their own culture and language in these formative years due to residing at these residential schools, Tibetan children will have a harder time communicating with their parents and extended family in the Tibetan language, which in turn will gradually erode the Tibetan culture and identity in the region.

As things stand, experts have gradually become more aware of the surging numbers of these residential schools in Tibet, as well as the increasing numbers of Tibetan children living within them. Indeed, estimates place the majority of Tibetan children, nearly one million in number, as attending these schools. At the same time, any initiatives to promote Tibetan culture and language are reportedly being suppressed, and those advocating for education of Tibetan topics being persecuted by authorities. Given Chinese concerns about threats to the state emerging from within, and the fact that the international community has been unable to halt these kinds of actions within Xinjiang province, we expect the steps being taken against Tibetan children to assimilate the population of Tibet into Han culture to continue.

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Holding a PhD in Political Science, I write about current events and on political topics related to international relations, international law, conflict both between and within states, and the interactions between technology and politics.

Washington, DC

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