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The Red Sun

Saturday, Nov 13, 2010
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Yangkup Gyal
Translated by DhondupTashi Rekjong

“From the east, the red sun is rising.” Have you heard this song before? If you haven’t, you can watch it here. (I tried to find it in Tibetan but failed). Tibetans recited this song like a mantra when it first came to Tibet. The recent protests by Tibetan students reminded me of this song. I could vividly remember that there was Chairman Mao’s portrait on every wall in the villages in Tibet. Just below the portrait, on the softly painted surface, were inscribed the words “The Quotations of Chairman Mao” in both Tibetan and Chinese. I can still remember that these villagers, who dressed in poor clothes and were exhausted by heavy jobs, could recite this song fluently even though they didn’t know how to read Chinese at all. “From the east, the red sun is rising, rising continuously.”

In Pema Bhum’s book, “Six star with crooked neck”, he said that “Initially, it was hard to find a copy of Quotations from Chairman Mao. With time, however, it was hard to find any Tibetan book besides this one.” The Quotations of Chairman Mao was the first Tibetan book I had ever seen; it had a lovely red cover and on the first page Chairman Mao’s picture was enveloped by a transparent sheet. We studied Chairman Mao’s quotations in Tibetan and implemented the revolutionary tasks during the Culture Revolution and the Path to Education Movement. Again, I recalled the recent protests by students in Tibet. If we study both Quotations of Chairman Mao and Chemistry in Tibetan, will it make a difference to our learning them?
I should have the background to prove this difference, but I don’t. During the former Soviet Union, they divided languages into four large categories. Among them some were supported and protected by the Government while others were not. Not only that, they were exterminated by the Government. This was done with a political purpose.

The one memory I have is of my friend’s story. It happened around the late 1960s; he translated a mathematics textbook from Chinese and taught in Tibetan. At the beginning, he printed his translation by using traditional printer and then took it to class and taught his students. I had started my school in 1975 and we had leant other subjects through Tibetan except the Chinese language. Later, in the Tibetan class, we began to hear words like “tsakta” which we called “barshing” in Amdo. This was because of the language textbook of the Syllabus of the Five Provinces. In all areas where Tibetan was spoken, the same textbook was established. It was written, “The textbook was published by the Department of National Tibetan Syllabus Inspection”

One thing I don’t know about is the other parts of Tibet besides Qinghai. In those areas, when did subjects other than Chinese language begin to be taught in Chinese? I don’t know. I couldn’t find any references but they say that this came into practice a long time ago. In the syllable of the Five Provinces, subjects such as geography and history were not included. In Qinghai, how did Tibetan language sustain till now? How was it that when the situation changed, the teachers, students and staff were able to strongly express that they didn’t want the change?

If we compare modern education with Tibetan language, obviously the Tibetan language cannot catch up with modern education. There is no question. But this was not done intentionally, not was this because of lack of knowledge. For instance, in exile, the syllabus has now been changed to Tibetan. Even in a community that has only 3% of all Tibetans, things can be done. There is only one impediment. That impediment is the Chinese government and its policy, which attempts to make the Tibetan language unemployable and useless.

Recently, one of my friends told me that if you work in a court and write an application in Tibetan, the Chinese Judge will tell you; “I don’t know Tibetan; bring it in the Chinese”. By contrast, Tibetan officials don’t have a single right to say, “I don’t know Chinese; bring it in Tibetan.” This becomes a real problem which creates an uncomfortable situation that is a total disadvantage for Tibetans. So, here is the issue; if all the subjects are taught in Chinese, it would provide benefits in the long run to Chinese people rather than Tibetans. If the subjects continue to be taught in Tibetan, Tibetans will not be integrated with or converted into Chinese. Tibetans clearly know this and the Chinese know this as well.

A few days ago, I found a document regarding the use of Tibetan language in the Autonomous Region in Amdo Golok. Article 39 says “In the autonomous region, the local government should highly venerate the teachers who teach mathematics, physical science, chemistry, biology, and geography in Tibetan and make their works sustainably stable and effective. Furthermore, those who can teach all the subjects with excellent knowledge of Tibetan and have high accomplishments will be honored and highly respected.”
But like the old saying, “The sun has shined its light on our behinds”, a black sun now shines on the wishes of the Tibetan people. Or rather, this is a red sun, a red sun from the east.

( This article was published on Khabdha November 3,2010)

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