Tibetan demonstrations over land, education policy

News is emerging of two separate demonstrations – over education and loss of land – that occurred on November 1 and 3 in different areas of Amdo, despite intense security in both areas and the risks of participating in protests in Tibet.

  • Images emerged from Sangchu (Chinese: Xiahe) yesterday showing a large deployment of armed police in response to a group of Tibetans, possibly including Chinese, who sought to peacefully raise their concerns over unfair compensation for land in their home areas, according to information from Tibetan sources. Footage of the protest showed Tibetans apparently reclaiming their banner from police with riot shields and helmets, amid a noisy confrontation that also showed police wielding clubs against unarmed Tibetans.
  • Footage also circulated on social media from Tibet of Tibetan middle school students in Dzoege (Chinese: Ruo’ergai), Ngaba, calling for equality in education on November 1 after an official meeting was held about bilingual education and other policies in the prefecture.
Labrang Demo

Police erect barricades to block protestors, and armed troops move in to surround the demonstrators in
Labrang (Xiahe) on November 3, 2014.

Protest in Sangchu

The images from Sangchu (Labrang) showed demonstrators surrounded by ranks of armed police and barricades outside the Xiahe county hospital in Sangchu county, Kanlho (Chinese: Gannan) Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Gansu province (the Tibetan area of Amdo). Tibetan sources said that the protestors had been seeking to walk to the county government headquarters, but that many of them were blocked from progressing by police.

Labrang demonstrators

Metal barricades are trucked into the town to block demonstrators in Labrang (Sangchu, Xiahe) on November 3.

One of the images shows metal barricades being driven to the scene on trucks and erected to block the demonstrators. In another of the pictures a banner is partially visible, written in Chinese, and indicating that the protest is about land. The protestors may have included some Chinese, who also live in the area.

The same Tibetan sources said that this was one of three protests by local people seeking fair payment for their land from the authorities. According to the sources and reports in exile Tibetan media, the reason was that land had been acquired from the same area by the local authorities at different times for different rates; the protestors were seeking a uniform and fair rate of payment for the land.

A video clip circulating on social media shows protestors who appear to be seeking to continue their march to the county government headquarters after the photographs outside the hospital were taken. In the footage, young protestors, including children, seem to be successful in grabbing their banner back from riot police in helmets and with shields. Although the video, which is filmed outside the traffic police headquarters in Labrang (Sangchu) county town, does not directly show police beating protestors, the clip shows a huddle of Tibetans with helmeted plain clothes police. One of the Tibetans shouts that the police ‘are beating the people’.

Issues over payment for land, and seizure of land, have caused protests in the area before that have been suppressed. Hundreds of Tibetans in Hortsang township in Sangchu county staged protests over the seizure of farm land earlier this year for the construction of highways catering to state-linked gold mining and industrial activities that are polluting the environment and destroying livestock (Radio Free Asia report, March 22, 2014).[1]

The issue of land and land use has been a continuing source of tension in Tibetan areas. While the Sangchu protest appears to have been directed at officials at a local (county) level, the central authorities are pursuing ambitious policies of urbanization, involving large-scale land grabs, relocation and sedenterization of nomads and herders in Tibetan areas. The policies are a part of the government’s effort to ‘Build a New Socialist Countryside’ in Tibet, which the government says is designed to rapidly increase the living standards of rural Tibetans and boost the local economy.[2]

Protests by students follow education meeting


(Left) Protestors hold a banner. The Chinese characters that are visible confirm information from Tibetan sources that this is a demonstration about the authorities’ appropriation and possibly unfair purchase of land.
(Right) Paramilitary police move in on protestors outside the Xiahe county hospital.

In Dzoege, Ngaba (Chinese: Aba), a group of Tibetan middle school students gathered on November 1 calling for equality of education. The protest was apparently sparked by an official meeting on nationality and bilingual education in the prefecture. Footage uploaded to Youtube by Tibetan exile media shows students shouting slogans in Tibetan including: “Better to help a hundred than help one”[3] and “Equality of education”. The students were from Dzoege county middle school, in Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan (the Tibetan area of Amdo).

The protest is thought to be linked to a meeting on October 29 where officials discussed education issues in the Ngaba area, detailed on a county government website, and discussions among officials about teaching in the area.[4]

Tibetan sources said that a proposal was discussed to separate classes in Dzoege according to the abilities of students and teachers, and that Tibetan students feared this would lead to a more ‘elite’ form of education in which students of less ability would not benefit from the same opportunities. A Tibetan source in exile said: “The students made their protest because they said everyone has the right to receive an equal education, and because equality is essential for maintaining balance in a society.”

According to a translation of an account of the October 29 meeting by ICT, the conference was held in order to adhere to “the development trends of nationality education, which required the principal responsible comrades from the Department of Education of each county, particularly those who work with bilingual education.”[5]

To Chinese officials, ‘bilingual education’ policy provides that Chinese is the main language of instruction, with Tibetan relegated to just Tibetan language class. Government efforts to prioritize Chinese over Tibetan have led to widespread peaceful protests by Tibetan schoolchildren and students from 2010-11 onwards in the Tibetan area of Amdo. Tibetans seek to preserve their language by giving it at least equal footing with Mandarin.

A petition signed by more than 300 teachers and students from Qinghai in 2010 provided a roadmap for a way ahead with language policy. The petition expressed the view that while learning Chinese is essential for students in Tibet today, the main language medium for teaching should remain Tibetan. The letter was written by teachers from elementary and middle schools from the area, and also signed by some students. Translation by ICT at: Tibetan teachers write petition in support of Tibetan language; fears for students after detentions

The protests in Sangchu and Dzoege in the last few days demonstrate that despite a political climate in which almost any expression of views by Tibetans not directly sanctioned by the state can be characterized as ‘criminal’ by the authorities, Tibetans are continuing to take bold steps in peacefully asserting their views and and defending their culture and values.

[1] http://www.rfa.org/english/news/tibet/protest-03222014220107.html. During the protests in the Hortsang township, the protestors claimed that the authorities did not pay any compensation for their land, the loss of which has affected their livelihood, adding that several protesters had been detained. The RFA report also stated: “Tibetans in Sangchu—where a Tibetan man burned himself to death at the entrance to a Chinese mining site in 2012 to protest against Beijing’s rule—have also held protests recently against the expansion of state-backed gold mining and industrial activities, Tibetan sources said.”

[2] For further information, see ICT report, ‘Tracking the Steel Dragon’, http://www.savetibet.org/tracking-the-steel-dragon/

[3] This appears to refer to the elitist approach by the authorities in which only select students can progress in their education, as opposed to the majority.

[4] Uploaded on October 31, 2014: http://www.hongyuan.gov.cn/tpxw/201410/063f9c7e5c634cdc8ff92ab46c07afb9.shtml

[5] County government website: http://www.hongyuan.gov.cn/tpxw/201410/063f9c7e5c634cdc8ff92ab46c07afb9.shtml

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