While the world watches Gaza and Ukraine, China is crushing Tibetan and Mongolian cultures
"We urge the international community to collectively address the harm caused by colonialism, eradicate its lasting legacy, uphold international fairness and justice, and foster the establishment of a fairer and more equitable international order," a Chinese official recently told the United Nations. "Colonialism stands as the darkest chapter in human civilization's history, leaving an enduring scar in the course of human development.”
And he quoted China’s president Xi Jinping’s address in South Africa in August to countries which had “shaken off the yoke of colonialism”: “Everything we do is to deliver better lives to our people."
Inspiring words. Reassuring words. And incredibly two-faced. Under Xi, the Communist regime seems to have learned from the colonialists rather than repudiating them. Just look at what is happening right now on Tibet and Inner Mongolia, while the world’s media is preoccupied with the wars in Ukraine and Israel.
In August, Tsewang Norbu, a 25-year-old Tibetan pop star, died due to injuries incurred in a self-immolation attempt thwarted by Chinese police in Lhasa last year. Since 2009, a total of 158 Tibetans within China have set themselves on fire as a desperate form of protest. The horribly painful act underscores the gravity of the repression faced by Tibetans in China. Moreover, the suppression of culture, language, and religion is worsening not only for Tibetans but also for Inner Mongolians.
During the 2020-2021 school year, Beijing announced severe curbs on bilingual education in Tibet and Inner Mongolia. This year, restrictions are being intensified. Currently, no websites in either language are accessible inside of China. Books in both languages have largely been banned, and those which exist are heavily censored to support Marxist values. According to the Southern Mongolia Human Rights Information Center, on August 25, 2023, the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Books and Periodicals Distribution Association released an official statement announcing the prohibition of both Mongolian-language and Chinese-language editions of the multi-volume The Comprehensive History of Mongolian Nationality.
According to Mansang Taichuud, a Southern Mongolian historian, the notice mandates the immediate removal of the book from shelves. The notice further emphasizes the need for all member units of the Distribution Association to align with the approved historical narrative of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), condemning historical nihilism. The CCP wants to rewrite history, to avoid accepting that both Inner Mongolia and Tibet used to be independent of China.
Tibet was an independent country ruled by the 14th Dalai Lama, who held both spiritual and political authority. Since its annexation by China in 1950, Tibet has experienced ongoing repression, marked by restrictions on religious and cultural freedoms, as well as a continuous debate regarding its autonomy and independence. As of 2023, new Chinese official documents use the name Xizang, rather than Tibet. Now, even the name of the country is being erased.
The Inner Mongolia Autonomous Prefecture of the People’s Republic of China was originally Southern Mongolia. In the first quarter of the 20th century, China’s northern territories, including Southern Mongolia, experienced political and territorial changes following the collapse of the Qing Dynasty. It became part of the Republic of China (ROC) during the early 20th century. In 1947, the region was officially designated as the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region within the framework of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Since then, Inner Mongolia has witnessed ongoing repression of Mongolian culture, including restrictions on language, education, and traditional customs. Traditionally, Mongolians have been nomadic herdsmen, relying on livestock such as horses, sheep, goats, camels, and yaks for their way of life. However, Chinese government policies have significantly restricted traditional nomadic herding practices in Inner Mongolia. These policies, aimed at sedentarization, have made herding more challenging or, in some cases, illegal, compelling many Mongolians to transition to settled ranching or other forms of livelihood. This shift has had a profound impact on the traditional Mongolian way of life and cultural practices in the region.
A few years ago, Beijing decided that passports would say Nei Menggu rather than Inner Mongolia. Once again, Beijing is attempting to not only erase the culture, but also remove the place from maps and out of the consciousness of locals and foreigners alike.
The Asia Freedom Institute finds that policies of the Chinese government under Xi Jinping and the CCP have been increasingly restrictive and brutal. In Tibetan regions, there have been documented cases of enforced disappearances, arrests, physical maltreatment, and prolonged detention without legal proceedings for monks, nuns, and others due to their religious activities. There are reports of individuals perishing in custody as a result of physical abuse. The government has compelled both clergy and laypeople to undergo “political reeducation.” The institute asserts that Xi’s policies align with the characteristics of cultural genocide.
Beijing’s second-generation ethnic policy (第二代民族政策) purports to protect ethnic minority cultures, but in practice it advocates forced assimilation. Uyghurs, Tibetans, Inner Mongolians, and other non-Chinese (non-Han) minority communities are experiencing an unprecedented level of repression, with the ultimate goal of erasing their languages, religious customs, cultural traditions, and distinct histories. The overarching objective is to assimilate and Sinicize these communities.
In 2020, many students and parents protested the change in curriculum in Inner Mongolia. Parents kept their children at home, rather than send them to Mandarin-language schools. Beijing’s reaction was to threaten the parents with having their bank accounts frozen, loss of their jobs, and loss of access to state services. In the end, the parents acquiesced. In the current year, a new mandate requires that all schools, including kindergartens, use Chinese as the sole language of instruction for every subject. This policy is most severe in Tibet, where nearly one million Tibetan children have been forcibly separated from their parents and placed in boarding schools. This equates to 80 percent of all children in Tibet being isolated from their families, language, and religion, while also being subjected to intense political indoctrination.
Religion holds a central place in Tibetan life, with the majority of the population adhering to Tibetan Buddhism. Monasteries and temples stand as powerful symbols not only of Tibetan religious beliefs but also of the broader culture and identity. Throughout history, these monastic institutions have served as hubs of knowledge, imparting teachings on traditional medicine, crafts, rituals, and various professional trades. Additionally, they have functioned as vital centers for the printing and preservation of sacred texts and sutras, making them indispensable for the continued vitality of Tibetan culture.
Larung Gar Buddhist Academy, also known as Larung Gar Serta Buddhist Institute, situated in Sertar County within the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, was once the world’s largest Buddhist academy. However, in 2016, it suffered extensive damage at the hands of the CCP. Thousands of students, monks, and nuns were forcibly expelled, with many subjected to political re-education. According to estimates by the International Campaign for Tibet, of the approximately 6,000 monasteries that once existed in Tibet, only 13 remain unharmed. Furthermore, in the past three years, two Chinese-style pavilions were erected near the Jokhang Temple, a sacred site in Tibet’s capital city of Lhasa, representing a desecration of the holiest temple in Tibet.
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Mongolians also practice Tibetan Buddhism, and so the systematic repression of Tibetan religion equates to the restriction of Mongolian religion as well. As part of their training, Mongolian monks study in Tibetan monasteries, where they learn to read and speak Tibetan. Under the new laws, this practice will be severely curbed.
Chinese government policies forbid Tibetans and Mongolians from offering prayers to the Dalai Lama and displaying his image in their temples and homes. They have also prohibited the display of the deeply symbolic Tibetan prayer flags, which are cherished by both Mongol and Tibetan communities, and the celebration of many significant Tibetan festivals. Furthermore, China has intensified its surveillance of religious leaders, practitioners, and individuals attending religious ceremonies and services.
Numerous reliable accounts point to widespread surveillance and the large-scale collection of DNA samples. It is reported that up to 1.2 million Tibetans have undergone DNA sampling, contributing to the creation of an extensive genetic database. This development enhances Beijing’s surveillance capacity, enabling China to closely monitor Tibetan populations, infringe upon their privacy, and potentially subject them to persecution. Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., a US-based company specializing in analytical instruments, laboratory, pharmaceutical, and biotechnology services headquartered in Waltham, Massachusetts, has supplied DNA kits to the CCP, which in turn has distributed them to police units in Tibet.
Sources inside Tibet have reported that the CCP is also punishing members of the families of those who self-immolated, preventing them from being able to enter university, denying them jobs, and excluding them from certain state benefits. The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) has recorded a pattern of the CCP targeting exiled Tibetans, activists, and their relatives in other countries. Efforts have also been redoubled to prevent Tibetans inside of China from speaking to people outside the country.
Antonio Graceffo, PhD, China-MBA MBA, is a China economic analyst teaching economics at the American University in Mongolia. He has spent 20 years in Asia and is the author of six books about China. His writing has appeared in The Diplomat, South China Morning Post, Jamestown Foundation China Brief, Penthouse, Shanghai Institute of American Studies, Epoch Times, War on the Rocks, Just the News, and Black Belt Magazine.
Image: monks at a Buddhist monastery in Tibet / Bigstock
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