Words and Authoritarianism

Well, thank heavens for the CCP! The producer, the wartime aid, the data harvester, out of whom our cheap goods and entertainment flow like mother’s milk. Surely we’d be so kind as to spare a little bit of ourselves for them - say, perhaps, our own cultures?

It’s no secret that mainland China likes being in control. Its culture is a heavy, silent fist upon both the real and digital planes. Mandarin Chinese is one of the most commonly-taught second languages in the world, fashion brands are now catering more and more to Chinese tastes, and minority groups are being slowly pushed to the side in favor of the great Mainland. They’ve got an identity, all right, and they aren’t hesitant to flaunt it. And make no mistake - the right to one is now theirs alone.

This era isn’t a good one for the Tibetans. A recent Human Rights Watch article reported that Tibetan language education is to be phased out by the Chinese government, in exchange for the baffling misnomer of “bilingual education - really a way to make young Tibetan children learn Chinese as their primary language. The Tibetans are currently protesting this move, but for how long exactly can they keep it up before they’re silenced like the Uyghurs? The Chinese government knows full well that language is a central piece of identity. Different languages convey certain cultural experiences and perspectives that are unique to groups of people. To force a language upon a society is to stifle its residents and make them forget where they came from. Although language does inevitably adapt to the people who use it, who knows how that will happen under Chinese authoritarianism? Something will still be lost, and something will still be forgotten.

We’ve seen the same thing across world history. Cultures have been mangled and forgotten, and people have lost the ability to express themselves - all due to the forceful, colonial imposition of a language. Some dialects of Agta (a local Filipino language) have gone extinct. Why? Because young Filipinos feel like they must work in the cities, which means that they must learn to speak Tagalog primarily. If that could happen even without the influence of authoritarianism, how much worse will things get with it? Provocative question. Well-structured response overall.

What’s particularly telling about this move, however, are the subjects that the Chinese government wants exclusively in Chinese. Language/literature, politics, and history form the core of cultural identity. The imposition of Mandarin upon the Tibetans is already going to cause damage, but taking away the Tibetans’ ability to discuss their heritage and politics from their own cultural standpoint is a disaster waiting to happen. It is a way of silencing their dissent and making them subservient to the CCP. No longer will they be able to speak up for themselves as the Tibetan people. They will learn to think, vote, and recall history like the Chinese, and soon enough Tibetan culture will be quietly assimilated into the great Mainland. It will no longer make them uncomfortable with its political demands for respect and recognition.