The U.S. State Department has documented the Chinese government’s efforts to control, marginalize and re-define Tibetan culture and religion. The findings are contained in the special Tibet section of the State Department’s “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011,” released today in Washington, D.C.

“The State Department has long recognized that Tibetans have legitimate grievances under Chinese policies,” said Todd Stein, Director of Government Relations at the International Campaign for Tibet. “This report documents a consistent pattern of human rights abuses in Tibet by the Chinese authorities, which have increased the resentment of the Tibetan people, and caused a cycle of repression that led to the ongoing crisis.”

The report catalogues a volume of human rights abuses perpetrated across the Tibetan Plateau by the Chinese authorities, focused on the reporting year of 2011. These abuses include torture, disappearances, arbitrary and political detention, denial of fair trials, and severe restrictions on the freedom of speech, movement, academic pursuits, press and the Internet.

The report shows that the State Department views the self-immolations in Tibet as a consequence of a “cycle of repression” initiated by repressive Chinese policies:

The government’s attempts to assert control over all aspects of Tibetan Buddhist monastic and religious practice through such means as compulsory “patriotic education” and “legal education” campaigns at monasteries, compulsory denunciation of the Dalai Lama, establishing permanent CCP and security personnel presence at monasteries, and taking over the identification and training of reincarnated lamas (tulku), provoked acts of resistance among the Tibetan population, who saw it as a threat to the foundations of Tibet’s distinct religious, linguistic, and cultural identity. These acts of resistance, in turn, led to enhanced attempts by PRC authorities to maintain control, thus creating cycles of repression that resulted in increasingly desperate acts by Tibetans, such as a series of self-immolations by Tibetan Buddhist clergy and laypersons in China’s Tibetan areas.

To support its statements about the “underlying grievances” of the Tibetans, the State Department’s report documents many instances where Chinese policies are, directly or indirectly, causing the erosion of Tibetan culture and identity. Excerpts include:

  • Tibetans generally lacked the right to play a meaningful role in the protection of their cultural heritage and unique natural environment and faced arrest and intimidation if they protested against mining or other industrial activities that they felt were harmful to the environment or sacred sites.
  • Policies promoting planned urban economic growth, rapid infrastructure development, the influx of non-Tibetans to traditionally Tibetan areas, the expansion of the tourism industry, the forced resettlement of nomads and farmers, and the weakening of Tibetan-language education at the middle and high school levels continued to disrupt traditional living patterns and customs.
  • The Tibetan-language curriculum for primary and middle schools in Tibetan areas was predominantly translated directly from the standard national Mandarin-language curriculum, offering Tibetan students very little insight into their own culture and history. Few elementary schools in Tibetan areas used Tibetan as the primary language of instruction.
  • Tibetan-language blogs and Web sites were subject to indiscriminate censorship, with entire sites closed down even when the content did not appear to touch on sensitive topics.
  • [T]he director of the TAR State Security Bureau called for the development of Tibet’s tourism and cultural industries to combat the weakening of national identity and other “negative” effects of placing “too much emphasis on the promotion of Buddhist religious faith.”
  • Economic and social exclusion was a major source of discontent among a varied cross section of ethnic Tibetans, including business operators, workers, students, university graduates, farmers, and nomads. Some ethnic Tibetans reported that they experienced discrimination in employment, and some job advertisements in the TAR expressly noted that ethnic Tibetans were not welcome to apply.
  • Government propaganda against alleged Tibetan “pro-independence forces” contributed to growing societal discrimination against ordinary Tibetans.

Last month, the International Campaign for Tibet released a major report entitled “60 Years of Misrule; Arguing Cultural Genocide in Tibet,” which finds that Chinese authorities have engage in a consistent and systemic effort to replace organic Tibetan culture with a state-approved version to suit the Party’s ideological, political and economic objectives. It argues that these policies are so systematic and persistent in their destructive to Tibetan culture, that they contain elements of cultural genocide. The report can be found online.