The teachers explained that Tibetan medium-teaching has benefits the authorities are ignoring: Tibetan-medium students scored above average in exams to qualify for higher education, and were highly motivated, while Chinese-medium students in their area rarely got as far as middle school. “This decision…will achieve nothing other than turning Tibetan students into fools with a mediocre grasp of the Chinese language,” wrote one.

“It will turn future Tibetan students into parrots, rather than fluent speakers of both languages,” said another. “Officials at county level and above [those unsympathetic to Tibetan culture] don’t send their kids to these schools [preferring more prestigious ones in urban areas of the mainland],” he continued, “yet now they insist that rural Tibetans do.”

At a time of deepening government repression, and assimilationist policies targeting supposedly “autonomous” minority peoples in China, these changes trigger many Tibetans’ deepest fear – that of losing the ultimate guarantee of their distinct identity, their spoken and written language.