‘China destroying our identity’, say Tibetans as Beijing refers to Tibet as ‘Xizang’ in white paper


NEW DELHI: The Chinese media is increasingly beginning to refer to Tibet as ‘Xizang’, days after Beijing — in its continued efforts to assert wider control over the western region of the country — issued a white paper titled “CPC Policies on the Governance of Xizang in the New Era: Approach and Achievements”, which outlines developments in Tibet since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012.
Over the years, China has released several white papers on Tibet but this is the first time it has used ‘Xizang’ as the English translation for Tibet. ‘Xizang’ is the pinyin, or Chinese romanisation, of the Mandarin script for ‘Tibet’, said a report by the South China Morning Post (SCMP).
Expert say the name change reflects Beijing’s emphasis on the sovereignty of Tibet and its efforts to exercise “discourse power”, but it is likely to have little impact on how the international community refers to the region.
‘Extermination of Tibetan identity’
The president of the Tibetan government-in-exile on Sunday, however, accused China of denying the most fundamental human rights to people in Tibet and vigorously carrying out the “extermination of the Tibetan identity”.

Taking strong exception to China’s white paper referring to Tibet as ‘Xizang’, Tenpa Tsering, in a statement marking Human Rights Day, said the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was “forging a strong sense of the Chinese national as one single community, promoting the Chinese language, the Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism and developing socialist values”.

“Such infliction of suffering and oppression on the Tibetan people by the CCP authorities is unparalleled and unprecedented,” he said.
Tsering also said there has been a sharp increase in the appointment of Chinese officials in the Tibetan areas.
Concerted effort by China to rein in Tibet
The change in name comes as Beijing seeks to foster what Xi has called a “sense of community for the Chinese nation”.
The name change is intended to strengthen national identity in ethnic minority regions, and one way to achieve this is to promote what Beijing calls “standard spoken and written Chinese” – Mandarin.
Robert Barnett, a professor and senior research fellow at SOAS University of London who specialises in contemporary Tibetan history and culture, told SCMP that attempts to change Tibet’s English name was part of Beijing’s policy drive to exercise its “discourse power” by “insisting on Chinese terms and frameworks” in media discussions.
In August, a group of Chinese scholars had called for the official use of ‘Xizang’ as the English name for Tibet, saying it would help “reshape” the region’s image.

Also in August, the United Front Work Department, which deals with non-party individuals and groups inside and outside China, said on its WeChat account that the term ‘Tibet’ was misleading to the international community because it could be confused with the Dalai Lama’s term “Greater Tibet”, which encompasses areas in provinces neighbouring Tibet, including Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai and Gansu.
In October, China’s foreign ministry used ‘Xizang’ as the English translation for Tibet when it published a speech by foreign minister Wang Yi at a regional forum in Tibet, but previously it used ‘Tibet’ in most English readouts.
Ecommerce provider Weidian has also advised merchants on its platform to use ‘Xizang’ when translating Tibet, otherwise their products may be removed, said the SCMP report.
Chinese media follows CCP line
Since the release of the November white paper, ‘Xizang’ has largely replaced ‘Tibet’ in several official Chinese media reports, with ‘Tibet’ now used only in a few scenarios, including translations of already established geographical terms and names of institutions.
Between November 10, the date of the white paper’s release, and December 8, the English-language website of state news agency Xinhua used ‘Xizang’ in 128 articles, while only five used “Tibet”, all of which were in reference to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the geographic term covering most of the Tibet autonomous region.
But before that, through 2023 up to November 10, search results on Xinhua’s English website showed more than 700 results with the word ‘Tibet’, suggesting that the term was used in a variety of scenarios, including political and economic coverage, while ‘Xizang’ appeared only around 30 times, said the SCMP report.
New Delhi watching closely
China changing names of areas not under its control is not new.
In April, Beijing had issued a new map in which it showed Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin as part of its territory with new names.

At the time, many prominent figures across India had asked New Delhi to declare Tibet as an independent region.
Tibet was incorporated by China in 1950, a year after the Communist Party won the civil war. The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 and remains Tibet’s spiritual leader in exile. India recognises Tibet as part of China but hosts the exiled government in Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh.
Beijing blamed the Dalai Lama for unrest in Tibet in the late 1980s and also in 2008, calling the Nobel Peace Prize winner a “separatist” seeking independence for Tibet, a claim the Dalai Lama has denied.
(With inputs from agencies)


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