International Campaign for Tibet

Chinese Racism and Racist Policy in Tibet

Press release

Executive Summary


For Immediate Release - Monday, August 27 - by International Campaign for Tibet
Contact: - Evan Field - +1 (202)-785-1515

Racism: China's Secret Scourge

ICT Report Refutes Beijing's Denial of Racism in China

Washington, D. C. - International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) will release a report at the UN World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) documenting the origin and nature of racism against Tibetans and how the Chinese government perpetuates racist attitudes and policies.

The 60- page report, entitled "Jampa: The Story of Racism in Tibet," describes how racist language and concepts permeate China's constitution, laws and policy and how this has contributed to the racism and discrimination Tibetans face today. It is the first comprehensive analysis of this phenomenon, a subject that has not been widely addressed by scholars, human rights groups and others who generally focus on more conventional human rights violations in Tibet.

"While highlighting racism in the west, China has effectively suppressed racism as a domestic issue. This is their shameful secret," said Tsering Jampa, Director of International Campaign for Tibet- Europe.

In the months leading up to the World Conference on Racism, China has portrayed racism as a Western phenomenon that does not exist in China. In a February 2001 submission to the UN, China stated that "all ethnic groups are living in harmony" in China.

"The Chinese government's denial that racism is a significant problem in China is a policy which prevents Tibetans and others from addressing racism in meaningful, constructive ways," said John Ackerly, President of ICT.

The title of the report, "Jampa," refers to the protagonist of a ubiquitous 1963 Communist Party propaganda film depicting Tibetans as a backward people who can only be uplifted by the civilizing force of the Chinese.

"All Tibetans live under the shadow of this film," said Tsering Jampa. "The Chinese government has used it to denigrate Tibetan culture and justify its occupation of Tibet."

At the conference ICT will urge the government of China to acknowledge the extent of the problem and to remove derogatory, chauvinist or paternalistic language from laws and policy statements. ICT is also urging Chinese non- governmental organizations based in the west to work with Tibetan groups on educational programs and initiatives to help combat this long-standing problem.

Although China tried to block the accreditation of Tibetan human rights groups to the World Conference against Racism a vote by UN member counties approved accreditation for ICT and one other Tibetan organization.

ICT has invited also Xiao Qiang, Director of Human Rights in China, whose organization was not accredited, to join its delegation to the conference.


August 2001

International Campaign for Tibet:
Jampa: The Story of Racism in Tibet

On the eve of the 2001 UN World Conference Against Racism, the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) is releasing a comprehensive report entitled Jampa: The Story of Racism in Tibet.

The 110-page report exposes widespread racism and discrimination against Tibetans and highlights how the China's laws, regulations and policy statements contribute to racism in Tibet.

PRC Government Policy

The report addresses the myth propagated by the People's Republic of China that racism is mainly a Western phenomenon. Officials in Lhasa and Beijing publicly express that racism has not existed in China since the inception of Communist power. In February 2001, China's Vice Foreign Minister Wang Guangya declared during the Asia Regional Preparatory Meeting for the WCAR, " . . .at present the Chinese people of all ethnic groups are living in harmony."

However, as stated in the report's foreword, "Racism should be spelled out in order to be dispelled" (Chinese intellectual, Yang Liensheng). Although the government of the PRC adopted a constitution that stipulates racial and ethnic equality for all 56 peoples or "nationalities" in the PRC, enforcement mechanisms are extremely weak and politicized. Peoples who do not physically and culturally resemble the Han are not considered truly Chinese and are ranked lower in the racial hierarchy.

Constitutional and legislative provisions dealing with equality and discrimination are designed and implemented more to maintain a united and integrated Chinese state than to prohibit inequities of racism and discrimination.

Advocacy against racism in China is sometimes interpreted as inciting 'splittism.' The Chinese government's suppression of free discussion concerning race and ethnicity in the PRC is of grave concern and presents a major obstacle to be overcome in eliminating racial discrimination in China and Tibet.


The portrayal of Jampa, an uneducated, dirty Tibetan in the 1963 Chinese propaganda film The Serf, exemplifies the longstanding ethnocentric Chinese perception of Tibetans as backward and in need of Chinese assistance. The government enforces these racial perceptions in supporting the contradictory claim that Tibetans are part of a common "Chinese" ancestry while simultaneously propagating and implementing China's "civilizing mission" in Tibet.

Today's policies and practice of racism and racial discrimination in Tibet are heavily influenced by the historical development of Chinese perceptions of Tibetans. Chinese leaders, including Sun Yatsen and Chiang Kaishek, promoted racial myths to redefine territorial borders and unify the Chinese nation- state.

Chinese nationalism, embedded in a historiography of Chinese greatness and superiority over all other "barbarian" peoples, provides a backdrop to the current Chinese policy on the control and administration of Tibet. In July 2001, Hu Jintao credited China for ushering in "a new era in which Tibet would turn from darkness to light, from backwardness to progress, from poverty to affluence, and from seclusion to openness."

Liberation, enlightenment and modernization have been the ideological banners for subjugating national minorities and, far from promoting respect and equitable treatment, fuel pre- existing biases of backwardness, barbarism and primitiveness.

Tibetan Experience of Discrimination

The Tibetan experience of racism is particularly painful because it exists in the context of colonialist repression, where the government seeks to suppress the distinct Tibetan cultural identity in its efforts to create "Chinese unity."

The denigration and persecution of Tibetan religion and culture is a direct result of central government policy aimed at combating Tibetan resistance to the occupation of their country. The policy decisions resulting from the Chinese government's 3rd Forum on Work in Tibet, held in 1994, have led to the undermining of Tibetans' distinct national and cultural consciousness and religious faith and the assimilation of Tibetans into the framework of Chinese culture.

Tibetans are faced with the choice of assimilating and relinquishing their Tibetan identity, religion and culture or facing the perpetual potential of discrimination.

Tibetans lack access to healthcare, partly due to the concentration of medical facilities in urban areas rather than rural areas where the proportion of Tibetans is greater than Chinese. In the area of education, Tibetan children face many obstacles compared to their Chinese counterparts including expensive school fees, poorly trained teachers, struggling to retain Tibetan language skills through primary school, difficult transitions to Chinese- medium secondary and tertiary schools, and being subjected to the degrading messages of prejudiced curricula. Tibetans also face discrimination in employment and have less access to training and special business permits. Additionally, they must compete with Chinese settlers who frequently have the connections needed to expedite the ability to attain permits, government- provided housing or job opportunities.

Enforcement of laws and regulations that do exist to prohibit acts of discrimination are lax and are subject to an ever- changing political agenda and climate.

Although China's occupation of Tibet has brought a certain level of development to the region, the benefits of this development disproportionately favor Chinese settlers, especially as an influx of Chinese settlers is encouraged to dilute the population.

Among the most consistent human rights violations by the Chinese authorities in Tibet is the suppression of religious and cultural freedom. Approximately half of Tibetan political prisoners are Buddhist monks and nuns. Moreover, the attitude in China toward religion in Tibetan culture constitutes a type of discrimination that has been recognized by the UN Committee to Eliminate Racial Discrimination.

Conclusions and Recommendations

China has a demonstrably good record in opposing racism in some of its international forms and for opposing apartheid in South Africa long before many other governments, including the government of the United States. But domestically, China lags far behind much of the world in acknowledging and addressing racism. Rather than allowing open debate about racism, China rigorously suppresses such discourse, setting back progress in the fight against racism.

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Last updated 21 February 2002.