One of the central grievances behind recent unrest in Tibet is the marginalization of Tibetan language. While Tibetan is not among the 40% of China’s minority languages already threatened with extinction, policies such as its relegation to secondary status in schools have fueled fears for its long-term survival. The final messages of at least two of the 100+ Tibetan self-immolators within China specifically express this anxiety.
The preservation of Tibetan place names is particularly politically charged. References to locations in Sichuan or Qinghai rather than in Kham or Amdo are often fiercely contested, and the erosion of Tibetan toponyms has also taken place at a lower level. In one pre-Communist example, the town of Dartsedo (or Dajianlu 打箭炉, in the original Chinese rendering based on the Tibetan) was renamed Kangding 康定 in the early twentieth century. Adding insult to injury, this newer label is widely believed to commemorate the “pacification” or conquest of Kham.
A new project by the Tibetan Youth Association in Europe, Students for a Free Tibet and the Tibetan Youth Congress aims to secure the future of Tibetan place names by adding them to Google Maps:
Under the Chinese occupation many Tibetan towns and cultural landmarks not only were destroyed but also renamed with new Chinese names.
To stop this ongoing attempt to systematically wipe out the Tibetan identity, language and tradition, we are starting a worldwide petition asking Google to put Tibet’s heritage back on the map – by officially adding the traditional Tibetan names written in the Tibetan alphabet.
So from February 13th 2013, exactly 100 years after Tibet’s declaration of independence, we are collecting all the information about Tibetan landmarks on this map.