Tibetan Language Rights and Civil Society in the People’s Republic of China: Challenges of and for Rights Academic Article uri icon


  • One of the hallmarks of the Xi Jinping era in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been a sustained attack on civil society, coupled with discursive shifts that attempt to undermine the universality of human rights. This article examines Tibetan language activism in this context, looking at challenges both for and of rights. I argue that the challenge for rights – namely, the state’s increasing hostility – is offset somewhat by the slow growth, transnational nature and ample resourcing of the emerging discourse of language rights among Tibetans. On the other hand, I argue that challenges of rights – namely, the differential distribution of the “right to have rights” – present a more intractable problem. I demonstrate this by showing how current discourses among Tibetans in the PRC claim rights for some languages but not others, effectively erasing the “right to have rights” of certain Tibetan populations.