Tibet Or Xizang? Why China May Be Ready To Rename The Contested Land
The use of "Xizang" instead of "Tibet" by Chinese officials is supported by some nationalists, but viewed by Tibetans, including those affiliated with the Dalai Lama, as veritable erasure of identity.
Updated Nov. 3, 2023 at 5:30 p.m.
In early October, a message was widely circulated on Chinese social media, suggesting that the name of Tibet in English would be changed to "Xizang."
The source was the China Tibet "Himalayan Rim" International Cooperation Forum, held in Linzhi, Tibet, from Oct. 4-6. The forum was co-hosted by the People's Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and attended by representatives of more than 40 countries, regions, and international organizations, who held in-depth discussions on ecological and environmental protection, development cooperation, and other issues. The event used the Mandarin Chinese pinyin "Xizang" instead of "Tibet."
Pinyin is the romanized spelling of transliterated Chinese, such as “ni hao” or “Beijing.”
This change has not yet been reflected in legislation or official regulations. On Oct. 10, the Tibet Autonomous Region government and Xinhua News Agency, China's official news agency, continued to use "Tibet." Xinhua also used "Tibet" in its English-language coverage of the Forum, using "Xizang" only when referring to the name of the event.
Correcting "serious misunderstanding"
An article published by the United Front Work Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in August, titled "United Front Work New Language", stated that Tibet should be translated as "Xizang" instead of "Tibet".
The article pointed out that in the context of the use of "Tibet" outside China, the word "Tibet" not only represents the Tibet Autonomous Region, but also covers the Tibet-related prefectures and counties in four provinces, namely Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan, and "highly overlaps with the so-called 'Greater Tibet' that the 14th Dalai Lama's group has been advocating to establish for a long time."
Wang Linping, a professor at Harbin Engineering University's School of Marxism, says: "Translations like 'Tibet' have created serious misunderstanding in the international community's understanding of the geographical scope of Tibet.”
There is an urgent need to explore the use of an English translation of the term 'Tibet' that accurately expresses China's position. The change in the English translation would help to reconstruct the media image of Tibet and enhance China's international discourse on Tibet.
It is worth noting that Wang is not a Tibetan researcher. Furthermore, to what extent this argument represents the future direction of Chinese official policy remains unknown.
Li Shulei, a member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and head of the Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee, at the 2023 "Forum on the Development of Xizang, China'' in Beijing.
Should Hong Kong be renamed too?
However, not everyone likes the idea of a name change. Qu Weiguo, a professor at the Department of English Language and Literature at Fudan University, wrote in an article: "If Tibet (in Mandarin Chinese: Xi Zang) can't be translated in English as Tibet, is it still appropriate to call Hong Kong (in Mandarin Chinese: Xiang Gang) Hong Kong?
Qu notes that changing the name of a province should be a serious matter, supported by an official document from the State Language Commission.
He also believes that there is no need to change the name of Tibet, which is now understood in mainstream English as the Tibet Autonomous Region of China.
Translation of geographical names is not clearly defined in Chinese law.
Overseas Tibetan exiled groups have criticized the replacement of "Tibet" with "Xizang" as an attempt to limit the concept of "Tibet" to the Tibet Autonomous Region.
Voice of Tibet, an affiliate of the 14th Dalai Lama's administration, previously stated that "the Chinese Communist Party has sent a large number of people to international conferences and events related to Tibetan studies to legitimize its rule over Tibet, in an attempt to indoctrinate them in the Chinese language and change their perspective on Tibet."
David Bandurski, co-founder of the China Media Project, noted in a 2022 piece that the use of "Xizang" rather than "Tibet" to refer to the Tibet Autonomous Region began primarily in 2022, through articles and diplomatic discourse by China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It has not yet been followed up by the People's Daily or other official authorities.
Translation of geographical names is not clearly defined in Chinese law, and the Regulations on the Administration of Geographical Names, which came into force on May 1, 2022, makes no mention of the issue of translation.
The "New Language of Unification" cites a 1978 report approved by the State Council — a report on changing to Han (Mandarin Chinese) pinyin as a uniform standard for the spelling of the Roman alphabet for Chinese names and geographical names — as the only known regulation.
What is the official name of Tibet?
The official name of the region is the "Tibet Autonomous Region" (TAR). It is an autonomous region within the People's Republic of China. It is sometimes simply referred to as "Tibet."
What is the historical name for Tibet?
Historically, Tibet was known as "Bod" in the Tibetan language. It was also referred to as "Xizang" in Mandarin Chinese. The term "Tibet" is a Westernized version of the name.
What's Tibet's nickname?
Home to Mount Everest, Tibet often referred to as the "Roof of the World" because of its high elevation and its location on the Tibetan Plateau, which is the world's highest and largest plateau. Much of the region is situated at an average elevation of over 4,000 meters (13,000 feet), and it contains several of the world's highest mountain peaks,
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