Chinese officials and academics are proposing changing how Tibet is referred to in English to “reconstruct” its image on the global stage
Changing an image: The proposal, which emerged during a seminar on the region’s image held in Beijing on Aug. 14-16, suggests using the Chinese name Xizang, even in international discourse.
Over 320 scholars, including international attendees, participated in the seminar, which was covered extensively by official Chinese media outlets. Details about the seminar were sourced from a WeChat account managed by the United Front Work Department, a CCP-backed body related to ethnic minorities in China.
Tibet, known as “the Roof of the World,” is a historically significant and culturally rich region often associated with Tibetan Buddhism and its unique linguistic heritage. Proponents of the shift say the proposal is part of a broader effort by Beijing to reframe the narrative around Tibet and emphasize its integral place within China.
A more favorable portrayal: Wang Linping, a prominent scholar from Harbin Engineering University’s College of Marxism, emphasized the importance of aligning an English translation with China’s perspective on Tibet. He argued that the conventional term “Tibet” has contributed to “misunderstandings” about the region’s geographical boundaries.
Lian Xiangmin, vice-director of the China Tibetology Research Centre, supported the idea, citing previous international guidelines advocating for the use of pinyin, the romanization of Chinese characters, in English place names. He believes that adopting “Xizang” adheres to these principles and could foster a more favorable portrayal of the region.
Xia Yan, an editor with the China Tibet Information Centre, suggested that using “Xizang” could “help reconstruct Tibet’s media image and enhance China’s international discourse on Tibet.”
Challenges and opposition: The proposal may have gained traction within certain circles, but it also gained opposition from those who suggest that this is part of China’s ongoing efforts to assert its historical and territorial claims. The region has been a point of contention both within China and on the international stage, particularly regarding the exiled Dalai Lama‘s assertions of independence.
According to former Indian Army Chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane, exiled Tibetans
have a right to return to the land of their forefathers. Reiterating that the Tibetan people must be able to experience their culture and traditions, he said: “Over the decades, China has fully occupied Tibet and made territorial and administrative changes that would transform the identity and culture of the Tibetans.”