Yongzin, China’s Gift To Tibetans Or A Propaganda Tool?

Yongzin, which literally refers to a tutor in more specific context of Tibetan Buddhism, is the name of the first search engine completely packaged in Tibetan language backed by the Chinese government. This search engine besides performing the search queries for Tibetan, it’s designs and interfaces are tailored in Tibetan language too.

Designed in a similar style to the Google, the search engine has eight dedicated sections for news, websites, images, videos, music, encyclopedia, literature and forums.. Interestingly, the forum deals with many topics ranging from health issues to technology to counselling as well. The service has a user registration facility while at the same time it also allows the users to download the resources.

However, at the first glance at the home page of the search engine, the primary logo of Yongzin which is a decorated literal text colored in four shades does not provide complete Tibetan logo as it also includes syllable text of yongzin in English and Chinese. This need to include the brand name in these two foreign languages is unnecessary for a pure Tibetan language project in my opinion unless you also aim to reach out to non-Tibetan speakers.

“The search engine, yongzin.com, will serve as a unified portal for all major Tibetan-language websites in China,” said Tselo, director of the Tibetan Language Work Committee of the Hainan Tibetan autonomous prefecture in Qinghai. This statement clearly points out a negation or more specifically, it censors a large sections of online Tibetan resources in exile.

“Yongzin will meet the growing needs of the Tibetan-speaking population and facilitate the building of Tibetan digital archives and the expansion of databases in the Tibetan language,” an official said. Though major search engines today does provide search results for Tibetan queries, Yongzin is the complete search engine in Tibetan language.

The project, which cost 57 million yuan ($8.7 million), was initiated in April 2013 according a Chinese daily.

A comparative look Yongzin’s Search Results:

The Tibetan search engine has strictly censored the Dalai Lama which we were able to find out from the comparison between the search results on the keyword ‘Dalai Lama’ carried first in google, then in the Tibetan search engine Yongzin. The screenshots of the two results for images is as shown above.

yongzin search results1
Search Results Comparison with Google with keyword Sikyong

The above is the comparison of search results between the two search engines on the keyword, ‘Sikyong’ which is the title for the political head of Tibetans implemented after the retirement of His Holiness the Dalai Lama from all political responsibilities from the year 2011. The Tibetan government in exile that functions in democratic system has been creating headlines around the world for successfully following democratic elections for the second term this year. However, Yongzin has censored these information and the results of the search directs to plain literal searches.

yongzin search results2
Search Results Comparison with Google with keyword Central Tibetan Administration

The last picture is the screenshots of the searches carried out on the keyword, Central Tibetan Administration, which is the headquarters of Tibetan exile government in India. However, as clearly seen from the comparative images, Yongzin search engine’s results fail to even recognize the institution and its results are completely censored to the literal context.

Though the technological development is a huge achievement or a gift to the Tibetans, there is also a cautionary reflex which also strengthens in view of the above comparisons, the technology is being used more importantly as a propaganda tool by the Chinese government. The sites containing content which are inline with the government policies are having better indexing benefits and those which align against the regime are being completely censored.

This initiative is also an effort to curb on Tibetans from using VPNs to access the popular site that are blocked in China and consequently in Tibet. All these results also points towards a strategy by the authorities to imposed completed censorship of information inside Tibet as the resistance from Tibetans inside Tibet has been ever continuous against the Chinese. The flow of information between the Tibetans inside and outside has been going despite the Chinese government censorship and  punishments.

Yongzin as its name stands, a teacher, is a very good result of sincere efforts of their developers no doubt, can not stand out fair on Chinese government’s sensitive issues. Therefore this search engine is a strong alternative for Tibetan speaking people to be used for politically non-sensitive items. This will obviously stand out as first grand Tibetan search engine in its utilities as well if the authorities had not imposed censoring of data or curbing information in a biased manner!

Yeshi Paljor

Editor at Tibetan Journal, Yeshi Paljor is a computer engineer by profession.

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