AS a herdsman's son in southern Tibet, Ci Ping ran free on grassy mountain slopes tending yaks and watching hawks ply the broad blue skies of the high plateau. Living with his family in a traditional earthen house, he grew hardy on the Tibetan staples of yak butter, tea, and ``tsampa,'' a paste made from roast barley flour.
Today, the 16-year-old Tibetan boy looks out on mountains of slab concrete high rises, and roams only as far as the metal fence that surrounds his boarding school in north Beijing.
He eats the rice and steamed wheat buns of ethnic Chinese and sleeps in a cement-floored dormitory more than 1,000 miles from his native village. Here, the only wildlife to amuse him is an eagle sculpted from grey metal that swoops down on the school courtyard. The radical change in Ci's surroundings since he left Tibet two years ago mirrors one in his impressionable young mind.
``I don't miss home,'' he says in pure, Mandarin Chinese only slightly accented by Tibetan. ``Sometimes, I just forget about it.''
Ci is one of hundreds of bright youths plucked from Tibetan villages by the state each year to undergo schooling and Marxist indoctrination in Chinese cities - and, eventually, to return to Tibet as instruments of Communist Party rule.
The party has trained more than 1.5 million minorities like Ci as officials, technicians and teachers since the 1950s, when Chinese troops marched into Tibet and other strategic borderlands inhabited by non-Chinese ethnic groups.
Chinese authorities view the minority cadres - labeled ``the bridge between the Communist Party and the people'' - as critical to exploiting the rich resources of regions like Tibet while keeping them under tight control.
The party is gradually replacing low and middle-ranking Chinese officials with Tibetans, in an attempt to alleviate deep ethnic animosity created by Maoist campaigns to wipe out ``feudal'' religious and social customs in Tibet in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.
Yet while China's post-Mao leaders claim to respect Tibetan beliefs, the indoctrination of youths like Ci clearly subordinates their ethnic interests to Beijing's goal of political and ideological domination.
Uprooted and alienated from life at home, Ci and his 380 classmates at the all-Tibetan Middle School in Beijing appear to be turning their backs on their own culture, while embracing the party's materialist worship of science and Marxist dogma.
A broad-faced boy with sturdy Tibetan features, Ci left home in 1987 along with hundreds of other 12- to 14-year-old Tibetans chosen for schooling in 18 Chinese cities. Having scored high marks on a regional exam for primary school graduates, the students represent the cream of Tibet's youths.
Since his arrival in Beijing, indoctrination for Ci has been intense and thorough. He and his classmates learn to speak the Chinese language from textbooks brimming with official party history. In a first-year Chinese class last week, for example, Tibetan students recited a lesson about Li Dazhao, one of the founders of the Communist Party.
Moreover, all students must attend ``political study'' classes for two, 45-minute periods each week, says the school's headmaster, Zhang Lianke. Recent topics include Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping's speech on the crushing of the spring democracy movement.
Every Sunday, when no classes are held, the staff of the school's ``political education department'' organizes field trips to factories, universities, monuments, and scenic spots around Beijing.
``We want to open their eyes,'' explains the headmaster.
The field trips, however, appear to be a way to do just the opposite. By stopping the young Tibetans from exploring Beijing on their own, they discourage questioning of propaganda glorifying China's achievements and communist rule.
``The leaders avoid letting the students out,'' says a worker at the school, which is encircled by a tall metal fence watched from a large gatehouse.
Imbued with propaganda and allowed to visit home only once every four years, Ci and his classmates appear to accept naively a party line inimical to Tibetan civilization.
Wearing sneakers and navy blue warm-ups, Ci laughs when asked in an interview recently whether he would ever consider becoming a Buddhist monk, a figure still highly respected in the former Himalayan theocracy.
``Oh no!'' he says, commenting on Tibetan boys who enter monasteries. ``If they thought about ... the motherland, they would know they ought to study science,'' he says. ``There are no gains from Lamaism (Tibetan Buddhism).''
Many of Ci's peers back home beg foreign tourists for photographs of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's god-king, who is living in exile in India. In contrast, Ci recites official propaganda attacking the Tibetan leader, who won this year's Nobel Peace Prize.
``I totally oppose the Dalai's activities to split the motherland,'' says Ci, an aspiring Communist Party member, matter-of-factly. ``He shouldn't have won the Nobel Prize.''
While the party seems to be successfully grooming young Tibetan adherents, it is questionable how much influence they can have upon returning to their homeland.
Like the school building, whose red brick roof and white concrete walls form an austere, modern mockery of traditional Tibetan architecture, the attitude of students like Ci seems stiff and artificial.
Even the late Panchen Lama, who was second in Tibet's religious hierarchy only to the Dalai Lama, was deeply mistrusted by many Tibetans for collaborating with the Communist Party.
At the same time, the party has no iron-clad guarantee that its indoctrination will not fade once the youths quit Chinese cities for Tibet. In the past two years, Tibetan party cadres in the capital, Lhasa, have supported protests against Chinese rule, according to official reports.
Ni Macuo, another Tibetan student, becomes visibly nervous when asked her opinion of the Dalai Lama. ``I'm not very clear about that,'' she says in a voice barely audible, hands shaking.
Ni describes her feelings upon visiting her home village last summer after four years in the eastern city of Tianjin.
``Before, I didn't know the beauty of my native place,'' she says, her hair braided in the style of Tibetan girls. ``Only after leaving to study, did I see it.''