Monthly Archives: March 2009

Cannot refute academic studies? Let’s do some wording games instead.

Today Reuters published an report titled “Tibet serf debate shadows China’s ’emancipation day'”. For years, after failing to refute the academic studies, the western journalists and the exile group started to play some kind of wording games. Please allow me to quote one section from the report below:

—– start of quote ——


Even the name of the new holiday is controversial. Opponents say “serfdom” is too loaded to describe the Tibetan system, while China denounces its critics as apologists for a cruel regime.

“The serfs and slaves, making up over 95 percent of the total population, suffered destitution, cruel oppression and exploitation and possessed no means of production or personal freedom whatsoever,” a recent government white paper declared.

Few serious scholars contest that most Tibetans were bound by birth to estates held by nobles, monasteries or officials.

“The key characteristic of the system was that individuals did not have the right to opt out. They could not give back their land to the estate and live as free peasants,” said Melvyn Goldstein, at Ohio University’s Center for Research on Tibet.

But many foreign academics and exiled Tibetans also say Beijing has rewritten history, oversimplifying and distorting a complex system, in part by using transplanted concepts.

“The Chinese trick is to say the words ‘serf’ and ‘feudal’ and make us think brutal,” said Robbie Barnett, director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia University.

Obligation to provide labor fell on families or households, not individuals, so while some worked for the estate, others were away trading or in the family’s own fields, academics say.

Peasants who ran away often were not brought back, and although trading of serfs happened, it was not widespread. Others rented their freedom on a yearly basis with a “human lease.”

Some “serfs” were also wealthy landowners in their own right, with serf-servants of their own, making a more complex social picture than is reflected in Beijing’s official line.

Managers could be brutal, and whips were still used in 1959.

“The owners always wanted more and one way of getting more is doing hard physical punishment and setting an example for the others, and that was common,” said Dawa Tsering, from the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences in Lhasa, who studied under Goldstein.

“The extreme was that they may beat you to death.”

But many Chinese accounts of cruelty mix details of extreme and disused punishments from centuries-old legal codes with actual practice in the 1950s, like a recent exhibition in Beijing where an “eye-gouging stone” was placed next to whips.

The last official blinding was in 1934, of a nobleman convicted of treason. By then, no living member of the caste who performed mutilations had ever done it, or even seen it carried out, Goldstein recounted in his “History of Modern China.”

They had to rely on stories of the technique passed down from their parents and bungled the operation horribly, he wrote.

—– end of quote ——

So who is Robbie Barnett, director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia University? Here is the introduction of him at Columbia University’s website: “Before joining Columbia in 1998, Professor Barnett worked as a journalist and researcher in the United Kingdom, specializing in Tibetan issues for the BBC, the South China Morning Post, VOA, the Guardian, the Independent and other media outlets. From 1987-1998, Dr. Barnett was director of an independent Tibet news and research project in London. He has also worked as a journalist for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), the BBC, The Observer ( London), The Independent ( London), and other news outlets.” Hmm, I think these experiences well explain his stands.

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Filed under China, Tibet

FWD: Why You Shouldn’t Care About Tibet

This is an interesting article about Tibet by Jack Elgin of DC Independent Conservative Examiner. It is a bit long, though.

For those not in the know, today marks the 50th anniversary of a famous uprising in Tibet against the occupation of the People’s Republic of China, which led shortly thereafter to the Dalai Lama’s exile, which has been recorded, mythologized and celebrated by numerous vapid Hollywood celebrities.
Roughly ten years before that, the PRC, which is to say the People’s Republic of China, had begun it’s occupation of Tibet, the exact nature of which is still up for historic (and historiographical) dispute. The CPC, which is to say the Communist Part of China, has two arguments on it’s side which are undoubtedly true, namely;

– That they were met with scant resistance,

– That as the successor state to the Qing Dynasty, they were merely renewing the relationship that had existed within Zhong Guo prior to 1904, when British troops invaded Lhasa and occupied Tibet, demanding, amongst other things, that the Qing Dynasty pay the expenses of their invasion (a small taste, just in case you were wondering where anti-Western Chinese Nationalist sentiment came from)
The latter is a point of some importance; Tibet and China had varied from a hostile to a symbiotic relationship by the last few centuries, with the central Qing government administrating the region, and the Dalai Lama acting as spiritual advisors to the court.

The CPC makes other claims that are completely unverifiable, but which probably have some basis in truth; certain other scholars have agreed with most of these claims, while many others take a wide gradient of stances.

Penn and Teller, eminent stage magicians, libertarians, and Run-DMC hanger-ons, detailed some of these complaints on their show, (profanity-filled) clip to be seen here.

Featured in the clip is Michael Parenti, a scholar who writes his own description of the sort of feudal, slavery- and sefdom-filled, poverty-ridden and backwards, oppressive place Tibet was under the relatively brief rule by Lama caste, from 1912-1949, in his essay, Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth. Complete with sources.

Surprisingly, I also found an actual comprehensive answer on Yahoo Answers, too.

Most supporters of the Free Tibet cause, of course, are idealogues, hippies, and Hollywood celebrities who, having thoroughly rejected their own European culture, are just looking for something to believe in. The peculiarities of Western self-hate being what they are, most activists never get as far as to question whether or not Tibet was actually ever a Shangri La before it was arbitrarily and brutally attacked by China some fifty years ago. Heck, as a dare, go search for news stories from the usual gullible suspects in the media about Tibet; see how many feature pictures of either the Dalai Lama himself, or other monks (even in their heyday, a small percentage of the population), and see how many actually feature pictures or even references to the lives of average Tibetans. I know I’m shocked whenever I see the latter. To left-leaning activists, the Free Tibet movement is an indulgence and ongoing fantasy, the common socialist fantasy of a numerous, simple, happily ignorant peasant class toiling under the gentle, nurturing care of a spiritually and mentally enlightened elite, who gladly lift the burden of free will from the former and take it for themselves. Meanwhile, to many warhawks, any excuse to complain about China is a good one.

Thus, most people never actually get so far as to question what Tibet looked like as an independent nation, and what it would look like again as the same. But several counter points might occur to those that come this far and are still skeptical. I shall try to address these.

Q: But aren’t the portrayals of 1912-1949 Tibet the biased propaganda of the CPC, attempting to justify their invasion?

A: Of course. Only a fool would take information coming out of an authoritarian state like China without a hefty dose of salt. However, parsing information reveals a number of things. Even the most pro-Dalai Lama sources have to concede a number of facts about Tibet prior to the Chinese invasion; 1) It was one of the poorest and most illiterate nations on Earth. There was not enough food, girls were not educated at all, boys were lucky to learn how to read. 2) Tibetan society was essentially caste-based, with a secular aristocracy, a theocratic monkhood, and numerous peasant serfs who were under the thrall and contract of the former, working land not theirs to support these castes. No serious scholar contends these two points. The counterarguments rely largely on supposing that Tibetans are a people naturally inclined to enjoy a simple of life of ignorant serfdom and high mortality, which is a fundamentally racist supposition.

Q: But wasn’t the PRC rule just as bad, if not worse?

A: Probably. Tibet has been part of China, and China’s government under Mao was pretty terrible and incompetent. Tibet, however, was actually relatively sheltered from some of the worst fallouts of the Great Leap Forward, given how far to the west it was- the PRC is, after all, about the same size as the United States or Europe, andLhasa is no closer to Beijing than Madrid is to Minsk, or D.C. is to Denver. It would also be a mistake to ignore that nationalist rhetoric coming from China on the subject; they do not view Tibet as a foreign region being occupied, but as a part of Zhong Guo, the traditional region of influence of the Chinese empire, which is, after all, a multi-ethnic one to start with. There have been extensive efforts from the CPC to win Tibetan hearts and minds, and to raise the living standards and economy of a region that remains China’s poorest. It’s a lukewarm victory to say that Tibet has about a 50% literacy rate, but it’s certainly a vast improvement over where the nation was under the Lama caste.

Q: But don’t the Tibetan people have the right to be Free? (or any variant of a “Free Tibet” slogan)

A: No. Not specifically. Exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis. More on this later.
This one bears getting into, because it’s a common misunderstanding, and a continuation of a common misunderstanding that caused a lot of common grief and suffering throughout the 20th century.
First of all, it is not at all clear here what is to be meant by “The Tibetan People”. It’s all well to talk of an abstract concept of Tibet, as a cultural concept, but as a nation or people? To go right to the most severe form of this fallacy, this distinction is no easier to enforce in any way than that between the concept of an Aryan race and the realization of an Aryan nation. The most extreme calls from the Tibetan Government-in-Exile have included demands for whole swaths of Western China that feature prominent Tibetan communities; but advocates here fail to realize that these regionsare no more homogenuous than 1930’s Germany. Large populations of Han, Hui, Salar, Monpa, Lhoba, Mongol, Qiang, Dongxiang, Pumi, Lisu, and some several dozen other peoples live in this region. The common phrase, “One People, One Nation”, associated with the Free Tibet movement, is not only a lie but a chillingly racist and fundamentally fascist one. We could go to Israel and Palestine, or India and Pakistan, to see how well partitions along cultural, religious and racial lines work out, or explore the many-fractured maze of failed states and tribal emnity raging through sub-Saharan Africa, but it shouldn’t take much convincing to persuade a reasonable person that multi-ethnic nations are stronger and more secure than those who strive for anything else. Even the Han majority in China are deeply fractured amongst many cultural-linguistic groups. If one were to dump a hundred buckets of paint onto a marble floor and be commanded to get each color back into it’s respective bucket, pure and whole, one would still have an easier task than that of sepearting the tens of thousands of inter-mingling and criss-crossing ethnic groups that cover the globe.

Not that ethnicity alone could guide politics even then- then we’d have to come to mention the Tibetan Atheists, Muslims, and members of several large sects of Buddhism that do not place particular reverence on the Dalai Lama, and thus would not want a return to his rule, an unspoken and implicit assumption of the Free Tibet movement, based on the smiling mugs of His Holiness used in about every vapid National Geographic, Rolling Stone and even (I’m so disappointed in you) Economist articles on the subject.

Which brings us to the next point;

Q: But doesn’t the Dalai Lama want to institute democratic reforms in Tibet, making it a free, liberal democracy?

A: Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet my life savings on it. First of all, the Dalai Lama sings whatever tune’s going to please the audience; when appealing to more Leftist groups, he’s described himself with the Progressivegasmic phrase, “Half-Marxist, Half-Buddhist”. He’s basically hinted that if he were to try and lead Communist reforms, he would make them work, dammit. On the other hand, more recently he’s put forward a proposed constitution. It guarantees religious freedom and freedom of speech, but then, so does the PRC. Moreover, it looks a lot like a Western democracy, except for the references to Tibetan Buddhism, making the Dalai Lama President for Life, and giving him exclusive power to hire and fire elected officials at will, as well as generally pause the democratic reforms he talks about at his own discretion.

I’m not saying that the Dalai Lama’s plan is to use gullible Western support to secure a huge nation at the axis of Asia, announce democratic reforms, and then put them on indefinite hold while he establishes himself (again) as theocratic dictator for life with absolute power over the law and no accountability, I’m just saying that that’s exactly what his proposed constitution allows him to do.

Q: But don’t the Tibetan people want the Dalai Lama back in power?

A: Well, some certainly do. Most of them have a funny way of showing it. Just for clarity’s sake, the Tibetan landscape makes Afghanistan look like gentle rolling hills; if there were substantial local opposition to PRC rule, you’d assume they could make life a bit more difficult than it is. Buddhists, despite what white college students might tell you, are exactly as capable of political violence as other religions, as anyone in Sri Lanka or Japan could explain. The Dalai Lama, in concert with the CIA, in fact sponsored train guerillas in Tibet during the 60’s, but they didn’t seem to garner a lot of popular support.

Certainly some want the Dalai Lama back, and express this by trapping Han and Muslim businessmen and their families inside of shops and burning them down (yeah, I know this was missed by the media, but those crackdowns last year? Weren’t initiated by monks peacefully humming and clinking thumb-cymbals together), but it’s hard to gauge where there’s any real support anywhere other than exiled monks/aristocracy, Hollywood, and amongst privileged white college students.

Q: But the PRC government is repressive, exploitive, violent and abusive. How can you support that?

A: I don’t. I just don’t think this is a Tibet-specific issue. Hence why I said Tibetans weren’t specifically entitled to freedom before.

Everyone is entitled to freedom. As it so happens, there’s roughly 1.3 billion people that are having their religious freedom, their freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, right to trial, etc., abused by the government of the PRC. There’s also another eighty million or so suffering far worse fates in Burma and North Korea, broken military regimes supported by the CPC. The repressions of free speech, free practice of religion, the opaquness of government and corrupiton of justice suffered by Tibetans are not more or less wrong than those suffered by Uyghars, Mongols, Koreans, Yi, Hui, or Buyei, or Han.

I’m simply being realistic. For all the freedoms it doesn’t allow, the PRC does allow it’s people the freedom to eat, to read, to an education, to an opportunity at economic success. The freedom to vote or write an article means nothing when your family is starving, you can’t read, and you can’t walk down the street without being shot by roving thugs in jeeps. The PRC is better than the alternative the Dalai Lama is offering; if it were a choice between Taiwan remaining independent or being absorbed by the PRC, my stance would be very different, since Taiwan is an actual liberal democracy.

Of course, the status of Taiwan in the UN and international community isn’t an issue that college campuses are throbbing about, since it only involves twenty million, mostly Han Chinese trying to retain their democratic freedoms and economic prosperity from other mostly Han Chinese, rather than some smiling monk spouting Hallmark catchphrases that Steven Spielberg made a movie about, but that’s neither here nor there.

I’m against a Free Tibet. I’m all for a Free China. Free from poverty and theocratic oppression, free from corruption and secular oppression. But those who are concerned about human rights in the Middle Kingdom should look to Taiwan, not Tibet; to the brighter future, not an even darker past.

If anyone can cite a different reason why the Free Tibet movement should be considered valid and not simply the mewling of angry and ignorant college students/Hollywood actors, let me know and I’ll try to address it. Meanwhile, for a very good read on the great 20th century evils brought about by the idealization of the centralized, culturally homogenuous nation state, pick up a copy of Niall Ferguson’s War of the World.


Filed under China, Tibet

Tibet ‘hell on earth’ under China – for less than 5% of the Populations

Today is the 50th anniversary of failed Tibet rebellion and Da-Lie Lama called Tibet `hell on earth’ under China. It is a pretty funny statement. Looking at all the reports from Da-Lie Lama, the exile group, and the western media, the best they can come up are some complaints from the monks and Tibetans in Dharmsala about tightened security in Lhasa. As for more than 95% percent of the Tibetans who are formally serfs under Da-Lie Lama’s governance for generations and live out side of Lhasa, their voice are deliberately unheard and forgotten. I guess ‘hell on earth’ is an accurate description of the current status of those formal landlords in Tibet who lost their treasures, land, and privileges to enslave the serfs. But for the majority of the Tibetans, they are pretty happy today.

Please allow me to make some quotations from Foster Stockwell ( below.

“The idea that most Tibetans are unhappy about what has happened in Tibet and want independence from China is a product manufactured in the West and promoted by the dispossessed landlords who fled to India. Indeed, to believe it is true stretches logic to its breaking point. Who really can believe that a million former serfs – more than 90% of the population – are unhappy about having the shackles of serfdom removed? They now care for their own herds and farmland, marry whomever they wish without first getting their landlord’s permission, aren’t punished for disrespecting these same landlords, own their own homes, attend school, and have relatively modern hospitals, paved roads, airports and modern industries.

An objective measure of this progress is found in the population statistics. The Tibetan population has doubled since 1950, and the average Tibetan’s life span has risen from 36 years at that time to 65 years at present.

Of course some Tibetans are unhappy with their lot, but a little investigation soon shows that they are, for the most part, people from families who lost their landlord privileges. There is plenty of evidence that the former serfs tell a quite different story.

You will find some Tibetans who hate the Hans (the majority nationality of China) and some Hans who hate the Tibetans, a matter of ordinary ethnic prejudice something any American should be able to understand. But, this doesn’t represent a desire for an independent Tibet any more than black- white hostilities in Washington, D.C., Detroit, or Boston represent a desire on the part of most African-Americans to form a separate nation.”

I am pretty sure that Da-Lie Lama supporters will try to dismiss the above statements by either 1) accusing Foster Stockwell as a Chinese; or 2) asserting Foster Stockwell as a Chinese government agent; or 3) questioning the personal credibility of Foster Stockwell himself; or 4) labelling Foster Stockwell as commie; or …. Come on, are these the best Da-Lie Lama followers can come up with? Next time, please try do some research first and show people some solid evidence of the reality of Tibet before repeating Da-Lie Lama’s propaganda.

Stay in hell and don’t bother us, please, Da-Lie Lama! 🙂


Filed under History, Tibet