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.