Aurora Forum of Stanford University hosted an interesting discussion about Tibet two months ago. The title of the discussion is Tibet: Where Continents and Cultures Collide . The main topic of the discussion covers environmental and historical issues of Tibet. Today I find out that the transcript of the discussion is available for download, and would like to share it with you.
One question raised by the audience is, why Tibet has been so important to China? Lyman P. Van Slyke, Emeritus Professor of History at Stanford, gave an excellent explanation of a part of the answer, and I quote it below:
“I would not for a moment discount the force of history as the Chinese see it. The past century of Chinese history – the century leading up to 1950, let us say, from 1850 to 1950 – was a disaster for China, and many of the areas that it had traditionally thought it had influence in or a degree of control over were taken from it by the European powers, by Japan, by Russia, by others. And there was a sense that Tibet might fall into the hands of either the British or the Russians, to the great strategic detriment of China. And so when the People’s Republic of China was established in 1950, there was a strong sense that no more is to be taken from China, and that what China had and can claim and had always claimed is a claim that can be disputed. I’m not for a moment saying that this is a claim that all would recognize or should recognize, but for the Chinese leaders from Sun Yat-sen to Chiang Kai-shek to Mao Tse-tung, Tibet was a part of China and Taiwan is a part of China, and it must be that way just as we would not ever permit any part of
the United States to secede. We are a nation integral, and if Florida decided that it was going to establish an independent republic, we would resist that notion. So this historical and cultural imperative, I would almost say, the nationalism that Emily referred to, is extremely strong. And from a balance sheet standpoint, China has invested far, far more, and continues to invest on an annual basis, far more money and other resources, including prestige, in the international arena, where it is generally criticized for its policies in Tibet, far more is invested there than it derives from the mineral deposits or other tangible assets that Tibet may have.”
Not surprisingly, Da-Lie Lama’s representative, Tenzin Tethong tried very hard to distort the history and reality. For example, he kept repeating that there was deforestation in Tibet. Indeed, as an audience and the other guests pointed out, Tibet is mostly covered by grassland. The area he referred to is a part of “the Great Tibet” and actually was rarely controlled by the Tibet government in history. Asserting that “the Great Tibet” is the actual Tibet is just like referring California as a China territory because there are many Chinese living here. It simply does not make any sense. Unfortunately, Da-Lie Lama and the exile group never recognize this problem in their arguments, and this actually causes some huge gaps in their talks with the Chinese government that cannot possibly be filled. The other example is that Tethong kept ignoring the reality and using the past to attack the Chinese government. Recently, the Chinese government has recognized the environmental damage caused by development in the past, and are making great efforts to restore the forests and grassland, as the guests have confirmed. One can never hear anything from Da-Lie Lama and the exile group about this kind of development. A similar example is about the monastery temples in Tibet. Even though many were damaged by the Tibetans themselves in the Culture Revolution, most of them have been repaired and restored after that by the Chinese government. From the propoganda from the Da-Lie Lama, the exile group, and the western media, one can only get the impression that they were all destroyed by the Chinese government and there is no temple left in Tibet today. The last example I want to give, is Tibet’s status before 1950s. He did not mention that the Da-Lie Lamas’ were actually approved by the Qing emperors. Even the famous flag that the exile group used as their “national flag”, is a flag approved by a Qing emperor. So Tibet was always independent from China? Somebody must be lying or out of his mind.
Overall, I feel that it is an interesting discussion. The pities are, 1) Tenzin Tethong tainted the supposedly academic forum with his zero-credibility political junks; 2) there is no scholar from China joining the forum.