Category Archives: Tibet

Should Tibet Be Free?

The well-written original article was published in skeptoid.com: http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4111

Misinformation and fantasy surrounds the popular Tibet notions.

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Skeptoid #111
July 29, 2008

Perhaps an equally important question is “Should a science podcast take on a political topic?” For a long time, listeners have been sending me requests to do an episode about Tibet, and for a long time I’ve been putting the requests into a folder and keeping it stored away. This is Skeptoid, not Politicaloid, and my purpose is not to advocate one side or the other in political questions where you have two sides that are perfectly valid to different groups of people. But the more requests I’ve received, the more I’ve realized that there is a lot of misinformation, if not true pseudoscience, surrounding Tibet. There is, undoubtedly, a set of popular pop-culture beliefs out there, based entirely upon made-up crap that bears little resemblance to reality.

Mind you, I’m not saying “Hey, you’ve heard one side, let me give you the other side,” because that’s the job of a political commentator. What I’m saying today is “Here is the reality of Tibet, go forth and form whatever opinion you like,” but base it on reality, not on made-up metaphysical nonsense. I’m encouraging you to apply skepticism to the reasons you may have heard for freeing Tibet.

Like most Americans, I grew up watching video of the Chinese army taking howitzers and destroying the massive centuries-old Tibetan monasteries in 1959, and that’s an indisputable crime against history, religious freedom, and the dignity of Tibetans. And then I watched video of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people, in his red and yellow robes, speaking words of wisdom and brotherhood and freedom and peace. And I’ll freely admit: For nearly all of my life, this was the extent of my knowledge of the Tibet situation: Violence and cruelty from the Chinese; innocence and beauty from the Tibetans. I believe that many Westerners, including many who fervently wave Free Tibet placards, have little knowledge of the situation any deeper than that. But isn’t it likely that there’s more to it than that? Isn’t it equally disrespectful of the Tibetans as it is of the Chinese to attempt to encompass who and what they are with those tiny little pictures?

A complete history lesson is impossible, but here’s a quick overview of the points relevant to today’s discussion. China and Tibet have a long and complicated history. In 1950, China invaded to assert its claim, and ruled by trying to win hearts and minds, building roads and public utilities, and allowing the Tibetan system of feudal serfdoms to remain largely intact. In 1959 the Tibetan ruling class revolted, prompting a Chinese crackdown that sent the Dalai Lama and most other Tibetan aristocrats into exile in India, where they remain to this day. The former serfs became ordinary Chinese citizens, and Tibet is now an “autonomous region” in China, a status that many describe as actually less autonomous than an ordinary Chinese province. From his palace in India, the Dalai Lama now travels the world in a private jet, hobnobbing with the wealthy and powerful, fundraising, and writing highly successful books on metaphysics.

Recently there were some anti-China, pro-Tibet protests in Nepal, a neighboring independent nation. This is illegal in Nepal, and the authorities have been cracking down on it. Why does Nepal side with China on this issue? Because they depend heavily on Chinese aid to survive, and this is a requirement that China imposes, though they call it a “request”. At first glance you might be shocked that an independent nation would give up its freedom of speech to make a deal with the devil, but that’s an easy opinion to form when you’re not hungry. It makes sense for Nepal to agree to these terms, because their back is against the wall: They need China’s aid. As for China imposing this condition? Well, that’s one for you to chalk up in your column of “Things China Needs to Reconsider”.

So, why doesn’t China simply give Tibet the same treatment they give Nepal — let them be an independent nation, give them aid, and just require them to say only nice things about them? Well, Nepal has long been an independent nation; Tibet hasn’t. The history of China’s rule over Tibet is exceptionally complicated and goes back many centuries. Anyone who tells you that either Tibet is historically part of China, or that Tibet is historically free, is making a disingenuous oversimplification. Personally, I choose to discount this subject completely, and not because it’s too intricate to make a clear decision. I discount it because practically every square inch of land on the planet has been taken over militarily or annexed or stolen in one way or another from one people by another people. We don’t give California back to the Spanish, and we don’t give Italy back to Norway [So many people have asked me about this that I’ll clarify. Italy, like the rest of Europe, was repeatedly sacked by Vikings. – BD]. Ancient history is not the way to settle current border disputes. To find a meaningful settlement that makes sense for people today, you have to consider Tibet to be a current border dispute. So while we’re chalking up China’s claim of ancient possession in the column of “Things China Needs to Reconsider”, let’s also chalk up Tibet’s claim of ancient autonomy in the column of “Things Tibet Needs to Shut Up About”.

And once we open up that column, we find it’s a Pandora’s Box. Advocates of a free Tibet make a long list of charges against Chinese oppression, largely centered upon a loss of rights and freedom. This claim makes anyone familiar with Tibetan history cough up their coffee. The only people who lost any rights under Chinese rule are Tibet’s former ruling class, themselves guilty of cruelty and oppression of a magnitude that not even China can conceive. The vast majority of Tibetans, some 90% of whom were serfs, have enjoyed a relative level of freedom unheard of in their culture. Until 1950 when the Chinese put a stop to it, 90% of Tibetans had no rights at all. They were freely traded and sold. They were subject to the worst type of punishments from their lords, including gouging out of eyes; cutting off hands, feet, tongues, noses, or lips; and a dozen horrible forms of execution. There was no such concept as legal recourse; the landowning monk class was the law. There was no such thing as education, medical care, sanitation, or public utilities. Young boys were frequently and freely taken from families to endure lifelong servitude, including rape, in the monasteries. Amid all the pop-culture cries about Chinese oppression, why is there never any mention of the institutionalized daily oppression levied by the Dalai Lama’s class prior to 1959?

Free Tibet advocates also point to the destruction of Tibetan culture. This charge is particularly bizarre. The only art produced in Tibet prior to 1950 was limited to the output of a few monks in each monastery, principally drawings of monasteries. New literature had not been produced in Tibet for centuries. Since the 1959 uprising, art and literature in Tibet have both flourished, now that the entire population is at liberty to produce. Tibet even has its share of well known poets, authors, and internationally known artists now.

Make no mistake about China’s history of human rights failings: China’s “Great Leap Forward” and “Cultural Revolution” programs from 1958 through 1976 were as disastrous for Tibet as they were for the rest of China. There can never be any excuse for the deliberate widescale destruction of life, liberty, and property during those years. Hundreds of thousands of Tibetans, and tens of millions of Chinese, lost their lives during this misguided pretense at “reform”. This was a phase that China went through, and it’s arguable that Tibet would have been spared this torment if they had been independent at the time. But for your average Tibetan in the field, a serf with no rights, living and working and dying at the whim of his lord, were those decades really worse than they would have been without China? There’s no way to know, but to a skeptical mind, it’s not a slam-dunk that China’s Cultural Revolution was harder on Tibet than Tibet’s ruling class had always been in the past.

If we think back to our list of red flags to identify misinformation, cultural campaigns and celebrity endorsements should always trigger your skeptical radar. Few campaigns are as near and dear to the hearts of Hollywood activists as “Freeing Tibet”. Notable Tibet advocates include Sharon Stone, Richard Gere, Paris Hilton, and the great political science scholar Lindsay Lohan. Journalist Christopher Hitchens notes that “when on his trips to Hollywood fundraisers, [the Dalai Lama] anoints major donors like Steven Segal and Richard Gere as holy.” Being anointed as holy probably does great things for your social standing within Hollywood, but it should not be considered evidence of expertise. I’ll bet that if you asked either Steven Segal or Paris Hilton to lecture on the events of the Lhasa Uprising of 1959, you’d find that neither knows even the most basic information about the cause they so passionately advocate. Just because Hollywood celebrities promote a viewpoint doesn’t mean they’re qualified to do so, something that (unbelievably) still seems to escape most people.

Furthermore, the people shouting loudest about freeing Tibet don’t seem to be aware that that’s not even what the Dalai Lama wants from China. He’s not seeking full independence, Nepal style; rather he would like to achieve the same status as Hong Kong, which is a “special administrative region”. This would give them full economic benefits without having to become a regular province, something along the lines of a US territory. So here’s a note to all the Hollywood celebrities: If you really want to support the Dalai Lama, ditch your “Free Tibet” signs and paint some up that say “Change Tibet from an Autonomous Region to a Special Administrative Region”. It’s not as good of a sound bite, and it’s a change that would have little practical impact on Tibetans; but it would allow the Dalai Lama to return to his aristocratic lifestyle and his 1000 room palace at Potala.

So to all those who so heatedly call for the freeing of Tibet, first consider whether you have the expertise to know whether Tibet is best served as an autonomous region or as a special administrative region. Understand exactly what implications such a change may have upon the economics and the daily lives of its citizens, or maybe even entertain the possibility that it’s a decision best left to Tibetans.

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A Myth Foisted on the Western World

This is an article appeared in Nation Review, January 1974, about Dalai Lama’s departure from his own capital engineered by CIA. The web page also has several links pointing to some other interesting historical documents, such as US State Department cables about utilizing the Dalai Lama as an asset, an instrument to further their foreign policy objectives (de-stabilize Tibet).

http://www.westernshugdensociety.org/photos/nation-review-article-1974/

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Tibet is becoming strategically and ideologically important…

In 1949, the American foreign ministry said that: “Tibet is becoming strategically and ideologically important. Since Tibet’s independence could help us in our fight against communism, it is in our interest to recognize it as an independence state instead of as a part of China. The Tibetan population is conservative, religious and ready to fight for Buddhism and against communism. In addition, the ideological influence of the Dalai Lama reaches far beyond Tibet’s borders…/… It is not Tibet’s independence that we are concerned with instead, it’s the attitude towards China that we should adopt.

I guess now Xinjiang has joined Tibet and is “becoming strategically and ideologically important” for US foreign policy makers.

I found the above from a comprehensive interview Important Q & A of Tibet by Mick Collins back to 2008. It explains well the cause of Tibet riot last year. And I am pretty sure that the same dirty hand, I mean Uncle Sam, is behind the recent Xinjiang riots.

“It’s the same old song: we’ve heard it constantly since 1989 (with conflicts in Africa, the Balkans, Iraq, and those that went to breaking up the USSR). It should be noted also that at the heart of the Tibetan exile community, there is a scission becoming more and more apparent: on the one hand, there are the moderates, including the DL, who do not advocate violence (not openly, at least), and who do not even demand independence, but speak of ‘growing autonomy’, as we know. On the other hand, and at the moment it is a majority faction within the government in exile, there are the radicals who demand total independence and are ready to take up arms to achieve it. You can imagine that such discourse would be impossible to maintain without the support of their allies of 50 years: the US, which also continues to finance and arm the Tibetan community in exile. In reality, today the US has two war horses it can use simultaneously: the DL and his followers (in Europe, especially) from whom comes the pacifist line that serves to rally Western intellectuals around the themes of ‘democracy’, ‘Human Rights’, ‘Freedom of the Press’, etc., that must be imposed on China (what a bizarre idea: ‘a democracy’ that has to be imposed! . . . but it gets across 200% of the time), and then the ‘hardcore’ faction of the Tibetan government in exile, which is acquiring more and more adherents because of the tough talk of the struggle for independence at all cost. Apparently, these are the ones who have ignited and carried out the recent violence.”

The most interesting part of the interview, is about how the anti-China image has been established in the western world. Please allow me to quote some for you:

Public opinion follows the media, and the media obey the economic interests. Don’t we live in an economic dictatorship here at home? Censorship is as real here as it is anywhere, but just better hidden. In the West, you are not locked up in prison for your opinions, but rather in your head, then in the illnesses that ensue. I wonder sometimes which is worse. So your actual question becomes: “How do you explain the pro-Tibetan feelings conveyed by our economic system?” Neither the US nor Europe fully appreciates the dazzling advances made by China on the world stage. All the plans are in place to bring it down: “We have to raise hell during the Peking Olympics!” squeals Danny Cohn-Bendit in his speech before a plenary session of the EU parliament on how Europe must act toward China. And this, not even a week after the events that lit up downtown Lhasa! It is so monstrous, yet that shows in a very simple way that the “big world of diplomacy and high finance” doesn’t have a solution for the Tibetan problem, and what is really important for them is to “raise hell in China.””

“But how is it that everyone here (even the leftist intellectuals, the progressives, ecologists, health-food wonks, and all that) holds this highly contrasted idea in their heads, of such a sympathetic Tibet and such a horribly repressive China? It is the same question as: How come the whole world drinks Coke and wears Adidas? Advertising, it works and it’s dangerous, everybody knows it and yet they can’t help following it. Especially the sort of advertising on Tibet/China that we’ve been subjected to for 50 years now!

How can we talk about China being “repressive’—ok, maybe in a certain way it is—but explain to me how this could be when China has, proportionately, five times fewer prisoners than the US? We say here that China is “totalitarian”: ok, but to say it still remains communist, is this synonymous with “totalitarianism”? Besides, what bothers us is not so much that China is communist, but that it protects its “economic territory”: neither the US nor the EU do that, and that greatly displeases the multinationals. Foreign investment in China is less than 3%: this is not a great gift for the multinationals!”

“BP: The USA has taken China off its list of most repressive states. Hasn’t China become a capitalist country like the others?

EM: If the US does something like that, isn’t it for some strategic purpose? It allows for the organization of more riots in the Tibetan regions, which forces China to bring out its big guns of repression, and the US can then cry foul: ‘State Repression’…”

In a different interview, Jean-Paul Desimpelaere spoke out similar view:

“R86: Your wife has been quoted as saying in this regard that “Tibet is a battleground pitting the United States against China.” Do you share this opinion?
JPD: Yes, in my opinion, that’s what has become of it. The current geostrategic ambitions add to the tension between China and the United States. Earlier, Tibet was involved in the battle against communism, but now there is something more there. China is becoming an economic power, and getting too big. In less than 20 years’ time, China will have surpassed the US as the top country in terms of total production volume. China is already the third-largest economy and it is also the biggest backer of American debt. With the onset of the US financial crisis the Americans had to knock on China’s door last January, asking for help. In my opinion, the US plays a double game. They need to have economic relations and financial transactions with China, but at the same time they are quite uncomfortable with this fact. The two really are not the best of pals, the US would rather opt for partners that are a bit more “valuable,” ideologically more Western or more democratic… partners that could better fit into the Western camp. An orange revolution? No, I don’t think so. They “tease” China a bit with issues such as Tibet and human rights, or by supporting separatist movements. Economic ties, even if strong, have never been reason enough to end all rivalry.

R86: Did the United States in your opinion play an active role in the events that took place in Tibet?
JPD: Yes, something can be judged from the fact that immediately after the March 14-21 riots in Lhasa, the president of the US congress Nancy Pelosi (NB: she is the speaker of the US House of Representatives), number three in American hierarchy, traveled to Dharamsala for a meeting with the Dalai Lama, to congratulate him and to say “I am happy to see American flags wave here in the streets of Dharamsala”… This is not a coincidence! The United States financially supports Tibetan exiles, of which non-governmental organizations like the NED, New Endorsement for Democracy, or the Tibet Fund, headed by Bush’s sister-in-law, serve as proof. There are also other American non-governmental organizations which provide financial assistance to the Dalai Lama’s government in-exile and the international information network operating around all that. It’s been that way since 1959 and still continues today, but this is not an obstacle to financial and commercial interaction between the US and China. I think that the US hopes that their tactics will help bring about a collapse of the current Chinese regime and lead to it being replaced by another, more Western one.

R86: Do you think that the majority of Western media are “pro-Tibet?”
JPD: Yes, I think so. But this is nothing new. This has been the general attitude over the past 50 years, during which the media have ridiculed about what China has said or not said about the issue. In fact, people don’t want to know what China’s stance is. Quite contrarily, the position of the government of the Tibetan exiles, which counted 80,000 people in -59 and 120,000 now, has received backing from the US and its NGOs. So there is an entire network that feeds the public opinion through the press. Journalists invariably stumble onto websites such as the Tibet Information Network, which is a London-based institution that receives funding from the US, so it is not neutral even if it claims to be.”

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Why Tibet has been so important to China?

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.

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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 ——

SERFS OR NOT?

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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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.

http://www.examiner.com/x-1000-DC-Independent-Conservative-Examiner~y2009m3d10-Why-you-shouldnt-care-about-Tibet

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.

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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 (http://my.telegraph.co.uk/elle/blog/2008/03/06/mythandrealityoftibet) 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! 🙂

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Filed under History, Tibet