Category Archives: History

Should Tibet Be Free?

The well-written original article was published in

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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Who is Responsible for Syria’s Chemical Weapon Attack?

These days the “free press” is devoted to report the chemical weapon attack happened in Syria last week. Predictable as usual, the “free press” aligned themselves with the US government again on this matter, and asserted that all evidence point to the Syria government who was responsible for this attack. While UN investigators are still gathering evidence onsite, US Secretary of the State John Kerry simply could not wait any further, “our understanding of what has already happened in Syria is grounded in facts, informed by conscience and guided by common sense.”

Really? Is this the simple truth behind Syria’s chemical weapon attack?

NPR put together some historical context of chemical weapon for its readers. The most intriguing part is not the article itself. Instead it is the reaction from the readers of this article. Apparently many readers do not buy the storyline told by the US government and the “free press”. They figured out the truth behind this:

“Follow the money”.

Fact #1, DoD has suffered tremendously budget cut this year due to sequestration. For sure Pentagon and the defense contractors are looking for means to get more revenue from some places. The easiest? You bet, a war!

Fact #2, Assad government has been an enemy of Israel for decades. A weakened or fractionated Syria is in the great interest of Israel. No question about it. So what can we do to accomplish this mission?

Fact #3, long before this alleged chemical weapon attack, the US government and the “free press” have mobilized a media campaign for months of the possibility of using chemical weapon by the Syria government. Is Assad really that stupid to cross the “red line” drawn by the US government? Literally, it is like to send a friendly invitation asking for western force intervene to beat the cr*p out of himself.

Fact #4, before the attack, a special UN team was expected to visit the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack near Damascus. Why would Assad take out a new attack when the UN team was onsite? To hand over direct evidence to UN and the US?

Fact #5, before the attack, Assad was winning the war despite support from the US to the Syria opposition force. To take down Assad, the US needs an excuse to intervene directly, similar to what NATO did in Libya.

Fact #6, before the UN team gathered the evidence, John Kerry has already asserted that Assad was responsible, based on US intelligence in Syria. Well, given the track record of US intelligence about Iraq WMD, can we say that there is little doubt that this time the history is repeating itself again? Moreover, what is your thought if a cop sentenced you for some claimed crime before he showed any evidence, not to mention that judge and jury haven’t seen the case yet?

If we can live for the next 60 years, we probably will stand a chance to see the CIA classified document about the truth of this chemical weapon attack. I won’t be surprised that Assad is not responsible for this.

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

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History repeats itself

Sixty years ago, CIA help overthrew a democratically elected government of Iran. Sixty years later, the US is still paying a price for it – a hostile Iran. Well, perhaps some interest groups, e.g., weapon companies, have been well paid because of it. But the American people are paying for it everyday.

Now it is the rising of another Iran, by this we mean Egypt. Our government and the “free press” obviously did not like the democratically elected Egyption government since its first day in office, after the ouster of our long time ally, the three-decate long dictator Mubarak. Ironically, this democratically elected Egypt government was overthrown in a coup by US backed Egypt military just two years after it’s in office. History repeats itself again in the middle east.

What price are we going to pay this time?

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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).

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What exactly is NED (The National Endowment for Democracy)?

We have mentioned NED a lot of times during the past. We said that it is a modern covert operation of CIA. Here is an excellent introduction of NED:

Trojan Horse:
The National Endowment for Democracy
excerpted from the book
Rogue State
A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower
by William Blum
Common Courage Press, 2000

How many Americans could identify the National Endowment for Democracy? An organization which often does exactly the opposite of what its name implies. The NED was set up in the early 1980s under President Reagan in the wake of all the negative revelations about the CIA in the second half of the 1970s. The latter was a remarkable period. Spurred by Watergate-the Church Committee of the Senate, the Pike Committee of the House and the Rockefeller Commission, created by the president, were all busy investigating the CIA. Seemingly every other day there was a new headline about the discovery of some awful thing, even criminal conduct, the CIA had been mixed up in for years. The Agency was getting an exceedingly bad name, and it was causing the powers-that-be much embarrassment.

Something had to be done. What was done was not to stop doing these awful things. Of course not. What was done was to shift many of these awful things to a new organization, with a nice sounding name-the National Endowment for Democracy. The idea was that the NED would do somewhat overtly what the CIA had been doing covertly for decades, and thus, hopefully, eliminate the stigma associated with CIA covert activities.

It was a masterpiece. Of politics, of public relations and of cynicism. Thus it was that in 1983, the National Endowment for Democracy was set up to “support democratic institutions throughout the world through private, nongovernmental efforts”. Notice the “nongovernmental”-part of the image, part of the myth. In actuality, virtually every penny of its funding comes from the federal government, as is clearly indicated in the financial statement in each issue of its annual report. NED likes to refer to itself as an NGO (non-governmental organization) because this helps to maintain a certain credibility abroad that an official US government agency might not have. But NGO is the wrong category. NED is a GO.

Allen Weinstein, who helped draft the legislation establishing NED, was quite candid when he said in 1991: “A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” In effect, the CIA has been laundering money through NED.

The Endowment has four principal initial recipients of funds: the International Republican Institute; the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs; an affiliate of the AFL-CIO (such as the American Center for International Labor Solidarity); and an affiliate of the Chamber of Commerce (such as the Center for International Private Enterprise). These institutions then disburse funds to other institutions in the US and all over the world, which then often disburse funds to yet other organizations.

In a multitude of ways, NED meddles in the internal affairs of foreign countries by supplying funds, technical know-how, training, educational materials, computers, fax machines, copiers, automobiles and so on, to selected political groups, civic organizations, labor unions, dissident movements, student groups, book publishers, newspapers, other media, etc. NED programs generally impart the basic philosophy that working people and other citizens are best served under a system of free enterprise, class cooperation, collective bargaining, minimal government intervention in the economy and opposition to socialism in any shape or form. A freemarket economy is equated with democracy, reform and growth, and the merits of foreign investment are emphasized.

From 1994 to 1996, NED awarded 15 grants, totaling more than $2,500,000, to the American Institute for Free Labor Development, an organization used by the CIA for decades to subvert progressive labor unions. AlFLD’s work within Third World unions typically involved a considerable educational effort very similar to the basic NED philosophy described above. The description of one of the 1996 NED grants to AIFLD includes as one its objectives: “build union-management cooperation”. Like many things that NED says, this sounds innocuous, if not positive, but these in fact are ideological code words meaning “keep the labor agitation down…don’t rock the status quo boat”. The relationship between NED and AIFLD very well captures the CIA origins of NED.

The Endowment has funded centrist and rightist labor organizations to help them oppose those unions which were too militantly proworker. This has taken place in France, Portugal and Spain amongst many other places. In France, during the 1983-4 period, NED supported a “trade union-like organization for professors and students” to counter “left-wing organizations of professors”. To this end it funded a series of seminars and the publication of posters, books and pamphlets such as “Subversion and the Theology of Revolution” and “Neutralism or Liberty”. (“Neutralism” here refers to being unaligned in the Cold War.)

NED describes one of its 1997-98 programs thusly: “To identify barriers to private sector development at the local and federal levels in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and to push for legislative change…[and] to develop strategies for private sector growth.” Critics of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic have been supported by NED grants for years.

In short, NED’s programs are in sync with the basic needs and objectives of the New World Order’s economic globalization, just as the programs have for years been on the same wavelength as US foreign policy.

Because of a controversy in 1984-when NED funds were used to aid a Panamanian presidential candidate backed by Manuel Noriega and the CIA-Congress enacted a law prohibiting the use of NED funds “to finance the campaigns of candidates for public office.” But the ways to circumvent the spirit of such a prohibition are not difficult to come up with; as with American elections, there’s “hard money” and there’s “soft money”.

… NED successfully manipulated elections in Nicaragua in 1990 and Mongolia in 1996 and helped to overthrow democratically elected governments in Bulgaria in 1990 and Albania in 1991 and 1992. In Haiti in the late l990s, NED was busy working on behalf of right wing groups who were united in their opposition to former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his progressive ideology. NED has made its weight felt in the electoral-political process in numerous other countries.

NED would have the world believe that it’s only teaching the ABCs of democracy and elections to people who don’t know them, but in all five countries named above there had already been free and fair elections held. The problem, from NED’s point of view, is that the elections had been won by political parties not on NED’s favorites list.

The Endowment maintains that it’s engaged in “opposition building” and “encouraging pluralism”. “We support people who otherwise do not have a voice in their political system,” said Louisa Coan, a NED program officer. But NED hasn’t provided aid to foster progressive or leftist opposition in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua or Eastern Europe-or, for that matter, in the United States even though these groups are hard pressed for funds and to make themselves heard. Cuban dissident groups and media are heavily supported however.

NED’s reports carry on endlessly about “democracy”, but at best it’s a modest measure of mechanical political democracy they have in mind, not economic democracy; nothing that aims to threaten the powers-that-be or the way-things-are, unless of course it’s in a place like Cuba.

The Endowment played an important role in the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s, funding key components of Oliver North’s shadowy “Project Democracy” network, which privatized US foreign policy, waged war, ran arms and drugs and engaged in other equally charming activities. At one point in 1987, a White House spokesman stated that those at NED “run Project Democracy”. This was an exaggeration; it would have been more correct to say that NED was the public arm of Project Democracy, while North ran the covert end of things. In any event, the statement caused much less of a stir than if-as in an earlier period-it had been revealed that it was the CIA which was behind such an unscrupulous operation.

NED also mounted a multi-level campaign to fight the leftist insurgency in the Philippines in the mid-1980s, funding a host of private organizations, including unions and the media. This was a replica of a typical CIA operation of pre-NED days.

And between 1990 and 1992, the Endowment donated a quarter-million dollars of taxpayers’ money to the Cuban-American National Fund, the ultra-fanatic anti-Castro Miami group. The CANF, in turn, financed Luis Posada Carriles, one of the most prolific and pitiless terrorists of modern times, who was involved in the blowing up of a Cuban airplane in 1976, which killed 73 people. In 1997, he was involved in a series of bomb explosions in Havana hotels.

The NED, like the CIA before it, calls what it does supporting democracy. The governments and movements whom the NED targets call it destabilization.

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Book: Strong Borders, Secure Nation: Cooperation and Conflict in China’s Territorial Disputes




“China’s communist government inherited territorial disputes with all of China’s 14 land neighbors and six sea neighbors. It has also had to manage what Fravel calls three “homeland disputes,” involving Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan. Piecing together much hard-to-find information, he shows that in 17 of these 23 conflicts, Beijing has offered concessions, abandoning claims to over 1.3 million square miles of land. In the other six disputes, Beijing has used force. Fravel argues that both types of behavior can be explained by security concerns. Provided the land at stake was not essential for defensive purposes, China offered concessions at times when it needed to break out of diplomatic isolation or gain recognition of its control over domestic ethnic minorities. In the 1990s, for example, Beijing pursued talks and sometimes reached final settlements with Russia (in order to consolidate a strategic partnership), Vietnam (to improve relations with Southeast Asia), India (to gain its acceptance of Chinese control of Tibet), and some Central Asian states (to get their cooperation against separatists in Xinjiang). But if the disputed land was valuable, Beijing was liable to put troops in motion when it saw the security environment growing more threatening: this logic explains the border conflicts with India in 1962 and the Soviet Union in the late 1960s and early 1970s, among others. Fravel’s is an elegant argument that works well to explain Chinese behavior and holds promise for application elsewhere. Although six territorial disputes remain unresolved, including the dangerous Taiwan situation, on the whole, China emerges from this account as a stability-seeking, rather than an expansionist, power.”

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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.


Filed under History, Tibet