All Discussions Regarding Tibet and Its Struggle for Autonomy to Be Discussed Here. God Speed.
The view from the roof of the world
It's 50 years since the Dalai Lama fled Tibet, and in that time a romanticised western vision of his country has flourished. But, argues Patrick French, it has done little to help the cause of those left behind
The Himalayan region of Tibet has long held a particular fascination for the western mind. When the Dalai Lama made good his daring escape into exile in 1959, crossing the Himalayas while the People's Liberation Army followed in hot pursuit, Tintin in Tibet was about to be published, and the remote land of snow peaks and deities, yaks and yetis, forbidden cities and flying lamas was already well known through the writings of mystics such as Madame Blavatsky, Alexandra David-Néel and T Lobsang Rampa, author of the
bestseller The Third Eye. (Rampa was later unmasked as a surgical truss manufacturer from Devon named Cyril Hoskin.) Convinced that Tibet was the fountain of "Indo-Germanic" racial purity, Heinrich Himmler had sent a number of exploratory expeditions there and, on a single trip, Nazi ethnographers took 60,000 photographs, mainly of baffled Tibetans with good "Aryan" cheekbones.
With the flight of the Dalai Lama and many important lamas into exile, Tibetan Buddhism gained new followers in the United States and western Europe in the 60s and 70s, as the half-understood precepts of a complex religious tradition opened doors for those who were in search of a fresh spiritual direction. The Tibetan refugees, in their turn, found financial and social possibilities available to them through the export of their culture that would not have been obtainable in any other way. In Dharamsala, the little Indian hill town where the Dalai Lama made his headquarters, there is still tension between local men and the Tibetan exiles, who easily attract the eyes of visiting westerners.
The underlying reason for the popularity of abstract Tibet may have been the assumption that a pure, isolated place on the roof of the world must have harmonious mystical methods that are lost or undiscovered in more regular post-industrial societies. So when Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality or Kate Hudson in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days wish to bring calm back in to their lives, they instinctively namecheck the Dalai Lama. Even Harry Angstrom, the boorish American everyman in the Rabbit novels written by the recently departed John Updike, says: "The only country over there I've ever wanted to go to is Tibet. I can't believe I won't make it." Half a century after the uprising that led to the Dalai Lama's departure, this ethereal perception of Tibet has been updated with our knowledge of the tragedy of communist rule, and in particular the immense damage done during the Great Leap Forward in the late 50s and the Cultural Revolution, unleashed in 1966.
Living in exile, the 14th Dalai Lama is still seen as the face and voice of the Tibetans but, more emotively, he is a religious leader with a huge appeal to people of no definite religious belief. With his quirky humour and sermons conducted in broken English in which he emphasises love and compassion, he can reach across borders and draw enormous crowds. But 50 years after his flight, Tibet remains under the rule of Beijing and the Dalai Lama still faces the same quandary that he discussed with the Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, as soon as he reached New Delhi in 1959: how do you influence a country as large and as powerful as China, and is western support for his campaign for Tibetan freedom anything more than gesture politics? Nehru's view was that American and European support for the Dalai Lama's cause was insincere, and that if the Dalai Lama went to the west in the hope of drumming up political enthusiasm, he would "look like a piece of merchandise". Since the early 90s, negotiations between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government have been stalled.
In earlier centuries - when it took several months for a messenger to travel between the Tibetan capital Lhasa and Beijing - it was possible for Tibet and China to have a working, symbiotic relationship without China's nominal power disturbing Tibet's distinctive cultural identity. But when the Dalai Lama was born in 1935 in a region controlled by a Chinese Muslim warlord, Tibet was in a vulnerable position. Attempts by the 13th Dalai Lama to introduce reforms had fallen foul of monastic conservatives, and with a civil war raging in China, it was possible to postpone the day of reckoning. For most practical purposes, the country was in control of its own affairs. A search party was sent to locate the nation's new ruler. They saw a house with a roof of turquoise tiles, which matched a building seen by a monk in a dream, and inside was a little boy named Lhamo Dhondrub who recognised a rosary and drum belonging to the late Dalai Lama. This was taken as proof that he must be his reincarnation: so he was taken to Lhasa and enthroned. It was a unique and lonely childhood for the Dalai Lama, living at the top of the Potala palace and being trained in Buddhist dialectics and ritual by scholarly monks.
When the communists won the civil war in China in 1949 and set about capturing territory over which they believed Beijing had a historical claim, the teenage Dalai Lama was obliged to take up temporal power. Initially, he and his advisers thought Chairman Mao Zedong's revolutionary reforms would bring progress and prosperity, and for nearly 10 years the Tibetan government co-existed with the invaders - a decade that has now been largely eradicated from popular history. But by 1959 and the start of the Great Leap Forward, as monasteries were destroyed and social structures undermined, the population of eastern Tibet rose up against communist rule, and the Dalai Lama escaped.
In exile in India and Nepal, it was necessary for refugees from across the wide Tibetan plateau to bond together and establish a common identity. United by their reverence for the person of the Dalai Lama, these displaced people with different dialects and customs tried to unite and put regional and sectarian differences to one side. They acquired the structures and symbols that foreign supporters had told them would be helpful to emphasise the notion of nationhood; a song written by the Dalai Lama's tutor Trijang Rinpoche was adopted as Tibet's national anthem, and a regimental banner featuring blue and red stripes and a pair of snow lions became the national flag. Over the coming years, as more children were born in exile, they were imbued with a sense of their own Tibetanness through the system of schooling set up in refugee settlements by the government-in-exile. Many of the current younger generation of pro-Tibet activists have never been to the country that they consider home. When new arrivals escape across the Himalayas today, often enduring desperate journeys, they usually have trouble assimilating: the exiles consider their behaviour, language and cultural reference points to be "too Chinese".
I spent the summer and autumn of 1999 in Tibet and its border areas covertly interviewing people from all sides of the political and ethnic divide, sometimes through a translator. By the end of this process, I began to see quite how complicated the situation was for Tibetans inside Tibet. Restricted from knowledge of the outside world, and of the workings of alternative and democratic political systems, it was hard for them to imagine a different future. Most retained a deep, hidden reverence for the Dalai Lama, despite Beijing's vicious campaigns depicting him as a "splittist" and a "wolf in monk's clothing", but within this devotion was a sense that the battle for independence had been lost many decades before.
Older people felt relief above all that the dark days of the 60s and 70s were behind them. They had little option but to operate within the system - in the bureaucracy, in the police or in politics - and the fact they did so did not mean they were pro-communist. Their Han Chinese colleagues were not regarded as enemies, and many Tibetans spoke Chinese when in the "public" sphere, for example when talking about their job or speaking a telephone number. Underlying this acceptance of Chinese control was an intense resentment that Tibetans were subordinate and, for example, had never held any of the key posts in the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region.
While China has liberalised since the end of the Maoist era, the "minority" regions of Tibet and Xinjiang remain under close supervision, and in urban areas people are still obliged to spy on their neighbours. At present, the country is closed to outsiders. Over the last year, there have been repeated small-scale protests by Tibetans, which have been suppressed brutally, and it remains difficult to obtain accurate information about everyday life. One of the best depictions I have seen was in last year's BBC4 series A Year in Tibet, which was criticised by campaigners as being insufficiently condemnatory of the authorities. Foreign journalists who wish to report from the country either have to work under heavy restriction or rely on Tibetan refugees. A few days ago, I had a familiar experience: a senior TV correspondent was telephoning for advice about going to Tibet. His intention was to intercut undercover footage filmed in border areas with interviews conducted among exiles, since speaking to "actual" Tibetans was too difficult and dangerous.
In the decade since my extended stay in Tibet, despite Beijing continuing to pour money into the region in subsidies, the overall situation has not improved. For most mainstream Han Chinese, who are ever more aware of their country's growing economic and strategic status in the world, the "Tibet problem" is an unwelcome distraction to the rise of China. The new railway line to Lhasa has brought a fresh wave of settlers, and the immediate spark for last year's protests by Tibetans was anger that the economic advantages of recent years had gone to outsiders. Their countrymen who study or work in places such as Xian, Chengdu and Beijing face constant suspicion, and find it more difficult, for instance, to get rooms in hotels. Although the Tibetan cause regularly brings out protesters in London, Washington, Berlin and Paris, it has little sympathy on the streets of China's cities.
This inability to gain Chinese popular support even among those who are otherwise unsympathetic to the Communist party is the biggest single failure of the western pro-Tibet lobby, which is caught in a cul-de-sac, speaking to the converted and culling any messenger who dares to question its virtue. Adversarial contest is at the heart of the west's legal, political and academic life, and the Tibet movement operates within that paradigm, unaware that public humiliation of visiting Chinese leaders does nothing to improve the situation for Tibetans inside Tibet. I noticed during last year's Olympic torch procession that when rival groups of Han Chinese and iridescent pro-Tibet supporters stood waving flags, neither side attempted to speak to the other. The way in which China was routinely abused at this time caused distress to many Chinese, and led to counter-protests and the creation of websites such as anti-CNN.com.
The ageing Dalai Lama continues to shuttle the globe selling the cause of Tibet and attracting sympathy and admiration rather than substantive political backing. Late last year, aware that a younger generation was disappointed with his strategy, he offered to step down and called an open meeting of Tibetans in Dharamsala. The government-in-exile managed the event: contrary views were ventilated at the margins, and the conference agreed to continue with more of the same.
He has also made ambiguous statements about what will happen when he dies, even suggesting that he may not reincarnate and may instead nominate a successor. If this happens, the atheist Chinese government may usurp his authority by naming a child as his reincarnation, as they did after the death of another senior Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Panchen Rinpoche. Should Beijing decide to reach out and try to cut a deal with the exiles, it is likely to be in the post-Dalai Lama era.
At present, it is not easy to see a happy outcome to the impasse between the Chinese and the Tibetans. Road building, power projects and nationalist propaganda have not won the hearts and minds of many in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Beijing knows it can put down any rebellion with force, while the Tibetans realise that, to use a traditional phrase, open revolt would be like throwing an egg against a rock. In the meantime, the suffering in Tibet continues.
• Patrick French is the author of Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land, published by Harper Perennial.
The Dalai Lama said today more and more Chinese were beginning to see a problem with Beijing's rule over Tibet, lamenting how the homeland he fled 50 years ago had become a "hell on earth".
Speaking before some 10,000 Tibetans from around the world, the 73-year-old slammed China for bringing "untold suffering and destruction" during a series of repressive and violent campaigns in Tibet since 1959.
"These thrust Tibetans into such depths of suffering and hardship that they literally experienced hell on earth," he said from the main Buddhist temple in Dharamsala, the north Indian hill town where the Tibetan government-in-exile is based.
"The immediate result of these campaigns was the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tibetans."
China tightened security across ethnic Tibetan areas, aiming to head off potential unrest on the sensitive 50th anniversary of a failed uprising that prompted the Dalai Lama's flight into exile in India.
Monks, who have initiated many Tibetan protests in recent years, told Reuters they were under close surveillance and riot police blocked roads and turned away foreign journalists from parts of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces.
Later today, the Dalai Lama told a news conference the voice of support for Tibet within China was rising steadily.
"More and more Chinese (are) now starting to acknowledge there is problem there," he said. "In fact, quite a number of Chinese high officials, (their) family members (are) showing interest in Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism."
About 20 young men and women, dressed mostly in black Tibetan dress to mourn victims of the crackdown, came in before today's speech playing drums and bagpipes and singing "Rise up, rise up".
The Tibetan anthem was also played and a minute's silence was observed in the memory of victims of last year's Chinese crackdown in Tibet.
The Dalai Lama mourned what he called the suffering and destruction wrought by Chinese Communist policies and campaigns.
Many were seen crying with folded hands as he said: "Even today, Tibetans in Tibet live in constant fear.
"Today, the religion, culture, language and identity, which successive generations of Tibetans have considered more precious than their lives, are nearing extinction. In short, the Tibetan people are regarded like criminals deserving to be put to death."
Shortly after the speech, thousands of Tibetans, many among them children, marched through the narrow streets of Dharamsala carrying "Free Tibet" posters and protesting against a Chinese security clampdown in Tibet.
"Whatever the Dalai Lama said is right, we totally believe in him and will follow him," Rinzin Choedon, a 12-year-old school student, said.
In the high plateau of Qinghai province which borders Tibet, meanwhile, riot police with signs banning firearms blocked roads and turned back reporters trying to enter the monastery town of Tongren, known as Rebkong in Tibetan.
"Can't you see? It's so tense. What can I say about March 10? Look at all these soldiers and police here," said Manang, a farmer.
Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily carried an editorial today extolling Tibet's development in the last 50 years and slamming what it called the misery of the old feudal society, in which people fought dogs for food and illiteracy was widespread.
"Nobody hopes to go backwards in history, and only a few slave owners dwell on the life that once was. Tibet's happiness today is the happiness of the people, not that of the slave owners," it said.
The Dalai Lama also used the anniversary as a chance to renew a demand for "meaningful autonomy" for the region. But Beijing says his calls for Tibetan high-level autonomy are tantamount to a demand for independence.
Many exiled Tibetans would like to go further than the conciliatory approach of their spiritual leader. A meeting of exiles last November reaffirmed his "middle way" path, but many said their patience with Beijing may not last
Isabel Hilton: The world is no longer looking – but Tibet's plight isn't over
A year after the biggest uprising against Chinese rule in half a century, Tibet is under military lockdown, foreign tourists and reporters are banned and an increasingly intransigent Beijing has ratcheted up its war of words.
It seems that few lessons have been learned from the 2008 protests, which came as China was polishing its image for the Olympics and which gave fresh impetus to international supporters of Tibet to disrupt Beijing's grandiose Olympic torch relay.
It's 50 years since the people of Lhasa rose against Chinese rule, precipitating the flight into exile of the Dalai Lama, and 20 years since the imposition of martial law following the death of the 10th Panchen Lama, Tibet's second most important religious figure.
In this month of anniversaries, Beijing is busy rewriting history to insist, against the evidence of repeated rebellions, that Tibetans are content, or, in the words of a government official last year, "most Tibetans are humble people who know how to be grateful."
In a White Paper issued for the occasion, China congratulates itself on half a century of material progress in Tibet. In another, published late last year, Beijing described a Tibetan cultural flowering and wide religious freedoms, positioning China as the protector of Tibetan culture. The destruction of 90 per cent of Tibet's monasteries and temples on Beijing's orders in the early Sixties, the looting of Tibet's cultural treasures by China or the continuing intensity in Tibet of "patriotic education" did not merit even a footnote.
In a state with only one political authority, everything is the Party's responsibility unless the blame can be shifted on to somebody else. Against this background, truculent nationalism can thrive. In the case of Tibet, unidentified "foreigners" and the increasingly demonised Dalai Lama are the problem, rather than decades of bungled Chinese colonialism.
In the 12 months since last year's protest, Tibetans have become the enemy within, mistrusted by the state, feared and despised by many Han Chinese citizens. Savage sentences have been imposed on Tibetans who have talked of events in Tibet to the outside world: they include a life sentence for a Tibetan NGO worker accused of "espionage," five years for a woman who made an international telephone call and several people arrested in the last few days for having "reactionary music" on their mobile phones.
Two weeks ago a 24-year-old monk in Sichuan province, holding a picture of the Dalai Lama, set fire to himself in protest against the banning of the annual Monlam prayer festival, one of the most important events in the religious calendar and frequently the occasion for protests.
When a movement grew in Tibet to mark this lunar New Year not as a celebration but as a commemoration of last year's dead and injured, officials took the unusual step of distributing fireworks in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, with strict instructions to householders to let them off.
Preparations are under way for the first of what are to be annual celebrations of the freshly declared "Serf Emancipation Day " on 20 March – a government-imposed festival intended to re-frame the events of 1959 – and the resonant month of March – as a happy occasion.
This strenuous propaganda may convince the Han majority that China is the rightful owner of Tibet, with all its mineral and natural resources and its extensive living space. They may even believe that the Chinese have nothing more than the generous intentions of sharing the benefits of Chinese civilisation with a people they perceive as dirty and backward – a view heard in Beijing with embarrassing frequency. But without real policy change, rewriting history will not bring peace to Tibet, or to China. More troops are to be stationed in Tibet. Can Beijing seriously believe this will be solved by force?
A few brave voices, Chinese and Tibetan, have tried to discuss other options and propose constructive ways forward. Invariably, they recommend renewed talks with the Dalai Lama on meaningful autonomy, and a willingness to acknowledge past policy errors.
There are examples of flexibility in other areas of the Chinese polity that might usefully be applied: the "one country, two systems" approach that has eased the return of Hong Kong to the mainland for instance, or the de facto offer of business as usual to Taiwan, provided no formal declaration of independence is made.
But instead of showing flexibility, or even a willingness to learn from failure, the Chinese approach grows increasingly – and destructively – dogmatic. It is hard to imagine that China would ever give up its hold on Tibet: all the more reason, then, to seek a political way ahead.
Now for Some News- Chinese Style/Point Of View/Propoganda
Commentary: For whom is Tibet a "hell on earth"?
By Xinhua Writer Zhou Yan
LHASA, March 10 (Xinhua) -- Tuesday is a special date for Tibetans. For the 2.8 million residents in the southwest China autonomous region, it marks 50 years since feudal serfdom was abolished; but for the 14th Dalai Lama and his "government-in-exile," it marks five decades of futile attempts at independence.
Fifty years after he fled China and having failed time and again to foment widespread unrest in Tibet and other Tibetan communities in western China, the Dalai Lama is apparently at his wit's end.
In a speech to mark the 50th anniversary of his exile, the Dalai Lama abruptly shook off his pacifist outlook and smiles to give some gibberish far below the intelligence of the "spiritual leader" himself, and poles apart from truth.
In this speech, delivered in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamshala, the Dalai Lama denigrated Tibet's 50 years of democratic reform, sustained economic growth and improved human rights as "untold suffering and destruction to the land and people of Tibet."
He also slandered the Chinese government as having killed hundreds of thousands of Tibetans and transformed the plateau region into a "hell on earth.
"The Tibetan people are regarded like criminals, deserving to be put to death," the spiritual leader said.
The Dalai Lama might have staged some fanfare in front of the "Tibet independence" forces overseas, and bewitched some Westerners with his assumptions that though groundless, sometimes sell well internationally -- the "nearing extinction" of the Tibetan culture and identity, for instance.
The Dalai Lama calls Tibet a "hell on earth." But many Tibetans I know, particularly the elderly people who still remember the past, say Tibet is at its best stage of development. Why do the opinions vary so much?
With no exception, the 14th Dalai Lama and all his predecessors represent the aristocrats and serf owners in old Tibet. So when the democratic reform took place and all the serfs stood up to own land and become men with dignity, Tibet became "hell on earth" for the Dalai Lama and his likes.
This "hell on earth" is precisely "paradise on earth" for the ordinary Tibetans. Under no circumstances would these people allow the Dalai Lama to restore the old social strata in their homeland, under the name of the "middle way" or "meaningful autonomy."
Anyone with the least knowledge of Tibet knows clearly, under the ruling Communist Party of China, how schools, hospitals, quake-resistant homes and other facilities have been built to improve the quality of Tibetans' lives; how roads, airports and a railway have been constructed to bring in some of the most-needed supplies and how modern technologies have enabled farmers to build vegetables and fruits on former infertile land.
Anyone who has been to Tibet cannot help exclaiming at its well-preserved culture: the centuries-old treasures housed in the Potala Palace, the Jokhang Temple and more than 1,000 other monasteries; the traditional artwork and opera; the elegant, Tibetan-style homes; the eating habits, featuring yak butter, highland barley and other cuisine, and the unique language, one of the few Chinese dialects that are still widely used in both written and spoken forms.
Ask Loga, 85, if the Tibetans are living in a "hell on earth." The Lhasa resident, who speaks only Tibetan dialect, has been a pilgrim to Sera Monastery nearly every day since he was 13. Thanks to the improved quality of life, the average life expectancy of Tibetans has nearly doubled since the democratic reform, to about 67.
With the interpretation of a Tibetan colleague, Loga told me he was "in good shape except that he was blind in one eye." The hearty smile on his weathered face tell me he is happy and content.
Fifty years after the Dalai Lama's flight from China, some Tibetans still revere him as their "spiritual leader." They do this because as devout Buddhists, they worship him as the reincarnation of all previous Dalai Lamas. It's this status, rather than his words or deeds, that earned the 14th Dalai Lama some awe.
For the Dalai Lama, 50 years is a long time. Tibet is no more the former land of poverty from which he fled. Its people are no more living under the serf owners' whips, totally ignorant to what is going on in the wide world.
If the Dalai Lama really wants to do something beneficial for his fellow Tibetans, he should stop lying, abandon his separatism mentality and show some sincerity in settling the Tibet issue properly.
(Xinhua correspondents Niu Qi, Pempa Tsering and Soinam Norbu contributed to this story)