I write in response to Robert Li’s editorial (“Dalai Lama sows seeds of selfish plan in Tibet,” 3/27) published on these pages yesterday. His unreasonable attacks on the Dalai Lama completely ignore the fact that the root cause of much of the conflict today is not the Dalai Lama at all, but has been the result of the Chinese government’s occupation of Tibet and its refusal to grant it meaningful autonomy. His article, which lauds China’s “achievements” in Tibet and largely ignores historical truth, rips a page right out of the Chinese Communist Party’s playbook for Tibet.
I had the opportunity to visit Tibet this past summer and the country is anything but a “perfect counterexample of the destruction of Tibetan culture.” Sure, the Chinese government is “preserving” Tibetan culture by renovating the Potala Palace. But let’s not forget that the Potala Palace, the historical seat of the Tibetan government for hundreds of years, only fell into disuse and disrepair because China essentially forced the Dalai Lama to flee.
Sure, the Chinese government subsidizes Tibetan monasteries, but the 200 million RMB (equivalent to approximately $28 million) paid apparently is not enough to wipe away the Communist graffiti still faintly covering that wall of a monastery I visited. These words are a painful memory of the Cultural Revolution, which brought thousands of Chinese youth to Tibet to destroy a culture that the Chinese government is now trying to “preserve.” This money is the least China could do to remedy years of destruction of Tibetan monasteries and religious relics.
A visit to any number of Tibetan monasteries today would certainly make one think twice about Li’s denial that Tibetan monasteries have been negatively affected since the Chinese arrived. My trip this summer included visits to over 10 monasteries, many of which still contain the footprints of buildings destroyed during the Cultural Revolution as stark reminders of the former grandeur of these monasteries and the large monk populations that once supported them.
Lastly, Li’s reference to Patrick French, the former director of the Free Tibet campaign, and his New York Times article admitting that the 1.2 million Tibetans reportedly killed since 1950 was based on no evidence is a gross misrepresentation of the author’s intent. If one reads his article, it is clear that French is by no means suggesting that the assertion that many Tibetans have died at the hands of the Chinese is completely baseless, as Li’s words would imply. Instead, French, who is still a supporter of Tibet, only cites this number to question the tactics pro-Tibetan groups have used in order to achieve their aims. I’ll concede. Perhaps only 500,000 people have died since 1950 as a result of the Chinese occupation. But is that an acceptable statistic?
I agree with Li that the Dalai Lama is not a flawless individual. But at least his expressed willingness to talk to the Chinese government demonstrates his humility, something the Chinese Communist Party sorely lacks. Only when the Chinese government recognizes that the problems it faces today are largely the result of the many years that they have oppressed the Tibet people, and seeks to open dialogue with representatives of Tibet, will the issues facing both be meaningfully addressed. Perhaps if the Chinese government ever bids again for the Olympics, it won’t need to throw a tantrum over a problem it caused in the past but presently refuses to solve.
Jeffrey Sun is a senior in Silliman College.