For peace, reconcile the history of China-Tibet

I was appalled by Robert Li’s depiction of the Dalai Lama in his piece called “Dalai Lama sews seeds of selfish plan in Tibet” (3/27) which confirms Beijing’s view of Dalai as a “splittist”. While I do not consider myself an expert on the Dalai Lama’s own views, I recommend this book: “The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama” by Thomas Laird. Laird, a respected journalist who interviewed the Dalai Lama in his residence in exile, has written this story in part to depict the Dalai Lama as a continued seeker of the “middle way” (peaceful resolution) in dealing with Beijing and to reclaim Tibet’s history from China’s. After all, which voice of history is actually taught and accepted can have certain political ramifications.

George Orwell couldn’t have phrased it any better: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” With that idea in mind, I offer another book for Robert to read: “The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947” by Tsering Shakya, one of the few objective histories of modern Tibet that relies on primary documents and completely shatters the Shangri-la notion of modern Tibet. (The Western romaniticization of Shangri-la is not even the issue among the Tibetans and the Chinese)

One thing is clear from recent headlines: the issue of Tibet poses a great challenge to today’s China, especially as the world turns to China during the 2008 Olympics. The recent protests in Tibet have offered China and Tibet the chance for honest dialogue. However, China has not taken the moral high road, and instead of honest dialogue, China has kicked foreign journalists out of Tibet and cracked down on any footage of Tibet on YouTube. If China is to truly win the hearts and minds of the international community, the government should be more transparent in its actions, and not rebuff the international community for seeing for themselves what is happening in Tibet. If only for the sake of history as it is unfolding today.

Tibet has, in fact, been a sore issue for China because its “separatist” government-in-exile still threatens Chinese nationalism. Of course, China needs to reconsider this idea which is deeply rooted in its own version of history. True, China may continue to insist that Tibet has always been part of it, but the Tibetans do not view things that way. In fact, how many Chinese were living in Tibet just before 1950? Certainly not as many as there are now. China continues to insist that their possession of Tibet goes even further, perhaps even dating to the Chinese Tang Dynasty, when a Chinese princess was offered to the Tibetan king to “civilize” the Tibetan people and bring achievements like written language and metallurgy into Tibet. Of course, this presents another all too romantic view. The Tibetans had already developed their own iron technology and the Tibetan written language hardly resembles that of modern Chinese. Other similar claims of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, justified by the more recent precedents set by the Qing Dynasty, for example, deserve similar reconsideration.

Some Tibetan historians insist on a more symbolic understanding of China’s imperial suzerainty, rather than modern Beijing’s conception of more absolute sovereignty. Other differences between Tibetan and Chinese views of history, which even includes land claims made for “historic reasons,” can span on for pages and pages, and I will not judge which conception is correct. I just want to offer alternatives to official Chinese history that in its application has resulted in so much misunderstanding and bloodshed.

If there is one issue on which I completely agree with Robert, it’s that the current Tibetan violence has no place either in the views of the pacifist Dalai Lama or in the eyes of today’s international community. Violence on either side is counterproductive, as even the Dalai Lama recognizes, for it can only result in an endless spiral of resentment and future violence. I completely favor mutual civilized negotiations between Tibet and China that reconcile both the Tibetan and Chinese view of history. Though I know this approach will take hard compromises and soul searching, in the end, both nations will emerge as winners.

Justin Lo is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College.

Comments

  • silenceitgger

    I just have a couple of small questions to the author who believe the key for solving the Tibet unrest is for the Chinese government to engage in dialogue with Dalai and allows him to return to Tibet, the sooner the better. right?

    First question, why should China trust "his holiness" the dalai lama given the fact that he has been on CIA payroll for decades and actively involved in CIA sponsored ARMED rebelling during the 50's and many spy operations inside Tibet thereafter?

    Second question, as long as this guy is still the head of the so-called "Tibet government-in-exile", how should Chinese EVER believe that Dalai is just a religious figure who wants no independence but merely a "true" autonomy that allows the Tibetan culture to be preserved? Given the fact that TGIE has many components such as the famous "Tibet Youth Congress" that clearly have Tibet independence as their goal.

  • Alex

    There are several problems with history books written by Western authors about China. The main one being Western authors often do not have first hand accounts of China and they are often biased against China because they grew up in anti-China ideology.

    It is also difficult consider interviews with Dalai Lama to be objective truth. Anyone's opinion about himself and his own movement is by definition very biased. As recent events in Tibet have shown, western media is far more willing to report Tibetan suffering than Chinese suffering caused by Tibetans.

  • Justin

    In response to #1, I'll admit that the CIA had been involved with guerillas in the 50's. But that era has long gone. Sympathy abroad to the Dalai Lama may not necessarily equate to CIA involvement. Violence anywhere around the world causes some degree of sympathy. Think of people holding petitions and peace rallies over the violence in the Middle East and Darfur. Heck, even peaceful protests over the abuses of the operations in Iraq. Are they all working for the CIA too? Is the CIA interested in all these things at once? I fail to see a strategy to that.

    You can read the whole Dalai Lama & CIA debate here if you want (http://www.pekingduck.org/archives/003939.php). I'll let you be the judge. I also have a quote from the Dalai Lama recently which I got from Reuters (http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/news/news-china-tibet.html?_r=1&oref=slogin):

    "I assure you I have no desire to seek Tibet's separation. Nor do I have any wish to drive a wedge between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples," he said.

    Of course, any cynic can say the Dalai Lama's just lying, but if he's been lying so long, why does it do it so convincingly? It makes more sense that he feels very conflicted what to do right now with the "Free Tibet" movement which has inspired much Chinese ire. But if he had his way, he would not want to give the Chinese any more reason to hate him. What would you do if you were the head of a nation of a restless people who threaten violence to your neighbor with whom you wanted desperately to negotiate with?

    In response to #2, I know that there is some bias against China by Western authors and media. My heart goes out to both the Tibetans and the Chinese involved in the recent unrest. But at the same time, the Western authors and media bring up great points that are worthy of discussion. Why does China have its official history, and Tibet have its own? Is there any way to reconcile both histories without undermining either? Is there any way we can "objectively" see the Tibetan issue?

  • Anonymous

    Justin:

    Glad to make a few comments to your article, since I felt at least you did some of your research and did reasoning to some extent. Unfortunately, you only took one-sided views on the subject. I suggest a few things that you could further your studies on the issue:

    You certainly don't want use Thomas Laird's book to counter against Chinese accusations about Dalai Lama, right? It has just Dalai's words there.

    About Tsering Shakya, who wrote "The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947", I did a quick research, according to this link

    http://www.amazon.com/Dragon-Land-Snows-Tsering-Shakya/dp/023

    "… Tsering Shakya's Dragon in the Land of Snows. Though far from nonpartisan--Shakya, too, pleads the cause of Tibetan independence …". At least this tells me that you are pretty interested in reading the words of Dalai and of Pro Tibet Independance.

    Have you thought about reading something else other than that one-sided views to complete your research?

    Here are what Dalai really wants:

    The Dalai and his followers really want the Great Tibet (which includes many parts of other Chinese provinces which historically were never under Tibet's control), even today; Dalai changed his stances a few times from asking for independence to autonomy, and there is no guarantee that he won't change again; Dalai's autonomy is probably quite different than what you think, at least Chinese don't accept, i.e., no Chinese Army allowed in Tibet, Tibet government free to establish relationship with other countries, all Han and other minorities must be driven out of Tibet, …; The senior advisors of Dalai's government in exile openly admitted that the autonomy is just the first step towards the independence; The Tibetan Youth Congress under Dalai openly discuss about violence and incite Tibetan people …

    I can list more if you want to know.

    Thanks,

  • Justin

    "Have you thought about reading something else other than that one-sided views to complete your research?"

    Yes, actually I have. But the point is not about me, not even about the Dalai Lama. It's about peace. I'm a realist when it comes to achieving a lasting peace, and I know that until peoples' voices are recognized on both sides, then can there ever be a lasting peace? I'm certain you already have been long familiar with the Chinese side of this issue, but how familiar are you exactly with the Tibetan side? I completely agree that China has its legitimate grievances over Tibet, including the seemingly dubious political actions of an otherwise purely religious leader, but can the opposite also be true? Does Tibet have legitimate grievances to China's past and present administration of this "autonomous region", brought about by a misunderstanding of their shared history?

    I mean, China isn't necessarily the innocent victim in these misunderstandings. What about the debates over the next Panchen Lama over which Beijing and the Dalai Lama have wrestled with so recently? Why does China have a seemingly vested political interest in something that should be purely religious? That probably makes as much sense as the Dalai Lama professing some political views over Tibet, right? If politics is what Beijing understands, then can't the Dalai Lama be excused for offering Tibetan's own political take on things, in order to start a constructive dialogue with them over politics?

    On a more technical note, I'm not quite sure how valuable a description of a book on Amazon.com is. As I read the book, I didn't necessarily feel it was continuously professing the "pro-Tibet" stance. But maybe I'm wrong. But again, I say judge for yourself and do some reading on the Tibetan side of the story, or else I might just ask you the same question you have asked me, "Have you thought about reading something else other than that one-sided views to complete your research?". Some Tibetan claims I know you won't like, but I'm sure there are some claims that are nevertheless well argued for. The point here is to inspire constructive dialogue, not hatred. This requires an open mind.

    And maybe I will get started on reading on the Chinese side of the issue. Although I'm not quite sure where to start myself. Forgive me, as Amazon.com is little help in this regard, which has you have rightly identified has its own biases.

  • Anonymous

    I read Chinese side of story, western media coverage, and also some of Dalai's words. I feel Dalai's words, which sure could tough a lot of westerners, fail to struck a string with Chinese. He and his people's unrealistic fantasy of recovering their long lost paradise make people feel so yesteryear. If they want to go back to 50 years ago, well, the war was over by that time. The world has changed, and China has changed a lot. We can go back into history to argue about a lot of what-ifs. But they are all history now.

    Just like someone said, "The Dalai Lama has about the same chance of reclaiming Tibet as the descendants of the Royal family of Hawaii have of the United States deciding to return sovereignty or the French people of demanding restoration of the Bourbons bloodline." Today, does anyone talk about "legitimate grievances" of native Hawaiians and Indians? Today they can just live in their reserved land to live on Casinos, or be treated like tourist attractions and historical specimen. Talking about "legitimate grievances"!

    Probably you don't know much about the circumstances surrounding the selection of next Panchen Lama? The timing of it was so off that it angered China just as much as how Dalai's timed action for Olympic did to China this time. Dalai preempted China by picking the successor first after China started the process and narrowed down to three candidates and ready to find one to replace patriotic Panchen Lama to counter balance against Dalai.

    History aside, Dalai and Panchen Lama are both not just religious figures but also political figures. They were basically like governor and vice-governor of the province. The selections of their reincarnation historically have always been certified by the Central government, to show the sovereign authority. To think that process is of "purely religious" is pretty naive. Even today, Dalai is still the head of his so-called government-in-exile. I am not sure if you are aware of that? Today, Dalai is still playing much politics when he tour around world talking to heads of states and hold hands with Hollywood stars, at the same time, China is patiently waiting for his death.

  • Anonymous

    BTW: You said maybe you would get started on reading on the Chinese side of the issue but you were not quite sure where to start … Mmmmmm … To suggest you at this point to start to learn Chinese probably is too insincere, right? :D

    It's not just a problem faced by you here. Apparently New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof was puzzled too. Today I happened to read some interesting posts replying to the call of his, to understand more about Chinese side of the issue. Maybe you could find some of those posts are enlightening.

    http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/03/30/calling-china/

  • MyNameIsRed

    Oh, so the CCP is patiently waiting for CCP's death, is it? We are all waiting for the CCP's demise.

    All of you China apologists argue as if Chinese (pseudo)communist rule has brought a whole lot of good to the Tibetan people? It has hardly liberated the true proletariat in China (look at the millions working in slave conditions on 20 cents a day making our ipods, macbooks), let alone "liberate" Tibetans from "slavery."

    Sure, it has brought lot of "goods" to Tibet to try and destroy the non-materialistic, frugal, yet simple and contented life of Tibetans. I admit that the Lamas were authoritarian back in the day but no more so than the CCP, and they changed or began to change by the late 19th century.

  • MyNameIsRed

    I meant CCP waiting for Dalai Lama's death

  • GoodDay

    If you want to wait for CCP's demise, go bury your head in the sand. You just can't handle the truth that CCP will be quite strong for generations to come.

    China has achieved the biggest poverty reduction ever seen in human history in such a short time. The slaves you talked about would make less than 20 cents an hour if they stay in villages. Tomorrow they will climb up the ladder of development and spread the progress across China.

    You probably want Tibetan to stay in their frugal simple life forever? You know nothing about the history of the Lamas and Tibet, just by looking at your last statement.

  • Linda Xin

    I wonder if westerners have ever seen anything good in the Chinese people, or are they just monsters or wild animals without brain? Sometimes the words are just humiliating,you know?
    What China wants is as easy as a chance to"fair play", on an average base, not just your criteria of judging things.
    We will try our best to show you a friendly and fast-developing Beijing. Welcome to Beijing, and enjoy Olympics!

  • david_young

    Here are some readings for you to do:
    http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=389×3051032

    The History as Propaganda piece is pretty good if you want to be "realistic" about many sides of the Tibet stories.

    Also, The Snow Lion and the Dragon: China, Tibet, and the Dalai Lama is one piece that gives pretty neutral narration of the Tibet issue.

    Please educate yourself with scholarly works, not just with televsion broadcast.

  • 1989