Yale risks undermining core values by supporting China

Robert Li’s column “Dalai Lama sows seeds of selfish plan in Tibet” (3/27) was very disappointing. While I can appreciate Li’s national pride, a large component of patriotism is questioning the words and actions of one’s government to ensure that they are in accordance with the state’s professed ideals. Li presented a one-sided account of events in Tibet that not only failed to critically examine the propagandistic claims of the Chinese government, but also assailed the Dalai Lama with allegations that are dubious at best and slanderous at worst.

The Chinese government justifies its occupation of Tibet in terms of territorial integrity, arguing that Tibet has historically been part of Chinese territory. In modern times, Tibet enjoyed long periods of autonomy and de facto independence until 1950-’51, when the newly victorious Communist government of China invaded Tibetan territory and coerced the Tibetan government into signing an agreement renouncing claims of sovereignty. The Dalai Lama has repeatedly asserted that he would be content with the granting of autonomous status similar to that of Hong Kong for the misleadingly named Tibetan Autonomous Region. Further, despite much searching I was unable to find any evidence for one of Li’s greater claims that the Dalai Lama seeks control over other provinces as part of a “Greater Tibet.”

International boundary law is not my specialty, so I will not attempt to challenge China’s recent actions on this basis. However, they are still condemnable from a human rights perspective. Tibetan protests appear to have begun peacefully, but have since degenerated as the Chinese state responded with police and military repression. Sadly, some Tibetans began attacking ethnic Han Chinese people and businesses, bringing upon the community undue suffering. This has, however, been the only fact reported about events in Tibet by Chinese news agencies that fan anti-Tibetan sentiments.

While Li admonished the Dalai Lama for not expressing condolences for those Han harmed in the protests, the spiritual leader has repeatedly said that he does not want Tibetans to act violently, and even threatened to step down if violence continues. However, he recognizes that he may be unable to contain anger that has built up from almost 50 years of Chinese occupation, colonial settlement policies, and attempts to control and repress Tibetan culture.

Li argues that we may look at the restoration and funding of certain monasteries as evidence of the Chinese government’s commitment to protecting Tibetan culture. This ignores past demolitions of monasteries, as well as Chinese interference in the administration of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama is not young, and many Tibetan Buddhists fear that the Chinese government will attempt to impose its will for a new Dalai Lama, as it did to the Panchen Lama, the second most holy figure in Tibetan Buddhism, who was kidnapped along with his family by Chinese authorities in 1995 and “replaced” by a Panchen Lama selected by China.

In the 1960s and 1970s, China supported anticolonial movements around the world attempting to assert their rights to self-determination and freedom of cultural expression; however, the Chinese treatment of Tibet during the same period and today has run strongly counter to this principle.

It is undeniable that the Chinese government has invested heavily in Tibet and developed the region economically, but these benefits have generally accrued to the Han Chinese who moved into the region since the Chinese occupation began in the 1950s. And to argue that Tibetans should view the Chinese as having liberated them from a feudalistic, lama-dominated society ignores that the Dalai Lama continues to be a symbol of Tibetan pride and resistance.

Instead of scrutinizing their own policies and giving credence to the legitimate demands of Tibetan protestors for greater cultural and political freedom, the Chinese government, through the official People’s Daily, called in an editorial for protestors to be “resolutely crush[ed].” The leader of the Communist party in Tibet called the Dalai Lama a “wolf in monk’s robes, a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast,” not the typical description of a Nobel Peace Prize winner who has spent the past half-century urging nonviolent action as the best way to achieve Tibetan demands.

China grows more powerful economically and politically each day. It continues to make great advances in the sciences, an area in which Yale wishes to improve. However, the university has a moral obligation to balance the opportunities provided by China’s growth with a serious look at the country’s policies.

For those who say Yale has no place questioning a sovereign country about its internal policies, there is already the precedent of Yale Law School seeking to prevent military recruiters from visiting the school due to policies that discriminate against gays and lesbians. The University should be able to question and give feedback on the actions of its partners, be they businesses or governments. It must do so in the case of China if it wishes to uphold its own institutional standard of embracing and promoting diversity and equal human rights.

Kai Thaler is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College.


  • Search4T

    "Further, despite much searching I was unable to find any evidence for one of Li’s greater claims that the Dalai Lama seeks control over other provinces as part of a Greater Tibet…"

    Perhaps research is not your specialty either. You don't really need to look any further than the official websites of the Tibetan exile government (http://www.tibet.com/glance.html) or its more radical surrogate, Tibetan Youth Congress to find out their true objectives in territorial claims.

    "In the 1960s and 1970s, China supported anticolonial movements around the world attempting to assert their rights to self-determination and freedom of cultural expression; however, the Chinese treatment of Tibet during the same period and today has run strongly counter to this principle."

    It is also obvious that Chinese history is not your specialty either. Anyone who has done minimal reading about China knows that the period you mentioned witnessed one of the darkest chapters of China's contemporary history - known as Cultural Revolution. The ideological fever and subsequent destruction of lives and cultural heritages experienced by Tibetans, in many instances conducted by young "red guard" Tibetans themselves, were felt by all of China at much higher level. It was a period of travesty for all people of China, including peoples of its 26 ethnic minorities, of which Tibetans were just one of them. To say Tibetans were particularly target for oppression is not being honest with history.

    So please do your homework before passing judgments.

  • TonySu

    Just a quick comment:

    Your "much researching" apparently was not good enough, and you need to do a better job of searching on the Internet to find tons of information talking about what territories Tibetan exiles really talk about as of their Great Tibet.

    Look at this link of BBC which mentioned this:

    "Tibet's government-in-exile, based in northern India, has a very different concept of its homeland.

    A term often used is Greater Tibet, which covers the TAR, the whole of Qinghai province, western parts of Sichuan, areas of Yunnan and a corner of Gansu."

  • PasserBy

    Your statement "Tibetan protests appear to have begun peacefully, but have since degenerated as the Chinese state responded with police and military repression" has distorted the fact greatly. You apparently does not know the fact that the Tibetan monks started the violence first and the Chinese government only responded a day and half later with unusual restraint to restore the order? The western reporters on the scene witnessed what happened on March 14th there, and I suggest you read this link "Riots In Tibet: An Eye-Witness Account" to under which happened first and which happened afterwards:

  • Kai

    Thank you all for your comments. I am glad you all read my piece and decided to engage with and criticize it.

    #1 and #2: I agree with you that many Tibetans would like to regain control of "Greater Tibet," such as Kham and Amdo, but my statement was meant to address only the Dalai Lama. In his Strasbourg proposal in 1988, he did ask for greater autonomy for the TAR and U-Tsang, Kham, and Amdo, regions historically part of Tibet, but he did not ask for independence, saying the region should remain "in association with China." (http://www.dalailama.com/page.96.htm)

    #1: As to the Cultural Revolution, I am well aware of it and the suffering it caused to millions of Chinese. My omission was not designed to minimize the hardships faced by non-Tibetans, but inclusion of it would not have been topical, especially since I was discussing repression in Tibet then and today, not just during the period of the Cultural Revolution. My mentioning of Chinese support for anti-colonial movements may be a bit off topic or ignore the other problems China was facing, but it was designed to show China's failure to uphold at home the values it was promoting abroad.

    #3: Facts are scarce, largely because the Chinese government has been restricting the press. A press tour hailed as a great show of transparency by China was cut short yesterday when monks began protesting, and instead of allowing reporters to speak to them, Chinese officials acted quickly to pull the journalists away (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/28/world/asia/28tibet.html)
    The article you supply says that riots began "after two monks had been beaten by security officials" which does not match up with your assertion that Tibetan monks "began the violence.

  • Anonymous

    To #4 Kai:

    I am surprised how you did your research on topics related with what Dalai really wanted, by going to Dalai's web site. If this is how you do your research, I suggest you improve upon it, broaden your view. There are plenty of information out there clearly stated that Dalai's concept of Tibet, as of today, still the great Tibet including parts of other provinces of China that were never under Tibet's control, and he changed stances a few times from asking for independence to autonomy, and his concept of autonomy would be laughable to Chinese, i.e., no army allow from China there, Tibet free to establish relationships with other countries, all Han and other minorities must be driven out of great Tibet, etc. Some senior advisors of his government openly admitted that Dalai's autonomy is the first step towards independence, … Need I list more? Don't ask me to provide links, please do your research.

    Your assertion that the supplied article says the riot began "after two monks had been beaten by security officials", well, I suggest you look a little further in that article, and … do you see this comment there "(Or so Tibetan residents believe; the official version says it began with monks stoning police)"?

    The link I provided could be just a start, not a stop for you, so I suggest you do more research on this before you jump to conclusions.

    I believe eye witness reports, camera shots and live scene videos, and they all said witnessing Tibetan suddenly turned wild and violent and started to attack Han and Hui people. I do not rely on rumors (Tibetan in exile said so, Chinese government said so …) to make assertions.

  • Why not let journalists in?

    Why does China not give the same freedoms to Tibetans that the USA gives to its own few Tibetan citizens. The right to free speech, the right to talk to journalists, etc.

  • Mirror Image

    To #6:

    While we're at it, why does China not give the same autonomy to Tibetans that the USA gives its own Native American tribal governments?

  • Li Z

    To #7

    Because the Native Americans were eliminated to an extent that the US government no longer need to worry about their demands being advocated.

  • visitor

    What core values does Yale have? Yale students do not even get the fact correct before open their mouths. Prejudice against China must be Yale's core value? The Tibetan in exile are former slave masters and their decedents. They are losers. They should just swallow the sour grapes and move on.

    For the rest, don’t pretend that you care the interest of Chinese people more than the communist Chinese government does. While the bloody communist actually did the dirty hard work and lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty, the generous west have been riding on high horse offering nothing more than lean mean lip services.

    By the way, do you know your beloved Dalai Lama and Nazi are pals?