Partly because of his own mysteriousness and partly because of the time-honored Western romanticization of Tibet as an unpolluted Shangri-La, the Dalai Lama’s popularity has increased tremendously over the past five decades. He took full advantage of every opportunity to appeal to the media with benevolence, resulting in a Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
But despite his popularity, beneath the Dalai Lama’s romantic aura we can only find violence covered by well-calculated political propaganda and maneuvers. Three press releases issued by the Dalai Lama regarding last weeks’ riot in Tibet distinctly reveal his true political cunningness and hypocrisy.
The Dalai Lama always praises compassion as “the core of all the religions, all our humanities and all our existence.” Contrary to his own preaching, however, the Dalai Lama expressed no sympathy to the victims of the Tibet riot, nor to their families; nor to the innocent passersby killed in Lhasa; nor to the foreign service employees attacked in Chinese consulates-general in Munich, Toronto, San Francisco and London; nor even to the 18-year-old Tibetan girl, one of his “fellow countrymen,” who was swallowed in the brutal fire set by the mob in a fashion store on March 14.
Instead, in his press release on the same day, the Dalai Lama called the wild riot in Tibet “peaceful protests” and pressed the Chinese authority to “stop using force” even before any forceful measures had been taken by the local government.
In a subsequent statement made on March 18, the Dalai Lama continued to avoid denouncing the violence by depicting the demonstration “a spontaneous outburst of public resentment built up by years of repression.” Knowing the importance of seizing the moral high ground, the Dalai Lama was smart enough to urge his fellow Tibetans not to “resort to violence” at the very end of the statement; he even threatened to resign as leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile “if the majority of the Tibetans resort to violence.”
This well-dressed political appeal to nonviolent resistance seemed perfect, but its timing and diction leaked the Dalai Lama’s true intention. It’s worth noticing that the gesture only came after his ludicrous insistence that the Chinese authorities sit back, relax and let their police force go on vacation during an impossible situation. In addition, the implausibility of more than four million people (half of Tibet’s population) fighting in the streets at the same time guaranteed the Dalai Lama’s resignation a sheer political play. Had he been sincere and responsible, he would have resigned back in 1987 when much blood was spilled in Lhasa during a riot on Chinese National Day.
The Dalai Lama uses the bulk of his three press releases to condemn the Chinese authority’s “cultural genocide” in Tibet. He said the “distinctive Tibetan cultural heritage” is “fading away” due to the deliberate measures by the Chinese government. While the Dalai Lama and his elite priestly class might think otherwise, those “cultural heritage” points that dictate that serfs can be beaten at their masters’ will, that one-third of one’s personal income must be contributed to the temple and feed the labor-free monks, and that only selected males (and no females) can have access to education, are inconsistent with basic human rights, and thus it is legitimate that they be eliminated.
The rest of Tibetan culture, contrary to the Dalai Lama’s description, is well-preserved under the current authority. His claim that “Tibetan monasteries … have been severely reduced in both in number and population” was based on no evidence. Not only do monasteries in Tibet, including the Zeban Monastery in which the riot originated, receive more than 200 million RMB in funding each year, but the number of Tibetan monks has hovered around 2 percent of the entire Tibetan population through the years. Anyone who has ever traveled to Tibet could tell that the recently renovated Potala Palace, the holy place of Tibet, is a perfect counterexample of the “destruction of Tibetan culture.”
Patrick French, former director of the Free Tibet Campaign in London, published an article in The New York Times yesterday admitting that the Dalai Lama’s long-claimed 1.2 million Tibetan casualties in 1950 were supported by “no evidence.” Moreover, the Dalai Lama deliberately let the Tibetan Youth Congress use his popularity to spread violence and do the dirty work, while keeping his own image as a peaceful, Gandhi-like god of Tibet.
The Dalai Lama has always portrayed himself as a pure religious leader, but in reality he’s never abandoned the dream to seek a combined spiritual and secular power in a so-called “Greater Tibet,” including Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan provinces, which have never even been under the control of the Lhasa authority. In order to achieve that goal, he has become a great actor attracting the spotlight of the international community. As the old Tibetan saying goes, “Watch whether the dog barks, but also whether it bites.”
Robert Li is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College.