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.