While we wait for Daniel to collect and organize his thoughts on the role of non-profits in present-day Tibet, allow me to add some context.

First, an update from our embedded contributor Michael, who is currently on the ground in Dharamsala, India:

The CCP (Chinese Communist Party) propaganda in China that she (my girlfriend) sees on TV claims that the Beijing Government has been inviting the Dalai Lama for talks to end the protests, but he has been refusing.

This is obviously a lie, considering that the Dalai Lama has been working to send delegations to China for years. There have been six official meetings between the Dalai Lama’s ‘government in exile’ and the CCP in Beijing in recent years, and he has stated over and over again that he is prepared to go and talk with them when they invite him. Note that both the EU Heads of State and the United States House of Representatives this week passed non-binding resolutions calling for China to open dialogue with the Dalai Lama.

These examples of blatant untruths (reporting things exactly opposite the way they happened) show that the CCP is trying to kindle Han (Chinese) racist sentiment against the minorities in China. If you read what many Chinese say in chatrooms, it is sad: Some of them are going as far as calling for the mass extermination of the protesters. They are actually supportive of genocidal action.

There is a good reason we’re bringing all of this up right now: Because of the upcoming Beijing Olympics, international attention has, once again, turned to the human rights abuses perpetrated against Tibet (and Tibetans) by the People’s Republic of China, among other abuses. The Dalai Lama issued this press release on April 4th:

Dharamshala, 4 April, TibetNet: His Holiness the Dalai Lama has expressed his appreciation and gratitude to the world leaders, Parliamentarians, NGOs and members of the public who have expressed their concern over the recent deeply saddening and tragic events in Tibet.

“I am also grateful for their efforts to persuade the Chinese authorities to exercise restraint in dealing with the peaceful protesters, while at the same time calling for meaningful dialogue to resolve the issue,” His Holiness stated on 2 April.

His Holiness said, “I believe the recent demonstrations and protests are a manifestation of the deep-rooted resentment not only of the Tibetan people in the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), but also in the outlying traditional Tibetan areas now incorporated into Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, where there exist substantial communities of ethnic Tibetans.”

According to reliable sources, the Chinese authorities have deployed large contingents of troops in these traditional Tibetan regions and have not only started to crack down heavily on the Tibetans allegedly involved in the unrest, but also sealed off the areas where protests have taken place.

His Holiness said, “I therefore appeal for your continued support in calling for an immediate end to the current crackdown, the release of all those who have been arrested and detained, and the provision of proper medical treatment to the injured. We are particularly concerned about the lack of adequate medical facilities, as there are reports of many injured Tibetans being afraid to go to Chinese-run hospitals and clinics.”

“I would also request you to encourage the sending of an independent international body, to investigate the unrest and its underlying causes, as well as allowing the media and international medical teams to visit the affected areas. Their presence will not only instill a sense of reassurance in the Tibetan people, but will also exercise a restraining influence on the Chinese authorities,” His Holiness said.

***

Tibet is a story that is not often told here in Louisiana, and when it is, the story is essentialized, told like a macabre fairytale.

This is not to minimize China’s direct role in the deaths of at least 800,000 Tibetans (nearly a tenth of their population), the destruction of Tibetan civic institutions, and their attempt at eroding a precious culture. But it is to say that if we are to discuss this issue, we must understand the scope. And more importantly, we must be realistic.

We named this series “What Does It Mean To ‘Save Tibet’?” for a very specific reason: The entire “Free Tibet” movement of the 1990s has been refocused. It has matured. It has confronted the facts on the ground, including the most basic fact: The Tibet of today will never and can never be replaced by the Tibet of 1951.

Nor should it be.

It is a reality that the Dalai Lama has acknowledged. And it’s what we’re also attempting to explain.

It means that Tibet moved. The cause of “freeing” an occupied country has become a cause dedicated to preserving and saving a culture.

Those of us in Louisiana can appreciate the dialectic between the forces of modernization and the need for cultural preservation. After all, in the 20th century, a nationalistic, conforming impulse threatened to destroy Cajun culture, which is why organizations such as CODOFIL are so important.

***

The cause of Tibet first entered into American popular culture during the mid-1990s. Until then, the conversation was largely academic and political. But during the 1990s, a series of major motion pictures such as Seven Years in Tibet and Kundun and a number of profound and elegant books by the Dalai Lama (and others) were injected into our popular consciousness. For a time, Tibet was the cause celebre, even though the actual dispute was (at the time) more than forty years old.

And there was an immediacy to the situation. Americans were, in a sense, discovering the story for the first time.

Unfortunately, the sense of immediacy– which was the impulse behind the Free Tibet movement– was only due to a sudden collective recognition, informed, in large part, by a sensationalized and, yes, romanticized retelling of history.

Daniel says that when he taught a class of Tibetans a lesson on stereotypes, many of them were surprised to learn that some Westerners believe all Tibetans are peace-loving, easy-going people. Like America, Tibet also has its share of warriors and demons.

As Michael explains:

There is an important piece of little known history, which can be learned in detail in the book Orphans of the Cold War. In the early sixties, the CIA trained a handful of Tibetan operatives in the mountains in Colorado. They were trained in guerrilla warfare and espionage, and then airdropped in southern Tibet.

A different group, also trained by the CIA, was sent from India through Nepal to the Mustang district to enter into Tibet in order to start a revolution. However, the CIA cut off funding for the project, leaving the fighters high and dry (literally). This actually wasn’t what ended their military operations, because they continued to operate and report to the Dalai Lama.

After a few years, the Dalai Lama sent a secret taped message to the operatives telling them that he could no longer support their actions because they were violent, and he was going to engage in a totally non-violent approach to freeing Tibet. Most of the Tibetan guerrillas returned to India. The others actually committed suicide in Tibet upon hearing the message, because they felt like they could not disobey the Dalai Lama but could also not reconcile themselves to living in India as civilians. This was a devastating personal blow to the Dalai Lama, but he has held to his method since then. Many young Tibetans wish he had never called off the violent resistance, but he did and there has been little ‘progress’ in their eyes since.

The world is a lot smaller than it was in 1951. Once upon a time, Tibet was the rooftop of the world, so named because its elevation often made parts of the region practically inaccessible to any foreigner. Today, Tibet is known to the outside world, even though the Chinese continually attempt to block access.

Back to the issue of saving Tibet.

On another note, my friend Michael, who I hope will contribute in a subsequent post, explains:

I have been to Lhasa (the Capital of Tibet) five times, and from what I have seen, it would be totally impossible to create a completely free Tibetan country. Rather, just like the Dalai Lama has been advocating for years (which is not supported by many Tibetans), a middle way approach of creating a democratic Tibetan state is the only feasible option. Basically, Beijing would have military and foreign trade control over this state, but local issues would be decided by locally elected officials.

***

Our Tibet feature will wrap up on Sunday night, at which point CenLamar will be flooded with a growing backlog of political stories.

More later…

2 thoughts

  1. Hong Kong is money driven and not comparable at all to Tibet, and I understand that they have some amount of autonomy.
    Are there any other areas that the Chinese allow to be democratically controlled? Is this a viable option?

  2. Hong Kong is definitely an exception to how the Party controls local governments, though Macau also enjoys much of the same status as HK. The British handed the large port over to mainland China just over a decade ago, and Hong Kong has maintained a good deal of autonomy from the central government.

    I think that when my brother describes a democratic Tibet that relies on China to handle international trade and protection, he does not mean that Tibet should be treated as Hong Kong or as particularly differently than the rest of China. The Tibet issue is related tangentally to the greater issue of Chinese Democracy (not to be confused with the upcoming Axl Rose album).

    All areas of China, especially minority, rural, and/or isolated areas (Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Ningxia, Yunnan, Guizhou, Anhui, etc.) struggle with lack of representation in Beijing. Chinese apologists are quick to point to “local elections” for some counties and townships, but only hand-picked Party members are allowed to run, and I think only Party members can vote. Higher level officials are appointed and must receive the consent of the Party-only National Peoples Congress. Opposition candidates are not allowed to run, and the few that have tried have met with considerable intimidation and were not allowed on the ballot.

    This led for an interesting classroom dynamic, as I could teach them vocabulary for voting and elections, but was not allowed to discuss “democracy” with my students. We held classroom votes almost daily, and the students elected their own class monitor.

    All of China deserves an open-Party system of elections to ensure the voice of citizens are heard by all levels of government. Of course, a free media goes hand in hand with the development of true democracy. In the Tibetan “Autonomous” Region, higher levels of the judiciary and executive are held by Han Chinese, and lower levels are staffed by higher percentages of Tibetans. I believe that apart from an independent Tibet, a truly democratic Tibet with real local autonomy is the only acceptable long-term solution that Tibetans in exile can live with.

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