The subject of a Tibet-China clash had been in the air for some time. Stories had appeared in the press about a massive campaign of protest being planned by Tibetan exiles in India. But it was not yet on boil – until one fine day, on March 14, it worked its way out of the back pages of the papers through to the headlines and spread like wildfire. Uprising! Street battles in Lhasa the capital! Reports of demonstrations and mass protests. Police battling the rebels, many killed – all with shocking pictures of streets strewn with bodies.
It was quite clear that the Chinese had inaugurated a campaign of repression against Tibetan civilians. One could not possibly think otherwise. Even the slightest digression or reservation was immediately condemned as support for China’s merciless repression and indifference to human rights and democracy. But after a few days new stories began to emerge: it had not really been a bloodbath; the number of the dead was not in the hundreds or thousands but somewhere between twenty and eighty. The exact number is not known. But it was also revealed – if anyone was interested in knowing – that most of the victims were not Tibetans but ethnic Han Chinese or Hui (Muslim Chinese). It also became known that the disturbances had in effect turned into a pogrom against the Han or Hui Chinese, along with racist slogans. Matters came to such a pass that even the Dalai Lama condemned the “violent protest.” It also emerged that the disturbances had been organized by Tibetan exiles outside of China. But meanwhile it had become almost impossible to confuse people with the facts: Western consciousness had been indelibly impressed by the thousands of articles and television interviews about the bloody campaign against the Tibetan people. Public opinion in the Western world was considering a boycott of the Olympic Games. The German Chancellor announced that she would not participate in the opening ceremony in Beijing (thus pre-empting and scoring points against her French rival Sarkozy). Ms Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, flew to India and promised the Tibetan exiles there that the US Congress would stand at their side like a mighty rock. Nothing innovative there: the American Congress has for long years been approving millions of dollars for the activities of the Tibetan exiles. This is the same Congress that is no less generous to Israel, thus permitting the continuation of the occupation and the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians from their lands. This is the same Congress that ratified the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and finances the maintenance of over 700 American military bases all over the world.* All of this is done, of course, in the name of liberty and democracy.
With the dissipation of the fog from the mainstream media it became rather clear that those events in Tibet were organized by the Americans as part of a propaganda campaign which its obedient European allies have joined. The purpose is to blacken China’s name in international public opinion and to stoke the public’s fear of that country. Patrick French, an expert on Tibet not suspected of excessive sympathy for China, writes in The Herald Tribune (reprinted in Haaretz,10 April 2008): “Today the international struggle for Tibet that comes from Washington influences world public opinion powerfully and effectively”…
All of this does not mean that there were no good and just reasons for some of the Tibetan demands. After all, in every campaign of this type there has to be a grain of truth. In my opinion, demands for greater Tibetan autonomy within the framework of China should be supported. China should listen to the demands of the Tibetan people and compromise with them. Powerful feelings of discrimination cannot be overcome only by coercive measures. If the Chinese regime is interested in having Tibetan citizens who are loyal to the Chinese state, that is the only way. Demonstrations and protests are definitely a legitimate means for achieving demands as long as they are not directed and exploited by Washington as part of an anti-Chinese campaign. Unfortunately, it is clear that the American campaign of slandering China has succeeded in many parts of the world. The goal of this campaign is part of an unrestrained American campaign for global hegemony in which China is perceived as a growing obstacle.
Let us look at some of the claims and accusations that have been made against China.
One of the claims is that until China came into Tibet in 1951 the country, though not modern, nevertheless enjoyed an idyllic spiritual life, with unity between man and nature and harmony among human beings. Others admit that while it did indeed have a feudal regime, in practice it was merely a paternalistic regime that was benign to all the inhabitants.These claims are baseless, as can be seen in the documents quoted by Michael Parenti, one of the best-known progressive journalists in the USA, under the heading “Friendly Feudalism: the Tibet Myth,” on the Swans website (7 July 2003) http://www.swans.com/library/art9/mparen01.html .
The facts set out there are shocking. But I would rather have a look at something from the literary world, from the testimony of a Tibetan writer by the name of Alai, the author of a novel, called Red Poppies. In a review of the book in the literary supplement of Haaretz (July12, 2007), Lydia Aren writes that “Tibet has for years enjoyed great popularity in the West, and every year hundreds of books and articles are published on its religion and art. Red Poppies, the first novel of a Tibetan writer who has burst onto the international literary stage, represents a quite different Tibet.” Aren begins by informing us that at first the author had great difficulty in finding a publisher, “probably because he did not represent the Chinese in a flattering light.” But as soon as it was published, the critic tells us, the novel won the most prestigious literary award in China. The book, she continues, shatters the widespread image of the spirituality-saturated Shangri-La developed and nurtured in the West by the followers and admirers of the Dalai Lama. In contrast to most books about Tibet before the Chinese conquest, which show the country as a static but tranquil land steeped in Buddhist tradition, a land of meditation, wisdom and vitality, the reality in Alai’s book is full of tensions, anguish and suspicion, casual sex and an unending pursuit of bloody confrontations. Alai exposes the extreme inequality, the violence, the cruel treatment of slaves and servants, and their arbitrary punishments. On the rare occasions when there were friendly relations between the lord and the servant, considerations of utility predominated over other considerations. Unlike most of the standard literature on Tibet, Alai emphasizes the local, the distinct and the different, such as the local people’s lack of respect for Buddhism. The writer mocks the ignorant and corrupt local monks. For all that, Aren emphasizes, Alai cannot be suspected of being influenced by the contempt for Tibetans that characterizes Chinese propaganda. Like many of his fellow educated Tibetans, he criticizes the stubborn adherence to the old order, and subverts deeply-rooted beliefs without detriment to his affection for his beloved country.
According to Alai, even though accepted opinion links the dismantling/ collapse of the old order in Tibet with the Chinese invasion in 1950, internal conflicts, intrigues, mismanagement and corruption had exacted their price even before the old order was finally defeated by the Chinese Red Army.
The plot of the story follows the fortunes of a local ruling family: their path to power and wealth in an unbroken chain of wars, conspiracies, fornication and betrayals, until their downfall at the hands of Red Army.
From this overview of Alai’s book describing Tibet “before the Chinese occupation,” it is hard to believe that people living under such a regime were all that sorry to see it go. According to a story in The Washington Post (July 23 July, 1999) many people in Tibet indeed continue to honor and admire the Dalai Lama “but few Tibetans would welcome the return of the aristocratic families that fled with him in 1959. Few Tibetan farmers have an interest in returning the land they received during the Chinese agrarian reform. And former slaves do not want their former masters to return to power”.
Anti-Chinese propaganda wants us to believe that China “occupied” Tibet in 1950 but that claim is not really accurate. There are, it is true, differing opinions based on different sources regarding the question of whether Tibet had independent status or not. But as yet no atlas has been found in which Tibet appears as an independent country. Most of the sources recognize that Tibet was under Chinese supremacy for generations, with a greater or lesser degree of autonomy. Eric Margolis, a writer on Tibetan affairs, relates that in 1913 when China was in administrative chaos, Tibet declared independence with the help of the British Empire (Britain then bordered on Tibet as it ruled India. – S. A.).
According to Margolis, China could not back up its claim on Tibet at the time because it was continually rent by war. It wasn’t until the end of the civil war in China (1950) that the Chinese army again entered Tibet.
The arrival of the Red Army can not be considered an occupation even by American criteria. Below I quote from Melvyn Goldstein’s The Snow Lion and the Dragon, published by the University of California Press in 1997. On the cover of the book is a warm endorsement by Richard Holbrooke, who was the US Undersecretary of State for East Asia. He recommends the book “to all who are interested, as the most current accurate summary of the crisis in Tibet, written by one who dedicated his life to the study of Tibet”.
“Tibet’s political subordination to China”, Goldstein writes, “was repeatedly validated by the West throughout the first half of the 20th century, and particularly in the critical years during and immediately following WW II. Despite lofty rhetoric about freedom and self-determination, Western democracies maintained a consistent policy of yielding to Chinese sensibilities, accepting the official Chinese position that Tibet was one of the territories comprised by the Chinese nation”.
From no quarter have I heard anyone seriously refute the legitimacy of China’s position on Tibet. The UN does not recognize Tibet as a sovereign state nor are there any countries that do. Even the Dalai Lama does not demand it.
The Chinese revolution had a twofold aim: it was anti-feudal and anti-bourgeoisie, on the one hand, and nationalist, on the other. As a revolutionary army, the Red Army went into Tibet in order to implement the social revolution there, as it did in other parts of China.
Here it is worthwhile remembering that in present-day China there are about 54 ethnic groups and about 300 spoken languages and dialects. China has defined itself as a multinational state. The Red Army entered Tibet as it entered the other non-Han Chinese areas. In China about 90 percent of the population is Han Chinese and the rest are other nationalities and minority ethnicities. A simple accounting will show that the non-Han Chinese population currently numbers about 100 million people; at the time of the Chinese revolution the numbers were certainly lower but it is quite clear that the revolution encompassed not only the Tibetan minority but also many other ethnic groups, and the intent of the Chinese “occupation” was to implement a social revolution without regard for the ethnic composition.
[This is the first part of the article. The second part will deal with the question of whether today’s China is socialist or not and whether or not China is a barrier to US global influence].
* Quoted from Chalmers Johnson in his book “Nemesis: the Last Days of the American Republic” – http://www.alternet.org/story/47998 (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006)