Will There Be Freedom for Tibet? - University of Michigan

Will there be Freedom for Tibet?
Jason Weller
Faculty Advisors: Roy Hanashiro and Thomas Henthorn
Department of History
I first became aware of Tibet and their fight for freedom from China in 1998 when I
attended my first Tibetan Freedom Concert in Washington D.C. Since then, I have often
followed news on Tibet and pondered if there was any real solution for the Tibetan dilemma.
Finally, after years of historical and social education I decided to take on the issue and attempt to
answer the question, Should Tibet become a free and separate nation state from China? In
addition, I wondered, why do people throughout the world protest the current occupation of
communist China over Tibet? Who can clearly take claim of ownership to the lands of the
Tibetan region; does it belong to the Chinese or the Tibetan people? Perhaps the Dalai Lama
himself should claim Tibet. In order to understand the issues in modern day Tibet, it is important
to know the history, the culture of its people (Tibetan and Han Chinese), the Dalai Lama, and
Buddhism, yet any approach to answer such questions should also look into the historical
significance that China has played in Tibetan history.
The overall likeliness that Tibet will again become autonomous from China is slight to
none without a major revolt or civil uprising from the Tibetan people. The growing economic
powerhouse that has become China, during this modern era of globalization, bequeaths little
power to the countries that could oppose China and assist Tibet. Trade between China and India
require the Tibetan lands as its medium and with it the emergence of manufacturing,
infrastructure, and pollution, that Tibet has never seen the likeness, yet, is commonly present in
the description of developed Western societies. The Tibetan lands are a much-needed part of
Weller, J.
Greater China, in order for China to continue its growth of industrial, manufacturing, retail,
commerce, population expansion, and economics. These issues in China ballooned from the
modern day globalization and a free market society, challenging Western dominance.
Mao Zedong recognized Chinas once greatness to the global economic and trade systems
and aimed to bring back its luster in a modern, technological society. For a period, Western
nations, like the United States, strayed from Communist China as they fought against the Soviet
Union and its Cold War communist allies. When events such as; the ‘ping-pong’ diplomacy of
1971, President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989,
trade between Communist China and Western nations, namely the United States, began to
expand, removing what little support Western nations gave to the cause of Tibetan independence.
My aim of this research is to inform of the historical connections between Tibet and China, their
political, religious, and economic linkages, as well of challenges they faced throughout past
centuries and today, further limiting Tibet from becoming an independent nation state today.
Tibet is more than just an issue between two Asian nations, one that claims sovereignty
and one that only wants true autonomy. It is a stepping-stone for those who wish to continue the
fight for human, civil, political, and religious rights. If the Tibetan issue ends with Tibet’s
culture and heritage destroyed, there may be no boundaries for what preservation future
generations of humankind will be able to experience, rather through direct or indirect contact. In
the end, all of society will lose with the elimination of Tibetan culture.
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Weller, J.
The Tibetan Diaspora
From 1951 and until 1959 when he sought political exile in India, the fourteenth Dalai
Lama, aka, Tenzin Gyatso, had continuously sought to find a compromise between the Tibetan
and Chinese governments. Negotiations were stiff and with it, an economic issue of inflation
imposed many hardships on the people of the Tibetan region. 1 In a show of atheism, Mao told
Tenzin Gyatso, at a meeting in 1954, in which Mao made statements that “religion is poison,” as
he paraded Gyatso around Beijing, showing him the technological change and power that
communism had brought to China. Mao had ideally brought a cult like following upon himself,
and some Chinese may even argue that Moa replaced the Dalai Lama in the minds of many
Tibetans.2 This meeting between Mao and the Dalai Lama, one can arguably view this as the
first steps of the Chinese Communist government’s role in controlling religion, especially
Tibetan Buddhism, in China.3 The communist bombing of Tibetan monasteries, in the summer
of 1956, followed the meeting, with the Chinese justifying such attacks in saying that the
monasteries were resisting the communist by supporting local tribesmen that took up arms
against the government. As tensioned worsened over the next few years, China’s invitation of
the Dalai Lama to Beijing in March 9, 1959, was viewed by many Tibetans as a ploy to kidnap
and kill the Dalai Lama.4 This led to the self-exile of the Dalai Lama to India a few days later.
Before Tenzin Gyatso left Tibet, he repudiated the Seventeen Point Agreement between Tibet
and China, in that Tibet would handle its own state affairs. Nearly eighty-thousand Tibetans had
Norman, 371.
Wang, Lixiong and Tsering Shakya, 93.
Wang Lixiong and Tsering Shakya, 174-176.
Norman, 372-374.
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followed the Dalai Lama to freedom in India.5 While Tibetans in exile await their return to their
native lands, they continue to hold their government together in India, in hopes the Chinese
government will rescind its oppression and control of the Tibetan lands.
It is with grave
importance that Communist China failed to realize that “Tibet was not a state but a civilization;
its borders were not physical but metaphysical, encompassing the entire Tibetan-speaking
Still, the Preparatory Committee for the eventual establishment of the Autonomous
Region of Tibet (PCART) began working with governmental officials in Beijing as early as
1954. PCART officials realized that the traditional Tibetan Government structure needed to
become more effectual, it was clear to the Chinese government at this time wanted to move
forward. The Chinese began the process of setting up new infrastructures, which required the
importation of skilled laborers from China, since Tibet lacked such a skilled labor force, to
complete the process of growth and development. This process also required the Chinese control
of “the external trade and internal economy.”7
Many nations and individuals have attempted to assist Tibet in its struggles for
reclamation of its lands. India has been the most recognizable country in assisting the Dalai
Lama and the other Tibetans in exile. The United States in 1959 offered to assist in training the
Norman, 373-375.
Wolff, 156.
Shakya, Tsering. The dragon in the land of snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947. New York: Columbia
University press, 1999, 132-135.
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Tibetan resistance movement in order to fight back communism, yet this never occurred for
various reasons.8
In his book, Seven Years in Tibet, Heinrich Harrier tells of his experiences with the
Tibetan people, and the Dalai Lama himself. This later spawned a movie, and a small movement
of people to form festivals and aid organizations, which recognized the struggles of the Tibetan
people. The Dalai Lama himself attributes Harriers book to the successful movements -Students
for a Fee Tibet-, events -Tibetan Freedom Concerts, American people marching on the Chinese
Embassy in Washington D.C.- and organizations -Milarepa.org, TibetanYouthCongress.org, and
Tibet.org-, around the world that take up order for a “Free Tibet.”9
Hollywood’s creation of the film version of Harrier’s book, and Kundun, a chronicle of
the early life and childhood of Tenzin Gyatso, directed by Martin Scorsese, along with various
other Hollywood actors. Susan Sarandon, Ed Harris, and Martin Sheen, to name a few, have
participated in the creation of documentary films, such as Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion, depicting
the issues in Tibet to the disconnected Western public. Much of the attention given to Tibet
came after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, causing much concern for human rights in
China and its controlling regions. Western political support was renewed in 1991 when the US
President, George H.W. Bush met with the Dalai Lama and indicated that Tibet would receive
favorable support from the United States.10
Norman, 373.
Liechtenstein. “Heinrich Harrer Biography/Film of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Heinrich Harrer,”
[http://www.harrerportfolio.com/HarrerBio.html ], 1993.
Shakya, 434.
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The Dalai Lama has found ways to utilize the West interest in Tibet, concerning issues of
human rights in China and across the globe, in unique ways. He has even stated that, “our worst
mistake, our greatest mistake, was being isolated from the world.” Thus, the Dalai Lama uses
the West and its influences to initiate conversations between Western and Asian nations,
Tibetans and Chinese, oppressors and the oppressed.11
Today in “Modern Tibet,” people have encountered several types of new clashes with the
Chinese government. Yet, unfortunately, many recall, and few understand the reason for the
protest in Tiananmen Square in 1989, or that it began as a protest against communist rule. Many
fail to recollect or have no knowledge that protest in Lhasa between 1987 and 1989, and in
March 1989, the Chinese Army marched into Lhasa to impose martial law, leading to the
Tiananmen Square protest in Beijing in May 1989.12 In November 2005, Chinese authorities
arrested five Tibetan monks who refused to denounce the Dalai Lama.13 In July 2006, a Tibetan
monk, sentenced by Chinese authorities to eight years of prison for writing various independence
of Tibet slogans on walls of government buildings.14 The Chinese government, in March 2008,
began to experience protest from their attempts to remove the Tibetan written language from all
Tibetan schools, thus sparking many debates. The Chinese government attributed the March 14
protest as an organized attempt to bring recognition to the cause of Tibetan independence, in
sighted by the Dalai clique. The Dalai Lama refutes these claims and continues to state that he
Iyer, 228.
Wang, Lixiong and Tsering Shakya, 16.
“Tibet, arrested five monks who refused to denounce the Dalai Lama,” [http://www.asianews.it/news-en/Tibet,arrested-five-monks-who-refused-to-denounce-the-Dalai-Lama-4779.html], December 12, 2005.
“Tibetan monk condemned to eight years in prison for pro-independence slogans,” [http://www.asianews.it/newsen/Tibetan-monk-condemned-to-eight-years-in-prison-for-pro-independence-slogans-6716.html], July 17, 2006.
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has given up on the issue of independence for Tibet as an independent nation from China, yet
continues to seek religious and cultural autonomy for the Tibetan people.15 In October 2010,
Chinese authorities arrested three Tibetan students and tried them for what the Chinese call,
“activities that incite to divide the nation.” Their crimes were that of writing articles in Tibetan
newspapers in their native Tibetan language.16 Yet, while Tibetans across the world and in exile
commemorate against torture,17 the Chinese government is continuously condemned globally for
harassing people that stand up for their human rights. 18 Objective thinking to the Tibetan
question garnishes little results, as most Communist Party officials have a clouded perception
“impaired by racial prejudice.” This attitude of superiority, reflected not only by governmental
officials, but also by “many Han residents of Tibet, who look down on Tibetans and think them
to be stupid and backwards.”
Native Tibetans, often passed over for Han Chinese when
searching for employment opportunities in the T.A.R., become limited to low paying jobs, when
and if available to them.20
The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom. DVD. Directed by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam.
Netflix; USA: White Crane Films, 2010.
“Three Tibetan writers on trial for having spoken of 2008 protest,” [http://www.asianews.it/news-en/ThreeTibetan-writers-on-trial-for-having-spoken-of-2008-protests-19919.html], November 6, 2010.
Nirmala Carvalho, “Tibetans Commemorate World Day Against Torture,” [http://www.asianews.it/newsen/Tibetans-commemorate-World-Day-Against-Torture-15643.html], June 29, 2009.
Andy Bloxham, “China and human rights: the biggest issues,”
November 10, 2010.
Wang Lixiong and Tsering Shakya, 91, 127.
The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom. DVD. Directed by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam.
Netflix; USA: White Crane Films, 2010.
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As a means to distance the Tibetan exiles, the Dalai Lama, and Buddhism in China, the
Chinese government and the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) declared on
November 1, 2010, Order No. 8, aka, the “Regulation on the Administration of Tibetan Buddhist
Monasteries.” The protests, viewed by the Chinese government as direct interference to the 2008
Beijing Olympics, in which China hoped of politicizing the games “to advertise its ownership of
the Tibetan plateau”.21 In this declaration China addresses that any outside forces, “individual,
or organization,” referring to the exiled Dalai Lama, “must not control Tibetan Buddhist temple
affairs,” is viewed by many as an attempt to make Buddhist in China follow communism, not the
religion they have practiced for centuries.22 The order is two sided in that it disallows people
from compelling others to believe in their religion, yet it prohibits denouncing ones religion as
well.23 The clear meaning of Order No. 8 is an attempt by the Chinese government to denounce
the authority that religion plays over people in China, and relinquish the Dalai Lama to the status
of a simple priest, rather than the reincarnation of Chenrezig, the Buddha of compassion. This
legislation may indeed come to play a very important role in Tibet and Buddhist culture around
the world. Future generations of people may never come to experience the teachings of the Dalai
Lama, as so many of the past and present, were given the privilege of in their lifetimes. The
unfortunate, yet, eventual death of the fourteenth Dalai Lama is inevitable, his reincarnation,
possibly controlled by the Chinese government, and these restricting laws, may not find
recognition for his reincarnation again, at least not in Greater China.
Wang Lixiong and Tsering Shakya, 213.
“Foreign forces must not interfere in Tibetan Buddhism affairs,”) [http://www.china.org.cn/china/201010/09/content_21090977.htm], October 9, 2010.
UNPRO, “Tibet: Disconcertment Over New Religious Regulations,” [http://www.unpo.org/article/11877],
November 2, 2010.
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The issues of ethnic bigotry in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (T.A.R.) are becoming
more prevalent with the influx of Han Chinese into the region, along with growing economic
disparities. Tibetan nationalist are growing more resentful towards the Chinese government as
there are clear-cut cases that show the majority of jobs, health care, and education are favored
towards Han Chinese and Hui immigrants, which are not readily available for Tibetan
nationalist.24 Although the Dalai Lama has continually taken a stance that his interest and the
interest of the Tibetan people should not be for independence, but rather religious and political
autonomy, groups such as the Tibetan Youth Congress, and others, continue to argue for
complete independence of Tibet from China.25
The Dalai Lama has continually expressed that his primary intentions are to resolve the
conflict between the Tibetan exiles and Chinese government peacefully, and that he is no longer
seeking independence for Tibet, but rather a solution between the two nations within the Peoples
Republic of China (P.R.C.) Constitution.26 The Dalai Lama has gone even one-step further and
stepped down from his role as the Tibetans political leader in exile, in hopes to ease tensions and
Chinese control of the T.A.R.27 However, the Tibetan government in exile quickly gave way to
an election that appointed a new political leader, Lobsay Sangay - a Harvard law scholar - in
Wolff, 12, 178.
The Unwinking Gaze. DVD. Directed by Joshua Dugdale. 2008; UK: Silence, 2008.
Huang Jing, “China’s Peaceful Development and the Tibet Impasse,” [http://opinionasia.com/TheTibetImpasse],
January 13, 2009.
Nolen, Stephanie, BBC News, “Dalai Lama cedes control in hopes of curbing Chinese control,”
March 10, 2011.
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April 2011.28 Lobsay Sangay has gone on record that he will not attempt to replace the Dalai
Lama, but feels confident that Tibetan’s across the globe back him, as they chose to elect him to
this position of Prime Minister.29
This strategic position is a means to safeguard the Tibetan Government in Exile and its
authority, with the support of the Dalai Lama, in the likeliness of his passing. Sangay also went
on to state that “if the Dalai Lama passes away in exile, he will be born in exile,” thus refuting
any opportunity that the Chinese government would have in appointing the next Dalai Lama as a
puppet of their regime, as they have done with the Panchen Lama. 30 Perhaps the Dalai Lama is
strategically withdrawing from his political representation in order to return to a pilgrimage to
China, which was limited because of Chinese fears of Tibetan uprisings from his political status.
However, the Dalai Lama fears that no matter his political status, Tibetans may become out of
control if he visited China, thus hindering his attempts at peace. 31 The Dalai Lama understands
that he must make changes now, if he is to continue the struggle in his next reincarnation, even if
the possibility exist that China may not recognize the next Dalai Lama to be born in exile.
These more recent types of pro-communist, anti-Buddhist, regulations implemented by
the Chinese government further express the separation that Tibetans have encountered since
communism came to China. Since communist China has no desire to allow the Tibetan region
true autonomy, one must assume that only the fall of communism in China could spark the
Burke, Jason, Guardian.co.uk, “Tibetan exiles elect Harvard law scholar as political leader,”
[http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/27/tibet-harvard-law-scholar-political-leader], April 27, 2011.
Hansen, Liane, NPR.org, “Tibetan’s New Leader Won’t Replace Dalai Lama,”
[http://www.npr.org/2011/05/01/135891283/tibetans-new-leader-wont-replace-dalai-lama], May 1, 2011.
Hansen, Liane, NPR.org, “Tibetan’s New Leader Won’t Replace Dalai Lama,”
The Unwinking Gaze. DVD. Directed by Joshua Dugdale. 2008; UK: Silence, 2008.
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change to free the Tibetan lands from their oppressors. Many have found concern with the age
of the Dalai Lama and his next reincarnation. They ponder the questions; will his reincarnation
come from the group of Tibetan exiles in India? Will it occur in the Tibetan lands controlled by
the oppressive Chinese government? Another devastating possibility one must ask, and the Dalai
Lama himself has pondered is; will the five hundred year tradition of the Dalai Lama end with
the passing of the 14th? 32
Meanwhile, reform projects implemented on the T.A.R. have had a significant impact on
the livelihood of the Tibetan people and their traditional agricultural way of life. Since the
Himalayan region lacks a favorable temperate climate, most agricultural farming is very difficult,
as only a select variety of crops can produce successfully. In one of their biggest blunders,
causing mass dislike in the T.A.R. for Chinese policies, the Chinese government replaced the
staple crops of barley and mullet and forced farmers to produce wheat. The production of wheat
failed miserably, creating large grain shortages. The deaths of animals that depended on these
grain crops depleted the livestock in Tibet, along with dairy production.33 It is unsure of the
human impact of lives that this failed agricultural policy played on the Tibetan people, but one
can imagine that it was significant. China continues these transformations in Tibet as part its
modern Cultural Revolution of the Tibetan lands.
China’s Need of Tibet
“What happens when the Dalai Lama dies?,” [http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2010-05-31lama30_ST_N.htm], May 31, 2010
Wolff, 161-162.
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So why did China occupy Tibet in 1951? Documentation and various other writings
show that during the 1951 invasion of Tibet, China was already underway in its plans to develop
an infrastructure to and within Tibet. The goal was for China to prosper financially within the
development of global trade, recognized by Mao during the Revolutionary periods.
recognized that China must become strong if it was to regroup as a power that would be feared
by the West and other Asian nations, as it once was prior to the Opium Wars. Mao knew that if
this process of greatness was to emerge he needed to remove all barriers that impeded progress.
One of the most significant factors that Mao undertook was the removal of the bourgeoisie class
and transition to a complete proletarian society. Although aspects of the bourgeois class control
are reemerging in modern day Chinese society, especially with the tremendous growth of
industry, it is the “dictatorship of the proletariat” over the bourgeoisie that is keeping China in
The Chinese, in their movement towards greatness, took lessons from the Soviet Union
and implemented goals, restrictions, and limitations, to the people and industries of China, as a
form of state controlled capitalism. The Chinese motto is to strive for “elitism in education,”
denounce “malpractice among cadres,” promote small forms of rural capitalism and the receiving
of “material incentives.”35 These factors enhance China’s competition within its own borders,
further placing pressure, and controls on the population to perform, often beyond that of the
Han, Suyin. Wind in the tower : Mao Tsetung and the Chinese revolution, 1949-1975 / [by] Han Suyin ; with a
foreword by Malcolm MacDonald. (Toronto: Little, Brown & Co, Ltd., 1976), 386.
Han, 387,389.
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worlds other powerful nations. These factors have been a cause for much debate concerning
human rights throughout Greater China, including the T.A.R. In an interview in 2011 with Jim
Glassman, the Dalai Lama stated that the “world belongs to people, not kings or religious
leaders,” and “therefore the best system is through election, elected leadership… to rule the
country by the people, for the people… so, Democracy system is the best.”36 This undeniably
plays into the political ideologies that Western nations, such as the United States, would like to
see implemented within China, as it continues to grown as the world’s leading global economic
Another need to incorporate the T.A.R. into Greater China is the Himalayan Mountainous
Region. In the past, military supremacy and power bestowed those who could claim a superior
land position on top of a hill or mountain, and yet no mountainous region in the world is larger
than that of the Himalayas. During the period of “The Great Game” the Russian and British
Empires fought for control of Asia and the Himalayan region was the most important, being the
center of all of Asia. China partook in this escapade as well and all three nations sought to gain
influence in Tibet, for they all feared the consequences if any of one nation controlled the high
ground of Asia.37 Today, those fears are still present, yet viewed in a different perspective.
While the high ground does not necessarily mean victory in today’s modern warfare, the
Himalayan region is still the center point of Asia and by controlling it, allows China to be within
an arm’s reach of the other nuclear powers and warring states in the region, an issue of great
concern to the West. China hopes to keep what spheres of influence it has over the region and
Ideas in Action, Interview with the Dalai Lama. Jim Glassman. Dallas, TX: Public Broadcasting System Video,
May 10, 2011, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JWtUWjv-UE&feature=player_embedded
Wolff, 97.
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avoid any conflicts with, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Nepal, Vietnam,
Burma, and Kashmir, in the interest of national security. China also hopes to keep other nuclear
powers, such as, the United States and Russia, out of or at least reduce their influences on the
Since the occupation of Tibet, China’s economy has grown substantially, along with
China’s economy as a whole. Since the 1980s, China has given more to Tibet’s labor and
financial support, than it had in the previous two decades, in an effort to improve the Tibetan
people’s livelihood. With these policies, Tibet has seen a growth in construction projects, along
with greater support for farmers and herdsmen. Tibet has grown from a “zero” revenue nation,
in 1988, to a GDP of 13.86 billion Yuan, or 5,302 Yuan per capita, in 2001.39 As it would
appear, Tibet would have nothing to offer in the globalized world if China had not sparked the
industrial growth in the region. This has been positive for the region, as it gives them some form
of economic income as opposed to their agrarian roots and lack of trade commodities. Visitors
to the T.A.R. bring in money from travel, but the Chinese government also capitalizes on those
who wish to visit the monasteries of Tibet, charging fees for those who wish to get an up-close
view of the Potala Palace or other Buddhist temples.40 Tibet has not only been a magnet for
international tourist, but Chinese tourist as well, who seek “spiritual regeneration” in Tibet,
despite the years of negative propaganda placed upon it by the Chinese government.41
Meanwhile, Tibet’s limited ability to grow any viable cash crop, such as barley and mutton, has
Wolff, 178-9, 205-6.
“China’s Tibet: Facts & Figures 2002, Economy,” [http://www.china.org.cn/english/tibet-english/jjzs.htm]
Wang and Tsering, 180.
Wolff, 169.
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limited them in their trade options. Chinese beer companies find that it is easier for them to
purchase their barley from international markets rather than from Tibetan farmers.42
The trade of economic goods between India and China began in April 1950, thus
furthering the need of China to acquire the Tibetan lands, for if Tibet was autonomous, tariffs
would certainly be in place that would increase the cost of materials exported from China to
India. Initially the trade between the two countries was a bit one sided, in that it was only
towards China’s favor, but this has balanced out in recent decades. The current Chinese Premier,
Wen Jiabao stated that the trade between China and India needed to reach $30 billion by 2010. 43
However, this trade alone cannot ease the tensions felt in India. Growing concern of China’s
great infrastructure in the Tibetan region, and its modernized military, has Indian officials on the
defensive, especially with the occasional hostilities from Pakistan. 44 This has reached even
greater concern with the announcement in March 2011, that China will raise its defense budget
by 12.7%, equaling $91.5 billion dollars, thus rivaling that of neighboring India’s annual defense
budget of $36 billion dollars.45
An often-overlooked economic and ecological-environmental portion of the Himalayas is
its water source. The Himalayas feed into ten principle rivers in Asia, most notably; the Ganges,
Brahmaputra, Yangtze, Irrawaddy, and Mekong, which supplies more than 1.3 billion people
Wang and Tsering, 180.
“India China Economy, Indo-china Trade Relation,”
IANS. The Indian.com. Tibet infrastructure improvement concerns Indian Army. (July 3,
2008)[http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/uncategorized/tibet-infrastructure-improvement-concerns-indianarmy_10067449.html], November 17, 2010.
Basgupta, Saibal and Pandit, Rajat, The Times of India, “China hikes defence spend 13% to $91.5 billion,”
[http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-03-04/china/28657791_1_defence-budget-defence-expendituredefence-spending], March 4, 2011.
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with water daily.46 Environmental issues of flooding in the Yangzi Basin, from excessive
logging are just one of many catastrophes the region has and will encounter in the future. 47 The
runoff from factory pollution, strip mining of the Tibetan Plateau’s natural resources, and nuclear
waste dumped by the Chinese in the Xinjiang Region have had and will continue to have a great
effect on the soil, agriculture, water sheds, and the people; an issue that has concerned the Dalai
Lama for some time.48 The Dalai Lama has also expressed great concern over the rapid melting
of the Himalayan glaciers, concerns that arise from global warming and industrial expansion in
the Tibetan Plateau, the Dalai Lama stated that it is within “everybody’s interest” to express
concern in this matter.49 The environmental disaster that has emerged, due to the buildup of
industry, will have ill and lasting effects to Tibet. Although plans are in effect to create more
“green” energy in Tibet, it cannot repair the damage done and ignore the fact that Tibet has
become the “Los Alamos” of China.50
The population of the T.A.R. has also encountered a dramatic shift, starting with the mass
influx of Chinese people into the Tibetan region; there is now an estimated 7.5 million Chinese
living in Tibet, while there are only 6 million native Tibetans in all of Greater China and the
T.A.R. This influx of people, along with cultural biases, promotes job discrimination in this
emerging region of commerce. The massive growth of China’s population over the previous
The International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), “Himalayas – Water for 1.3 billion
people,” [www.icimod.org/resource.php?id=137], 2009.
Wolff, 200.
Wolff, 179.
The Huffington Post Green, “Tibetan Glaciers Melting, Dalai Lama Claims,”
April 2, 2011.
“About Tibet: Economic Oppression and Enviromental Damage,”
[http://www.studentsforafreetibet.org/article.php?id=371], November 17, 2010.
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millennia has led China to place birth limits on families, in hopes to reduce the ever-growing
problem with population density.
However, with further infrastructure and rail systems
implemented into the T.A.R., the influx and growth of Chinese people and industry into Tibet
further causes concern for many of a cultural eradication towards the native peoples of Tibet, that
seems almost inevitable in the T.A.R. This may lead Tibetan people to succumb to a similar fate
of the Polish between the 18th and 20th centuries, as they were a “nation without a state.” The
Dalai Lama recognizes that although Tibet is not a nation, the “Tibetan nation will not die”.51
It would appear that the tremendous and unstoppable economic growth China has
undergone in the last century, one may find it hard to see any end the Tibetan lands will play as
part of Greater China’s plans. Globalization of economics, capital, and trade, in today’s society,
are larger than any one person can be, even if that person is the Dalai Lama. This saddened state
of affairs derives from modern society’s form of capitalism that has overtaken our livelihoods as
people, humanitarians, and protectors of the earth. However, those that exploit and reap the
rewards from capitalism know their time on this earth is limited, and likely will not have to deal
with the repercussions that economic devastation has on humankind’s future, and the Tibetan
lands are no different.
Possible Solutions to the Tibetan-Chinese Relations Problem
Many scholars and authors studying the plight of the Tibetan people and their
discrepancies against Chinese rule have formulated resolves that illustrate how Tibet can and
The Unwinking Gaze. DVD. Directed by Joshua Dugdale. 2008; UK: Silence, 2008.
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may become an independent autonomous region free of Chinese hierarchical rule. While these
“solutions” are neither guaranteed nor completely favorable to either side, they offer ideas to
those embattled in the struggle for independence of or resistance against complete Tibetan
autonomy, something that the Dalai Lama himself openly seeks for Tibet. First, from his book,
The Struggle for Tibet, Wang Lixiong – and along with the apparent contributions of over 300
others, list “Twelve Suggestions for Dealing with the Tibetan Situation, by Some Chinese
Intellectuals,” concerning the March 14th incident of 2008.52
Second, Diane Wolff also has many suggestions to resolving the Tibetan-Chinese
conflict. Wolff has authored of several books on Chinese history, and writes for several Western
and Asian journals, magazines, and newspapers. She suggested in her book, Tibet Unconquered
that Tibet’s hope of becoming autonomous might fall into the lap of the next leader of China
when he comes to power in 2012, with hopes that they will institute new forms of governmental
reform in China, leading to new forms of democracy in Greater China.53 Another option is that
the Chinese government could “redefine the Tibet Question in terms of Tibet’s current state of
development and China’s responsiveness to historical conditions.54 Perhaps the next leader of
China will implement Tibet as a Special Administration Region (SAR) that Hong Kong and
Macau have received.55 The implementation of a Tibetan SAR is completely feasible under the
Chinese constitution’s Article 31.56 All of these options will be difficult to achieve, as China
Wang and Tsering, 271, (full text of the “Twelve Suggestions,” can be found on pages 271-274).
Wolff, 197.
Wolff, 187.
Wolff, 41, 209.
Wolff, 209.
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does not wish to appear weak and give into the pressure that surrounds Tibetan sovereignty. 57
One of the factors that favor Tibet if they do reach independence is the South Asian Association
for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), which is the leading force of free trade in the region.58 The
issue of security should have little impact on Tibet’s independence from China, as China has
secured the border regions of Russia and India to secure Tibetan “ethnic interest”. 59 Perhaps
Tibet could be completely separate like Mongolia, in which part of (Inner Mongolia) claimed by
Greater China and incorporated into the Chinese Flag.
The Changeable Future
While the occupation and control of Tibet by the Chinese government is seen world wide
as a political disaster, one cannot help but ask the question, why does this continue and when
will it end? The most logical reason occupation of Tibet continues is one of China’s enormous
growths in population, industry, manufacturing, and overall economic progress. However, the
ideologies set forth by Mao, to completely remove feudalism from all of Greater China, and form
greater equality amongst the people of China, something that he initially intended to perform
slowly in Tibet.60 China’s progress of economic and political control in a global economy, and
the need for it to experience its westward expansion, and to complete its own form of modern
day imperialism, much like the United States experienced and to some accounts, still experiences
today. Another factor of China’s suppression of the Tibetan people, and religion may be part due
Wolff, 187.
Wolff, 195.
Wolff, 204.
Wolff, 146.
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to China’s history with the Taiping Rebellion of 1850-1864, in which Chinese Christians took
part in an uprising that separated their “Heavenly Kingdom,” from Greater China, held by the
Qing dynasty. The Taiping Rebellion weakened the Qing dynasty, and the current Chinese
government is fully aware of its past issues when dealing with the more current one in Tibet. 61
The Chinese government acknowledges that religion can bond people together for a great cause,
and by outlawing the religious practices in Tibet, China may have alleviated the issue from
occurring to the point of a rebellion that they cannot control. The Chinese government fully
understands that empires fall, and that it must do all that it can to preserve its current empire
from unraveling.62
National representation of China and its autonomous regions, symbolically defined
through its flag further promotes the notion that China recognizes Tibet, and other regions, as
non-Chinese regions, yet they still fall into the realm of Greater China’s control. Tibetans,
banned from displaying their own national flag, must recognize the symbolic meaning of the
Chinese flag as their own. In reviewing this symbolism of the Chinese flag, we can see that the
large star represents “red” China, while the four smaller stars represent the tribute states of,
Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet.63 The stars on the flag of China have also
come to symbolize the Chinese family of races, with the big star representing the Han Chinese,
and the smaller stars representing the four races – Tibetans, Mongolians, Manchurians, and
Wolff, 99.
The Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet’s Struggle for Freedom. DVD. Directed by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam.
Netflix; USA: White Crane Films, 2010.
Wolff, 131.
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Muslims, of China.64 As Tibetans strive to show their flag and its symbolic meaning of peace
and harmony, and fight to show it with pride.
The Tibetan flag, banned in the T.A.R. and Greater China, designed with a white
mountain in the middle, representing the nation of Tibet. Its six red bands represent the ancestral
people (tribes) of Tibet. The six blue bands represent the sky and various spirituality meanings.
The sun represents the equality of freedom in Tibet. The snow lions represent fearlessness. The
three-sided yellow border represents the Buddha’s teaching, yet the missing yellow border on
one side represents the openness to non-Buddhist thought. The three-colored jewel represents
Tibetans reverence to Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha. While the two-colored yin-yang symbol
represents the ten exalted virtues and sixteen humane modes of conduct. Seemingly, the national
flag of Tibet encompasses a significantly deeper meaning than that of the militaristic red flag of
However, the entire struggle for autonomy in Tibet may fall short. In comparison, who
today hears the calls of the Mexican people and their claims to the American South-West? Not
many, for over one-hundred and fifty years have passed since the Mexican-American War, and
with it, Mexico’s legitimate claims to lands occupied by the U.S. as its spoils of war. In another
example, recall the “Native American” dilemma that has been part of American culture. In
which, American civilians, businessmen, corporations, and the government, sought to occupy
Wolff, 51.
International Campaign for Tibet, Tibetan Flag: They Symbolism of the Tibetan Flag,
[http://www.savetibet.org/resource-center/all-about-tibet/tibetan-flag], May 24, 2011.
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lands held by the native settlers of the United States, thus, forcing them to surrender their lands
to the U.S. government, for the greater good of the “empire.”
Certainly, history has told us that the need for western expansion led to the destruction of
this group of people, who now find sanctuary in many remote areas of the United States. It is
with this deep sorrow and recognition of one’s own inept policies, and greed that the United
States government should step in and explore peaceful negotiations for these Tibetans.
However, it is unfortunate that the political and economic power that China has over nations
such as Canada, Belgium, and economic parallels with England and the United States, disallows
any nation from intervening in the fight for Tibetan independence. Possibly one day, in the
distant future, people will talk of the Tibetan – Chinese incident in much the same way as people
speak of the two examples I just mentioned. Historians may speak of Tibet and China in terms
such as; the entire process of developing the Tibetan lands that took China many years. The
forced oppression involved the deaths of many, and yet many Chinese, Tibetans, and Westerners
were concerned about the Tibetan exiles, as well as the Tibetans living in their native lands
occupied by China. Yet in the end, not one of the world’s super powers cared enough for the
Tibetan people in that they would not take a stance against the oppressors and free the Tibetans
from occupation. Instead, historians may talk that the progress was necessary, and it made for
the greater good of the economic and political powers not only in China, but also globally.
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