Independence: The Tibetan People’s Right

Cao Changqing

原載:《Tibet Through Dissident Chinese Eyes: Essays on Self-Determination》一書

Edited by: Cao Changqing; James Seymour

Published by M. E. Sharpe, Inc. (New York, November 1997.)

The Chinese governments on both sides of the Taiwan Strait hold opposing views on most issues, often resorting to verbal attacks and tit-for-tat maneuverings. On the Tibet issue, however, the two sides cling to the same notion: both claim Chinese sovereignty over Tibet and claim that the territory has been a part of China since ancient times.

Through a brief review of Chinese history, however, we can clearly see that Tibet had never been a part of China until it was invaded and occupied by the Chinese in the 1950s.
The Historic relations between Tibet and China:

China proper was unified in 221 B.C. Less than a century later, in 127 B.C., the first Tibetan king was crowned. For the next few centuries tribal civil wars plagued Tibet. In the seventh century A.D., about the period of China’s Tang dynasty, King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet conquered the various tribes, unified Tibet, and expanded its territory.

The country became very powerful during this period. The Tibetan army was strong enough to conquer China’s capital, Chang’an (now Xi’an). Princess Wen Cheng of the Tang dynasty was given in marriage to King Songtsen Gampo—a political maneuver designed to facilitate relations between Tibet and China.

At the end of China’s Song dynasty (1279), both Tibet and China were conquered by the Mongol leader Genghis Khan, whose cavalry actually occupied most of Asia. The Mongols established a capital on Chinese territory to rule over some of the conquered lands. The Chinese know this as the Yuan period. As a Buddhist, the emperor Kublai Khan recognized the authority of Grand Lama Phagpa, Tibet’s highest lama, to act as the leading lama for the Yuan dynasty. He was something like a guoshi [literally, “national instructor”]. But within Tibet the emperor also gave him political power in addition to his religious role. Therefore the Mongols did not rule Tibet directly.

When the Mongol Empire fell, it was replaced in China by the Ming dynasty, during which period Tibet and China had virtually no contact. Thus China’s claim to sovereignty over Tibet depends largely on its relationship with Tibet during the subsequent period of Manchu rule, known to Chinese as the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Thus much of the discussion below concerns Sino-Tibetan relations under the Manchus.

China’s relationship with Tibet during the Qing dynasty was essentially amicable. On four occasions, at the request of the Dalai Lama, the Qing army marched into Tibet to assist the Tibetans in defending against foreign invasions and in repressing rebellions.

Each time, after the disputes were settled, the Qing army was immediately recalled back to China. At the end of the Qing dynasty, Tibet was invaded by Nepal and England. In 1909, after the death of the Guangxu emperor and the empress dowager, CiXi, the Qing army stormed into Tibet and occupied it. Two years later, in 1911, the Chinese democratic revolution led by Sun Yat-sen overthrew the Qing dynasty and established the Republic. The old Qing army stationed in Tibet split into two warring factions. One faction supported the emperor, the other favored the Republic. Taking advantage of turmoil within the Qing army, the Tibetans organized an uprising and ultimately gained power over the local Qing forces; the Thirteenth Dalai Lama then announced Tibet’s independence.

During the forty years from the 1911 Revolution through 1950 Tibet was essentially an independent country. Following the death of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama in 1933 and the selection of the present Fourteenth Dalai Lama it underwent a transition. The Chinese government made a great effort to incorporate Tibet into China, and President Chiang Kai-shek twice sent his special envoys to Lhasa to try to persuade the Tibetans to become subjects of the Republic. The Tibetan leaders, however, never consented to this. A collection of hundreds of documents recently compiled in China, containing nearly five hundred communications between Chiang’s government and its representatives in Lhasa, clearly demonstrates that Tibet never agreed to be under China’s control during the Republican period.1

In early 1950, immediately after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the Chinese Communist army made preparations to conquer Tibet. While a large Chinese military force was bearing down on the Tibetan border, the Tibetans sent a delegation to Beijing in an attempt to secure peace. As is described elsewhere in this volume, however, the delegation was finally obliged to sign the Seventeen-point Agreement.

Positions of the two Chinese governments:

The Chinese government’s claim to sovereignty over Tibet depends largely on six points:

1. During the Tang period (618-907), the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo married Princess Wen Cheng. The princess is said to have wielded tremendous influence over Tibet.

2. During the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368), Tibet was part of the Mongol Empire and under Yuan rule.

3. During the period of Manchu rule (1644-1911), the Qing army entered Tibet to protect it on several occasions.

4. The title of “Dalai Lama” was created by the Qing emperor and was first bestowed on the Fifth Dalai Lama.

5. During the control of Chiang Kai-shek’s Republican government, Wu Zhongxin, chair of the Committee on Mongolia and Tibet, was sent to Lhasa to confirm the reincarnation and to host the inauguration of the fourteenth Dalai Lama.

6. Tibet had no formal diplomatic relations with any other countries.2

All this has been misinterpreted, however, and does not support the conclusions the Chinese are trying to draw.

1. The marriage of Tang dynasty Princess Wen Cheng and King Songtsen Gampo was a strategic effort to secure peace and cooperation between the two countries. It is absurd to base China’s claim to sovereignty over Tibet on the fact of this marriage.

2. Genghis Khan, the Mongol conqueror, occupied most of Eurasia, including China, Tibet, Vietnam, and Korea. The Yuan period is referred to as a Chinese dynasty because the Mongols established a capital on the territory belonging to the Chinese (Han) people, from which it ruled over conquered lands. China argues that Tibet is a part of Chinese territory because Tibet was also conquered by the Mongol empire at this time. If military occupation qualifies as a historical claim to ownership, it would best be made by the Mongols, not the Chinese. Furthermore, if the fact that Tibet was once ruled by the Yuan dynasty forms a legal basis for the Chinese to claim sovereignty over Tibet, why have the Chinese never made the same claim to Vietnam, Korea, and other parts of Asia that were annexed and ruled over by the Mongols at the same time?

3. True, the Qing army, at the request of Tibetan authorities, was sent to Tibet four times to help settle internal rebellions and to defeat external invasions. This alone, however, does not support the Chinese claim to ownership of Tibet. If it did, the United States would have gained sovereign rights to Kuwait after its intervention in defense of Kuwait against Iraq. Similarly, the United States could claim rights over Haiti because it assisted Haiti in restoring democracy.

4. It is historically inaccurate to say that the title of Dalai Lama was created by the Qing emperor. This point is even acknowledged in the book Biographies of the Dalai Lamas, by Ya Hanzhang, a leading Beijing scholar on Tibet. Ya admits that the title of Dalai Lama was not created by the Qing emperor, but in fact had been first bestowed upon Sonam Gyatso, a religious leader of Tibet, by the Mongol ruler Altan Khan, during the time corresponding to the Chinese Ming dynasty.3 Actually Dalai is Mongolian for “sea.” Lama is Tibetan for “wise master.” The Tibetan religious leaders prior to Sonam Gyatso were identified posthumously as the First and Second Dalai Lama. Sonam Gyatso is identified as the Third Dalai Lama. From then on, the title of Dalai Lama has been used.

It is true that a Qing emperor once conferred on the fifth Dalai Lama a twenty-four-word title, which included the words “Dalai Lama.” But in those days the Dalai Lama also gave the emperor many titles.4 This custom of giving titles was a gesture of goodwill and is not evidence of any subordination.

5. Both the Communists and Nationalists claim that a representative from Chiang Kai-shek’s government, Wu Zhongxin, was sent to Lhasa to confirm the reincarnation and to preside over the Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s enthronement ceremony in 1939. They treat this as proof that Tibet is a part of China. However, the telegrams between Wu and the Chiang government5 clearly indicate that Tibet was merely making a face-saving gesture for Chiang’s government by permitting Wu to attend the reincarnation and to participate in the ceremony. Wu had no power in the choosing of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.

Similarly Ya Hanzhang wrote in his book, Biographies of the Dalai Lamas, that “The so-called observation was merely to enable Chiang’s government to save face. In reality, there was no veto power.”6 An argument arose during the enthronement ceremony when Wu was given an ordinary seat. The issue was resolved when the Tibetans finally agreed to seat Wu in the area normally reserved for foreign ambassadors. Ya wrote, “About the seating issue, it was merely to regain face for Chiang’s government. This was to show that Wu’s position was at least on a par with that of ambassadors.”7

Although Wu did not host the enthronement, the Guomindang newspaper printed a photograph of the Dalai Lama with Wu as evidence that Wu had hosted the ceremony. However, in a speech by Ngapo Ngawang Jigme, former vice chairman of the Chinese National People’s Congress, published in Tibet Daily in 1989, it was stated that the photograph had been taken when Wu went to pay a visit to the Dalai Lama in his bedroom, not at the enthronement ceremony at all.8 Furthermore, two of the communications between Lhasa and Chongqing during this period clearly demonstrate Wu’s secondary role. The first, “official letter No. 439,” was a telegram from Dong Xianguang, the deputy minister of Chiang’s Propaganda Department, to Wu Zhongxin in Lhasa, informing Wu that the Associated Press wanted a photograph of the Dalai Lama at the ceremony.9 Wu replied with the second document, a telegram saying that because the ceremony had taken place in the morning, it had not been possible to take pictures.
Instead, he responded that he would send pictures of other events. It is difficult to believe that if Wu had been host, there would have been no pictures of the ceremony.

6. That Tibet had no formal diplomatic relations with other countries and depended on the Qing army to secure its peace was because Tibet was a theocracy. Tibet and China had a close relationship mainly during the Qing dynasty. The dynamics of this relationship was based on a “patron-priest” relationship. The Qing emperor was the patron. He gave military assistance as well as money and gifts to the Dalai Lama. This helped the Dalai Lama not only to assert political and religious power in Tibet but to become the highest religious leader of the Qing Empire. In return, the Dalai Lama helped the Qing dynasty to maintain stability by using his religious influence in many countries, such as Mongolia, Korea, Vietnam, and Burma. Tibet and China had a cooperative, mutually beneficial relationship. This relationship was similar to the relationship between Italy and the Vatican. Although the Vatican happens to be located on the Italian peninsula, it is not a province of Italy; in fact it does not belong to Italy at all. If the Vatican were attacked and the Swiss Guards could not handle the situation, the pope would presumably request that the Italian police or army come to its assistance. But the Vatican would not come under Italy’s sovereignty as a result of any such military intervention.

One might also say that relations between Tibet and China were analogous to the relationship between an East Asian village and a temple on a nearby mountain. The head of this village and many villagers are Buddhists; they look to the lama at the temple as a spiritual leader. The head of the village does not have power to handle temple matters. But if robbers invade the temple, or if the young monks rebel, the village head would respond to the lama’s requests for help and would send his gendarmes to the temple. Then, after order has been restored, the gendarmes would leave the temple. In normal times, as a patron, the village provides food to the temple. The temple does not maintain its own armed forces, because Buddhism advocates nonviolence. In emergencies, the temple can ask the village head to send armies for protection. For the village head, it is good politics to oblige. He gains support from his Buddhist villagers by showing respect and support for the lama. The temple does not need to declare independence as it has never belonged to the village. The relationship between the lama and the village head is to the advantage of all. Any severing of the relationship would be initiated by the village head, not by the lama. This could happen if, for example, the temple were in trouble and the village head refused to help or actually intended to take over the temple. The temple survives on spiritual power, not by the service of an army. If the village head does not believe in religion and wants to occupy the temple forcibly or even to transform the Buddhists socially, then the temple would have no alternative but to wave a white flag and surrender.

Thus, because of the special nature of Tibet as a theocracy and its patron-priest relations with China, it was an independent country in a unique way, for it did not establish formal diplomatic relations with other nations. But such relations are a trivial issue. It often happens that two nations do not have diplomatic relations. Sometimes its absence has to do with questions of territorial sovereignty, but usually it does not. For example, the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Cuba, but that does not affect Cuba’s right to have its own nation-state. Therefore we cannot say that because Tibet did not have formal diplomatic relations with other countries, it thereby lost its national sovereignty.

Other examples show that Tibet was not subordinate to China. In 1652, the Qing Shunzhi emperor invited the Fifth Dalai Lama for a friendly visit to China. According to Ya, in preparation for the Dalai Lama’s visit to Beijing, the Qing emperor discussed with his ministers the formalities of welcoming the Dalai Lama. The Manchu ministers urged the emperor to welcome the Dalai Lama personally in the outskirts of the city because the Dalai Lama was a state master. It was thought that this gesture would ensure the allegiance of Mongolia, which was predominately Buddhist. But the Han ministers believed that the “emperor is the leader of all countries” and to go out of the city to welcome the Dalai Lama personally would be beneath the emperor’s dignity. Finally the Shunzhi emperor came up with a solution. He went out of town conducting what was billed as a hunting expedition and just “happened” to encounter the Fifth Dalai Lama.11

Actually, in all of Chinese history no emperor ever left the city to welcome a person under his authority. Even during the end of the Qing dynasty, in the face of visits by envoys from the then powerful England, the emperor insisted that the envoys worship the emperor by kneeling. Also in Ya’s book, there are prints of two mural paintings depicting the Shunzhi Emperor with the Fifth Dalai Lama, and the Empress Dowager Ci Xi with the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, each pair sitting side by side. Far from being treated as a subordinate, the Dalai Lamas received these special courtesies.

Had Tibet been subordinate to the Qing dynasty it would have been incumbent, like other provinces and affiliated countries under the Qing rule, to pay tribute to the emperor.

History does not record such a relationship. On the contrary, Qing officials frequently presented gifts to Tibet because the Qing government respected the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader and acknowledged Buddhism as the state religion. This friendly relationship lasted almost 260 years—through the entire period of the Qing dynasty.

Thus, with the minor exception that Tibet did not have formal relations with other nations, it has had all the normal characteristics of a sovereign nation-state. For example, Tibet has had (1) its own culture, language, and customs; (2) an established method of selecting its head of state (the Dalai Lama); (3) its own government (though it is now in exile); (4) its own capital, Lhasa; (5) its own laws enacted by the Tibetans themselves; (6) its own tax system, printing and issuing its own currency, as well as administering its own finances; (7) its own army; (8) natural (geographic) borders between Tibet and other countries, including China; and (9) its own unique and discrete history.

Tibet Today

Though both have had much to say on the subject, neither the authorities in Taiwan nor those in the People’s Republic of China appear to understand the history of Tibet. Most Chinese people’s knowledge of Tibetan history is heavily influenced by their respective governments. Because the two Chinese governments consistently claim that Tibet is part of China’s territory, books on the history of Tibet as the independent country that it was are rarely published in either place. Indeed, the Chinese version of this volume, which has been published in Taiwan, was the first such work. What most Chinese have read about Tibet is quite different from that.

In October 1992 the People’s Republic of China published “Tibet: Its Ownership and Human Rights Situation,” the so-called White Paper on Tibet. This report followed the dictate of Deng Xiaoping, who had said that “essentially Tibet is part of China. This is the criterion for judging right or wrong.”12 These words are outrageous. Alas, Deng’s words expressed the thoughts of many Chinese. People have maintained this belief despite a lack of understanding of Tibet’s history, a lack of re search on Tibet’s current condition, and a lack of knowledge of Tibetan and Western scholars’ research. Instead, the Chinese have held to their beliefs and have blocked out the Tibetans’ voices.

Although respect for history is a basic starting point in discussing the Tibet issue, more important is that we understand the Tibetan people’s current plight and respect their wishes. We can judge the current Tibet condition by asking the following questions: Do the Tibetans enjoy basic political rights? Is their right to private property protected? Are they becoming more prosperous, or are they instead suffering from poverty? Is religious freedom respected, or is it trampled on? Is Tibet’s culture and natural environment protected or have they been damaged? Do Chinese treat Tibetans with respect or do they discriminate against them?

A mere glimpse of Tibet’s current situation will reveal the atrocities that have taken place. The Tibetans are completely deprived of their right to vote, as is the case with all Chinese. There is not one level of government that represents the will of the people. The general secretary of the regional Communist Party committee holds the highest power in Tibet.

From the 1959 “suppression of the rebellion” to the present, none of the seven secretaries of this committee has been Tibetan.

Tibet, like the rest of the PRC, does not have political freedom. The Chinese military represses any form of opposition. According to reports from the Chinese army stationed in Tibet, eighty-seven thousand Tibetans were killed in the suppression of the 1959 rebellion.13 According to the figures of the late Tenth Panchen Lama, who was once the vice chairman of the Chinese National People’s Congress, 10 to 15 percent of Tibetans were imprisoned, and of those imprisoned, 40 percent died as a. result.14 According to Amnesty International, between 1987 and 1992 there were more than 150 occasions in Lhasa when Tibetans were repressed during demonstrations.15 Particularly devastating was the spring of 1989 (two months before the Beijing massacre), when the Chinese Communists orchestrated a massive repression in Lhasa and proclaimed martial law.

Tang Daxian, a Chinese journalist with the Beijing Youth Journal, who was in Lhasa at the time, has published an article abroad based on his own observations and the evidence he collected at the time. According to his figures, about four hundred Tibetans were massacred, roughly one thousand were injured, and more than three thousand were arrested. 16

In a speech at Yale University the Dalai Lama said that 1.2 million Tibetans had died of starvation or persecution during the years of Chinese Communist rule in Tibet.17 The Tibetan government-in-exile has compiled the following statistics: between 1949 and 1979, 170,000 Tibetans died while imprisoned; 160,000 received capital sentence; 430,000 were killed in armed clashes with the Chinese; 340,000 died of starvation; 100,000 either committed suicide or were killed in “political struggles.” 18 If these figures are correct, it means that the total deaths equaled one-sixth of the entire population of Greater Tibet.19

The Tibetans are also deprived of their right to own property. The Chinese government compelled the Tibetans to participate in the socialist movement, a process that left Tibetans more impoverished than ever. In 1980 Hu Yaobang, the Party head who best understood Tibet, conducted an inspection mission to the region. In the face of the severe poverty he encountered, Hu later asked (in a meeting of the Tibet Autonomous Region Communist Party Committee): “Has all the Chinese government’s aid been thrown into the Yalong Zangbu River?” Ren Rong, the general secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region Communist Party Committee, was expelled from his post and was succeeded by Yin Fatang, who soon admitted that Tibet was suffering from “extreme poverty.”20 Hu Yaobang proclaimed that Tibet must return to the level of living standards that had been achieved before the Communists had ousted the Tibetan government in1959.

Since the implementation of China’s economic reforms, Tibet’s standard of living has risen somewhat, compared to the conditions Hu witnessed in 1980. According to those knowledgeable about the region, however, the wealthier people in Tibet are predominantly Chinese. Because business and other activities depend on personal and political connections, and since it is the Chinese who have such connections, Tibetans have difficulty competing. It is reported that, in the main shopping area of Bakhor, Chinese shop owners far outnumber Tibetans.

Even worse than economic deprivation has been religious persecution. According to the figures compiled by the Tibetan government-in-exile, as of 1979, of the original 6,259 Tibetan monasteries, the majority had been completely destroyed and only eight monasteries remained largely intact. Of the original 590,000 monks, 110,000 had been persecuted or killed, and 250,000 were forced to resume secular life.21 Today, religious persecution is not so pervasive as before, but the Tibetans still do not enjoy religious freedom. All Tibetan monasteries and monks are under the control of the Chinese United Front and the Religion Committees. Rigid rules have been laid down governing who can become a monk: “Anyone eighteen or over who loves China and loves the Communist Party (can enter the order). His parents must consent. After entering a monastery, he must learn Marxism and realize that materialism and idealism are opposing worldviews.”

Monks expressing dissatisfaction with these controls, particularly Tibetans who advocate independence, are often arrested. According to formerly imprisoned Tibetans, to compel confessions the Chinese use various forms of torture, such as electric batons, gun butts, and steel rods. They also use cigarette butts to cause burns and dogs that are trained to bite. “There are thirty-three methods of torture used in Tibet,” according to a former security bureau officer who had been stationed in Tibet and who is now in exile in the West.22

Even for a Chinese who has not lived in Tibet, one who has lived under the control of the Communist government can well imagine China’s repressive practices. But the Tibetans have had to endure something that the Chinese have not. While under the despotic rule of the Communists, the Tibetans have suffered racial discrimination. In an essay that appears elsewhere in this volume, Wei Jingsheng, one of the best-known Chinese dissidents, writes that, although his parents had never met any Tibetans, when they learned that his girlfriend was a Tibetan, they opposed their relationship and threatened to disown him. His father opposed their relationship because he thought Tibetans were “half human and half animal.”23 This type of thinking is the result of years of Chinese communist propaganda.

Which is More Important: Unification or Human Freedom?

The Chinese have many “reasons” to believe that preserving a Greater China is paramount and thus to oppose Tibetan independence. One of the excuses is that, if Tibet were to become independent, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia would follow Tibet’s example, which would lead to the disintegration of China’s territorial mass. No one wants to assume that responsibility. But what should really be the starting point for our thinking on this subject, the nation or the individual? What is more important, unification of the empire or individual freedom? Let us compare two hypothetical situations:

The first would be the resurrection today of Vladimir Lenin and of the former Soviet Union. By using military force, Lenin would revive communism, unify all the .fifteen former Soviet republics and reestablish the USSR. All the people in the USSR would be subjugated, but the country would be unified. The second scenario would be for the former Soviet Union to remain disintegrated as fifteen independent countries. The Soviet Union would no longer exist, but the people would have freedom. Which situation would the people choose? Actually we already know the answer. The people of the former USSR chose the latter course. Why do the Chinese stubbornly insist on unification, even when the result is an inability to exercise their will freely?

Concepts of boundary and nation are not ultimate values. Among the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accord (officially, the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe) was one that permitted changes to nation-state boundaries through peaceful means. The spirit of the accord is that boundaries are not necessarily permanent. Individual freedom and wishes outweigh any concerns of boundaries. This is a simple principle. Boundaries, a nation’s form, and its social system are all human constructs. Their starting point and ultimate purpose are freedom and dignity. When boundaries or social systems are not harmonious with the people’s needs or are contrary to the will of the majority, it is better to change them than to twist people’s “needs” to suit some nationalistic imperative.

Those who worry about the domino effect—i.e., the theory that if Tibet becomes independent, then Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia will also seek independence often ask what would happen if the other twenty-nine provinces all wanted to become independent. But the conditions do not exist for this. The problem with this theoretical problem is its impossibility. Before people declare independence, certain conditions must exist. For example, they must have a distinct ethnicity or culture, or at least a common history as an independent nation-state, which the majority is seeking to reestablish.

Normally there is a rational basis for seeking independence. For example, when the USSR split into the present fifteen states, Russia’s population and size exceeded that of the other fourteen nation-states. But there is no talk of splitting Russia proper into even smaller nations. (Chechnia comprises a completely different ethnic group.) The most important reason for this is that Russians are mostly of the same ethnicity, share the same culture, and over the past several hundred years have no history of splitting up. More to the point, virtually all Russians wish to remain united as one country. Only when they attempt to subjugate other nationalities, such as the Chechens, is there trouble.

Similarly, the Japanese once established Manchukuo in Northeastern China. Yet the people in those three provinces do not ask for independence. The fear of the domino effect is comparable to the fear that if the United States lets in one refugee from China, then all the 1.2 billion Chinese will want to come. People who create such straw men—use foolish, unrealistic assumptions—are in effect depriving the weak and the oppressed of certain rights.

Placing more importance on matters of nationalism than on individual freedom and dignity has a long history in China. The entire five thousand years of our history has emphasized collective values, such as nationalism, collective society, and imperial rule, over individual freedom. The core of Chinese culture, which the Confucianists and their followers established, can be summed up as subordination of the individual will to the collective will. Many well-known Chinese intellectuals in recent history, including Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao, Chen Duxiu, Zhang Taiyan, and Liang Shuming, have urged reforms to make China a strong country, but rarely did they mention individual rights and freedoms. Even Yan Fu, the translator of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, who wanted to introduce the Chinese to Western philosophies of freedom and liberty, viewed these theories merely as a means of achieving a more powerful nation, and not as a goal in themselves. In the nearly half-century of Chinese Communist rule, national values have been given even more emphasis. Through intense and systematic exposure to this line of nationalism, the Chinese people have been brainwashed. It is evident from the democracy movements in recent years that nationalism and patriotism had been the dominant themes. For example, whether it is the April 5 (1976) movement or the 1989 democracy

movement, the inevitable theme at Tiananmen Square has always been nationalism and patriotism. The Tiananmen student leaders pleaded for the government’s recognition of the movement as “patriotic.” We hardly heard any appeal for individualism.

This thinking is not limited to liberals. As China has grown economically, some Chinese intellectuals have introduced the doctrine of “neo-authoritarianism.” The essence of this doctrine is still traditional Chinese thinking, that is, national interest takes precedence over individual rights and social collective order is still more important than individual freedom.

Ironically, in spite of the five thousand years of believing that a powerful nation is of the utmost importance, China is still weak. The basic reason is that the Chinese, particularly Chinese intellectuals have transposed the values of individual freedom and national strength. The result is that the people are not free, nor is the nation powerful.

Who should decide Tibet’s future?

Some say that whether or not Tibet should be independent is up to the Chinese rather than to the Tibetans themselves. But is it right for this decision to be left to the Chinese? Then there are others who do allow that the decision should be left to both the Tibetans and the Chinese. But this would also deny the Tibetans of their right to self-determination. The reason is simple: There are more than one billion Chinese and only six million Tibetans. If the Chinese population did not increase and the Tibetan population were to rise at 3 percent annually (the highest rate worldwide), it would still take fifteen hundred years before the Tibetans reached the same population as the Chinese. Thus Tibetans would essentially be deprived of a voice in this matter.

On the Tibet issue, the meaning of “respecting the majority’s will” has to mean respecting the majority of the Tibetan people’s will. However, independence is not the most important value, just as unification and national strength are not the most important goals. The most important requirement is respect for the Tibetans’ right to self-determination. It should not matter to the Chinese whether they choose self-rule or unification with China.

In 1993 Puerto Rico held a national vote on whether it should become the fifty-first state of the United States. This case exemplifies a respect for the doctrine of self-determination. Whether or not Puerto Rico should be unified with the United States was up to the people of Puerto Rico, not the Americans in the fifty states. If this decision had been placed in the hands of people of the United States, with its population of 250 million, Puerto Rico, with a population of 3 million, would have in effect been deprived of its right to determine its own destiny. The U.S. government and the American people did not interfere but respected the wishes of the Puerto Rican peopie.24

According to U.S. law, however, if the majority of Puerto Ricans had chosen to become the fifty-first state of the United States, they still could not automatically do so; such a step would have to be approved by the U.S. Congress. In other words, if Puerto Rico wanted independence, only a vote for independence by the majority of Puerto Ricans is needed; if Puerto Rico wanted to become the fifty-first state, a majority vote of the American people is needed. This is similar to good family relations. For example, if one spouse requests a divorce, the court hears the dispute and may grant the divorce decree. A consensus from both parties is not needed. But if one spouse does not want the divorce and seeks to restore the relationship, that spouse must have the consent of the other spouse. Divorce requires only one party, whereas marriage requires the consent of both parties. For another example, consider a large family with many brothers. If one brother wants to move out, the decision is his alone. But if the same brother wants to return to the family home, the majority of the brothers in the house must approve.

Tibet and the Security of China

Some Chinese “realists” stress that were Tibet to become independent this would threaten China’s national security. China and India have fought border wars. Located astride the Himalayas, they often eye each other warily. “Realists” argue that India’s army would penetrate an independent Tibet and threaten the security of China because there would be no buffer between China and Tibet.

This assumption not only ignores the will and wishes of the Tibetans but also overlooks their tradition of peace. In recent history Tibet has suffered attacks from foreign forces, including the Chinese Qing dynasty and the British. The Tibetans are now under the control of the Chinese government. What is the basis for assuming that the Indian army would conquer Tibet? Tibet’s exiled government and more than 100,000 Tibetan refugees have already lived in India for thirty-seven years; although they are on Indian territory, the Indians let the Tibetans manage their own affairs. The exiled government and the Tibetan community have always enjoyed India’s respect and noninterference.

During a speech to the U.S. Congress in 1987, the Dalai Lama set forth a “Five-point Peace Plan” concerning the Tibet issue.25 One of the points called for the demilitarization of Tibet as well as for Tibet to be recognized as an environmentally protected region. If Tibet became a demilitarized region this would benefit the security of both China and India because if either India or China attempted military actions against the other, they would first have to go through Tibet. Not only would this be opposed by the Tibetans, but it would also attract international condemnation. It would not be as it is now, where China and India can start fighting at any time precisely because Tibet is not a buffer zone. How a demilitarized Tibet could led by the Dalai Lama, Nobel peace prize winner and advocate of nonviolence, threaten either country?

Can Tibet Survive without China’s “Help”?

In discussing Tibet, many Chinese also stress a point that the Chinese government has often reiterated, namely, that Tibet used to have a system of slavery and was poor and backward. Through economic aid from China, Tibet’s standard of living has risen. This point was also noted in the White Paper on Tibet’s human rights, published by the Chinese government to prove that “without the Communists, there would be no new Tibet.”

What is the truth? First, the accuracy of the figures used in the White Paper are in question. As of now, China does not have freedom of the press. If the figures are not subject to independent auditing and the government does not allow room for dispute, how reliable can such figures be? Even if all of them are accurate, after forty-seven years could a nation not have made some improvements? Who can be sure that Tibet would not be better off if China had not intervened?

Second, although no one denies that Tibet’s earlier system of serfdom was backward, is military intervention permitted to force reform in other nations?

Third, can we really say that had it not been for the Communists there would be no “new” Tibet? The reality of this painful past half-century tells us that just as Communist rule has brought great suffering to the Chinese people, so it was with the Tibetans. Furthermore, the belief that Tibet cannot survive without China’s aid is based on prejudice and belittles the intelligence of the Tibetans; it is condescending as well. The Tibetans in India have not only established their own government, they also have a constitution that was voted on by the exiled Tibetans. The constitution guarantees freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the right to own property. Robert Thurman, professor of Indo-Tibetan studies at Columbia University, has stated: “His Holiness reconstructed a viable Tibetan community in India, preserving the culture of Tibet. He held the Tibetan people together in exile and gave them hope during the very severe, even genocidal, oppression in their homeland. He is also the first leader of Tibet to become a world leader, even without [direct access to] a political base—just on his moral force.”26 The exiled Tibetans now live under India’s roof; yet, even under these circumstances, they have been able to establish an independent, prosperous, and democratic society. Would they lose this ability if Tibet became independent?

Some argue that because Tibet has not industrialized, Chinese aid will be necessary for the region to develop. However, the people of Mongolia are herdsmen and had little industry, and yet they have been able to develop. It is true that they used to receive Soviet aid, but they did not have to be incorporated into the USSR to receive it. With the fall of the USSR, Mongolia is no longer communist, and the people not only are free but have grown more prosperous than ever. Regardless of nationality or race, as long as a people have freedom, they can achieve greatness. That is the most significant point, and the Chinese should not hold on to the communist notion that communism is everyone’s savior.

The most basic principles for resolving the Tibet question are respect for self-determination and recognition of individual freedom. National boundaries and types of social systems do not determine whether there will be individual freedom and rights. In this spirit we must respect Tibet’s right to freedom. The Tibetans have the right to define their own nation, adopt their own culture and way of life, select their own social system, and elect their own leader. All these matters are for the Tibetans to work out, not the Chinese.

The Chinese have always stressed nationalism. Tibet is also a case where nationalism is appropriate. We Chinese, with our population of more than one billion, can take little pride in having intimidated the weaker Tibetans. Chinese intellectuals in particular should feel ashamed that they have remained silent or even chimed in with the official propaganda in the face of this oppression. In modern Chinese history, China has been threatened and humiliated by foreign forces. China is now threatening and humiliating a weaker nationality. This will prove to be a shameful page in China’s history, particularly in the Han people’s history. I call on my fellow Chinese to repent. There will be a time in the future when these crimes are judged.


1. China’s Center for Tibetology and China’s Second Historical Archives, comps., A Collection of the Documents of the Funeral Ceremony of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and the Enthronement of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama (Shisan shi dalai yuanji zhiji he shisi shi dalai zhuanshi zuochuang dang’an xuanbian) (Beijing: China’s Tibetology Publishing House, 1990). Hereafter, Collection.

2. Tibet-Its Ownership and Human Rights Situation (Beijing: Information Office of the State Council, 1992). Hereafter, White Paper.

3. Ya Hanzhang, Biographies of the Dalai Lamas (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 1984), p. 21.

4. Ya, Biographies, p. 21.

5. Collection.

6. Ya, Biographies, p. 329.

7. Ibid., p. 330.

8. Tibet Daily, August 27, 1989.

9. Collection, Official letter No. 439.

10. Ibid., Official letter No. 441.

11. Ya, Biographies, p. 34.

12. White Paper.

13. John F. Avedon, In Exile from the Land of Snows (Chinese edition) (Taiwan: Huiju Publishing House, 1991), p. 134. In 1962 a Tibetan guerrilla army attacked the Chinese army on the road from Xinjiang to Lhasa, killing the commanding officer and some official advisers. They also captured a book, Basic Teaching Materials of Tibet Condition Education, written by the Political Department of Tibet Military Region. The book says: “Between March and October in 1959, [the Chinese army] wiped out eighty-seven thousand Tibetan rebels.”

14. Daniel Southerland, “Mass Death in Mao’s China,” Washington Post, July 17, 1994.

15. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Department of News of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, The Truth about Tibet (Chinese edition), 1993 ed., p. 20.

16. Tang Daxian, Report of the Lhasa Event in 1989, in Democracy in China [U.S.] (August 1991), p. 33.

17. The Dalai Lama’s speech at Yale University, October 9, 1991, published by Democracy in China [Tokyo] (September 1993).

18. The Truth about Tibet, p. 19.

19. According to the White Paper, the fourth census of China in 1990 put the Tibetan population at 4,590,000. According to research by the Chinese scholar Huan Xiang, published in Beijing Comment (February 1988), “Tibet has six million people; one-third live in the Tibet Autonomous Region, the others live in other provinces.” According to Tibetan government-in-exile’s The Truth of Tibet, the total population of Greater Tibet is six million.

20. The article by Yin Fatang, Red Flag, no. 8 (1983).

21. This was confirmed by the Tenth Panchen Lama in 1988. During a meeting of China’s Center of Tibetology in Beijing, he said, “All the monasteries where Tibetans live have been destroyed. The remaining seven or eight are not totally intact.”

22. The Truth about Tibet, p. 21.

23. Wei Jingsheng, “A Letter to Deng Xiaoping,” Beijing Spring [New York] (1994), p. [Translated from the Chinese original in the present volume.-Eds.]

24. The result of the citizens’ vote was that the majority in Puerto Rico wanted to preserve the status quo as a commonwealth, and become neither independent nor a state of the United States.

25. The Dalai Lama, “Five-point Peace Plan for Resolving the Tibet Problem,” Democracy in China [Japan] (June 1994), p. 33.

26. Claudia Dreifus, “Interview with the Dalai Lama,” New York Times Magazine, November 28, 1993, p. 52.

Comment(s): “Cao Changqing and James Seymour’s initiative in compiling the thoughts and words of Chinese scholars on the issue of Tibet is a compelling first step in the process of China’s assessment of its attitude to the issue of Tibet. It is my sincere hope that this book will contribute towards changing the overall Chinese public’s attitude to the issue of Tibet and the aspirations of the Tibetan people, who are neither anti-Chinese or anti-China, but rather anti-oppression.” -- His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Review(s): “Candid, informative, authoritative, and an invaluable window into the People’s Republic of China under an aging communist leadership. ... Tibet Through Dissident Chinese Eyes is highly recommended reading for Chinese studies, Tibetan studies, and students of international political science.” -- The Midwest Book Review

“A rare glimpse into some of the most dissident views on Tibet among high-profile Chinese intellectuals. ... Of scholarly interest to all concerned about the future of Sino-Tibetan relations. ... It will very likely be remembered as capturing an important moment in the long road to peace between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples.” -- The Journal of Asian Studies


2013-11-24 (轉載請指明出處)

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