A Free Tibet Is Not So Simple

I have always been baffled by western fascination, perhaps even infatuation, with Tibet. You wouldn’t think that an “autonomous region” halfway across the world with little economic significance would elicit a double take. On the map, Tibet has always been a small, unassuming territory, albeit one with more plateaus and llamas than usual – yet, Tibet continues to entrance the world, America especially. I’ve come to believe that the origin of our shameless love affair with Tibet lies in the media, which, for the older generation, has spun the region to be some sort of distant, magical land shrouded in “mystery.” From National Geographic articles to Seven Years in Tibet to Lost Horizon (1937), Tibet has become a national icon for utopia, with its untouched natural beauties, exotic Buddhist religion and isolated and forbidden landscape. I suppose it is only natural that when a rising Communist power appeared next door, Americans became even more emotionally invested in the land, determined to protect it from the blasphemous Commies. Blinded by the glimmer of Hollywood lights, Shangri-La immediately became the victim of a calculated invasion, one supposedly bent on systematically destroying this wondrous culture that has captured the hearts of the Western world. Films and books are not needed to glorify Tibet; I think the currently exiled 14th Dalai Lama is Tibet’s greatest advertisement, generating support groups and sponsoring political events. I came into the Dalai Lama trip prepared for His Holiness & Co. to slap me in the face with anti-China propaganda. I left slightly surprised – instead of the expected heavy-handed bruise, I left with only a few scratches. The 14th Dalai Lama preached mainly of Buddhist ideals and the path to peace and happiness, as is his duty to do so. Though his messages were less profound than I expected, I nevertheless found myself agreeing with the vast majority of what he had to say. For example, he said that when people think of the well being of others, “the mind becomes wider.” I admired his aura of peace – he truly seemed neither the crook nor the devil that some have painted him to be. However, snippets of a corrupt, anti-human rights China appeared through other channels, by means of popular Tibetan artists warbling lyrics such as “Tibet will be free.” When the Dalai Lama accepted questions from the audience, the final question was, “How can we help Tibet be free?” As the Dalai Lama gave his spiel on the “reality of the situation,” I saw many audience members nodding in unison. But I think the “reality of the situation” is more complex than just freeing Tibet. Call me a “flaming, Red Commie,” “anti-humanist” or not, but based on the information I possess now, I am against Tibetan sovereignty. China and Tibet have always had close relations and contact with one another; based on pure proximity, this is undeniable. However, due to Tibet’s unusual geography and elevation, they have also maintained a distinct culture from that of the Han Chinese majority. It is true that in 1911, during the Chinese Revolution, Tibet sought and gained its independence. But based on the past, this is no reason to grant Tibet complete autonomy. After speaking with Gongming Yan, Instructor in Chinese who is also well-versed in Chinese history, I began to realize the nature of the Tibet-China relationship. For most of history, in terms of the army and weaponry, China has continually been the stronger nation. In times of prosperity and strength, Tibet obeyed Chinese rule, most notably during the Qing dynasty. However, when the government was weak or in turmoil, Tibet would quickly break off this relationship. For example, in the 1800s, during quite arguably China’s darkest time, Tibet acted independently, even staging wars against Nepal and Jammu, a northern Indian region. This series of bad break-ups and reunions continued until 1911. During this time, there was no formal Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or any other legitimate government to officially recognize Tibetan sovereignty; the international community never acknowledged the government in Lhasa either. Thus, in the eyes of the Chinese people, Tibetan soil still belonged to the Middle Kingdom. In the 1950s, when the CCP came to power, it made sense for them to take over Tibet. Its landmass was large, defenses weak and the people rightfully “Chinese.” For Mao Zedong and his colleagues, capturing Tibet was a crucial and necessary step to establish a unified China. By invading Tibet, the CCP would prove its credibility to its own people and the world at large. It is no wonder that Tibetan monks rebeled against the CCP. Many people view monks through a purist perspective. But the monks didn’t, couldn’t, have rebeled just out of a desire to stop “cultural genocide.” They wanted to maintain their power and wealth in the region. China is trying to modernize Tibet by sending more Han Chinese into the area. Almost completely devoid of a job market, Tibet was mostly comprised of nomadic herders; for too long, these people have lived without technology and education. For all purposes, they are a backwards society in this respect. Tibet is not undergoing “cultural genocide,” rather, they are moving through a social progression. China’s goal is not to eradicate the Tibetan culture, but rather, to help them succeed in a modern world. In many ways, America has destroyed unique, traditional cultures – does that mean America is brutally murdering the worlds’ “diversity” as well? To reiterate, I do not believe that the Dalai Lama is evil. Instead, I have great respect for his devoutness and absolute belief in his religion. I simply politely disagree with the cause that he champions. Perhaps above all else, the idea to free Tibet is not practical. The majority of China is behind the government; to give up Tibet, a huge, crucial, and strategic connection to the southwest, would be dishonorable and shameful for China. On this matter, China will not cave in to Western pressures – and indeed, what logical incentives do they have to do so? For these reasons, Tibet should not and will not be free. Tina Su is a new Lower from Andover, MA.