Brushing Up on Tibetan Freedom

When I learned that Andover alum Michael Liss ’91 was coming to our campus to discuss his experiences as a free-Tibet activist last fall, I was irritated that my term-long absence from Andover hindered me from attending his presentation. Liss is a political activist who was detained in China during the Beijing 2008 Olympics for protesting the government’s rule in Tibet. My opinion is that you must either be deluded or deficient in world history if you fully support a “free” Tibet. The same statement applies if you are an avid follower of the Dalai Lama. Allow me to justify my stance. Like it or not, Tibet has been a part of China for a long time. Not that this is a necessary or even valid argument against the independence of Tibet, but it seems that anyone who fights for a free Tibet foolishly attempts to argue with this. Before and after Tibet submitted to Kublai Khan’s empire in the thirteenth century, the Tibetan royalty mixed and mingled with China’s royalty. This established royal ties and commitments between the nobles. Being far away from the central infrastructure of China, Tibet was allowed its own spiritual and political leader through mutual agreements between both parties. The first significant Chinese intervention – more so a protective measure for preserving Tibet-only occurred in the late 1900’s, when the theocratic regime of Tibet proved futile against the British imperialistic fervor. Thousands of Tibetans were slaughtered in a machine-gun massacre by British imperialists in what a 1906 issue of The New York Times called “one of the worst blots in England’s history.” Mishaps like this were merely the result of India, then a British colony, seeing Tibet as threat to British interests. Now I could begin to describe the heinous human rights violations by the Chinese government in Tibet from the 1950s onwards, which I myself am disgraced by. However, I will refrain from doing so since the Western media has already accomplished that. Instead, let’s take a look at the Tibetan society before China came in. The Tibetan “government” was comprised of lamas appointed by the Dalai Lama and exhibited all signs of a backward, feudal, tyrannical and undemocratic theocracy. According to Han Suyin, author of “Lhasa, the Open City–A Journey to Tibet”, the disparity between the rich and poor was horrendous, and a select hundred lamas owned over 93% of all lands according to Revolutionary Worker issue #944. As Chris Mullin, writing for the “Far Eastern Economic Review” in 1975, accurately portrays, Lithang’s monks were “not monks in the Western sense…many were involved in private trade; some carried guns and spent much of their time violently feuding with rival monasteries.” Let us not forget that the image of a harmonious Shangri-La in Tibet was only romanticized by James Hilton in his “Lost Horizons” from the 1930s, thus prompting similar ideas and literature from then onwards. The average Tibetan lived in serfdom, not knowing anything about human rights or universal education. This can be easily inferred from the aforementioned article by Chris Mullins. Meanwhile the elite monasteries exploited the people’s labor and continued their frivolous lifestyle. Tibetans were essentially blind to their own oppression. Conditions in Tibet’s theocratic regime effectively constituted slavery and corporal and capital punishment. Bearing in mind the polarization of Tibetan citizens and the affluent, ruling aristocrats, let’s not digress into the possibilities for corruption when the current Dalai Lama was invested with political and “divine” responsibilities at a very, very young age. Alas, the lamas surely couldn’t have believed in their own elementary and oppressive ideology. Dr. Michael Parenti, a Yale scholar, provides an unflattering view of pre-1950 Tibet “a social order that was little more than a despotic retrograde theocracy of serfdom and poverty, so damaging to the human spirit, where vast wealth was accumulated by a favored few who lived high and mighty off the blood, sweat, and tears of the many.” Religious nationalism is the last thing Tibet needs to expedite reconstruction. As soon as China took over, beginning in the 1960s, the Chinese government implemented secular education, shattered the monastic rule, and redistributed the lands to the people. At the same time the Dalai Lama begins receiving international recognition for what Western cultures see as a fight for freedom and peace. This stands in stark contrast with the reality. A few years before fleeing to India in 1956, the Dalai Lama proclaimed precious metals and jewels were needed to construct a new monastery the purpose of which was to rid Tibet of certain intangible “bad omens”. His eventual exile should account for one of them. One hundred and twenty tons of treasure was collected, and in 1959, when the Dalai Lama made his way to India, he took at least sixty tons of it with him, according to Norm Dixon in his article “The Dalai Lama’s Hidden Past” in “Green Left Weekly.” More recently, the Dalai Lama received a little over one million dollars in donations from Shoko Asahara (the leader of the Japanese religious cult Aum Shinrikyo, and the mastermind behind the 1995 nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway) and later befriended Asahara with several personal meetings., as reported in a 1998 article in “Salon Magazine.” The wealth doesn’t end there for his holiness, as the Dalai Lama continued to receive over $1.6 million a year from the CIA for running his exiled government, of which $190,000 went directly into his pockets, or robes if you may. Victor Marchetti and John Marks, both who held high-ranking CIA and governmental positions, cover these details concretely in “The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence”. Another wickedly hypocritical proposition of the Dalai Lama is his ban of the Dorje Shugden Buddhists, another branch of Tibetan Buddhism. Shugden followers, from the 1970s to this very day, were essentially rejected and legally banned from stores, restaurants and hospitals throughout Tibet, as reported by “The New Statesman.” Absurdly, the Dalai Lama justifies the ban simply because the Shugden’s beliefs run contrary to his beliefs and are therefore an “evil spirit” against Tibet. Any leader employing a ban on worship due to conflicting religious views is nothing but dictatorial and cruel. The Dalai Lama’s ban on the Shugden belief system is an outright breach of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Constitution of India. China has invested a lot in Tibet to stimulate its economy. Transportation was improved by means of increased roads and railroads built by the Chinese government. With the increase of population, accessibility to education, life expectancy, and wages in Tibet, it is redundant to emphasize the improvement of living standards. Let us not forget that the Himalayas serve as a crucial water source for China, and thus the PRC will never let Tibet go. I completely agree that China’s methods of dealing with Tibet, recent and past, were not the most humanitarian. That is something we should be concerned with and assess. We should not, however, support a falsely utopian effort of freedom along with its insincere, despotic, unrighteous and troublesome leader. In conclusion, I can assure you I’m not a sycophant to the Chinese government. Anyone who shares a Hong Kong background with me will agree that we have our respective resentment towards Chinese politics. I love America and most of the people I’ve met here so far. But when the American government and people criticizes other countries, specifically a minimal-interventionist country such as China, that is unacceptable. We should tackle international dilemmas with honesty, integrity, and a little more than a cursory scrutiny of political history. Arnold Wong is a four-year Senior from Kowloon, Hong Kong.