Dalai Lama in Northern Ireland: Notes on the Situation in Tibet [Updated]

Northern Ireland is a long way from Tibet.  But watching the Dalai Lama cross Derry’s “Peace Bridge” this past Thursday, one could be forgiven for imagining that the two worlds were, in fact, intimately related.

The Dalai Lama clearly has much inspiration to offer to Northern Ireland. However, the movement that he leads is experiencing massive stresses, and his peregrinations in Europe are just as important to him as they are for us.

The Dalai Lama is the head of the Yellow Hat sect, the fourteenth reincarnation of his office, and a “living Buddha.” As a child philosopher-king, he received gifts sent from Franklin D. Roosevelt, but made only desultory pushes for Tibet’s claims to sovereignty.

In 1951, the Chinese Communist Party broke Tibet’s isolation, occupying the plateau. 25% of all Tibetan males were monks, and the Chinese were ardent atheists, but efforts were made by both sides to accomodate the other. The Dalai Lama went so far as to meet with Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing. As Tibetans began to be assimilated into CCP’s matrix of “brotherly nationalities,” the Dalai Lama fled in March 1959, and has since led a government-in-exile based in Dharmsala, India.

Today, Tibetan-majority counties and regions are spread all over western China, an area targetted for heavy infrastructural investment. In Lhasa, the CCP pulls up stones worn smooth by decades of pilgrim prostrations, replaces them with new sidewalks and shopping malls, and expects gratitude. Similarly, the Chinese force nomads into new housing clusters that make surveillance easier. Police stations are built inside of monastic compounds and army soldiers do target practice within earshot of holy sites. Development is abetted by Chinese settlers, a new train from mainland China, and a host of new airports.

Tibetan writers are heavily censored; the most admired are sent to jail. Cultural erosion and “bilingual education” skewed toward Chinese is a particular sticking point. 2% of all men are monks, and they first need to undertake a secular state education. Riots are repressed. There are no discussions about the Dalai Lama’s return. The response by some Tibetans to these trends has been to bathe in gasoline and burn themselves to death in public spaces, more than 100 in the past two years.

The rise of self-immolations by Tibetans indicates that the Dalai Lama’s line for peaceful protest is beginning to erode. These acts, undertaken primarily by young Tibetans, underscore the attractions of more dramatic forms of protest. It is indeed shocking to speak with young Tibetans in China, who in one breath will laud the Dalai Lama, and in the next, talk about the need for gallant armed struggle against the occupiers.

Like the hunger strikers during the Troubles, the youth engaged in such protests have brought attention to underlying problems, but they also open up serious questions: What is the actual effect of the protest on the dominating adversary? How many martyrs does a given struggle need? The protestors simply want the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet, and the Chinese to leave, but these are incoate sentiments not to be confused with actual strategy.

Beijing has predictably responded with an uptick in policing, and harsh punishments for those who would abet the protestors. Beijing’s propaganda tags the Dalai Lama as the source of the self-immolations, asserting that he is directing a Tibetan resistance movement inside of China’s borders with the help of American and Indian intelligence organizations. It is difficult to have a reasonable conversation on these topics in Beijing.

Countries that allow the Dalai Lama to visit are occasionally held up for scorn, particularly when civic leaders meet with “His Holiness.” Mayors in Paris as well as Portland, Oregon, have been the targets in recent years of Chinese campaigns to stop so-called “splittist” activity, which can be defined as anything from meeting with the Dalai Lama to celebrations of non-communist-approved Tibetan culture. Accordingly, during the Derry visit, Martin McGuiness and Peter Robinson were nowhere to be seen, surely mindful of their upcoming trade mission to China.

The Dalai Lama is in Derry to celebrate dialogue, but his own movement is at an impasse. There are few viable paths forward for negotiations with Beijing, and the CCP seems merely to be waiting for the Dalai Lama’s death to step in and create a split in the search for his child successor. Radicalism is increasingly attractive to Tibetan youth.

Amid the complex passions of Northern Ireland’s identity politics, the Dalai Lama rings a bell of clarity and appeals for calm. But there are storm clouds over Tibet.

Originally published as “Dalai Lama struggles to retain influence over troubled Tibet,” The Irish Times (Dublin), April 22, 2012, p. 14.

Plateau Rouge: On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet (2)

A few weeks ago, I finally received my copy of the new French translation of Tibetan writer Woeser’s text of oral histories on the Cultural Revolution in Tibet.

This past Saturday night in Seattle, in between a Schumann Violin Concerto unearthed in unearthly manner and a celestially brutal Bruckner Symphony, I had a chance to read a single testimony and wanted to share a few impressions of the text.

Woeser’s interloctor in one long episode (pp. 72-115) is “Joenyi,” a Tibetan functionary in the TAR (and an old friend of Woeser’s father) who gave Woeser his testimony in February 2003.  Joenyi worked in an unspecified area of military logistics and , somewhat surprisingly, is rather pro-People’s Liberation Army for the duration of this long interview.

(This is of course one of the beautiful things about oral histories – rarely do they conform strictly to what one might consider logical.  Why would a dissident Tibetan writer allow praise of the PLA in her book which is ostensibly about Chinese destruction of Tibet?  Because she has fidelity to what she was told, and because this man has recollections of her father as well.  The testimony is simply an individual narrative, a single set of data points, a single voice.  And if it occasionally moves in tandem with a master narrative espoused by the State, then so be it.)

Joenyi proceeds at the outset of his interview to dispel any notion that things proceeded more slowly with the Cultural Revolution in Tibet due to its extreme remoteness (reculeé / 遥远).  No, indeed, news spread quite quickly across the plateau (p. 72-3).

Joenyi describes the struggle against PLA General (the man in whom Japanese colonial parlance would have been called Tibet’s “Governor-General”) Zhang Guohua.

The Red Guards arrived in localities looking to upend “local emperors,” and Zhang was at the apex of their target list.  Posters in Lhasa called him Zhang Guihua 张鬼猾 ["Zhang the Cunning Devil"], and it took little time at all for Tibetans to follow in the chorus of denunciation and complaint against the Han administrator (p. 74).

While the 18th Army remained loyal to their commander, an inner-military opposition arose around the person of Yu Xin, a “director of logistics” who had worked closely with Zhang Guohua during the 1962 border war with India (p. 76).

Yu, the interviewee describes, probably would not have beaten Zhang to death, but had Zhang Guohua not fled to Beijing, he certainly would have been object of a public trial (p. 80).

Joenyi takes a moment to raise the demonic parallels made by the traditional Tibetan government in regarding communist troops as monsters, effectively reprising the 13th Dalai Lama’s famous 1931 last testament.  Instead, Joenyi asserts, that the PLA members in Tibet were not Han monsters but rather regarded as “Buddha’s Soldiers.”  The interviewee mentions time and again that the PLA left a positive impression on the Tibetans, and that for most inhabitants of the plateau (in fact “as one mind”), the Army was the key institution through which they understood the Chinese Communist Party (p. 82).

One possible complication to this pattern, however, are troops on the very frontiers of the PRC, where factional struggles could become bloody rather quickly (p. 83).

At this point Woeser, who has primarily been asking shorter questions in a linear fashion, interjects with a point about her own father, an acquaintance of the interviewee, and his experience in Beijing (where, perhaps, he was forced to stay?).  The Lhasa-Beijing polarity is thus examined from another angle (p. 84).

I’ve got another three or four pages of Bruckner-inflected scribbles to transcribe, but this text is already nicely suprising: thus, readers can expect more to come with reference to the “Nyemo Incident” (which involves, among other things, a possessed shamanness who claims to be an adjutant both of the Tibetan mythic-king Gesar and Chairman Mao)…

Related Posts: No Silence for the Unsubjugated: Woeser in the Parisian Press,” Sinologistical Violoncellist, 17 January 2011.

Christopher Hughes, “From Centre to Periphery: Rewriting the Cultural Revolution: From Centre to Periphery,” China Quarterly (2006) [scholarly review of Woeser's Chinese version of the same text of testimonies -- loads as pdf.]

The True Story of Maoist Revolution in Tibet,” Revolutionary Worker, #752, 17 April 1994 [orthodox Maoist treatment of the matter which calls monks "class enemies," etc., but is useful for understanding justifications of various kinds...]

Update: Just an interesting film from University of Michigan I was sent recently by Gavin Strassel, an Asianist bibliographer there, about art during the Cultural Revolution, added mainly for some red color in this entry, not for its connection to Tibet.

The Dalai Lama in Toulouse: On Soft Power, Le Pen, and Unfallen Shoes

Back in July, while on a late-night stroll through the 5th Arrdondisment looking for Rue Oberkampf, I chanced upon an announcement of the Dalai Lama’s mid-August trip to Toulouse, France, a city which appears to have become a kind of new Buddhist heartland.

To follow up: The Dalai Lama indeed went to Toulouse, and a short clip from a French television station captures very well the local excitement and the huge crowds (over 10,000 attendees, each paying over 100 Euros) garnered by the visit.

Although his speech is a touch impenetrable, I personally enjoy how the 20-something guy standing in line in his sports gear is there to learn from the Dalai Lama about compassion, a value which I also felt exuding from the somewhat drunk but indisputably kind (pre-Buddhists/sloshed Boddhisattvas?) of French origin who I sat next to while taking in the fireworks and getting an earful of Leonard Bernstein and Sinatra on Bastille Day near the Ecole Militaire.

Now that I mention it, there is a working paper to be written somewhere about the battle for hearts and minds, the soft power struggle, undertaken by the Chinese government and the Tibetan Government in Exile amidst the semi-employed post-collegiate white and French-born segment of Europe.  (I say “white and French-born” because it may be that among African-born Francophones in France, Sino-African relations is the terrain upon which China is judged and found wanting, or exemplary; this may be speculation on my part, but a quick glance at the newsstands in France and the predominance of African affairs there argues for my correctness in this small argumentative vector.  Of course white French readers of the press are also concerned with Africa — as are France’s armed and thoroughly multi-ethnic forces — but that is another debate altogether.)

The Dalai Lama’s visit to Toulouse is also an opportunity to contrast how French politicians handle such a visit, as opposed to their American counterparts.  When the Dalai Lama visits Washington, American Republicans waste no time in smashing the administration for not showing His Holiness more respect.  Tibet policy is one of the great unstated, but unquestionable, areas of extreme left-right agreement in the U.S.

On the other hand, France’s answer to the Tea Party, Marine LePen and her National Front, appear to have no comment on the Dalai Lama’s visit.  There is, though, this video of Le Pen holding forth in a small press conference in Toulouse (which includes complaining of the “Islamicization” of France) in which neither China nor the Dalai Lama comes in for discussion (for more on the Petainist origins of the present permutations of the French right wing, see James Shields’ detailed book from 2007).  However, this Marine Le Pen press release from spring 2008, singles out the main object of attack — following in her father’s footsteps of associating French left with the Cultural Revolution — is not the Chinese government but instead a French communist:

Mardi 08 Avril 2008

Du Tibet à Nanterre : le communisme incompatible avec la démocratie

Communiqué de presse de Marine Le Pen

Si les violences commises par le régime communiste chinois au Tibet ont été largement commentées et condamnées par la classe politique, pas une voix ne s’est élevée pour dénoncer les propos stupéfiants du maire communiste de Nanterre, Patrick Jary.

Réagissant le 7 avril dans les colonnes du Parisien au prochain déménagement du siège du Front national dans la préfecture des Hauts-de-Seine, l’édile communiste affirme “qu’il faut que les gens comprennent qu’il y a des lieux où le FN n’a pas le droit de venir”.

Au Tibet comme à Nanterre, le communisme, fidèle à sa vision totalitaire du monde, démontre une fois encore son caractère antidémocratique et la vision toute particulière qu’il se fait de la liberté …

Le Front National dénonce l’hypocrisie d’une classe politique qui sait être bruyante quand il s’agit de stigmatiser les violations des droits de l’homme à l’étranger mais reste étrangement silencieuse quand certaines libertés fondamentales sont bafouées en France.

So much for France.

A week after his Toulouse sojurn, the Dalai Lama was received at Goethe University in Frankfurt, an institution with an already-dynamic Asian Studies profile, particularly via its Interdisciplinary Center for East Asian Studies.  Video of the visit is available here, via Goethe University.

By way of comment: As I was in China during both of these visits, it very much interests me how routinized (which is to say, ignored) the Dalai Lama’s global work has become in the PRC press.  When a prominent French politician — say, the mayor of Paris — wants to make the Dalai Lama an “honorary citizen,” or an American mayor wants to commemorate Tibetan struggles in the month of March, a stink is raised, but by and large, the CCP lets these kind of appearances pass without comment, partially because they have already spent a great deal of their human rights pushback capital on cases like Ai Weiwei.  It may also be because the Dalai Lama is so apparently indefatigable, and there is little that the CCP can gain from railing against his every move.  It is one of the many instances in China where the “hard line” is in reality rather spotty, and applied only exemplary circumstances sufficient to inspire second thoughts about extending an invitation, second thoughts which are then rather easily pushed aside by the original impulse to broaden the scope of the inquiry and bend the ear towards the man in the crimson and gold robes from Dhramsala.


Tibet on the Horizon

Chamdo in Paris

Tonight, wandering north toward the Rue Oberkampf in search of my little home for the week in Belleville (Parisian Chinatown), I ran across a Tibetan restaurant known as “Norbulingka.”  The establishment was on the ground floor of an average-sized building, yet it somehow seemed even more squat than an average restaurant, more insulated, more buttery.  So I went in and found a manager from Kham, and after some typical grappling for linguistic common ground, I coughed out what little remains of my command of Tibetan courtesies.   Like some tea houses in Lhasa or Chengdu, the place was certainly fine for a meeting of importance — quite unlike the German-influenced “Panic Room” where I had just before been hammering at a recalcitrant book chapter in the midst of orange and pink techno underneath a mural of African kids wearing East German military uniforms with stickers on their heads describing how stupid it was to have built the Berlin Wall.

Norbulinka beats techno every time.

“Tashi dele” duly bestowed, on the way out of the place, I fixed my gaze upon a poster of a handsome bald man wearing glasses.  It was of course the Dalai Lama, and the poster spoke of his upcoming appearance in Toulouse, France, in mid-August.

And speaking of the Dalai Lama….

McGranahan on Tibet’s Imperial Encounter

I found this paper by Carole McGranahan at the University of Colorado to be rather interesting:

Dr. McGranahan, whose anthropology home page is here, is the author of Arrested Histories: Tibet, the CIA, and Memories of a Forgotten War (Duke University Press, 2010).  She also has one of the more active Twitter feeds among academics with an interest in Tibet and clearly believes that the Tibetan government-in-exile has a strong case to make for state sovereignty and independence.

In the above presentation, she spends the first 3:55 on the gnarly theoretical question of post-colonialism; at about the halfway point (12′) she dives into the empirical research and the question of American intelligence (e.g., CIA) sponsorship of the Tibetan resistance in the 1960s.

Much food for thought!  And much thought there is, and more food for it, in this panel in Minnesota…

A Panel Rises in the East

As prognosticated, I will indeed be participating in the Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs / Himalayan Studies Conference this upcoming October at Macalaster College.  The panel, which runs on Saturday October 29 at 8:30 a.m., should be excellent:

Tibet, China, India: Mapping Connections across History, Politics, and Culture

Chair and Discussant: Geoff Childs, Washington University in St. Louis.

[Childs is an anthropologist with an impressive array of publications about demography in Tibet; his recent work with Melvyn Goldstein in The China Journal looks to be essential reading.]

1. Adam Cathcart, Pacific Lutheran University, “Liu Shengqi in Lhasa: A New Window Into Tibet and Chinese Assertions on the Plateau, 1945-1949″

2. Sarah Getzelman, The Ohio State University, “Imaging the Dalai Lama: Incarnations in Art and Practice”

3. Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy, Université Laval, “TV across the Indo-Tibetan Interface: Indian TV as a cultural mediator for ‘Newcomer’ Tibetans in Dharamsala?”


Photo courtesy Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy, click image for more details about her interdisciplinary fieldwork

33 Questions on The History of Modern Tibet

Here on Sinologistical Violoncellist, the subject of Tibet seems to be coming up with greater frequency, as it ought to.  After all, the Dalai Lama remains floating through the universe (and the halls of Congress, Richard Gere in tow) dropping rhetorical bombs on Beijing, and Zhongnanhai makes no bones about shutting off all avenues of dialog with the 14th reincarnation.

And thus, apropos of well, this, allow me to state that people who have not read (or are in the process of reading and attempting to digest) Melvyn Goldstein’s relatively new tome on the Chinese Communist Party’s policies in Tibet from 1951-1955 are really missing out.  I believe this is one of the most essential books that anyone can read, and should read, in order to understand the compromises that are both possible and historically relevant between the Chinese and Tibetan leadership, and the inherent conflict in their positions.

Thus, I bring you a few dozen questions (which, unlike most of the material on this blog, I encourage you to plagiarize and modify as you like):

Discussion Questions [by Adam Cathcart] re: Melvyn Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet, Vol. 2: The Calm Before the Storm, 1951-1955 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007).

CHAPTER ONE – Chinese Perspectives

1. On pages 22-25, Goldstein lays out a set of points which are key to understanding the realistic conditions for CCP’s gradualist policy in Tibet.  I presently believe that the CCP were gradualist because they had to be.  Goldstein, on the other hand, never draws this explicit conclusion.  Why doesn’t Goldstein want to discuss more about the motives of the communist leaders?

2. In describing “United Front” (e.g., propaganda) work of the PLA, Goldstein describes Mao’s “carrot-stick” approach toward Tibet.  What are the carrots, and what are the sticks?  Absent the tens of thousands of troops bearing down on Chamdo, could Mao have gotten the Tibetan government to agree to anything?

CHAPTER TWO – Tibetan Perspectives

3. What is the 1914 Simla Convention and why does Prime Minister Nehru get on the phone about it during his meeting with the Tibetans (p. 45)?  Why isn’t India more supportive of the Tibetans in their hour of need?

4. In their first meeting with the new Chinese ambassador to India, Yuan Zhongxian, in September 1950, the Tibetans state that “there is no need to liberate Tibet from imperialism, because there are no British, American, or Guomindang imperialists in Tibet, and Tibet is ruled by the Dalai Lama (not a foreign power).”  Is this a true statement?  If so, then why does the CCP continue to insist that it is liberating Tibet from foreign imperialism?

CHAPTER FOUR – Dalai Lama to Yadong

5.   In Tibet’s appeal to the UN (pp. 90-91), China is pictured as immense and inherently aggressive.  In what ways is the memo’s ultimate suggestion – the dispatch of a UN fact-finding mission to Tibet – both a non-starter with the Chinese and a horrendously belated request for political recognition from the global community?

CHAPTER FIVE – The United States Intervenes

6. Why does Goldstein find it necessary to discuss China’s intervention in the Korean War in late 1950 (pp. 114-115)?  Is it possible that the connection between the war in Korea and the events in Tibet is actually much, much bigger than Goldstein implies? Or is the Korean War irrelevant to events on the Tibetan plateau at this time?

7. In point one “Against the Embassy Proposal,” the author describes how the goal of U.S. policy in China for the past several decades has been to support the “territorial integrity” of China (p. 116).  The Americans threw hundreds of thousands of troops and hundreds of millions of dollars into the Asian theater of World War II to support that policy and back up China’s right to exist.  Why would the Americans have considered throwing out all of that history and investment of blood and treasure in order to advocate a separation of Tibet from China?  Does the U.S. Executive Branch support China’s territorial integrity today?  Does the Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Relations, as she demands a consulate be set up in 2011 in Lhasa?

8.  What is the major problem with the American statement (p. 117) that “we should encourage….Tibet’s orientation toward the West rather than the East”?

9.  If it were possible to find enough information, the trip that never happened of “experienced explorer-scholar Schuyler Cammonn, University of Pennsylvania” to Tibet to spy out the situation in summer 1949 would be a fascinating and very publishable research paper topic (p. 119).  If anyone is interested in hunting down more information about this thread for a possible guest blog post on Sinologistical Violoncellist, please let me know.

10. In U.S. Ambassador to India Henderson’s secret letter to the Dalai Lama, he recommends that his Holiness go into exile in Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka).  Why does Henderson recommend this course of action?  Why is this letter not a part of the Dalai Lama’s autobiography or his manga biography?

11. In the 1950s, is the Indian border city of Kalimpong really, as George Patterson called it, a “nest of spies”?

CHAPTER SIX “The Dalai Lama Returns to Lhasa”

12. At the three-day assembly and debate in Yadong, why are the Tibetan monks, including the abbots of the big three monasteries, nearly unanimous in demanding return the Dalai Lama’s return to Lhasa (p. 138)?  How would you characterize the strategy of the three big monasteries in the eight years (1951-1958) of cooperation with the CCP?

13. Namseling is hardcore, the main advocate of rejecting the agreement, and therefore of the idea of perpetuating the notion of a political and cultural Tibet in exile. Why does Namseling oppose China?  What is his particular view of the global role of the question of sovereignty in “keeping the flame of Tibetan independence alive”?   Does history change at all if Namseling wins this argument?

CHAPTER SEVEN – Initial Contacts and Strategies

1. Zhang Jingwu arrives in Lhasa on 8 August 1951.  Given that Mao had proclaimed the People’s Republic on 1 October 1949 (and with the republic, presumably, the victory of the CCP in civil war), doesn’t Zhang’s arrival in Lhasa seem awfully late?  If so, then what does Tibet’s later timetable for consolidation tell us about China’s sensitiveness about “territorial integrity”?

2. Note the pre-arrival stereotypes of the Han Chinese among Tibetans: many Tibetans thought the Chinese might be “devils” of some kind.  How are the imaginations of some Tibetans calmed, and others enflamed, by the appearance of actual Chinese in Lhasa?

3.  Why were songs especially important in Tibet’s political culture?  Hint: Because there were no newspapers in Lhasa before the Chinese showed up!

4. Who is Shelling, the source on pp. 171-172 for Zhang Jingwu’s appearance in Lhasa?  Hint: he’s my old housemate in Cleveland!  I was fortunate to live with linguistically talented and spiritually adept Tibetan aristocrats, via Dhramsala, when I was studying to become a Sinologistical Violoncellist in Cleveland in the late 1990s.

5. How does Lukhangwa fit into contemporary images of Tibet?  Which “side” in the contemporary context is more truthful?  Does Lukhangwa represent an incorrect approach among Tibetans toward relations with China?  Is there such a thing as Tibetan xenophobia, or would that phrase be politically incorrect?

6.  Would Tibet be better off had Sinified Tibetans like Lobsang Tashi been more assertive (p. 193)?

7. How does the fait accompli of the 17-Point Agreement make the sitsab even more hard-line in dealing with initial Chinese military officials in Tibet (p. 174)?

8. Chinese propagandists made promoted many positive images of Zhang’s first month in Lhasa.  In what ways was Zhang’s behavior toward the monasteries patterned after the Guomindang/Nationalist precendent in Tibet? And why, generally speaking, was there no open Sino-Tibetan disagreement in this period?

9. Why doesn’t Lukhangwa’s threat involving “the three jewels and karmic cause” scare the Chinese (p. 176)? Hint: It’s because the Chinese officials are atheists!

10. Would you attribute the first-ever growth of what we would recognize as “civil society” in Tibet to the Chinese pressure (pp. 177-179)?  Is it fair to say that the arrival of the CCP inaugurates a period of real political participation for Tibet’s non-official aristocrat class and others?  If so, doesn’t this render the CCP as a positive force in Tibet?

11.  What was Mao’s strategy with regards to the Dalai Lama?  Does it seem likely, given the reasonably reliable information on p. 179, that the CCP threat to kill the Dalai Lama – a message delivered via his brother from Qinghai (see also Manga Biography pp. 64-69) – is simply false?

12.  Were the communist leaders sincere in their desire to respect Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism (p. 180 ff.)?  Or was the policy merely a necessary short-term accommodation that preceded their true desire: to wipe out the religion and therefore the basic civilization of Tibet?

13.  In what ways is the CCP directive not to stir up class consciousness or attack landowners (p. 183) fundamentally at odds with concurrent political events in China at the time?  What would scholars like Julia Strauss or the author of Words Kill have to say about CCP policy in Tibet in comparison to that in China proper?

14.  In the early 1950s, the CCP leadership insisted that there be no specific timetable set up for Tibet’s fuller integration into the PRC.  In what ways does this strategy mirror Sun Tzu or Chairman Mao’s tactics as described in their respective texts Art of War and On Protracted War?  Does everything that important require a plan with a calendar? Or are flexible principles themselves sufficient grounds for acting efficiently and effectively?  Did the Tibetans fail in the 1950s because of a dearth of ancient and indiginous military texts and strategies?

15. In what way is Lukhangwa the real father of “the Tibetan Resistance”?  Can we speak of a “Lukhangwa model” of resistance today, or have times, tactics, and perspectives changed radically?  In what ways has his strategy failed the Tibetans, particularly in the impulsive and independent character of the resistance?

16. What do you think of Goldstein’s implicit assertion that Tibet weakened itself by truncating the modernizing influence of British-educated Tibetans from 1914-1933?  In what ways did Tibet’s “anti-imperialism” of the 1910s and 1920s – an outlook and violent activity for which the CCP lauds them still – paradoxically leave Tibet unreformed and thus open to Chinese allegations that they, the Chinese, are modernizing Tibet because the Tibetans are incapable of doing the job themselves?

17.  On pages 192-193, Goldstein describes the minor wave of Tibetan students who went to study in the interior of China at places like People’s University in Beijing.  While Goldstein seems to interpret this change positively (or at the very worst, as an anodyne development), Tibetan exiles have since depicted the associated actions as a form of “abduction” by the Chinese, part of a quasi-genocidal process of forced acculturation.  In the long run, why does this topic of Tibetans studying in China matter at all?  Shouldn’t we just be focused on what the Chinese are doing in Tibet itself?

18.  When it comes to Tibetans who admired Chinese modernization and culture in the early- and mid-1950s, the Dalai Lama needs also to be considered (pp. 200-205).  Didn’t these people understand that China was about to embark upon two massively destructive mass campaigns, known as the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) and Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), which would be very harmful to Tibetans?  If the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Sinified elites had had better foresight, wouldn’t they have gone into exile in 1951 instead of giving the Chinese Communist Party a chance to demonstrate its moderate nature?  Conversely, what is the historical problem with criticizing the young Dalai Lama and others for pro-China tendencies in the mid-1950s?

19.  Of the partially-Sinified and conciliationist wing of the Tibetan elites, few are more influential in the long run than Ngabo.  Do you consider Ngabo a pragmatic patriot or a sell-out?

20.  When is a scholar going to write a historically accurate rap battle between Ngabo and the culturally conservative obstructionist Lukhangwa, giving each man a verse which pivot around a chorus which starts with “khasey dingsey,” which is the Tibetan phrase for “say what your feel and think?”

Brave, Yet Isolated: Cat Surveys Shigatse, The Old Haunts of the Panchen Lama; photo by Adam Cathcart

High Altitude Social Isolation Tense Political Situation = Dream Job for Foreign Aid Worker in Tibet

In the best cases, one of the unheralded side benefits of being a professor involves the holding of office hours, the offering of an open door.  This morning, the open door resulted in two very interesting meetings.

My first meeting was with a very sharp ROTC officer, and ran the gamut of globe and various points of American military intervention.  To the benefit of readers of this blog focusing on Korea, the meeting resulted in me learning that we have whole batteries of anti-North Korean missile defenses already set up in Hawaii.  (Read the Chinese concerns about these batteries –”actually aimed at China” — here.)

My second meeting, with a student who is auditing my lectures on Japanese war crimes in China, led me to the following question, which is the focus of today’s post:  “Have you ever considered working for the United Nations?”

What a great question!  Why a great question?  Because it leads one to UNJobs.org.  Should you have missed it, the UN jobs website is itself a treasure trove of information about global development generally, even for those of us who have full employment.  It should be read more frequently.  I mean, wouldn’t we all benefit from a little “Training on Energy Efficiency and Passive Building Design for Cold Climate Conditions, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia“?  Doesn’t knowing about such things help to sharpen our understanding of the problems of architectural design in Mongolia, or in empty Inner Mongolian cities around which French photographers are prowling as my very keyboard clatters?

And for globally-minded graduates who can’t find global opportunities for which their are qualified, it is good to find the UNJobs.org posting entitled “Driver, Abuja, Nigeria,” a position for which one needs a Secondary school education, English fluency, a good driving record, and the ability to check the car’s oil and keep track of “vehicle logs, office directory, map of the city/country, first aid kit, [and] necessary spare parts.”  What a fantastic job!  Driving in Nigeria and keeping track of documents, yeah…

Attention unemployed college seniors: the window for this entry level UN job closes today!

Much closer to the heart and the content of this East Asia blog is the following, fascinating, job posting for Handicap International Belgium, which is seeking a Program Manager for its Tibet office.

Before you cross yourself off of the list of potential applicants or click on to some other, more relevant station on the Electric Carnival which is the Internet, you may wish to read the job description, for it reveals the difficulty for foreigners working in the Tibetan Autonomous Region in a way that is, to me at least, more interesting than a Heinrich Harrer memoir.  Aside from its (always-inspiring) requirement that the candidate be fluent in both English and French (because, really, who shouldn’t be working on their French proficiency?), one can learn a great deal about the aid environment in Tibet from the job description, which I will quote at length:

Handicap International Belgium is seeking a Program Manager for its Tibet office.

Specifics: High altitude (3600 m); Weather conditions difficult, cold in winter;
Accommodation in a hotel; Social isolation, rare entertainment and difficulty travelling out of the city (permits required); Tense political situation; Very few other expatriates living in the area

Job financed: Yes; Donor: Belgian Development Cooperation, EC, Luxemburg Cooperation

Possibility of a couple: Yes (but no possibilities to get a job for the accompanying person)
Possibility of children: Yes (but no access to an international school which makes schooling difficult; no local initiative for foreign children schooling)

Context: The Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) remains one of the latest developed areas in China. Given the natural and socio-economic level of the region, the situation of disabled persons in general and children in particular remains precarious. Very few services or specialized facilities for people with disabilities are available in the field of rehabilitation and the needs remain tremendous in terms of detection and diagnosis, special care, physical rehabilitation, technical aids, integrated education, vocational training, information, counseling, awareness and social integration.

Description of the projects:  The recent “Second China national sample survey on disability” estimates that more than 75 percent of people with disabilities in the country are living in rural areas where they often represent the most vulnerable group with difficult access to basic health care, rehabilitation and education. Although the Government has set up very concrete and ambitious objectives for the coming years to improve the situation, measures taken by the China Disabled Persons’ Federation and its branches at provincial level do not reach yet people living in rural areas. In these areas, the level of knowledge of the local authorities and the general public on disability is still extremely limited and disability management skills are almost inexistent. In this context, Handicap International has initiated disability programs in 5 provinces/regions of the country (Guangxi, Tibet, Qinghai, Yunnan and Sichuan).

Handicap International has been operating in the TAR since 2001, in cooperation with its partner, the Tibet Disabled Persons Federation (TDPF) and its branches at prefecture levels. 7 different projects have been implemented since then:

  • Support in the set up and management of orthopedic workshops in Lhasa and Chamdo cities, provision of on-site orthopedic services in Shigatse prefecture, and delivering physiotherapy services at the 3 centers;
  • Community-based rehabilitation and inclusive development for persons with disabilities in Lhasa Urban District, 2 rural counties of Lhasa municipality, namely Medrogongka and Qushui; Shigatse and Chamdo;
  • Support to the set up and capacity building of the Disabled Persons Associations (Deaf, Blind and Physical).
  • Delivery of Vocational Trainings, internships and job placements of PWD from TAR. This project has been extended with a livelihood project (employment and grants for PWD).
  • Inclusive Education for children with disabilities in mainstream schools and kindergartens in Lhasa and Shigatse prefectures;
  • Social Protection and Security for persons with disabilities in health, education and employment in TAR;
  • Mother and Child Health prevention project in Lhasa (end on Dec 2010).

Dalai Lama, Goal in the Distance -- photo by Heinrich Harrer

On the Events in Aba: Sources

Another Tibet-themed guest post by Kristiana Henderson, Pacific Lutheran University

While I was writing this larger piece about the construction of dams in the Tibet Autonomous Region, I was simultaneously following the developments coming out of Aba Prefecture of Northern Sichuan Province, another “autonomous” region comprised mostly of Tibetan and Qiang people. I believe that following the story regarding the funding of hydroelectric facilities in the T.A.R. is of just as great of importance, if not nearly as “cinematic” and therefore gripping in terms of international headlines, because it is the story of the relatively slow-moving process of “development” as a codeword for controlling an indigenous population’s land and resources and using it for geopolitical gain. That said, it would be strange to completely ignore this ongoing, in-your-face concern in my guest post, and therefore, I will quickly rehash the latest developments since mid March.

One of the first take-home points of this article is that I have come to appreciate the news reports as submitted by www.phayul.com, a Tibetan exile news and cultural website that was first introduced to me by a Tibetan doctor and scholar who was a classmate with me at the University of Oslo a few years ago. I remember asking him at the time about what resources he would recommend for keeping up-to-date about the “Tibet situation.” When he gave me links to websites such as this one, I first simply regarded it as an incredibly biased grouping of soundbytes from an angry community in Northern India. Therefore this meant that I did not log on to Phayul very often, but when I did, I always reminded myself to take it with a grain of salt. This reminder to consider the source, of course, is good with whatever piece of information one is looking at. However, considering my long-standing interest in the problems related to Tibetan culture and sovereignty, I realize how inappropriately long it took me to realize that my overly skeptic attitudes were endemic of not only sloppy scholarship, but also brought me dangerously close into playing right into the hands of a hegemonic paradigm.

After all, even though I also took Chinese nationalistic websites with this same hesitance, I was looking at far more of these and was more likely to consider their opinions, especially because I was countering them in terms of a dialogue with the Western media. Essentially, what you are looking at is an invalidation of the minority voice inside a minority voice in terms of Western discourse on current events: because my media is dominated by Western opinion that overall is not doing enough justice to the Chinese opinion and POV on China, I sought to understand China’s opinion better. However, by default, I casually lumped in the exile community’s concerns back into the “Western” media, and failed to see it as that counter-point to the counter-point, the indigenous voice standing in solidarity against the official, mainstream Chinese doctrine, certainly, but also separately from the BBC, CNN, and the other news media that enjoys frolicking with the Dalai Lama when it has no other celebrity to chase after. I realize that looking at Tibet on its own terms should seem like a fairly obvious conclusion, however, believe me that China and Tibet in general – whether exile community or within the Tibetan regions in China – has reminded me of the importance of the deconstructionist tool, and ensured that I don’t instantly jump onto any ideological bandwagon. Hence my (hopefully healthier) skepticism, and hence that I feel that Phayul could, with all its blatant editorializing, is incredibly valuable. At the very least, considering that websites such as Phayul are at the heart of documenting Tibetan issues and this is their specialty, they are also a great jumping-off point for reading more about these topics on the Guardian, the Straits Times, and, yes, even the New York Times and the BBC.

A very good example Phayul’s media is seen below, via the Voice of America, in Amdo Tibetan. Most of the beginning shots are also very daring shots of the police/military forces. For readers trying to parse the linguistic parallels, རྔ་བ is the writing for 阿坝 – Aba.

[Editor's note: This film is fairly graphic, first-hand stuff; absent comprehension of the Tibetan language, I'm at a bit of a loss as to how to fit this into the emerging master narrative from Amdo.  Certainly something to keep an eye on. --A.C.]

It all started this time last month as a 21-year-old monk known as Phuntsok burned himself to death in commemoration of the third-year anniversary of the famous Tibetan protests. Let’s remember that while these protests/riots/Reformations may have started in Lhasa, they caught fire in Aba prefecture, and not in the least, this same Kirti monastery of which Phuntsok was part. What began as an anecdote of another monk choosing to enlighten a cause, blaze a trail, and set fire to a movement (Mao’s proverbial “single spark”) has continued to set off a maelstrom in the region, leading to several arrests, a curfew on the monastery, a hunger strike in the local upper middle school, an increased police and military force, international/Western outcry.  Most recently, according to Phayul and other sources, the CCP crackdown has also initiated an intensive “re-education” training for the monks of Kirti. From what I have read, however, it appears that the government has effectively clamped down enough on these protests to stifle any copy-cat protests happening in other Tibetan regions

(Meanwhile, China has been actively courting Nepal and gaining its support for the “One-China” policy, as high-ranking officials have spent a considerable amount of time in Kathmandu since March. 缘分?Realpolitik? Yup.)

Questions still remain: what kind of enforcement measures were in place before these protests occurred, other than, say, me having to report myself to the police statement if I wanted to travel there? And, similarly, what is so different about Kirti monastery that it has long been at the center of these movements, and why have more protests within Tibet not sprung up (yet…)?

Needless to say, I’m getting a wee bit tired of these “reliable sources,” but 生活就是 – C’est la vie.

Archival Scraps — Lhasa, October 2010

A fragment of an unfinished op-ed I wrote in the Tibet Autonomous Region last fall:

As October advances, leaves scatter into Lhasa streets full of pilgrims weaving through the occasional knot of Han Chinese and foreign tourists.  According to today’s Tibet Business Daily [西藏商报] , since the National Day holiday started on October 1, the Tibet Autonomous Region [TAR/西藏自治区 ] welcomed 343,770 tourists, a large influx given the region’s relatively sparse population.  The figure, even if it is inflated (as Tibetan friends will assert), represents a 27.5% increase over last year’s official tourist figures from the same fall peak tourism week.  Hotels are going up all over the city, and by next year, a Shangri-La will redefine Lhasa’s luxury market.

(The kindred hotel, the Shangri-La in Chengdu, fills a segment of the riverine skyline outside of my apartment in Sichuan.  The hotel is downright sumptuous to walk through, inducing a kind of pleasurable guilt, sort of like listening to Debussy.)

What Tibetans think about the influx of tourists is a mixed bag.  Does the fact that tourists spent 1.3 million yuan in Tibet this past week help a bit?  Some will complain that Chinese are doing business illegally in Tibet, failing to register their cars and pay tax.  Today’s Lhasa Evening News [拉萨晚报] reports that eleven people were arrested in the past week for failing to register, and for having such illegal items as fake train tickets to Beijing and business cards.

(One never has such a strong sense of the power of the small-scale printing industry as in Tibet; all the photocopiers are in the hands of Han businesspeople and even Tibetan hotels need to take several hours to make photocopies because they first need a Han to sign off on the action.)

In the Dico’s on the edge of the Barkor (the traditional center of the city) and one of the few fast food restaurants, Chinese tourists talk in exaggerated drama about the relative merits of buying real estate in Hangzhou versus that of Shanghai.  Tibetan beggars walk in and are shooed away by the Tibetan employees clad in their Dico’s uniforms; the Muslim restaurant downstairs, by contrast, lets the beggars in freely, figuring that proximity to holy site should inure everyone to the practice.  At night, the Tibetan policemen retire into big white busses, smoking and playing with their cell phones, while posts throughout the darkening city remain manned by People’s Liberation Army troops, Han Chinese from Sichuan, cradling their machine guns.

Since October 3, the public security presence in Lhasa has been less prevalent in the area around the Jokhang Temple, the traditional Barkhor area where protests against Chinese governance have tended to break out.  An immense police station hides diagonally from the exit to the Johkang (newer and larger police stations are being built directly next to large monasteries, such as at Gyandan about an hour from Lhasa), but recently the PLA opened up a little “tea water and newspaper reading area” under the shade at the edge of the square, and a handful of off-duty PLA enjoy some shopping on a day off.

The contrast with spring 2008 was evident, but the scars of March and April of that year are still relatively fresh.  In March 2008, Lhasa exploded into violence, revealing deep ethnic and cultural rifts between Tibetans and the central government in Beijing.  The riots – and the Dalai Lama’s subsequent tour to Seattle – embarrassed China on the international stage and brought home once again the need for reforms on the plateau.   Since 2008, the CCP has made changes, but along the lines of the following formula: Emphasize economic development, increase the number of domestic tourists, reorganize nomads into villages, heighten the political repression, and glaze everything over with gaudy celebrations of an “ethnic unity” which is inevitably led by the Han majority.

The Chinese Communist Party continues to build in strength and consolidate state power in Tibet.  Education is a kind of battlefield of sorts; but is a new class of pro-Chinese Tibetans emerging to undermine the exile movement?

Perhaps this will all work.  A new railroad to Shigatze.  On the road to India, a huge PLA convoy comes from Chengdu.  Tibet is always useful for a reason other than itself.

The Dalai Lama dons mock horns for German photographers unknown, 2008

Robert Barnett, « Melvyn C. Goldstein, A History of Modern Tibet. Volume 2: The Calm before the Storm, 1951-1955. », China perpectives [Online] , 2009/3.

Susette Cooke, « Merging Tibetan Culture into the Chinese Economic Fast Lane », China perpectives [Online] , 50 | november- december 2003 .

Eyes on Tibet

Amid all of the recent speculation over the impact of Egypt’s democratic movement on the Chinese domestic milieu, you may have missed this set of rather-hard line statements by CCP officials in Tibet about smashing separatism.  JustRecently, who has been on fire lately with such things as Google’s position in China, has a good review of some rather pro-India statements made recently by the Dalai Lama, and translates a good chunk of a Huanqiu Shibao article about Tibet.

For some photo confirmation from this past October that the PLA is engaging in target practice drills within view of Gyanden Monastery near Lhasa, you can check out these photos from October.

No Silence for the Unsubjugated: Woeser in the Parisian Press

Han ideograms of self-praise tattoo the walls of the echo chamber of the PRC; millions of yuan are tilted downward as if out of dump trucks, rushing into the cultural bureaucracy which promotes an official and commodified version of Tibetan culture.  China is engaged in a great and perpetual project of unification, of 融合 [rong he].   Within that deafening and totalizing discourse of the People’s Republic of China, itself mixed in with no small amount of orientalism diffused in the form of cheap novels and exotic travel magazines, Tibetan writers who attack subjects at variance with the master narrative are, not surprisingly, marginalized.

The Chinese state is itself completely maladroit at self-administering a counterbalance, although small efforts are occasionally made.  A big-budget film about the 1950 liberation of Kangba (western Sichuan/eastern Tibet, which tellingly is administratively shorn from the Tibetan Autonomous Region) includes an oblique apology to Tibetans for the neglect caused by the 1957 anti-rightist movement.  Another small step forward: Melvyn Goldstein (the Rinpoche of Case Western Reserve University, of whose wisdom I partook in Cleveland in the 1990s, living with his Tibetan colleague, a former member of the government in exile and Chinese political prisoner) is allowed to collaborate with colleagues from Lhasa on a ground-breaking and must-read newly-published history of the most significant episode of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet.

But mostly, Tibetans are supposed to keep their mouths shut, or rather, fixed in a rictus while dancing, preferably to a pentatonic tune.

Woeser, the foremost modern Tibetan writer in the PRC, works to a different tune.  Her blog is a tremendous compendium of sources and discussion of Tibet’s past, present, and future, and, more importantly, it is wed to a tremendously productive drive in the realm of publishing.  You know, books! long arcs of data collection, synthesis, revision upon revision, reams of paper, daily experiments in form and expression…  Her new book of Cultural Revolution testimonies is a case in point.  And fortunately, she continues to produce (though under difficult circumstances) and her work has found an ever-wider audience in the West, particularly in Germany (this remarkable book on the Tibetan Aufstand of March 2008) and France/Canada.

And so to my task: a translation of a mainstream Parisian political magazine (roughly the equivalent of Newsweek, but mercifully bereft of Jonathan Alter and the other usual suspects and professional Beltway bloviators) and its profile of Woeser.  The tone is, like many pieces of French journalism which have a quasi-hagiographical function, a bit breathy, but it is nevertheless of interest to me and hopefully of use to you.  Given this blog’s consistent but not fully voluminous attention since mid-2009 to the (rather important) Sino-French dynamics of the Tibet issue, at the very least, it fits.

Ursula Gauthier, “La voix des sans parole: Depuis les emutes de Lhassa (2008) et d’Urumuqi (2009), Pekin a reussi a faire taire les insoumis.  Sauf une Tibetaine et un Ouigour, qui vivent et bloguent dans la capitale [The Voice of Those Without Words: After the Demonstrations in Lhasa (2008) and Urumuqi (2009), Beijing Succeeds in Silencing the Unsubjugated, Except for a Tibetan and a Uighur Who Live and Blog in the Capital],”] Le nouvel observateur, No. 2407-2408 (23 Dec.- 5 Jan.): 51.  Translated by Adam Cathcart.

For all the Tibetans, she is the voice of resistance to the red empire.  Her blog, “Invisible Tibet,” constantly under attack, blocked many times and now hosted abroad, has become the platform for an inventory of the daily violence inflicted on her compatriots.  For her courage, in 2007 Woeser received a Norwegian prize for freedom of expression, and in 2010 an American prize for courage in journalism.  Nevertheless, she does not take on an exalted air.  With her silk scarf, her ethnic jewelry and her fragile grace, she retains the look of a melancholic poetess of 20, broken between two identities.

On the one side, one quarter of her blood is Han: her grandfather was a member of the Kuomintang, her father was a high-ranking communist in the army, she had an exclusively Chinese and atheist education, a “naive belief in the generosity of the Party” extending into the very Chinese characters in which she writes.  On the other side: her “Tibetan soul,” her Buddhist faith and infinite respect in how she, like all of her compatriots, views the Dalai Lama.

It is such an allusion which was found in one of her books in 2003 which deprived her of her post at a literary magazine in Lhasa.  She moved to Beijing and married the writer Wang Lixiong, who is passionate about Tibet and Xinjiang.  These two succeed in putting the condition of China’s ethnic minorities “on the radar of writers” in pro-democratic circles, to render more powerful their interest in the question.  The violations of cultural and religious rights of the non-Han, their brutality, are the subjects of debate in her treatises.

When, in March 2008, the events burst forth in Lhasa, Woeser’s blog, the sole source of information not controlled by the Communist Party, received 3 million clicks: “For my Chinese readers who believed like steel that Mao had ‘liberated’ Tibet, 2008 was a shock, an occasion to discover a bit of true history.”  Did a “pro-minorities” stance successfully follow?  “Not to exaggerate,” she says with a nervous smile.  “There is today a certain sympathy for Tibetans.  It is enormous, if one compares it to the Uighurs who do not receive even a shadow of sympathy.  As for the Mongols, no one gives a damn [tout le monde s'en fiche]…”

On Twitter, where she has 12,000 followers, for the most part Han, Woeser maintains a desperate chronicle of the Tibetan intellectuals who have been arrested — some for a sole article in a scholarly journal [revue savante] — tortured and totally condemned to heavy labor.  Like Kunchok Tsephel, an English professor who was condemned in 2009 to fourteen years in prison for “divulging state secrets” on his literary site.  “I have counted at a minimum of 60 or 70 cases, which do not include similar cases which no one has talked about,” she explains soberly.  “The elites are systematically watched.  But [the authorities] say it is not deliberate.”

There is, sadly, no online version of the above article with which you can check my French.  As compensation, please accept a little outro music for the other side of the Earth…