The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Free Tibet?

Liam O Ruairc • 12 May 2004

In Western countries, the movement to 'free Tibet' from Chinese occupation is very popular among the 57 different varieties of liberals and human rights campaigners. The media generally presents a very positive image of Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is hailed as a modern saint, and an idealized image of Tibet before the Chinese take over is given. However, it is worth examining what sort of place Tibet was before the Chinese intervention, who benefited and who lost from it, and who the people campaigning for 'free Tibet' are (1).

In Tibet, prior to the Chinese take over, theocratic despotism had been the rule for generations. An English visitor to Tibet in 1895, Dr. A. L. Waddell, wrote that the Tibetan people were under the "intolerable tyranny of monks" and the devil superstitions they had fashioned to terrorize the people. In 1904 Perceval Landon described the Dalai Lama's rule as "an engine of oppression" and "a barrier to all human improvement." At about that time, another English traveler, Captain W.F.T. O'Connor, observed that "the great landowners and the priests . . . exercise each in their own dominion a despotic power from which there is no appeal," while the people are "oppressed by the most monstrous growth of monasticism and priest-craft the world has ever seen." Tibetan rulers, like those of Europe during the Middle Ages, "forged innumerable weapons of servitude, invented degrading legends and stimulated a spirit of superstition" among the common people (Stuart Gelder and Roma Gelder, The Timely Rain: Travels in New Tibet, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1964, 123-125). In Tibet, slavery was the rule.

The following account was written by Sir Charles Bell, who was the British administrator for Chumbi Valley in 1904-05: "'Slaves were sometimes stolen, when small children, from their parents. Or the father and mother, being too poor to support their child, would sell it to a man, who paid them _sho-ring_, "price of mother's milk," brought up the child and kept it, or sold it, as a slave. These children come mostly from south-eastern Tibet and the territories of the wild tribes who dwell between Tibet and Assam.' (Charles Bell, Tibet: Past and Present, Oxford, 1924, pp. 78-79. Taken from http://www.faqs.org/faqs/tibet-faq)

In 1953, six years before the Chinese takeover, the greater part of the rural population (some 700,000 of an estimated total population of 1,250,000) were serfs. Serfs and other peasants generally received no schooling or medical care. They spent most of their time working for the monasteries and high-ranking lamas, or for a secular aristocracy that numbered not more than 200 families. They were in practice owned by their masters who told them what crops to grow and what animals to raise. They could not get married without the consent of their lord or lama. A serf might easily be separated from his family should the owner send him to work in a distant location. Serfs could be sold by their masters, or subjected to torture and death (for more details see http://www.michaelparenti.org/Tibet.html).

Whatever wrongs and new oppressions introduced by the Chinese in Tibet after 1959, they did abolish slavery and the serfdom system of unpaid labor. They started work projects, and greatly reduced unemployment and beggary. They built the only hospitals that exist in the country, and established secular education, thereby breaking the educational monopoly of the monasteries. They constructed running water and electrical systems in Lhasa. They also put an end to floggings, mutilations, and amputations as a form of criminal punishment under Buddhist rule. Chinese rule in Tibet has often been brutal, however its extent has often been exaggerated.

The accusations made by the Dalai Lama himself about Chinese mass sterilization and forced deportation of Tibetans, for example, have remained unsupported by any evidence. Both the Dalai Lama and his advisor and youngest brother, Tendzin Choegyal, claimed that more than 1.2 million Tibetans are dead as a result of the Chinese occupation. This figure is more than dubious. The official 1953 census, six years before the Chinese take over, recorded the entire population of Tibet at 1,274,000. Other estimates varied from one to three million. Other census counts put the ethnic Tibetan population within the country at about two million (Pradyumna P. Karan, The Changing Face of Tibet: The Impact of Chinese Communist Ideology on the Landscape, Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 1976, 52-53). If the Chinese killed 1.2 million then entire cities and huge portions of the countryside, indeed almost all of Tibet, would have been depopulated - something for which there is no evidence. The Chinese military force in Tibet was not large enough to round up, chase, and exterminate that many people even if it had spent all its time doing this.

It is worth examining who is behind the 'Free Tibet' movement. The former elites lost many of their privileges due to the Chinese takeover. The family of the Dalai Lama lost no fewer than 4000 slaves! It is thus not surprising that feudal lords should campaign against the social gains of Maoism. Their campaign has found an international echo thanks to the CIA. Throughout the 1960s the Tibetan exile community received $1.7 million a year from the CIA, according to documents released by the State Department in 1998. The Dalai Lama's organization itself admits that it had received millions of dollars from the CIA during the 1960s to send armed squads of exiles into Tibet to undermine the Maoist revolution. The Dalai Lama's annual share was $186,000, making him a paid agent of the CIA. Indian intelligence also financed him and other Tibetan exiles (Jim Mann, "CIA Gave Aid to Tibetan Exiles in '60s, Files Show," Los Angeles Times, 15 September 1998; and New York Times, 1 October, 1998). Today, mostly through the National Endowment for Democracy and other conduits that are more respectable-sounding than the CIA, the US Congress continues to allocate an annual $2 million to Tibetans in India, with additional millions for "democracy activities" within the Tibetan exile community (See Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison, The CIA's Secret War in Tibet, Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2002, for example).

Also, while presenting himself as a defender of human rights, the Dalai Lama supports more than dubious causes. For example, in April 1999, along with Margaret Thatcher and George Bush senior, the Dalai Lama called upon the British government to release Augusto Pinochet.

While Chinese rule is resented by many in Tibet, people are also afraid to loose the social gains of Maoism. A 1999 story in the Washington Post notes that the Dalai Lama continues to be revered in Tibet, but "few Tibetans would welcome a return of the corrupt aristocratic clans that fled with him in 1959 and that comprise the bulk of his advisers. Many Tibetan farmers, for example, have no interest in surrendering the land they gained during China's land reform to the clans. Tibet's former slaves say they, too, don't want their former masters to return to power. "I've already lived that life once before," said Wangchuk, a 67-year-old former slave who was wearing his best clothes for his yearly pilgrimage to Shigatse, one of the holiest sites of Tibetan Buddhism. He said he worshipped the Dalai Lama, but added, "I may not be free under Chinese communism, but I am better off than when I was a slave." (John Pomfret, "Tibet Caught in China's Web," Washington Post, 23 July 1999)

 

(1) This article has benefited greatly from much of the information contained in http://www.michaelparenti.org/Tibet.html.


 

 



 

 

 

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Index: Current Articles



13 May 2004

 

Other Articles From This Issue:

 

The 1934 Republican Congress: Broad Front or Narrow Retreat?
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Better an Honest Socialist than a Lying Republican
Dolours Price

 

The Angrytown News presents: SinnAid
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No Minimum Wage Here
Anthony McIntyre

 

Further Serious Abuses of Republican POWS
Martin Mulholland, IRPWA

 

Free Tibet?
Liam O Ruairc

 

Thoughts on the November Elections
Chrissie McGlinchey

 

The Letters page has been updated.

 

10 May 2004

 

War Crimes
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Address given by IRSP Ard Comhairle Terry Harkin to Fringe Meeting of the Scottish Socialist Party
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A Guiding Light Falls on Ramallah
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An Occupation That Creates Children Willing To Die
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Dave Hann,
co-author "No Retreat"
Connolly Books

AFA Ireland

 

 

 

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