j a m y a n g n o r b u
one does not know to which port one is sailing,
In olden days such a phenomenal confluence of events would no doubt have been regarded as a portent of some kind, possibly even of imminent change in the destiny of the concerned nation. Whether we subscribe to such beliefs or dismiss them in the spirit of rationalism, there is no getting away from the growing and nagging realisation that somehow 1999 has become a watershed year for all Tibetans.
The struggle for Tibetan independence is fast approaching a profound crisis; a crisis that goes much deeper than can merely be ascribed to mistaken government policies or the machinations of self-serving and often self-appointed "negotiators". The very question of Tibet's identity, not just as a nation but even as a fact of history, is under assault. Jiang Zemin has demanded that the Dalai Lama not only give up Tibetan independence but also the very concept that a free Tibet had ever existed in the past. These demands, however outrageous do seem to have made an impression on us, if we are to judge by the weakening of the conduct of the freedom struggle world-wide, especially in the timid and muddle-headed discontinuation of the barely-started but promising economic campaign against China.
Equally significant is last year's grievous policy debacle. Prior to the Dalai Lama's visit to Washington DC in November 1998, and seemingly in response to Jiang Zemin's demands, a number of official announcements were made of "major concessions" to China. Even a trial balloon seems to have been floated in the German magazine Die Woche(later denied) where acceptance of Tibet and even Taiwan as inalienable parts of China were hinted at. But China decided it had no need for dialogue with the Dalai Lama and slammed the door shut on any possible negotiations. Depressing and shameful as this incident was, it was unfortunately only the latest in a long line of such ignominious and futile capitulations.
The period of crisis looming over our society now is, without doubt, not only extremely dispiriting and confusing, but also morally debilitating. This can be seen in the vicious religious and political conflicts within the exile community, and the search for a new life in the West by many, especially younger, Tibetans. But such a period of crisis can be one pregnant with hidden opportunities. Nature has provided compensations for even her worst catastrophes. Volcanic eruptions and floods cause immense destruction and suffering, but they also bring about the renewal of the land in the deposit of rich volcanic soil and fertile loess. Great crises, by their very nature, herald change. Whether that change will be beneficial or not seems, to a large degree, dependent on the ability of people to adapt to that change and to use it boldly and effectively.
birth of the Freedom Struggle
Once again, as in 1959, the Tibetan people are being called upon by history to make a choice. Inside Tibet, after decades of soul-destroying Communist indoctrination and the most cruel and unrelenting system of repression in the world, the Tibetan people's hopes for Rangzen still stubbornly refuse to be crushed - a recent expression of this being the demonstration and hunger-strikes in Drapchi prison resulting in the shooting deaths and executions of an unknown number of prisoners. In exile, despite the confusion, apathy and erosion of political and moral integrity, the sacrifice of Thupten Ngodup and the courage and determination of the Tibetan Youth Congress-led hunger strikers last year, and this year's TYC hunger strike in Geneva, clearly demonstrates the depths of national feeling among the common people.
now: the reality
In China itself, contrary to all the speculations and ill-founded hopes that it was becoming more democratic (and hence amenable to dialogue with the Dalai Lama, or so went the theory) we have had at the end of 1998 large-scale arrests of democracy activists and the clear hard-line declaration by Jiang Zemin on 18th December, 1998 to the entire nation that China would never tread the path of democracy. To drive this message home, as it were, Jiang repeated it a couple of days later, in addition vowing that China would crush any challenge to Communist Party monopoly on power. Immediately afterwards, China targeted the publishing and entertainment industries, mandating harsh punishment for those found guilty of "inciting to subvert state power". The rule covers writing, music, movies, television, video recordings or any material that "endangers social order". This flurry of hard-line reversion came almost immediately after China signed the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in October 1998.
Repression in Tibet has always been a far more brutal and pitiless sort of business than that practised in China. It has also had distinct racist and genocidal characteristics which are inadequately conveyed by the term "human rights abuse" generally used by the Tibetan government and its supporters. There is probably no place in the world now (except for North Korea) controlled in the Stalinist police-state method as Tibet, most noticeably Lhasa city. To a great extent this is overlooked by Western tourists, visiting Tibet experts and even na‘ve exile-Tibetan visitors, too ignorant of the chameleon qualities of the Chinese totalitarian system, and impressed, in spite of themselves, by the scale of China's brave new capitalist society - and maybe sometimes tempted by the opportunities.
But behind the superficial facade of discos, karaokes and four-star hotels, the Chinese government's chillingly unambiguous "Merciless Repression" and "Strike Hard" policies are being rigourously enforced. The slave labour camps (laogaidui), the police, the Public Security Bureau (gonganju), the traditional "mutual watch" (baojia) system (implemented through work teams, re-education teams, neighbourhood committees, neighbourhood security departments, and informers), the People's Armed Police and the military, operate completely unfettered by anything remotely resembling independent courts, a free press, civic bodies, independent watch-dog organisations, moral or religious voices, the presence of even a single representative of the world media, or rambunctious university students. Even in the worst governed countries in South East Asia, South America or Africa one usually finds some such institution or the other, frustrating, if not preventing, the kind of absolutism of tyranny that Chinese leaders practise with impunity in Tibet.
Monks at every monastery in Tibet are now being forced to undergo political re-education. Party control of monasteries is being rigourously enforced and the number of fresh recruits rigidly regulated. Reports have appeared even in the official Tibet Daily, of monasteries in Eastern Tibet being closed and many others being destroyed outright, in campaigns frighteningly reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution. From inside the "TAR" there are confirmed reports of destruction and closure of such important institutions as the 700 years-old Jonang Kumbum and the 12th century Rakhor nunnery, besides others.
The Chinese leadership seems to have realised that the strength of Tibetan cultural and national identity makes the Tibetan people unable to accept Chinese rule. Chen Kuiyuan, Tibet's party secretary, has come out very clearly and declared that the enemy to integrating Tibet fully into China is Tibetan cultural identity. It is for this reason that Tibetan religion, culture and literature, allowed limited expression in the last fifteen to twenty years, is once again being stifled. Tibetan language is being actively discouraged and even threatened with extinction by Chinese official policies.
Besides the repression, increasing Chinese immigration into Tibet has been equally effective in undermining Tibetan identity. It has brought about major unemployment and the rapid pauperisation of the Tibetan population, accompanied by the consequent social problems of alcoholism, criminalisation and sexual degradation.
Few other people are so specifically defined by geography or climate except perhaps for Eskimos, Bedouins and Polynesian Islanders. But very early in their history Tibetans managed to transcend this merely environmental affinity to create a powerful national identity through the unification of the various kingdoms and tribes throughout the plateau. The sense of wonder and pride that these first inhabitants of a united Tibet felt for their new nation is evident in this extract from an ancient song on the manifestation of the first emperor of Tibet:
centre of heaven,
Though the imperial period of Tibetan history ended around the tenth century, its legacy of nationhood was permanent. Later monarchs like Phagdru Jangchub Gyaltsen (1302-1364) and the Great Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) consciously drew inspiration from the imperial age in their efforts to create a united and free Tibet. More recently the Great 13th Dalai Lama's (1876-1933) untiring and monumental struggle to regain and later defend Tibetan independence, was no less an expression of this heritage of national freedom that Tibetans have maintained throughout their history.
It is absolutely essential we Tibetans understand how longstanding and legitimate our claims to nationhood are. Many nations in this world are, in a sense, largely products of history. The United States, Canada, and Australia do not derive their true national origins from the land as Tibet does. Other countries like Kuwait, Jordan, Singapore, and some African states are creations of Western colonial policy, or the debris of colonial rule. More recently, out of the collapse of the former Soviet Union, countries like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, etc. - which never existed as nations in history, have come into being. This is not to argue that Tibet has any more right to exist as a nation than these countries - after all it is the natural and fundamental right of all peoples to determine their own way of life - but to underline the fact that Tibet's status as a nation is at least as legitimate as that of any other country in the world. That we did not join the League of Nations or the United Nations, or that some big powers did not recognise Tibet as a nation, because they did not want to jeopardise their trade links with China, does not detract from this legitimacy.
The fact that Tibet has, for periods of its history, been conquered by foreign powers or that some Tibetan ruler used foreign military backing to gain political control of the country also makes no difference to its rightful status as a free nation Even when Tibet's political and military power had declined considerably in the 18th and 19th centuries and a degree of Manchu rule was exercised over the country, the uniqueness of Tibet's civilisation and its racial and national identity was recognised by people all over Asia, not least by the Manchus themselves who only appointed Manchus and Mongols of high birth as their commissioners in Tibet, never a Chinese. In fact Manchu relations with Tibet were handled by the Li Fan Yuan (one of the two "departments" of the Manchu "Foreign Office") which also handled relations between the Manchu court and Mongol princes, Tibet, East Turkestan (Xinjiang) and Russia. Tibet and especially its capital, Lhasa, was regarded by Buriats and Kalmucks in Russia, and millions of Mongols as the centre of their culture and faith. The Russian explorer Prejevalsky in 1878 sent a memorandum to the Geographic society and the War Ministry "... He drew a picture of Lhasa as the Rome of Asia with spiritual power stretching from Ceylon to Japan over 250 million people: the most important target for Russian diplomacy."2
There is probably no country in the world that has not at one time or another been under the rule of another country. Few if any of the UN member states could claim independent statehood if they had to demonstrate a history of continuous and uncompromised independence. As the Irish delegate pointed out in the 1960 UN debate on Tibet, most of the countries in the General Assembly would not be there if they had to prove that they had never in the past been dominated by another country.
Britain was for nearly four hundred years a part of the Roman Empire. Russia was under the Mongols for well over two centuries, and of course the United States started off as a British colony. China itself was ruled both by the Mongols and Manchus, and repeatedly defeated in war by the Tibetans who even captured and briefly held the Chinese capital of Chang An in 763 A.D. Though the Chinese now affect, for obviously self-serving reasons, that their Mongol and Manchu conquerors were regular Chinese dynasties it cannot really mask the xenophobic hatred that the Chinese felt (and even now feel) for their foreign rulers. After the fall of the Manchu dynasty there were large-scale massacres of Manchus in cities like Xi'an. And lest we forget, a large part of China was under Japanese occupation earlier this century.
Rangzen is a legacy that has been passed on to us by countless generations of Tibetans. But even more significant is that Rangzen is the birthright of generations of Tibetans yet to come. No one now has the right to make a decision that will deny this heritage of life and freedom to them in the future.
Rangzen is absolutely essential
Yet even relatively benign foreign rule appears on the face of evidence to be detrimental to the culture and morale of the native people. Australia and Canada are developed countries with rich economies and various democratic institutions to protect the rights of its people, including (at least these days) its indigenous population. But the native people in these countries are in most cases demoralised, stricken with poverty and disease and victim to alcoholism and despair; a situation disturbingly similar to what is beginning to happen inside Tibet.
It seems that the only way to survive under foreign rule with any self-respect is by constantly defying the oppressing power and not losing the hope of an eventual freedom. Even the respect of your conqueror is granted, it seems, only if you resist his tyranny. Of all the millions of native Americans who suffered and died under the injustice and violence of the white man, only the names of great war chiefs like Geronimo, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud and Sitting Bull are still remembered with respect by Americans. Those native leaders who tried to live peacefully under the white man and went to Washington DC to submit to the "Great White Father" are forgotten. George Orwell, in one of his newspaper columns, reflected on the fact that though the ancient civilisations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome had rested entirely on slavery, in the same way as modern society depends on electricity or fossil fuels, we sadly cannot recall the name of a single slave, except perhaps for Spartacus. And we remember him "...because he did not obey the injunction to 'resist not evil', but raised violent rebellion."3
The hope for any kind of autonomous status under China is not realistic because it assumes that the Chinese system is flexible enough or tolerant enough to accommodate different political or social systems within it. One can envisage autonomous areas within, let us say, a nation like India because of its genuine functioning multi-cultural and multi-racial makeup, and its democratic institutions like the constitution, the free press, free elections and an independent judiciary to prevent the government or a dominant group from suppressing the rights of another group. But this is something that by its very nature the Chinese leadership cannot do. The Chinese leaders are as much victims as their people of a long and oppressive cultural and political legacy - what a leading Australian sinologist, W.J.F. Jenner, has termed "the tyranny of history" - which has paralysed the realisation of positive fundamental changes in Chinese society and politics. Jenner raises "...the dreary possibility that China is caught in a prison from which there is no obvious escape, a prison continually improved over thousands of years, a prison of history - a prison of history both as a literary creation and as the accumulated consequences of the past."4
The "one nation, two systems" granted to Hongkong is an exception primarily because it is advantageous to Beijing. In fact if China had not made that concession it would probably have damaged confidence in Hongkong's economy and caused China a crippling economic disaster. Furthermore the people of Hongkong are Chinese and have no history of defiance to any authority. Hongkong society is as thoroughly an economic society as one can find anywhere in this world; one where the inhabitants are willing to put up with any kind of rule, foreign or despotic, as long as they are allowed to make money. The granting of one nation two systems to Hongkong is entirely without risk because the people of Hongkong, as they have demonstrated, are incapable of any serious effort or struggle for freedom. In spite of this China has openly begun nibbling away at the Basic Law that was supposed to guarantee the ex-colony's freedom.
Unlike Hongkong, Tibetans passionately feel they are different in every way from the Chinese. Economic improvement in the lives of Tibetans in Tibet, even if it did happen (which it hasn't in a meaningful sense) would not significantly alter their feelings in this regard. It must be remembered that the Lhasa demonstrations occurred at a time when the economic situation in Tibet had markedly improved in comparison to the preceding period. The Tibetan attitude in this matter is best expressed in this excerpt from a dissident document which was circulating in Tibet in the late eighties: "If (under China) Tibet were built up, the livelihood of the Tibetan people improved, and their lives so surpassed in happiness that it would embarrass the deities of the Thirty-Three Divine Realms; if we were really and truly given this, even then we Tibetans wouldn't want it. We absolutely would not want it."5
Furthermore, unlike Hongkong, Tibet is dangerous because even a small concession of autonomy would encourage Tibetans not only to demand, but to rise up violently, for independence. In fact, one of the reasons for the 1987 Lhasa demonstrations was the relaxation of earlier repressive policies. Even if in the most unlikely future China were to agree to some kind of autonomous status for Tibet it would have to maintain its full apparatus of repression in Tibet, as it is doing now, to crush the inevitable resurgence of the desire and struggle for independence - which would negate the very idea of autonomy. It is as Catch-22 a situation as any.
can be achieved
The Western media's self-serving depiction of China as a dynamic modern country with an exciting ever-growing economy certainly contributes to the general acceptance of China's invincibility. Tibetans who get their news through Time or Newsweek or other organs of Western business interests should not feel too discouraged. Nazi Germany got pretty much the same kind of press, till World War II broke out. A riffle through the back issues of The Times - apologias after nauseating apologias for Hitler and Nazism, and unrelievedly spiteful attacks against a pre-primeministerial Churchill - should cure one of any undue faith in the infallibility or fairness of the western press.
In China's case some human rights violations are occasionally reported but these are invariably soft-peddled as short-term problems, assuredly disappearing with the 'democratisation' of China - an inevitable process resulting from the adoption of market capitalism. Capitalism may or may not be a good thing, depending on one's point of view, but to say that its adoption leads to democratisation is patently misleading. When the examples of Taiwan's and South Korea's democratisation are trotted out as vindication of this theory, what is not mentioned is Singapore's success in perpetuating and even promoting a very sinister kind of authoritarian capitalism. The world's longest-incarcerated political prisoner, Chia Thye Poh, has been held in a Singapore jail for 32 years without charge or trial merely for expressing opposing views to the government. It must be remembered too that Nazi Germany was a capitalist country with the state helpfully providing slave labour to the factories of Krupps, Thyssen, Volkswagen, BMW, and Siemens; and with private companies in neighbouring Sweden conveniently manufacturing and supplying the chemical Zyklon B, to gas Jews, Slavs, gypsies and other enemies of the Third Reich.
The reality of China is a country in terminal decline, or even by the most generous of observations - a nation in profound crisis. It is not the place here to address the issue in detail, but increasingly the world is waking up to the realisation that all the noise and fanfare of China's economic miracle are in fact covering up a deep and profound malaise. Scholars and experts are beginning to write and comment on this. Some experts even argue that China's attempts to avoid the Soviet Union's problems by its hardline anti-democratic policies could at best merely postpone the inevitable consequences of fifty years of disastrous Communist rule. There is also the strong possibility that this postponement will make the future situation in China even more unmanageable and chaotic than the present Russian mess.
He Qinglian, a Chinese economist, came out last year with an insightful and searing indictment of Deng's liberalisation. Her book Zhongguo De Xianjing (China's Pitfall) has had extraordinary sales in China (though recently her Shanghai publishers are facing charges of sedition). She argues that the Chinese political and economic system will eventually destroy itself. "The systematic corruption in which pursuit of private interest undermines society's legal system and public morality will inevitably kill (China's) reform before it matures."6
The scale of official corruption as reported by He Qinglian is staggering. Opportunistic officials have during the 1990's shaken loose at least 500 billion yuan from state funds intended for purchase of state grain, education and disaster relief, to use in private speculation on real-estate and other ventures. Another way in which power-holders and their hangers-on plundered public wealth was through bank loans. Such loans to state enterprises and private ventures owned by officials and their relations are mostly never recovered. China's banks announce only part of their bad debt publicly. The official figure is that 20% of loans are "non-performing" but the actual figure may be between 40% and 60%. International banks observe a bad debt ratio of under 3%. In the spring of 1998, the state banks in Guangdong announced bad debts of 200 billion yuan, but inspectors sent from Beijing found the actual figure to be four times that amount. By international standards China's banks are bankrupt, and deeply so.
An alarming decline in agriculture, increasing water scarcity and an exploding population has led to large-scale buying of food-grain by China from other countries, including India. Small but heavily industrialised nations like Japan, Taiwan and Korea import most of their food-grain, but China, because of its size, makes such impossible demands on supply that experts are predicting a global food crisis. Farmland in China is being bought up by speculators for wildcat development schemes. Peasants, discouraged by inflation and state-controlled grain prices, are illegally migrating to the cities in the millions, adding to the already large-scale problems there of crime, social unrest and unemployment. This last problem is compounded by the attempted closure of China's bankrupt state-run industries and the laying-off of many millions of workers and cadres. The beginning of this year has seen large-scale demonstrations and rioting by Chinese farmers and jobless workers throughout the country.
Environmentally the country has been a basket case long before the eco-disasters of Mao's Great Leap and even before the advent of modern industrialisation. Every bit of land that could be sustainably cultivated was cleared and planted long ago, and forest and wetlands had disappeared from China proper even in imperial times. In 1889 lightning struck the Temple of Heaven (Tiantan) in Beijing and burnt it to the ground. Piece by piece the Chinese reproduced it, but even by then China's forests were so impoverished that its four central pillars had to be imported from Oregon. The inability of the present Chinese leadership to prevent, or at least limit this ecological destruction, and its obsession with megalomaniacal monuments like the Three Gorges Dam, make it more than likely that China's near future will be beset with catastrophic man-made "natural" disasters like last year's record-breaking flooding of the Yangtze.
The richer coastal provinces are beginning to distance themselves from the rest of the country. The PLA has become an empire in its own right with its own industries, businesses and five star hotels - though the leadership is attempting, somewhat unsuccessfully, to curb that. A possible future scenario for China is a reversion to the "Warlord Period" of the twenties and thirties with virtually independent provinces and power groups doing as they please, but conceding some kind of nominal acknowledgement to a weak and corrupt central authority in Beijing, in the spirit of Chinese solidarity.
Without going so far as to make specific predictions, it is not difficult to see that a gradual and peaceful transition to a democratic China is a near impossibility. Social unrest in China has no legitimate outlets except insurrection and violence. The Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing issued a very likely understated but even then astonishing, report that 2,500 bomb blasts were recorded in the first nine months of 1998. This year, in January alone, 12 different bomb explosions have been reported causing 33 deaths and over 100 injuries.
Chinese leaders themselves are very nervous about the situation, which probably explains their harsh crackdown on the few members of the quite unknown and quite insignificant democracy group. It can also probably explain why the reporting of an earthquake without official permission has recently been declared a crime. Traditionally, Chinese have regarded natural phenomena such as comets and earthquakes as signs of the end of a dynasty.
The possibility for anarchy and chaos is very real. In such an eventuality windows of opportunity for the realisation of Tibetan independence would certainly open up. Of course we will have to seize such moments decisively and forcefully. The Chinese, no matter how weak or in disarray, are definitely not going to hand Tibet back peacefully or willingly. At the same time it must be stressed that achieving Rangzen does not merely depend on waiting for China to self-destruct. Tibetans could contribute to that process by bringing about destabilisation inside Tibet and by organising international economic action against China.
We must always bear in mind that even at the best of times China's resources are strained. Reports of district officials not being paid for many months, even a year or two, not unusual these days. In Chabcha county in Amdo local officials had not been paid for so long that two desperate Chinese officials committed suicide by drowning in the river. But in the "Tibet Autonomous Region" (especially in Lhasa), Beijing, in order to maintain pressure on "splittists" has to ensure, even if with the greatest difficulty, that all its officials, its vast army of security personnel, and even informers, are regularly paid. China probably spends far more to combat the active and growing insurgency in East Turkestan.
Even if in the event China does not fall apart but becomes weakened by its present travails, the opportunity still exists for Tibetans to create, or contribute to, a situation where China's resources are dangerously overextended, and where the leadership in Beijing may have to eventually reconsider the wisdom of clinging to their peripheral colonies at the cost of China's own stability and integrity.
According to a study of viceregal government in Sichuan under the Zhao brothers, Zhao Erfeng and Zhao Erxun, the province overextended itself by imposition of direct Chinese rule into Eastern Tibet, and the invasion of Tibet proper in 1909, which among other factors like tax rises in the province caused the rebellion of September 1911 in Sichuan. This in turn caused the Wuchang Uprising, bringing about the downfall of the Manchu Empire and the formation of the Republic. Of course, the fall of the dynasty had other and more fundamental causes, but the Sichuan revolution, caused in part by Chinese overextension in Tibet, was in the words of the author of this study "the fuse of the double ten revolution and part of its explosive force."7
give up now?
Yet no matter how grave the fact of Chinese immigration into Tibet, we must bear in mind that this is not an entirely irreversible condition. Stalin forced large-scale immigration of Russians into small non-Russian nations like Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In 1939 the combined population of these three states numbered about six million, about that of Tibet's. Stalin also executed thousands of the native people of these countries and deported hundreds of thousands of others to Siberia. It was generally thought in the world then that these countries were finished. In the fifties, sixties and seventies the very existence of these countries seemed to have been eradicated from human memory, in spite of the fact that the officially recognised representatives of those nations maintained their presence in London and New York. Even the Nobel prize winning Polish writer, Czeslaw Milosz, born and educated in Lithuania, and speaking out for the Baltic people in the concluding chapter of his book The Captive Mind, leaves a lingering and sorrowful impression that like the Aztecs wiped out by the Spanish conquistadors, the history of these ancient Baltic nations had come to an end.9
But now these small nations are free, and the fears and sorrows of yesteryear have vanished like bad dreams. Though these states still have considerable Russian populations, they are not the absolute threats to the survival or integrity of these nations as it was once thought they were.
The essential thing to bear in mind is that these small nations, once believed to be completely eradicated by Soviet totalitarianism and Russian immigration, are now free countries - flying their ancient flags, speaking their own languages and living in freedom.
Tibet never disappeared quite so completely as the Baltic States, even during our worst period under the Chinese. And right now, in spite of the cynicism of governments and business interests, Tibet enjoys considerable attention in the world. Certainly, it is not always the kind of attention we want. Nevertheless there is increasing awareness of Tibet throughout the world and a growing concern for its plight. If there was a period when we might have been forgiven for giving up it would be the sixties and seventies when it definitely seemed that International Communism and Chinese control of Tibet would go on forever, in a soecula soeculorum; and when most intellectuals or celebrities in the free world appeared to be besotted with Communist China and Mao's Thoughts.
Right now Tibet enjoys an unprecedented attention and sympathy in the world that is quite remarkable. Even high profile issues like the Northern Ireland or Palestine do not receive quite the kind of sympathy and curiosity that Tibet does. The fact that this does not translate as a matter of course to political support for the Tibetan cause is certainly unfortunate. We Tibetans must accept partial blame for this in our inability to present our political objectives clearly and consistently to the world. In fact these inconsistencies have spread confusion among our own supporters and bogged down every kind of activism on behalf of the cause. Yet the opportunity of transforming this international good-will for Tibet to active support for the Freedom Struggle is more than a possibility. It does not require great imagination to see that we could badly hurt Chinese commercial and diplomatic interests all over the world, just through peaceful activism - if we first clearly defined our objectives and then stuck to them.
the hope of independence is vital
The hope of independence is vital for people inside Tibet. Keeping alive the freedom struggle in exile gave people inside Tibet hope, and in spite of the terrible sufferings they underwent, made them feel that their world was not totally finished. In order for Tibetans to preserve their identity, culture and religion the hope of a free Tibet must always be preserved. If we resign ourselves to being a part of China then we will certainly lose our identity. We might be allowed to remain Buddhist, but we must bear in mind that there are a lot of other Buddhists in China. We will just become another Chinese Buddhist sect.
dimension of Rangzen
The real battles for freedom are fought in local and mostly desperate struggles, by people prepared to give up not just respectability and careers, but even their lives. Freedom struggles are by their very nature disruptive. There is an unsettling quality to even the mildest of them that finds echo in this old exhortation, "Fiat iusticia, et pereat mundis, Let justice be done though the world perish". Yet however disruptive, however much a source of economic loss and human suffering, the indomitable struggles of Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela inspire freedom loving people all over the world, far more than, let us say, the well intentioned efforts of diplomats, career activists or even the Secretary General of the UN to ensure what can essentially be described as the preservation of the status quo.
Each victory of freedom over tyranny is a tremendous boost to other causes. I am sure Tibetans remember how genuinely thrilled and encouraged we were when Bangladesh became independent. Similarly the success of the Tibetan freedom struggle would represent a victory for the democratic forces in Burma, for independent Taiwan, for the freedom of the Uigurs of East Turkestan and the people of Southern Mongolia.
After India gained her independence a whole succession of African and Asian nations also became free from their European colonial masters. In the nineties with the fall of the Berlin wall another series of countries gained their freedom, this time from the Soviet yoke. Tibetan independence could well precipitate, or at least herald, a new era of freedom not only for neighbouring countries such as Burma, East Turkestan, and Southern Mongolia but even for China itself.10
must be done
Active Confrontation of Chinese Tyranny
So far the struggle that has taken place inside Tibet has had little, except moral, support from the outside. Even on that level our contribution has definitely been mixed. For instance the present decline of activism inside Tibet, though largely the consequence of massive Chinese crackdown, has resulted partly from our ill-founded announcements of imminent dialogue with China, and by the exile leadership's appeal for cessation of activities harmful to the Chinese economy its and call for "constructive engagement" with China.
We must refocus the goal of Rangzen through a publicity campaign inside Tibet. We must ensure sufficient funds, equipment, and training of groups and individuals inside Tibet and also ensure that the dependants of those engaged in such actions, or those who have lost their lives or been imprisoned through such actions, will be properly taken care of. The struggle inside Tibet can be greatly revitalised if we on the outside provided more than just sympathy, and instead joined hands with those inside with funds, ideas, and new technology. Of course this is going to be difficult, painful and dangerous. But these are fundamental conditions for a genuine freedom struggle. Anything involving birth and creation is of necessity accompanied by trauma. A woman undergoes as much to give birth to a child. We must be prepared to endure even more to bring forth a new era of freedom and happiness for our ancient nation.
Internationally we must conduct an unrelenting economic campaign against China. To those who protest that we will never achieve the kind of total international economic sanctions against China like the one imposed on South Africa, it should be pointed out - without conceding in the least to such pessimism - that with China's economic growth slowing down every year it is probably not even necessary to go that far. Maybe a 5% , even 3% dent in China's trade figures could tilt the balance. And surely with all our support groups, dharma centres, celebrity supporters and friends throughout the world we could manage at least that. The climate for such a campaign is dramatically improving with increasing international disillusionment with doing business in China. In the USA revelations of extensive Chinese spying in industry and defence, and a massive and growing trade deficit with China has created a new and positive environment for such activism.
The Deeds and Sacrifices of Patriots Must be Adequately Acknowledged
Though our school text-books are full of the lives of saints and lamas, no mention is made of our heroes and patriots. This virtual censorship of our recent history has created the impression in our society that the common Tibetan lacks patriotism, while of course the reverse is true. It is important we create not just a system but a moral climate where courage, sincerity and love of country are recognised and rewarded, and where hypocrisy, sycophancy and self-aggrandisement are rejected.
Democracy Must Be Fundamental to the Freedom Struggle
To the oppressed people of Tibet democracy represents not only a goal of eventual freedom from Chinese tyranny but also the best hope for a genuinely just and equitable government of their own choice. As such the promise of a genuine democratic Tibet will be an effective repudiation of Chinese propaganda claims that independence would mean a reversion to theocratic feudalism. Hence democracy becomes a potent weapon for the cause and its genuine and effective implementation in our exile-society an absolute necessity for the credibility of the Freedom Struggle. Though a small beginning has been made to implement democracy in exile, there is no doubt that much more needs to be done.
The Patron-Seeking Mentality Must Be Eliminated
Our own establishment's recent capitulation to Taiwanese financial patronage is a good case in point. Since 1959 the Tibetan government rightly condemned any Tibetan taking money from Taiwan - since Taiwan was hostile to our cause and claimed Tibet to be part of China. For years this issue was the cause of the most intense, even violent and lethal conflicts within refugee society. Although Taiwan has not altered its stand on Tibetan sovereignty and has in fact greatly harmed the independence struggle through financial subversion of individual Tibetan officials and high lamas, the Tibetan government has now become an enthusiastic recipient of donations from Taiwan. All those loyal (mostly poor) Tibetan refugees who steadfastly held out against the blandishments of Taiwan agents now find themselves being jeered at as fools by their less scrupulous countrymen who have not only become rich but happily vindicated as well.
Many in exile Tibetan society, especially in the clergy, have made it a way of life to depend on outside sponsors even if, at times, these sponsors do not have our best interests in their heart. One is not just talking of Taiwan here, but even certain individuals and organisations in the West, who in spite of their professed admiration for the Dalai Lama and concern for Tibet, are clearly working to promote Chinese interests. Our degrading and ruinous national habit of seeking patrons and patronage, has its roots in the practise of successive Tibetan rulers to solicit and depend on the support of Mongol and later Manchu rulers of China in what we conveniently call the choyon or patron-priest relationship. This has been, without doubt, been a major cause of Tibet's downfall.
Tibetan Society Must Become Dynamic and Progressive
Tibetan Politics Must Be Secularised
At the moment there is a disconcerting contradiction in the position of our exile government. On the one hand it advocates secularisation while at the same time it politicises religion by making it a basis for elections. In fact, in this year's General Body Meeting of the Tibetan government, a large number of participants vigorously condemned the system of allowing monks and nuns to have two votes - one on regional and the other on sectarian grounds - while the rest of the population have only a single vote.
National Policy Must Be Formulated Realistically
As Buddhists we Tibetans must certainly renounce violence except as an instrument of national defence or a means to ensure the survival of the Tibetan people. Buddhism does not rule out the use of violence in the defence of one's country as this story illustrates:
Once a general went to the Buddha and asked him "As a soldier it is my duty to see that the laws made by my king are obeyed and also to start wars on the orders of the king. Will Tathagath not permit me to punish those who are guilty of violating the laws? Will he not allow one to fight to protect the honour and life of one's dear and near ones? Does Tathagath think that even a war for righteous causes is to be condemned?"
The Buddha replied: "Yes, Tathagath is of the strict view that a war in which brother kills his brother human being is deplorable. But Tathagath fully supports a war for a righteous cause as a last resort."
Even in the Charter of the United Nations a country has the sovereign right to wage war in its defence. The Great Thirteenth Dalai Lama in the conclusion of his Political Testament gave this advice on defending Tibetan sovereignty against Chinese aggression:
"... we should make every effort to safeguard ourselves against this impending disaster. Use peaceful means where they are appropriate; but where they are not appropriate do not hesitate to resort to more forceful means."
Tibetan Sovereignty is Sacred, Irrevocable and Paramount
We have also in the past effectively undermined our own position by our inability to be firm during difficult situations. The 17 Point Agreement is a good case in point. Official history claims we had no choice but to go along with this Chinese imposed agreement. But that is not exactly true. The Americans telegraphed the Dalai Lama in Dromo in 1950 and offered not just to seek asylum for him but to recognise Tibetan independence if the Dalai Lama were to renounce the 17 Point Agreement. We must remember that the Korean War had started in June that year and around the time when this offer was made Chinese troops were attacking and pushing back the American 8th Army in Korea. It is hard to imagine a better moment for us to have secured effective American help against the Chinese.
There are other instances in our history when we had the opportunities to further the Freedom Struggle but where we instead chose the immediately easier but ultimately fatal option of going along with the Chinese. In fact such an approach has become institutionalised in the Tibetan establishment in exile and there is a pathetically naive tendency to regard such self-defeating behaviour as devilishly clever and realistic. A good example is the current course of action being advocated by officialdom: that we negotiate with the Chinese for autonomy; and if we succeeded and got to return to Tibet, then to start manoeuvring for independence. However much we may dislike the Chinese it is dangerous and foolish to think they could be taken in by such a childish trick.
2. Donald Rayfield, the Dream of Lhasa: the Life of Nikolay Przhevalsky (1839-1888), Explorer of Central Asia (Ohio U.Press 1976), pp.52-53, III. in Robert A.Rupen, "Mongolia, Tibet and Buddhism or, A Tale of Two Roerichs" The Canada-Mongolia Review, A Journal of Mongolian Studies, VolV, Number 1, April 1979,p.4.
3. George Orwell, The Collected Essays Journalism and Letters of George Orwell Vol.3 As I Please 1943-45, Penguin Books, 1971, London, p. 231.
4. W.J.F. Jenner, The Tyranny of History:The Roots of China's Crisis, Penguin Books, 1994, London
5. Elliot Sperling, "The Rhetoric of Dissent" in Robert Barnett & Shirin Akiner (editors), Resistance and Reform in Tibet, Hurst, London, 1994, p.280.
6. Liu Binyan and Perry Link, "A Great Leap Backwards" Book review in The New York Review of Books, October 8,1998, of Zhongguo De Xianjing (China's Pitfall), Hongkong: Mingjing Chubanshe, 410 pages, Hongkong 1998.
7. S.A.M. Adshead, 1984, Province and Politics in late Imperial China. Viceregal Government in Szechwan,1898-1911. Scandinavian Institute of Asian Studies Monograph Series. London and Malmo: Curzon Press.
8. Or for that matter if we gave up independence would it help to stop human rights abuse in Tibet, or environmental degradation, or installation of nuclear missle sites?
9. Czeslaw Milosz, The Captive Mind, Penguin Books, 1980, London.
10. Some Chinese students in the West have stated that the defiant images of the 1987 Lhasa demonstration on Chinese national television made them aware that if was possible to defy the Communist authorities, and even contributed to inspiring the students rally at Tiananmen square.
Norbu was one of the conveners of the first Tibetan Youth Congress (1970), and member of the Central Executive Committee for ten years. He was also the creator of Tibetans-in-exile taxation scheme which has been the main source of funding for the exile government since 1972. Norbu has regularly commented on Tibetan and Chinese affairs in Tibetan, Indian and Western publications. A collection of his political essays were published as a book, Illusion and Reality (1989), by the TYC, to commemorate the Tienanmen massacre, an event Norbu had, in his writings, predicted as inevitable. Chinese authorities in Tibet have, on the other hand, derided his writings as being inconsequential as "the wings of a fly beating against a boulder."
Besides literary reviews and short stories Norbu is the author of Horseman in the Snow, (1978) the biography of a Khampa warrior. The book has also been translated into Japanese, Polish and French and reissued in English as Warriors of Tibet. His novel The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes and another collection of his selected writings, Shadow Tibet are expected in print by the end of 1999. For his writings Norbu has been awarded a bursary in 1991, by the Scottish Arts Council, along with eight other Scottish-based writers and poets. Norbu was editor of Mangtso (Democracy) (1993-1996), the largest independent Tibetan language newspaper.
Norbu has lectured on Tibetan culture and the Freedom Struggle at more than a hundred universities and institutions in the USA, Canada, Australia, France, India, Japan and the UK; at such venues as the Harvard Law School, The Harvard Education Forum, the John.F.Kennedy School of Government, MIT, Columbia University, the John King Fairbanks Centre for East Asian Research, Stanford University, U.C.L.A, U.C. Berkeley, The National Holocaust Memorial Museum (Washington D.C.) the Canadian Institute of International Affairs, the Royal Ontario Museum, Cambridge University, The Royal Academy of Arts (London), and others. He has also appeared on a number of TV and radio shows and interviews all over the world to argue the case for Tibet.
Norbu is at present a director of the Amnye Machen Institute, Tibetan
Centre for Advanced Studies, in Dharamshala, which was awarded the 1994
and 1996 Poul Lauretzen Freedom Award (Denmark). Besides its many publications
and educational and cultural programmes, the Institute has hosted the
First National Conference of Tibetan Writers (1995) and the Sea of Inhumanity,
the Conference on Tibet in the Cultural Revolution (1996). Norbu is
also the editor of Lungta, a journal on Tibetan history and culture
published by AMI.