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• feature articles

  Dalai Lama takes his case to Chinese émigrés

  Exposed: Beijing's failure in Tibet

  Pro Justice, Not Anti-China

  A talk with the Dalai Lama

  Zhang Boshu: the way to resolve the Tibet issue



Dalai Lama takes his case to Chinese émigrés

Although Beijing ignores his appeals, some Chinese are listening.

The Christian Science Monitor
By Amy Yee | Correspondent
from the June 11, 2009 edition

Dharamsala, India - When the Dalai Lama traveled to the Netherlands last week his Buddhist teaching was heard by 10,000 people and he was received by the mayor of Amsterdam.

But the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader had another engagement that was less in the spotlight but equally important: a private meeting with Chinese pro-democracy activists.

The Dalai Lama and about 30 Chinese émigrés, mainly from Europe, discussed the need for dialogue between Tibetans and Chinese and for reform in China. Trust between Tibetans and Chinese is crucial in reaching a solution for Tibet, the he emphasized during the meeting, which took place on the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests.

Reaching out to overseas Chinese – whether activists, journalists, Buddhists, or ordinary people – is a priority for the Dalai Lama. This soft diplomacy has taken on greater importance after talks with the Chinese government last fall broke down.

Although the Dalai Lama says his faith in the Chinese government is "thinning," he insists that his faith in Chinese people "is never shaken."

China contends that he aims to split the country by advocacy for a free Tibet. The Dalai Lama stresses that he wants autonomy for Tibet under China with better conditions for Tibetans, not independence from Beijing.

Still flamed over the torch

Last year, the Dalai Lama sought to defuse nationalistic anger among Chinese worldwide over disruption of the Beijing Olympic torch relay by pro-Tibet activists. He was "almost desperately trying to meet Chinese people," recalls Tenzing Sonam, a filmmaker who tracked the Dalai Lama around the world before the Olympics.

With Olympic fervor in the past, droves of Chinese protesters no longer greet the Dalai Lama on his global travels. Yet, reaching out to Chinese people remains an urgent priority for Tibet's spiritual leader, says Chhime Chhoekyapa, joint-secretary in the Dalai Lama's exiled government offices in Dharamsala.

"Governments will come and go. The most important thing is to reach out to Chinese everywhere so they understand His Holiness's stand. In the future, Chinese and Tibetans will have to live together," Mr. Chhoekyapa says.

Appeals for calm

This year, an aggressive Chinese clampdown on Tibet leading up to March 10 – the 50th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese forces – stifled major protests like the ones that had flared across Tibet a year earlier. On the anniversary, the Dalai Lama appealed to "Chinese brothers and sisters" and urged them "not to be swayed by propaganda, but, instead, to try to discover the facts about Tibet impartially, so as to prevent divisions among us."

Sympathies from some Chinese

Not all Chinese are appeased. Some maintain that the Dalai Lama is a "splittist." Chinese officials have branded him as a "wolf dressed in monk's robes."

Chinese who support the Dalai Lama and Tibet are often viewed as traitors, but some remain steadfast in their support.

Chin Jin, vice-chairman of the Federation for a Democratic China, has met with the Dalai Lama several times since their first meeting in 1992 in Sydney. Mr. Chin, a pro-democracy activist who emigrated to Australia, believes the Dalai Lama can help promote democracy in China.

"I hope the Chinese government will treasure the opportunity that the Dalai Lama is still alive and willing to take his peaceful route," he says.

Beauty on Tibet's 'surface'

Zhu Rui, a Chinese writer, lived in Dharamsala for several months this year and met the Dalai Lama. She first traveled to Tibet in 1997 and admits she had preconceived notions, like most of her compatriots. "Everyone thought the Dalai Lama was evil," she says. "No one knew the truth about Tibet."

While in India, Ms. Zhu became fascinated by Tibet's distinct culture. A year later, she settled in Lhasa as a journalist for the Chinese journal Tibetan Literature. Before emigrating to Canada in 2001, Zhu saw ruined monasteries in Tibet and undercover Chinese police at Tibetan festivals. She also Tibetans who had been jailed for decades.

"On the surface, everything looks beautiful," says Zhu. The reality, she says, is that Tibetans "live terribly." Zhu's beliefs about the Dalai Lama also changed when she saw how Tibetans in Tibet secretly revered banned photos of the spiritual leader.

"It's important for Chinese to come into contact with Tibetans," Zhu says. "If they understood the Dalai Lama they would understand Tibetan culture and history. They would understand why Tibet wants freedom."


Exposed: Beijing's failure in Tibet

John Garnaut Herald Correspondent in Beijing
Sydney Morning Herald
May 22, 2009

A SCATHING new report, perhaps the first of its kind from inside China since Tibet was brutally locked down in March last year, describes how Beijing's efforts to pour rivers of money into Tibet since 1989 to ensure "stability" have been spectacularly counter-productive.

The report, which is controversial for having been written by a group of Beijing scholars, says private-sector jobs went to ethnic Han Chinese from other provinces, and public money flowed into the pockets of a new elite which systematically portrayed community discontent as "separatism".

"They use every opportunity to play the separatism card," says Phun Tshogs Dbang Rjyal, a founder of the Communist Party in Tibet, who is quoted in the report.

"And they will try hard to apportion responsibility on 'overseas hostile forces' because this is the way to consolidate their interests and status and eventually bring them more power and resources."

The fieldwork was conducted by four Peking University journalism students who travelled to Lhasa and a Tibetan region of Gansu province in July.

It was written and recently published on the internet by the Open Constitution Initiative, a non-government organisation run by lawyers and intellectuals in Beijing.

The uprising that embroiled much of the Tibetan plateau from March 14 last year is considered one of the most serious challenges to Communist Party rule since 1949.

The report's existence defies a government propaganda and security blitz that exile groups say has led to hundreds of ethnic Tibetans being killed and thousands being incarcerated.

Authorities have blamed the violence on Tibetan "criminals", "hostile foreign forces" and "the Dalai Lama clique".

Xu Zhiyong, a human rights lawyer who helped prepare the report, said he hoped it would be picked up by Chinese media, but he held little hope that it would influence government officials.

But ethnic Tibetans are nevertheless heartened that a balanced account of the causes of last year's uprising can now exist in China.

"As a Tibetan I feel this report is very important," said Tsering Woeser, a Tibetan poet in Beijing. "This is a rare and treasured report under the current circumstances of one-sided official propaganda."

The report details how Beijing's heavy security and propaganda response further alienated ethnic Tibetans after the uprisings.

Monks, who were seen as "the divine clergy" by Tibetans, were mishandled and subjected to "socialist patriotic education". Even card-carrying Communist Party members were treated as security threats because of their ethnicity when visiting Beijing during the Olympic Games last year.

"Just because I was a Tibetan … no hotels allowed me in. This made me so angry," says a Tibetan woman called Baima Jizhong quoted in the report.

She was in Beijing to participate in a training session with the central Communist Youth League.

Perhaps most surprisingly to outsiders, the report describes how many Tibetans have fond memories of the first three decades of Communist Party rule.

"The investigation study team found lots of Tibetan families are still hanging Mao's portrait … in their homes," it says.

Paradoxically, that vanished after Beijing switched from revolution to reform in the 1970s.


May 2009

Pro-Justice, Not Anti-China

by Amy Yee

Posted May 11, 2009

During the past year that I’ve reported on Tibetan issues from my base in India, one of the Dalai Lama’s recurring messages has struck a chord in me. It isn’t his well-known calls for peace, nonviolence and compassion. Rather, it’s his constant reminder that “We are not against Chinese people. We still have faith in Chinese people.”

The Dalai Lama repeated that again in March of this year, which marked the 50th anniversary of China’s rule in Tibet and his exile to India. That message has become his mantra as he travels the world and almost desperately tries to meet Chinese people.

His call has grown more urgent as he tries to defuse surging Chinese nationalism that peaked with the Olympics in Beijing. Official talks with Beijing broke down last autumn so the Dalai Lama’s outreach to Chinese people is the only way to advance the Tibet issue in China.

But I fear that his outreach to Chinese won’t work because reason is too easily obliterated by the flames of nationalism. Too many Chinese people confuse protests against the policies of the Chinese government with being anti-Chinese.

The Dalai Lama’s outreach to Chinese people isn’t lip service. I am Chinese, though born and brought up in the U.S. by immigrant parents. Even though I wear the face of the “enemy,” I have always been treated warmly by Tibetans during the considerable time I have spent in Dharamsala, home to the Dalai Lama and about 12,000 Tibetans. I have waited for a Tibetan to treat me bitterly or with scorn but it has never happened in dozens of interviews I have conducted here.

Many Tibetans can tell I’m Chinese and even call out "Ni hao!" as I walk through the streets of this hill town. Sometimes we converse in Mandarin, not out of any sense of obligation but because Tibetans still have an affinity with Chinese people even if their religion, language and culture have been repressed by the Chinese government.

After a four-hour prayer service in March, the Dalai Lama thanked the people in Tibet, the international community and “Chinese friends.” At a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of Tibet’s failed uprising against Chinese rule, the Dalai Lama shared the stage with 30 Chinese pro-democracy activists. Another group of 30 filmmakers and journalists from Taiwan were also present.

When Han Chinese travel to Dharamsala the Dalai Lama eagerly grants them a coveted private audience if they speak and write Chinese and can somehow convey his message into China.

Why this charm offensive with Chinese people? The Dalai Lama says that Tibetans and Chinese will have to live together in the future, no matter what happens. Communication and exchange is necessary, especially if official negotiations are fruitless.

Since 1994, the Tibetan government-in-exile has printed magazines and newsletters in Chinese. It also launched a Chinese-language website that attempts to convey his point of view within China to those savvy enough to get around Chinese blocks.

However, it is unclear whether the charm offensive is working. Chinese who support Tibet are suppressed in China and branded as traitors on Chinese blogs. When the Olympic torch passed through Canberra last year there were about 10,000 Chinese and some 1,500 pro-Tibet demonstrators.

When the Dalai Lama met with some Chinese in New York who were protesting his visit last year, he said five of the seven wouldn’t listen to him. Fortunately it was a large table or they might have slapped him, he admitted at a press conference last year.

Even overseas Chinese in the U.S., Australia and Europe where there is free media and access to information, waved signs that read “Dalai is a Liar.” I’m not sure what they accuse the Dalai Lama of lying about. He openly advocates autonomy for Tibet under Chinese rule, not separation as China insists.

Is he lying about human-rights violations in Tibet? Why not ask former political prisoners from Tibet who have sought refuge in India? Why not ask thousands of Tibetans who have been arrested since China began its harsh crackdown in Tibet a year ago? And if the list of those arrested is fake, as some claim, why not produce the Tibetan in question to show they are alive and well?

For all of China’s insistence that Tibetans are content and should be happy that they have longer life spans than 50 years ago, the forceful repression in Tibet indicates that something is terribly wrong. The wise thing to do would be to somehow come to the table to discuss how, at the very least, the plight of Tibetans in Tibet could be improved. Measures on improving education and access to jobs for Tibetans are well within China’s reach.

The Tibetans who rioted in Lhasa last year should not have resorted to violence and it is tragic that Chinese people died in the clashes, as the Dalai Lama himself has said. But why not allow an independent investigation into exactly what happened last year in Lhasa?

I know firsthand the effects of Chinese nationalism that can cloud reasoned judgment. Last summer my brother and I were at my parent’s house in Boston when the Olympic torch relay came up. My brother was angry and disgusted by the pro-Tibet protestors. I was taken aback by his response.

We grew up in a progressive part of Boston where activism and questioning of the establishment was de rigueur. U.S. policies were often raked over the coals during dinner table conversations.

But I knew why my brother was so angry. We are Chinese. I believe my brother was mistaking protests against the policies of the Chinese government with some slight against him as a Chinese person.

I didn’t start a heated debate. I simply told him what I knew from reporting in India, where I have lived since 2006. “They shot a 16-year-old Tibetan girl in the head,” I said, referring to Chinese security that shot and killed unarmed and peaceful Tibetan protestors in western China last year. “What’s wrong with protesting?”

I refrained from pointing out to my brother what he already knew: that I lived in China for two years, taught English to about 120 Chinese university students, learned Mandarin and traveled for nearly a month in Tibet in 1998. During that trip many Tibetans I met in Tibet were scared of me until I told them that I was American.

When I mentioned Lhundup Tso, the 16-year-old Tibetan girl whose body was photographed in a pool of blood, my brother’s face contorted. Perhaps his newfound sense of Chinese nationalism was battling with the education—based on reason, fact and analysis—that we both received. Fortunately the latter prevailed. “As long as it’s nonviolent,” he said grudgingly.

I glanced at my mother, who had threatened to disown me when I announced I was going to China after college partly because she feared what Chinese authorities might do to me. She prudently chose to remain silent.

It is easy to confuse protest against Chinese policies in Tibet with being anti-Chinese. But wanting a better way forward in Tibet is not anti-Chinese people or even anti-China. It is, as the Dalai Lama likes to say, pro-justice.

Amy Yee is a journalist based in New Delhi.


A talk with the Dalai Lama

May 5, 2009

IN A MEETING at the Charles Hotel in Cambridge last week, the Dalai Lama and more than 100 scholars from China showed how direct discussion can overcome irrational prejudices and official cant. Chinese academics needed a chance to encounter Tibet's spiritual leader without government interference.

The organizer of the event, Lobsang Sangay, a senior fellow at Harvard Law School, set out the simplest of ground rules: civil discourse and no photographs taken until after the discussion. Moderator Tu Weiming, professor of Chinese history and philosophy and Confucian studies at Harvard, urged all sides to allow a genuine exchange of ideas, celebrate their differences, and refrain from trying to convert others.

But the participants hardly needed coaching. The Chinese scholars were respectful and open-minded, often acknowledging false impressions they had originally held about Tibetans, the history of Tibetan-Chinese relations, and the role of the Dalai Lama. For his part, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists seemed to surprise many of the younger Chinese academics as he described the three- and four-hour audiences he had with Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing more than a half century ago.

Some in the audience were amused when the Dalai Lama said he had once been attracted to the moral principles of socialism, particularly its ideal of equal distribution, and had even asked to join the Chinese Communist Party. There were no challenges and no raised eyebrows, however, when he said that today there is a ruling Communist Party in China without communist ideology.

Free from official mediation, the academics heard the Dalai Lama say that he welcomes the material progress China had brought Tibet - but also that his people were suffering nonetheless because they lacked freedom of expression, religious freedom, and freedom from fear.

Drawing a distinction between autonomy for Tibet and political independence, he explained the request his envoys made to Chinese officials last summer, shortly after the violent clashes on the Tibetan plateau in March 2008. He said they had asked only for forms of autonomy consistent with those promised to national minorities in China's constitution - especially the right to preserve Tibetan language, culture, and religion. Yet Chinese officials falsely accused him of demanding independence for Tibet, calling him a liar and a demon.

The Chinese scholars who crowded around him afterward, snapping photos of themselves with the Dalai Lama, now know he is nothing like the figure depicted in Beijing's propaganda.

© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.


Zhang Boshu: the way to resolve the Tibet issue

By: Zhang Boshu
Keyword: Tibet riots olympic

Here is an assessment of the Tibet situation by Zhang Boshu (张博树) of the CASS Philosophy Institute in Beijing, translated for CDT by a reader who wishes to remain anonymous:

Zhang was born in Beijing in 1955. He received an MA in economics from Zhongguo Renmin Daxue in 1982 and in 1985 passed the entrance examination for the Institute of Philosophy of the graduate school of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. His research has been on critical theory in continental Europe in modern western philosophy. He obtained MA and PhD degrees in philosophy in 1988 and 1991. He has held a post in the Philosophy Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences from 1991 to the present. In recent years he has striven to understand the lessons of success and failure in the history of the past century of China’s democratic transition and institutional modernization. He has gradually settled upon criticism of 20th Century Chinese despotism as his main research topic.

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