Dalai Lama Is the Key to the “Tibetan Question”

Dalai Lama Is the Key to the “Tibetan Question”[1]


       On the surface, the Tibetan question is one of historical significance and concerns only the Dalai Lama, who has been in exile in India since 1959, and his some 100 thousand followers.  In actuality,  the real question exists within, not outside, Tibet.  The Tibetans in exile do not constitute any threat to China.  No matter how many demonstrations are held abroad, they can hardly affect the situation within China.  How can actions overseas, even as drastic as hunger strikes and immolations,  move a government that shot dead a few hundred civilians in its own capital for the sake of “stability”?  Overseas opinion has often exhorted Beijing along this line: if the Tibetan question is not solved quickly, the Tibetans in exile will eventually resort to violence.  Yet, to the Beijing regime that possesses the largest army in the world, such a threat is not even worth mentioning.

       It is the Tibetans within China that Beijing has to pay close attention to.  Their number is several tens of times larger than the Tibetans in exile, and they reside in a region that is about a fourth of China’s entire territory.  Do they willingly obey the government in Beijing, or do they harbor any animosity?  Will they always be docile citizens or rise in rebellion some day?  This is the real Tibetan question to Beijing.  In the final analysis, the national question is a question about people’s will.  If Beijing is concerned at all about the Tibetans in exile, it is only because of its anxiety about solidarity between them and the Tibetans at home.  Had the Tibetans at home been really “heartedly supporting the Communist Party” and “loving ardently the grand socialist family” as alleged by Beijing, Beijing would have forgotten the Tibetans in exile a long time ago.  By the same token, without the responses from the Tibetans within China, the Tibetan expatriates would have long time ago disintegrated, lost the support of international opinion, and diminished into historical oblivion.

       Naturally, to Beijing, this would be the most hoped-for conclusion.  This is also its strategy in dealing with the exiled Chinese dissidents after the June Fourth incident who have been successfully segregated from any support at home.  Unfortunately for Beijing, a Dalai Lama exists among the exiled Tibetans.  He cannot be vilified or forgotten; to all Tibetans, he is a “Bodhisattva” who gives meaning to life and significant to the pursuit of human life.  In the face of such a Bodhisattva, secular power, armed force, and political schemes seem to be no match.


Between People’s Will and “Development”

       Beginning with the Deng Xiaoping era, economic development has always been the focal point in Beijing’s thinking with regard to the administration of Tibet.  According to Deng Xiaoping, the criterion to judge the work in Tibet should be, “how it can benefit the Tibetan people, and how it can help Tibet develop at a fast speed so as to take a leading position in China’s four-modernization construction.”[2]  This policy was further clarified by Chen Kuiyuan, first secretary of the CCP committee of the Tibetan Autonomous Region who has been in charge of Tibet for nearly a decade: “The CCP Central Committee and the State Council have mobilized the country’s entire population to assist Tibet, helping Tibet speed up its development and the Tibetan nationality rid itself of poverty and become rich.  This is the most realistic and concrete nationality policy of the CCP.”[3]

       The past two decades have been a period in which Beijing has offered to the Tibetans the most substantial economic benefits in the history of the People’s Republic of China.  In 1997, Beijing’s financial allocation to Tibet was 324 times that for 1952, and seven times that for 1978.  In today’s Tibet, almost every major project relies on Beijing.  Without supplies and support from Beijing, the current Tibetan social system, at least in the cities, can hardly continue even for a few days.  In 1997, the financial allocation from Beijing was 3,397,760,000 RMB.  In the same year, Tibet’s own financial income was 295,370,000 RMB while its expenditure was 3,819,520,000RMB.  That is to say, without the money from Beijing, Tibet would have had a deficit that was thirteen times its income.  Based on the 1997 census Beijing provided 1,410RMB for each person in the Tibetan Autonomous Region that year.[4]  In the same year, there were at least five provinces in China (Gansu, Shaanxi, Guizhou, Yunan, and Qinghai) where the rural per capita income was lower than that figure.[5]  In other words, even if they had sat idly and done nothing, Tibetans would still have had an income larger than the amount earned by a year’s hard work of the tens of millions farmers in these provinces.

       At the twentieth and thirtieth anniversaries (1985 and 1995) of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, Beijing presented, respectively, “forty-three projects” and “sixty-two projects” to Tibet as gifts.  Altogether these projects cost five billion RMB, and they were completed by personnel from several designated provinces and municipalities in China proper.  After the “Third Symposium on Tibet Work” of 1994, Beijing especially designated ten provinces and municipalities in China proper to provide Tibet with free, long-term “assistance geared to their needs.”  In all China only the farmers and herdsmen in Tibet are exempt from taxation.  Although taxes are collected in Tibet’s cities, the tax money is spent entirely within Tibet.  Beijing’s favorable treatment of Tibet has often made other regions envious.  For instance, the import duties for Tibet used to be much lower than those for other regions (the duty on automobiles was 100% in other regions but only 10% in Tibet), and Tibet made a fortune by selling imported commodities to other areas.  Then, a great number of Tibetan enterprises and entrepreneurs took advantage of the policy and achieved their “primitive accumulations.”

       During the 1990s, favorable treatment enabled Tibet to achieve a yearly growth rate higher than 10%.  This was above the national average.  Between 1991 and 1997, in Tibet, urban residents’ incomes increased 19.6% on a yearly basis, and farmers’ and herdsmen’s increased 9.3% yearly.[6]  These are not merely figures on paper.  This year (2000) this writer visited Tibet and witnessed the conspicuous improvement of people’s living standards there.  In both the countryside and cities, new residential buildings could be seen everywhere.  Changes in cities like Lhasa were most astonishing.  The cultural content of the life aside, these cities are comparable to those in China’s hinterland in term of the convenience and comfort that they provide.  It can be asserted that in terms of economic development and standard of living, today’s Tibet has surpassed any previous period in history.  This is generally admitted by the people in Tibet.

       But, contrary to Beijing’s expectation, economic development and improvement of life have not won over people’s hearts in Tibet.  Rather, Tibetans have increasingly leaned toward the Dalai Lama who has not given them a penny.  In recent years, Tibet has appeared calm and turmoil like that of the 1980s’ has rarely been seen in the streets.  But, a deeper examination of the feelings of Tibetans can clearly discern where their hearts are.  The sound of reciting the Dalai Lama’s honorific titles can be heard constantly in the crowds along the ritual circuits or among the worshipers in the temples.  Many Tibetans’ daily prayer is to wish for the Dalai Lama’s well being and longevity.  Interestingly, when China’s pop star Zhu Zheqin was producing sound effects in Lhasa’s Jokhang Temple for “A Jie’s Drum,” an instant hit that would make her famous, an old Tibetan woman’s prayer was randomly recorded.  Not until the album began to circulate worldwide, however, did someone recognize that the old woman was praying for the Dalai Lama.  On public occasions such as religious holidays, frequently there were Tibetans who, despite the ban by the government, pray in groups for the Dalai Lama.  Today, among Tibetan youth, the most serious vow is made by invoking the Dalai Lama.  In recent years, the number of Tibetan children with “Tenzin” in their names has increased drastically because the current Dalai Lama’s name is Tenzin Gyatso.

       In every disagreement between Beijing and the Dalai Lama, no matter what is at stake,  the vast majority of the Tibetans take the Dalai Lama’s side.  In the controversy over the succession of the Panchen Lama, most Tibetans have accepted the Dalai Lama’s selection and rejected Beijing’s.  An object of Beijing’s “united front” stratagem, the Karmapa, head of the Kagyupa sect, did not occupy a very high position in the minds of the Tibetans.  But his prestige rocketed after he rallied to the Dalai Lama.  Prayers asking for the Karmapa’s protection used to be heard only in the temples of the Kagyupa sect.  Since his exile, these have spread everywhere in Tibet.  Nowadays nearly every Tibetan family enshrines the image of the Karmapa.  Because of his split with Beijing, he has risen from the leader of a sect to a leader that is supported by all the sects.  Among the Tibetans, he is widely viewed as a possible future successor to the Dalai Lama.

       Just like the Karmapa who gave up the glorious future prepared for him by Beijing, many Tibetans have made the same choice.  About this trend Secretary Chen Kuiyuan has this to say:

In recent years, many cadres, journalists, famous actors, and business managers have committed treason and fled abroad.  Some of them threw themselves directly into the Dalai clique, some joined in the anti-Chinese bloc of hostile Western forces.  Some of these people had received careful cultivation by the party and the state for a long time, but now they have become the core members of the separatist clique that is viciously attaching state unification, the Chinese Communist Party, and the Chinese nation.[7]

       Secretary Chen is the best informed person in Tibet, and his remark should be taken seriously.  Every year tens of thousands of Tibetans rally to the Dalai Lama in India, risking their lives by crossing the Himalayas.  Quite often, once in retirement, Tibetan party officials, even high ranking military officers, immediately began to make the ritual circuits and worship the Buddha.  Even those Tibetan youth who have since childhood acquired an education in China proper tend to become radical nationalists against the party.

       Take, for example, such a Tibetan official, an enthusiastic follower of the CCP in the 1950s.  At the time, even when working in the field, he would display the five-star red flag by tying it to the horns of his farm cattle.  Everyday he called his serfs together and propagated the CCP’s revolution.  His enthusiasm earned him a nick name, the “Han person.”  But this “Han person” is now classified by the authorities as one of those who have “serious nationalist emotions” and need to be repudiated.  What can be learned from such a dramatic change from a “Han person” to one having “serious nationalist emotions?”  This writer has analyzed some of the causes of the phenomenon elsewhere and will not repeat them here.[8]  It should be sufficient to point out that the principal cause is neither material nor economic, and it cannot be invalidated by “development.”  The official mentioned above has a comfortable life.  He lives in a spacious house with modern facilities, and his children are among the most successful individuals in Tibet today.  But whenever he talks about political subjects,  this official would become depressingly moody and emotionally agitated.  He  warned me not to presume that Tibet is now more stable than the “restive” period of the 1980s.  According to him, in that period only monks and some impassioned youth were making troubles, but now many cadres, intellectuals, and state employees are opponents; if one day the stable appearance is broken, a much greater number of people than that of the 1980s will take to the streets.


Anti-Dalai Campaign

       Why, after spending so much money in Tibet, is Beijing still unable to win over the hearts of the Tibetans?  The fundamental reason lies in Beijing’s hostility toward the Dalai Lama.  The Dalai Lama is not just an individual; he represents the Dalai genealogy and system that has sustained Tibet for more than five centuries.  In Tibetans’ reincarnationist perception, hostility toward one Dalai Lama is tantamount to hostility toward the entire Dalai genealogy, the entire Tibetan religious system, and the whole Tibetan nation.  If so, what difference can money make?

       For a while in the 1980s, Beijing contemplated winning over the Dalai Lama himself.  At the time there was a work project called “win over the Dalai clique and overseas Tibetan compatriots and return them to the motherland” (abbreviated in Chinese as zheng gui, or “win over and return”).  A special agency was set up to implement this project.  The “win over and return” project, however, made no meaningful progress because the gap between the two sides was too wide to bridge.  What Beijing promised the Dalai Lama was merely to restore his hollow titles as vice-chairman of the National People’s Congress and vice-chairman of the National Political Consultative Conference.  He would not be allowed to return to Tibet or to hold any post in Tibet concurrently.[9]  What the Dalai Lama demanded was nothing short of a democratic “high-degree autonomy” in “Greater Tibet.”  Pursuing objectives far apart, the two sides lacked a common ground for dialogue.  Beijing’s efforts, therefore, could not make any progress.

       Then, the Dalai Lama endeavored to break the deadlock by using the West to pressure Beijing to make concessions.  He succeeded in internationalizing the Tibetan question, and in the process he himself also grew into one of the most influential figures in the world.  Meanwhile, in the late 1980s protests and demonstrations materialized in the streets of Lhasa, and led to their bloody suppression by the authorities and, eventually, to martial law which continued for 419 long days.  These developments caused the West to lean completely to the side of the Dalai Lama, and the “Tibetan question” also became one of the issues used by Western governments to criticize Beijing.  Nevertheless, foreign pressure did not succeed in forcing Beijing to make concessions.  On the contrary, Beijing only lost its patience with “winning over” the Dalai Lama and increasingly ossified its stance.  At present, Beijing regards the Dalai Lama’s activities in the international scene as antagonistic behavior and blames the Dalai Lama for the troubles within Tibet.  According to Chinese officials in charge of Tibetan affairs: “Since September 27, 1987, scores of big and small riots have broken out in Lhasa.  To these the Dalai Lama not only issued statements of support but also provided money and men to help with organization and planning.  Surely, without the Dalai Lama’s open support and plotting, these ‘beating, smashing, and looting’ riots would not have happened in Lhasa, and those politically motivated explosions would not have occurred repeatedly.”[10]

       Only after the situation in Tibet deteriorated seriously did Beijing begin to realize that its “bringing order out of chaos” had trapped itself in an eerie circle: the Tibetans belong to a religious nation—the religion demands its believers’ unconditional obedience to the religious leader—the Dalai Lama was the religious leader of Tibet—at the same time he was also an exiled political leader.  According to the logic of the eerie circle, Tibet’s religious freedom would inevitably lead to the Tibetan nation’s worship of the Dalai Lama; as the religious leader, the Dalai Lama could  easily translate his spiritual influence over the Tibetans into political enticement for them to oppose Beijing, and thus turn religion into his political capital.  The dilemma in which Beijing was caught was clearly depicted by Secretary Chen: “As long as Dalai has a foothold in the spiritual realm, separatism will gain a vast political space, and we will be forced into a passive position in many undertakings.”[11]  Here the “spiritual realm” is just another name for the Tibetan religion.

       Obviously, it is impossible to return to the old policy of banning religion in Tibet.  So the Dalai Lama becomes the key to breaking the eerie circle.  In 1994, Beijing held the “Third Symposium on Tibet Work,” marking the beginning of a hardline approach to its management of Tibet.  Thereafter the Dalai Lama was viewed as the “snake head” that had to be hit first so as to control the “snake.”[12]  In 1995, after the Dalai Lama recognized the 11th Panchen Rinpoche ahead of Beijing, Beijing regarded him as the enemy more than ever.  Li Ruihuan, then a member of the CCP politburo’s standing committee in charge of nationality work, described the Dalai Lama this way:

Dalai is the chief of the separatist political clique that seeks Tibet’s independence, a loyal tool of international anti-Chinese forces, the principal source of Tibet’s social disturbances, and the greatest obstacle to the establishment of normal order for  Tibetan Buddhism.[13]

       But, since the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan religion are inseparable, any anti-Dalai movement has to extend beyond him as an individual and will not be limited to political matters only.  The entire Tibetan religion will be affected.  For instance, how can the Dalai Lama be “exposed and repudiated” while all the temples and most of the Tibetan families enshrine and worship his images?  Yet orders have been issued to confiscate and destroy Dalai’s images.  Such a measure seems probable only in an ancient society, but it has been enforced on a grand scale throughout Tibet since 1996.  The Ganden monastery, one of the “Three Seats” of the Gelugpa sect, was the first to resist: four hundred monks smashed the police office located in the monastery while shouting “Tibetan independence.”  The Sera, Drepung, and Jokhang monasteries also protested by suspending services, closing affiliated schools, and locking their gates from the inside.

       Confronted with the resistance, Secretary Chen Kuiyuan considered his counter measures:

The monasteries are places most seriously and extensively infiltrated by the Dalai clique.  These are their sanctuaries where they can hide and make plots.  Most of their followers also come from the monasteries. . . .  If the monasteries are not controlled effectively, it will be impossible to thwart the Dalai clique’s conspiracy to dislodge Tibet and to bring calamity to the state.  Then there will not be even one calm day in Tibet.[14]

Thinking in this manner, Secretary Chen  was resolved to “drag [the monasteries] away from Dalai’s control,” or, specifically, to “purge and rectify” the monasteries.[15]  Working teams consisting of party and government officials and security personnel entered the monasteries, and every single monk had to go through a process of investigation.  As a result, a great number of monks were deemed by the authorities as untrustworthy and were forced to leave their monasteries.[16]  Some of these had to go back home, but some were imprisoned.  Those monks who remained in the monasteries must publicly denounce the Dalai Lama.  New regulations were decreed to limit the monasteries’ activities.  For instance, temples could not be built without government permission, the size of the monasterial “staff” had to be kept under a certain limit, contacts between monasteries were prohibited, and religion could not be propagate outside the monasteries.  Furthermore, the search and validation of reincarnations of the Buddhist incarnations had to proceed “under the party’s leadership.”  Under such circumstances, monasterial autonomy existed only in name.  Government officials were assigned to participate in the administration of the monasteries and every decision had to be sanctioned by them.

       The campaign did not stop at the monasteries.  Every CCP member, cadre, and state employee in Tibet was explicitly required not to believe in religion.  This meant that they had to regard the Dalai Lama as the enemy, and refrain from displaying the Dalai Lama’s images or arranging shrines in their homes, inviting monks to recite scriptures and provide services, displaying any religious symbols, and sending their children to schools established by the Tibetan government in exile.  Violators were threatened with being ousted from the party and dismissed from their state jobs; if the violator was a retiree, his or her pensions would be suspended, and, if a student, his or her opportunity to continue in school would be terminated.  In Tibet, at present, there are 60,000 cadres, 90,000 party members, and 150,000 state employees; 80% of these are Tibetans.  If their family members are also counted, more than 10% of the Tibetan population were affected by these regulations.  Not a small number of work units (danwei) used surprise raids to break into their employees’ homes to conduct searches.  During this year’s Saga Dawa festival (Tibet’s most important religious holiday), the authorities even ordered all the work units to send cadres to “squat on the spot” (dundian) in public places where  religious activities were held and to check on whether or not any of their employees appeared.  Some of the regulations were farcical, such as the prohibition to show scenes with prayer flags on television.  When press photographers worked together to report the festival, those from other provinces focused their lenses on the prayer flags in the sky over residential areas in order to get scenes that could show Tibet’s unique character.  Meanwhile, the photographers from Tibet’s television stations searched every angle that would spare their lenses of those flags.

       As for the many people that were not employed by the state, the authorities had no way to ban their religious activities.  In the past, religious festivals in Tibet were not only occasions for worshiping the Buddha but also opportunities for people to make excursions and have picnics, meet friends, drink wine, and play cards.  On these occasions, women would show off their clothing and jewelry.  But, under today’s “religious freedom,” public religious sites are surrounded by layers of check-points; policemen in uniform and plainclothes are everywhere.  People now come to these places to complete Buddhist services hurriedly and then leave quickly.  When terror reigns, a holiday’s usual happy atmosphere disappears without a trace.  Any trivial incident, such as fighting between drunkards, may result in imprisonment.

       While complete prohibition of religion is no longer possible under today’s conditions, the authorities is contemplating to achieve two objectives: (1) bifurcation of the Tibetan religion into two halves, one permissible and the other prohibited; (2) segregation of the Tibetan population into two groups, one allowed to have religion, the other not.  According to Secretary Chen Kuiyuan:

Compatibility with the socialist society is our basic requirement for a religion. . . .  If the people are completely under religious guidance, then they cannot head toward socialism; many of them, because of their religious belief, will be led by Dalai into a dangerous path of splitting the motherland and harming social stability.[17]

       Therefore, he wants to ban the part of the religion that is “incompatible with socialism”; meanwhile those Tibetans who receive salaries from the state are not allowed to believe in religion, meaning that if you are eating a meal provided by the party, you must listen to the party.  Yet religion is integral.  In a structure that has formed through thousands of years, no part of the religion can be touched without affecting the entire system.  How can a socialist system, which cannot even fend for itself, demand compatibility from such a religion?  Furthermore, in today’s world of surging nationalism, how a nation can be polarized?  Although the prospect of losing one’s “rice bowl” may intimidate some Tibetans, still, a “rice bowl” cannot be equated with people’s hearts.  Intimidation may only alienate people’s hearts further.

       Moreover, such a segregation scheme appears only an expedient measure.  To Buddhist believers the themes broached by Secretary Chen Kuiyuan in his various speeches, like “theism and atheism are as mutually exclusive as idealism and materialism,” “religion is the spiritual opium to the people,” “religion is not a correct world view,” and “[we] must compete with religious idealism for the leading position in the realm of thought,” constitute nothing less than a declaration of war on their religion.[18]  The authorities’ current policy in Tibet for “diluting religion” (danhua zongjiang) is viewed by Buddhist believers as a deliberate, systematic operation to annihilate religion.  This may not be sensed by passing tourists.  In appearance, religious activities seem to proceed normally, but the lifeline of the Tibetan religion, or what are called the “three treasures,” the Buddha, the Scripture, and the Priest, are actually being restrained and destroyed.  Aside from the aforementioned “monastery rectification,” religious groups in Tibet are most troubled by the authorities’ suppression of teaching scriptures and discussing Buddhism.  Losing its philosophical and reasoned vehicle, the religion becomes only a superficial and superstitious formality to the masses.  With its true meaning blocked, the religion will inevitably wither away; extravagant and wasteful trends will prevail and social morality will deteriorate.  Right now, theological study and instruction among religious groups in Tibet cannot continue normally, religious rituals have been either abolished or scaled down, and examinations for religious degrees have been suspended for more than a decade.  A result is that the theological attainments of the monks within Tibet have lagged far behind those abroad.  According to some disgruntled religious figures in Tibet, temples seem full of worshipers but are in reality not much different from exhibition halls.  This kind of “religious freedom”may perform a function to fool foreign tourists but in practice it only allows the people to light lamps and kowtow in the temples.[19]  To true believers, such a “freedom” is worse than no freedom at all.

       Today, Beijing’s inclination is to administer Tibet increasingly rigidly.  “To extinguish every destabilizing factor in its embryonic stage” is the omnipresent guiding principle.  But, since “embryo” is unmeasurable, the “extinguishing” may be applied arbitrarily.  Thus a tyranny can grow from the process.  Currently, Tibet is quite stable on the surface and people no longer voice their disagreements.  But the problems continue.  An epigram accredited to Mr. Deng Xiaoping says: the most frightening thing is the people’s total silence.  If people’s resentments can be heard, evidently they still believe in reasoned solutions to their problems.  When silence reigns, however, it means that the people have already lost confidence in reasoning.  Now they want to be understood only through violent force.


Tibetans’ Hearts

       In Beijing’s atheistic perception, Dalai does not have an army nor a territory, and he is merely “an old lama who goes around the world in a pair of Italian leather shoes and engages himself in political activities.”[20]  Yet, in this world, power is not everything.  Power may control tangible matters, but Dalai has his roots in religion, in front of which power becomes powerless.  On the stage of history, power has repeatedly changed hands in a flash; religion, on the other hand, has endured thousands of years’ storms and never collapsed.  A question for Beijing to consider seriously is why, in exile for forty years and unable to return to Tibet, the 14th Dalai Lama is still feverishly worshiped and believed by those Tibetans in China who have never met him.  This is not because of any individual’s strength but because of Dalai’s institutional status in the Tibetan religion.  In the Tibetan mind, Dalai is the worldly incarnation of the Avalokitesvara (guanshiyin pusa in Chinese),  the central force binding Tibetan religion together, and the pivot of Tibet’s political and religious history.  Without the Dalai system, the structure and framework of Tibetan religion would not have existed for five hundred years, and the Tibetan civilization cultivated by  Buddhist thought would have been meaningless.  Therefore, to the Tibetans, the Dalai system is absolutely sacred and must not be blasphemed.

       Although Beijing appears to oppose only the current Dalai Lame who is in exile in India, this Dalai Lama cannot be separated from his predecessors.  For, according to the Tibetan religious teaching on  reincarnation, the successive fourteen Dalai Lamas have not been fourteen different individuals but different bodies that incarnate the same soul of the Avalokitesvara.  While Beijing insists that it is opposed only to today’s Tenzin Gyatso who wants to “split the motherland” and that this has nothing to do with the previous generations of the Dalai Lama, it actually rejects the teaching of reincarnation of the soul and eternity of the Buddhist spirit, in other words, the very foundation of the Tibetan religion.  Therefore, there is no way that Beijing can assert its respect for the Tibetan Buddhism on the one hand and justify its opposition to the 14th Dalai Lama on the other.

       According to Buddhism, life circulates within six reincarnation circles and is a process of continuous pain and suffering.  Needless to say, hell is the worst kind of suffering.  But even materially abundant living cannot avoid spiritual anxieties and the sufferings of birth, aging, illness, and death.  The only way to achieve salvation is to cultivate oneself into a Buddha, to transcend the sufferings of the six reincarnation circles, and to enjoy eternal peace and happiness in paradise.  This is the ultimate significance and goal pursued by the Tibetans in their life.  Then, the most important approach to achieve salvation is to convert to a guru.[21]  The so-called gurus are those who have already become Buddha, but, to deliver all from torment, they give up a happy paradise and choose voluntarily to endure the suffering of reincarnations, repeatedly returning to the human world to guide the people in achieving salvation.  The guru is the bridge between the Buddhist worshipers and paradise.  In the words of the Tibetans: “Without the guru, we cannot see the Buddha even if all of his forms are smiling at us.”  Therefore, in their daily prayers, the Tibetans first express their conversion to the guru, and then to the Buddha, the Scripture, and the Priest.  In Tibetan religion, the gurus have a supreme status only below that of Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism.

       The gurus occupy different positions in a hierarchy according to their levels of cultivation, achievements, and traditional statuses.  The Dalai Lama is the Avalokitesvara’s incarnation as well as the spiritual and temporal leader for all of Tibet.  He occupies the highest position in the hierarchy and is the guru for all the other gurus.  He is followed by all the sects, and, in terms of the guru-follower relationship, the Dalai Lama becomes the fundamental guru of all the Tibetan Buddhists (this means almost the entire Tibetan population).

       According to Tibetan Buddhism, one cannot become a Buddha without the guru’s teaching and guidance, otherwise he or she would forever be caught in the painful cycle of birth and death.  The significance of the guru to the Tibetans is thus obvious.  In an individual’s daily activities, if he or she demonstrates any disrespectfulness toward the guru through bodily behavior, words, or even thoughts, this would be deemed a terrible crime.  Not only would this person’s previous cultivation in Buddhism and achievements be in vain, he or she would also fall into hell.  This scenario is completely unacceptable to the Tibetans.  They observe this commandment: “One would rather lose his tongue than criticize his guru; because the guru represents the Buddha himself, slandering the guru is not different from slandering the Buddha.”  Realizing this, one can easily see whether or not it is possible to denigrate  Dalai among the Tibetans and how the Tibetans will react if they are forced to vilify him.

       Chatral Rinpoche, abbot of the Tashilhunpo monastery of Shigtse, used to be a member of the standing committee of the National Political Consultative Conference and vice-chairman of Tibet’s Political Consultative Conference.  Because of his apparent obedience to Beijing, he was labeled by some Tibetans as a “traitor to Tibet.”  After the 10th Panchen Lama died, Beijing had complete confidence in him and let him lead the search for Panchen’s reincarnation.  As a fundamental principle of the Tibetan religion was at stake, his true loyalty was tested and manifested.  Secretly, he reported to the Dalai Lama every bit of progress during the search, this enabled the Dalai Lama to verify and recognize Panchen’s reincarnation ahead of Beijing.  Embarrassed and angered, Beijing sentenced Chatral Rinpoche to eight years in prison.  He had no remorse, saying: “I received the Bhiksu commandments and the Dalai Lama himself performed the Abhiseka for me.  I must obey the will of my Abhiseka guru.  Otherwise I will not be able to rise to heaven.”[22]  Religious believers are called to devote themselves to the religion they believe in.  It would be against the essence of religion to demand them to love a temporal party or government more than their religion.  The glory that they are after is to sacrifice themselves to their religious ideals.

       Therefore, Beijing has undertaken an impossible task in trying to break the eerie circle of the Tibetan issue by bringing down the Dalai Lama.  This effort has only worked to intensify the Tibetans’ hatred.  During the “monastery rectification,” many monks and nuns rather had themselves forced out of their monasteries than obey the working teams’ order to attack Dalai in public.  In the meantime, they must have viewed the force that tried to coerce them into vilifying their guru as the devil itself.  Generally speaking, in comparison to the monks, those Tibetans with government jobs are more vulnerable under pressure because their sources of livelihood are controlled by the authorities.  Among these people, a prevalent saying is that “this life relies on the Communist Party, and the next life relies on the Dalai Lama.”  Yet there is an irreconcilable contradiction in this thinking: wild talk in this life will result in retribution in the next life or even several lives to come.  In this sense, these people’s stipends from the Communist Party are virtually travel expenses for their journeys to hell.  Many of them are grieving over this in their hearts, and day by day the feeling is turning rancorous.  It is the Dalai Lama who has repeatedly expressed his understanding of the plight of the Tibetans in China who have to attack him under pressure.  This gesture has helped alleviate these peoples’ anxieties and has also drawn them further toward Dalai.

       Today, Dalai’s images cannot be seen in Tibet’s temples, but monks and nuns often put the Dalai Lama’s photos within the clothing of Buddhist statues or wrap the photos up with hada (ceremonial scarves) and put them in Buddhist niches.  What is publicly displayed is the image of the Avalokitesvara, a substitute for Dalai’s image, for everybody knows that the Avalokitesvara is the Dalai Lama.  As for the ordinary people’s homes, almost every family has the Dalai Lama’s photos.  Audio and video tapes of the Dalai Lama’s speeches are secretly, yet widely, circulated.  Even in the most remote villages in Tibet people listen to the broadcast from Dharamsala everyday.

       The attempts to make people “forget the past” or “dilute the religion” actually reflect an antiquated mentality.  In ancient times “forgetting” and “diluting” were attainable through the monopoly and banning of information.  Today, this is impossible even for the most authoritarian regime of the world.  Enmity, if not dispelled early, will be fortified, disseminated, and even distorted by modern media and will become permanent.  It may be marginalized temporarily, but whenever an opportunity emerges, it will stage a comeback with a vengeance.

       Today, no matter how fierce, resolute, and extensive the anti-Dalai campaign is, it will probably not be able to surpass the “Cultural Revolution.”  Considering the thoroughness of the destruction of the Tibetan religion during the “Cultural Revolution” and then the vigorous religious revival in today’s Tibet, one can see that even a violent revolution failed to eradicate the Tibetans’ worship of the Dalai Lama.  What effects, then, can be expected from current measures like “purge and rectification” and “dismissal from government jobs”?

       This truism, however, has somehow evaded CCP officials.  Secretary Chen Kuiyuan once complained: “In these years, we have spent more money on repairing the monasteries than on constructing the party’s and government’s administrative buildings.  In several locations in our region, there are more temples now than in the early post-liberation years. . . .  Religious organizations and figures should have been grateful and returned our kindness but should not have encouraged separatists to commit crimes in the name of religion.”[23]  Nevertheless, the essence of man is spiritual, and it cannot be satisfied only by material offerings.  Here lies the mistake of Beijing’s orientation of equating human rights with “living rights.”  This is also why the approach of substituting a nationality policy with one based on “economic development” is harmful.  A genuine nationality policy should be about the heart.  Material and heart are not interchangeable, and material rewards may not be able to buy people’s hearts.  It is not surprising that some people “enjoy eating meat while holding the rice bowl but start to curs as soon as they put down the chopsticks.”  Some Tibetans have uttered these words: “They (the Han Chinese) may have done ninety-nine good deeds for us, but the last thing they want to do is to kill us.  Should we still thank them and still feel grateful to them?”[24]  What is described here as “want to kill us” actually means the suppression of the Tibetan religion.  For, without their religion, life is nothing to the Tibetans.


Time Factor

       Beijing appears to believe that time is on its side: having Tibet under its control and relying on its military force, Beijing does not seem to fear that Dalai will be able to stir up any serious trouble.  Furthermore, the international community needs the China market; no foreign government is really willing to paralyze its relationship with China over Tibet.  Therefore, Beijing seems to be able to afford to ignore Dalai and to play the game of procrastination until the end of his life.  By that time, the Tibetans in exile will have paralyzed and Western society will also have lost its celebrated hero.  This will be the time for Beijing to select a new incarnation of the Dalai Lama, to win over the support of the Tibetans within China, to implement secularization of Tibetan society, and to induce the Tibetans to adopt, as the Han people have done, a tunnel vision concentrating on the economy.  Then, there will not be much of the Tibetan question left.

       Other aspects of this kind of thinking aside, there is a necessary precondition for such a solution by attrition; that is the stability of China’s current political system and its leadership for another several decades, a time period needed for the 14th Dalai Lama to pass away and the next Dalai selected by Beijing to reach his majority.  During this time, if the political system and/or the top officials change, the procrastination stratagem will be interrupted and all previous efforts will be wasted.  This precondition is exactly the weakest link in the delaying scheme.  Nobody believes that China’s current political system will be able to continue for several more decades.  The CCP’s refusal to carry out political reforms may delay but cannot prevent changes.  And delayed changes will undoubtedly come at an unexpected time and with greater intensity.  Political transformations in contemporary societies are often accompanied by ethnic conflicts; such conflicts will also be the most serious challenge to China’s political transformation.  If China’s transformation in the future assumes a character of explosive decomposition, the consequences will be even more devastating than some previous events and the Tibetan dispute will be the first to erupt.

       According to the current administrative division in China, the Tibetan areas (one autonomous region, ten autonomous prefectures, and two autonomous counties) occupy 2.25 million square kilometers, nearly a quarter of China’s entire territory.  The “Greater Tibet” claimed by the Tibetan government in exile is an area of 2.5 million square kilometers, larger than a quarter of China’s territory.[25]  There is no consensus on the question as to whether or not Tibet is historically part of China.  Legally speaking, arguments on both sides of the debate are plausible.  Tibet can be characterized as the most internationalized ethnic issue in the world today, and the West has overwhelmingly taken the Dalai Lama’s side.  Most Western commentators have become convinced that the Beijing regime is persecuting the Tibetans.  Between 1959 and 1965, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted three resolutions on Tibet, all classifying the Tibetan question as one of self-determination.  Taking these facts into account, one can recognize that China’s seemingly secure sovereignty over Tibet is by no means guaranteed.  As soon as the current political environment changes and the balance of power in relation to Tibet tilts, the Western view that prioritizes human rights over national sovereignty will take effect on the Tibetan problem and the dismemberment of Yugoslavia will become a relevant precedent. 

       It is quite possible that the Western governments will change their current orientation and decide to support Tibet’s separation from China via self-determination.  In the eyes of the international community, no other person is more qualified than the Dalai Lama to represent Tibet; under certain circumstances his demands may be treated as the basis for a legal claim.  Although the Dalai Lama on various occasions has expressed his opinion that Tibet may stay in China, he has never made any legally binding promise on this point.  He therefore may retreat anytime to a position calling for Tibetan independence.  As long as he can manage to blame Beijing’s unresponsiveness for his reversal of opinion the West would most likely understand and support his switch.

       Such a scenario may not materialize as long as China remains strong and stable.  But, as soon as drastic political changes occur to the society, the state will likely be weakened significantly.  Russia has not yet been able to surmount its current plight even though its society is not in great turmoil.  In the case of China, because until now political reforms have been avoided, when changes do come in the future the shock will likely be extremely violent and the transition period will be long and difficult.  Under that circumstances, if an extensive economic recession occurs simultaneously, people in China proper will become indifferent toward Tibet, and consequently the troops and governmental organizations in Tibet will lose their supplies from the interior.  Consequently, government officials and army officers will become demoralized and the Han residents will flee Tibet.  What will happen next?  The developments after the 1911 Revolution should be an instructive precedent.  On that occasion, all the conditions depicted above occurred simultaneously and enabled Tibet to “expel the Han” and to maintain its separation from China for more than four decades.

       Today, the Tibetans have a popular leader and a mature government; they have been making preparations in the past four decades for the moment when they will have to cross the threshold to independence.  They do not need a few years of turmoil in China.  A few months should be enough for them to create a fait accompli before order can return.  When China eventually regains its stability to deal with Tibet it will probably discover that the entire West, not just Tibet, will be in  opposition to it.  Having just recovered its stability, China will be rather weak.  Even its very existence will have to relay on Western assistance; a confrontation with a multinational military force will be out of the question.  The progress of China’s current globalization is actually sowing seeds for such a development in the future.  When the West controls China’s economic lifeline, military confrontation will become unnecessary as the West will be able to force China to make concessions solely through economic means.  A precedent in this regard is the resolution passed by the city council of Berkeley, California in the Unites States on 3 June 1997.  It stipulated that the city would “penalize all companies that are conducting trade with Chinese-occupied Tibet.”  In view of the Tibet fever and the overwhelming support to Dalai in the West, it does not seem to be a fantasy that one day the United Nations will apply sanctions against China over the Tibetan question.

       This is why to China the Tibetan question is more serious than the Xinjiang question.  The Tibetan question has many components, such as the uncertainty of its historical sovereignty, the high degree of internationalization, Western support, an experienced government in exile, a leader who is worshiped by all Tibetans and has international influence, only a small number of Han migrants in Tibet, and the complete reliance on sources from China proper by the Tibetan administration that has sustained China’s sovereignty.  In the Xinjiang question these components either do not exist or are of less magnitude.  With these conditions combined, Tibet is waiting for just one opportunity to realize independence, which is China’s internal chaos.  Now, Beijing’s refusal to implement political reforms is in effect creating such an opportunity.

       Because of its violent tendencies, the Xinjiang situation has generated some attention.  If China becomes destabilized internally exceedingly bloody ethnic cleansing may occur within Xinjiang.  But Xinjiang’s separation from China will have to follow Tibet’s lead.  Tibet is the bellwether of all China’s nationality questions.  A solution of the Tibetan question will pave the way for solving questions involving other ethnic groups; by the same token, a failure over the Tibetan question will be followed by the flare-up of all the other nationality imbroglios.

       The Dalai Lama is now sixty-five years old.  Given today’s life expectancy and medical conditions he may easily live another twenty years.  Within these twenty years China will probable not be able to avoid a political transformation.  The time factor enhances the extremely important role of the Dalai Lama.  His attitude will affect the direction of the Tibetan issue.  The Tibetan people follow him and obey his will; for him Tibetan clerics are willing to defy all dangers; the Tibetan government-in-exile acts upon his commands; the international community  respects his intentions and gives him as much support as possible.  Yet, Beijing’s current policy  treats Dalai as an enemy, gives him no channel for dialogue and no way to cooperate, and fuels his aggravation.  If this policy continues, when the shock waves of sociopolitical transformation come to China at an unexpected moment, there will be no guarantee that Dalai will not be tempted by the opportunity and impelled by the heat of the moment to switch his stand and call for Tibet’s independence.  In such a moment various factors favoring Tibetan independence will coalesce into a unified force under Dalai’s banner and thereby increase significantly the possibility of Tibet’s secession from China.  In this matter Dalai’s role will prevail over hundreds and thousands of troops.  Even as an old lama alone he may be able to mobilize the boundless wealth of the West.[26]  Therefore, any policy that underestimates Dalai is a great mistake and could have serious consequences.

       If, on the other hand, a different policy is followed to respond in a timely fashion to the Dalai Lama and to engage him in constructive dialogue and equal negotiations, then his acceptance of “Tibet’s staying in China” may be formalized into a legal instrument before it is too late.  Such a development  will thoroughly legalize China’s sovereignty over Tibet and thereby solve in one stroke the protracted and troublesome Tibetan question.  One of the reasons for the controversy over Tibet’s sovereignty is the lack of such a legal document that can meet international standards.[27]  The Dalai Lama is internationally recognized as the representative of the Tibetan nation; a document with his signature will be construed as a choice made by the Tibetan nation itself and therefore the best guarantee against Tibet’s independence.  Afterwards the Tibetans and the West will no longer have legal grounds to broach the subject of Tibetan independence.  While academic controversies over the historical complexities may continue, they will be apolitical.  Only with the 14th Dalai Lama’s signature will such a document be recognized by the international community and the 14th Dalai Lama alone can convince the majority of the Tibetans to accept such an arrangement.

       Why is this so?  Other reasons aside, the 14th Dalai Lama went into exile during his tenure while he was the full-fledged supreme leader of the Tibetan theocracy and therefore has the full legal authority to conclude agreements.  Then, there are no disagreements about the 14th Dalai Lama’s identity; he is unanimously regarded by the Tibetan people as the principal guru, and his directions are unconditionally obeyed by the Tibetans.  Except for the 14th Dalai Lama, no other person in the future will be able to possess these two credentials simultaneously.  The Dalai Lamas after him will lack the necessary authority because they will not have assumed temporal leadership in Tibet.  Furthermore, when the current Dalai Lama dies, if the Tibetan question is still deadlocked, it will be nearly impossible not to see the emergence of two Dalai Lamas.  The Dalai Lama selected by Beijing will be viewed by Tibetans as a puppet and thus will not be able to qualify as the guru and receive international recognition.  The Dalai Lama abroad will be similarly controversial and unable to receive general recognition.  Once the fundamental guru’s identity becomes confused, a document signed by whichever Dalai Lama, not to mention anybody else in other capacities, will certainly cause many objections.

       At present there are various proposals among the Tibetans with regard to Tibet’s destiny.  Especially among the Tibetans in exile, most people are opposed to Tibet’s staying in China and insistent on Tibetan independence.  It has been said that among the 130 thousand exiled Tibetans there is only one person who does not support Tibetan independence and this is the Dalai Lama himself.  But some polls show that 64.4% of the Tibetans in exile have expressed their willingness to follow the Dalai Lama in deciding Tibet’s future.[28]  In 1997, the Tibetan Congress in exile adopted a law that authorized the Dalai Lama to make decisions on Tibet’s future by himself and without a plebiscite.[29]  This writer has questioned Tibetans of various backgrounds in Tibet about this issue and the most frequent response is a willingness to follow the Dalai Lama’s decision.  Therefore, even if the Tibetan people’s opinions will eventually have to be ascertained by a plebiscite, it is reasonable to believe that if the Dalai Lama proposes a formula it will be supported by the majority of the Tibetans.

       Taking this into account, an agreement between China and the Dalai Lama becomes even more significant.  For it will not only be an agreement endorsed by the Tibetan leader but also one that will be surely approved of by a Tibetan plebiscite.  The legality of an agreement based on a plebiscite will be supreme and unchallengeable by any opposing voices.  But, the same agreement, if not endorsed by the 14th Dalai Lama, will have a rather different result.  Without the authority of the guru the agreement will then be open to questioning by any Tibetan and the resultant opinions will likely be widely divided.  To solve the controversy the temporal approach of plebiscite will have to be used, especially in the future when China itself achieves democratization.  But will China at the time be confident enough to allow the Tibetans to conduct a plebiscite?  Without the Dalai Lama’s influence from above, the plebiscite will possibly be dominated by radical nationalistic emotions or manipulated by politicians disguised as democrats.  Such a process will very likely result in majority support for Tibet’s independence.  Then what should China do?

       Therefore, considering China’s long-term interests, the wise choice for Beijing should not be the current tactic of procrastination, even less the misconceived hope for the decease of the 14th Dalai Lama.  The correct policy is to seize the 14th Dalai Lama’s remaining life time and take advantage of his good health by beginning to solve the Tibetan question now and strive for a permanent solution as early as possible.  A delay will certainly not be to Dalai’s benefit but it will be even more harmful to China.  The Dalai Lama should not be viewed merely as an obstacle or an enemy to the solution of the Tibetan question, he is first and foremost the key to a comprehensive solution of the problem.  The key, of course, can either open or lock the gate, depending on how it is used.


“No Room for Compromise?”

       Secretary Chen Kuiyuan, the commander in the forefront of China’s current anti-Dalai campaign in Tibet, has asserted: “the struggle against the Dalai clique . . . concerns the fundamental interests of our state and nation and there is no room for  compromise.”[30]  It is under the guidance of this philosophy of “uncompromising struggle” that the anti-Dalai movement in Tibet has been continually escalated.  In the process, the Tibetans’ feelings have been repeatedly hurt and the Tibetans have become increasingly alienated.  According to Secretary Chen, his struggle against the Dalai Lama is to “remove Dalai’s religious representation.”[31]  But, since Dalai is the center of  Tibetan religion how can one remove the chief representative?  In reality, as long as the Dalai Lama does not return to Tibet and the mass of Tibetans are separated from their guru, the Tibetan question cannot be solved.  Beijing’s plan to select another Dalai after the death of the 14th Dalai Lama will not be able to achieve its goal either.  The Dalai Lama has already declared that if he dies in exile, his reincarnation will not be born in any area under China’s control.  The reincarnation’s task will be to continue the cause of his predecessor, not to undermine it.[32]  Of course, Beijing may ignore this and go ahead in selecting its own Dalai Lama.  Yet, according to the reincarnation procedure for Tibetan Buddhist incarnates, the intentions and directives expressed by the previous incarnate are the most important basis for ascertaining his reincarnation.  As the current Dalai Lama has already clarified his intentions, the vast majority of the Tibetans will surely refuse to accept a new Dalai installed by Beijing.  Such a development will not only ruin Beijing’s plan but will also further intensify the confrontation.

       It is a well-known dictum that “He who has the support of the people will rule all under heaven.”  The key to solving the Tibetan quandry is not how much the economy can be developed, but whether or not Tibetan support can be enlisted.  Even if only from a statecraft point of view,  Beijing should reexamine its current orientation: is it a wise policy to alienate several million Tibetans by antagonizing one Dalai Lama?  As atheist communists, Chinese leaders may well regard Dalai as just another mortal politician; but, as administrators of a country, they should put themselves in the Tibetans’ position and make efforts to understand the Tibetan religion and respect the Tibetan people’s feelings.  Even ancient Chinese rulers knew that “the best strategy is to win over the heart,” and a party that allegedly “serves the people” ought not to limit itself only to the use of power.  At present, the most effective strategy to win over the hearts of the five million Tibetans is to replace the struggle against the Dalai Lama with cooperation with him and to seek a mutually acceptable solution through dialogue and consultation.  Secretary Chen has asserted that “in any historical period and in any country, religion has never been able to bring genuine freedom and happiness to the people.”[33]  Not necessarily so.  Religion is an important part of human civilization and has brought countless benefits to human society.  Reconciliation with the Dalai Lama and a space for Tibetan religion’s free development will not only benefit Tibet but, possibly to a larger degree, will also benefit the Han regions where a belief vacuum has existed for a long time.

       Beijing would say that the door used to be open for Dalai but that Dalai missed the opportunity because of his own intransigence.  The Dalai Lama, however, should not be blamed for the failure of the two sides’ contact during the 1980s.  At the time, what Hu Yaobang offered was a settling of the Dalai Lama’s personal “status,” not a solution to the Tibetan dilemma as a whole.  Had the Dalai Lama agreed to come to Beijing and to assume the powerless title of vice-chairman, his action would have meant capitulation but not cooperation.  He had already been in exile for several decades because of his insistence on Tibet’s demands.  As the soul of Tibet and the leader of the entire Tibetan population, unless he completely lost his mind, the Dalai Lama could not possibly regard Beijing’s humiliating handout as an “opportunity.”

       Therefore, cooperation with the Dalai Lama should not be limited to him personally.  His ideas about Tibet should be responded to and the Tibetan interests that he has strived for should be satisfied.  On this point, however, people seem to have generally lost confidence.  Between Beijing and Dalai there does not seem to be any common ground, both sides advocating sharply opposing stands and maintaining their unbridgeable chasm.  It seems that the situation cannot avoid drifting  irrevocably into a blind alley.

       Actually, a careful analysis of the two sides’ basic conditions indicates that they are not contradictory to each other.  These conditions do not even belong to the same category and there is absolutely no need for a conflict between them.  Beijing wants to guarantee China’s sovereignty over Tibet.  In Deng Xiaoping’s words: “Except independence, anything can be discussed.”  The Dalai Lama wants to preserve Tibet’s religion and culture.  These are his words:

I do not seek Tibet’s independence.  I said many times in the past that I wanted the Tibetan people to have a self-government in reality as well as in name in order to preserve and enhance their own civilization, unique culture, religion, language, and way of life.  My greatest concern is to ensure the continuation of the Tibetan people’s most unique Buddhist cultural heritage.[34]

One side wants sovereignty and the other wants religion and culture; these two demands are not mutually exclusive.  The Dalai Lama has repeatedly stated that he does not seek independence, and Beijing has also promised many times to protect Tibetan culture and religion.  Why, then, have the two sides not been able to accommodate each other but become increasingly confrontational?

       The crux of the problem is how to put the two sides at ease.  The bottom line put forward by the Dalai Lama is that “China does not need to worry about Tibet’s independence, and the Tibetans do not need to worry about the disappearance of temples from Tibet,” and that “let both the Chinese and the Tibetans rest assured.”[35]  Yet what is needed is a tangible guarantee, not just words.  From the Dalai Lama’s perspective, to protect Tibet’s religion and culture effectively, “the Tibetan people must be able to control Tibet’s internal affairs and to decide freely the policies for social, economic, and cultural development”; specifically, this is to “use democracy to achieve a high degree of autonomy within greater Tibet.”[36]  Short of this, the Tibetans cannot rest assured.

       To Beijing, it cannot rest assured either if the Tibetans are allowed to implement a “high degree of autonomy” in an area of a quarter of China’s territory.  One side of the issue is an authoritarian regime’s reluctance to share power.  But there is indeed another side about which any government, authoritarian or democratic, has to be concerned.  In this writer’s view there is no need to be anxious about “Greater Tibet,” which is only a geographic region.  A “high degree of autonomy” should also not cause any anxiety because, without its bent for independence, an autonomous Tibet will only reduce China’s burden.  The most troubling aspect is “democracy.”  This is not to take an authoritarian, anti-democratic stand, but to consider a threat that democracy may pose to China’s sovereignty over Tibet.  Such a threat will continue to exist even after China realizes democratization.  To an inter-ethnic relationship devoid of any democratic tradition and  permeated with grievances, democracy may very easily turn into a boiler of explosive nationalism.  In a suddenly unleashed democratic environment, the masses, elites, and news media may interact and create what can be termed a “public square effect,” or a contest among the those predisposed to extremism.  In such a contest, the extreme will eliminate the rational, and the most extreme will eliminate the extreme, a process that happened in Tiananmen Square in 1989.  Under the circumstances, all the democratic methods and procedures—plebiscite, election, legislation, public opinion, and freedom of speech—will be affected by the “public square effect” and be used to support Tibetan independence.  If democracy as such will lead to the secession of the “Greater Tibet,” or a quarter of Chinese territory, no political leader in China can afford to support this democracy.  This question has to be considered by the current Beijing regime, and it must also be considered even more carefully and judiciously by China’s democratic government in the future: to date Beijing has proved capable of using force to deal with its problems, but Beijing in the future will no longer be able to stomach violent measures against democracy.

       Now we can at least see that the disagreement between China and the Dalai Lama is not about the objective, but about the means to achieve the objectives.  Conflicting objectives may not be reconcilable, but divergent means should not result in an uncompromising confrontation.  After all, means do not concern the essence and can be discussed.  If both sides can have guarantees to achieve their objectives, they should be willing to modify their means.  Then, the whole question can be boiled down to this: Is it possible to find a new type of democratic means that can at once avoid the “public square effect” and implement democratic principles?  Can such a means be found that may “let the Chinese rest assured” in maintaining China’s sovereignty over Tibet and thus remove China’s objection to “Greater Tibet’s high degree of autonomy,” and in turn may also  “let the Tibetans rest assured” in continuing and enhancing Tibet’s unique culture?

       Indeed there are many other kinds of difficulties, but, in this writer’s opinion, the ultimate key to the Tibetan predicament is to find the means defined above.

[1]This article was translated by Xiaoyuan Liu and was originally published under a different title in C.X. George Wei and Xiaoyuan Liu, eds., Exploring Nationalism of China: Themes and Conflicts (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002), 151-172.

[2]Sita, “Chairman Jiang Zemin is thinking of the Tibetan People,” Zhongguo Xizang (China’s Tibet), no. 3, 1998.

[3]Chen Kuiyuan’s speech at the fifth conference of the responsible party members of the Sixth People’s Congress and Political Consultative Council of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, 14 May 1997.

[4]Xizang Tongji Nianjian; 1998 (Yearly statistics of Tibet, 1998) (Beijing: Zhongguo Tongji Chubanshe, 1998), 33, 99.

[5]1998 Tongji Nianjian (Yearly statistics for 1998), see http://www.states.gov.cn.

[6]Xizang Tongji Nianjian; 1998, 16.

[7]Chen Kuiyuan’s speech at the regional conference of the Tibetan Autonomous Region on cadre work, 16 September 1996.

[8]Wang Lixiong, “A Cultural Reexamination of the Tibetan Question,” Zhanlue yu Guanli (Strategy and management), no. 5, 1999.

[9]“CCP secretary-general Hu Yaobang’s conversation with the Dalai Lama’s brother Gyalo Dondrup in Beijing, July 1981,” Xizang Qingkuang Jianjie (Briefings on Tibet), comp. by the Propaganda Department of the CCP Committee of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (July 1985), 32.

[10]An Qiyi, “Where is Dalai’s ‘Middle-of-the-Road’ Approach?” Zhongguo Xizang, no. 3, 1999.

[11]Chen Kuiyuan’s speech at the mobilization conference on the construction of spiritual civilization in the Lhasa municipality, 23 July 1996.

[12]Ragdi’s speech at the sixth enlarged plenum of the fourth committee of the CCP of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, 5 September 1994.

[13]Li Ruihuan’s speech at the third meeting of the leading group on the search of Panchen’s reincarnation, 10 November 1995.

[14]Chen Kuiyuan’s speech at the conference of cadres above the prefectural level of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, 25 May 1996.


[16]According to the Dalai Lama’s information, since 1996 11,409 monks and nuns have been forced to leave monasteries and religious institution.  See the Dalai Lama’s speech at the commemoration conference of the 41st anniversary of the “Lhasa incident,” 10 March 2000.

[17]Chen Kuiyuan’s speech at the mobilization conference on the construction of spiritual civilization in the Lhasa municipality, 23 July 1996.

[18]Chen Kuiyuan’s speeches at the Fifth CCP Congress of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, 29 July 1995, and at the mobilization conference on the construction of spiritual civilization in the Lhasa municipality, 23 July 1996.

[19]After a visit to Tibet, Zhou Ruipeng, reporter of Singapore’s United Morning News, wrote a report, “Have Tibet’s Culture and Religion been Eliminated?” in the paper’s 19 October 1997 issue.  He wrote: “Is there no religious freedom in Tibet?  But the new Norbulingka palace is open and freely admits worshipers.  This puzzled some British and American reporters.  A forty-four year old Tibetan construction worker paid his homage in one chamber after another.  I thought that those officials present might feel embarrassed, but, surprisingly, those officials from  the foreign affairs office and tourist bureau, who were accompanying us, were quite accustomed to these worshipers’ activities. . . . Until the end of my visit in Tibet, we could not find a bit of evidence to support some Westerners’ accusation that the Tibetan civilization had been “swallowed” by the Han civilization.”

[20]“No Illusion about Dalai Should be Entertained,” Xizang Ribao (Tibet Daily),10 May 2000, cites the interview of the international media magnate Rupert Murdoch by Vanity.  Murdoch has been criticized in international press for ingratiating himself with Beijing in order to get into China’s media market.

[21]Translator’s note: according to Donald S. Lopez, Jr., Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), 18-20, the Sanskrit term, guru, or “teacher,” was translated into lama in Tibetan before the ninth century, meaning “highest.”  Wang’s original uses a Chinese term, shangshi, or “superior teacher,” which obviously is the Chinese version of guru and lama.

[22]Xizang Tongxun (Tibet newsletter), no. 6, 1995, 26.  Bhiksu is the Sanskrit name for a monk, and Abhiseka is the Buddhist form of baptism.

[23]Chen Kuiyuan’s speech at the conference of cadres above the prefectural level of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, 25 May 1996.

[24]Moli, “A Conversation with the Tibetans in Exile about Returning Home—Words from the Hearts of the People in Dharamsala,” Beijing zhi Chun (Beijing spring), November 1998.

[25]See the web page of the Tibetan government in exile, http://www.tibet.com.

[26]The 9 December 1997 issue of the New York Time reported that in 1996 the American public donated $150.7 billion (larger than China’s entire foreign currency reserve in that year) to philanthropic organizations and a half of that amount was to religious organizations. (Cited in Cao Changqing).

[27]In 1951, the two sides signed an agreement of seventeen articles, but its legality has ever since been debated and it has not received international recognition.  Furthermore, the Lhasa incident of 1959 and the Dalai Lama’s exodus afterwards also resulted in the nullification of the agreement in the eyes of both sides.

[28]Cao Changqing, “Why Has Beijing Rejected the Dalai Lama?”

[29]Dalai’s speech at the commemoration conference on the 39th anniversary of the “Lhasa incident,” 10 March 1998.  Beijing zhi Chun (Beijing spring), no. 59.

[30]Chen Kuiyuan’s speech at the Fifth Congress of the CCP of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, 29 July 1995.

[31]Chen Kuiyuan’s speech at the mobilization conference on the construction of spiritual civilization in the Lhasa municipality, 23 July 1996.

[32]Dalai Lama’s speech to Tibetans residing in the United States, New York City, 25 May 1997.

[33]Chen Kuiyuan’s speech at the mobilization conference on the construction of spiritual civilization in the Lhasa municipality, 23 July 1996.

[34]Dalai’s speech at the commemoration conference on the 39th anniversary of the “Lhasa incident,” 10 March 1998.

[35]Lin Zhaozhen, “A Long Way to Go to Independence: the Tibetans in exile Are Most Homesick,” Zhongguo Shibao (China times)(Taiwan), 9 November 1998.

[36]Dalai’s speech at the commemoration conference on the 39th anniversary of the “Lhasa incident,” 10 March 1998.

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