relative advantages for resolving Tibet Question

A Successive Multilevel Electoral System vs. a Representative Democratic System: relative advantages for resolving the Tibet Question  


 Wang Lixiong


I.  Premise: the Highest Priority In Resolving Ethnic Problem is to Avoid War

As China continues to develop, it is possible that ethnic problems will pose its foremost challenge. Members of ethnic minorities frequently remind Han nationality advocates of democracy that self-determination is their democratic right. When the People’s Republic of China becomes a democratic nation, it is time for minority peoples themselves to determine their political affiliations. Concerning the debate on independence versus unification, minority people emphasize respect and understanding; they argue against forcible inclusion in a Han-dominated state. However, can the problem be resolved by asking the Han to understand the desire for independence of the minority? If the Han, conversely, request that minority peoples understand their desire for unification and not to dismantle the territorial integrity of their nation, whose will should prevail?

In my opinion, understanding and respect cannot be the foundation for ethnic relationships. If a huge gap exists between two parties and one party receives understanding and respect, the other party may consider itself in the position of not having understanding and respect. Since people change, conditions will change and understanding will also change. I agree with the ideology of Earth Village that nations should not be separate, and that there should be an ideology based on the harmony of human beings. The problem is that how many people of the Hans, out of a population of 1,300,000,000 will agree with this point? Even in the future, with complete democracy, it may be possible that most voters will want the government to fight against separatist minorities. Democracy does not imply resolution of the ethnic problems.

If a minority is strong enough that it is able to fight the Han, it may achieve independence. But this is unlikely in the PRC, where all 55 minorities together total barely one-tenth that of the Han, and there is a great disparity between their economic and military power as well.  Therefore, war is not a realistic choice for the minority.

The Dalai Lama’s realization of the futility of war led him to abandon the idea of the autonomy of Tibet. Autonomy could be a means, but it is not the objective, which should be the .peace and happiness of the people.  Independence might not bring people happiness. Many countries have become self-governed in this century, but their people continue to starve and suffer. An oligarchy government by one’s own ethnicity is not necessarily better than colonial government.

People’s happiness should first be built on avoiding warfare. People should not be asked to make sacrifices that cannot lead to victory. With this in mind, I am assertive to the ideal of China as a unified nation, in order to avoid warfare. The idea of unification has existed in China for thousands of years. The nineteenth century brought insults and humiliation to the Chinese. The Communist Party then championed the cause of nationalism and burned its flame for 50 years. Several generations absorbed its message since birth. People with no other ties have only the symbol of “nation” as a commonality. It is the only symbol that can initiate the movement of the Han. “Unification” has become the base line; any kinds of stimulation would result in chaos. Of course, most of them are irresponsible, but wars often originate from chaos. Should a democratic system emerge suddenly, the danger would be greater than ever.

I absolutely do not think the above-mentioned Han base line and view of chaos as reasonable but, distasteful or not, this is the reality. It is just like having a giant patient, only if you touch any points on his body, he will react enormously. You can only see him as sick, but not to scold him as unreasonable with anger. If you do not have the ability to arrest him, he might, on the contrary, hurt you. The wise approach is not to touch these sensitive points intentionally: at least wait until his illness is cured.

If you are not touching the Han base line, can the freedom and happiness of other ethnicities be fulfilled? In fact there is a wide area within that baseline. With China undergoing social transformation, it is time to build up new social system and ethnic relationships. In the past, “continuous revolution” caused the Han to own nothing at all: its ideology, religion and traditional culture disintegrated to a certain extent.  The majority of Chinese still consider the mature democratic system of the West to be impractical.  But, facing the problem of independence created by China’s own history and reality, they see no suitable system and have no clear thoughts. The problems are enormous. A society with 1,300,000,000 people is unique in history. If we do not use this opportunity to build a society with equal ethnicity and harmony, it may lead to warfare. Although bravery is estimable, it does not solve the problem and does a disservice to its people.

In my view, the issue of unification versus independence is not the real problem. When the happiness of the people receives top priority, it is actually unimportant whether there is unification or independence. We should follow the approach that is more beneficial to the people, so, from the viewpoint of avoiding throwing people into disaster, what should be done right now is not to stand independent. This must be guaranteed with a system. Of course, this system must, at the same time, satisfy both sides. First it must entirely fulfill the freedom and autonomy of every ethnicity. Second, it must guarantee the unification of China.  Neither of these can be ignored.

The present representative democratic system cannot do this.

II. Tibet as an Example: the Democratic System Sharpens Ethnic Conflicts

In fact, even Britain, the oldest democratic country, has ethnic problems. In the United States, which is seen as a model for democracy, the ethnic problem continues without end. In societies that democratize rapidly, ethnic breakups and conflicts follow.  Democracy has, to a great extent, become the catalyst of the outbreak of ethnic problems.

To solve the ethnic problem in China, the ‘Middle Way’ as proposed by Dalai Lama is relatively complete. Put simply, the Middle Way involves staying in China and using a democratic system to ensure meaningful autonomy for the whole of Tibet, sometimes called Greater Tibet.(1) Therefore, whether the Middle Way can be achieved or not, remaining in China should be the first principle.

In the view of Dalai Lama, a democratic system is the device for developing meaningful autonomy in Tibetan areas. But can a democratic system guarantee that Tibetans will wish to stay in the PRC, or is the promise no more than a ploy?  For a problem of this magnitude, a promise will not suffice.  What kind of effect will a democratic system have on the Tibetan question? If there are no guarantees, or if there are adverse effects, the Middle Way would lose its priority, not to mention its other aims. Therefore, we should first discuss the Dalai Lama’s thoughts on democratic system according to the problem of remaining in China.

      In 1992, the Dalai Lama delivered a speech on Tibet’s future political way and its constitution.(2). There were concrete comments and discussions on his thoughts about the democratic system and a foundation was established for the discussion of the relationship between the democratic system and ethnic problems. The key ideas of Dalai Lama on a democratic system included the election of representatives to the country’s representative body, and giving them power to enact legislation and choose an executive committee and the chief executive.

It can be seen that the counselors and representatives have influential roles in this political design. In addition to their legislative powers, they elect the president and authorize the executive powers. This kind of arrangement obviously takes into account the fact of the wide dispersion in Tibet’s population, its low education levels, and its lack of training in democracy. When compared to the format of other democratic systems, it is more suitable to the situation in Tibet. But can this format guarantee that Tibet will stay in China? This democratic society has disconnects between opinion leaders, the media, the public, counselors, and government. How will that affect Tibet in the future, how will that be mutually affecting each other?

Opinion leaders

Representative democracy is a competitive system of selection. Therefore, it encourages conflicts in the political culture. This is why the democratic system is superior to the autocratic system. However, we must also look at the negative aspect of these conflicts.  Opinion leaders, including thinkers, scholars, authors,and politicians that do not hold an official position, play an important part in influencing public opinion. They and political decision-makers are part of the elite stratum, although opinion leaders have word power rather than political power. They are people of ideas but not actions. They approach problems by asking how they should be solved instead of how they can be solved.  Since they need not deal with reality, they can hold high the flag of ethnic rights.  Additionally, members of the elite who have no official position often covet political power, and feel that the best way is to gain support for themselves is by emphasizing ethnic issues. Sudden democratization will mean that many elites compete among themselves for power. Hence, their incentive to attack the existing power elite is often very strong. Mature democracies still experience this kind of drama, and a society experiencing abrupt democratization will find it still more difficult to avoid pernicious competition. The relationship between Tibet and China will suffer from opinion leaders inciting the public’s ethnic passions.

      We cannot expect opinion leaders to speak for China at that time. When one goes from being restricted to being free, it is natural to release the hatred that has been built up for years. At the same time, a democratized society will unveil the wickedness of the autocratic rule, uncovering offenses that occurred over many years. These revelations will intensify hatreds still more.

      The public can also influence opinion leaders in an inflammatory manner. In this case, if they wish to continue to be opinion leaders, they must chase after public opinions and even ahead stay ahead of it. Especially for those elites who are not in official positions but would like to be, they must respond to public opinion.

The Media

      A basic feature of democratization is freedom of speech and, more concretely, the dominance of the privately-owned or unofficial media. Abrupt democratization will bring a vast array of media into existence. Those who hope to survive must compete intensely in order to attract the attention of the public. Only then will people pay money for their output, and become loyal followers of their messages. Hence the competitors will exploit hot topics to stir up the social passions. If Tibet should democratize abruptly, the hottest topic and most motivating material would be persecution by Han China, the tragedy of the Tibetan people, and the alleged secret agenda of the Han. This kind of incitement could quickly get out of hand, resulting in the promulgation of irresponsible exaggerations. Insisting on inspection would lengthen the publication cycle, increase costs, and in general worsen the position of the media. Even in the West, with its more mature liberated media, sensationalist small papers exist. The criteria for developing responsible media are lacking when a society democratizes abruptly.

The Public

       In the period since the Cultural Revolution, there has been no organized people’s movement in Tibet. This does not mean that there is no possibility that Tibet will never have a people’s movement again. Autocracy devastates, breaks up, and limits any power outside the political system. Society, as distinct from the autocratic government, is disunited. Lacking a medium for expression and release, people in this environment often feel lonely and helpless. Twisted psychologically and intensely depressed, they look for ways to overcome these feelings. Until a way appears, they often feign indifference. When, however, a possibility appears, they tend to behave in an explosive and extreme manner in order to compensate. At this moment, those who are used to being disunited are actually easier to stir up, since they have intense emotions but lack channels for buffering and restructuring. They communicate directly with the macro stratum, but do not have the ability to make judgments on macro affairs. Because their message and their ardor come from the media, they magnify its provocations. This will not be the voice of prudence.

      Another feature of the public is they like looking back. At least in theory, it is possible to understand and reach a consensus on events that have already happened, but the future is filled with uncertainties. There are many different opinions, creating an unfavorable climate for the public to affect the state of affairs. Even dwelling too much on the past will lead only to the continuation of the quarrels in history, thereby creating new conflicts and hatred. There were so many disasters and agonies in Tibet, once there is possibility for release, its explosive power is not difficult to imagine.

      Apart from the ever stronger sense of nationalism, other opinions can hardly dare to be expressed in the media. Any attitude other than opposing China will be seen as weakness and cowardice. The media will become the amplifier of the people’s voices. Prudent voices will not be tolerated. The public will only have one kind of judgment, and the entire Tibetan group will become extremist.

Representative and Councilors

      The above represents the likely situation in Tibet if it is abruptly democratized. This is the foundation on which the Dalai Lama depends in order to build up and control the political system. The key point of the social and political structure he envisions will be the election of councilors (representatives) by the public. The electors determine the councilor, so councilors must satisfy the opinions of the electors. Therefore, the Dalai Lama’s political design is first to empower the parliament under the restriction of the public’s emotion. His initial objective was to expect the parliament to buffer the irrationality of the public. A similar democracy in the West did fulfill this function. But the difference is that, if there is no target to motivate its entire people; if there is no target to hate; and without a milieu that pushes the society towards extremity, the parliament may play the role of buffer. Even the existence of functioning parliaments in the West cannot always avoid public disturbances. In a suddenly democratized Tibet, these conditions would be extreme, and would furthermore lack the buffering quality that political parties and the profit-making motive provide in the West. Councilors will not be able to avoid following public opinion.

      Not daring to betray the public is a kind of passivity. In the competitive system of democratic politics, councilors face competitors who want to displace them. Typically, the competitors will attack the real or perceived weaknesses of the councilors, forcing them to take more extreme positions. This strategy often succeeds quite easily. The public loves heroes and they like seeing feats and hearing grandiloquence. Facing such competitions, the councilors have no choice but to run hard. On the running track, the one who runs in the front will receive cheers and win the prize. Therefore, councilors cannot buffer the emotion of the public prudently. Instead, in order to stabilize their own position, they have to run ahead of their competitors.

      Even in a mature democratic society, councilors put considerable effort into showing off. A democratic political system breeds politicians who are good at performing in the media rather than trying to impress the public their intellect and integrity. However, in a suddenly democratized society that lacks of democratic training, the voters are easily puzzled by the vows and promises of irresponsible politicians.

      Meanwhile, the councilors sit and criticize; they do not have administrative responsibilities and are not, therefore, responsible for the outcomes of decisions. Therefore, their motivation for dealing with concrete matters is far less important than their motivation for moral matters. Officials in autocratic societies also tend to talk moral matters, but with no effect on its operation. The final decision of authority belongs to the regime instead of the councilors. However, under the Dalai Lama’s political system, the parliament is responsible for enacting legislation, for the election of the top leader, and to empower the executive branch. It therefore has decisive authority, and there is no power that can oppose it. Therefore, under this system, the conflict between Tibet and China will have to continue.

Leaders and government

According to the Dalai Lama’s plan, the leader of Tibet will be elected by parliament rather than the public. He has arranged special authority for this leader, who can, for example, directly appoint some state councilors, and must approve legislation that the parliament has passed. However, if the highest leader is elected by parliament, she or he need only please the parliament and cannot act as a check against its excesses. Although he is theoretically the chief leader, he must follow the parliament’s will.

      With regard to the relationship between Tibet and China, the extreme tendencies of the parties in this parliament compete, thus polarizing the debate. On foreign problems, the parties will show the same attitude, opposing enemies and showing their affection for the nation. This kind of behavior is uncommon in other countries.

Conversely, if the public elects the highest leader, it will be possible for him or her to contest with the parliament. The Dalai Lama’s plan will lead to the narrowing of the leaders’ political stance, meaning that there will be little flexibility. It is equivalent to hanging a sword above the chief leader’s head. The Dalai Lama’s proposed political structure does not effectively separate the administrative and discussion functions.

The tacit encouragement of extremism that is built into this system means that it is likely that the parliament will try to separate Tibet from China.

·      Can the Dalai Lama guarantees that Tibet will stay in China?

The unique special characteristic of Tibet is the Dalai Lama himself. He has the power to lead Tibetans spiritually, though this power is far from democratic in nature. But can he guarantee that Tibet will stay in China?  Tibetans generally believe that as long as the Dalai Lama lives, no one will dispute his ideas. However, the system he designed has, to a certain extent, weakened his political purpose. The Dalai Lama has stated that, after the introduction of democracy in Tibet, he will not take part in politics (4). However, in a democratic Tibet, there would be no one except the Dalai Lama who could lead the parliament. Therefore, only if the Dalai Lama does not act as the political leader will the Tibetan government be led by its parliament. If the system allows the public to elect the chief leader, the Dalai Lama can use his influence: when he expresses his support for someone, the public will vote for that person. However, under his system, the public is to elect the councilors and representatives so that he will not be able to instruct the voters in every voting region whom to vote for. This, of course, should not be done, since it violates the principle of democracy. On the other hand, if the elected councilors and representatives vote for the chief leader, they are unlikely to follow the Dalai Lama as blindly as the common people. His political influence will therefore be limited.

·      Can time solve the problem?

Chinese democrats in exile drafted a Constitution of the Chinese United Republic (5), partly because of the attention that the Tibet problem has received.  Under this proposal, Tibet will be given the position of an autonomous state, with the high degree of autonomy demanded by the Dalai Lama. Two of the five entities currently designated autonomous regions, Xinjiang and, Inner Mongolia, would have to have the designation as autonomous states approved by 2/3 of the parliament. (6) Tibet alone is allowed to decide on its identity of staying in China or becoming independent after 25 years. (7)

I believe that the drafters of the constitution wish to have Tibet to stay in China.  Since 25 years constitutes a generation, it may be sufficiently long that historical historical antagonisms will fade and persuade Tibetans to abandon the pursuit of independence. However, it can also be argued that, in historical terms, 25 years is just a snapshot, and will not be able to erase Sino-Tibetan hatred.  As a case in point, the Cultural Revolution has been over for 25 years, but has certainly not been forgotten. World War II has been over for 55 years, but Jews have certainly not forgotten about it.

Even though old hatreds may fade, new conflicts will arise. For example, the problem of Greater Tibet---i.e. inclusion of ethnically Tibetan areas that the Beijing government excluded from the Tibetan Autonomous Region it created---was avoided in the draft constitution. Tibetans cannot be expected to have the same attitude as the drafters. If in the future China is composed of linked states, will those areas originally given the designation autonomous, including the Zhuang and others, be willing to give up territory to the Tibetan state? Will the expanding Han population move into the Tibetan region? If so, the suppression of the Tibetans and the sense of nationalism of the Han people may create new problems. In a democratic society, even tiny conflicts can be twisted and amplified by the media, not to mention the presence of those people who intentionally motivate the ethnic group to which they belong. If the Constitution of Chinese United Republic is enacted in its current form, I believe that Tibetan leaders will wait out the 25-year time period without abandoning their goal of independence. Rather, they will use the intervening quarter-century to motivate the public and prepare to establish a separate nation. They will be thankful to the people who drafted the Constitution of the Chinese United Republic for assisting Tibet’s independence without the need for violence. They are confident that, at the end of the 25-year period, the majority of Tibetans will vote for independence. By that time, the Dalai Lama will have passed away, with his vows having followed him to another world.

III. Difference between scalar-addition and vector-addition

When I mentioned that wars must be avoided for the happiness of people, is there a contradiction between the Han people’s strong desire to fighting against those who would divide the state and the Tibetan people who want to fight for their independence? It may be argued that, if warfare is truly the choice of both sides, and they are willing to pay the price of warfare in order to achieve an objective they consider higher,  then it is not for other people to judge whether war is to be avoided or not. But in fact, the nationalistic feelings on both sides are not inherent but have been nurtured and motivated by their respective ethnic elites. Ordinary Han people do not care whether Tibet and China separate from each other or not: it is not related to their lives. Also, the average Tibetan does not care whether Tibet should be independent or not: the concept of sovereignty has no meaning to her or him. People of both sides want only to see that their families have a comfortable living. Seeking for the vector addition of the will of thousands of people, there would not be warfare fighting for independence.

However, things will be different if we carry out scalar addition. This addition is from down to the top; it needs preparatory problems and measures, and also an expression and explanation for the results. Elites equate their own will with the will of their ethnic group. Elites have a stronger sense of nationalism and are more sensitive to the suppression of ethnic groups. It is widely recognized that there is a hierarchy in nationalism. But there is another reason for the nationalism of ethnic elites: their desire for authority. Most ethnic elites stick to unification; they oppose the independence and autonomy of the minority because they do not want to give up power. But minority elites want independence, and they, too, want power. To them, independence will confer the greatest resource – new authority. Under the current international system, once Tibet becomes independent, it will receive equal status with other nations. Therefore, this option is extremely attractive to the ethnic elites.

Of course, these motivations are not spoken of publicly: elites always talk of opposition to disintegration and the pursuit of independence as necessary for the well-being of the ethnic group. They also claim that they represent the will of the people. However, in a binary society, ethnicity is little more than a slogan. In reality, it indicates little more than the will of ethnic elites. No matter whether it is idea, principle, target, or determination, they will not be spontaneously generated in the public’s mind, but are created and spread by minority elites. Even votes purporting to indicate the support of the majority do not truly represent the will of the people, because there are several sides of the problem: 

  1. A complete personal will represents the integration of multiple factors. When a person agrees with a single problem, this might reflect only one of these factors, and the agreement might be cancelled out if all factors are considered. For example, if the question is solely whether people are willing to become independent, they may say yes. However, if the question becomes whether they are willing to have their family broken up and people die, they may not. One of the ways that ethnic elites mislead is that they ask people only the former question and then declare that response as people’s will. The latter question is either concealed or avoided.
  2. The general public is inexperienced and finds it difficult to grasp macro affairs. They have inadequate channels for communication and therefore can only passively react to the opinion of the ethnic elites, and in terms of “yes” or “no” choices. Hence, what they appear to express eager support for is in fact no more than the will of the ethnic elites, who alone have the right to speak.
  3. Absolutism can make use of national institutions and religious beliefs and behavior to influence the minds of their people. Democratic politicians can also make use of the mass media and trick their people. Hence, what people express may not be their own will, but is in reality a reflection of the deceit of their leaders.
  4. Typically, there are inadequate channels through which those with different opinions can express themselves, since they are monitored and controlled by the elites.  Some little people are able to express themselves privately, but most of those who disagree must keep their views to themselves. Hence, the minority who do express opinions are mistakenly believed to represent the whole.

In a binary society, most things cannot be done without authority and elites. Even in a democratic society that enjoys freedom to vote and to express one’s opinion, there must be a certain degree of control by the elites, who therefore lead while the public must follow.  The Han elites express their will of nationalism; there is no public acknowledgement of the fact that the Han common people do not care whether or not Tibet is a separate political entity. Similarly, Tibetan elites express their will of nationalism, and it cannot be seen that the Tibetan common people do not care about independence. Since the elites of two ethnic groups oppose each other, it appears that the Tibetan people and the Han people oppose each other.

Therefore, in a scalar society, the ethnic problem cannot be solved smoothly. Only in a vector society, can people free themselves from elite guidance, giving expression to the will of the society and making decisions. And at that moment, the aversion to war and the pursuit of peace will become major trends, while the contest for authority will fade. A Successive Multilevel Electoral System(SMES) will becomes the structure of addition of vectors.

IV. SMES reassures China

As previously mentioned, there are two prerequisites for solving China’s ethnic problems. The first is to fully accomplish the freedom and autonomy of all ethnic groups. The second is to guarantee the unification of China. With respect to Tibet specifically, this amounts to what the Dalai Lama has termed “double assurance” – “assure the Chinese, assure Tibetans…China does not have to worry about the separation of Tibet, Tibetans do have not to worry about the disappearance of temples in Tibet.” (9)

Let us examine whether the SMES can achieve this double assurance. As discussed above, the democratic system cannot guarantee that Tibet will remain in China, and might actually push Tibet and China into conflict or even war. In recognition of this, the Chinese government rejects negotiation with Dalai Lama, claiming that his proposals are “half-independence” or “independence in another way.”  Hence they believe that negotiation will be in vain. Even a democratic Chinese government would reject the Dalai Lama’s proposals. Only if his plan can be modified to ensure that the separation of Tibet from China is impossible will the government be sufficiently reassured that it will be willing to negotiate.

·      Lack of independence motivation in the SMES

From the viewpoint of Tibetans, it is enough to have Dalai Lama’s promise to have Tibet stay in China. It is because Dalai Lama is their divinity and there is unreasonable to have any doubt. However, for politicians outside Tibet, this reason is not enough. Even if Dalai Lama is trustworthy and available, he is not immortal. Given the level of mutual distrust between the two groups, it is plausible to believe that every ethnic group may hurt other ethnic groups for its own benefit. Therefore, there should be safeguards against every unfavorable possibility and a system constructed that would not depend on a particular leader or leaders remaining in charge. Such a guarantee is more reliable than trust in creating harmonious ethnic relationships.

The SMES is such a system. It can guarantee that Tibet will not separate from China, and will not stimulate the pursuit of independence. The origin of power in the SMES is the bottom, not the top. Since the motivation for independence comes from above, from elites seeking to enhance their power, the SMES will damp down such tendencies.  Should independence come about, the common people will bear the risk and sacrifice it will entail; they will also have additional expenses for defense and foreign affairs, which are now borne by the Beijing government. But they receive nothing in return. Ethnic leaders at the lower ranks will not attain glory through independence, since authority does not belong to them. The difference is that there will be one less rank in the hierarchy above them, but that will have no practical consequences in enhancing their status. Therefore, under the SMES, lower-rank officials will not be motivated to support higher-ranking leaders in their pursuit of independence, and the lower their rank, the lower their motivation. Under this system, since the higher rank is elected by the rank below it, the lower rank exercises at least partial control over significant events above it. Lacking support from lower ranks, higher rank will have reduced incentive for independence and a lesser capacity for trying to bring it about.

A situation in which all the people, including the lower ranks, will occur only when a region is strongly suppressed by a foreign ethnic group and the whole group of oppressed comes to the conclusion that death will be preferable to living without freedom. At that moment independence will become a must.

However, if the SMES is carried out, that situation will not occur. Since the organizational structure of the ethnic group is produced by a SMES, foreign ethnic suppressors will not be elected. Suppression can occur in only one way---through invasion and occupation.  Given a state of occupation, the invaders cannot acknowledge the SMES of the invaded ethnic group, because they intend to build their own authority so as to suppress that ethnic group. Therefore, it can be said that only if a SMES exists, there will never be ethnic suppression.

In a suddenly democratized society, the motivation for independence also comes from the “effect of public square” which results from the gap among opinion leader à mass media à the public à councilors à government. However, in the SMES, opinion leaders must try to lower the fury of the public. This is because the path for obtaining power has changed. In the past, they obtained votes by instigating the public; now they must return to reality. Counseling and administration must be unified, with counseling bearing the responsibility.

The reasoning of opinion leaders will directly influence the media because they are the origin of the media’s views.  If opinion leaders display different opinions, this will be beneficial in producing a balance of views and so reduce the thrust of the media towards the public. In addition, the rationalization and diversification in viewpoints of the opinion leaders will bring more choices to the public and reduce the likelihood that they will instigate the public to violence. On the contrary, that would alleviate the market pressure faced by the opinion leaders and the media and create a positive recycling effect.

Most importantly, the SMES will do away with the link of public à councilor and the links remaining in the chain – opinion leader à mediaà public – will create a shared vigorous emotion. Additionally, the confiscation of the public à councilor link will remove it from the decision-making process. The public electing the councilors will mean that the public will constrain the councilors, who will have to cope with public opinion when they elect the top leaders and appoint the government. This pushes restraint upwards and applies it to the government. The SMES will not elect councilors. This kind of election is sensible and will restrict violent emotions. The SMES will coach and condense electoral responsibility. There will be realization of the harm and potential danger brought about by independence. Therefore, the electorate will remain responsible and demand that their top leader be responsible as well. The top leader does not need to appeal to nationalist emotion, since the lower ranks will absorb the pressure for him. Therefore, he can act in the most beneficial way without worrying about his future at the polls. This is extremely important for a society’s long term well-being.

·      SMES and Greater Tibet

China remains anxious about another goal advocated by the Dalai Lama: unification of the whole area of Tibet. As mentioned above, greater Tibet totals more than 2,400,000 square miles; this constitutes one-fourth of China’s total land area. The Chinese government intentionally divided ethnic Tibet into two sections, with . one-half under the control of four contiguous provinces with large Han populations. Since this arrangement has been in place for over two centuries, it will be difficult to convince China to change it.

First of all, given the existence of separatist feelings in Tibet, for the Beijing government to accede to demands for the creation of a greater Tibetan administrative unit puts a much larger area at risk. A Greater Tibet would have greatly enhanced territory and its loss would double the land area taken from the PRC. Only if demands for independence cease will it be possible for China to yield on demands to unify all areas of Tibet. The introduction of the SMES will reduce Tibetans’ motivation for independence. The nature of autonomy is, to a substantial degree, to seek for personal benefits and to prevent outsiders from gaining control of the area’s resources. Therefore, the introduction of the SMES will not lead to the unification of Tibetan areas into a single body.  On the contrary, Tibet will be divided into a number of self-governing bodies, each of them exercising a high degree of autonomy. Even if expanded to a greater Tibet, this nature will not change.

Conversely, the integration of Tibetan-populated areas into a greater Tibet should be beneficial to China. According to the 1990 census, Tibetans in the Tibetan Autonomous Region comprise 96.46% of the TAR’s total population. If autonomy is carried out alone in the absence of integration into a greater Tibet, that would create a single Tibetan self-governed body.  In the contiguous areas of Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan, Tibetans account for only 57.93% of the total population. Should a greater Tibet be created by merging the TAR with contiguous Tibetan areas, its Tibetan population would become 70.84% (10) The increased ratio of Han to Tibetans in greater Tibet, vis-à-vis the TAR, would be beneficial to maintaining China’s sovereignty in the area. The integration of different Tibetan areas would also avoid the problem of different ruling policies towards Tibetans in different provinces, which has had disastrous consequences. For example, in the 1950s, the area now known as the TAR did not have to carry out the so-called democratic reforms, whereas Tibetans who lived in other provinces did.  Many of those who were dissatisfied with the reforms fled to Lhasa and surrounding areas, where they spread rumors and were instrumental in the 1959 revolt.

The establishment of a greater Tibet with meaningful autonomy would have another advantage for the Chinese government: it would not have to worry about the Tibetan area. Tibetans themselves would have to deal with their problems and bear the responsibilities that are part of autonomy. Even if the Chinese government continued to provide assistance, it would receive a measure of gratitude for doing so.

Another factor to be considered is that Beijing is more likely to accept a SMES. The communist party’s single- party rule and the democratic system are recognized to be antithetical, so for the communist party to acquiesce in the institution of a democratic system would imply the failure of the communist system. If democracy is institutionalized in Tibet, it is certain that the Dalai Lama’s side will be on stage and the communist officials will be off . The two sides have contested for 40 years and the communist party cannot accept such a consequence. The SMES avoids this win/lose format. It does not favor either side: no one wins or loses. Even currently exiled Tibetans who return to Tibet cannot be involved in sovereignty issues, since they are identified with the exile organization. Because the SMES is not affected by macro factors and is not controlled by mass media, there will be no foundation on which to establish a political alliance. Those who want to be elected must face the reality that, in the new Tibet, formerly exiled persons and pro-communists are completely equal.

Dare we hope that, if the Dalai Lama should change his demand for autonomy for greater Tibet within a democratic system in China into autonomy for greater Tibet within the SMES in China, a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Beijing government will be facilitated?


V.  SMES Will Make Tibet Better

·      SMES has the advantages of both unification and independence

I keep reminding people who insist that Tibetan be independent of China that they should think not only about the advantages of independence, but also about the difficulties of independence. If one day Tibet should become independent, after the joy of victory, its people will have to face everything independently, starting with daily necessities like rice, oil and salt. Tibet will also have to face the issue of frontier defense and immigration issues. The countries that surround Tibet include China, India and Pakistan, which have among the highest population densities in the world.  Inevitably, large numbers of people will seek to enter relatively sparsely populated Tibet. In order to protect its frontiers, Tibet will have to rely on a big country – either China or India. China would definitely not accept Tibet relinquishing its frontier defense to India: such an eventuality would only result in more serious conflicts. Tibet would become the battlefield for these two Asian giants and the adverse effects would be greatest on Tibet itself. Hence, for Tibet to remain unified with China, with China continuing to be responsible for the frontier defense of Tibet, is most beneficial to Tibet itself as well as to the avoidance of conflict.

In its 50 year rule of Tibet, the PRC has nurtured a substantial modernized sector there; its continued existence is dependent on Chinese help. In 1997, the TAR had an income of $ 295,370,000 and expenditures of $ 3,819,520,000 (11). The deficit, which was 12 times the TAR’s income, was paid by Beijing. If Tibet became independent, these subsidies would end and, with them, the modernization of Tibet. Some Tibetans hope that foreign countries will make up the shortfall. Although there might be support from abroad, it cannot be as reliable as that from China.. There are Tibetans who believe that modernization is not necessary to live. But, one’s personal views of modernization notwithstanding, a modernized sector already exists. In 1994, there were 160,000 employees of state-owned enterprises in the TAR, of whom 108,900 were Tibetans. (12). Even if we assume that these people alone constitute the modernized part of Tibet, would not adverse effects on these 15% of the population create shock waves in the larger society? They are the most energetic representatives of Tibetan society; if their problems are not solved, Tibetan society will be unstable.

Therefore, Tibet must stay within China based on its own need for safety and stability. Actually, if the SMES is carried out, independence can almost come about without a formal declaration thereof.

Some people wonder, given the huge difference between the Tibetan population and that of Han, whether the Tibetan people be reduced to irrelevance by the Han under a China-wide SMES. Here, bear in mind that every province and autonomous entity will consider its own benefits first and foremost. If Tibet is one of thirty provinces in the PRC, although provinces with a Han majority will dominate, this does not mean that the Han will unite to oppose the Tibetans. If there are differences of opinion among them, they are likely to reflect differences in the benefits to individual problems rather than differences in ethnicity. Some Han provinces might not agree with the opinions of the Tibetans, while others would. This could be beneficial to Tibet, which would engage itself as one of the provinces in China rather than in terms of a Tibetan versus Han dichotomy. The top leader under a SMES in the whole China is formed with the 30 leaders in provinces. They will form a committee to manage China (13), carry out legislation, discuss administrative issues, establish the scope of political discourse, and elect the top leader for the nation. The top leader of Tibet will be one of 30 such leaders, giving him or her added authority. Even in greater Tibet, the whole population is just seven to eight million (the 1990 census showed 6.4567 million (14)) , but the authority of Tibet’s top leader is equal to that of provincial leaders in Henan and Shandong, which have populations of a hundred million or more. This system will function much as do parliaments in Western democratic system.

In terms of ethnicity problems, Tibet will not be isolated under a SMES. There is the potential to ally with Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Guangxi, Ningxia, and even Yunnan, where there are high concentrations of ethnic minorities. This kind of alliance could play a significant role in voting.

Finally, it should be noticed that the process of decision making by committee involves protracted negotiations, mutual delayed compensation, and arrangements for selection. (15). There will be long-term interactions among the actors, with everyone understanding that today’s majority can become tomorrow’s minority and today’s concession can lead to tomorrow’s quid pro quo. Therefore, decision-making by committee is not characterized by suppression and autocracy, but by bargaining, compromise, and mutual adjustment. Particularly when the minority is strongly assertive attitude, the majority will make concessions. Such a system will provide better protection for the rights of minority peoples.

·         SMES will inhibit the alliance of politics and religion

                Tibet has had a theocratic tradition for several hundred years.  The current Dalai Lama, who is the fourteenth incarnation, exercises both temporal and spiritual power in Tibet’s exile society. Even in the TAR, religion has a great impact on everyday issues. The spirit of democracy, however, involves individual decision-making on multiple issues as well as multiple candidates for office. If the majority of people follow the command of one, or a small number, of living Buddhas, this is not a true democracy.

Some people believe that in a democratic Tibet, the majority of those elected will be lamas. This is indeed possible. Even if there are laws on the separation of politics and religion (as the Dalai Lama has promised), and clerics may not run for office, many common people will follow the Dalai Lamas advice when they vote. Laws cannot control peoples’ minds, and if the mind of the average person is controlled by religion, religion will intrude into politics through other channels.

       Religious faith is, of course, a personal choice. But ceding political judgment and the right to govern society to clerics is already an extension of the divine into the secular sphere. Although religion exists in Western democratic societies, it plays a very minor role in their citizens’ political life, far less than is the case in Tibet. Therefore, establishing a democratic system in Tibet will not guarantee that democratic objectives will be achieved. If unfortunately, decision-making is under the control of an absolute ruler or small group of rulers, this will subvert the spirit of democracy. By analogy, the Cultural Revolution in China was also a great democracy under the will of Mao.

I do not oppose religion, but I believe that it is necessary to consider how to sustain the significant position of religion in Tibet while at the same time preventing its interruption into politics---as the Dalai Lama himself has stressed. The SMES can accomplish this. Under it, religion cannot provide specific instructions for politics, but can serve only as an ethical background for making choices. For example when ordinary people elect councilors, they may not understand whom should they vote for, and would refer to the instructions given by the living Buddha. However, they will have sufficient understanding to elect their own village leaders. Elections will be based on their perception of benefits to the voters, and religion will play a decisive role in their choices. At higher levels in the electoral hierarchy, voters will use as the political body rather than religion as the starting point for consideration. Hence the people in power will not have to worry about the attitudes of the clergy.

The SMES serves two directional functions. First it will group heretofore disunited people together and, second, it will separate the sacred from the secular. These two functions are important. Only the SMES can exclude religion from politics without doing harm to religion itself. This system will not have to bear the consequences of challenging religion, and therefore will help avoid conflicts and pressures for separatism. This is important for Tibet in terms of facilitating modernization without confronting their religious faith.

·         SMES is most suitable for elections in Tibet

            The United States has two centuries of experience with elections, and its people begin their education in the electoral process very early in life. Even so, problems remain: a survey conducted during the 2000 presidential campaign showed that 40 percent of the voters mixed up Bush and Gore. In the state of Florida, one county used a so-called butterfly ballot that some voters found so confusing that they inadvertently voted for the wrong candidate. Actually, there were arrows clearly instructing the voters but mistakes occurred nevertheless. The chaos that would occur in a Tibetan election. is scarcely imaginable.

            A local-level official in Tibet told me his experience in an election of an agricultural organization that was only electing representatives: although he spent three days in the village, the common people still did not understand how to put a tick on the ballot. Most their votes were redundant. If Tibet should adopt Western style democracy, it is possible that half or more of the ballots would be spoiled. The consequences could be even more serious than the 2000 Florida election. The majority of the people are agricultural and nomadic, they tend to be illiterate and/or lacking in political experience. Hence, there are serious concerns about how they well they would respond to Western style democracy.

       Another serious problem in Tibet relates to the region’s large size and the fact that its population is dispersed over a wide area. This would cause difficulties for political participation in a region-wide election. The common people do not know for whom they should vote, and would therefore be indifferent to the election; they will not be motivated to travel long distances to vote. Even in the United States, where most adults own cars, as many as half of those eligible to vote do not do so. In some elections, non-voters may be larger in number than either the Democratic or Republic voters. This phenomenon is apt to be even more prevalent in Tibet. If only a small proportion of the population votes and the quality of those votes is poor, democracy becomes meaningless.

       In a SMES, peasants dispersed across a wide area need elect only the village leaders, reducing the time they must travel to vote as well as the complications of not knowing the individuals for whom they are voting. Illiteracy and lack of training in democracy also matter less. All voters are on roughly comparable levels. Those contending for office do not need television and newspapers for communication, they can fully communicate with the peasants directly. The voters are unlikely to be confused by tricky wordings and empty promises. They will understand the background of each of the candidates and have a clear idea for whom they should vote. If basic-level elections can be concluded well, upper level elections will follow along. This will guarantee motivation and have positive effects for future elections..

·         SMES will prevent the disintegration of Tibetan society

The autonomy created by a democratic system is not true autonomy but rather a form of self-management in Tibet against the Chinese government. The Chinese government itself is still ruled by elites. This is just a change from the Han elite’s rule over Tibetans to the Tibetan elite’s rule over Tibetans.  Since this is simply exchanging one such elitist structure for another, it is not appropriate for Tibet. One small group will continue to decide everything. Further, if a society bifurcates into two parties that oppose one another, no matter which one wins, the other party will be ruled, and this opens the possibility of conflicts between them. Even though democracy is theoretically more tolerant than absolutism, the basic expression of people’s will – voting involves the nature of winner-take-all: if one belongs to a minority, her or his vote will be irrelevant. In mature democratic societies, there are protective measures for the minorities. However, in a suddenly democratized society, absolutism tends to become dominant, suppressing and even harming minorities. If those minorities constitute a substantial proportion of the population and their power is relatively large, they may choose to oppose or condemn the ruling organization, thus leading to disintegration and instability in the society.

China’s half-century intrusive presence in Tibet brought a lot of structural changes to the society and created numerous problems. Tibet has to deal with these, however averse it may be to doing so. When Tibet is ruled by China, it is easy for Tibetans to unite against the foreign presence. However, if Tibetans rule themselves, internal rifts will quickly become apparent. One of the first problems will be how to deal with those who held positions of power under communist party rule. Another will be the disposition of the state-owned enterprises, which are currently heavily subsidized by Beijing because of their unprofitable natures. Should the new Tibetan government continue to subsidize them? If yes, can it afford to do so?  If not, workers at the enterprises, who are used to be fed by the government and are suddenly forced to fend for themselves, will soon be yearning for the communist party. Eastern Europe has already shown us such a phenomenon. If the people’s needs are not met, they will hate their new ruler, Tibetan or not, even if he is the Dalai Lama. There are numerous other problems, just as Mao Zedong found when he tried to reform the peasants. Tibetans, no matter who rules them, will encounter problems. This cannot be overlooked.

The transformation from pseudo autonomy to actual autonomy may provide a solution. Actual autonomy is the kind of “full-cell autonomy” that will be brought about by the SMES. If this autonomy is realized, there will not be a ruling organization from bottom to top or one side that is able to suppress the other. Hence, each side can maintain a tolerant and peaceful mind. At the same time, this kind of autonomy will allow each side to form groups within itself. Exiled Tibetans, for example, can have their own bodies, as can those Tibetans who were communist officials. Each body can function according to its principles, maintain its culture, and protect its members. The principle of interaction among the autonomous bodies is decided at the top level under the SMES. This top-level is characterized by common sense, and is good at reaching compromises. By the time the transition to the new system takes place, the root causes of disintegration and feelings of differentness will also have faded away, and society will be ready for integration.

Apart from that, this kind of “full-cell autonomy” has another advantage--- that every level of the autonomous body can deal with its own internal contradictions. Since autonomy refers to the “import” and “export” relationship between the autonomous body and the outside, its internal processes are decided within itself, making the autonomous unit responsible for the consequences of its own behavior as well as unable to avoid its responsibilities. Under pseudo autonomy, authority runs from top to the bottom. Since everything is under the ruler’s control, he must therefore bear all the responsibility. Those who are being ruled will express their discontents to the ruler. For a democratic ruler in particular, since his or her power is circumscribed, he or she must to endure criticism from all the sides in the society. It is difficult to lead, but and leadership has many potential hazards.

In the SMES, every autonomous level from lowest to highest has a self-management committee. Big issues are decided together, directions are set by it, the leader is elected by everyone, and the work is done by all the people. Therefore, people cannot blame others. What they can do is to improve the management body itself, or change the leaders they have selected. Even in state-owned enterprises, if allowed to manage themselves through the SMES, the staff will stay with the enterprise help transform it rather than lose their jobs. This is a fair system, and once that is conducive to the self-transformation of the enterprise. It is certainly an improvement over management by, and assistance from, the government. Of course, this is an extremely complicated matter that requires detailed and specific comments.

However, the SMES can bring despair to the winning elites in the competition of power, since no person or organization will be the winner no matter how they struggled in the past. For example the Tibetan government in exile has been campaigning for Tibet’s freedom for forty years. If Tibet obtains its freedom and a democratic system, they will undoubtedly claim sovereignty as the just reward for their prolonged struggles. However, if Tibet’s freedom is obtained through a SMES, they can return to Tibet only as ordinary citizens, with no special leadership roles despite their prolonged struggles. Those who aspire to political leadership must start at the bottom.

All the benefits will belong to the citizens, and the people will have everything. From the past until the present, there have been innumerable offenses that originated from the desire for authority. If the elimination of offenses can start from abolishing authority, then we should not feel regretful about doing it. This is something to be proud of; it is glorious.


(1) What is regarded as the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) by the Chinese government includes an area of 1,228,400 square kilometers and, in 1994, a population of 2,300,430 of whom 2,235,900 were Tibetans. However, greater Tibet, also includes most of Qinghai province, southern Gansu, western Sichuan and northeastern Yunnan. This is approximately twice the size of the TAR. and had a Tibetan population of 4,573,800 in 1990. More than two million Han and other ethnic groups live within the borders of greater Tibet.

(2) At that time, the June 4th disturbances were not yet settled, and the content of the “Middle Road” referred to by the Dalai Lama is still unclear, so there were voices of independence including “China must return freedom to Tibet”, “China should retreat from Tibet”, and “Tibet will become an internationally neutral nation forever”. However, such slogans are standard propaganda. Our focus is on producing a design for the democratization in Tibet.

(3) The Dalai Lama, “Tibet’s Future Political way and Constitutional Elites”, document published by the Tibetan government in exile, May 1993, pp. 19-20.

(4) Ibid., p. 15.

(5) Yan Jiaqi, a political scholar, and Yang Jianli, chair of the 21st Century China Provident Fund Committee, were the major initiators of these proposals.

(6) “The Constitution of a United Chinese Federation (draft proposal)” No. 36.

(7) “The Constitution of a United Chinese Federation (draft proposal)” No. 39.

(8) A simple description of the SMES is that those holding political power at any given level are elected by those at the level immediately below them. Specific details can be found in “A Successive Multilevel Electoral System: Principles and Methods” (Chinese Social Science Quarterly, Fall 2000); see also Dissolving Power: The Successive Multilevel Electoral System (Mingjing Publishing Company, 1998).

(9)  Lin Zhaozhen, “Independence is Far Away, Exiled Tibetans Fervently Desire to Return Home,” Chung-kuo Jih-pao (China Daily, Taipei), November 9, 1998.

(10)         Tibetan Population in Modern China (Chinese Studies of Tibet Publishing Company, 1992).

(11)         Annual Statistics of Tibet, 1998 (Chinese Statistical Publishing Company, 1999, p. 99).

(12)         Annual Statistics of Tibet, 1995, (Chinese Statistical Publishing Company, 1996), p. 56.

(13)         Committee here is defined according to the following features: 1. an interactive effect, face-to-face organization; 2. a systematic organization that exists for a long time; 3. a decisive organization that faces a series of problems. See Giovanni Sartori, Theory of Democracy Revisited (Beijing: Oriental Publishing Company, 1993) pp. 231-232.

(14)         Yu Zheng, The Modernization of Tibet, (Nationalities University Publishing Company, 1999), p. 38.

(15)         Specific comments on this statement can be found in Giovanni Sartori, Theory of Democracy Revisited (Beijing: Oriental Publishing Company, 1993) pp. 231-235.


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