“Free Tibet!!!” – who hasn’t heard this? Unless you have been living in a dungeon for most of your life or you get your news from bar coasters you should have heard of Tibet and its various independence organizations…
Often portrayed as one of the biggest struggles for freedom in the 20th (and 21st) century, liberation of Tibet is a hot issue frequently mentioned in the media. Over the years it has become a cause célèbre that gets plenty of airtime every time China does something unpopular and needs to be castigated by the West, and tremendous amounts of support have been drummed up by various groups sympathetic to Dalai Lama and his people.
For my part, I see it as a waste of time, a primitive exercise in tribalism, and nothing more than a crappy t-shirt.
My stance is a maddeningly unpopular “Keep Tibet in China!!!”
If you are already frothing at the mouth and trying to use your two fingers to type and send me a message full of insults, and it’s all being difficult because you are so angry that you have already spilled your decaf soy milk latte all over your “Free Tibet” t-shirt, then the rest of this text is not for you. However, if you are curious what could possibly propel someone into such an awkward idea, read on…
Tibet is a plateau region of Asia, north of the Himalaya, found somewhere in the complex sandwich formed by China, India, and Nepal. With an average elevation of 4,900 meters above the sea level it is commonly referred to as The Roof of the World.
Throughout history it existed as several separate and sovereign areas, a single independent entity, and also as a part of China during several dynasties. In mid 19th century, the theocratic leadership of Tibet, fearing foreign influence which had been spreading such silly ideas as “representative government” and “liberty”, expelled all westerners from the region and Tibet became a hermit kingdom. Isolated from the rest of the world, Tibet was “asleep at the wheel” – alliances were made all over the region, economic exchanges and growth on grand scale taking place just on the other side of the border, while Tibet’s irresponsible leadership mostly concerned itself with the preservation of its own power and effectively froze the country in time.
In 1913, the 13th Dalai Lama expelled the Chinese representatives and troops from Tibet, and while the expulsion was seen as an assertion of Tibetan autonomy, Tibet’s proclaimed independence was not accepted by the government of China (naturally, no one would expect THAT) and Tibet did not receive any foreign diplomatic recognition. This was largely because Tibet tried very hard for over half a century to remove itself from any dialogue with the neighbors and couldn’t possibly expect them to suddenly establish diplomatic relations when other arrangements had already been made. On May 10 1943, Chiang Kai-shek, the president of the anti-communist government of the Republic of China (ROC) and an ally of the Americans asserted that “Tibet is part of Chinese territory… No foreign nation is allowed to interfere in our domestic affairs” .
Thus, when in October of 1950, just about a year after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) marched on Tibet, the government (at that point led by a child-king, Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama) found itself with its pants down and totally unable to do anything about the invasion… Everyone in the west watched as the PLA marched in, because bigger people had bigger plans. Appeals to the UN were pointless as at that point there were large scale alliances with the Republic of China (the Nationalist government at that time at war with the Communists) which had exactly the same plans for Tibet as the PRC did. Tibet briefly received some token assistance from the US and a few other western countries but all that started fizzling by 1972 when US transferred recognition from the ROC to the PRC. After all, money talks and neither the ROC nor Tibet had enough of it to warrant anything more than some speeches in the UN and some mild scalding by inconsequential politicians.
Case closed, Tibet was absorbed by China and recognized by the whole world as an inseparable part of it. The governments of the US, UK, and France have all recognized China’s claim over Tibet. In 2008, European Union leader Jose Manuel Barroso stated that the EU recognized Tibet as integral part of China. For all the talk about human rights and democracy, money still talks louder, and trade is more important than some backward ethnic group in the faraway plateau.
Pro-independence activists often mention that since the ROC government had no effective control over Tibet from 1912 to 1950, China invaded an independent country. However, in the opinion of the Chinese government, this condition does not represent Tibet’s independence as many other parts of China also enjoyed de facto independence when the Chinese nation was torn by warlordism, Japanese invasion, and civil war.
Ultimately, whether Tibet was an independent country at any point in the early 20th century or not is irrelevant, as, realistically, plenty of independent countries have been invaded and forever absorbed into their neighbors, but more about that later.
There are several organizations, big ones, small ones, illegal ones (in China) and very popular ones in the West, all of them working towards some version of independence for Tibet. Tibetan Independence Movement, Free Tibet Campaign, International Tibet Independence Movement, International Tibet an Aid Organization, Students for a Free Tibet, Tibetan Youth Congress, as well as Central Tibetan Administration (operating while in exile in India) are but a few of the major ones.
My stance on the Tibet issue is that independence is a total pipe dream, much the same as Native Americans’ or Australian Aboriginals’ dream of their own country, and that at this point energy should not be spent on tribalism-driven separatism but rather on integration into mainstream Chinese society and economy. While the Chinese government could work towards a higher level of responsiveness to its citizens’ needs and demands, the Tibetans stand to gain much more from staying within the Peoples Republic, as the region already has enjoyed some phenomenal economic and infrastructural growth.
Oftentimes, various “Free Tibet” movements try to paint themselves as organizations that for some reason have the monopoly on knowledge about fairness, human rights, and “the right way” of treating humanity. This is, for the most part, bullshit. Masquerading behind the veil of religiosity, Tibetans have no extra right to humane treatment. While whining about the Tibetan cause, the Dalai Lama had at no point spoken against the war in Iraq in 2003 or about the plight of the Palestinians… And, more importantly, anyone trying to create an independent Tibet run by the Dalai Lama, i.e. a theocratic state, needs to get a kick in the teeth for moving the clock backwards. It’s a huge paradox to cry about democratic rights only to build a theocracy. At this point the world needs LESS, not MORE religious states. Thankfully, only a few idiots with no influence want this, as even the Dalai Lama is pretty much done with that idea.
In the age of easily influenced TV audiences, the movement has been very good at recruiting various politicians and celebrities to support it. Of course, just because famous people support it, it doesn’t mean they have any grasp of the realities of Tibet, or, in case of longtime supporters Steven Seagal, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Sharon Stone – any grasp of reality at all: Seagal claims to have the special ability of clairvoyance, Hilton and Lohan couldn’t find Tibet on a map of Tibet, and Stone caused significant controversy when she suggested that the 2008 Sichuan earthquake may have been the result of “bad karma,” because the Chinese “are not being nice to the Dalai Lama, who is a good friend of mine”. With celebrity assistance like this the Chinese have nothing to worry about.
Recruitment of celebrities, retarded or not, is simply to get more attention onto the cause. Any project HAS TO be truly recognized as “cool and worthwhile” when Bjork, Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against the Machine, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Beastie Boys do benefit concerts for it…
…Why has hardly anyone in the west heard about East Turkestan? Because the people of East Turkestan (Xinjiang), which is also occupied by China, are Muslims, and nobody gives a shit. It’s not about fairness, it’s merely a race of self promotion and a popularity contest. It is the same mechanism that tries to save the pandas and ignores the endangered snails, and results in dolphin-friendly tuna cans instead of tuna friendly tuna cans. People latch onto a pet project and stop thinking. Pandas and Tibetans are cute and cuddly, tuna and Muslims… well… who cares?
Why are Tibetans so precious, while the Muslims of Xinjiang, Palestinians, Abkhazians, Kashmiris , Chechens and countless other minority groups can go ahead and.. well.. fuck themselves?
The Bad History
It is absolutely true that the Chinese government has been committing a lot of crimes against Tibetans, and should be held accountable for those. (Striking examples were the 2006 Nangpa La shootings of unarmed civilians trying to escape into Nepal.) But, as shitty as it sounds, this is all part of Chinese immaturity as a state. And all Chinese citizens struggle against this, not just the Tibetans. And this is not a “communism is bad” statement – while there were some stellar fuckups, there were also some phenomenal victories against poverty. And non-communist states aren’t immune to fuckups: after all, in the 1800’s the United States government also had several genocidal policies against North American Indians for which nobody was punished. Questionable treatment of Canadian and Australian Aboriginals is also well recorded, and while apologies have been made decades later, it doesn’t mean China will not go through a period of introspection and similarly try to repair the damage.
Of course, the damage is often exaggerated, sometimes purposefully in order to get more attention. Tibetan exiles generally say that the number that have died in the Great Leap Forward (the disastrously failed economic plan which resulted in massive famine and millions of people starved in China), violence, or other unnatural causes since 1950 is approximately 1.2 million. However, this number is controversial, and the government does not agree to it. According to Patrick French, a supporter of the Tibetan cause who was able to view the data and calculations, the estimate is not reliable because the Tibetans were not able to process the data well enough to produce a credible total, with many persons double or triple counted. There were, however, many casualties, perhaps as many as 400,000. Even anti-Communist resources such as the Black Book of Communism expresses doubt at the 1.2 million figure, and notes that according to the Chinese census, the total population of ethnic Tibetans in the PRC was 2.8 million in 1953, but only 2.5 million in 1964. Chinese demographers have estimated that 90,000 of the 300,000 “missing” Tibetans fled the region.
There are frequent complaints in the media about the Han Chinese (the lowlanders from East Coast of China) moving into Tibet. While it undeniably changes the ethnic makeup of Tibet, bitching about it smacks of nothing more than racism and xenophobia. “Tibet for Tibetans” is not much nicer than “Germany for the Germans”. Learn to live with your neighbors, please.
The often cited cultural genocide in which hundreds of Buddhist monasteries have been demolished was in fact part of a wider storm that swept through the entire PRC. Tibetans weren’t singled out – the overzealous and misguided Red Guards ran amok in all of China destroying all temples and artifacts as part of their participation in Mao Zedong’s “Cultural Revolution”. This was a country-wide catastrophe, whose main instigators (in the PRC’s view, the “Gang of Four”) have been brought to justice and whose recurrence is unthinkable in an increasingly modernized China. Since the 1980’s some 300 million Renminbi were allocated to maintenance and protection of Tibetan monasteries. While this is most likely driven by a desire to see more tourist dollars, it seems to be the same mechanism that pumps money into native cultural projects in Canada, USA and Australia.
Time to get over it
Ultimately, it’s time to move on. Is China still that really big bad monster killing everyone in Tibet?
Since the obvious hurt of the upheavals of the 1950s and 1960’s, the lives of Tibetans have been improved immensely under the banner of the PRC. Benefits that are commonly quoted include:
The GDP of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) today is 30 times that before 1950;
Over 22,500 km of highways are now connecting towns and villages in TAR, all built since 1950;
ALL secular education in the region was created after integration into the PRC;
There are 25 scientific research institutes, all built by the PRC;
Infant mortality has dropped from 43% in 1950 to 0.661% in 2000;
Average life expectancy has risen from 35.5 years in 1950 to 67 in 2000;
Also, a huge government undertaking, the China Western Development plan is viewed by the PRC as a massive, benevolent, and patriotic undertaking by the eastern coast to help the western parts of China, including Tibet, catch up in prosperity and living standards.
The western development bureau affiliated to the state council released a list of 10 major projects to launch in 2008, with a combined budget of 436 billion yuan (64.12 billion U.S. dollars).
These projects included new railway lines connecting Guiyang and Guangzhou, Lanzhou and Chongqing, Kashgar and Hotan in Xinjiang; highways between Wanyuan and Dazhou in Sichuan Province, Shuikou and Duyun in Guizhou Province; airport expansion projects in Chengdu, Chongqing and Xi’an.
They also include the building of hydropower stations, coal mines, gas and oil transmission pipelines as well as public utility projects in western regions.
By the end of 2007, China has started 92 key construction projects in western regions, with a total investment of more than 1.3 trillion yuan.
Clearly not all this money is being invested in Tibet, but undeniably Tibet will find itself plugged into a dynamic and youthful economic system from which it can only benefit. Hermit days are over.
Plenty of bitching has been done by people opposed to the construction of the Xining-Lhasa rail line (a.k.a. Qinghai-Tibet Railway). This is possibly the single best thing that has happened to Tibet – a phenomenal transport link that will enhance trade and economic growth. What will that lead to? The people living in the plateau will finally be able to get their washing machines, satellite dishes, stoves and cell phones. But that is not at all how it has been received… The railway is seen as a negative influence by numerous groups in the West, which is just so stupid, I am growing a tumor just writing about it. Anyone opposed to transport links but wanting all the improvements and western amenities is an idiot. I have experienced this being demonstrated first hand on a trip to Tibet in the Fall of 2003 when a German tourist who did not stop whining about the cold also complained about “zee poverlines which are ruining zee view”.
Interestingly, China has been criticized for having built the railway to strengthen its political control over Tibet, and Bombardier Transportation, a Canadian company, has faced international criticism from some organizations for constructing rail cars for the project. Once again, retards are screaming, and we all have to listen… If China wants to build a rail line on its own territory, it has a right to do so. Last time I checked, Honolulu has an airport, but no one is accusing the US of building it to strengthen its control over Hawaii (which it DID invade and occupy since 1898 – where are the “Free Hawaii” t-shirts?) And if people are bitching about Bombardier building train cars for the oppressive Chinese government, they should be absolutely raging about Boeing Corporation (and countless others) manufacturing cruise missiles and other weapon systems, which are, after all, designed to kill people, not just move them from Xining to Lhasa. Idiots.
The Impossibility of Independence
At this point, given the Western interest in Tibet independence, together with anti-Chinese sentiments among large segment of the Tibetan population, the Chinese government would have to be just about insane to let go of the territory. Overnight the plateau would become a US military base, and China would find itself surrounded by potentially unfriendly powers at way too close a range.
The only option is integration. The only struggle should be a struggle for a responsive government. In this, the Tibetans aren’t the only ones. All Chinese citizens will have to struggle to get their government to respond to their needs, get rid of the massive corruption, and treat everyone fairly. But for all the bitching done by the Western journalists, ultimately the leadership in Beijing has managed to lift over 300 million people out of poverty in the last 30 years, literacy is skyrocketing, and the GDP has been increasing at an average of 9% annually for the last 20 years. That’s saying something about their ability to improve people’s lives.
Not that he is much of an authority on the issue, even the Dalai Lama himself doesn’t subscribe to the Tibet Independence movement but rather integration with greater autonomy within China.
Conclusions (and some talk about Darwin)
As far as history goes, both sides get choked up trying to prove or disprove whether or not Tibet was an independent nation at certain times prior to the 1950 Chinese takeover. This is irrelevant for the most part, as much as it is irrelevant whether current day Australia, Canada, United States, Russia, Israel and countless other countries are established on land stolen from other groups.
The natural (not necessarily FAIR, but definitely REAL) way of political change is that certain more powerful groups have been, do, and will take over other, weaker groups’ land and resources. This is largely because humanity, as a whole, is composed of little more than a bunch of monkeys constantly trying to steal each other’s bananas. In fact, the only differentiating factors between us and, say, baboons are that we have smaller tails and better transport.
My idea is that at this point instead of dividing the world into ever smaller compartments based on their inhabitants’ skin color, language, culinary preference or adherence to idiotic religious beliefs, we should be striving towards a border-free world where everyone enjoys the freedom and security that we all talk about. This will not be achieved by building walls and fences, and putting up flags. Look at the shit-storm that was stirred up in the Balkans and think about the shit-storm all this tribalism could cause in ethnic-mash countries like India or Indonesia. Humanity should be investing in global unity, a single global government, and equal rights for all citizens of the world. This is a wildly unpopular idea in today’s world where everyone is always told that they are better than the neighbors, where people not only are willing to kill for oil, but also for their football team or for their different idea of who should have sex with whom, and whether or not they believe in the same imaginary friend in the sky. Once again: we are just a bunch of monkeys: oil and money loving monkeys.
So, to all the hippies, flower children and bleeding hearts who think they are making the world a better place by waving more and more flags: calm down, go home, and hug your neighbor.
And Keep Tibet in China!!!