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The Tibet-China Conflict - Part 4: Controversy and Protests Over Violence, Past and Present

Updated on June 15, 2014
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The Tibet-China Conflict

This is part four of a series of articles giving an overview on the Tibet-China conflict. "Is Tibet part of China?" is a sensitive question. Here are links to Part 1: Overview and History , Part 2: Why China wants Tibet , and Part 3: Current Policies and the Dalai Lama. This section will focus on current protests, including self-immolation, as well as China's argument for saving Tibet from a "feudal serfdom".

The Tibet-China conflict is a controversial issue, and I again ask all readers, no matter how passionate on either side, to please keep an open mind and be open to further research and discussion. This is not intended to be a purely factual article, and it includes the opinions and conclusions I have drawn from my research. Comments on both my facts and my conclusions are welcome, the more that comes to light the better, but because I do not censor, please comment responsibly.

Also, as a note, there are a few images of self-immolation that could be considered graphic in this hub.

There is much propaganda and misinformation out about Tibet, and the effect of the media is often quite incredible. Let's begin this section by taking a look at reactions to the media on sides.

Sina Weibo

This is the logo for Sina Weibo, a very popular microblogging site in China. Many express opinions on controversial topics like the Tibet-China conflict only through sarcasm and implication, due to the censors.
This is the logo for Sina Weibo, a very popular microblogging site in China. Many express opinions on controversial topics like the Tibet-China conflict only through sarcasm and implication, due to the censors. | Source

Reactions to the media, and propaganda

Reactions to the media message vary greatly from region to region, and even in a single family there can be many views on the Tibet-China conflict and the Dalai Lama. Generally, the sympathy lies with Tibet in the Western world, especially in the U.S., likely helped by the somewhat anti-China attitude of the governments. Several pro-Tibet campaigns have been formed, such as International Campaign for Tibet, Students for a Free Tibet, and most prominently, a UK based organization with over 20,000 supporters simply named Free Tibet.

Tibet critics also exist, mostly expressing themselves through the Internet. Many blogs denouncing the Dalai Lama have appeared; some offer genuine points and arguments, while others spew media rhetoric and common Internet insults like “Da-Lie Lama”. There is broad support on both ends and on all aspects of the Tibet debate, despite the efforts of ultra-extreme proponents on both sides to muffle the voice of the opposition. However, even some who have spent all their lives in the PRC and/or strongly oppose Tibetan independence note the more frequently blatant one-sidedness of the Chinese media.


Tibetan Karmapa

An centuries-old image depicting the Karmapa.
An centuries-old image depicting the Karmapa. | Source

"Rescued Tibet from a slave-owning serfdom"

The most common defensible argument of the PRC, rather than clear propaganda, is that China rescued Tibetans from a slave-owning serfdom. This is a legitimate point; before the 20thcentury, almost 90% of all Tibetans lived in some sort of bondage to one of less than 300 lama houses, which are similar to the estates of the Middle Ages in Europe. The PRC claims its invasion in the 1950s was additionally justified by the human rights violations of the “feudal serfdom” (a common term used by the PRC to describe pre-1950s Tibet) under the Dalai Lama and other high lamas.

Human rights abuses undeniably occurred in Tibet before China’s invasion; serfs were treated in a way comparable to the African slaves of American history, and sometimes worse. Because Buddhism disallows killing, officials in the 13th century instead implemented punishments involving extreme mutilation, like the cutting of a leg or the pulling out of eyeballs for theft. As late as in the early 20th century, these punishments were still legal in many districts of Tibet. Seeing as by the late 20th century these punishments became much less common, China claims that her invasion ultimately saved Tibetans from the cruelties of the “feudal serfdom”.

Pro-Tibet advocates generally do not dispute the suffering of serfs under the lama houses, but they do question China’s role in ending it. They point to the progress having already been made by the 13th Dalai Lama, long before the PRC’s invasion. Though it still quietly continued in regions far from Lhasa,, the 13th Dalai Lama officially outlawed mutilation (as well as capital punishment, one of the first countries to do so) in 1913, after several years of condemning it. The 13th Dalai Lama then spent much of the first half of the 20th century implementing other policies that were aimed towards gradually reforming the Tibetan social system. Tibet advocates also point out that China did not attempt to abolish the serf system until 1959, and even then their efforts were built upon those made by the 13th and 14th Dalai Lamas.


A shot of the Qingzang-Tibet train, one of many economic developments in Tibet.
A shot of the Qingzang-Tibet train, one of many economic developments in Tibet. | Source

Current well-being of Tibetans

The main point of contention is the well-being of most Tibetans after the PRC’s invasion. Not surprisingly, China and Tibet have completely opposing views. China states that Tibetans are overall much more prosperous than they could possibly be otherwise and that the takeover of the secular (to the point of anti-theistic) Chinese government has resulted in greater freedom for Tibetans. Tibet claims that most economic improvements would have also been possible without China’s violent takeover. Additionally, advocates say that the human rights violations that have occurred under the PRC “render China’s claim for ‘moral high ground’ completely hypocritical” (http://www.freetibet.org/about/human-rights).


Source
Source

Abuse, violence, and Tibet protests

Tibet’s arguments are given a sense of legitimacy by reports of Chinese abuse of Tibetans remaining in Tibet. Based on reports by independent journalists, peaceful dissent and protests are often met with harsh punishments meted out by the Han appointed officials. Accounts include jail, beatings, and myriad forms of torture. Though most reports are secondhand and so should be regarded with some skepticism, the accounts are simply too numerous to all be the invention of “violent Tibetan separatists” (Anonymous. “Commentary: Dalai Lama is spewing lies”. China Daily).

Protests can be assumed to have been taking place almost continuously after the Dalai Lama was forced to flee into exile in 1959, but several incidents have been especially publicized by the Western media. For example, in 2008 during the Beijing Olympics, Tibetan protests grew louder in the hopes that they would be heard with so much attention trained on China. Though beginning as peaceful protests on an unofficial annual Tibetan Uprising Day, the demonstrations ended up involving theft, burning, and violent rioting. This stretched Tibet-China relations almost to breaking point. Because PRC authorities would not allow the media into Tibet while the protests were happening, reports are mostly unofficial, but journalists that were able to get inside write that the violence was instigated by Tibetans who targeted Han Chinese and Hui Muslims.

The Chinese government accused the Dalai Lama of encouraging and possibly instigating the unrest. The Dalai Lama denied this, repeating his commitment to only peaceful protests and saying that the rioting was instead caused by widespread desperation and unhappiness.


"Palden Choetso, 35, nun; self immolated on November 3rd, 2011." SFTHQ at flickr.com
"Palden Choetso, 35, nun; self immolated on November 3rd, 2011." SFTHQ at flickr.com | Source

Self-Immolation

Despite incidents like the 2008 uprising, the most famous of Tibetan protests are not enormous gatherings or acclaimed speeches. Rather, they are individual and shockingly violent while still honoring the Buddhist code of not harming others. They are devastatingly creative demonstrations that reach such an extreme point of violence that they cannot be successfully suppressed. This protest method, in which the individual sets themselves on fire, is called “political protest by self-immolation”, usually referred to as simply self-immolation. Dramatic and obvious, the flames from the burning flesh of the protesters have come to symbolize the desperation of the Tibetans. Though repeatedly condemned by the Dalai Lama, 21 Tibetans have been officially confirmed to have self-immolated since 2009, with 15 dying from their injuries. The unofficial number could be as high as 50, or higher. Videos of their actions have gone viral, inspiring many sorrowful vigils in Tibet as well as in other parts of the world.

Youtube Video Overview of Tibetan Self-immolation

Map of Tibet

Tibet is shown in red.
Tibet is shown in red. | Source

The Tibet-China conflict, no resolution yet

With myriad examples of violent demonstrations and suicides, China’s gross mishandling of Tibet has clearly caused drastic repercussions that can, and should, no longer be ignored. The PRC’s rightful concerns about the future well-being of her people cannot justify the irreplaceable losses caused by her means: thousands of soldiers dead, an entire culture rapidly withering, young lives burnt to ashes. China, instead of examining the reasons behind widespread Tibetan despair and implementing policies to help the situation, tries to scapegoat the Dalai Lama. Instead of confronting mistakes and being receptive to input from Tibet, she hides behind propaganda and dubious historical claims.

Though it might make the jobs of today’s Chinese foreign policy advisers easier, ultimately misinformation and deception will not be adequate substitutes for genuine reform of China’s currently misguided policies. And genuine reform can only begin from within the PRC. If China chooses to take steps towards peaceful cooperation with Tibet, her editorialists can perhaps begin using legitimate truths to paint her into the right side of history.

Sources

If you are interested in this conflict, I highly suggest you research a good deal and try to get the viewpoints from both sides, seeing as much of the information and facts available contradict each other. I do not pretend to be an expert on Tibet; most of the information I know is from the works listed below, as well as simply from conversation and various books.

Please keep an open mind and know that, though my sympathies don't lie with the PRC, many parties have a stake in the Tibet-China conflict. All opinions and voices should be heard, especially on a controversial topic like this; one of the worse things to do is to fully believe untruths. Comments are welcome, but like said previously, please comment responsibly.

There are no live links on the Internet sources, but you are welcome to copy paste into your browser. The sources are bolded for easier reference.


Bajoria, Jayshee. "The Question of Tibet." Council on Foreign Relations Official Website. <http://www.cfr.org/china/question-tibet/p15965 >.

Barnett, Robert. "Why doesn't China want the Dalai Lama to resign?" Foreign Policy Magazine. <http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/03/21/Why_Doesn't_China_Want_To_Let_the_Dalai_Lama_Resign>.

Clark, Gregory. "Birth of a massacre myth." The Japan Times. <http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/eo20080721gc.html#.T-kVESvC4Vk>

"Chronology of Tibetan Chinese Relations." International Campaign for Tibet Website. <http://www.savetibet.org/resource-center/all-about-tibet/chronology-tibetan-chinese-relations-1979-2008>.

"Commentary: Dalai Lama is spewing lies." China Daily. <http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2008-04/30/content_6655137.htm >.

"Dalai Lama is NO Jesus!!!". The New Voice. <http://thenewvoice.wordpress.com/2008/04/09/dalai-lama-is-no-jesus/>.

Dalai Lama XIV. "Five Point Peace Plan." Tibet. U.S. Congress, Washington D.C. 21 Sept. 1987. Address.

Dalai Lama XIV. Freedom in exile: the autobiography of His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet.

Denlinger, Paul. “Why on tibet ". 20 Apr. 2011. Online Posting to Quora.com. <Http://www. Quora. Com/why-do-the-chinese-want-tibet/answer/paul-denlinger>

Dharma Haven. <http://www.dharma-haven.org/tibetan/preserving-culture.htm>.

Free Tibet. 7 June 2008. <www.freetibet.org>.

"History of Tibet." Asianhistory.org. Asia Tourism.<http://www.asianinfo.org/asianinfo/tibet/pro-history.htm>.

Karpova, Lisa. "Dalai Lama to transfer leadership. pravada.ru <http://english.pravda.ru/world/asia/10-03-2011/117157-Dalai_Lama_to_transfer_leadership-0/>.

LaFreniere, Sharon. "3 Tibetan herders self immolate in anti Chinese protest." New York Times. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/06/world/asia/3-tibetan-herders-self-immolate-in-anti-chinese-protest.html>.

Liu, Melinda, and Sudip Mazumdar. "Newsweek International Interview: The Dalai Lama on Tibet." Council on Foreign Relations Official Website. <http://www.cfr.org/china/newsweek-international-interview-dalai-lama-tibet/p15822>.

LTee2012. “Tibet Self Immolation”. YouTube. Uploaded 21 Oct. 2011. <www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2dgKSgCarM>.

"Mineral Resources of Tibet." lhassa.org. <http://www.lhassa.org/en/geography-of-tibet/mineral-resources-of-tibet.php>.

Official Webpage for His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet. Dalailama.com.<www.dalailama.com>

"Q&A: China and the Tibetans." BBC News. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-14533879>.

Sperling, Elliot. The Tibet-China Conflict: History and Polemics. Ed. Muthiah Alagappa. Washington D.C.: East-West Center, 2004. 1-38. Web. 3 Feb. 2012.

Szczepanski, Kallie. "Asian History-Tibet and China." About.com. <http://asianhistory.about.com/od/china/a/TibetandChina_3.htm>.

"Tibetan Buddhism." BBC: Religions. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/buddhism/subdivisions/tibetan_1.shtml>.

"Tibet and China-Views on History." International Tibet Independence Movement. <http://www.rangzen.com/history/views.htm>.

Tibet Government-in-exile. Central Tibetan Administration Website. <http://tibet.net/ >.

Wollenberg, Roger L. "Dalai Lama questions self-immolation." UPI.com. <http://www.upi.com/Top_News/Special/2011/11/21/Dalai-Lama-questions-self-immolation/UPI-91051321873560/>.


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    • Bob Zermop profile image
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      Bob Zermop 4 years ago from California, USA

      Thanks for the comment and the votes up, Missing Link. While I don't view serfdom as a"legitimate system" (meaning as one we should fight to preserve), I completely agree that any Tibetan cruelty does not justify a Chinese invasion. And as noted in the hub, there is even less justification as Tibet had shown, just as it's doing now through the Dalai Lama's support for a transition to a peaceful democracy, that it was interested in and capable of internal reform. Thanks again for the comment!

    • Missing Link profile image

      Missing Link 4 years ago from Oregon

      It was basically a land grab by communist China. It was an unprovoked invasion. China used the cruelty, serfdom stuff as excuses to invade. I mean there are cruelties in all countries so why doesn't China invade every country? China to this day is filled with much cruelty so they should be invaded?- lol. Mao just saw a peaceful country next door with lots of space and resources and chose to invade. China had made other attempts to invade in the past but they either failed or failed to make it stick. Mao's attempt finally succeeded.

      Serfdom is a legitimate system and has existed in many places throughout time. It is basically this. You own land but I do not . I need food, shelter, etc. We strike a deal that I will work for you on your land and in exchange you will provide me shelter, food, etc. What's wrong with this? You just have to hope both work with one another in good faith...some times you have a good supervisor and some times you don't :)

      Voted up and interesting and useful!

    • Missing Link profile image

      Missing Link 4 years ago from Oregon

      Done--Thanks Much!

    • Bob Zermop profile image
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      Bob Zermop 4 years ago from California, USA

      Absolutely, and I'll link back to yours. I seem to be seeing comments in this vein more and more often around the web. Nice to hear about someone else following Tibet.

    • Missing Link profile image

      Missing Link 4 years ago from Oregon

      Hi Bob,

      He "commented" on my pro Tibet hub within the past day or so also. Can I link your hub to mine? Mine is called The invasion, occupation and assimilation of Tibet by communist China.

      Thanks!

    • Bob Zermop profile image
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      Bob Zermop 4 years ago from California, USA

      Hi Erick. While I am not any kind of expert on Tibet, I've done a fair amount of research and have tried my best to cut through propaganda and misinformation. Tibet does indeed have a lot of natural resources, and I'm certain that there have been (and maybe are) persons in the US Administration who are interested in Tibet only as a potential US asset and political tool.

      However, as I stated in a few places in this four part article, my research has led me to believe that the "Dalai Lama is a Western puppet" view originated and is spread by the CPC and Chinese nationalists. I have found little evidence to support a "Da-Lie" standpoint. If you want to make a specific point or edit, I would be happy to research it for you and post the supporting/contradictory evidence.

      It's incredibly important to find the truth. And I can't emphasize this point enough: It is possible. I looked up "Dalai Exposed" on YouTube and viewed both the "Crosstalk" and cmforum videos. I was not surprised or impressed by either, and I believe that I have rebutted most, if not all, of their points in the earlier sections. However, I think I will include the videos in the body of the article and encourage all readers to view them, and judge for themselves.

      If any readers have questions after viewing them, please feel free to comment. I will be happy to research them for you. Keep the discussion alive, everyone. The solutions will come from the truth.

    • profile image

      ERICKVALLELY 4 years ago

      In case you're wondering why there is so much interest in Tibet, you should know that Tibet has a lot of natural resources. The west is hoping to split Tibet from China, install a puppet regime, and then take all of the natural resources. Do a search for Dalai Exposed on youtube, and there you can find a video about what Mr. Dalai is all about.