Thursday, 16 December 2010

Tibet

This was written when I was 16 so the writing style may be different, but the arguments I stand by.
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In 1950 the Chinese People's Liberation Army entered the Land of Snows, the start of a story that would encompass an exiled reincarnate Lama, a Nobel peace prize, the interest of Hollywood stars and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tibetan people. It is a story which has struck the hearts, minds and imaginations of millions of people around the world; a story which has, like so many issues of controversy around the world, lost facts in fiction, mired by propaganda on both sides of the argument. But was China truly justified in invading a seemingly insignificant country on the roof of the world?' And has the Chinese occupation of Tibet been a good thing or a bad thing?

Firstly, the idea that Tibet was insignificant from the Chinese point of view is wrong. China is a country, which is deeply afraid of foreign interference and expansionism; it still is today, with all its talk of "internal affairs". This isn't without cause, as any knowledge of the Opium Wars will tell you. But in late 1903 the British Empire itself invaded Tibet, something that was 'one of the more baffling moves of the late colonial period, with no clear motive but indelible repercussions'. 1There were definitely repercussions. One of the main reasons for Communist China's invasion of Tibet was to 'drive out imperialist aggressive forces from Tibet' as Point 1 in the 17-Point Agreement states (negotiated with China after their invasion in 1950). 2 Also before the actual invasion, any Tibetan with a radio would have heard the Chinese talk of imperialist presence in Tibet, something that was untrue at the time (the British left soon after they arrived, 47 years ago). 3

 Another reason for China's invasion was their strong opinion of Tibet having always been a part of China and that Tibet had to return to 'the big family of the Motherland'. 4 However from the start of China being a republic (1912) to the invasion (1950), Tibet enjoyed undeniable de-facto independence; they had no control whatsoever from the Chinese. Tibet's official status was more murky though as it was not officially recognised as independent. Taking into account China's fear of Tibet being a weak buffer against foreign countries, it is not exactly the most logical of conclusions that it would affect China at all. In 1947 India had become independent and was in no mood to invade Tibet, especially as Tibet and India shared a long history together (it would be India, years later, who allowed the Dalai Lama to live in exile).

So has China's occupation of Tibet been a good thing or a bad thing? The Government of Tibet in Exile has estimated that 1.2 million Tibetans have died under Chinese rule, from a variety of means such as prison and labour camps, execution, battle, starvation, torture and suicide. 5 This is only an estimate and it is furiously denied by Beijing. In Tibet, Tibet Patrick French comes to the conclusion that it is an exaggeration and the number will be no bigger than 500 000. He says that it is probable that as many as half a million Tibetans may have died as a direct result 'of the policies of the People's Republic of China.' I am not arrogant enough to say that I know the true figure, but whatever it is from five hundred thousand deaths to 1.2 million deaths 'it is a devastating enough figure' and I must agree with French when he says it in 'no way diminishes the horror of what was done in Tibet'. 6

The final of the three main pro-China reasons in this debate, I will come to now. The old Tibet, before the Chinese invaded in 1950, has been criticized as feudalistic and barbaric and its harshness and inequality was one of the reasons why the Communists claim they invaded. Former Chinese President Jiang Zemin said the Tibetans had been "victims of feudalism" 7 and in Tibet "it was not until the Dalai Lama left that we eliminated serfdom". 8 The old Tibet was definitely not perfect, but what Zemin is saying sounds a lot like what the much maligned colonialists would say. Not only that, but although old Tibet was harsh and in many ways horrible, the Tibet under China has proved itself again and again to be much worse. If China really wants to enter the world stage, they should admit mistakes and give the people of Tibet real autonomy.



References:


1 FRENCH, Patrick (2003) Tibet, Tibet, p 251
2 GOLDSTEIN, Melvyn C. A History of Modern Tibet pp 765 6 quoted in Kapstein, Matthew T. The Tibetans (2006) p. 281
3 KAPSTEIN, Matthew T op cit., p. 279
4 Ibid., p. 281
5 - Government of Tibet in Exile: http://www.tibet.com/Status/history.html and http://www.tibet.com/HumanRights/poptrans.html
6 FRENCH, Patrick op cit p 292
7 CLINTON, Hilary in The Washington Post, Oct 19, 1997 quoted in The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama by Thomas Laird
8 - From an interview with Jiang Zemin in The Washington Post, Oct 19, 1997 quoted in LAIRD, Thomas (2006) The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama


Bibliography


DALAI LAMA OF TIBET (1998) Freedom in Exile
FRENCH, Patrick (2003) Tibet, Tibet
Government of Tibet in Exile: http://www.tibet.com/Status/history.html and http://www.tibet.com/HumanRights/poptrans.html
JUNG CHANG and HALLIDAY, Jon (2005) Mao The Unknown Story
KAPSTEIN, Matthew T (2006) The Tibetans
LAIRD, Thomas (2006) The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama
LOVELL, Julia (2006) The Great Wall: China Against the World 1000 BC AD 2000
PARENTI, Michael Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth http://www.michaelparenti.org/Tibet.html
TRAN, Mark and agencies Beijing rails against US welcome for Dalai Lama Guardian Unlimited Tuesday October 16, 2007 http://www.guardian.co.uk/china/story/0,2192287,00.h tml

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