|The Red Army marches into Tibet: the first turn|
In 1986, I had asked the Dalai Lama about the future of Tibet.
He said that the solution will not come from any action of the exiled community, but from changes from within China. In a way the Tibetans have nothing to do (whether it is fighting for “freedom or Rangzen” or “autonomy”), but to keep their culture and religion alive.
Today, I understand better this statement. It appears even truer than 25 years ago.
When will changes occurring in China trigger a solution for the Tibet issue?
It is necessary to look at some important dates in modern Tibetan history, to grasp the changes of wind on the Roof of the World.
It is what I call here ‘shifts’ or turning points.
There have been many turning points earlier:
- In 1950, when Tibet was invaded
- In 1959, when the Dalai Lama took refuge in India
- In 1973, when the Dalai Lama started travelling abroad
- In 1979 when Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama’s brother met Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese Paramount Leader, who told him that everything except independence could be discussed.
- In 1987/88 when the Dalai Lama internationalized the Tibet issue through his Five Point Peace Plan and his Strasbourg proposals
|Unrest in Lhasa in 1987|
(In bold = important turning points)
- 2001 June Fourth Tibet Work Forum (Under President Jiang Zemin)
- 2001 November White Paper on Modernisation
- 2002 September Visit of Lodi Gyari and Team to China Round 1
- 2003 May Visit of Lodi Gyari and Team to China Round 2
- 2004 May White Paper on Tibetan Issue
- 2004 September Visit of Lodi Gyari and Team to China Round 3
- 2005 February White Paper on Nationalities
- 2005 June Visit of Lodi Gyari and Team in Bern Round 4
- 2006 January Kalachakra in Amravati
Let us start with the Fourth Tibet Work Forum in June 2001 under the Chairmanship of President Jiang Zemin.
These “Tibet Work Fora” are very large meetings called for deciding China’s Tibet Policy. They are attended by 200/300 senior Party leaders, including members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo, Party Secretaries involved in Tibet areas, PLA Commanders, etc...
The decisions taken at the highest level during these meetings are usually implemented during the following decade.
President Jiang Zemin’s two priorities were development and stability, for China as well as for Tibet. The motto was therefore to develop Tibet by building infrastructure, keeping a tab on the ‘stability’ of these ‘minority’ areas.
It is probably in this perspective (to bring ‘stability’ to Tibet) that soon after the Fourth Tibet Work Forum, Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy and his team, were invited to visit China for ‘talks’.
After the difficult times at the end of the 1980’s and during the first years of the 1990’s, Beijing thought that the situation in Tibet was rather stable. It was therefore decided to emphasize on development programmes in order to win the support of Tibetan people.
The first attempt to reach out to the Tibetans
The first negotiations between China and the Dalai Lama’s representatives had taken place in 1979, twenty-nine years after the so-called peaceful liberation in 1950/51.
In 1980, during his March 10 Statement, the Dalai Lama elaborated on his perception of the then situation in China and Tibet: “In the past few years, the fluid international political scene has witnessed rapid new developments; the internal situation in China under the present leadership who are ‘seeking the truth from facts’ is also undergoing changes. We hear of the repeated calls by the Chinese government requesting us to return to our homeland. We also hear that the so-called wave of moderation has begun to creep into China and, to some extent, into Tibet. However, it is still too early to predict the outcome of what may happen in the future. In response to these changes, as well as to the request by the Chinese government, I have despatched a fact-finding delegation to visit Tibet through China. It is for the first time in nearly twenty-one years that we have established contact with the Chinese government, as well as our beloved countrymen”.
They had however misread completely the Tibetan people’s feelings, their deep resentment, as well as their will to resist colonization. The three first delegations visited Tibet between 1979 and 1980; wherever the Dalai Lama’s envoys went, they were mobbed by crowds of Tibetans. One delegate remembered: “The Tibetans tried even to tear our chubas (Tibetan dress) to have them as relics”. The entire Lhasa population was in the streets; everybody wanted a darshan of the Dalai Lama’s envoys.
During these fact-finding trips, Tibetans inside Tibet told the Dalai Lama’s representatives of their descent to hell. During the past 20 years, since their precious Protector had left for India, they felt orphaned. Despite the constant indoctrination by the Communist Party, that they had been ‘liberated’, nobody had forgotten the Precious One. Each and every Tibetan still dreamt of seeing him back in the sacred Land of Snows with his full power and regalia.
The leader of the first delegation told us:
The Chinese definitively did not expect that the Representatives of the Dalai Lama would be received with so much enthusiasm. They were bewildered. During the 20 years of absence of His Holiness and the twenty years of Chinese administration, they had tried their best to denounce and put down the Dalai Lama, they wanted people to lose their faith in the Dalai Lama. Whenever the Chinese would make derogatory statements against the Dalai Lama, peopled used to say, “Yes, Yes”.
At that time, the Chinese might have thought that the people might spit at the representatives and throw stones at them. The Chinese had in fact forbidden the people to spit at the Representatives, to throw stones at them or do anything bad to them. When they saw what was happening, they were completely bewildered.
The local populations had been told by the Chinese that a delegation was coming to facilitate a better relation between China and Tibet.
But the unbelievable happened. The same Envoy said:
The day after the delegation reached Lhasa, the delegation went to Jokhang. We went to the terrace and from there we saw that thousands of people had gathered around the Jokhang. They were very enthusiastic, so we went down and tried to meet the people, but we were not allowed by the police who had barricaded us off inside the Jokhang to cut us off from the people. There was a building in front of the Jokhang from where the Chinese were peering and watching what was happening on Jokhang. When they saw that the Tibetan people were prostrating, folding their hands in prayers in front of the delegates and were trying to get whatever their hands could grab [from the delegates], the Chinese people in Jokhang became so angry that they remarked “Here is the result of all our efforts for these people for 20 years.It was after all Avalokistehwara’s envoys driving away in those vehicles. The Chinese perhaps began to understand that their ‘liberation’ had not brought all the changes that they had expected.
They became so nervous and disappointed by their failure, that some stamped their feet and even cried. From these anecdotes, you can see that the Chinese were not expecting what happened.
The following delegations had the same experience.
Hu Yaobang’s visit
|Hu Sr., Hu Jr. and Wen|
Unfortunately, Hu Yaobang was soon after removed as Party Secretary. Today, China is still waiting for another Hu Yaobang, or a Chinese Gorbachev to reform the country.
We have gone into details in the happenings of this period to show the surprise of the Chinese leaders when they realized that the Tibetans were unchanged by their ‘liberation’.
With the political struggle going on full swing in China today, will we see the emergence a new Hu Yaobang? And more importantly, can a reformist leader last in the present system?
Let us come to more recent times.
The Dalai Lama gave the Kalachakra initiation in Amravati (Andhra Pradesh) in January 2006. More than one thousand Tibetans from Tibet had come to attend the teachings. The Dalai Lama started the function with a powerful statement urging Tibetans from inside Tibet to tell their countrymen living on the Roof of the World when they returned about the importance of the 'Middle Path' approach towards a genuine autonomy for Tibet. The Tibetan leader said that it was natural to consider the newcomers from Tibet as the main audience for the Kalachakra: "Tibetans living in Tibet are less fortunate than their counterparts living in India. They have to suffer a lot in their own motherland from repressive forces. Tibetans from Tibet are the key for the Tibetan cause”.
During an audience with the Tibetans from Tibet, the Dalai Lama urged the Tibetans not to wear robes and furs of endangered animals which Tibetans used to traditionally wear, especially those who came from Amdo and Kham regions of Eastern Tibet.
As a result of his speech, there was an immediate reaction in Tibet, thousands started to burn their chupas made with animal fur. Once again it was a big shock for the Chinese leadership, who had come to believe that they had got Tibetans on their side by building roads, bringing a railway line to Lhasa or developing the Tibetan plateau.
Despite the changes in the Tibet policy introduced during the Fourth Tibet Work Forum in 2001, Beijing seemed to face a tremendous reaction from the Tibetans.
I personally believe that the negotiations between Beijing and Dharamsala were already finished in 2006 after this incident. The United Front work Department suddenly realized the power of the Dalai Lama on the simple folks in the remotest parts of Tibet: he just had to say a few words and the entire population followed his advice.
During the following months, Beijing got busy in the preparations of the Olympic Games and their main preoccupation was the ‘peaceful’ passage of this world event .The dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s representatives was not a priority. Their only interest in Tibet was that the issue should not disturb the peaceful conduct of the Games. As a matter of fact, no progress has been made in the dialogue after 2006.
Though in the Fourth Tibet Forum Meeting, the Chinese had strongly emphasized on the economic development of Tibet, the resentment of the Tibetan population was still present. The huge infrastructural development in Tibet both in terms of railways and roadways especially in the border region, had not helped removing the misgivings against the Chinese Hans.
Another Turning Point: The 2008 riots
The same day, 14 monks from Sera monastery held a protest in the Jokhang Central Cathedral in Lhasa; they waved Tibetan flags. They were immediately taken away by the local police. Minor protests were also reported from Amdo region (today in Qinghai province).
The next day, 600 monks from Sera monastery marched peacefully to the Tibetan capital. They were also tear-gassed by the police and many were arrested. The same method was used by the PAP: the water supply of the monastery was cut off and restaurants in the area closed.
On March 12, when two monks from Drepung cut their wrists, other monks from Sera monastery began a demonstration.
During the first three days, the main events occurred around Lhasa. Local authorities however considered the happenings as "a direct challenge to the long term stability of Tibet".
On March 13, when a few hundreds of monks from Ganden monastery, together with a few nuns, came to Lhasa to stage a peaceful protest, they were stopped by the police. Later that day, the three Great Monasteries of Drepung, Ganden and Sera were closed.
In the morning, about one hundred monks from Ramoche monastery began to demonstrate against the arrest of the monks on the previous days. Once again they were stopped and beaten by the police. This infuriated the Tibetan by-passers. From then on, the situation went out of control.
Soon after, a large scale demonstration involving tens of thousands of people lead to a confrontation between Tibetans and the PAP.
It was reported that on March 14, the ban on firing weapons was lifted. Police and the PAP were free to shoot at will.
Robert Barnett, a scholar from Columbia University later wrote the details of the events for the New York Review of Books :
Unlike the great monasteries, Ramoche is in the heart of Lhasa, and opens onto a busy market street in one of the few areas of the city that remains a largely Tibetan quarter. Members of the public, apparently aroused by rumors that monks detained that Monday had been beaten in custody, began to attack the police and a small squad of PAP sent in to support them. The police and soldiers were pelted with stones, their cars were burned and, pursued by a group of stone-throwing youths, they fled. No reinforcements were sent into the area for at least three hours (one Western journalist who witnessed the events saw no police for twenty-four hours), though they were waiting on the outskirts. It was the traditional response of the Chinese security forces to serious unrest—to wait for orders from Party leaders on whether to shoot or not—but the hours of inaction left the citizenry unprotected and allowed the violence to escalate. (The government announced on April 9 that wily monks had ‘misled’ them into sending the security forces to the city suburbs).
In this vacuum, a number of Tibetans turned from attacking police to attacking the next available symbol of Chinese governance, the Chinese migrant population. The rapid increase of migrants in Tibetan towns (they already were 34 percent of the Lhasa population when official figures were last made available in 2000, and this figure probably excludes temporary residents and the military) had created uneasy resentment — until then silent — among the indigenous population. About a thousand Chinese-owned shops were set on fire by rioters who were seen by foreign tourists igniting cooking gas cylinders or dousing shops in gasoline.
According to The Economist's correspondent James Miles, the only accredited foreign journalist in Lhasa at the time, almost every [Chinese or Chinese Muslim] business was either burned, looted, destroyed, smashed into, the property therein hauled out into the streets, piled up, burned. It was an extraordinary outpouring of ethnic violence of a most unpleasant nature to watch: “Miles saw Chinese passersby, including a child of about ten years old, pelted with stones, and several Western tourists described hard-core rioters beating random Chinese civilians with enough force to have killed them. Eleven Chinese civilians and a Tibetan were burned to death after hiding in shops set on fire by the rioters, and a policeman and six other civilians died from beatings or unknown causes, according to the Chinese government. Later, the PAP moved in, shooting from time to time, leading to an unknown number of casualties.
The exiled Tibetan government declared that eighty Tibetans were shot dead in Lhasa, while the Chinese government says that its forces never opened fire; just what happened when the security forces moved in remains unclear because no tourists saw Tibetans being shot and most foreign reporters were allowed to visit Tibet only for three days in March and then only in a group under supervision. By the official count, one thousand Tibetans were detained in Lhasa alone, and the punishment of those deemed guilty of offenses is expected to be ferocious—to be handled according to the principles of ‘quick approval, quick arrest, quick trial, quick execution’ according to Zhang Qingli, the current Party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region.From Beijing, the Tibetan Autonomous authorities immediately blamed the Dalai Lama. Even Premier Wen Jiabao accused the Tibetan Leader to have masterminded the violence for sabotaging the forthcoming Olympic Games. This was denied by the Dalai Lama.
An interesting collateral was a redefinition of Tibet, the map of Tibet was redrawn.
Till 2008, it was very clear that for China, ‘Tibet’ was only the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), while the Dalai Lama spoke for Cholka Sum, the three traditional provinces of U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo. For Beijing, there was absolutely no question of negotiating anything special status for ‘traditional’ Tibet; the discussion between the Dalai Lama’s representative and the Chinese were restricted to the TAR.
After March/April 2008, a tremendous change occurred: the map of Tibet was changed. Suddenly all the Tibetan inhabited areas were included in Tibet, not only by Dharamsala but by Beijing too.
The changes were even incorporated in the Chinese official website (chinatibetonline.com)
Similarly after the Drugchu mudslide, while the Chinese (and even the Western) medias first mentioned the tragedy as having happened in ‘Western China’, later, it was shown as “Tibetan-inhabited areas”.
Change of Definition of Tibet
It was a tremendous change for the definition of the Tibet issue. The same thing occurred in the case of the huge earthquake in Jyekudo; the media first reported that it touched ‘Western China’ and later it was designated as part of “Tibetan inhabited areas”.
External events (2008 unrest, mudslide, earthquake, etc.) forced Beijing to reconsider the Tibet geographical definition: a feat that several rounds of negotiations have never succeeded to achieve.
This is quite remarkable and the words of the Dalai Lama of 1986, that the change will not come through the efforts of the exiled-community, but through changes in China, resounded in my mind.
Interestingly, though after the TAR was formed in 1965, the Tibetan leadership often raised the question of ‘reunifying’ Tibet, it was never accepted by Beijing. In 2008, it became a fact, accepted by even the Chinese media; the development plans were also altered.
And the Fifth Tibet Work Forum in January 2011 for the first time included all the Tibetan-inhabited areas of the plateau in its projections and programs.
Another important shift in the annals of the Tibetan issue is the Dalai Lama’s ‘retirement’ from his political activities in March 2011. This was subsequently enshrined in the Charter (Tibetan Constitution in Exile) after a General Meeting of the Tibetans in exile in May 2011.
It manifested through a series of immolations which began around March/April 2011 in Kirti Monastery in Eastern Tibet. The world media coverage of the Tibetan issue also shifted from Dharamsala to Eastern Tibet.
Let us look at the phenomena: most of the people who committed the ultimate self-sacrifice were very young; they were not even born during the 1959 Uprising, the Martial Law in Tibet (1988-89), or the 1989 Tiananmen Incident. For the Tibetan movement, it is a very new phenomenon led by very young people. It will probably continue during the next months or years. It will put a tremendous pressure on Beijing and badly dent China’s image. New repressive measures imposed by the Communist leadership may give rise to more self-immolations in Tibet rather than stopping the process, thereby entering in a vicious circle.
Let us examine some statistics
- 35 Tibetans have been confirmed to have self-immolated since February 27, 2009
- 30 men, 5 women
- 25 of the 35 are known to have died following their protest
- 25 of the 35 are from Ngaba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan province
- One is from Chamdo prefecture in the Tibet Autonomous Region
- Five are from Tibetan Autonomous areas in Qinghai province
- Seven of the 35 were monks at Kirti monastery in Ngaba
- Eight of the 35 are former monks at Kirti monastery in Ngaba
- Two of the 35 were nuns from Mame Dechen Chokorling nunnery in Ngaba
- 34 of the self-immolations have occurred since March 16, 2011
The Fifth Tibet Work Forum
What has made the situation worse is the series of decisions/actions, reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, put in place by the United Front Work Department after the 5th Tibet Work Forum held in January 2010.
It was decided to send 21,000 Han and Tibetan Party officials in teams of four to each of the TAR’s 5,453 administrative villages; they had to remain for a period of 4 years. Each team member could rotate to a new location after 12 months, but the team was assigned to the same village for at least 25 days per month.
In addition teams were sent from Lhasa to each of the seven prefectures “to oversee the prefecture’s work teams, receive the work reports and monitor the success or failure [of the program]”. The scale of the scheme was the largest since the Cultural Revolution.
It created further rancor and resentment.
The objectives of the Fifth Tibet Work Forum were five‐fold:
- To strengthen the Party organization at the local level,
- To promote stability by persuading villagers to join the struggle against the Dalai Lama’s splittist activities and independence plans,
- To improve the economy of each village and create new jobs for the village youth,
- To educate the locals to appreciate and be grateful to the motherland and the Party, and
- To get each village to begin to more effectively carry out the plans and policies of the Party.
Further the United Front Department decided to promote new schemes such as the “Nine Haves Monasteries”
- Have a poster of the four national leaders
- Have a national PRC flag
- Have a motorable road to the monastery
- Have a good source of water
- Have electricity
- Have a broadcast TV set
- Have (the capacity) to show films
- Have a reading room for books
- Have The People’s Daily and the Tibet Daily newspapers (both have Tibetan language editions)
The Party added that all expenses will be met by the TAR Government.
Another scheme: ‘The Six Ones’ was also implemented.
- Make one friend. Each temple management official should try to be soulmates with one or several monks/nuns to understand their difficulties in life and what's going on in their mind.
- Visit one family. Each temple management official to visit the families of one or more monks/nuns to understand what's going on in their homes.
- Solve one problem. To solve the most urgent, real problem facing the family of any monk/nun so as to make them feel the warmth of the party and government.
- Build one file. Establish a file for every monk/nun to document in a detailed fashion their personal and family situation. This will aid in preparedness, understanding and management.
- Keep clear one communication channel. Steady communications should be maintained between temple management officials and the families of monks/nuns through telephone, letters and house visits, so as to educate them to love the nation and love the religion, as well as to obey the law.
- Develop one mechanism. To build temple management committees (with full-time officials) that temple management officials, monks/nuns and families are jointly responsible for. This is to develop a mechanism for building harmonious model temples.
- Policies such as monks having to build a file on their dharma brothers or sisters which could “aid in preparedness, understanding and management” explain the state of despair of the monks and nuns of Eastern Tibet.
Another example can be given: a police poster threatening to punish 'criminals' appeared in different counties of Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Gansu province). Those not following the ‘directives’ were promised violent beating and torture.
Here is the content of the poster written in Tibetan:
The following directives have been authorized by the Security Department (PSB). All the following actions will be met with violent beating/torture by the PSB:
- The disturbance of relations between ethnic groups, public agitation between ethnic groups, the destruction of national unity.
- The corruption of the public with ideas of the splitting of the nation, through speech and the distribution of written information, cartoons, home-made materials, videos, etc —.all acts destructive to social discipline and stability.
- The membership, promotion of, or the making of donations to illegal organizations — all of which harm national security and destabilize society.
- The incitement of the public to illegal activities through websites, e-mails and audio files, all acts destructive to ethnic unity through websites and sms texts, and other major criminal actions against the security of society
- The engagement in criminal activities such as grievous bodily harm, destruction of property, arson and looting, etc, and the coercion of others into criminal acts that damage the security of society.
It should be noted that like in the 1950’s, it is in Eastern Tibet that the most repressive measures are first implemented.
Abolishing ‘Special Privileges’ for Minorities
To make things worse, an article written by Zhu Weiqun, the Deputy Director of CCP's United Front Work Department in The Study Times (Xuexi Shibao) raises the possibility of abolishing special privileges and preferential policies offered to minority nationalities, taking the nationality name off all IDs cards and passports and removing nationality names from provinces.
Zhu, who is the interlocutor of the Dalai Lama's Envoys in the Beijing-Dharamsala negotiations, argues that China must change some aspects of its present political and educational system in order to achieve 'national cohesion'. Fortunately, this issue was not taken up during the last National People’s Congress, too busy with L’Affaire Bo.
A New Shift?
He was given a 'national' funeral in Dharamsala, the seat of the Central Tibetan Administration.
The picture of the young native of Tawu from the Kham province of eastern Tibet splashed on the front pages of hundreds of publications around the world.
The function was held on the Tiananmen of Dharamsala, in front of the Central Cathedral in Dharamsala where all important ceremonies, such the Dalai Lama’s addresses to the Tibetan people or the oath taking of a new Kalon Tripa (Chairman of the Council of Ministers) are held.
As khatas (Tibetan ceremonial scarves) were placed on Yeshi's coffin, with the Tibetan national anthem resounding in the hill town over the Kangra Valley, Dhondup Lhadar, vice president of the Tibetan Youth Congress which spearheaded the demonstration against President Hu in Delhi, spoke emotionally of the young martyr's last days.
This was a first: the Tibetan Youth Congress presiding over a function in the central place of power of the Tibetan capital-in-exile.
Has the Tibetan Youth Congress taken the lead in the Tibetan movement? Since he retired last year, the Dalai Lama does not actively participate in the political life of the exiles, for example, he has hardly commented on the self-immolations. And though Yeshi's funeral was less than a furlong away from his residence, he did not participate. This could be a real shift.
The novelty is that it is a new generation of Tibetans, the third one, today revolts against the Chinese occupation. This has serious implications for the regime in Beijing which has always thought that it could ‘liberate’ Tibet by giving a few freebees.
It has not been the case, and it will not be so in the coming years.