APRIL 2000 NEWS
CHINA in TIBET: Forty Years of Liberation or Occupation?
CHINA in TIBET: Forty Years of Liberation or Occupation?
by Lobsang Sangay
Harvard Asia Quarterly
Lobsang Sangay, Tibetan scholar and attorney from India is pursuing an S.J.D. on the Tibet/China conflict at Harvard Law School. He became active in the Tibetan struggle at the age of fourteen and went on to become one of the national leaders of Tibetan Youth Congress, the largest and the most active NGO in the Tibetan community in exile. He has traveled to various parts of the US giving lectures on the Tibet/China conflict and is also consulted by news media on the issue.
Since arriving at Harvard, I have met many open-minded and rational mainland Chinese scholars and students, as well as many Western experts on China. As a result of these encouraging and at times thought-provoking meetings, I have learned first-hand the Chinese view on the situation in Tibet, as well as the impact these views have had on China scholars in the West. In this issue of Harvard Asia Quarterly dedicated to commemorating a number of key anniversaries across Asia, I would like to present my reflections on the forty years of Chinese1 rule in Tibet.2 I will focus on several basic issues, namely, the Communist Chinese Government's justification of their occupation of Tibet, and show how Tibetans view themselves as distinct from Chinese. I will also show how Tibetans and Chinese hold widely divergent perspectives on the Chinese government's claim that they have improved religious, educational, and economic conditions in Tibet.
This year marks the fortieth anniversary of what the Chinese Government calls its "peaceful liberation" of Tibet. However, the consequences of that event the mass exodus of the Dalai Lama and 80,000 Tibetans from their ancestral homeland are hardly what one would expect to result from a "peaceful liberation." Moreover, after forty years of absolute rule by China, the cross-border flow of Tibetans continues: last year alone more than 3,000 Tibetans crossed the Himalayas to gain political and religious freedom and to pursue a modern education in India, home of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
In contrast to the tragic experience of this past forty years, a brief step back to an earlier period might serve, without dwelling at length on the historiography, as a model of mutual respect and recognition for China and Tibet. In 641 AD the Chinese Princess Wangchen was married as a junior queen to the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo. As a gift to her new country, the Princess brought with her the Buddhist statue of Jowo Sakyamuni. Even today, this very statue of Jowo Sakyamuni is still revered by Tibetans as one of the holiest Buddhist statues and is visited by hundreds of thousands of Tibetan pilgrims at the Jokhang temple in Lhasa. In 731 AD, nearly a century after Princess Wangchen's marriage to Songtsen Gampo, another Chinese bride, Princess Chin-Cheng, a devout Buddhist, was given to the Tibetan King Tri-de Tsug-tsan. She is said to have contributed greatly to the propagation of Buddhism in Tibet. Interestingly, this particular period, known as the Tang dynasty in China and as the Yarlung dynasty in Tibet, is considered the Golden Age in both countries. Both were Buddhist dynasties. Is there any way, that the spirit, if not the total substance of that relationship, can be revived again?
The rest of this article will discuss the contemporary relationship between China and Tibet and show how far we have strayed from that historical period of harmony.
Justifying the Chinese Occupation: "Peaceful Liberation"
The Chinese Government maintains that Tibet was "peacefully liberated" in 1951 from both imperialism and a brutal feudal system that was "hell on earth."3 According to this argument, Tibet has been transformed into a "Socialist Heaven" through the introduction of revolutionary socialist measures.
This justification of the invasion of Tibet is no different from the age-old argument of Western colonialism: invasion is good for the social and economic development of the occupied colony. If this charge is true, then the Chinese seem to be not only supporting, but also practicing the very imperialist policy they have long condemned, one of the foundational anathemas of the communist revolution. Moreover, this sort of justification echoes the claims Japan used when it invaded China and other East Asian countries during World War II that it was creating a "Greater Asian Co-prosperity Sphere." If Chinese justifications for invading Tibet are legitimate, then it is hard to see how the British takeover of Hong Kong and the Japanese invasion of China were unjustified.
More to the point, I believe, one should question the claim that the level of oppressiveness of a government, in this case, Tibet's supposed brutal feudal system, justifies invasion and occupation by another nation. If that logic held true, one could in theory argue that the Soviet Union or the United States would have had the right to occupy China during the Cultural Revolution, a period most Chinese would agree was a period of extreme oppression and bad governance.
Looking closer at this Chinese justification, an even more blatant disconnect with reality is clear. By any objective standard the "liberation" of Tibet could hardly be described as "peaceful." In the immediate aftermath of widespread Tibetan national uprising against Chinese in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), approximately 87,000 Tibetan "enemies" were "eliminated" from March to the beginning of October 1959 alone.4 This figure does not include the number of people who have lost their lives in eastern Tibet since the early 1950s. The Tibetan Government-in-Exile estimates that a total of 1.2 million Tibetans have died as a result of the Communist Chinese occupation as of the 1980s.5 This is a remarkably high number considering the size of the Tibetan population is currently only roughly six million, by Tibetan estimates.6 It is also a fact that Tibetans went through a period of famine as a result of the Great Leap Forward in 1958-61 and experienced even worse suffering during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976. Throughout this period of Chinese rule, Tibetans had no reason to feel "liberated." As late as 1980, Communist Party Secretary General Hu Yaobang acknowledged during his official visit to the TAR that "the Communist Party had failed in Tibet. Far from eradicating poverty, in many areas the people's living standards had declined" compared to pre-1950s condition.7
Still, there remains the oft-repeated nationalist argument that Tibet was never independent and has always been part of China. In 1951, shortly after the People's Republic of China was formed, Tibet was forced to sign "the Seventeen Point Agreement," the first and only legal document in which Tibetan sovereignty was surrendered to China.8 On the issue of independence, by now, however, this point has been more or less settled in academic and legal studies on Tibet; with the exception of mainland Chinese scholars, almost all Tibet experts agree that at least during the period of 1913 to 1951, Tibet was either an independent, or de facto independent, country.9
Views of Ethnicity and Nation: "Us vs. Them"10 or Peaceful Co-existence?
Not only do Tibetans feel part of an independent nation politically, but they also have an ethnic consciousness that is distinct from the Chinese. Most Chinese have a broad definition of what it means to be "Chinese." In sharp contrast to this, Tibetans maintain a very specific idea of what it means to be "Tibetan," and this concept reinforces a strong underlying "us vs. them" feeling of a separate Tibetan identity.
These different views are best illustrated by the words Chinese and Tibetans use to describe each other. In the Chinese language, China is known as Zhongguo, or "the Middle Kingdom," and is conceived of as a land mass incorporating the Han majority and 55 minorities.11 Similarly, the Chinese word Zhongguoren, meaning "Chinese people," includes both the Han Chinese ethnic majority and the fifty-five so-called ethnic minorities living within the borders of China, including the Tibetans, Mongolians and Muslim Uighurs. The word Hanren refers to the ninety-four percent of the population of China that is ethnic Han Chinese.
In contrast, Tibetan language and literature have no equivalent words or phrases that encompass both Chinese and Tibetans as one people. Instead, the Tibetan language makes a clear-cut distinction: Chinese people are called Gyami and Tibetans, Bhoepa. In Tibetan operas, for example, characters are introduced by their distinct ethnicity with terms such as Gyami (Chinese) or Gyakar (Indian).12 Furthermore, the Tibetan word for China, Gyanak,13 is linguistically distinct from the word for Tibet Bhoe, as are the words for the Tibetan and Chinese languages, Bhoekey and Gyakey respectively.14 These linguistic expressions of a separate Tibetan identity are but one indicator of the different views of Chinese and Tibetan nationhood and of the historical relationship between the two peoples. China, it seems, has considered Tibet as an integral part, while Tibet has viewed itself as separate and independent of Chinese political control.
This dichotomy challenges the fundamental definition of nationality itself. What constitutes nationality and who defines a nation? Is the decision in the hands of an ethnic majority of a particular area, like the Tibetans, or is it made by a dominant, more powerful ethnic group like the Chinese? Ernest Gellner writes that one of the key elements in defining nationality and nation is the common culture,15 whereas Walker Connor recognizes Tibetans as a distinct nationality and defines "nations" as human groupings "who share an intuitive sense of . . . sameness, predicated upon a myth of common descent."16 As Tibetans have a common culture and share an intuitive sense of sameness and common descent, Tibet is a nation in its own right.
Buttressing this separate Tibetan identity is the Tibetans' shared historical memory of Tibet as an independent and powerful nation. When Tibetans are asked why they are ethnically and nationally different from Chinese, Tibetans will claim that the Tibetan empire was once so powerful that its army marched to the Chinese capital of Chang-an (now Xian) and captured it for nearly a month, forcing Emperor Tai Tsung (763-804 AD) to flee, imposing its own puppet emperor, and exacting an annual tribute from Tibet. Many Tibetans also point to the Sino-Tibetan peace treaty of 821 AD. This treaty proclaims that the "Tibetans shall be happy in Tibet and the Chinese in China," clearly establishing that Tibet and China had equal status at that time and that each treated the other as an independent entity. This treaty still exists today in the form of an inscription on the stone pillar in front of Jokhang Temple in Tibet's capital of Lhasa.
This shared historical narrative strongly undergirds the perception of Tibetan identity as separate from that of the Chinese. Thus, the Tibetan resistance to ethnic assimilation and Chinese policies is deeply rooted in historical, linguistic, and cultural reality, a reality now heightened by modern nationalistic sentiment.
Tibetan Cultural Revival and the Cultural Revolution
Religion has also given Tibetans a spiritually charged national identity. In contrast to the Tibetans' deeply held belief in Buddhism, Communist China views Buddhism like all religions as the opiate of the masses. This major clash of ideology was clearly demonstrated when the Chinese government destroyed every remnant of the religious institutions in Tibet. Recently, however, the Chinese government has blamed this destruction on the nationwide excesses of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and its attack on "the four olds": old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits.
Most Tibetans find this explanation a factually incorrect account that downplays Chinese efforts to eradicate religion and to institute a deliberate policy to destroy the spiritual foundation of Tibetan identity and culture. The destruction and closing of monasteries in Tibet were in fact carefully orchestrated well before the Cultural Revolution.17 In my father's hometown Lithang (now located in Sichuan), the local monastery where he was a monk was destroyed in 1956, ten years before the Cultural Revolution even started.
The previous Panchen Lama, in his famous "70,000 Character Petition" to Chairman Mao Zedong, wrote that out of 2,500 monasteries in the Tibet Autonomous Region, only 70 (3%) were left in 1962, three years before the Cultural Revolution began.18 According to the Panchen Lama's survey, ninety-three percent of the 100,000 clerics had been forced out of the monasteries.19 The situation was reportedly even worse in Eastern Tibet, with 98-99% of the Tibetan Buddhist monasteries shut down.20 This account is consistent with two other Chinese sources.21
Despite such destruction, Tibetans have held firmly to their spiritual beliefs. When a small period of political openess appeared during the initial phases of China's new liberalization policies in the early 1980s, Tibetans began to voluntarily finance the rebuilding of their destroyed monasteries. Today they have revived many, but the quality of religious practice is limited to rituals and is often quite minimal, due to arbitrary and restrictive measures still imposed on religious practices. This brief discussion cannot address in any depth related issues, such as the imprisonment and torture of 121622 lay people, monks and nuns for taking part in political activities, including for refusal to denounce the Dalai Lama23 and recognize the Chinese-appointed Panchen Lama.24 However, April 25, 1999, marks the tenth anniversary of the birth of the Tibetan Panchen Lama, which will be observed worldwide by Tibetans and Tibet support groups, including those in Boston, as marking the disappearance of possibly the youngest political prisoner in the world.
As many tourists who have been to Tibet since liberalization know, it is a common experience to be followed by Tibetan children asking for the "Dalai Lama's photo" even though the photograph is officially banned. If, as the Chinese have argued, the monastic system had been so oppressive and the Dalai Lama the head slave owner, this popular revival of Buddhist institutions and desire for the return of the Dalai Lama would be hard to understand. If the pre-1951 order had been so horrible in the eyes of the Tibetans, the Cultural Revolution ought to have been an opportune moment for them to "liberate" themselves from religion and the Dalai Lama. But as both these examples prove, Tibetans take great pride in their religion, which dates back 2500 years. In contrast, Communism is a modern foreign ideology brought in from China, with little hold on Tibetans' hearts and minds.
Communism failed in Tibet and has never been able to compete with Buddhism's rich spiritual message. However, this is not to say that religion is the right basis for political rule; all religions have both good and bad effects on society and the concept of a religious political order is a very complex one. Rather, it suggests that the Tibetan way of life and values are quite distinct from and in many ways foreign to that of the contemporary Chinese. Religion matters to Tibetans in a way most Chinese find hard to understand.
Education for Tibetans Modernizing "Feudal" Tibet?
To lessen the strong influence of religion in Tibet, the Chinese government attempted to replace traditional monastery schooling with modern, secular schools. Currently, the Chinese government claims that it has established more than 3,000 schools in the TAR, special Tibetan schools in inner China, and institutions of higher education, like the School of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, and Tibet University. Some Chinese officials argue that these progressive measures have helped Tibetans both improve their lives and move toward the modern world.
Yet, when closely analyzed, the results show a peculiar pattern of discrimination and a far less progressive policy.
Contrary to official statements, the majority of schools in Tibet are constructed and funded by local Tibetans. In addition, as of 1995, Tibet continues to be the least literate region in China, with a higher than sixty percent illiteracy and semi-literacy rate25 - whereas China's illiteracy rate has fallen to under seven percent.26
One of the most contentious issues between Chinese and Tibetans is the medium of instruction used in schools. Article 4 of the Chinese Constitution and Article 37 of the Minority Nationality Act of 1984 clearly indicate that the language of each nationality should be adopted both as a medium of instruction in schools and for official use in the government wherever minorities are dominant. In Inner Mongolia, another Autonomous Region like Tibet, there are schools and colleges where the medium of instruction is Mongolian. However, in the TAR, Chinese is the language of instruction in schools above the secondary level, despite the fact that "ninety-five percent of the Tibetan population do not speak or understand the Chinese language."27 From the Tibetan perspective, Chinese education policy, rather then modernizing, represents one more tool to eradicate Tibetan civilization and identity.
As one might imagine, the use of Chinese as the language of instruction in schools has had highly discriminatory effects on Tibetan students. Higher levels of education in the TAR are in fact dominated by ethnic Chinese.28 In the School of Agriculture and Animal Husbandry, supposedly established for Tibetans and located in the TAR, 446 (71%) of the total 630 students are Chinese and only 184 (29%) are Tibetan.29 In the Tibet Nationalities Institute in Xianyang, 938 students out of the total 1,165 students are Chinese and only 227 are Tibetan.30 The Chinese government maintains that only 4% of the population in the TAR is Chinese. If 4% of the population takes more than 70% seats in the educational institutions, then these figures beg the question of who is really being educated in Tibet.
The major exception to this pattern is Tibet University in Lhasa where the majority of students are Tibetan (1,018) and Han Chinese are in the minority (208).31 Still, on closer examination of the data, even at Tibet University one finds that Han Chinese are the majority in science and technical courses, with Tibetans constituting only 26% of the students in these areas. In contrast, Tibetans are heavily concentrated in the humanities, representing 70% of the students enrolled in those courses. Sadly, one of the core parts of the humanities program, the Tibetan language department, has been closed for the past three years, and the local government is pressuring teachers to teach Tibetan history using the Chinese language.
The situation worsens at the highest level of education. For the last forty years fewer than ten Tibetans have graduated or are graduating from Beijing University.32 When questioned about this statistic, the Chinese respond that Tibetans are unable to compete intellectually with the Chinese. But, if that were the case, why, in just the last ten years, have there been at least ten exiled Tibetans who have graduated or are about to graduate from Harvard University?33 Exiled Tibetans constitute only 5% of the Tibetan population or 130,000 in total (far less than the 150,000 Chinese students in the US in any given year).
Each year hundreds of Tibetan children ranging in age from six to eighteen years cross the Himalayas seeking secular or monastic education in India. The real land of opportunity for Tibetan education is now outside of Tibet.
Chinese "Investment" in Tibet
Many claim that if nothing else, Chinese involvement in Tibet has brought with it greater economic development and modernization. Chinese spokespeople always note that the government is pouring money into Tibet. It is true that roads and factories are constructed and that almost ninety percent of the TAR Government budget is subsidized by the central government in Beijing. However, the bulk of the subsidies are spent on two fronts: 1) Urbanization developing cities to encourage Chinese migrants from inner China to settle in Tibet, a phenomenon discussed later, and 2) Bureaucracy funding the burgeoning administrative and institutional structure to control the volatile situation in Tibet. "From 1952 to 1984, the cost of direct administration was more than 15 percent of the total subsidies expended" and is still increasing.34 The agriculture and animal husbandry sector, which constitutes 90% of the Tibetan population, receives a meager 15% of the total subsidies.35 Therefore most Tibetans living in rural and nomadic areas have not progressed much for the last forty years.
In 1994 at its "Third Work Forum" on Tibet, Chinese leaders announced 62 development projects targeting industrial growth in the TAR.36 Certainly this level of investment seems impressive, and in fact, the accounting can be confusing. The government usually fails to make clear how Tibetan natural resources are exploited as part of this infusion of money. 126 different minerals, such as chromium, lead, sulfur, copper, borax, iron, petrol, gold and uranium to name a few, are found in Tibet. These are not included in the gross product and, consequently, are also not listed as a source of income.37 Also "because of high altitude and location, Tibet acts as a principal watershed for Asia." Major rivers like the Yangtse, Brahmaputra, and others originate in Tibet.38 Net hydrological flows in Tibet comprise roughly 6% of Asia's runoff and about 28% of China's (excluding Tibet), and 34% of India's total river water resources.39 Tibet's rivers have enormous potential for hydroelectric generation. As a result, despite the huge reserves of natural resources it contributes, Tibet remains on the accounting ledgers as the poorest region in China,40 a paradox best described by two Chinese economists in the aptly titled book,The Poverty of Plenty. 41
A Lhasa woman recently told me that although ten years ago Katmandu in Nepal felt like a big city, it now looks like a small village compared to modern Lhasa. In this sense, Tibet has developed economically, and urbanization has taken off in several parts of the Tibet. Although some Tibetans seem to have benefited from the growth (a few Tibetans own fleets of Land Cruisers and luxurious houses), in fact the major benefits of these alleged improved economic conditions in the cities seem not be reaching most Tibetans.
Economic development in urban Tibet is real, but again I have to pose the question: for whose sake has this development taken place and under whose terms? According to a census, outside of the traditional Tibetan "Bharkor" market, there are more than 3,500 to 4,000 shops and restaurants in Lhasa, but Tibetans own only 400-450 of them, leaving the remaining 85% under non-Tibetan (usually Han Chinese) ownership. One reason for the Chinese-dominated commerce is that Chinese migrants entering Tibet use their clan and local village networks to support their own ethnic group; another factor is the use of guanxi (connections) among Chinese officials to exploit economic opportunities. In the process, Tibetans have been economically marginalized and deprived of their own fair share. When asked why this has happened, Chinese react that they are more skilled and hence they dominate the market. However, even age-old businesses, which require traditional Tibetan skills like wood-carving, sewing aprons and traditional dress, and selling Khatas (silk scarves) in front of Jokhang temple have been taken over by Chinese migrants. This takeover is justified by saying that the Chinese are more hard-working than Tibetans.
Another area where hard-work is not necessarily the baseline criteria, but where economic and cultural encroachment has offended Tibetans, is the growth of prostitution in Lhasa. Recent figures indicate that there are approximately 8,890 prostitutes in Lhasa 9% of the female population double the number in London, where the population nears eight million.42 Although prostitution is outlawed in China, it is quite common to find brothels in front of army barracks and government offices in Lhasa, where officials look the other way. Since Lhasa is a holy city for Tibetans, this type of immoral encroachment by the Chinese is particularly resented.43
As stated earlier, one of the primary targets of subsidies is urbanization. Like other towns, the city of Lhasa has expanded, and the population has increased from 30,000 in 1950s to 200,000 in 1998.44 Though these figures seem impressive, it is again necessary to look at the finer details of the statistics to see both who these new people are and who is benefiting from the urbanization. It is estimated that as much as 60-70% of the population in Lhasa now is Chinese. Not only do they dominate private businesses as shown earlier, but they also occupy most government-related employment. "Approximately 95 percent of official Chinese immigrants are employed" in the state- owned enterprises.45 Most Tibetans feel marginalized by such an encroaching demographic reversal that limits their educational, cultural, and economic opportunities. Even Tibetans who might support or sympathize with the Communist ideology resent this process of marginalization.
The continued migration of Han Chinese into Tibet has intensified the sense of separate identity among Tibetans, creating an increasingly overt feeling of "us vs. them." In almost all the Tibetan areas, conceptual and physical separation of the two groups has created two separate worlds. In their everyday lives in most of the inner towns and cities of Tibet, Tibetans work and live in physically segregated areas. Consequently, while the number of Chinese moving to inner urban Tibet has dramatically increased, the conceptual and physical separations between the two populations foster a strong desire in Tibetans to resist ethnic assimilation.
Despite economic development and urbanization in Tibet, most Tibetans have not felt themselves to be the beneficiaries of this modernization. Rather, Tibetans have felt increasingly marginalized in their own territory and see themselves as mere observers of an economic development benefiting others. This has made the ethnic "us vs. them" sentiment all the more concrete, since it is usually the Han Chinese who reap the profits of change.
This is not to reduce the issue of Tibet to a mere theory of economic deprivation as the Chinese government seems to believe, i.e. if economic discrepancies in Tibet are taken care of, the issue of Tibet will wither away. On the contrary, it can be convincingly argued that economic discrepancies can be a catalyst to exacerbate ethno-national tensions, but they are not its primary cause.46 Catalans in Spain are economically better off than the Spanish, but their sense of nationalism and call for separate identity is strong. Similarly, Slovenia separated from Yugoslavia even though Slovenes were economically more advanced, and the most radical group calling for secession in Quebec is the successful young urban professional, bilingual Quebecois. It is a common sight that every day tens and hundreds of Kosovars are volunteering to join the Kosovo Liberation Army. Many of them are leaving the relatively comfortable life of Western countries to sacrifice their lives to fight against the Serbs in the Balkans. Therefore, it is an established fact that an "X" factor beyond comfort and economy, such as a respect for a distinct identity and nationality, binds people together and calls for recognition. In the case of Tibet, Tibetans are distinct from Chinese in terms of language, religion, culture, history, ethnicity, civilization, and geography. Respect and recognition of these distinctions will therefore remain at the core of the resolution of the Sino-Tibetan conflict. The "Tibetan issue" will not disappear for a long time to come; therefore, open-minded Tibetans and Chinese must sit down together and find a peaceful solution. The alternative is inevitable violence, a tragic disaster for both Tibetans and Chinese.
As this article shows, Given the deep bitterness of many Tibetans, the potential for violence and outbreaks of ethnic clashes throughout Tibet should be taken seriously. The frustration level both in exile and inside Tibet is real. Last year, the Tibetan Youth Congress held hunger strikes even to the point of death for sixty-seven days in Delhi (one of the longest hunger strikes held in the world). Out of frustration and as a sacrifice, an exiled Tibetan named Thupten Ngodup immolated himself. Inside Tibet, in 1997, there were seven bomb blasts in the TAR region alone.Similarly, in May 1998, an attempted prison escape by Tibetans in a prison near Lhasa escalated into a riot that left eleven people dead. The crime rate in Lhasa is high and might also take on an ethnic dimension. Crime mixed with nationalism might lead to an all out ethnic war like the ones in East Turkestan in China or Kosovo in the Balkans. Time is running out!
Let me end with the same question that I began with: is there any way that the spirit, if not the total substance, of the mutual respect and recognition during the Golden Age of the Tang dynasty in China and the Yarlung dynasty in Tibet can be revived again? I believe so.
The answer to this question might be found in the very story of the Chinese Princess Wang Chen and the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo in 641 AD. The Chinese princess brought to Tibet the Jowo Sakyamuni statue, which is now enshrined in Lhasa's Jokhang temple. Ironically, the Jokhang temple has become the Tiananmen Square of Tibet, one of Tibet's most sensitive and volatile landmarks. Since the Chinese occupation of Tibet, Jokhang has served as the center of political activities for ordinary Tibetans and for monks and nuns demonstrating against Chinese rule. Chinese policemen and plainclothes intelligence personnel roam around the temple and surveillance cameras monitor the movements of people in the nearby market. Nomad, peasant, and exile Tibetan pilgrims flocking to the temple to pay their respects to Jowo Sakyamuni must pass through these security devices caught in an ironic web of politics that has transformed this holiest of holy sites into a symbol of the police state.
Have these cameras and policemen deterred Tibetans from adhering to their religious practices and beliefs? It seems not. Pilgrims continue to come to the temple by the thousands and visit the top floor where a statue of the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo stands. To Tibetans, the King represents the manifestation of the Buddha of Compassion. To the left of him stand the statues of the senior Nepali Princess Bikrikuti and the junior Chinese Princess Wang Chen, believed to be the emanation of the Goddess Tara. Showing the highest form of reverence, pilgrims from Tibet and exiled pilgrims from abroad fall to the ground, prostate themselves in front of these statues, and offer them Khatas (white scarves).
Prostration is the highest form of respect for Tibetans, and, physically, it is more difficult to perform than the traditional Chinese kowtow. The prostration by Tibetans to the Chinese princess, reflects how sincere Tibetans have been in paying respect where it is due. Therefore, if Tibetans inside and outside are complaining about the situation in Tibet, their judgment should be trusted.
The great respect and love pilgrims in Tibet and in exile have shown toward the statue of Princess Wang Chen for more than a millennium is proof that there is no inherent hatred among Tibetans towards the Chinese per se. The intense resentment felt by Tibetans results from policies issued and enforced by the Chinese Communist government. If left to rule and live in their own way, Tibetans can live peacefully with the Chinese and show them respect. The barrier to peace in Tibet is not the pilgrims flocking to Jokhang temple to pay their respects, but the lack of reciprocity by the Chinese made worse by the presence of the surveillance cameras and policemen monitoring this holy site.
WTN-L World Tibet Network News