Serial Bus

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Liberation from Serfdom?!

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Fifty years ago, the central government of China foiled an armed rebellion that started on March 10 by the Dalai Lama and his supporters to block reform of the feudal serfdom in Tibet and split the region from China. On March 28, 1959, a new local Tibetan government was formed, freeing millions of Tibetan serfs and slaves, who accounted for more than 90 percent of the population in the region at that time. The Dalai Lama and his followers, since their exile, have continued to pursue either disguised or undisguised activities to separate Tibet from China and restore feudal serfdom in the region.

Despite how ridiculous the above may sound, this is exactly what the Chinese government would like their 1.3Bn people to believe. The above extract is from Xinhua but all other media outlets in China are unsurprisingly consistent too. 

Tibet’s chances for self-determination have followed a downward trajectory since 1959 when the Dalai Lama had to flee Tibet in wake of the Chinese invasion. If Chinese propaganda were to be believed, Comrade Mao came to the rescue of hapless Tibetans and paved the path for freedom and democracy. At that time, as an emerging Communist nation, China was a thorn on the side of the democratic West. However, due to the lack of any strategic interest in the region or any historical ties, the West looked away. Tibet’s chances brightened up after Mao’s death when Deng Xiaoping initiated several reforms in the late seventies. There was a hope that China had begun to see the light and correct the mistakes of its Communist past. Today, the situation looks grimmer than ever.

China is now a huge economic and military power that most Western nations can not afford to displease. This was proven beyond doubt during the Olympic torch relay last year when most governments made it their administration’s sworn goal to contain the protests. The only well-recognized emissary of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, is 73 years of age and has been unhealthy of late. China, on the other hand, has resorted to all possible methods of nipping the ‘separatist movement’ in the bud. Aside from coercion and torture, they have ensured that Tibetans (especially the monks), without demurring, go through ‘patriotic education’ that involves denunciation of the Dalai Lama. Mass-scale resettlement of Han Chinese in several areas of Tibet in last few decades has only helped achieve the Sino-isation of Tibet; despite the official claims, it seems that ethnic Tibetans are now a minority in their own country. As a symbol of their sway on all things Tibetan, the Chinese government has recently announced that 28 March (the day Communists replaced local government in 1959) will be officially marked as Tibet’s ‘Liberation from Serfdom’.

I might have painted a very dark picture of  Tibet above however, I am merely reflecting the opinions of an increasingly despondent set of people who understand Tibet’s pain. Thankfully, there are some rays of hope in the bleakness that surround the roof of the world. Following represent some developments that have the potential of coming from behind and become China’s undoing: 

1. Chinese Democracy: This may seem like a pipe-dream (or an album cover) but 30 years back, free market in China was a pipe-dream too. Today, Chinese people have tasted the power of prosperity. It won’t be long before they want more than just Starbucks and a successful Olympics. The grassroots unrest in China over the death of school kids that died in the earthquake last year because of wobbly school buildings, as well as the recent furore over tainted milk gives reason to believe that Chinese are beginning to speak up against the establishment. Once this flicker turns into a flame, we may have a political perestroika.

2. Access to Information: For all its holy aspirations, Chinese government is paradoxically very paranoid about foreign media gaining access to Tibet and its people. Thankfully, they can’t shut access to internet, which does more to thwart China’s designs than the policemen in plain clothes who follow foreign journalists wherever they go in Tibet. Although its government won’t allow Google to search ‘Tibet’ or ‘democracy’ in China, the wave of free information that search engines represent will continue to engulf the masses of China. Since internet fuels the economic growth, the government can’t induce a full-scale clampdown on it; all it can do is grow the cadres of its thought police. However, as we have seen with piracy, prostitution and prohibition, controlling people from seeking the truth does not stop them. I am certain that more and more Chinese are beginning to see through their government’s propaganda because I am sure there are many workarounds that have been figured to get real information from the net. Since the Politburo derives its power from docile and disinformed masses, free flow of information will neutralize that advantage in times to come.

3. Tibetan Leadership: The division of Tibetan Buddhism into several sects that usually depend on a reincarnated lama to lead them, has a political advantage. It provides for a natural succession plan while avoiding power struggle. While the Dalai Lama may soon be too old to work full-time, the Karmapa Lama, a 23-years old monk, is being groomed to take a larger role on the world stage. China knows this and has tried to control the position of the Panchen Lama by appointing a child of their choice. The child chosen by the Dalai Lama has been quarantined. For this reason, it is important that the followers of the Dalai Lama are able to choose his own ‘reincarnation’ freely.

4. NGOs and Individuals: Unfortunately, beyond muted condemnations of human rights violations in Tibet, Western governments have been unable to come to its rescue. Nobody wants to put a noose around the dragon officially, however private institutions and individuals are not encumbered by realpolitik. Several of them continue to support the cause of Tibet unwaveringly, including putting China to shame in international forums on its poor record of upholding human rights within the region. Several celebrities have endorsed the campaign too, lending it greater visibility on the international stage. The Nobel Peace Prize for the Dalai Lama was applauded by everyone in 1989 except for millions of Chinese, for whom it was a rude surprise since their government had led them to believe he was just an annoying ‘separatist’.

For the above reasons, I am very hopeful that just like Jews, the Tibetan nation will find its Promised Land some day. It is in the larger interest of China’s future generations that this be allowed to happen without strife and bloodletting. Due to its intransigence, the Communist Party is unlikely to accept its past mistakes. Due to their economic interest, the West is unlikely to force China into capitulation. The force for change will come from within Chinese masses, unexpectedly and surely. That force will allow the nation to face its demons much like Soviet Union did in 1991 – and Tibet will, at last, be free again.


Written by serialbus

March 15, 2009 at 6:59 pm

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