The History and future of Tibet.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Dalai Lama might be the most renowned Buddhist religious leader around the world. A lot of western celebrities treat a meeting with Dalai as a tremendous honor. However, people in the West certainly has limited knowledge of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, and Dalai’s struggle. Even the Chinese people don’t know about the history of the Tibetan people beyond the government’s propaganda. Independent scholarship on Tibet is too sensitive for the Chinese government. There is only the heavily influenced and manipulated patriotic research that confirms Chinese propaganda. Any study beyond it, no matter how accurate and valuable it is, is considered as “lies that are manufactured to undermine China” and “foreign conspiracies.” This essay will summarize the history, the current situation and the future of this sacred, mysterious and beautiful land on the plateau.
The Mongol’s successfully incorporated Tibet into China during the Yuan Dynasty. Since then, Tibet became a highly autonomous region within the middle kingdom. The Qing court stabilized the relationship between the central government and Tibet through the Tanyue System. In the Tanyue System, the central government provided military protection to the Gelug sect of the Tibetan Buddhism; in return, the great Gelug Lamas provides spiritual and religious guidance to Manchu and Mongol nobles. Several notable Qing Emperors, such as Kang Xi and Qianlong, were devoted Buddhist; the Qing Emperor also influenced and controlled Mongol nobles through Buddhism. On the other hand, The Qing court exercised influences into Tibetan politics. The Qing court was heavily involved in the process of selecting new Dalai and Panchen and dispatched Ambans to Tibet to supervise Tibetan political and religious affairs under the name of the Emperor. After the Qing Dynasty had collapsed, Tibet enjoyed a period of de facto independence. The international community recognized Tibet as part of China, but the Nationalist Government in Nanjing could not extend its sovereign on the plateau. In 1947, Tibet even dispatched a foreign missionary to seek the possibility of trade and reorganization of independence.
In 1951, the PLA marched to “liberate” Tibet and forced the Tibetan government to sign the 17 Points Agreement. In the agreement, Tibet became part of the new People’s Republic but stayed mostly autonomous. The Tibetan government, headed by Dalai Lama, remained as the highest governing body of Tibet. At the same time, Central Government in Beijing dispatched a PLA army unit into Tibet. The Central Government in Beijing and the Tibetan Government enjoyed a honeymoon period. In 1954, Dalai Lama visited Beijing and participated in the National People’s Congress. He was fascinated by the rapid development in China proper and even expressed the interest to join the Communist Party. Dalai and Mao also became pen pal and exchanged letters periodically.
However, the relationship between Lhasa and Beijing soured in 1956 when the CCP decided to enforce land reform in the Greater Tibet region. The Greater Tibet region includes Tibet, Qinghai, and Kham (present day Western Sichuan). In Tibet, the CCP launched the democratic reform and initiated the process to establish the Tibet Autonomous Region, but the effort faced significant resistance from the Tibetan nobles and hesitation from Dalai Lama. The Communist leadership even explored the possibility to replace Dalai’s leadership with Panchen. In Qinghai and Kham, the Communist’s land reform transformed into a bloodshed. The local Tibetan rose up against the communists, and the upheaval turned into a civil war lasted for six years from 1956–1962. In Kham, more than 90 percent of the counties join the rebel that grew more than several hundred-thousand people. In Qinghai, the rebellion caused the destruction of ancient temples and other valuable historical sites.
The Reformation War between the Communists and local Tibetans was not only a military clash but also a cultural clash; the Communist Han Chinese tried to change the age-old social structure and living style of Tibetan. The land reform shows that the Communist was unfamiliar with Tibetan society; they assumed the Tibetan peasants and serfs would gracefully cooperate just like peasants in China Proper. They miscalculated the drastic difference in lifestyle between Tibetan and Han Chinese. Despite living in a backward serfdom, the Tibetan often own properties such horses, guns, and herds. Only 5 percent of Tibetan peasants could be considered as “poor peasants” measuring in the standard in China proper. Indeed, the serfs and peasants supported the rebellion because the land reform and collectivization threatened to take away their property. Besides, the Communists underestimated the power and influence of Buddhism within the society and the mind of individual Tibetans. The Han Chinese has one of the most secular societies in the world. The Communism also emphasized on atheism and claimed that all religions are merely cult and the production of human ignorance. This lack of understanding and appreciation of Buddhism further fueled the conflict between Communists and Tibetan. During the land reformation, the communist cadres dismantled the largest local landowner, the Buddhism temple, and publicly insulted and lynched the monks. The temples were the foundation of the neighborhood, it not only served as religious institutions but also as schools. The monks were not only spiritual leaders but also teachers and community leaders. Prosecution on the monks caused significant opposition and fueled the rebellion.
Dalai Lama cautiously gazed at the land reform. He expressed sympathy towards the rebels and worried about the accelerating process of the Land Reform and the establishment of the Autonomous Region. When Dalai Lama visited India in 1956 for the 2500th Birthday of Buddha, he refused to come back to China and sought asylum in India. Dalai’s decision paralyzed Beijing. Mao dispatched Premier Zhou Enlai to India. During the meeting, Zhou promised Dalai to freeze the democratic reform in Tibet. After negotiation with Zhou and Nehru, Dalai withdrew and returned to Tibet. CCP scapegoated one of the supervisors of the establishment of Tibetan Autonomous Region, Fan Ming, but the open conflict between Dalai and Beijing planted the seed of mistrust and conflict between CCP and the Tibetan ruling class.
The conflict finally erupted in 1959 when the CCP official invited Dalai Lama for a dinner and an opera show at the PLA military camp. The Tibetan people sensed the danger, they surrounded the Dalai’s palace and pledged him to decline the offer. The gathering soon transformed into a massive anti-communist protest and chanted slogans such as “Expel Communism and Han Chinese” and “Tibet Independence.” On the third day of the protest, a canon was fired mysteriously and disarrayed the protesters. Feared about the total military crackdown, the protesters picked up their weapon. The protest turned into a violent uprising, and the PLA determined to suppress the rebellion. Dalai Lama feared the escalation of the conflict and fled to India.
Since Dalai officially fled Lhasa in 1959 and the establishment of Tibetan Autonomous Region in 1965, there are few conflicts, including the Nimu Incident in 1969 and the Lhasa Uprising in 1989. Since the late 1970s, Hu Yaobang pursuit a more moderate path to address the nationality conflicts in China by granting minorities more autonomous and more political power. The new minority policy withdrew military force and Han Chinese cadres and loosened the relationship between Tibetan monks and the communist cadre. However, The death of Panchen Lama in 1989 led to a new controversy. The central government in Beijing and Dalai’s “government in exile” cooperated to find the next Panchen. After the lengthy identification and divination process, both sides agreed on the final candidate for the next Panchen Lama. However, a dispute emerged on how to announce the new Panchen. Dalai agreed to approve the nominee after Beijing publicly announce the new Panchen. On the other hands, Beijing wanted to use the Golden Urn thus to exclude Dalai Lama from the announcement and to show Beijing’s superiority. Disagreed with Beijing’s decision, Dalai Lama unilaterally announced the new Panchen and outraged Beijing. Beijing arrested the announced Panchen and selected a new one with Golden Urn. Hitherto, the fate of the announced Panchen is remained classified.
The Chinese government and Dalai Lama operated secret backchannel for communication and negotiation. However, in 2012, China closed the backchannel. President Xi Jinping personally ordered to end the dialogue with Dalai’s envoy right after he took office. It symbolized China’s huge attitude change. China is tired of ongoing negotiation that produces little result and adopts the wait and see policy
Time is certainly the friend of Beijing. Dalai Lama, the most prominent leader of Tibetan Independent Movement, is already 82 years old. His remaining day is counting down. As the negotiation with current Dalai Lama went fruitless, Beijing believes Dalai Lama’s death will resolve all problems. Dalai is certainly aware of his health and Beijing’s tactic. He even said the next Dalai could be a foreigner, “a Caucasian with blond hair and blue eyes.” Recently, he cited the end of Hotogtu system and claimed that he wants to close the Dalai Lama system after his death. However, Beijing intends to continue the Dalai System. The CCP will handpick a new Dalai through Golden Urn, send him to the party school and educate him with Communist ideology and patriotism, and heavily monitor of his daily activities. The 11th Panchen Lama has been living in such surveillance for more than 20 years. Unlike most of his predecessors who lived in Tibet, the 11th Panchen Lama lives in Beijing and receives “patriot education.” He rarely goes back to Tibet, and when he did, he went back secretly, and he was entirely separate from his believers.
“There is no cultural problem; there is no religious problem; there is no political problem. There are only problems caused by the Dalai Group.” The Chinese government adopts this official propaganda and blames all misfortunes of Tibet to Dalai Lama for more than half a century. Dalai’s death will not solve the complicated and deep-rooted problem between Beijing and Lhasa. Dalai Lama advocates non-violence protest and the most powerful constraint on radical groups; his death might even trigger a new wave of violence and bloodshed in Tibet. However, with the mighty bureaucracy system and the overwhelming military force, Beijing is ready to take on any challenge.