Tibet Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything


8 Conversations

Tibet | Dalai Lama | Panchen Lama | Great Thirteenth Dalai Lama
Dharamsala | Lost Lhasa | Friends of Tibet
Ngawang Sangdrol | Tibetan Diaspora | Tibet on Film | The Monks of Drepung | Tibet's Warrior Nuns
Tibetan Children's Villages | Why the Chinese are There

Tibet is a country high on a plateau in the Himalayan Mountains. The average altitude is 14,000 feet above sea level. Its neighbours are India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Burma to the South and West; and China to the North and East. The capital city is Lhasa. It has a population of 6 million people. Most of the population are monks or farmers. The main crop is barley, from which the staple tsampa, or roasted barley flour, is produced. The national drink is po-cha, or salted, butter tea.

The people of Tibet practice Mahayana Buddhism; which teaches the path to enlightenment and stresses the importance of compassion for all living things. They consider their secular and religious leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, to be a living Buddha. They are a profoundly religious people, who, for many, many years, were content to live in isolation from the rest of the world.

War Is Waged Upon the Temples

In 1949, shortly after the Chinese Communist revolution, Tibet was invaded by the Chinese People's Liberation Army; whose stated objective was to liberate Tibet from foreign oppressors. The total number of foreigners in Tibet at the time is believed to have been six people. Those six people included one British missionary, two British radio operators, two Austrians and one Russian. Most of these people were refugees from World War II. Surely, an entire army was not required to liberate all of Tibet from six people.

The small, ill-equipped Tibetan army was little more than a combined resistance comprising the police force and border guard. They were soon forced to concede defeat to the Chinese; and the military occupation of Tibet by the Chinese People's Liberation Army, which has lasted now for 50 years, began.

Tibetans believe that the souls of important monks, especially the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama1, are reborn, in order to continue their work on Earth2. At the time of the Chinese invasion, His Holiness the fourteenth Dalai Lama was only 16 years old. The situation was deemed to be so dire that he was encouraged to take on the role of secular head of State two years3 before the age when he would normally have accepted the responsibility4.

Revolt and Exile

From the start, the Dalai Lama and his advisors adopted a conciliatory approach to the Chinese. Faced with overwhelming military strength, they had little choice, but it is also the way of the Tibetan people to attempt every peaceful alternative before embarking on war. Concession after concession was made in order to protect their people from complete destruction. For ten years this went on, until, after a decade of treaty violations and escalating oppression on the part of the Chinese, the Tibetan people rose in revolt.

The 1959 popular uprising should be seen as a sign of desperation and despair more than a serious attempt to overthrow the Chinese, who were, by then, well consolidated. Fresh Chinese troops poured into Tibet, by land and by air. The sacred city of Lhasa was surrounded by a steel ring of artillery. The young Dalai Lama was faced with a terrible dilemma: stay and risk the carnage of his people and the devastation of the capital, or flee into exile. With great reluctance, he saw that the only way to save the city from destruction, and ultimately preserve Tibetan culture, was to escape to India.

Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, his government, and his people made them welcome. The Tibetan government in exile has resided at Dharamsala ever since.

Purposeful Extinction of an Entire Culture

The Chinese military occupation of Tibet is a systematic, cold-blooded attempt to destroy Tibetan culture5. The International Commission of Jurists, a non-governmental body of legal professionals from around the world, has condemned the Chinese for acts of genocide.

The Chinese government has also been rebuked by the United Nations General Assembly. More than 1.2 million Tibetans (one fifth of the population) are known to have died as a result of Chinese oppression. More than 6,000 temples have been destroyed. Monks and nuns have received particularly brutal treatment, being beaten and murdered by Chinese soldiers. Young monks and nuns have been forced to perform sexual acts and various acts of depravity under threat of execution. In 1981, Alexander Solzhenytsin described the Chinese regime in Tibet as, 'More brutal and inhumane than any other Communist regime in the world'.

In recent years, large numbers of Chinese have been resettled in Tibet. Large areas of the country have been deforested. Large tracts of land have been ruined by Chinese uranium and borax mining. As western economic ties with China increase, there is a growing impetus to speed up colonisation and industrialisation. The World Bank has recently announced its intention to fund more such development. Naturally, as the stake held by western countries increases, interest in the plight of those who will suffer as a result will be discouraged. The geographic isolation of Tibet, which gave rise to a culture unique in all the world, now facilitates the Tibetan demise.

Until after World War II, Tibet was generally recognised as a sovereign State. During World War II, combatant nations respected the neutrality of Tibet. China is presently pretending that Tibet has always been a part of China. The international community, for the most part, seems willing to play along. Tibet has all but vanished from the maps. The Chinese argument is that it 'used' to be theirs. On the other hand, part of western China used to be Tibetan6. France used to be English. England used to be French. The rationale is absurd. China has no legitimate claims on Tibet. This is merely an example of might makes right which is leading and has led to the systematic exploitation and destruction of an entire culture.

What Can Be Done

Fortunately, there are people around the world, who are not willing to forget about Tibet; or ignore the suffering of the Tibetan people. Ordinary people around the globe recognise injustice when they see it and are willing to do something about it. Agencies such as The International Campaign For Tibet exist to speak out against the Chinese occupation and international lassitude. Millions of ordinary people, around the world, understand that wealth can be reckoned in something other than money; and that Tibet is a treasure of which we have all been robbed.

To his Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet:

'May His wishes all come true.'

1The Panchen Lama, which means 'Great scholar', is second in importance only to the Dalai Lama. He is considered to be the protector of all living things.2The reincarnation of the thirteenth and present Dalai Lama, was discovered, after an exhaustive search, at the age of two.3Under normal circumstances he would not become Head of State until the age of 18.4My land and my people His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet - Warner Books, 19975For example, the present Panchen Lama was kidnapped by the Chinese at the age of six.6Mongolian too, for that matter.

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