Julia Teitelbaum Period 7 World History

The Consequences of the Chinese Invasion of Tibet
In 1949, the Red Army changed the Republic of China into the communist People’s Republic of China, that same year the People’s Liberation Army invaded Tibet. Since 1949, Tibet has been the center of controversy. Recently, the conflict in Tibet escalated into riots that in turn sparked international debate about Tibet’s independence. Protestors around the world shouting “Free Tibet” that believe Chinese rule has been detrimental to Tibet’s traditions spar with China, who sees itself as a liberator and benefactor of Tibet. Why do they see the situation so differently? The contradictory interpretations of the effects of the Chinese invasion on Tibet are rooted in each groups’ beliefs about larger issues of tradition and modernization. The Chinese invasion led to the modernization of Tibetan government from a feudal theocracy to a secular communist state; therefore, they see the political consequences of their invasion as progress and positive. Since feudalism and theocracy are viewed as generally outdated and inferior forms of government, China sees their secular socialist government in Tibet as an improvement. For most of Tibet’s history, a hierarchy of Tibetan monks ruled Tibet and most people worked on estates owned by monasteries (Issues). Chinese officials state that “The concept of ‘citizen’ didn’t even exist in the old Tibet, under the serfdom rule; slaves had nothing…they suffered all kinds of excruciating tortures.” (Legquoi). Therefore, to the Chinese, their annexation of Tibet was the liberation of serfs suffering under an outdated government. The Chinese refusal to negotiate with the Dalai Lama and his government-in-exile relates to this perception. A Chinese foreign ministry official expounded on the ‘evils’ of the Dalai Lama saying “Some politicians and journalists claim the Dalai Lama is a fighter for freedom and human rights, but before 1958 [the year before he fled Tibet] he used human skulls to hold wine?” (Rubin). Since the Dalai Lama is the traditional “god-king” of Tibet, China perceives his activism for Tibet as an attempt to restore his old regime and split China and blames him for stirring up trouble such as the recent riots in Tibet (“Lhasa reverts”). Furthermore, the Chinese argue that the Tibetan people have more power “as a member of the big family of the Chinese nation…as masters of their own affairs” (“Regional”). Given that 70% of government cadres (administrators) in the Tibet Autonomous Region are ethnic Tibetans, China regards the

Tibetans as highly involved in their own government. China views modernization and centralization of government as positive, so they perceive the political effects of their annexation of Tibet as positive. The economic growth in Tibet due to modernization of its formerly traditional agricultural economy causes China to interpret the economic consequences of the invasion as positive. China reports, “The GDP of southwest China’s Tibet grew 13.4 percent to 29 billion Yuan (3.7 billion U.S. dollars) in 2006” (“Tibet’s rate”). Before the Chinese invasion the GDP of Tibet was much smaller, therefore the growth of the economy and the higher standard of living it creates make China see Tibet as a success. Some claim that the economic development has exploited Tibetan resources and come too fast to be completely beneficial. In response, China scorns “the suggestion [that] Tibet should remain as it was a thousand years ago because it represents something so peaceful and idyllic” (Lustgarten). Since Tibet’s annexation, many incentives that are part of China’s “Go West” campaign have enticed mainland Chinese to live and work in Tibet. China believes that “[Chinese workers] are working in Tibet to help develop the local economy and culture” (Chen Guo Ching, Cry). China believes that the Chinese workers to whom it provides incentives to work in Tibet are doing a great service to the Tibetans by providing skilled labor to develop the country and integrate it into the rest of China. In brief, China sees the economic results of its invasion of Tibet as positive because they value economic development over tradition. As a secular state with laws and policies to protect religion, China is unapologetic about the invasion’s effects on religion. China officially protects religious freedom. According to Article 36 of China’s constitution, citizens of China “enjoy freedom of religious belief” and “no state organ, public organization, or individual may compel citizens to believe in or not believe in any religion” or discriminate against citizens based on religion. (“The Constitution”). Since the law protects freedom of religion, the Chinese consistently refute claims of government persecution of Tibetans because of their religion. In addition, China has funded efforts to preserve Tibetan Buddhism. For example, “the state set up the China Tibetan-Language Senior Buddhist college in Beijing specially to foster senior personnel of Tibetan Buddhism” (“Regional Ethnic Autonomy”). Since they have made some efforts to preserve Tibetan religion, the Chinese believe they have supported Tibet’s religion, not damaged it. Moreover, China sees “the fetters of religion” as having made Tibet inadaptable and hindered its progress (“Tibet’s March”). Therefore, any damage that China may have done to Tibetan religion does not concern it very

much because to them religion represents an obstacle for progress. For China, modernization takes precedence over religion, so they see their efforts to preserve Tibetan religion as generous and any damage they might cause to it as unimportant. Modernization of Tibetan society improved the standard of living, social mobility, and rights for women; consequently, the Chinese view the social outcomes of their annexation of Tibet as positive. The economic development and infrastructure that China has worked to create in Tibet has improved the standard of living in Tibet. “The average lifespan in Tibet increased to 65 years in 1997, compared with 36 years in 1959.” Along with average lifespan, infant mortality and other measurements of quality of life have improved since China’s invasion, largely due to China’s efforts to make Tibet more modern (Issues). Since statistically the Tibetans have had better lives since the Chinese invasion, they see the results of the invasion as favorable. Social mobility has also increased since the Chinese invasion. Some foreign reporters have remarked, “serfs had little or no opportunity to improve their status in Tibetan society [before the Chinese annexation]” and that “modern Tibet is not as [socially] stratified” (Kizilos). Such reports reinforce China’s belief that they liberated the Tibetan people from an oppressive government and an outdated social system. Likewise, China believes it has improved the situation of Tibetan women. “Throughout most of Tibet’s history, women were treated as second-class citizens… [until] the Chinese government legalized the equality of women in the 1950s” (Grunfeld). Since women are legally equal in Tibet now, China believes that it has supported progress in Tibetan society. China values progress and development in Tibet more than their traditions, therefore the social effects of the invasion seem positive to them. The increase in modern, secular education and the benefits of modern technology cause the Chinese to view the intellectual effects of the invasion positively. Before the 1950s, there was no formal school system in Tibet. Monasteries were the only centers of learning and since monks usually memorized their lessons, very few people in Tibet were literate. “The Chinese introduced formal, secular state schooling in 1952. By the mid1990s… the literacy rate was estimated at about 50 percent.” (Grunfeld). China perceives the introduction of state schooling and increase in literacy as progress toward Tibet becoming a modern part of China. In addition, the Chinese maintain that science and technology has improved education, agriculture, medicine, preservation of culture, transportation, use of resources, and the practice of religion in Tibet (“Science”). The modernization of

Tibet has allowed Tibetans greater access to useful modern technology, so China sees the intellectual effects of the annexation of Tibet as constructive. Likewise, China’s policies in Tibet have encouraged urbanization and modern construction such as the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. According to the Chinese, the Qinghai-Tibet Railway has resulted in growth of the Tibetan tourism industry and benefited the Tibetan people (Wu). People in urban areas of Tibet have better living conditions and the increase in urbanization has supported an increase in industrialization (“Tibet’s March”). As a result, the Chinese see the outcome of the introduction of modern technology in Tibet as advantageous. The Chinese see current knowledge and technology as more beneficial and useful than Tibet’s intellectual traditions, therefore they see the intellectual changes since their annexation as positive. Although the Chinese destroyed much Tibetan art during the Cultural Revolution, now Chinese law enforces preservation and restoration, modernization has let Tibetan art spread worldwide, and Tibet has economically profited from art tourism; therefore, China perceives the artistic effects of the invasion as positive. China has enforced regulations that protect and provide funding for renovation of Tibetan art. The Chinese government testifies that “Since the founding of the Tibet Autonomous Region, a number of regulations on the protection of cultural relics have been implemented… [and] 300 million Yuan has been used to renovate” (“Regional”). In addition, the Chinese have tried to keep Tibetan art alive. “The Chinese have…trained Tibetan artists” (Levy). As a result, China believes it has sufficiently provided for the protection and repair of Tibetan art. Modernization has also allowed Tibetan art to spread. “Modern conveniences have allowed for a wider dissemination of traditional culture” (Grunfeld). Similarly, the spread of Tibetan art has lead to increased tourism to cultural sites that has benefited Tibet’s economy. For example, the government worked to restore religious sites like the Potala Palace in Tibet that is now a main tourist attraction (“Tibet’s Potala”). The spread of Tibetan art and increased art tourism have economically benefited Tibetan arts. Since China has made some amends for the damage to art during the Cultural Revolution and Tibetan art’s popularity contributed to economic growth, China perceives the artistic results of the annexation of Tibet as positive. In contrast, critics view the Chinese invasion as imperialistic, a violation of Tibetan sovereignty, and have negative opinions of the government’s policies in Tibet, seeing them as threats to Tibet’s traditions. Activist groups contend, “Tibet had its own national flag, its own currency, a distinct culture, and religion, and controlled

its own affairs” (“The Tibet Issue”). Such qualities are indicators that a country is independent. Therefore, critics see the Chinese invasion as an unjustified invasion, an imperialistic war, by a hugely powerful country against a small defenseless one. Also, critics disapprove of China’s rule of Tibet since 1949 saying, “years of forcible Chinese occupation have brought the Tibetan people much grievous suffering and hardship”. For example, in the Mao era, the Chinese forced Tibetans to grow rice and wheat rather than the traditional Tibetan grain, barley. Rice and wheat were not suitable for Tibet’s extreme environment and the crop failed resulting in famine (Richardson). Such anecdotes of Chinese policies causing hurt to Tibet’s people lead protestors to shout “Free Tibet”. Furthermore, activists claim “Tibet had been peacefully living under the rule of a succession of Dalai and Panchen Lamas until the Chinese invasion” (Pommaret). This idea reinforces their view that the traditional Tibetan government served the country better than the Chinese government now serves it. Even critics who believe that “mid-century Tibet was badly in need of reform” say that “the Tibetans would have much preferred to reform it themselves” (Hessler). Hence, most critics believe that China should not have invaded and should return Tibet’s independence. Additionally, although many Tibetans serve in government, “not one Communist Party Secretary in [Tibet] has ever been Tibetan” (Pommaret). Such facts imply that Tibetans don’t have power in their own country, that traditionally they ruled themselves. Finally, the Dalai Lama has said the Tibetan people need “to have genuine self-rule in order to preserve their …unique culture, religion, language, and way of life” (“His Holiness”). Activists like the Dalai Lama value Tibetan culture and traditions highly and see greater autonomy or independence for Tibet as the only way to preserve them. Those who see the effects of the Chinese invasion negatively believe that the invasion was unjustified and replaced an effective Tibet traditional government with a cruel, oppressive Chinese one. Critics negatively construe the economic changes since the Chinese invasion as threatening toward traditional values and exploitative. Critics say that such intense, fast modernization has been destructive to Tibet’s culture, citing examples like the “Traditional sections of Lhasa [that] are being razed in favor of faceless modern buildings” (Hessler). Critics value Tibet’s traditional culture and see China’s focus on developing Tibet and its economy as destructive towards that culture. Also, critics see Tibet’s wealth, even if there is more of it, as less evenly distributed than before the invasion, especially since Chinese migrants have advantages in the Tibetan economy. As one editorialist said, “Business is booming. Yet they [the Tibetans] aren’t getting any of the

bounty” (Lustgarten). Since economic growth has eroded Tibetan tradition without seemingly benefiting Tibetans equally in return, critics see the changes in the Tibetan economy negatively. Furthermore, critics accuse China of exploiting Tibet’s natural resources. They call Tibet’s economy “colonial…exploiting the riches of the country for [the benefit of the Chinese]” (Pommaret) Since Tibetan tradition includes reverence for the environment, activists see Chinese development of Tibet’s natural resources for profit as negative. Finally, critics portray Chinese concern with developing the economy as corrupting Tibetan traditions and morals. The part Tibetan activist writer Woeser has written that the Chinese educated Tibetans that she has met who are “eager to compete in the commercial world” are amoral, killing animals for fun, without any respect for the traditions of their people (“A Killing Trip”). This concern with the focus on material wealth corroding Tibet’s values leads critics to perceive the economic changes since the invasion as negative. In short, critics see the economic consequences of the invasion negatively because they believe that the changes have hurt Tibetans more than they have helped. The Chinese treatment of Tibet’s traditional religion causes people to view the religious effects of the invasion as negative. Many critics cite restrictions on Tibetan Buddhists and their monasteries as particularly damaging to Tibet’s important religious tradition. For example, a U.S. senator says “there is not freedom of religion in the monasteries of Tibet…it’s illegal to have a picture of the Dalai Lama” (Wolfe, Cry). The government restricts priests from having a picture of the leader of the religion, whom they see as a terrorist. This and other restrictions on monasteries and Tibetans lead critics to see the religious effects of the invasion as detrimental to Tibet’s religious tradition that has always been central to its identity. Also, there are consistent reports that there is still persecution of and limits for monks and nuns, that there is a lack of religious teachers in Tibet, and that the government still identifies, “reeducates” and isolates reincarnated religious leaders (lamas) (United States). Such reports further justify people’s belief that since the Chinese invasion the religious situation in Tibet has deteriorated. Critics also refute China’s claims that it has funded preservation of Tibetan Buddhism, saying that such preservation is a way to reduce religion into “folklore— a mere show devoid of its…meaning” (Pommaret). The idea that China is trying to make Tibetan religion a “show” reinforces activists’ negative view of the religious effects of the invasion. The continuing Chinese restrictions on Tibetan Buddhism and the view that China has tried to reduce religion’s importance in Tibet leads critics to see the religious effects of the invasion as negative.

The deterioration of traditional social structure, values, and culture cause some to believe that the social changes since the Chinese invaded Tibet are negative. Anecdotes about changes in Tibet lead people to view the social effects of the invasion negatively. For example, “Lhasa, which means place of the gods, now has a red light district…at least 658 brothels were identified…in 1999” (Cry). Since traditionally Tibet was a devout country without much known prostitution, people see the effects of the Chinese invasion as negative- leading to deterioration of important social values and standards. Also, critics accuse the Chinese of trying to destroy Tibet’s traditional society. The Dalai Lama said, “The majority of Chinese ‘development’ plans in Tibet are designed to assimilate Tibet completely into the Chinese society” (“His holiness”). Since people usually dislike being manipulated to adopt a foreign culture and social system, activists for Tibetan independence feel they are justified in saving Tibetans from cultural imperialism. Some writers recount that young Chinese educated Tibetans disregard Tibetan traditions and defile traditional sacred places (“A Killing”). The concept that Chinese influence in Tibet has made some of its youth in essence amoral causes people to believe that the social effects of the invasion are negative. The decline of traditional social standards since the Chinese invaded Tibet leads some to see the social effects of the Chinese invasion negatively. Chinese censorship, high tuition costs, “brainwashing” in government run schools, and potential negative effects of technology in Tibet leads people to criticize the intellectual results of the invasion. In addition to the fact that China censors websites about Tibet, many reports that “[China] has categorically suppressed Tibetan self-expression…the Tibetan woman writer Woeser is just an example” provoke criticism (Lixiong). The restrictions on freedom of speech in Tibet lead people to see the intellectual effects of the invasion as negative, violating Tibetans’ basic rights. Also, there are many claims that the Chinese run education system only deals with the Chinese version of Tibet’s history, and includes much propaganda (Hessler). Therefore, critics negatively view the Chinese claims that they have supported education, seeing that support as only a form of brainwashing young Tibetans. Lastly, concerns have been raised about the effects of technology in Tibet such as the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, mining, and hydroelectric development (Issues). Critics worry that the Qinghai-Tibet Railway, which makes it easier for the rest of China to transport people and products to and from Tibet, will accelerate the loss of Tibet’s traditions. Activists also believe that these new technologies present a threat to Tibet’s environment. To summarize, people negatively perceive the intellectual consequences of the invasion

because they limit Tibetans’ freedom of speech, include bias in public education, and threaten Tibetan traditions and the environment. Some view the past destruction of Tibetan art by China as inexcusable and, while China has tried to preserve Tibetan art, see the preservation negatively as a stifling of a living culture. An image of a Tibetan mural of a Buddha with a bullet hole in its head Revolution reflects how much of Tibetan art was destroyed during and after the Chinese invasion; the fat that the mural has not been repaired emphasizes how the damage done has not been completely repaired (Cry). The damage that done and that remains causes some to scorn Chinese claims that they have redeemed themselves for the artistic consequences of their invasion. In addition, critics see China’s attempts to repair Tibetan art and foster art tourism as an insult to the arts traditional meaning. For example, according to a Tibetan writer the Potala Palace, a religious site in Tibetan Buddhism “has been insulted through politicization and commercialization” and was renovated by the Chinese using untraditional methods (“Decline”). The Potala Palace epitomizes the problems critics see with Chinese treatment of Tibetan art; they disregard artistic traditions but at the same time denigrate them by selling them and trying to use them as political symbols. Finally, some have pointed out that “only when…closely connected to its sense of reality, does the expression of [a] nation’s history and tradition become a part of a living culture…[and] from such a perspective the damage and suppression Chinese rule has done… becomes apparent” (Lixiong). The view that Chinese rule has in essence “killed” Tibetan culture by packaging it for tourists and “preserving it” causes critics to see the artistic consequence of the invasion negatively. China views the effects of their invasion as positive because they have modernized Tibet and they value modernization as progress; critics view the effects as negative for the same reason— China has modernized Tibet, but they value Tibet’s traditions that modernization has eroded. Is one group right or wrong? Despite the very black and white views that they have about Tibet, the truth about the conflict falls in the grey area. Likewise, the solution for the conflict lies somewhere in the grey area: in a compromise between tradition and modernization. In most historical precedents, the forces of modernization and imperialism that are active in Tibet have overwhelmed native cultures. However, China and their critics, such as the Dalai Lama, still have the opportunity to negotiate a compromise to try to allow Tibet to benefit from modernity without losing all of its valuable traditions.