Like most people, if someone was to ask me about Tibet and the events that took place there I would have spoken of beautiful monasteries, gentle people who only wanted to spread peace, who were invaded and brutally slaughtered by the Chinese in the mid 1900’s. This is the picture we are most often subjected to, so it may be surprising to many to hear that this is picture is a deceptive one, and that the “Free Tibet” people you may often run across on the city streets should be taken with a grain of salt.
This post is inspired by an article I read at smuh this morning. I tweeted my disgruntledness (if that is even a word?), which turned in to a conversation with @Flawedprefect who was confused as to my disapproval.
One aspect of my disapproval stems from certain statements made by the Dalai Lama in visits to this country over the last few years. Their nature was along the typical lines one would expect from religious fundamentalists, demonifying humanistic, atheistic and evidence-based beliefs. I cannot recall the exact words, nor have I been able to locate the articles from which I read them. Not that it matters, this is only a very minor aspect of my disapproval. I only mention it first to get it out of the way quickly.
What really gets to me, is the “Free Tibet” groups and their propaganda. As with most events no matter how great or small there are two sides to the story, and the Free Tibet groups tell an extremely one sided story. Unfortunately it is the only one most of us are familiar with, the one I mentioned above. There is also a much deeper and darker side to pre-China Tibet of which most people are blissfully unaware.
Pre-China Tibet, to put it quite bluntly, was a theocracy of the most feared form. Yes the land was picturesque, the monasteries beautiful, and life peaceful and calm for the most part, but only if you were a monk in the higher ranks. For the lower ranks and general civilians, things were a very different story indeed.
The land was divided into manorial estates, owned either by the rare rich landlords or theocratic lamas of the region. There was only a very small number of farmers and traders fortunate enough to be considered as free peasantry. For the most part, if you were not a monk then you were a serf or a beggar. Treated like a slave, you received no pay and were subjected to working your landlord or lama’s land. Families often divided as serf’s were traded. Children born in to the same slavery, with newborn children often taken to a monetary and hope the monks would take the child in. This was the only respite one could hope for for their offspring, their only hope at giving their children a better life (a life at all) was to give them away at birth.
Women, as is typical of most theocratic systems, had no rights what so ever. It was a very male dominated society. I won’t expand on this point as the results are just horrific and you can probably guess already as to what things were like.
This treatment of the people prior to the 1950’s doesn’t excuse China for their method of invasion and their treatment of Tibet since, but to be honest the people are actually much better off now. They are finally citizens and they have rights, two things that were unheard of previously. When it comes to handling publicity and people, China certainly doesn’t have the best record. Too often their approach appears to be an “the ends justifies the means”, which results in poor unsavoury and oppressive methods which could have and should have been avoided.
A free Tibet would place it back in to theocratic rule. The monks again would live like kings. The people would lose all rights. Women would be little more than objects once again. Is this what you really want? Next time you see people on the street corner screaming for a free Tibet, think a little and ask some questions about what they really want before even looking at the petition they will most likely want you to sign. Don’t bother debating them though, for the most part they will be true believers and immune to anything you will have to say that isn’t in complete agreement with them.
To the Dalai Lama’s credit, what he is currently after isn’t Tibet’s independence and separation. That would be horrific for Tibet’s people and economy. His current push is what most political and economic analysts think is best for the country, and that is to become a special administrative region. Still under China’s rule and able to receive their aid, but under the freedom to make many of their own decisions in regards to trade and the operation of the country.
The Dalai Lama is still the figurehead of what was once a horribly oppressive regime. I do not blame him for past the atrocities of Tibet, it was his predecessors who did them (he essentially received the title then was forced to flee). So while the he is by no means a horrible or oppressive person, I still cannot lend him my support.
Here is a brief list of further reading on the topic, some of which I referenced for terms and minor clarification. I would highly recommend doing your own further research as there is much better source information out there than my quick google search this morning turned up.