Grasping for the Shadow of IdentityThere once lived a peaceful, ancient culture, isolated from civilization, living in peace and harmony with its surroundings, grounded in deep faith springing from its religious leader, blooming like a rose in the majestic hills. In what seemed like only minutes, this nation I speak of suddenly became a communist, occupied country, with no identity of its own, with an outlawed flag and an exiled leader. This nation is Tibet.
After more than 2,000 years of freedom, one day in 1959 changed this country’s identity. In 1959, Tibet was occupied by the Chinese, who claimed that Tibet had always rightfully belonged to them. Tibet’s national flag is now outlawed, and its political and religious leader, the 14th Dalai Lama, is in exile in Dharamsala, India.
Tibet is in disarray, and their culture and government now reflect that of the Chinese, though they are and have been making strong efforts to regain their freedom.Tibet has had a very ancient and illustrious history prior to the Chinese takeover. The nation began in 1063 B.C.
Five hundred years before Buddha came into this world, a man named Lord Shenrab Miwo founded the Tibetan Bon religion. With this event, an empire named Shangshung ruled all of Tibet. This empire had eighteen kings before its decline. After the Shangsung Empire declined, a new kingdom called Bod came into existence.
Bod is the current name of Tibet (Tibetan Studies). The Tibetan calendar places its origin in the year 127 B.C., when the kingdom was united under one ruler (King Nyatri Tsempo). This lineage of kings continues for over 1,000 years, until King Lang Darma was assassinated in 842 A.D. This period of kings had three kings that really did good things for Tibet, and they were called the Three Great Kings (Tibetan Studies 21).
The three kings were Gampo, Detson, and Ralpachen. Under Gampo (629-649), Tibet became a serious military power, and Gampo was a great supporter of Buddism, so this religion gained prominence in Tibet. King Detson was in power during the peak of the Tibet power (755-797). During his reign, Tibet seized the Chinese capital, and adopted the Indian form of Buddism, built the first monastery in Tibet, and declared Buddism the state religion in Tibet. During the reign of Ralplachen (815-836), Tibet continued as a military power and won many key victories, and reached a peace treaty with China (Tibet: An Occupied Country).After Ralplachen, his brother took the throne and tried to reinstate the Bon religion and persecuted the Buddhists. He was then assassinated by a Buddhist monk, and the kingdom was divided between his two sons.
Everyone was warring for power, and it caused the then powerful kingdom to be divided into a great number of little princedoms. This caused a dark period to fall over Tibet (842-1247), and until 1358, the Sakya monastery lamas ruled Tibet (Watts, Jacob 24). After this period, the lamas themselves no longer ruled, but were spiritual teachers of the various kings of Tibet. The most influential lama of the time was Sonam Gyatso (1543), and the king labeled him the Dalai Lama, meaning “Ocean of Wisdom”. This is the first time that someone was called the Dalai Lama. One of the turning points in Tibetan history came in 1642, when the Fifth Dalai Lama (Ngawang Loozang Gyatso) took control of Tibet’s government.
Where as the previous Dalai Lamas were just teachers, and had just spiritual authority over Tibet, the Fifth Dalai Lama took both spiritual control, and temporal control over Tibet. This established the current system of government (Horowitz, Daniel 13). This is also the point in time that Tibet’s relationship with China became especially relevant to Tibet’s current status, because China claims that Tibet has always been in their control. The Fifth Dalai Lama demanded that China recognize his sovereignty. China then recognized the Dalai Lama as an independent leader, and as an equal. Tibet’s relationship with China became very close, and they were allies.
The Chinese emperor even built a path that was above the city so that the Dalai Lama wouldn’t have to go through any gates to enter the city of Peking. To preserve the rule of the lamas, the Fifth Dalai Lama stated that his lineage would continue in power. After the Fifth Dalai Lama’s death, the Mongols and the Manchu invaded Tibet at several different occasions, each time, the invaders eventually driven out. These events pave the way for the recent history of the country before the Chinese invasion (Nobel, Laureate 4a)After those events, some very important situations and events occurred that help to support Tibet’s sovereignty as a nation separate from China. During the various invasions by the Manchus and Mongols, Tibet never seemed to lose their sovereignty as nation. The Tibetan people still recognized the Central Tibetan Government (with the Dalai Lama as the head) as a legal government in Tibet. Also, in 1856, a treaty was signed between Tibet and Nepal, and this treaty made no reference whatsoever to China, which seems to support the idea that China had no control over the actions of Tibet.
But, perhaps the clearest proof of the sovereignty of Tibet in that period in its history is the internal war that broke out in the middle of the nineteenth century. To solve the conflict the Tibetan government sent an army, and crushed the invasion of a neighboring chiefdom, and set up a Tibetan governor to supervise the affairs of the two lands involved. This clearly illustrates the power of the Tibetan army and government to rule their country, with no influence by China at all (Tibet: An Occupied Country).To further support Tibet’s sovereignty, China put up no protest when, in 1904, Britain invaded Tibet. China and Great Britain were close allies, and China wanted England to send an exploration into Tibet, and the Tibetan government would not allow it.
They tried many other times, and were turned away every time. Finally, on August 3, 1904, Britain invaded Tibet. During this invasion (that was not at all protested by China), Tibet conducted affairs as an independent country, and reached a treaty with England on September 7, 1904. Then, in 1909, China invaded Tibet, and during the Monlam Festival of 1910, Chinese soldiers raped, murdered, and plundered Lhasa (the city where the Dalai Lama lives), and the Dalai Lama was exiled. This invasion was eventually crushed in 1912.
The president of China apologized, and wanted to restore the Dalai Lama. But, the Dalai Lama said that he wasn’t asking for a rank from the Chinese, because he declared Tibet’s independence, and took full control of Tibet’s government. In 1913, Tibet and Mongolia signed a treaty, where both countries declared that they were independent and separate from China (Hazarika, Nathan 57). In March of 1913, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama issued a formal declaration of the complete independence of Tibet.
The Dalai Lama then started international relations, modern postal and telegraph services and created measures to modernize Tibet. Then, he died on December 17, 1933. A Chinese mission arrived to offer its sorrow, but really was there to settle a boarder dispute. Tibet allowed this mission to stay until 1949. Unfortunately, peace and security would also leave with this mission (Nobel, Laureate 2a).In September of 1949 Communist China, completely unprovoked, invaded Tibet. On May 23, 1951, a Tibetan delegation was forced to sign a treaty with China.
China used this to try to make Tibet a colony of China, and in the process violated every article of that treaty that they had imposed. Following this, on September 9, 1951, thousands of Chinese troops marched into Lhasa (home of the Dalai Lama). According ton Jacob Watts, in his essay “Injustice Abroad”, ” During this occupation of Tibet, the Chinese systematically destroyed monasteries, denied political freedom, suppressed religion, and imprisoned and massacred innocent men, women and children” (Watts, Jacob 26). This tragic event would sadly only give Tibetans a taste of China’s resolve.In 1959, the Tibetan people, fed up with China’s completely uncalled for and unprovoked attack and rule, revolted. The Tibetan National Uprising tried to fight against the Chinese rule. This act simply awoke a more ferocious beast, and thousands of men, women and children were massacred in the streets, and more were imprisoned and deported.
According to Strangers in the Mist, Monks and nuns were the prime targets of China’s ruthless aggression, and monasteries and temples were shelled (Hazarika, Nathan 67). On March 17, 1959, the Dalai Lama escaped into exile to India, where he remains today. He was followed by an unprecedented number of his fellow countrymen. But, the remaining inhabitants of Tibet would not be able to escape the iron fist of the Chinese. The next twenty years would bring the utter destruction of Tibet’s culture and freedom. One-fifth of Tibet’s population, more than 1.
2 million people, would die at the hands of Chinese policy. Many of the survivors were sent to prisons and labor camps. More than 6,000 monasteries, temples and other cultural and historic buildings were destroyed, and all of their contents desecrated. In 1980, a senior official, General Secratery Hu Yao Bang (the first senior official to visit Tibet since the invasion of 1949), saw the destruction and horror of Tibet. He was so shocked and alarmed, that he wanted drastic reforms for recuperation.
He was forced to resign in 1987, and it is believed that his forced resignation is partly because of his views on Tibet. In 1981, Alexander Solzhenystin said that the Chinese regime in Tibet was “more brutal and inhumane than any other communist regime in the world” (Injustice Abroad 8).In an effort to ease the suffering under such a regime, after 1979, there was some contact between the Dalai Lama and China.
In 1982 and 1984, two delegations were sent by the Dalai Lama to talk seriously with the Chinese government. These talks were unsuccessful because the Chinese at the time weren’t willing to discuss anything of importance other than the return of the Dalai Lama from exile. The issue of his return is not of prime importance, because the Dalai Lama has always asserted that his return is not the issue. He insists that the issue that needs to be addressed is the future of the 6 million Tibetans that are currently inside Tibet. The Dalai Lama thinks that his return depends entirely on the resolving of the question of the status and rights of Tibet and its people (Nobel, Laureate 3a).The current situation in Tibet is sadly deteriorating.
In 1987, there were open demonstrations against Chinese rule in Lhasa and other parts of the country. The main reason for these protests is the large number of Chinese that are coming into Tibet and especially its major cities. In Tibet’s cities and fertile valleys (especially in eastern Tibet), the Chinese outnumber the Tibetans two and sometimes three to one. This influx of Chinese is devastating to the Tibetan people because the Chinese not only control the political and military power in Tibet, but also the economic life and even cultural and religious life of the people. Another concern about the Chinese moving to Tibet, is the security of India.
Tibet is really the only thing separating India from China, and according to Nathan Hazarika in his book Strangers in the Mist, “the more Chinese that live in Tibet, the stronger China’s strategic position along the Himalayas will be” (Strangers in the Mist 19). Tibet is in disarray, and their culture and government now reflect that of the Chinese, and they are and have been making strong efforts to regain their freedom. With their freedom and culture quickly becoming a fading shadow, Tibet is struggling to keep hope. Does China have a legitimate case for the ownership of Tibet? Should we even care? Does an issue that so far and distant from our country even warrant a reaction from our nation? Is it even our place to decide what is right and what is wrong? All of these questions are pretty valid, and I guess it comes down to a personal decision on the part of each individual. The countries of the world almost all agree that the situation in Tibet is wrong, but yet nothing is being done. Do we, as inhabitants of this planet, and members of a nation that declares “freedom and justice for all”, have moral and ethical obligation to help the people of Tibet? I know that I knew very little of Tibet’s current situation before this research paper, and I wouldn’t doubt that most Americans are in that same place. Our society as a whole seems to be very uneducated about the issues of this world.
Maybe we take our rights and freedoms for granted, and miss the responsibility that our freedom and rights bear. I believe America as a whole is very ignorant about what is going on around the world, and it scares me to think that maybe we like our ignorance. Do we hide behind our ignorance to avoid our God given responsibility to our fellow man? After all, if our neighbor’s freedom isn’t important to us, how important is our own? Works CitedHazarika, Nathan. Strangers in the Mist. New Delhi: Viking Publishing House, 1994.Horowitz, Daniel.
“Ethnic Groups in Conflict.” University of California Press, 1999.”International Campaign for a UN Referendum in Tibet.” Hear Tibet!. www.heartibet.org.
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” The Times of India. 30 Dec 2000. 2a-6a.”Tibetan Studies”.
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gov. 01 Jan 2002. 14 Feb 2000. < http://www.loc.
gov/acq/devpol/colloverviews/tibetan.html>.Watts, Jacob. Injustice Abroad. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.
“Tibet: An Occupied Country.” Friends of Tibet. www.friends-of-tibet.
org. 21 Jan 2002. 12 Dec 2000.