Tibet and Western Romanticism

Thanks to twitterer niuB for pointing us in the direction of this excellent piece in Foreign Policy on myths and truths about Tibet, and the strange collective nostalgia many Westerners seem to have for a place they’ve never been and a people they’ve never been among. The entire article is worth a read, but I’ll be excerpting a few bits here with my commentary.

Larson first characterizes Western pereceptions of Tibet and the Dalai Lama:

Tibet is a land of snow-capped mountains and sweeping vistas, fluttering prayer flags, crystal blue skies, saffron-robed monks spinning prayer wheels, and, perhaps most of all, timelessness. And likewise, the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet and its chief emissary to the West, is a man of abiding wisdom and compassion, an inspiration and moral compass, a beacon of calm in a frenetic modern world. Set aside the fraught politics of this contested region. If one word sums up what Tibet means to the West it is this: purity.

The Dalai Lama is an especially beloved figure — something I have always found baffling, not because he is unworthy of it but because many of the people who speak so highly of him know little about him or his religion. Doubtless, the man has done many things worthy of praise. But Larson wonders if you were aware that he is opposed to abortion, in favor of nuclear weapons, has accepted large financial donations from terrorists, and believes that using anything other than your genitals during sex is improper (no masturbation, oral, or anal sex allowed, although curiously, he is OK with prostitution). Christopher Hitchens has also written on this topic in this Salon article, but his ignorance of Buddhism and the vicious tone of the piece make it much less worthy reading than Foreign Policy’s piece.

Larson goes on to note that Tibetans are not as “pure” or “spiritual” as some imagine them. They are, in point of fact, regular people. While she notes that they do tend to be more religious than the average Chinese, and they hold a strong sense of ethnic unity, for the most part Tibetan youngsters like Adidas and cigarettes just as much as their Han counterparts. Surprising? It shouldn’t be, but for some people it still is.

On the topic of religion, Larson notes:

Many versions of Buddhism are practiced in China, some with tacit consent of the authorities, but Tibetan Buddhism has proved particularly difficult to integrate because, as with the Islam practiced by Uighurs, it invests authority in local religious leaders who rival the authority of local officials. On issues ranging from property rights to marriage customs, sparks may fly.

Countless times I have heard people in the US espouse the idea that the Chinese government wants to repress Tibetan buddhism because ‘they are afraid of so many people organized in one group’. No one ever mentions that, in all fairness, the religion does not match particularly well with secular governance. That doesn’t mean that Tibetan buddhism should be repressed, or even that Tibetans shouldn’t have the right to elect their own religious leaders to political positions if they so choose, but regardless, it’s worth noting that (as usual) there is more behind the official Chinese government position than just “pure evil”.

Later, Larson is describing some time spent with Tibetan youths from both inside and outside Tibet proper who have gathered in Yunnan province for a friend’s wedding:

What they resent, they told me, is three things: when government actions benefit new Han settlers more than locals; when government makes incorrect assumptions about what Tibetans really want (for instance, the railroad into Tibet and greater development in general); and when government restricts their culture and practice of religion. (To learn about traditional Tibetan culture and heritage, many families in China who can afford to do so send their children to study in India, where there is a large Tibetan exile community. Some say it is near impossible to learn about real Tibetan culture within China.) These young Tibetans did, not, however, say their concerns necessarily added up to wanting independence, but they did think that something in the system would eventually have to give.

And therein lies my biggest problem with the Western discourse on Tibet: it generally ignores the opinions of actual Tibetan people. To be fair, there are some good reasons for this. It is expensive and difficult to travel to Tibet, and even once there, the government certainly does not encourage independent opinion polling or canvassing the locals about whether or not Tibet should be free. But that doesn’t excuse making assumptions or presuming that the Tibetan you talked to once is representative of an entire ethnic group.

The fact is, certainly some native Tibetans want Tibet to be an independent country. Just as certainly, others do not. My guess — and this is just a guess — is that one would be hard pressed to find Tibetans who wouldn’t say that Chinese policy in Tibet is in need to serious reform at the very least, but if we’re going to have that discussion at all, it needs to be one that Tibetans and Chinese are involved in, rather than one that’s occurring in some useless three-way echo chamber between the Tibetan exiles in India, Free Tibet groups in the West, and the central Chinese leadership in Beijing.

And, as the Foreign Policy article points out, the first step towards a more productive discussion is abandoning our orientalist, black-and-white ideas about Tibet.

Thoughts? (This is the part where half of you hurl abuse at me for not siding with Free Tibet groups, while the other half of you hurl abuse at me for being an anti-CCP splittist!)

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0 thoughts on “Tibet and Western Romanticism”

  1. I just read the Larson piece. At least on the issue of the Dalai Lama, it is spectacularly uninteresting. After stating early on in the piece the tanatalizing line, “How much do Westerners really know about the Dalai Lama?” she goes on to tell us, shockingly, that his views on sexuality include being opposed to most abortions and non-genital sex. In other words, his views on this topic is in line with those of other major world religions, including Christianity and Islam. What next shocking thing will we learn about him? That he is not a secular humanist but believes in reincarnation? Just as many American Catholics admired Pope John Paul II but disagreed with him on issues of sexuality, so there is nothing inconsistent in admiring the overall message of the Dalai Lama and dissenting on a few topics.

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  2. Your opinions on the Dalai Lama is frankly irrelevant, the same things can be said about many venerable politicians and business people in the US. What is important is that Tibet as a theocracy is irreversibly tied to the Dalai Lama, he is the living reincarnation of Buddha. My father traveled to Tibet many times and told me that many families still have pictures of the Dalai Lama prominently displayed in their homes, despite the fact that it is illegal to do so.

    Granted there always existed a mystical element of Tibet in Westerner’s eyes (i.e. Shangri-la), I think the West receives more diverse range of perspectives on the Tibetan issue compared to the often rabidly Sinocentric Chinese public, who for the most part, are even less aware of the nature of Tibet (apart from maybe tourism or sightseeing) and the sentiments of the Tibetan people. Honestly, during the counter-protests against the 2008 riots, how many ‘actual’ Tibetan people sided with the Chinese students to defend the national unity? While I too support the need to directly engage with the Tibetan people, between the Chinese public (Han majority) and the Tibetans in exile worldwide, who do you think the common Tibetans would rather side with, think about it.

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  3. I have a friend who had a chance to travel among the Tibetan exile communities in India and Nepal, and at least from her experience talking to people, the majority of Tibetans don’t think a democratic government is for them. It makes sense in light of the piece above, with Tibetan culture not being conducive to separation of religion and state. Now, just because a group isn’t cut from the same cloth as American and European progressives doesn’t make them any less deserving of self-determination, but it is another example of how so many Americans and Europeans have rallied around a cause they don’t understand.

    An aside: it seems that a few high profile movies and the many tours the Dalai Lama has done have effectively made his story into the story of Tibet in the eyes of many. The vast majority of Americans, even of the ones who could recognize the Dalai Lama and tell you where he’s from, wouldn’t be able to tell you anything about Tibetan history from before his birth.

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  4. @ Joe: And why do you assume that the Tibetans in Tibet need need to either side with the exiles or the Chinese “defending national unity”? That’s exactly the kind of black-or-white thinking I’m talking about…

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  5. A Professor for Tibetan Culture once told me: A lot of the myth and glorifications around Tibet, especially in Europe, are still from the “scientific” research done by the Nazis before World War 2. They had a lot of expeditions to Tibet. You might all have seen Brad Pit as a Nazi in 7 Years in Tibet…

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  6. @ Joe: Right, but that’s a false dichotomy, I think. Sure, if asked to choose, they’d likely side with the exile community, but my guess is that they would rather side with themselves. And I think it’s foolish to assume that would be exactly the same as what the exiles want.

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  7. Honestly, when I read the piece I thought it was rather disingenuous, sort of in line with some of the other comments that have already been made. I think this kind of article belongs to a sort of “ooh, aah, not what you think” brand of journalism that isn’t as original or as groundbreaking as the journalist thinks it to be. Recognizing, understanding, and even satirizing the naivety and incompleteness of (CERTAIN) Westerner’s prominent and public admiration for the “idea” that is Tibet goes way back; for years now any mention, for example, of Richard Gere in the context of Tibet is usually done not in admiration for his adoption of a cause but rather out of cynical eyebrow-raising about what is obviously glim-glam rich white man’s burden sort of sloganeering.

    Your lament is that most journalism on and in Tibet doesn’t focus on the Tibetan people themselves, but I don’t see how this article is any better – besides more general and, at this point, kind of cliche observations that “Tibet is not paradise on earth” and “the Dalai Lama is not a living saint” the author here reveals her oh so intimate knowledge of the “real Tibetan” people through a guy named Tashi and his buddies in the tourist mecca that adopted the name “Shangri-la” in Yunnan. So a journalist whose making journalist capital off of this revelatory “it’s not what you think” approach picks a cigarette-smoking, gelled-haired tourist agency worker to show what “Tibetans” are really like? This is just as much selective, hit-and-run journalism as the folks who take pictures of praying Buddhist monks in Gansu. She says his name is “Tashi,” sounds like to me she didn’t even bother finding out what his name was in his native language, opting instead to use a pinyinfication of his name – an interview with a “real Tibetan” and she didn’t even get to his real name.

    I believe it was Dave at Davesgonechina who coined an excellent phrase when commenting on the shallowness of media reporting on Xinjiang – it all tends to fall into a “I can’t believe it’s not China!” strain of observation. Since the Uyghurs are Muslims and therefore are not graced with the Western romanticism and Hollywood advocacy that the Tibetans get, journalists tend to go straightt to the “it’s not what you think” sort of coverage (also frequently failing to un-pinyin-ify Uyghur names as well) . While I admire and acknowledge efforts to pierce beyond the Shangri-la style of romanticizing Tibet, I don’t think this is any better than its own “I can’t believe it’s not Tibet” sort of writing. There’s really good, investigative, analytical, and attractively written stuff on Tibet that makes short work of the romanticizing of Tibet; it’s been around for a while. That being said, I don’t really find anything illuminating about this particular iteration of it.

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  8. The movie is about a Austrian adventurer named Heinrich Harrer, who was in the Nazi Party and SS. He did a famous expedition to Tibet. I not sure about the “Race Research”, but Nazis definitely did that and kind of glorified the “Tibetan Race”. The professor told me, that a lot of the myth from that time still “live on” within experts. I don know about details…just a lot of Tibetans actually told me that Tibetan and German are the perfect race, so I should marry a Tibetan girl. But I guess that is what they tell everyone, haha.

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  9. Nice post, this whole topic quickly becomes a sticking point when I talk to friends about my thoughts on China and its relationships to the autonomous regions. The “Free Tibet” stickers are seen with regular frequency in the northeast of the US, and it is true that it is rare to find someone who actually has a knowledge of the regions history. It is not so much the sticker that bothers me at this point, but rather that it has become part of a blind liberalism. People that I have spoken with often freak out when I even suggest that democracy is not a universal solution. Don’t get me wrong, I lean more to the left, but it seems that the people I meet who speak most on behalf of Tibet tend to understand the least. There is a great danger of making it a black and white issue.

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  10. Porifidy: I agree that this is “old news” to some people, and that the article doesn’t go much beyond what’s done before. That said, most people in the US still hold preposterously romanticized views on Tibet because they don’t read extremely-in-depth pieces like the ones you’re talking about. And there are still pieces being written that sound like they’re from the 1930s, which is exactly what Larson was talking about.

    It would be nice if we were beyond articles like this, but walk among the common people of the US and start asking them about Tibet. We really aren’t.

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  11. As I understand it, the Dalai Lama himself does not want Tibet to be completely separated from China, rather he wishes it to become a more self-governing protectorate. You can put this down to practicality, China won’t let go so let’s get what we can for now, or some people would put it down to greed, China has money we can use.

    Therefore, if you want a totally Free Tibet, you don’t want to support the Dalai Lama.

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  12. Charles, I see your point, nevertheless, I think the demographic your referring to, the demographic that could use a little reality check on Tibet, is not the one that’s necessarily reading Foreign Policy. I’d wager my reaction would’ve been different, as well as my perception of the “intended audience,” if this was a Newsweek or Time article. However, for publications like Foreign Policy and, say, the Economist, I have different expectations.

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  13. Charles, I think you are falling into the same trap of Western romanticism that you criticizing. Treating Tibetans “themselves” as evanescent or exclusive to “the three-way” discourse, making it seem that the exiles are as far removed as the Chinese public (gov’t) from the actual Tibetan people.

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  14. “Tashi” isn’t pinyin — it’s the conventional English spelling of the Tibetan bkra-shis, as in terms like Tashilhunpo or “tashi delek”. The pinyin version would be something like “zhaxi”, which actually gets pretty close to the Tibetan pronunciation if you know how to read pinyin.

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  15. @ Joe: Not at all. My concern is that there is no three-way discourse. It’s a two-way discourse. Tibetans in Tibet don’t tend to be involved at all.

    And yes, I do think there are three separate communities. I’m not sure how productive it is to debate who is “farther” from Tibetans in Tibet, but I do think it’s a mistake to assume the exile community represents them. Shared ethnicity or no, there are bound to be some major differences between people who live and have grown up in different countries, especially when it comes to politics (which is what we’re talking about).

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  16. “I think this kind of article belongs to a sort of “ooh, aah, not what you think” brand of journalism that isn’t as original or as groundbreaking as the journalist thinks it to be.”

    Agreed.

    I would go a little further and suggest that the CCP-esque meme of a mythologised Tibet as seen through western eyes is approaching myth status itself, largely thanks to its compatibility with the occupation-apologist mantra of a people liberated from imposed serfdom by an evil terrorist. Come to think of it, that mantra is closer to ‘utter bollocks’ than it is to ‘myth’.

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  17. Is it just me, or do facts seem to not matter when it comes to anything Chinese (or Venezuelan, or Cuban, or Russian, or Iranian, or…) in North America? People don’t seem genuinely interested in what happened and what’s happening in the region(s) they’re discussing; rather, it seems that most simply need “evidence” (note the quotation marks) to support whatever biases or beliefs they hold. This seems especially true in the left-leaning yuppie crowd, where seemingly “smart”, if not downright offensive, remarks are seen as an effective technique of argument.

    I’ve been defeated in argument by a girl repeating nothing but “but they’re COMMUNISTS!” over and over again before. While that was probably an extreme case, I see less retarded versions pf this fallacy repeated on a daily basis, when people somehow manage to convince themselves of their correctness through what are essentially non sequitur statements of a humorous or derogatory nature.

    I think this is because people, everywhere else just as in North America, assign to themselves a “position”, “立场”, they identify with. They then proceed to internalize it, and make its correctness a matter of personal honor. Should it be threatened by logical arguments from another side, if they have no way to counter such arguments, they would then use non-sensical responses to avoid having to respond, thus creating the illusion of being correct.

    I mean, I’ve heard people call me a GODLESS COMMIE (I kid you not) for questioning certain Western values such as the universality of individualism and freedoms as defined by current Western standards.
    Not that it’s bad to have a position to stand with and to internalize, but when you’re as zealously devoted to some aspects of your position that you start to pretend everyone else agrees with you and refuses to compromise (Jesus WILL return, democracy IS right for EVERYONE, there ARE 72 virgins up in heaven waiting for me if I blow myself up, so screw YOUR argument), then everybody’s in trouble.

    Same thing with Tibet. We don’t know much about it; that’s a fact. Tibet was a theocratic slavery society; that’s another fact. The “evil commies” invested in infrastructure, in education, etc etc and broughe up the living standards; that’s yet another fact. But some people, while recognizing the existence and potential validity of these facts, refuse to incorporate them in their own belief systems; instead dismissing them as “propaganda lies” (how they justify this is beyond me) and go on believing what they believed before.

    So in the end, it’s useless discussing this topic, because it’s filled with people who emotionally identify with either side of the issue.

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  18. I thought I posted this before, but it didn’t show up. If you’re blocking my post for any reason, at least leave a “your post is blocked because of …” message up?

    Is it just me, or do facts seem to not matter when it comes to anything Chinese (or Venezuelan, or Cuban, or Russian, or Iranian, or…) in North America? People don’t seem genuinely interested in what happened and what’s happening in the region(s) they’re discussing; rather, it seems that most simply need “evidence” (note the quotation marks) to support whatever biases or beliefs they hold. This seems especially true in the left-leaning yuppie crowd, where seemingly “smart”, if not downright offensive, remarks are seen as an effective technique of argument.

    I’ve been defeated in argument by a girl repeating nothing but “but they’re COMMUNISTS!” over and over again before. While that was probably an extreme case, I see less retarded versions pf this fallacy repeated on a daily basis, when people somehow manage to convince themselves of their correctness through what are essentially non sequitur statements of a humorous or derogatory nature.

    I think this is because people, everywhere else just as in North America, assign to themselves a “position”, “立场”, they identify with. They then proceed to internalize it, and make its correctness a matter of personal honor. Should it be threatened by logical arguments from another side, if they have no way to counter such arguments, they would then use non-sensical responses to avoid having to respond, thus creating the illusion of being correct.

    I mean, I’ve heard people call me a GODLESS COMMIE (I kid you not) for questioning certain Western values such as the universality of individualism and freedoms as defined by current Western standards.
    Not that it’s bad to have a position to stand with and to internalize, but when you’re as zealously devoted to some aspects of your position that you start to pretend everyone else agrees with you and refuses to compromise (Jesus WILL return, democracy IS right for EVERYONE, there ARE 72 virgins up in heaven waiting for me if I blow myself up, so screw YOUR argument), then everybody’s in trouble.

    Same thing with Tibet. We don’t know much about it; that’s a fact. Tibet was a theocratic slavery society; that’s another fact. The “evil commies” invested in infrastructure, in education, etc etc and broughe up the living standards; that’s yet another fact. But some people, while recognizing the existence and potential validity of these facts, refuse to incorporate them in their own belief systems; instead dismissing them as “propaganda lies” (how they justify this is beyond me) and go on believing what they believed before.

    So in the end, it’s useless discussing this topic.

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  19. “… my biggest problem with the Western discourse on Tibet: it generally ignores the opinions of actual Tibetan people. “ Err, China has been generally ignoring the opinions of the Tibetan people since 1950. How about letting the actual Tibetan people express their opinions through free elections, a referendum and a free Tibetan media?

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  20. @ Joe: Not at all. My concern is that there is no three-way discourse. It’s a two-way discourse. Tibetans in Tibet don’t tend to be involved at all.

    Exactly, that is why the Tibetans across the plateau rose up in 2008. CCP doesnt have an apparatus or a way for Tibetans in Tibet to participate.

    @ And yes, I do think there are three separate communities. I’m not sure how productive it is to debate who is “farther” from Tibetans in Tibet, but I do think it’s a mistake to assume the exile community represents them. Shared ethnicity or no, there are bound to be some major differences between people who live and have grown up in different countries, especially when it comes to politics (which is what we’re talking about).

    As a Tibetan in exile I can assure you that we might not be as far removed from Tibet. I still have extended families living inside Tibet, as most of us in exiles have. Thousands of Tibetans continue to escape Tibet every year. If you look at the composition of the Tibetan parliament in exile, you will see quite a big representation of Tibetans who have recently arrived into exile. I suggest you listen to some of the most popular songs and articles written by Tibetans inside Tibet. Somehow it seems to be about the Sun, the moon and the star, referring to the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Rinpoche and the Karmapa.

    On teh first day of the Tibetan losar, the Dalai Lama said that he has recieved many messages form Tibetans inside Tibet, who have decided to forgo celebrating the new year. He said that Tibetans inside Tibet represent Tibet and we in exile are there to pass on their message. I dont think the question that occupies many of us are who is more Tibetan. If you look at the protest symbols and signs that Tibetans carried during the 208 protests, they stand behind Dalai Lama as the leader of the Tibetan people. The question is not about what ought to be rather what is.

    On the side I couldnt agree with you more on the need to break free from teh image of shangrila or shambala. I am the first to always tell anyone remotely interested in Tibet that there is nothing special about us. We are just the same. And we suffer just the same.

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  21. I’ll come in from a different perspective and say I’ve always questioned whether “Free Tibet!!!” is really a good idea or not. I’d think the best thing here is the same as anywhere else: stop doing things to Tibetans Tibetans do not like done to them. If someone doesn’t like how they are being treated, there is a good chance you are not treating them right. “Free Tibet” looks like an attempt to confound and mix in politics (issues of “national sovereignty”, which government should control what land, etc.) with moral issues (treatment of Tibetan people by Chinese government, authorities, etc.). I’ve never been able to understand why this is or should be done.

    Besides, isn’t this idea of dictating what sort of government someone else should have, the same thing that ultimately led the west into the whole Iraq nightmare? And Vietnam, too? Ultimately the Peoples of those places need to decide what type of government they should have. In a way this _is_ democracy, if you think about it, and to the ultimate degree. Yes, if a people choose to have a form of government other than “democracy”, them making that choice and implementing it IS, in a sense, democracy, and so to deny them that choice and then claim to be fighting for “Democracy” is hypocritical(*). Only those people know what is best for them (which is why I think it’s good that say, the people in Iran are protesting the Islamic government. I didn’t like it, but I can’t force that on them, yet since THEY don’t like it, on the other hand, I’d offer them support.)

    (*) An explanation: Democracy, literally, means power of the people. This provides a very general sense of the term. Even if the interpretation given may not be considered “democracy” from a Western or American perspective, I still think it carries some bit of significance, since the ultimate idea behind the various attempts at implementation of “democracy” are about giving power to the people. That is the SPIRIT of democracy.

    Americans choose (though I’m not sure of the extent of how much that is true, hehe) their president. This is considered democratic. Would it not seem natural then to consider the even bigger choice, that of the form of the entire government, being done by the overall collective will of the people, a democratic action as well? Even if it only happens once or at least very rarely, that doesn’t detract from its being so.)

    So with regards to what needs to be done with Tibet, if there is something the Chinese government, etc. is doing there which they (the Tibetans) feel is wrong to them, then maybe they should stop doing that thing. Even if this doesn’t mean to “Free Tibet!!!”.

    woaizhongguo: “Just as many American Catholics admired Pope John Paul II but disagreed with him on issues of sexuality, so there is nothing inconsistent in admiring the overall message of the Dalai Lama and dissenting on a few topics.”

    Nope. I’ve run into all too much black/white thinking of where you’ve got to either all agree or all disagree with something and to not do so means one is some kind of “hypocrite”. Often this can take the form of various types of “ISMs” — e.g. liberalISM, conservativISM, humanISM, religionISM, secularISM, communISM, capitalISM, etc. etc. etc. and you’ve got to classify yourself as holding one or the other of these “ISMs” (I suppose though then one might be such a “hypocrite” to disagree with parts _if_ one does this — which is why I am hesitant to use any of these “ISM” terms for myself, by the way) and you’ve got to fight for your “-ISM” even if some of it may be wrong (I think “chaji” above also touches on this issue in his post here with the “refusing to compromise” bit). But that’s a horribly limiting thing — many of these “-ISMs” have both good and bad points, and the only way to truly make things better will involve combining the good parts from _all_ of these ISMs and throwing out the bad ones. Same thing goes with “DalailamISM”.

    Oh, and another thing: I’m not a big fan of abortion myself, so I guess I’d agree on that bit of “Dalailamism”. As for the nuclear thing — it seems ultimately his eye is toward getting rid of nuclear weapons, but at some point he did (still does? Not sure, it looks like he may have moved away from it now) think they were necessary as a deterrent.

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  22. @ Mick: So you’re advocating for democracy, then. But why should Tibetans get that when other Chinese citizens don’t? If you think other Chinese should have it, too, then that’s a larger issue and there’s no reason to focus on just Tibet.

    @ tenzin: Regardless, I think it’s unfair to say that the exile community represents all Tibetans and their interests. Or rather, it’s imprecise. You can tell me that all you want, but until Tibetans inside Tibet have a real avenue to express themselves (i.e., one that is direct, not filtered through either the exile community or the Chinese government), it seems presumptive to say “Tibetans think this”. After all, the government would tell me that Tibetans all disagree with the exile community. Either way, I’d like to see some evidence.

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  23. The problem is that TGIE in Dharamsala is a Theocratic government run by the Dalai Lama and his family and they want to exert their influence over the Tibetan region in China politically. Yes, you hear the thinly veiled excuses like getting the Hans out, preserving culture and stop religious persecution. China will do its thing unless CCP collapse or something. TGIE will continue to exist and will be a thorn against China unless Western Government will no longer support them. It is a sad situation.

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  24. Interesting article and ideas, including the comments. I aggree with the author, especially with the sentence: “Tibetans in Tibet don’t tend to be involved at all”. That´s completely true no matter if the news come from China or from the West. They have no voice.

    On the other hand, I think the idealism of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Budism in the West (which still exits) is a combination of ignorance and a great public relations campaign. I´ve heard the Dalai Lama in several interviews in Wester media and he is just great to win them over: he speaks English, he´s funny, and he says “peace and love”. The contrast with Chinese political leaders puts him in a very good place.

    Regarding this topic, I always recommend Peter Hessler´s “Tibet Through Chinese Eyes” (http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/99feb/tibet.htm) and Melvyn C. Goldstein´s “The Snow Lion and the Dragon” (http://www.escholarship.org/editions/view?docId=ft2199n7f4&brand=ucpress). Great materials.

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  25. @ tenzin: Regardless, I think it’s unfair to say that the exile community represents all Tibetans and their interests. Or rather, it’s imprecise.

    I dont think I have made any claims to that effect. Yet I am quite sure that its not CCP that represents Tibetans. You want to see evidence of that. What kind of specific evidence do you want? A referendum across the Tibetan plateau? Dont think that might work. Let me see. I have met countless Tibetans crossing over the Himalayas and beginning their life as exiles in India and elsewhere. So just because they are not inside Tibet, do you mean to say that they dont represent Tibetans or Tibetan aspirations anymore? Most of them are children and young ones who have specifically being sent to get a Tibetan education. (http://www.directrelief.org/PressCenter/Commentary/NotesFromTheField/AsiaPacificEntry.aspx?id=1956&blogid=432) Many of these will never see their parents again. I am one of them. I was 6 when I escaped to India.

    The issue I think is that even after 50 years of occupation/control CCP has failed to grasp what the Tibetans want. In january this year during a meeting on Tibet, Hu Jintao again blamed the “separatists forces of the Dalai clique” for problems inside Tibet, according to a report in Xinhua. I remember a report by Chinese think-tank Beijing Gongmeng Consulting Co., Ltd. after the protests of 2008, which concluded differently. They thought it was due to a policy failure and the penchant for teh ‘new aristocrats’ to blame their failures on outside forces.

    @ You can tell me that all you want, but until Tibetans inside Tibet have a real avenue to express themselves (i.e., one that is direct, not filtered through either the exile community or the Chinese government), it seems presumptive to say “Tibetans think this”. After all, the government would tell me that Tibetans all disagree with the exile community. Either way, I’d like to see some evidence.

    I dont know if you read any Tibetan but if you do please have a look at all the banners and the posters Tibetans carried during the protests of 2008 and all teh protests that we have seen on teh plateau before. They raised the Tibetan National flag, calls for the return of teh Dalai Lama, affirms that Tibet was an independent nation and that there is a lack of freedom and human rights in Tibet. I am not putting any filters. It is there and coming from Tibetans inside Tibet, if you will. here is a link http://www.uprisingarchive.org/

    Ultimately, I am not here to convince or even try to convince you otherwise. Just hope next time you are less dismissive of Tibetans in exile. It has only been 50 years since China took over Tibet. Many of us left Tibet much later. I left in the later part of 1970s. Tibetans till date continue to flee Tibet. We are closer across teh himalayas than you might care to believe. And I think it is bit deceptive to claim that the Tiebtan exiles dont represent Tibet just because they are in free country and speak on the issue of Tibet, while Tibetans inside Tibet like Dhondup Wangchen gets 11 years prison sentence. His crime? Before the beijing Olympics he travelled across Tibet and asked Tibetan nomads, teenagers, farmers, monks, older generation about the Olympics and the Dalai lama and Tibet. Or Tibetan writers like Kunga Tseyang and Kunchok Tsephel for writing about Tibet and Tibetan issues. I am sure you remember Woeser. Think you once translated one of her article.

    best,
    tenzin

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  26. I still read Woeser’s blog frequently. I don’t read Tibetan, although I would like to learn. However it is difficult to find a teacher where I live at the moment.

    I am aware that plenty of Tibetans inside Tibet want more autonomy and/or independence. And I’m not dismissing the exile community as one with legitimate grievances, but you have to admit, the people who chose to flee Tibet are a self-selecting group, no? And many of them, like you, haven’t actually been in Tibet in many years.

    This is not to say that anything you’re saying is wrong, per se, just that it isn’t necessarily representative. Just like this blog. Everything I translate does come from real Chinese people, but if you just read this blog would you have a realistic idea of what most Chinese people think about politics? No, because everything here is filtered through me and the other people who write for the site. We choose which news articles we want to read, which blog posts to translate, etc., just as exiled Tibetans do to an extent. That’s not to say we’re intentionally making the site biased; it’s just that we’re naturally more interested in some things than others. For groups with a stated political interest, then (i.e., the exile community or the CCP or whatever) outside observers sort of need to assume they’re only hearing part of the story. After all, there are Tibetans in the Chinese government who have spent far more time living under the Chinese system than you did who would tell me everything was perfect, and give me lots of examples why. Should I believe them, though? Why not? Because they have a vested political interest in Tibet’s situation not changing (I reject the idea that the communist party is fundamentally evil, the communist party is people, just like every government on earth). Similarly (though it isn’t the same, I admit) the exile community has a vested political interest in Tibet becoming independent.

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  27. I think you are all mistake. I’m Buddhist and Chinese, I know the truth. Overall Tibet is not a Shangri-La. The only Shangri-La is among the Buddhist Monks who practicing Buddha teaching seriously. For common people, both common Tibetan and non-Tibetan, never found those Shangri-La. For common people like us, Tibet is not a good place to live. Hongkong is far better.
    In my opinion, modern Shangri-La is in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Unbelievable, but those country is far from modernity, and the monks there is very wise and peaceful.

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  28. Pingback: Borrowed Culture
  29. C. Custer, your analysis on the Tibet issue really really doesn’t match some bleeding-heart liberal’s fantasy. This blog has lost one more reader.

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  30. I enjoy reading the comments far more than the post. My personal experience in the States have shown me that some people are really ignorant of Tibet. But I dare not say that I’m well informed as well. I have never read Dalai Lama (and feeling more and more the need to in order to understand what he’s really getting at). But I have listened to his talk in a meditation class. My response was that he was more of a politician than a buddhist, and that a lot of his talks are propaganda as well (quite similar to what I used to hear back in middle school textbooks).

    The article itself and a lot of the arguments in the comments remind me of some post-colonial theories… I guess it’s hard to know the real story no matter what. Like Custer said, personal experience when expressed are always filtered through some kind of median. I really hope that there are good literary works that is less-biased, empathetic, and would try to show us all sides of the story… I guess I’m going off topic here.

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  31. Oh power relationship affecting every form of communication. I am beginning to doubt like Forster if there’s really any way to move beyond boundaries and achieve real communications…

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