(Please pass on this essay to anyone you know who might be attending the Emergency Meeting in Dharamshala. Thanks. JN.)
Displaying the old mountain and snowlion flag in Tibet is a “splittist” offence for which you could be shot on sight. In this year’s historic uprising, scores, even hundreds, of national flags were defiantly flown throughout Tibet to visually amplify, as it were, the clarion call of the protestors for independence.
There can be no doubt that the people of Tibet are calling for rangzen. In a real sense even their other demand for the Dalai Lama’s return is a declaration of independence since he is, above all else, the enduring symbol of a free Tibetan nation. Right now, throughout the land, people are holding fast to their dream of independence and the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet — in spite of China’s brutal and all-out military crackdown.
An Australian journalist just returned from Lhasa claims that he “…witnessed a city creaking under the weight of the Chinese military.” In a detailed report (Nov.8) he writes: “In the ancient back alleys of Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, a grim military operation has played out this week, hidden from the eyes of the world. As night falls, hundreds of Chinese troops fan out across this rebellious city, armed with riot shields and assault rifles. They set up sentry posts on street corners and dispatch patrols that spend the night walking down the lanes of Lhasa’s Tibetan quarter, looking for any sign of dissent. When the sun rises, the soldiers do not melt away, but are replaced by a new rotation of troops. The military stranglehold on Lhasa by day is maintained with one chilling addition — snipers are installed on rooftops around the city’s most holy site, the Jokhang Temple, ready to train their guns on the hundreds of Tibetan pilgrims praying in Barkhor Square below.”
This essay is being reissued in the hope that Tibetans-in-exile will re-examine the historical, political and moral legitimacy of the Rangzen ideal for which our brothers and sisters inside Tibet are braving beating, torture, imprisonment and execution, and unite with them to realize our common dream.
There is a rare and defining moment in human history when a crushing and seemingly permanent tyranny reveals on the surface of its implacable structure the first tiny cracks of impending collapse — allowing the faint stirrings of hope in the hearts of long oppressed peoples and subjugated nations. Such a transition was heralded in Eastern and Central Europe and parts of Central Asia by the fall of the Berlin Wall.
For the people of Tibet such a moment may be at hand. China’s economic boom has created enormous and irresolvable problems and conflicts that threaten to tear Chinese society apart. Endemic official corruption, desperate peasant uprisings, large-scale labour unrest, harsh religious repression, ever-widening economic disparity, ecological devastation (of apocalyptic magnitude), absence of independent courts and the almost non-existence of civil society, have been the cause of over 83,000 demonstrations and riots (according to official Chinese government reports), many violent, all over China in the last year. This year (2006) with four months to go, the reported number of incidents of such public unrest has already exceeded 100,000.
In recent years, certain senior members in the Communist leadership have reportedly expressed their misgivings about what might happen in 2008, when hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors and the world media descends on Beijing for the Olympic Games. According to a well placed observer of the Chinese scene, this situation could provide an unprecedented opportunity to the voiceless, the dispossessed and the oppressed of China (peasant groups, clandestine labour organizations, underground churches, secret religious societies and dissident groups) to openly express their grievances before the eyes of the world.
At such an important turning point in Asian history, it is vital that Tibetans not hesitate or weaken in their commitment to the struggle for independence. It is also crucial that Tibetan friends and supporters, and also the world at large, realize the absolute necessity of Rangzen for the survival of the Tibetan people and their civilization, and appreciate how this claim for an independent homeland is eminently reasonable, moderate and just.
Origins of Tibetan National Identity
Few people in the world are so distinctly defined by the kind of land they live in as the Tibetans. Tibetan national identity has not just been created by history, nor only by religion, but has its roots deep in the Tibetan land. Tibetans are people who live, and have always lived, on the great Tibetan plateau, high above and apart from the rest of the world. The passage to Tibetan-inhabited areas from the surrounding lowlands of Nepal, India and China is not only unmistakable and dramatic but clearly a transition to a unique world.
Tibetan identity is so rooted in the land that Tibetans of the past regarded the major mountains of their own specific regions, Yarla Shampo of Yarlung, Amnye (grandfather) Machen of Amdo, Nyenchenthangla of the Northern Plains, Khawa Loring and Minyak Ghangkar of Kham, and many others, as their ancestors or ancestral deities. This belief far predates the legend of the compassionate monkey ancestor of the Tibetans, which is probably a later Buddhist innovation. The worship of these mountains, which Tibetans still faithfully, but somewhat unconsciously, perform in their routine sangsol and lungta ceremonies, is the original expression of Tibetan nationalist identity, according to the distinguished Tibetan scholar, Samten Karmay.
Few other people are so specifically identified by geography or climate except perhaps for Eskimos, Bedouins, Polynesian Islanders and the Bushmen of the Kalahari. But very early in their history Tibetans managed to transcend this merely environmentally-defined existance to create a powerful national identity through the unification of the various kingdoms and tribes throughout the plateau. The sense of wonder and pride that these first inhabitants of a united Tibet felt for their new nation and empire is evident in this ancient song on the manifestation of Tibet’s first emperor:
This centre of heaven,
This core of the earth,
This heart of the world,
Fenced round by snow-mountains,
The headland of all rivers,
Where the peaks are high and the land is pure,
A country so good,
Where men are born as sages and heroes,
And act according to good laws
A land of horses ever more speedy…
Though the imperial period of Tibetan history ended around the tenth century, its legacy of nationhood was permanent. Later monarchs consciously drew inspiration from the imperial age in their efforts to create a united and free Tibet. Jangchub Gyaltsen (1302-1364) of the Phamodruba dynasty overthrew Mongol rule in Tibet (a decade before the Mongol Yuan dyasty ended in China) and ushered in a golden age that Tibetans call “Gamu Ser Khor”, since the land was so safe and peaceful it was said that an old woman carrying a sack of gold could pass without fear from one end of Tibet to the other.
The Great 5th Dalai Lama (1617-1682) reunited Tibet, from the regions of Ngari in the west, to Dhartsedo in the southeast and Kokonor to the northeast, for the first time since the collapse of the Tibetan Empire in the 9th century. More recently, the Great 13th Dalai Lama’s (1876-1933) untiring and monumental struggle to regain and later defend Tibetan independence was no less an expression of this heritage of national freedom that Tibetans have maintained throughout their history.
Legitimacy of Tibetan Independence
It is absolutely essential that we Tibetans understand how longstanding and legitimate our claims to nationhood are. Many nations in this world are, in a sense, largely products of history. The United States, Canada, and Australia do not, in a true sense, derive their national origins from the land, as Tibet does. Other countries such as Kuwait, Jordan, Singapore, and some African states are creations of Western colonial policy, or the debris of colonial rule. More recently, out of the collapse of the former Soviet Union, countries like Belarus, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, etc. — which never existed as nations before, have come into being.
In light of international attention to that part of the world, one might add that there had never been a Palestinian nation. What you had, historically, was a sub-province (vilayet) of the Ottoman Empire that later became a British protectorate. Iraq too is a nation cobbled together by Britain after World War I out of three vilayets of the defeated Ottoman Empire: Mosul, Baghdad and Basra. The intractable and violent divisions in that country today: sectarian (Shia v Sunni), ethnic (Kurd v Arab) and tribal, reveal the tenuous nature of the union.
This is not to argue that Tibet has any more right to exist as a nation than these states and territories just mentioned — after all, it is the natural and fundamental right of all peoples to determine their own way of life — but to underline the fact that Tibet’s status as a nation is as legitimate, if not more, than that of any other country in the world. That we did not join the League of Nations or the United Nations, or that some big powers did not recognize Tibet as a nation, because they did not want to jeopardize their trade links with China, does not detract from this legitimacy.
Trade with China is in fact the overarching reason why Britain and the United States have in the last two centuries refused to support, even acknowledge, the fact of an independent Tibet. No less an authority than Sir Charles Bell “the architect of British policy in Tibet” affirmed this in the 1930s:
Britain and the United States, and probably most of the European nations, regard Tibet as being under Chinese rule … besides, we are always being told about the vast potentialities of trade with China. To my recollection we were told this fifty years ago, but during those fifty years no such vast potentialities has materialized; the potentialities are still no more than potentialities. However, the foreign nations wish to gain a good share of this trade, and to that end try to please China. But it is an outrage that they should sell Tibet in order to increase their own commercial profits in China.
The fact that Tibet has, for periods of its history, been conquered by foreign powers or that some Tibetan ruler used foreign military backing to gain political control of the country makes no difference to its rightful status as a free nation. Even when Tibet’s political and military power had declined considerably in the 18th and 19th centuries and a degree of Manchu rule was exercised over the country, the uniqueness of Tibet’s civilization and its racial and national identity was recognized by people all over Asia, not least by the Manchus themselves, who only appointed Manchus and Mongols of high birth as their commissioners in Tibet, never a Chinese. In fact, Manchu relations with Tibet were handled by the Li Fan Yuan (one of the two “departments” of the Manchu “Foreign Office”), which also handled relations between the Manchu court and Mongol princes, Tibet, East Turkistan (Xinjiang) and Russia.
Tibet and especially its capital, Lhasa, were regarded by Buriats and Kalmucks in Russia, and millions of Mongols as the centre of their culture and faith. The Russian explorer Prejevalsky in 1878 sent a memorandum to the Geographic Society and the War Ministry in which “… he drew a picture of Lhasa as the Rome of Asia with spiritual power stretching from Ceylon to Japan over 250 million people: the most important target for Russian diplomacy.”
There is probably no country in the world that has not at one time or another been under the rule of another. Few, if any, of the UN member states could claim independent statehood if they had to demonstrate a history of continuous and uncompromised independence. As the Irish delegate pointed out in the 1960 UN debate on Tibet, most of the countries in the General Assembly would not be there if they had to prove that they had never in the past been dominated by another country.
Britain was for nearly four hundred years a part of the Roman Empire. Russia was under the Mongols for well over two centuries, and of course the United States started off as a British colony. China itself was ruled both by the Mongols and Manchus, and repeatedly defeated in war by the Tibetans, who even captured and briefly held the Chinese capital of Chang An in 763 A.D. And lest we forget, a large part of China was under Japanese occupation earlier last century.
Inside Tibet Now
There is probably no place in the world (except possibly for North Korea) controlled in the Stalinist police-state method like Tibet — most noticeably Lhasa city. To a great extent this grim reality is overlooked by Western tourists and even naive exile-Tibetan visitors, too ignorant of the chameleon qualities of the Chinese totalitarian system, and impressed, in spite of themselves, by the scale of China’s brave new capitalist society — and possibly sometimes tempted by the opportunities.
Visitors to present day Tibet, including Tibet “experts”, encountering a population going about its daily business and not expressing open defiance of Chinese occupation, and then concluding that Tibetans are satisfied with the status quo, invariably fail to take into account the realities of life under Communist Chinese rule. Vaclav Havel has tellingly described the double personae that people living under coercive and repressive regimes adopt with regard to their intellectual, social and political behaviour. Put bluntly, in a state that penalizes people for holding “wrong” opinions, not only are visitors unlikely to become aware of the true feelings of the people, but even the state itself would probably be ill equipped to take an accurate reading of those opinions.
In 1979, the Chinese authorities were stunned by the overwhelming emotional reception accorded the Dalai Lama’s emissaries when they arrived in Lhasa. The authorities appear to have actually believed, at some level, that only a “handful” of Tibetans supported Rangzen, until the depth of the problem forced the authorities to take repressive measures well beyond a basic restoration of order.
Behind the tawdry facade of concrete buildings, discos, karaoke bars, whorehouses, nightclubs and hotels, the Chinese Government’s chillingly unambiguous “Merciless Repression” (1988), “Strike Hard” (1996, 2001 and 2004) and “Fight to the Death” (2006) campaigns are being rigorously implemented. The People’s Liberation Army, forced labour camps (laogaidui), State psychiatric units (ankang), the Public Security Bureau (gongan), the People’s Armed Police and the “mutual watch” system (danwei), implemented through work units, re-education teams, neighborhood security watches and ever present informers, all operate freely and openly. They are unfettered by anything remotely resembling independent courts, a free press, civic bodies, independent watch dog organizations, moral or religious voices, the presence of a single representative of the world media. Even in the worst governed countries of the world one usually finds some such institution or the other, frustrating, if not preventing an absolutism of tyranny that Chinese leaders practice with impunity in Tibet.
In May 2006, Zhang Qingli, Communist Party Secretary of TAR, announced his “Fight to the Death” campaign against the Dalai Lama. Tibetans, from the lowliest of government employees to senior officials, have been banned from attending any religious ceremony or from entering a temple or monastery. Previously only party members were required to be atheist. Patriotic education campaigns in the monasteries have been expanded. Tibetan officials in Lhasa as well as in surrounding rural counties have been required to write criticisms of the Dalai Lama. Senior civil servants must produce 10,000-word essays while those in junior posts need only write 5,000-character condemnations. Even retired officials are not exempt.
Inside Tibet, after decades of soul-destroying Communist indoctrination and one of the most cruel and unrelenting systems of repression in the world, the Tibetan hope for independence, Rangzen, still stubbornly refuses to be crushed. Though large-scale demonstrations are not possible right now, a steady stream of courageous individuals, nuns, monks and lay people, have through the months and years, raised the forbidden Tibetan national flag, put up anti-Chinese posters and cried out in public for Rangzen. On October 2, 2003, Nyima Dragpa, a 20-year-old Tibetan monk from Nyitso monastery, died in prison from being repeatedly tortured. He was serving a nine-year sentence for “splittist” activities — for putting up posters calling for Tibetan independence. On 3 September 2006, at the busy Barkhor street in Lhasa, a lone 23-year-old Tibetan monk staged a short demonstration calling for independence in Tibet. Within minutes, he was dragged away by Chinese security personnel. In these and hundreds of other similar cases it might be noted that the watchword, the rallying cry was always, without exception, “Rangzen”.
Why Rangzen is Absolutely Essential
It can be argued that some countries have been part of other nations and empires and have not only managed to survive but in some cases have even benefited from foreign rule — the most obvious example being, of course, Hong Kong under Britain. But even China’s most ardent supporters will concede that Chinese rule in Tibet has been nowhere as visibly successful or even comparatively humane and liberal as Britain’s in Hong Kong.
Yet even relatively benign foreign rule appears on the face of evidence to be detrimental to the culture and morale of the native people. Australia and Canada are developed countries with rich economies and various democratic institutions to protect the rights of their people, including (at least these days) their indigenous populations. But many of the native people in these countries are demoralized, stricken with poverty and disease and victim to alcoholism and despair; a situation disturbingly similar to what is beginning to happen inside Tibet.
It seems that the only way to survive under foreign rule with any self-respect is by constantly defying the oppressing power and maintaining the hope of eventual freedom. Even the respect of your conqueror is granted, it seems, only if you resist his tyranny. Of all the millions of Native Americans who suffered and died under the injustice and violence of the white man, only the names of great war-chiefs as Geronimo, Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull are still remembered with respect by Americans. Those native leaders who tried to live peacefully under the white man and went to Washington DC to submit to the “Great White Father” are forgotten.
George Orwell, in one of his newspaper columns, reflected on the fact that though the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome had rested entirely on slavery, in the same way as modern society depended on electricity or fossil fuels, we cannot recall the name of a single slave, except perhaps for Spartacus. And we remember him “…because he did not obey the injunction to ‘resist not evil’, but raised violent rebellion”.
The hope for any kind of autonomous status under China is not realistic because it assumes that the Chinese system is flexible enough or tolerant enough to accommodate different political or social systems within it. One can envisage autonomous areas within, let us say, a nation like India, because of its genuine functioning multi-cultural and multi-racial makeup, and its democratic institutions as the constitution, the free press, free elections and an independent judiciary to prevent the government or a dominant group from suppressing the rights of another group. But this is something that by its very nature the Chinese leadership is unable to do.
The Chinese leaders are as much victims as their people of a long and oppressive cultural and political legacy — what a leading Australian sinologist, W.J.F. Jenner, has termed “the tyranny of history” — which has paralyzed the realization of positive fundamental changes in Chinese society and politics. Jenner raises “…the dreary possibility that China is caught in a prison from which there is no obvious escape, a prison continually improved over thousands of years, a prison of history — a prison of history both as a literary creation and as the accumulated consequences of the past”.
The “one nation, two systems” granted to Hong Kong was an exception, agreed upon because the deal was advantageous to Beijing. If China had not made that concession it would have, at the time, probably damaged international confidence in Hong Kong’s economy and caused a major financial problem in China. In the years following the Communist takeover, journalists, radio talk-show hosts, political-satirists, lawyers and other voices of democracy in Hong Kong have been systematically harassed and intimidated with threats of violence and death-threats in an increasingly “suffocating” political atmosphere. Many have left Hongkong. The Basic Law that was supposed to guarantee the ex-colony’s freedom China has been effectively neutered and the islands parliament and executive bought under Beijing’s control.
Unlike the citizens of Hong Kong, Tibetans passionately feel, and know, they are different in every way, culturally, racially, linguistically and even temperamentally, from the Chinese. Economic improvement in the lives of Tibetans in Tibet, even if it did happen (which it hasn’t in a meaningful sense) would not significantly alter their feelings in this regard. It must be remembered that the Lhasa demonstrations occurred at a time when the economic situation in Tibet had markedly improved in comparison to the preceding period. The Tibetan attitude in this matter is best expressed in this excerpt from a dissident document which was circulating in Tibet in the late eighties:
If (under China) Tibet were built up, the livelihood of the Tibetan people improved, and their lives so surpassed in happiness that it would embarrass the deities of the Divine Realm of the Thirty-Three; if we were really and truly given this, even then we Tibetans wouldn’t want it. We absolutely would not want it.
Why Give Up Now?
There is certainly no denying that the situation inside Tibet is grim, especially when we take into account the fact of Chinese population transfer to Tibet, and its acceleration since the completion of the new railway. But the standard argument by proponents of the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way policy, that to prevent Chinese immigration we must give up the Freedom Struggle and live under Chinese rule, is demonstrably false. Has anyone in the Chinese leadership or bureaucracy remotely suggested that they might reconsider their population transfer policy if Tibetans gave up their claim to independence? If the Freedom Struggle was abandoned and the situation inside Tibet were to become peaceful and settled, then Chinese immigration to Tibet would definitely increase — far more than has happened in the last five years. And it does not require any profound understanding of international law to appreciate that if the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile accepted Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, then China’s population transfer to Tibet would, in a definite and complete sense, become legitimized in the eyes of the world.
The only way to resist Chinese immigration is by intensifying the Freedom Struggle and destabilizing the situation inside Tibet to a degree where foreign investors, Chinese entrepreneurs and job seekers would not regard Tibet as a tolerable location much less a profitable one. Even if Tibet’s independence cannot be realised in the immediate or near future, what must be established in the eyes of the world is that the Tibetan plateau is an actively “contested” area, and that the issue of Tibetan independence is far from closed.
Yet no matter how grave the fact of Chinese immigration into Tibet, we must bear in mind that this is not an entirely irreversible situation. Stalin forced large-scale immigration of Russians into small non-Russian nations like Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In 1939, the combined population of these three states numbered about six million, about that of Tibet’s. Stalin also executed thousands of the native people and deported hundreds of thousands of others to Siberia. It was generally thought in the world then that these nations were finished. In the fifties, sixties and seventies the very existence of these countries seemed to have been eradicated from human memory, in spite of the fact that the officially recognized representatives of those countries maintained their presence in London and New York. Even the Nobel prize-winning Polish writer, Czeslaw Milosz, born and educated in Lithuania, and speaking out for the Baltic people in the concluding chapter of his book The Captive Mind, leaves a lingering and sorrowful impression that, like the Aztecs wiped out by the Spanish conquistadors, the history of these ancient Baltic nations had come to an end.
But after the collapse of the Soviet Union these three small nations became independent. Though these states still have considerable Russian populations, they are not the absolute threats to the survival or integrity of these nations as it was once thought they would be. The thing to bear in mind is that these small nations, once believed to be completely eradicated by Soviet totalitarianism and Russian immigration, are now free countries — flying their ancient flags, speaking their own languages and living in freedom.
Tibet never disappeared quite so completely as the Baltic States, even during our worst period under the Chinese. And right now, in spite of the cynicism of governments and business interests everywhere, Tibet does, in one way or another, continue to draw people’s attention worldwide. Certainly, it is not always the kind of attention we want. Nevertheless, there is some awareness of Tibet’s situation throughout the world and often concern for its plight. If there was a period when we might have had a passable excuse for giving up, it would be the sixties and seventies, when it seemed that International Communism and Chinese control of Tibet would go on forever, in sæcula sæculorum; and when most intellectuals and celebrities in the free world appeared to be besotted with Communist China and the thoughts of Chairman Mao.
Right now, Tibet enjoys an attention and sympathy in the world that, although has diminished considerably since its heydays in the nineties, is nonetheless quite remarkable. The fact that this sympathy does not translate, as a matter of course, into political support for the Tibetan cause is certainly unfortunate. We Tibetans, especially the religious leadership, must accept significant blame for our inability to present our political objectives clearly and consistently to the world. In fact, these inconsistencies have spread confusion among our own activists and supporters and bogged down every kind of effort on behalf of the cause.
International Dimension of Rangzen
Since the nineties, the Tibetan leadership and a section of its Western supporters have contrived to blend “global concerns” such as the environment, world peace and spirituality with the Tibetan issue. Following this a lofty and somewhat condescending notion has developed among certain Tibetans and friends that struggling for Tibetan independence is unsophisticated and limited. Of course, such a viewpoint is not only mistaken but demonstrates how people tend to mix their need for a cause of some kind with their other needs or tendencies towards political correctness, social acceptance, personal advancement and sometimes even material gain.
The real battles for freedom are fought in local and mostly desperate struggles, by people prepared to give up not just respectability and careers, but even their lives. Freedom Struggles are by their very nature disruptive. Yet, however unsettling, however much a source of economic distress and human suffering,
the indomitable (yet specifically local) struggles of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi inspire freedom-loving people all over the world; far more than, let us say, the well-intentioned efforts of diplomats, career activists or even the Secretary General of the UN to ensure what is termed “world peace” but which can perhaps be more accurately described as the preservation of the international status quo.
Each victory of freedom over tyranny is a tremendous boost to other causes. I am sure Tibetans remember how genuinely thrilled we were when Bangladesh became independent, and even more encouraged and proud when we learned that Tibetan paratroopers had made an important contribution to the victory. After India gained her independence, a whole succession of African and Asian nations also became free from their European colonial masters. In the nineties, with the fall of the Berlin wall, another series of countries gained their freedom, this time from the Soviet yoke. Tibetan independence could well precipitate, or at least herald, a new era of freedom not only for neighbouring regions as East Turkistan and Inner Mongolia but even for the people of China itself.
We must also bear in mind that at present the most repressive and murderous regimes in the world: Kim Jong Il’s North Korea, the military junta of Burma, Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, Islam Karimov’s Uzbekestan and the government of Sudan which to all purposes has been commiting in genocide in Darfur, basically survive, even thrive because of Chinese economic, diplomatic or military support.
Democracy and Rangzen
Only in a truly democratic Tibetan society will creativity, fresh thinking, and new leadership — desperately needed in the Freedom Struggle — not only emerge but also be valued and be effective. Furthermore, only democracy can provide for adequate transparency in the functioning of the government and for genuine accountability on the part of our leadership; and is therefore the only way in which the true feelings of the Tibetan people for Rangzen can be fully represented.
To the oppressed people of Tibet, democracy represents not only a goal of eventual freedom from Chinese tyranny but also the best hope for a truly just and equitable government of their own choice. As such, the promise of a true democratic Tibet will be an effective repudiation of Chinese propaganda claims that Tibetan independence would mean a reversion to theocratic feudalism. Hence democracy becomes a potent weapon for the cause and its genuine and effective implementation in our exile-society an absolute necessity for the credibility of the Freedom Struggle. Though a small beginning has been made to implement democracy in exile, much more needs to be done. Unless a genuine party-based election system replaces the current structure, which resembles nothing more than Nepal’s old cosmetic panchayat “democracy”, the exile administration and parliament will never truly reflect popular will, nor implement policies based on the people’s desire for an independent Tibet.
Yet, reform of the election system alone will not ensure a democratic and dynamic society. Tibetans must embrace democratic thinking and culture with the same zeal and commitment our ancestors displayed in adopting Buddhism in Tibet. The enduring vitality of Tibetan Buddhism can be credited, in no small measure, to the monumental scholastic labour of the great Tibetan lotsawas in collecting, studying and translating Indian texts from the seventh through to the thirteenth century. This remarkable achievement created the bed-rock intellectual foundation on which all Tibetan Buddhist institutions, doctrines, and accomplishments, right to the present day, have been created. To guide the course of our nation’s political future Tibetans should study and discuss the ideas and philosophies that created Western democracy and civil society, through the great books of the French and British Enlightenments, the writings of the American Founding Fathers, and subsequent works by liberal thinkers and democrats of our time.
It is only with such intellectual effort, political commitment and moral passion will we be able to bring about the restoration of an independent Tibet and the establishment of a true democratic system of government based on the rule of law and the primacy of individual freedom.
Even the Hope of Independence is Vital
Of course, there is no guarantee that independence will happen soon, or even in our lifetimes — though I am somehow convinced it will. Yet it goes without saying that maintaining the goal of Rangzen is vital to its eventual achievement. It must be remembered that it was the hope of independence that kept our exile society strong and united in the difficult early years. Many of the problems our society now faces with religious and political quarrels, decline in educational standards, the lamentably disgraceful commercialization of our religion, cynicism in the administration, and loss of self-respect and integrity among the ordinary people, have definite roots in the gradual relinquishing of the Freedom Struggle by the Tibetan leadership during the last two decades.
The hope of independence is vital for people inside Tibet. Keeping alive the Freedom Struggle in exile gave people inside Tibet hope, and in spite of the terrible sufferings they underwent, gave them some assurance that their civilization and their world had not disappeared entirely. In order for Tibetans to preserve their identity, culture and religion, the hope of a free Tibet must always be preserved. If we resign ourselves to being a part of China then we will certainly lose not only our national but our cultural identity as well. Beijing might allow us to remain Buddhists, of a docile and unquestioning kind, as you would expect, but we must bear in mind that there are a lot of other Buddhists sects and cults in China. It would be the ultimate and tragic irony if in the end all that were left of Tibet’s monumental two-thousand year old civilization and culture was a quaint Chinese Buddhist sect in the mountain regions of the People’s Republic.
The only way for individuals to survive distinctly as Tibetans, not just within Tibet itself or in exile in India, but even in isolation in a foreign country, or alone inside a Chinese prison cell, is by holding fast to the hope of an independent Tibet, and by demonstrating to oneself and the world unremitting defiance of Communist China and its inherent inhumanity and evil.
The greatest of modern Chinese writers, Lu Xun (1881-1936), would, I feel, probably not have advised Tibetans to curl up and die in the face of their present predicament. He was a congenital pessimist but he had this to say on the matter of hope:
“Hope can be neither affirmed nor denied. Hope is like a path in the countryside: originally there was no path — yet, as people are walking all the time in the same spot, a way appears.”