Rangzen: the Case for Independent Tibet (2008 Edition)

(Please pass on this essay to anyone you know who might be attending the Emergency Meeting in Dharamshala. Thanks. JN.)

2008 Introduction
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.”


14 Replies to “Rangzen: the Case for Independent Tibet (2008 Edition)”

  1. Well put facts and your thoughts! Thank you. I hope the contents will be able to reach all the participants and can make a difference to the decision that will come out at the meeting.
    I will inform some friends in Dharamsala to read and see if they can circulate the contents there. Free Tibet.

  2. Thank you for reproducing this article, the ‘Magna Carta’ of Rangzen movement for many of us. Tibetan brothers and sisters please study and absorb the contents of this great work! Some food for thought, the young Sikkimese columnist/intellectual Tenzin.C.Tashi recently wrote in a popular Sikkim daily “America has shown that change can make the impossible happen. Perhaps Tibetans too need to now embrace change. It is up to them. They can make history at the upcoming November meeting by presenting a cohesive front and making themselves heard. Or, they can become history!”

  3. Rangzen-the soul of Tibet

    We spent almost thirty years trying to unravel the mysteries of Deng Xiaoping’s assertion that “except for independence, all issues concerning Tibet can be resolved by negotiations”. There were huge expectations that Deng might grant Tibet real autonomy, but the fact of the matter was that he was not at all interested in resolving the real issue of Tibet. He was simply talking about the personal status of His Holiness and the exile Tibetans living outside of Tibet.

    For Deng, Tibetans inside Tibet were living happily and peacefully and that as such there was no thing called Tibet issue. This was made clear when the Chinese government constantly rejected the Strasbourg proposal as nothing but disguised independence. We spent another few decades trying to convince the Chinese that we are very sincere when it comes to securing autonomy for Tibet and that not even in the wildest of our imaginations do we consider the Middle-Way approach as a stepping stone to achieve ultimate independence for Tibet. We failed to grasp the simple truth that words and phrases such as “disguised independence”, “semi-independence”, “what the Dalai Lama speaks is not important, what he does is more important” on the part of the Chinese state is nothing but mere excuses to avoid resolving Tibet’s problem. They are all empty words, devoid of any meaning, all polite way of saying, “NO” to our aspiration for a negotiated settlement to the Tibet issue.

    Finally, after more than two decades, when the whole of the Tibetan nation is on the verge of realizing the truth, the truth of China’s lies, plots and intrigues behind the so-called talks, the truth that it has never thought of finding out a substantial resolution to the Tibetan issue, there are some die-hard middle-pathists, who are using every manipulative resources available at their disposal to convince the silent majority of Tibetans that there is still hope in the talks and negations.

    There are only two reasons for the Middle-pathists for stubbornly and foolishly clinging to this approach. Either the Middle-Pathists are not aware of China’s ultimate goal to see the Dalai Lama die outside of Tibet, that China’s only goal behind the facade of talks is to procrastinate the Tibetan struggle and thus render the Tibetan movement ineffective and lose its sheen. Or they have a vested interest in continuing with the policy despite the fact that it has failed to bring the Chinese to the table of negotiations. After all a change of policy in our struggle, from autonomy to independence, will result in the loss of power and position of the Middle-pathists.

    It is sad that for the last some years, a kind of psychological war, a kind of witch-hunt, has been launched against the Rangzen activists, a kind of hate campaigns against the independence activists, as if they are anti-national and going against the wishes of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The word Rangzen itself has become taboo in the heart of the Tibetan exile capital, and any one who is found uttering it is regarded as a sort of outcast, a Don Quixote, an idealist not capable of grasping the reality. In other words some one who is on the verge of going out of his mind. A die-hard Rangzen activist, I don’t want to name here, has been looked down upon as sort of mad man (nyonpa). They are kind of subjected to severe reprimands, every now and then, as if these Rangzen activists are partly responsible for derailing the so-called negotiation process between Dharamsala and Beijing, a negotiation which never took off from the outset.

    Those who are genuinely concerned about preserving the distinct identity of Tibet should know the fact that only a free and independent Tibet will be able to do so. It is important for all of us to know that freedom and independence are non-negotiable, that without them humans can’t survive. They are like the air that we breathe every day, without which we cannot live. Freedom and independence is the soul of Tibet, without which Tibet is like a dead-man walking, a zombie, with no sense of feelings and emotions. This should be realized by all and sundry.

    Tibetans inside Tibet showed us in this year’s mega-protests that they have not given up their struggle. It gives us a new hope and confidence that Tibet’s independence can be realized provided we believe in it and work to achieve it. It is our sacred duty of we Tibetans living in free countries, both the individuals and the government, that we must fulfill the wishes of millions of Tibetans who died, hoping to see the restoration of Tibet’s freedom from the Chinese yoke.

    My father, who spent his entire life, serving the Tibetan nation, first as a common soldier guarding the borders of eastern Tibet against Chinese encroachment, and then later in exile as soldier of the Tibetan regiment in Chakrata, had made the following lamentation, when he was convinced that he would die after being bedridden for two months from cancer:

    My only regret is that I couldn’t die on Tibetan soil!

  4. As a Tibetan support, I want to express all my positive energy to you. You will need courage and hope, but never-give-up!
    I do hope that from the up-coming meeting a strong and clear strategy will rise.
    For the sake of the human being save your culture and all its meaning!

  5. You guys are out of your minds. Tibet was bound to be eliminated off the face of the earth. The Tibetan society was based on a precarious balance of unproductive components, ranging from unproductive monks to nomads to just plain old poor people whom the Lamas exploited by telling lies about reincarnations.

    I quote Lobsang Sangay

    “There are religious precedents for the appointment of a successor, including a teacher of the Dalai Lama himself. More importantly, Tibetans believe that the reincarnate lamas upon death are reborn through the womb of the mother. However, being born through the womb of the mother is only a process: what is crucial is the capacity of incarnate lamas to transfer their soul/consciousness through the womb of the mother. If so, the same spiritual mystical capacity could be utilized to transfer the soul/consciousness to an adult of the lama’s own choosing. The exile movement will immediately gain an adult Fifteenth Dalai Lama to lead it, avoid past historical messy transition between Dalai Lamas, and effectively foil Chinese hardliners’ expectation that the exile movement will weaken with the passing of the Dalai Lama.”

    What is this? You guys as a people still believe in reincarnation? No wonder the Chinese walked all over you guys. Except for that fact that what the Chinese did was a stupid move because they should have let you guys spiral down into your own demise rather than take the flak for committing cultural genocide on you guys, you guys shouldn’t even have survived over these centuries. Luckily for you, that inaccessible high plateau lulled you into thinking that what you had was a viable society. Now that the world is capable of mechanized transportation, forget it, you guys will disappear off the earth if you continue on your present course.

    The problem with Tibet hasn’t been brought on by the Chinese, if it wasn’t them it would have been someone else, maybe the Brits, it’s you guys trying to preserve your culture. The core of which is what rots your society.

    Wake up Tibet!

  6. Tanner, it’s clear from your post you know nothing about Tibet and rely on the words of others (who also know nothing about Tibet) to inform your opinion. I suggest you converse with well-educated Tibetans in exile, as well as a complete spectrum of Tibetans inside Tibet, to form your opinions, or at least find a trustworthy source of information from someone who has already done that.

    You can find stupid people in any society. Remember that in 2000 and 2004, roughly 50% of US voters actively supported Bush, and 50% of those eligible to vote gave him their tacit support by not voting. So even if 75% of Tibetans were as stupid as you claim, they’d be on par with the US.

    Your spite for a people you don’t even know in the slightest is disgusting. Begone. Go educate yourself or else forget about Tibet and make your trouble somewhere justified.

  7. Rich,

    Actually I regret what I wrote. It was done in a bout of heavy drinking that deepened my despair over the situation. I love Tibet. I just don’t understand why this is happening.

    Last night I entertained the possibility that it was the Tibetan side that allowed such weakness which in turn invited this calamity on the people. Of course it doesn’t justify what the Chinese have done. But could we be somewhat responsible?

  8. Independence dreamers/fighters/supporters believe all tibetans including his holiness, govt, people desire independence. So they are not saying or implying that others do not want independence.
    they are not claiming they are the most patriotic tibetans, and that others are not.
    they are not claiming they are the most able tibetans, more able than his holiness or any other tibetan.
    they are not saying they can guarantee independence right away.
    they are not saying they know all, that they see the future.
    they are not saying they don’t respect his holiness.
    they are not saying independence is easy.

    What they are asking is “has china given u middle way?
    Is ccp delivering middleway or atleast in the process of delivering it?
    Have they atleast promised to deliver the middle way?
    Is ccp a party of buddhisatvas considering to deliver middle way?
    Haven’t they called middle way “independence in disguise”?
    How can just dialogue alone achieve middle way?
    has china not said in clear cut terms that dengshoping never said “except independence anything else can be discussed(not given)”?
    Do you trust ccp?
    how much longer(another 6 decades) would tibetans both the leaders and the led allow themselves to be politically deceived by china?
    are tibetans suffering from the need to be oppressed and deceived?

    What they are telling you is this that compassion has no role in political problems visa vis Chinese regime.
    tibetans must have a clear cut political goal like independence.
    Path can be violent or nonviolent or both. Left to individual choice.
    Ccp is a political animal that thrives on deceiving tibetans.
    Independence is dificult but not impossible.

    goal, Determination and sacrifices to continue to the last man- a must quality in every tibetan warrior to create the reasons/pressure for them to give you what you want-political independence.

    middle way is the most unrealistic approach because it does not and cannot by its very nature have a solid poltical leverage over china to give you autonomy or greater tibet. middle way is complete failure and a total disaster.

    then what alternative do you have? independence? yes, as a political goal it is the highest ideal-promising to grant you sovereignty. it’s significance is vast and deep. but beyond that under the present circumstances it’s just a noble goal and nothing more. that’s it. why? because as long as his holiness or some lama leader rules tibetans it is impossible to produce a militant wing to cause economic and political losses to china. because non violence alone can never produce any political result like independence from china. it can definitely win sympathetic noises around the world but beyond that just nothing.

    there are two groups of violent independence fighters.

    1)people like lhasang tsering, jamyang norbu belong to the group that says they will fight for independence once independence gets enshrined in exile charter as your unchangeable goal, and that your govt and his holiness support establishing it like the mustang base. their argument is justified but will his holiness and your govt help here? no. just impossible. so they will forever remain armchair warriors. but they are good at what they are doing. writing articles and giving powerful motivational speeches. we need this skill too.

    2)the other group wants atleast independence enshrined in the exile charter as your unchangeable political goal and they will do the best they can(advice or condemnation even from his holiness cannot stop them. they are just an unstoppable force) even without material/logistical support from your own leader and govt. can this change in your govt’s stance happen? difficult but not impossible. the MPs have the power to effect the change. people have the power to influence the MPs.

    but for now whichever way you go it’s just hopelessness. period.

  9. Tanner,

    What is NOW is most important. Not what is past. We can study the past to avoid certain mistakes made which we can see, but despite what comfort this gains us, it won’t make us avoid mistakes of different sorts in the future. Mistakes mistakes, so effing what? If the previous independent Tibetan government wasn’t up to par in the face of Chinese onslaught, does this delegitimize the Tibetan struggle for independence one iota? NO.

    People can say it is simply a pipe dream, to light a candle of hope while facing a glacier of despair. So effing what? Shame on the negaholics and naysayers, always spewing out their mentally diseased lack of heart, trying to infect the rest of us. Their misery loves company, I guess.

    Without hope or happiness, why live at all? Why not just be a zombie, like the walking dead from a Romero film?

    Ireland almost disappeared from the face of the earth too. But within 3 generations of a starvation which killed millions and almost obliterated the native language and culture, Irish freedom fighters lit a flame of hope and actually melted that effing glacier of lethargy. And they consciously left to us this act of theirs, violent as it may have been, as one more example of our human heritage of freedom. Ireland in English and Éire in Irish is alive today because of this.

    So to Tibetans who may sometimes despair, I can only offer encouragement from afar, and if close by, a helping hand. Let us not forget freedom ever. As the old Gaels used to say “Is fearr a bheith marbh ná bheith i do thráill ramhar” (better to be dead than to be a fat slave)

  10. Thank you Hugh.
    NO matter what, we must hold on to our dream of an independent Tibet. And we must actively work towards it.
    Where there is will there is a way!

  11. Injustices Anywhere is a Threat to Justices Everywhere.

    Remind to you all, whether we Tibetans be living independently or under Chinese Rule,or else. We the people of Tibet will live and prosper as long a humanity lives.
    The millitary force can kill you, but it will bring hundreds more hearts and mind together.. The military force can kill a hundreds, but it will strengthen the heart and minds of millions, arround the world…
    Yes we Tibetan Can, because one day soon, we will put the biggest LCD screens, loudest speakers, all arround, in front of the great Jokhang entrence, at the heart of Lhasa, at the heart all Tibetans, at the heart of world’s people who sees a truthful based human civilization. Network connected arround all cities and countries.
    The Cries will joyfully pass into the crowed, into the wireless network, into all peoples arround the world, into the cosmos, and into the god’s ear. to annound, Yes WE TIBETANS ARE BACK TO LEAD. The highest nation with great leaders who capture and inspire, good heart gernerous human citizens..

    Tibetan Independence, through non-violent means…
    Yes We Tibetans and the world Can

  12. 1. Injustices Anywhere is a Threat to Justices Everywhere.
    Remind to you all, whether we Tibetans be living independently or under Chinese Rule,or else. We the people of Tibet will live and prosper as long a humanity lives.
    The military force can kill you, but it will bring hundreds more hearts and mind together.. The military force can kill a hundreds, but it will strengthen the heart and minds of millions, around the world…
    Yes we Tibetan Can, because one day soon, we will put the biggest LCD screens, loudest speakers, all around, in front of the great Jokhang entrance, at the heart of Lhasa, at the heart all Tibetans, at the heart of world’s people who sees a truthful based human civilization. Network connected around all cities and countries.
    The Cries will joyfully pass into the crowed, into the wireless network, into all peoples around the world, into the cosmos, and into the god’s ear. to announce, Yes WE TIBETANS ARE BACK TO LEAD. The highest nation with great leaders who capture and inspire, good heart generous human citizens..
    Tibetan Independence, through non-violent means…
    Yes We Tibetans and the World Can

  13. @ Tanner:

    That is a very crazy post, I am sure you meant it at the time. I have had the same thoughts and feel them to be a little unfair. There is some truth in what you have said but a lack of tact in your wording.

    We must ask this question; what would have happened if China had not entered Tibet? Which alternative oppressor would have stepped in?

    Is it possible that way back then the international do-gooders like our friends here would have found themselves chanting


    not from China but from the exploitation of the institution of the Dalai Lamas, the Aristocracy and the Monastics?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *