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History as Propaganda: Tibetan Exiles versus the People's Republic of China

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Orwellian_Ghost Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-23-08 07:34 PM
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History as Propaganda: Tibetan Exiles versus the People's Republic of China
And the gnarliness of Tibetan history is the stuff of legend. I am currently reading an excellent book on this very gnarliness -- History as Propaganda: Tibetan Exiles versus the People's Republic of China -- which shows, in a very disciplined and scholarly way, how both sides distort "the facts" and "the truth" each claims to be conveying. Neither camp is spared the author's keen eye for bias and hyperbole.

Back to that Free Tibet bumper sticker. If you want something of substance about Tibet -- say, to display prominently on your dashboard so it looks like you know what the fuck you're talking about -- you can do no better (I checked) than the two-volume 1500+ page History of Modern Tibet by Melvyn C. Goldstein. Volume 1, The Demise of the Lamaist State, covers 1913-1951. Volume 2, The Calm Before the Storm, covers 1951-1955. Granted, that still leaves more than 50 years of recent history out of the picture, but it explains a whole hell of a lot about what's going on in Tibet today. As do these excellent books...

If you really want to understand the region, pay less attention to books like Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer, who was a member of the Nazi Party, and to the various (and vacuous) gushings of Giuseppe Tucci, who was a committed fascist (see "Giuseppe Tucci, or Buddhology in the age of Fascism" in Donald S. Lopez, Jr (ed.), Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism under Colonialism).

Instead, try thinking of the Tibetans and Chinese as normal human beings like you and me, trying to work things out on the ground instead of allowing themselves to be used as pawns in the hyper-abstract geopolitical war games still being played on artificially intelligent supercomputers by dried up old military geezers in Washington and Beijing. And yes, Virginia, on the equally bizarre prayer wheels of Dharamsala.

Numinous Lunacy and Sanctimonious Narcissism
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Orwellian_Ghost Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-23-08 07:41 PM
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1. Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth
But what of Tibetan Buddhism? Is it not an exception to this sort of strife? And what of the society it helped to create? Many Buddhists maintain that, before the Chinese crackdown in 1959, old Tibet was a spiritually oriented kingdom free from the egotistical lifestyles, empty materialism, and corrupting vices that beset modern industrialized society. Western news media, travel books, novels, and Hollywood films have portrayed the Tibetan theocracy as a veritable Shangri-La. The Dalai Lama himself stated that the pervasive influence of Buddhism in Tibet, amid the wide open spaces of an unspoiled environment resulted in a society dedicated to peace and harmony. We enjoyed freedom and contentment. 4

A reading of Tibets history suggests a somewhat different picture. Religious conflict was commonplace in old Tibet, writes one western Buddhist practitioner. History belies the Shangri-La image of Tibetan lamas and their followers living together in mutual tolerance and nonviolent goodwill. Indeed, the situation was quite different. Old Tibet was much more like Europe during the religious wars of the Counterreformation. 5 In the thirteenth century, Emperor Kublai Khan created the first Grand Lama, who was to preside over all the other lamas as might a pope over his bishops. Several centuries later, the Emperor of China sent an army into Tibet to support the Grand Lama, an ambitious 25-year-old man, who then gave himself the title of Dalai (Ocean) Lama, ruler of all Tibet. Here is a historical irony: the first Dalai Lama was installed by a Chinese army.


Religions have had a close relationship not only with violence but with economic exploitation. Indeed, it is often the economic exploitation that necessitates the violence. Such was the case with the Tibetan theocracy. Until 1959, when the Dalai Lama last presided over Tibet, most of the arable land was still organized into manorial estates worked by serfs. These estates were owned by two social groups: the rich secular landlords and the rich theocratic lamas. Even a writer sympathetic to the old order allows that a great deal of real estate belonged to the monasteries, and most of them amassed great riches. Much of the wealth was accumulated through active participation in trade, commerce, and money lending.


The theocracys religious teachings buttressed its class order. The poor and afflicted were taught that they had brought their troubles upon themselves because of their wicked ways in previous lives. Hence they had to accept the misery of their present existence as a karmic atonement and in anticipation that their lot would improve in their next lifetime. The rich and powerful treated their good fortune as a reward for, and tangible evidence of, virtue in past and present lives.

The Tibetan serfs were something more than superstitious victims, blind to their own oppression. As we have seen, some ran away; others openly resisted, sometimes suffering dire consequences. In feudal Tibet, torture and mutilation--including eye gouging, the pulling out of tongues, hamstringing, and amputation--were favored punishments inflicted upon thieves, and runaway or resistant serfs. Journeying through Tibet in the 1960s, Stuart and Roma Gelder interviewed a former serf, Tsereh Wang Tuei, who had stolen two sheep belonging to a monastery. For this he had both his eyes gouged out and his hand mutilated beyond use. He explains that he no longer is a Buddhist: When a holy lama told them to blind me I thought there was no good in religion.21 Since it was against Buddhist teachings to take human life, some offenders were severely lashed and then left to God in the freezing night to die. The parallels between Tibet and medieval Europe are striking, concludes Tom Grunfeld in his book on Tibet.


Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth

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rpannier Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-23-08 07:47 PM
Response to Original message
2. Thatnks for the suggestions
It's appreciated
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Orwellian_Ghost Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-23-08 07:59 PM
Response to Reply #2
3. The Dalai Lama's hidden past
The Dalai Lama's hidden past

25 September 1996
Comment by Norm Dixon

Most solidarity and environmental groups supporting the Tibetan people's cause have not questioned the Dalai Lama's role in Tibetan history or addressed what it would mean for the Tibetan people if the Dalai Lama and his coterie returned to power. A 1995 document distributed by the Dalai Lama's Office of Tibet aggressively states that ``China tries to justify its occupation and repressive rule of Tibet by pretending that it `liberated' Tibetan society from `medieval feudal serfdom' and `slavery'. Beijing trots out this myth to counter every international pressure to review its repressive policies in Tibet.'' It then coyly concedes: ``Traditional Tibetan society was by no means perfect ... However, it was not as bad as China would have us believe.''

Was this a myth? Tibet's Buddhist monastic nobility controlled all land on behalf of the ``gods''. They monopolised the country's wealth by exacting tribute and labour services from peasants and herders. This system was similar to how the medieval Catholic Church exploited peasants in feudal Europe.

Tibetan peasants and herders had little personal freedom. Without the permission of the priests, or lamas, they could not do anything. They were considered appendages to the monastery. The peasantry lived in dire poverty while enormous wealth accumulated in the monasteries and in the Dalai Lama's palace in Lhasa.

In 1956 the Dalai Lama, fearing that the Chinese government would soon move on Lhasa, issued an appeal for gold and jewels to construct another throne for himself. This, he argued, would help rid Tibet of ``bad omens''. One hundred and twenty tons were collected. When the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, he was preceded by more than 60 tons of treasure.


The Tibetan people deserve the right to national self-determination. However, supporting their struggle should not mean that we uncritically support the self-proclaimed leadership of the Dalai Lama and his compromised ``government-in-exile''. Their commitment to human rights, democracy and support for genuine self-determination can only be judged from their actions and their willingness to tell the truth.


The Dalai Lama's hidden past
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hardtravelin Donating Member (156 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-23-08 08:05 PM
Response to Reply #3
4. Yay! Go China!!!
You saw it at DU first: the China apaologists.
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Orwellian_Ghost Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-23-08 08:10 PM
Response to Reply #4
5. Please read your history
Noone is apologizing for China. You are being a reactionary and could not have possibly read anything that was posted if that is your impression. As is highlighted in one post The Tibetan People have a right to self-determination as do the Chinese People. If you can't even read the bits highlighted you are obviously not interested in honest dialogue.
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hardtravelin Donating Member (156 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-23-08 08:29 PM
Response to Reply #5
7. The Dalai Lama is CIA?
So, if one is to believe the credible sources at Steamshovel press, the Dalai and his brother were part of a covert CIA operation?

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Orwellian_Ghost Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-23-08 08:13 PM
Response to Reply #4
6. Something strange is going on here


Also, we now have some facts about Thubtan Norbu. The eldest brother of the Dalai Lama was connected to the "American Society for a Free Asia," a CIA-funded organization that sponsored a series of visits to and lectures in the United States by Norbu, beginning in 1956 (Prados, 1986). Secretly, the Dalai Lama's family was very involved with the CIA in fighting the Chinese. Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama's second-eldest brother, based in Darjeeling, established an intelligence gathering operation with the CIA in 1951. Six years later, he upgraded it to an advanced CIA-trained guerrilla unit whose members were introduced to commando techniques on Guam for example, and then parachuted back into Tibet (Avedon 1984). What was Peissel's connection to the CIA? It's difficult to say.

Peissel was apparently able to obtain much "Tibet file" (as he called it) information from American and British intelligence contacts. He even reveals names that sound familiar- such as "Nyma Tsering," said to be one of the most trusted officers among the Tibetan guerrillas. Tibetan names in English are merely rough transliterations, often in different spellings. So we are not surprised to find the Sherpa "Nima Tenzing" on Slick's 1957 and 1958 expeditions, and the same individual "Nima Tshering" on Hillary's 1960 expedition. Was this person also the aforementioned "Nyma Tsering?" Were Peissel's connections woven into the espionage network?

This is the same Michel Peissel who wrote a yeti-debunking article for Argosy magazine in 1960 entitled "The Abominable Snow Job." Peissel mentioned that the subject of his 1966 book, Boris Lissanevitch, had been given a tranquilizer gun by the Tom Slick expedition. Peissel half-jokingly wrote that the "Indians thought Boris a Russian agent, the Russians thought him an American agent, and the Americans, a Russian agent" (Peissel, 1966). It is interesting that Peissel would show up in the Tibetan area to investigate the abominable snowman, during the critical time of the Dalai Lama's escape. Slowly, over the years, he revealed his deeper covert operations links.

Adrian Cowell, for his part, turned up in Burma in the mid-1960s filming guerrilla opium armies (McCoy, 1972) and recently has been involved in Brazilian projects. But Cowell's official biography in Contemporary Authors neglected to mention his Tibetan adventures with Patterson.

Something strange is going on here.
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rpannier Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-23-08 08:50 PM
Response to Reply #4
8. I read what he posted and went to the sights he linked
I don't consider what he posted to be apologising for the Chinese.

Most sides have many stories -- not just one or two.

The Chinese government is one of the most repressive governments on this planet.
They have used slave labor to produce "Official Olympic Merchandise", they have displaced thousands onto the streets to build the Olympic venues and their crackdown on dissent by ethnic Chinese (Han and others) is appalling.

That being said, it does not mean that prior to the Chinese occupation of Tibet that everyone in Tibet was given candy, a pony and a large estate to live on.

It is fair to explore what went on in Tibet before 1950, just as it is fair to look at any society. The situation in Tibet before Chinese occupation should be explored thoroughly and fairly.

What was the situation in Tibet prior to 1950?
Very few people know. And that's because it really has never been explored.
Most scholarly works on Tibet (at least for western consumption) seems to center on post-1950 Tibet.

I live in Korea, have been to Thailand, Japan, India, etc. And one of the most striking things about visiting the older Temples is that they also served as military bases. The Shintu shrine in Narita Japan, was originally a Buddhist temple. It is built in such a way that invading armies would be lured into the central square of the temple and archers would pick them off from the high walls.

Almost all Temples were closely linked to the political powers of the area. They supported the local warlord, king, baron, etc. In return for their support, they were given large tracts of land, exempt from most taxes, exempt from most laws and allowed to keep slaves.
Temples that were not tied to the local government were very small, lacked any influence and thus never attracted large (or even medium) numbers of monks.

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