China is a vast multinational country with more than 50 recognised nationalities including the Han (comprising more than 90% of the population), Tibetans, Zhuang, Mongols, Manchu, Uighurs, Khazaks, Hui and Dai. Some were followers of the sanjiao or “three schools” of Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism; others were Muslim; at various stages there were small numbers of Zoroastrians, Jews and Christians.
A political entity exercising authority over the Tibetan region had come into existence by the early 7th century AD. This was based on the economic and political convergence of interest between Tibet’s landowning nobility and the senior lamas of the great monasteries of Lama Buddhism which had violently supplanted the indigenous animism of the practitioners of Bon.
The emerging organs of authority in Tibet appeared at the time when the Tang Dynasty ruled the vast central plains of China. Relations between the Tibetan and Han regimes waxed and waned. Armed Tibetan incursions occurred at various points along the Silk Road causing Han Chinese to attempt to pacify and neutralise the Tibetans. An alliance of sorts was put in place during this era following the marriage of the Tibetan leader Songstan Gambo and Princess Wencheng of the Tang Dynasty.
Over the next four centuries this rather tenuous alliance between the ruling houses of the two regions slowly strengthened through political, economic, cultural and religious exchanges, laying the foundation for unification under the Mongol regime of Genghis Khan. This unification was based in part on the Mongolian’s adherence to Lama Buddhism. The Mongol regime became formalised as the Chinese Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368).
The Mongols negotiated an agreement with members of the Sakya Sect in Tibet requiring them to give allegiance to the Mongols. The terms of allegiance were agreed in 1247. Following Kublai Khan’s accession to the throne in 1260, Tibet became one of the administrative regions under the direct jurisdiction of the Yuan Dynasty Central Government. Under both the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties the central government’s sovereignty over Tibet was further strengthened. A Resident Commissioner’s Office was set up there by the Qing Dynasty, whilst the Yonghe Palace in Beijing was rebuilt as a lamasery in 1744 and given over to the Bainqen and Dalai Lamas and other high Tibetan figures for their use on visits to the capital.
Tibet has been an administrative region of China since the Yuan Dynasty. The question of Tibetan “independence” or of Tibet and China as separate countries, did not arise until after China’s defeat in the British Opium War. Once the reality of Qing Dynasty weakness had been revealed, various empires began to attempt to carve China up into spheres of influence and to annex unto themselves the territory of China. Czarist Russia was active in various areas including, for a while, Tibet; the Germans, and later the Japanese, were active in Shandong province; the Treaty Ports and extraterritorial rights for foreigners became notorious (eg the “No dogs or Chinese” sign on the Bund park in Shanghai).
In this context, manoeuvres by the British to extend their control of the Indian sub-continent by politics and war at the expense of China should not be interpreted as having laid the basis for the existence of an “independent Tibet”. Armed attacks by the British on Tibet took place in 1888 and 1904. Later, taking advantage of the disintegration of political authority in China after the 1911 Revolution, the British tried by various diplomatic and political means to separate Tibet from the Central Government and bring it within Britain’s sphere of influence. Although sections of the Tibetan theocracy vacillated at this time there was no organised indigenous movement for the independence of Tibet, and the so-called issue of “independence” was really one of separation from, and dismemberment of, China for the sake of a foreign colonial power. (See my earlier post on the origins of Tibetan separatism here.)
The 1911 Revolutionled by Dr Sun Yatsen brought to an end the exclusive control of China by one of its major nationalities, the Manchus (ruling as the Qing Dynasty). Dr Sun was no narrow Han chauvinist, and stressed the multinational nature of the new Republic in this declaration of January 1912:
The foundation of the state lies in the people’s power to incorporate the areas inhabited by the Hans, Manchus, Mongolians, Huis and Tibetans into one country and to unite the Han, Manchu, Mongolian, Hui and Tibetan nationalities into one nation. That is called national unification.
The flag of the new Republic was initially a five-coloured flag, symbolising the unity of the five major ethnic groups of the Chinese nation.
The Nationalist Government of Chiang Kai-shek likewise upheld the historical relationship between the central government and Tibet. On June 1, 1931 the Nationalist Government issued the provisional Constitution which stipulated that “The territory of the Republic of China covers the various provinces, Mongolia and Tibet”, and “The local systems of Mongolia and Tibet shall be enacted separately in legal forms according to the local conditions.”
During this period, the Tibetan local authorities attended a series of meetings convened by the Nationalist Government and conducted condolence-offering for the thirteenth Dalai Lama, and the reincarnation and enthronement of the present fourteenth Dalai Lama under the supervision of, and with the approval of, the central government.
After World War 2, the United States took over Britain’s role as leader of the Western pack and embarked on an anti-Communist crusade. They campaigned vigorously against the 17-Point Agreement on the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet signed in 1951 by the local Tibetan authorities and the Central Peoples’ Government. The Dalai Lama actually acknowledges in his book, Freedom in Exile, the involvement of the US Central Intelligence Agency in training anti-communist Tibetans for separatist guerrilla activity and in parachuting trained insurgents into Chinese territory. This culminated in an armed rebellion by the upper classes of Tibet in March 1959, the suppression of which was accompanied by the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile.
Tibet is an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. It is time for the “yellow peril”-like Cold War myth that the “Chinese Communists invaded the neighbouring country of Tibet” to be laid to rest.
For his part, the Dalai Lama has successfully cultivated an image of gentleness, peace and simplicity which ahs an undeniable appeal to Westerners sickened by their own countries’ involvement in or support for exploitative and oppressive relations with the Third World, or alienated by the dehumanising nature of technological change and the general rat race of urban living. The Dalai is a “living Buddha” who has won acclaim, including a Nobel Peace Prize, for his rejection of violence.
The Dalai is also a clever and sophisticated politician, a wily manipulator of media opportunity and celebrity support.
However, he is not so clever that he cannot conceal his splittist intentions as regards China, nor his sham “patriotism” and “independence”.
These sound like harsh words, but they can be substantiated through the Dalai’s own materials.
In his autobiography Freedom in Exile the Dalai produces several maps, the first of which purports to be “Tibet and her Neighbours”. In this map (see below), the People’s Republic of China is shown to be about one quarter of its present and actual size. Tibet as an “independent country” is shown occupying an area two to three times the size of the present Tibetan Autonomous Region, whilst such new “countries” as “East Turkestan”, “Inner Mongolia” and “Manchuria” are declared to have an actual existence. (The Japanese militarists were universally condemned by the democracies when they created a puppet “independent Manchuguo” in the late 1930’s under the last Emperor of China, the Manchu Puyi.)
The Dalai, who is presented by the Western media as an idealist in the mould of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jnr, is shown by this map to be very much a man of worldly concerns, and not one above inciting nationalist hatreds and the violence that would inevitably be required to give life to the various “neighbours of Tibet” which he has unilaterally carved out of Chinese territory.
That such a fragmentation of the territory of the People’s Republic of China also accords with the world outlook of certain sections of the international business community who are increasingly threatened by the growing prosperity and prestige of China, is not entirely coincidental. The Dalai has his own agenda, to be sure, but in order to implement it he must travel the world stage seeking recognition and financial support.
Enjoying the benefits of our Australian multicultural society, and appalled by the ethnic cleansing and cultural intolerance of the Balkans, we should take more of an interest in the Chinese model of autonomous regions and counties for its major religious and ethnic groups and ask ourselves what is really served by separatist elements rejecting such a model. Certainly the Dalai’s map is an incitement to monoculturalism with its attendant hatreds and violence.
The second map, simply titled “Tibet” purports to show in greater detail the boundaries of an “independent Tibet”. As previously mentioned, it seizes from China an area significantly bigger than the present Tibet Autonomous Region. This is done by incorporating those parts of other Chinese provinces into which Tibetans, peacefully or otherwise, migrated from the Tang era onwards. Incidentally, this explains the fabulous figures produced every now and then by the Dalai’s propaganda machine to convince the world that the Han Chinese are “swamping” the Tibetans and hence practicing cultural genocide: the Dalai’s “Tibet” incorporates many majority Han areas and dishonestly represents these population statistics as applying to the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Furthermore, when the Dalai Lama dishonestly claims that he no longer seeks “independence” for Tibet, but rather “autonomy” within the People’s Republic, it is autonomy of this greatly enlarged “Tibet” that he makes a precondition for his talks with Beijing.
What is of equal significance on this map, however, is the surrender to India in the south of the entire area below the so-called “McMahon Line”. This “line” was the product of a long period of British aggression against China on several fronts, including the area of China’s Tibet.
In 1888 the British mounted an invasion of Tibet which was resisted by Tibetan patriots at Lengtu and other places. Further aggression took place in 1903 and 1904 with heavy fighting occurring at various sites inside Tibet.
As the victors in this conflict, the British moved immediately to formalise their seizure of parts of Tibet’s territory, using the threat of increased indemnities against Tibet for every day of the local authorities’ delay in signing an unequal treaty, and the generally submissive and appeasement-like attitude of the Qing court, as a means of pressuring the Tibetans.
Not content with this, the British plotted to completely sever Tibet from China so as to turn it into a dependency of the British Empire. These efforts culminated in the Simla Conference of 1913-14 when a group of pro-British Tibetans were invited by the British to participate in a discussion over the future of Tibet. It was a very one-sided affair, with the British demanding acceptance of a south-eastern boundary deep within Tibet’s territory which they dubbed the McMahon Line.
Naturally, the Central Chinese Government, a representative of which had attended the Conference, refused to ratify the so-called Simla Convention.
The Dali’s claim for there having been a brief period of Tibetan “independence” at this time rests upon an acceptance of the propriety of the local Tibetan authorities of 1914 entering into an unequal treaty with an imperial power, a treaty which no Chinese government has ever recognised.
In 1959, the Dalai Lama told an Indian audience: “If you deny sovereign status to Tibet, you deny the validity of the Simla Convention and therefore deny the validity of the McMahon Line” (The Times, 8/9/59). The converse is also true: in order to maintain the fiction of Tibetan “independence” the Dalai must trade off Tibetan territory in the form of the whole area south of the McMahon Line. One might ask how the Dalai can claim to champion Tibetan “independence” and at the same time engage in such a shameful surrender of sovereignty over a piece of Tibetan territory.
In 1962, the Chinese Central People’s Government was forced to despatch troops of the People’s Liberation Army to defend the area of Tibet south of the McMahon Line from encroachment by India. The Australian journalist Neville Maxwell gave the world a convincing account of Indian responsibility for the conflict, and of China’s having acted in defence of its own territory in his book India’s China War (Penguin Books 1972). I have included a third map, taken from his book, the shaded area of which shows the territory of Tibet defended by the Chinese Government and surrendered by the Dalai.
The Dalai has switched his tactics since originally taking up the old British, and more recent US, agenda for the dismemberment of China. But we need to remember that his talk of “autonomy” is premised on a major expansion of what he deems to be “Greater Tibet”, and that within his clique this is clearly seen as part of a strategy for the eventual separation of this huge area, encompassing other Chinese provinces, from China.
During an interview by French reporter Pierre-Antoine Donnet, Tendzin Choegyal, the Dalai Lama's younger brother, said: "We will first seek autonomy, and then run the Chinese out! Just like Marcos was run out of the Philippines, and the British were run out of India! We are thinking of the world, of coming generations. Autonomy, or self-rule is the start."
The Dalai Lama's elder brother, Gyalo Thondup, who served as a link to the CIA in 1952 when it was initiating the arming of Tibetam reactionaries (see my post The Birth of Tibetan Separatism here), explained greater autonomy like this: "Twenty years after greater autonomy, a referendum is to be held in the 'Greater Tibet' region to push Tibet from 'semi-independence' to independence."
This is why the Chinese reject the Dalai Lama's so-called "Middle Way" of seeking talks on "autonomy under Chinese rule". They know what is his real agenda.
We also need to keep in mind that behind his words of “non-violence” are a growing number of violent reactionary groups with direct ties to US neo-conservative foundations and politicians. These groups, mentioned in my previous post on the origins of Tibetan separatism, are now funded by the US National Endowment for Democracy, which in turn is a front for the CIA. (For a report on NED's involvement in financing these groups, see here: http://www.news.com.au/mercury/story/0,22884,23423457-5006550,00.html)
These groups are like a shark, hiding below the surface and waving the “drowning hand” of their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Certain people in the West, many of them well-intentioned and otherwise progressive persons, may want to jump in and help “His Holiness”, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, but they would do well to look below the surface before they do.