In recent days, the world has seen an uspurge of activity by forces loyal to the Dalai Lama, and to some of the extremist elements in the Tibetan emigre community.
The attempt is being made to embarrass China in the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics.
As an aside, the imperialists hope to use the disturbances created around the issue of Tibet to embarrass the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which is set to contest, and probably to win, the April 10 elections in neighbouring Nepal. Some of the more violent agitations by emigre Tibetans have occurred in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu.
The relations between Han and Tibetan Chinese reflect a set of social contradictions that require mutual respect and understanding if they are to be resolved peacefully.
In his day, Mao made it clear that the unity of the Chinese nation required the Han majority to renounce chauvinism and to practice equality among all the nationalities of the People’s Republic.
China is a lop-sided multicultural phenomenon with 95% Han, and some 50 or so other national minorities making up the rest. In a comparison with Australia, it could be said that some of these minorities live in vast, remote (from urban centres) territories. The difference is that we are an island continent, whilst some of the major ethnic regions of China are shared through common borders with China's neighbours.
We use the word "Chinese" when we commonly mean "Han". For the Chinese, the equivalent term to "Chinese" simply means "person of the Middle Kingdom" and could equally apply to a Bai, Mongol, Naxi or Tibetan minority inhabitant of China, as well as to the Han.
It follows from this that if the argument based on the existence of a separate culture and language that is used by Westerners to advance claims for Tibetan separatism held true, then it should equally apply to Bai, Naxi, Uighurs and so on, and then we may as well give up any hope of growing into social maturity through multiculturalism and revert to the primitive purity of total ethnic separation.
In the past couple of decades, the ideological clarity and authority of the Party has been weakened. Deng’s “It is glorious to get rich” may have unleashed the most energetic market economy the world has seen, but he needed to add “…in line with the ethics of a socialist society.” In the absence of such a caution, get-rich-quick merchants have done untold harm generally, and in Tibet, have treated the Tibetans with the assumed superiority that many non-indigenous Australians display towards Aboriginal Australians.
Having said that, old Tibet was not the paradise of peace that it is claimed to be by supporters of the Dalai Lama. One on-line commentator, for example, has said: “Buddhism is not a religion with a heirarchical structure; rather it is a way of life, an attitude to one's existence. There is no "ruling" group, unlike many of the religions with dogma and a graded seniority structure.”
There was certainly a rigid seniority within the ranks of the Tibetan monks, just as there was an armed group of monk “police” (armed with poles and knives) who imposed discipline on the monasteries. From time to time various sects even had their own “armies” and there are recorded battles between the monasteries to defend or extend control of land and “taxes” as well as to impose scriptural interpretations and orthodoxies. (Frederick Spencer Chapman's 1936 photo of Tibetan soldiers in Lhasa, left.)
There was also a secular (not the best word, but can’t think of an appropriate alternative) nobility, a ruling class of great landowners, whose powers complemented those of the senior monks, and who could and did buy, sell and otherwise trade the serfs who tilled their lands. Punishments for serfs were arbitrary and horrific: tongues cut out, ears removed, limbs amputated (see right), and death. A small clique of officials managed the affairs of the nobility and the senior monks.
(Wooden leg shackles used on slaves and serfs in old Tibet, left)
I am truly sad to see conflict instigated in Tibet by followers of the Dalai Lama. Tibetan culture is one of the treasurers of the world, as is Han culture. Both have their positive and negative aspects, but both share the inevitable human curiosity about our conditions of existence, the meanings we can give to it, and the purposes or use to which we can put it.
In supporting the peaceful resolution of contradictions among the people, we can not turn a blind eye to the actions of those who instigate violence, burning and looting in order to restore the privileges of the past.