The following is the response by Mr. M.A. Jones, an Australian teacher within China, taken from the P.B.S. “China from the inside” discussion forum:
“I’m becoming quite adept at turning the other cheek, though whether of the upper or lower anatomy must remain a matter for fascinating conjecture, for as all good readers of Plato will know, all ideal phenomena of the upper kind have their imperfect (indeed, sometimes odiferous) counterparts in the world below.
So now it’s time to deal with sundry affairs: Tony Martin, you begin your critique of my position by personally insulting me, before launching into a vitriolic ramble, and one that is based on a misreading of my position. “Your whole theory relating to Tibet is very similar to all of the other respondents supporting the continued illegal Chinese occupation of a sovereign nation,” you say. “Your position appears to be similar to other invaders of land in our history, or to the various slave trading states over the years. Namely, don’t look at how badly off Tibetans are now in comparison to the rest of China and the world, but rather look at how well off they are compared to how they might be if their invading masters weren’t so benevolent and here to help them.”
I have presented no theories whatsoever relating to Tibet, nor have I ever justified the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet.
I did, however, point out that life for the majority of Tibetans has been improving under Chinese governance since the 1980s, and I did so because the weight of empirically verifiable evidence shows this to be the case.
Let us look at the evidence. If Tibetans were so fiercely suppressed, and if Chinese leaders in Beijing were really out to Sinocize Tibet by increasing the ethnic ratio of Han to Tibetan, then why are all Tibetan families permitted to have up to three children, and are only fined small amounts of money if they exceed this number? Tibetan families in Tibet average 3.8 children, larger than Tibetan families in India. In fact, the population of Tibet in 1959 was only about 1.19 million. Today however, the population of Greater Tibet is 7.3 million, of which, according to the 2000 census, 6 million are ethnic Tibetans. If we consider the Tibet Autonomous Region only, then according to the census conducted in 2000, as referred to in Wikipedia, “there were 2,616,300 people in Tibet, with Tibetans totalling 2,411,100 or 92.2% of the current regional population. The census also revealed that the Tibetan’s average lifespan has increased to 68 due to the improving standard of living and access to medical services.” In 1950 the average lifespan was only 35, and “infant mortality has dropped from 43% in 1950 to 0.661% in 2000.”
As Barry Sautman, who is Associate Professor of Social Science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology points out in his study on Tibet and the (Mis-)Representation of Cultural Genocide, “the state sponsored transfer [of Han Chinese] to Tibet is on a small scale. From 1994 to 2001 the PRC organized only a few thousand people to go to Tibet as cadres. Most serve only 3 years and then return to China. Those who move on their own to the Tibet Autonomous Region usually return to China in a few years. They come for a while, find the cities of Tibet too expensive, and then return to China. Some of the 72,000 Chinese who maintain their hukou [household registration] in Tibet don’t really live there. Pensions are higher if your household is registered in Tibet.”
These facts are supported by articles in the Columbia Journal of Asian Law and by an Australian Chinese demographer in Asian Ethnicity in 2000, and show that the claims of ethnic swamping in Tibet are misleading. “What I think these articles show,” says Barry Sautman, “is that there is no evidence of significant population losses over the whole period from the 1950s to the present. There are some losses during he Great Leap Forward but these were less in Tibetan areas than in other parts of China. Where these were serious were in Sichuan and Qinghai, but even there not as serious in the Han areas of China. There are no bases at all for the figures used regularly by the exile groups. They use the figure of 1.2 million Tibetans dying from the 1950s to the 1970s, but no source for this is given. As a lawyer I give no credence to statistics for which there is no data, no visible basis.”
In fact, as Michael Parenti has pointed out in his article on Friendly Feudalism: the Tibet Myth, “both the Dalai Lama and his advisor and youngest brother, Tendzin Choegyal, claimed that ‘more than 1.2 million Tibetans are dead as a result of the Chinese occupation.’ But the official 1953 census – six years before the Chinese crackdown -recorded the entire population residing in Tibet at 1,274,000.33 Other census counts put the ethnic Tibetan population within the country at about two million. If the Chinese killed 1.2 million in the early 1960s then whole cities and huge portions of the countryside, indeed almost all of Tibet, would have been depopulated, transformed into a killing field dotted with death camps and mass graves – of which we have not seen evidence. The thinly distributed Chinese military force in Tibet was not big enough to round up, hunt down, and exterminate that many people even if it had spent all its time doing nothing else.”
Tibetans in exile and their supporters seem to pull such figures out of a hat in the same way that the Chinese exile Harry Wu does in relation to the number of mainland prisoners (see my piece On the Nature of Chinese Governance and Society for details).
Barry Sautman also convincingly challenges claims that the Tibetan language is being devalued and replaced by Chinese. “92-94% of ethnic Tibetans speak Tibetan,” he notes. “Instruction in primary school is pretty universally in Tibetan. Chinese is bilingual from secondary school onward. All middle schools in the TAR also teach Tibetan. In Lhasa there are about equal time given to Chinese, Tibetan, and English.”
There is also an upsurge of the performing arts, poetry and painting by Tibetans, which many visitors to Tibet today cannot fail to notice, all of which are encouraged and funded by Beijing, though of course the growing tourist market also plays an important role in encouraging Tibetans to continue practicing their traditional arts and crafts, albeit, in a commodified form.
Importantly, Sautman, like me, has observed surprisingly “few aspects of Chinese culture in Tibet, but there are many aspects of Western culture, such as jeans, disco music, etc.”
Barry Sautman’s views are by no means marginalised within Western academia either Tony. Colin Mackerras, Professor Emeritus of International Business and Asian Studies at Griffith University, Australia, for example, remarked that Suatman’s book “is a courageous and long overdue study of a highly emotional and extremely important topic’ in that it meticulously details and documents “the processes of cultural change in religion, the arts, language, migration and various other aspects” which are rightly attributed “mainly to Westernised modernity.”
Another interesting and insightful study is the one carried out by Melvyn C. Goldstein, who is Professor and Chairman, Department of Anthropology, and Director of the Center for Research on Tibet at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, and Cynthia M. Beall, who is Professor of Anthropology at Case Western Reserve University. Their study, titled The Impact of China’s Reform Policy on the Nomads of Western Tibet, was carried out over a 16 month period in the Tibet Autonomous Region, and was supported by grants from the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People’s Republic of China, the Committee on Research and Exploration of the National Geographic Society, and the National Science Foundation.
It’s worth quoting at length from their conclusion:
“The new Chinese economic and cultural policies implemented in Tibet following Hu Yaobang’s investigation tour in May of 1980 have produced a major transformation in Phala. Following decollectivisation, the nomads’ economy immediately reverted to the traditional household system of production and management, which, enhanced by the concession on taxes, has led to an overall improvement in the standard of living even though local-level officials have not completely implemented an open (or negotiated) market system. The new policies have also led to increasing involvement in the market economy and dramatic social and economic differentiation. Equally important, the post-1980 policies have fostered a cultural and social revitalization that has allowed the nomads to resurrect basic components of their traditional culture….life in Phala today is closer to that of the traditional era than at any time since China assumed direct administrative control over Tibet in 1959. The post-1980 reforms created conditions whereby the nomadic pastoralists of Phala were able to regain control of their lives and recreate a matrix of values, norms, and beliefs that is psychologically and culturally meaningful. The new polices have, in essence, vindicated the nomads’ belief in the worth of their nomadic way of life and their Tibetan ethnicity.”
Tyler Denison reached similar conclusions in his study, titled Reaffirmation of ‘Ritual Cosmos’: Tibetan Perceptions of Landscape and Socio-Economic Development in Southwest China, published quite recently in the Spring 2006 edition of the University of New Hampshire Undergraduate Research Journal.
“Rather than finding Tibetan tradition being destroyed by Chinese rule and the influx of people, goods and ideas from the modern world,” concludes Denison, “I witnessed firsthand the importance of Kawa Karpo and the ritual cosmos in the lives of the Tibetans of Deqin county: it has not been diminished. Tibetans’ enduring perception of the landscape as a ritual cosmos cannot be termed a static reality of tradition, but more a dynamic cultural process, as they are continually renegotiating and redefining their beliefs in light of new social and economic realities.”
So much then Tony, for your claims of cultural genocide. And by the way, most Tibetans, if you ever get a chance to visit Tibet and to converse with the Tibetan locals, will tell you that they are not “forced” to learn Chinese, but rather, do so keenly, and on the expectation that being fluent in both Chinese and English will help to empower themselves by broadening their future employment opportunities.
Tony, I hereby charge you with having a patronising attitude towards the Tibetan people – they are not passive victims, and you really shouldn’t deny them of any agency. In fact, as Tsering Shakya has pointed out in a paper he wrote for the New Left Review back in 2002, “Tibetans are indeed well represented on bodies like the National People’s Congress and the People’s Consultative Conference. In fact I would go further and say that they are over-represented, given the size of the Tibetan population.” And don’t forget the role that many Tibetans themselves played in the destruction of monastries and the various perscutions that took place in Tibet during the Cultural Revolution. Let’s not deny the people of Tibet of any agency.
Your assertion that Western journalists make their observations of Tibet in the presence of “Chinese Communist Party lackeys” also demonstrates your ignorance. Journalist and tourists alike are quite free to wander about most parts of Tibet (provided they have PSB permits) without the accompaniment of officials.
You asked me to provide you with evidence of journalists having met Tibetans in Tibet who have expressed the view that the positives of Chinese rule outweigh the negatives.
Let us take attitudes towards the Beijing to Lhasa railway for starters. In the lead-up to the opening of that railway, the Dalai Lama expressed fears that the railway was going to aid in the Sinocisation of Tibet, and this was quickly seized on by Tibetans in exile support groups throughout the Western world as a development that would aid in Beijing’s alleged policy of genocide. Such claims of course, excited the imaginations of many ordinary Tibetans, many of who not surprisingly then expressed suspicions about what the new train line would bring them. But as many tourists and journalists to Tibet soon discovered, many urban ethnic Tibetans felt as though the positives would outweigh the negatives, and this is because an increasing number of Tibetans now have a very real material stake in the new economy. Their living standards are improving, and although Han retailers and small businesses stand to benefit more from increases in tourism and trade, the fact is that this will likely change as more and more Tibetans accumulate sufficient enough capital to start up enterprises of their own. And many Tibetans know this. Jonathon Watts, of The Guardian newspaper, reported that “Among the four or five unscheduled meetings I had with Tibetans, most were looking forward to the economic benefits the line is expected to bring: 2.5m tonnes of cargo and 1m tourists and business people.”
Indeed, Tibetans are divided on the issue of whether or not the benefits of being a part of China outweigh the negatives. “Tibetans are divided,” noted Jonathon Watts. There are those “independence activists” who expressed disapproval of the railway because they are against being a part of China, and who therefore regard the new line as evidence that Beijing is out to further entrench their rule, while others acknowledged the good that the trains might bring. “I was surprised to find a living Buddha make one of the strongest arguments in favour of the railway,” wrote Watts. “’We’ve been too backward, too isolated for too long,’ said the lama, who asked that his name not be used. ‘The rest of the world is in the 21st century. We are still in the middle ages.’ A more predictable advocate was the governor of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, Jampa Pahtsok. “It is unimaginable to have a high growth rate without a railroad.’” (see The Guardian, Sep.20, 2005)
And life is improving for many Tibetan farmers also, as Goldstein and Beall’s research (mentioned earlier) shows. When Dexter Roberts came across villagers in Northern Tibet’s Nagqu Prefecture, he discovered that most of the villagers (barley farmers and herdsmen) were quite content. “Life isn’t bad at all”, he quoted one villager as saying. (see “Tibet: Caught in China’s Two Hands”, Business Week Online, Sep.19, 2003).
Tony, I have never argued that most Tibetans don’t want some form of self-government. I simply said that I think it is presumptuous to say that the majority of Tibetans want independence. I stand by that. Maybe they do? But to assert with confidence that most want independence without supporting such a claim with any empirically verifiable evidence of a quantitative nature is questionable, especially when there is a growing amount of qualitative evidence to show that Tibetans are divided on such issues. Even the Dalai Lama himself says that he no longer wants total independence from China, but instead, some form of self-government.
Take a closer, more objective look at Tibet today. The mass protests have stopped. As Robert Barnett, author of Lhasa: Streets with Memories (published by Columbia University Press) stated in an interview back in April 2006, “Tibet has become a dispute in which the main weapons are forms of economic change that have benefits and drawbacks: the market, the leisure industry, mass tourism, population shift, uneven wealth, and consumerism.”
It won’t be all that much longer Tony, before Lhasa’s main thoroughfares find themselves hosting McDonald’s, KFC, and Pizza Hut fast food outlets, along with Starbuck’s and other such global enterprises. And don’t be too surprised if some of the license holders turn out to be ethnic Tibetans.
Tony, you argue that “Tibet and Tibetans might [have] been very different had China not invaded, but for sure they would be sovereign masters of their own destiny.”
Bollocks! How many ordinary Tibetans were ever the “masters of their own destinies”? I’m not justifying China’s invasion and occupation of Tibet, which was carried out for geopolitical reasons, and largely in response to continual incursions by Britain and Russia, and which therefore needs to be viewed in the context of the Cold War. The Kuomintang of course consistently made it clear that they intended on invading and occupying Tibet, and had they defeated the PLA, they probably would have gone on to do just that. Had that been the case, I bet the the U.S. State Department wouldn’t have objected.
But let us not romanticise the life of Tibetans prior to the invasion either. As Michael Parenti (and many others like Leigh Feigon, in his book Demystifying Tibet) has documented, Tibet “was a retrograde theocracy of serfdom and poverty, where a favoured few lived high and mighty off the blood, sweat, and tears of the many. It was a long way from Shangri-La.”
And “whatever wrongs and new oppressions introduced by the Chinese in Tibet, after 1959 they did abolish slavery and the serfdom system of unpaid labour, and put an end to floggings, mutilations, and amputations as a form of criminal punishment. They eliminated the many crushing taxes, started work projects, and greatly reduced unemployment and beggary. They established secular education, thereby breaking the educational monopoly of the monasteries. And they constructed running water and electrical systems in Lhasa.”
Finally, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the Tibetans in exile and their supporters have consistently exaggerated the human rights abuses that have taken place in Tibet, as Barry Sautman and others have convincingly demonstrated. Such exaggerations from the Tibetan community in exile come as no surprise though. As Michael Parenti says:
“For the rich lamas and lords, the Communist intervention was a calamity. Most of them fled abroad, as did the Dalai Lama himself, who was assisted in his flight by the CIA… throughout the 1960s, the Tibetan exile community was secretly pocketing $1.7 million a year from the CIA, according to documents released by the State Department in 1998. Once this fact was publicised, the Dalai Lama’s organisation itself issued a statement admitting that it had received millions of dollars from the CIA during the 1960s to send armed squads of exiles into Tibet to undermine the Maoist revolution. The Dalai Lama’s annual payment from the CIA was $186,000. Indian intelligence also financed both him and other Tibetan exiles. He has refused to say whether he or his brothers worked for the CIA. The agency has also declined to comment….Today, mostly through the National Endowment for Democracy and other conduits that are more respectable-sounding than the CIA, the US Congress continues to allocate an annual $2 million to Tibetans in India, with additional millions for ‘democracy activities’ within the Tibetan exile community.”
The Tibetan issue is by no means clear-cut. It is complex, and in constant states of flux. Even Tibetan specialists find it difficult to fit together images and realities, and so one might imagine how much more difficult it is for the great majority who make no pretence to knowledge about Tibet and who, if interested, seek guidance in the formulation of their own images. Those who seek such guidance from the plethora of publications produced by the numerous existing Tibetan support groups should therefore read them with some considerable caution, given their obvious bias.
I am not a Tibetan specialist, by any means, but I have more confidence in the findings of independent academic researchers (who present more objective, more soberly balanced views that are based on empirically verifiable research data of both a quantitative and qualitative nature) than I do in both the claims of official Chinese sources and of the various Tibetans in exile support groups.
Oh, and by the way Tony, your puerile attempt to discredit me by dismissing me as an employee of the Chinese government really is pathetic, and only serves to further demonstrate the height of your ignorance. I have been in China now for five years, not four, and I am not, and never have been, employed by the Chinese government. I teach a university preparation program at a Chinese private university in Hangzhou for a Sydney-based college, and I am paid an Australian salary, in Australian dollars, by my employer of over 15 years, the N.S.W. Department of Education and Training. There is absolutely no pressure on me to “two the Partly line” – in fact, nobody here has ever interfered with my teaching.
I suggest, Tony Martin, that you take a sedative and calm down. A few laxatives will no doubt help!”
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