Response to a Chinese intellectual on Tibet

Over at the (excellent, as always) China Geeks blog, a guest poster has provided a translation (“How Chinese Intellectuals Perceive the Tibet Issue“) of an e-mail she received from a professor about the situation in Tibet. The translator, Mindy Zhang, was a Chinese student studying abroad who asked one of her professors (according to the introduction, this professor is a “major figure in the study of International Relations in China”) to give her some information about the Tibet issue. It’s depressing to think that authority figures are passing this kind of thing along to innocent Chinese students in informal situations, even outside of the official propaganda channels. The professor’s explanations show that there is a lot he doesn’t know or is confused about on this topic, assuming that he is not being intentionally deceptive.

Below are some of my responses to the points he raised:

This guy doesn’t know as much about the subject as he apparently thinks he does, which is disappointing coming from a professor.

There have been two major independence-seeking/Anti-Han movements, one happened during the Revolution of 1911, when the British attempted to negotiate with central government (ROC) as a representative of Tibet.

This is confused. The 13th Dalai Lama declared Tibet’s independence unilaterally in 1913, in the immediate aftermath of the revolution that overthrew the Qing (in fact, what he declared is that Tibet had been independent all along). The professor is presumably thinking of the Simla Accord of 1914, in which the British prevailed on the ROC to hold three-way negotiations with Tibet and Great Britain. They actually did not merely “attempt to negotiate” with the ROC, they really did negotiate for quite a while, although in the end the Chinese did not sign the accord.

Why would the British have negotiated with the ROC during the revolution in 1911, anyway?

The other occurred in 1949, also supported by the British, along with some Indian intervention. It failed and the DL, as a local delegate, signed the Seventeen Point Agreement with the central government (PRC).

If this corresponds to anything that actually happened, it would be Tibet’s desperate (and very tardy) efforts to get international recognition by the UN and the powerful states in order to stave off a Chinese invasion. However, the British did not support that effort, which is one of the main reasons that it failed. The main reason the British didn’t support it was because the recently independent government of India actively opposed it. If the professor wanted a talking point, he should have claimed that Tibetan independence was supported at this time by the Americans, who were somewhat more interested in the idea. In fact, Tibet’s only active supporter at that time was actually El Salvador.

The 1959 riot was backed up by the CIA and India.

False but getting warmer. The riot and general uprising in Lhasa in 1959 occurred on its own. The CIA had been providing some support to the Khampa rebellion, which also began on its own, for at least a year or two beforehand, and they quickly moved in to support the rebellion in central Tibet which followed the uprising in Lhasa. I can’t imagine what would be dishonorable about accepting outside aid at that point.

One particular case in point is that the 1959 suppression was often distorted as an invasion (at least, some westerners I knew consider it as an act of invasion).

That’s true. A lot of not-so-knowledgeable people in the west think that China invaded Tibet in 1959. In fact, they invaded in 1951 (after seizing eastern Tibetan territories with very little resistance in 1949-50). Western people tend to be very confused by the period of tense cooperation in the 1950s.

The Seventeen Point Agreement, which had a clear regulation of Tibet’s autonomous status and its relations with central government, is barely mentioned in books published in western world.

The main reason people don’t spend much time talking about the Seventeen Point Agreement is that, overall, it was not very important. It was never an agreement, since one side was forced to “agree” to it. I don’t think that either side ever really intended to live up to their side of the deal: the Chinese government intended to abrogate the Seventeen Point Agreement by gradually replacing it with a party-controlled administration, and the Tibetans intended to keep as much autonomy as possible regardless of what the Seventeen Point Agreement said.

The management of Tibet since 1949 was based on autonomous system and the Seventeen Point Agreement until 1959.

Both sides were attempting to undermine that system all along. The Chinese created PCART, the Preparatory Committee for the Autonomous Region of Tibet, in 1956, at which point their plans were no longer a secret.

The cause of the 1959 uprising can be partially explained by land reforms and ownership reforms implemented in some Tibetan-inhabited areas outside the Tibet Autonomous Region. However, those reformed areas has nothing to do with the Tibet Autonomous Region, where the DL was in charge.

And yet, Chinese sources very consistently argue that the 1959 uprising was instigated by nobles who opposed land reform. The professor is correct that land reform actually had nothing to do with it, but he doesn’t seem to realise that this undermines his own government’s propaganda.

That being said, the central government did not necessarily break the Seventeen Point Agreement. Some Tibetan separatists and Americans took advantage of this situation, but it doesn’t make any sense that some [regular] Tibetans did the same thing. (The ultra-Leftist trend during cultural revolution was also a contributing factor to their resentment)

Understatement of the decade! But his point here is very unclear, since obviously the uprising in 1959 happened prior to the Cultural Revolution.

The whole thing is for sure deliberately plotted and prepared.

Pure gullibility. If the Chinese government had any evidence at all, even circumstantial evidence, that the Dalai Lama had planned, surely they would have made it public by now and would use be using it as a talking point ad nauseam.

First, peaceful demonstration (March.10th), violence next (13rd), then there comes the Olympic torch relay.

He is confused about the sequence of events. Peaceful demonstrations did begin on March 10, but violence also began the same day, when Chinese security forces arrested and severely beat a group of peaceful protestors. Apparently, violence by the Chinese government is invisible to this writer. Violence by Tibetans began on March 14 in Lhasa and on the 15th in Xiahe (not sure how he managed to get this part wrong, since Chinese sources often refer to these events as 3/14 – the events of the preceding days having slipped down the memory hole).

The perfect timing and media’s one-sided response are not a coincidence. I am not suggesting here that it was plotted by a specific government; the international community is increasingly complicated as globalization evolves.

Not at all clear what he is suggesting here.

In regard to western media, they interpret the Tibet issue based on their own perceptions

I guess everyone tends to interpret issues based on their own perceptions. The Western media’s coverage was deeply flawed, but this professor might want to take a good long look in the mirror himself.

Those trouble-makers are not a big deal.

I agree that the Tibetan resistance is not a big deal – for the foreseeable future – as long as you don’t care what sort of tactics Beijing has to use to keep a lid on things.

Tibet is not my specialization and the latest research is not something I am aware of.

Damn straight it isn’t.

I have been studying in the international sphere for years and my personal experience is westerners are unaware of many issues.

Total strawman. Most people anywhere are unaware of many issues. However, at least most people are not professors who try to put themselves forward as informed commenters on those issues.


3 thoughts on “Response to a Chinese intellectual on Tibet

  1. Well skewered, good sir!

    That said, remember that this was just a personal correspondence to a single student the guy wrote in his free time. My guess is some of his dates are off because he never expected this email to be published and he didn’t write it with the intention of having it hold up to close scrutiny.

    I agree he’s wrong about a lot of things, just thing that point is worth reminding people. God help me if I’m ever asked to defend everything I’ve ever written in emails.

    In any event, that’s a big part of why we won’t publish his name or the university in question.

  2. Whatever information chinese intellectuals learn about Tibet is from their Government and their government is lie, which they call bran wash. And when did this to Tibetan people, Tibetans never believed. That is why the they (Chinese) say Tibetan people have green bran. But western intellectuals always try to learn the truth. So nothing will come out of china that is true. Thank you.

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