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Reality check on Tibet
(China Daily)
Updated: 2009-01-20 07:46

The Dalai Lama won't like this. Nor will his sympathizers.

For them, the Tibet autonomous region's decision to add a Serfs' Emancipation Day to the area's festival-laden calendar is like reopening an old sore.

You have heard them accusing the Han Chinese of "intruding" into or "annexing" Tibet. You have heard them charging the Han Chinese with "abusing" Tibetan human rights and carrying out "cultural genocide".

While they assuredly point fingers at the Chinese government, citing such hypnotizing terms as democracy and human rights, have you ever heard them elaborate exactly what Tibet was like pre-1959?

Don't blame them for being evasive and ambiguous. They won't have shilly-shallied and skirted around, should they not have a skeleton in their closet.

Dharamshala is angry about the fresh red-character date. But everybody deserves to know what life was like under the Dalai Lama. The younger Tibetans deserve it. So do all who truly care about Tibet, its people and culture. The Chinese hold the past as a mirror for the future. Tibet's past, as the Dalai Lama knows, is a shameful story that he would not let others hear or know. The unseemly truths about the Dalai Lama's Tibet may offer needed insight into the on-and-off dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama's private envoys. Particularly when the Dalai Lama talks of autonomy.

Tibet under the Dalai Lama was never the Shangri-La of popular romantic fantasies. Unless you want to call a place where 95 per cent of the local people were serfs and household slaves, who could be sold, bought and bequeathed like commodities - paradise on earth anyway. Next time when the Dalai Lama talks about human rights in Tibet, ask him what it was like being a serf under his reign. Next time when he preaches for "freedom", ask him what freedom the serfs and slaves enjoyed in the "good old days" he has been so passionate about.

In fairness to the 14th Dalai Lama, cruelty in old Tibet did not start from his years. But a message from the "great" 5th Dalai Lama can be a meaningful reference: "Commoners of Lhari Ziba, listen to my order: I have authorized Lhari Ziba to chop off your hands and feet, gouge out your eyes, and beat and kill you if you again attempt to look for freedom and comfort." And the "great" tradition continued until Tibet's peaceful liberation.

If the 14th Dalai Lama cared for democracy and human rights, he had plenty of time and opportunities to make a difference. That was obvious from the 17-article agreement between the central government and the Dalai Lama's local administration, signed in 1951, as well as historical facts thereafter. Beijing promised to not impose changes on Tibet, and the reform of local governance was left to the Tibetan local government. But the conditions of the serfs and slaves had not improved until he fled and the democratic reform started in 1959.

But now, Dharamshala accuses Beijing of enslaving Tibetans. In a recent memo to the central government, the Dalai Lama's government in exile wanted Tibetans to become "masters of their own affairs".

Now that the Dalai Lama appears so dedicated to autonomy and human rights in Tibet, for the sake of "His Holiness'" credibility, may we suggest a reality check?

(China Daily 01/20/2009 page8)