Are Tibet and the Dalai Lama as perfect as they are made out to be? Toronto-based journalist Jan Wong thinks not.
I'm sorry to disappoint. but Tibet never was Shangri-La. Hollywood has romanticised it to death. but the dirty little secret is that Tibet was a feudal theocracy. The monasteries owned thousands of serfs. “iron— rod' lamas flogged runaways and the landed gentry thought nothing of gouging out the eyes of offending peasants.
In Tibet. circa 1950. one in every four boys became a monk. Most girls weren't educated at all. The average life expectancy was 30 years. Then the Chinese People‘s Liberation Army arrived. Beijing stamped out bits of Tibetan culture. including the deferential practice of sticking out your tongue and bowing low whenever an aristocrat passed.
Of course. the Chinese Communists aren't exactly poster- boys for human rights. And so history has been rewritten. By the losers.
Few realise Beijing is an equal opportunity despot (rabid capitalists excepted. of course). Sure, the Communist Chinese toss monks and nuns into jail. But the fact remains that one out of every 43 Tibetans in Tibet is a monk or a nun. more per capita than we have lawyers in the West.
And while China has been accused of genocide. the fact also remains that Tibet's population is growing. I take back that bit about China being an equal opportunity despot. Tibetans. unlike Chinese. are exempt from Beijing's one-child pOIiCy.
Today. even in exile. Tibet's culture remains feudal. No one likes to mention that. His Holiness the Dalai Lama disapproves of gay people. He also calls masturbation and oral sex forms of ‘sexual misconduct'. Oh well, at least he‘s not a vegetarian.
Jan Wong is a columnist for the Globe and Mail in Toronto. She learned Chinese at Beijing University during the Cultural Revolution and was the newspaper '3 Beijing correspondent from 7988— 7994, witnessing the 7989 Tiananmen Square student massacre from a 74th floor balcony. She is the author of the best-selling memoir Red China Blues, My Long March from Mao to New.
18 THE LIST 27 May—10 June 2004
The Chinese authorities view the Dalai Lama as the main obstacle to political stability in Tibet — a ‘wolf in lama's clothing‘ and a ‘splittist‘ who wants to separate
Tibet from China. It is forbidden and dangerous for
Tibetans to display his photograph. so many silently express their dissent to Chinese policy and loyalty to their spiritual leader by displaying an empty frame.
From the mid-l99()s onwards. China‘s position on the Dalai Lama has become particularly hostile. A wide-ranging ‘patriotic education‘ campaign has been carried out in monasteries and nunneries in Tibet with the aim of undermining his influence and indoctrinating monks and nuns in party ideology. Limitations have been imposed on the numbers of monks and nuns in religious institutions. and Beijing has also begun to assert increased authority over the search and identiﬁcation of Tibetan rcincarnate lamas. In 1995. China enthroned a small boy as the reincarnation of the tenth Panchen Lama. one of the most important spiritual leaders in Tibet. The boy who had been recognised by the Dalai Lama as the correct reincamation. Gendun Choekyi Nyima. was taken into Chinese custody. where he remains today. in an unknown location. The Dalai Lama knows that through its actions. the Chinese leadership is setting a precedent for when he dies: ‘The Chinese will certainly "discover" a Dalai Lama. just as they chose this boy to be the l lth Panchen Lama.‘ he says. ‘But I have made it clear that the next Dalai Lama will be born in a free country. I think the Tibetans will accept that —- and they won’t accept a boy chosen by the Chinese.~
Of course the Dalai Lama wants to return to his
homeland before he dies. But he has always made it clear that his main priority is the fate of the several million Tibetans in Tibet on the high plateau encompassing central Tibet and the traditional areas of Kham and Amdo.
l.umley asks him how he sees Tibet‘s future. at this critical point in the country‘s history. He is quiet for a few moments - as a monk who meditates for at least four hours a day. he is comfortable with silence — then he says: ‘I am not asking for separation from China or independence for Tibet. What I want is a meaningful autonomy. because that would be the best safeguard for the preservation of Tibetan culture and spirituality. 1 think that the work of all these ancient spiritual masters is the best form of human service and the best part of human expression. liven in the 2lst century. Tibetan Buddhist civilisation must be preserved. This will help millions of young Chinese. as well as Tibetans. We want to work with today‘s China to achieve our goal of the preservation of Tibetan culture and the environment. That is my dream.‘
The Dalai Lama is at SECC, Glasgow, on Sat 29 May. A report on religion in Tibet by Kate Saunders is published in July by the International Campaign for Tibet, www.savetibet.org. The Free Tibet Campaign is at www.freetibet.org, or tel: 020 7324 4605. Jinpa is an Edinburgh-based charity that carries out vital grass roots health care work in Tibet; for further information see: www.jinpa.org.