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The truth about Tibet

(2009/04/29)

    At a recent news conference in Washington on the Tibet issue, Lanny Davis, a former special counsel to President Clinton whose law firm (Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe) has three offices in China was asked about his views.

    "I have the greatest respect for the Dalai Lama," says Davis, "but there is another side to the story."

    That story is now beginning to emerge.

    Or perhaps it was always there but decades of the international media, peddling the America-supported-and-financed views of the Dalai Lama, turned a blind eye to the real Tibet under the "man-god" and his spiritual predecessors.

    And that Tibet is not the Shangri-la "paradise" the world has been led to believe and often portrayed by the western news media, travel books, novels, and particularly, Hollywood films. The peace-loving socially-mobile Utopian society that the Dalai and his followers-in-exile have been preaching is now being unceremoniously exposed for the blatant fallacy that it is, was.

    The truth is, prior to the takeover (or retake, as Tibet was part of China for 700 years since Genghis Khan) of Tibet by the People's Liberation Army in 1959, Tibet was a brutally oppressive theocracy under the lamas.

    Some 95 percent of the population was serfs and slaves, bought, sold and abused at the whim of the three ruling classes- the lamas who controlled the monasteries, the aristocracy-descendants of kings and Tibetan nobility- and government officials.

    So what was it like being a serf in pre-1959 Tibet?

    Here's an extract from Michael Parenti's revealing, if not chilling, book Friendly Feudalism: The Tibetan Myth.

    "The serfs were taxed upon getting married, taxed for the birth of each child and for every death in the family. They were taxed for planting a tree in their yard and for keeping animals. They were taxed for religious festivals and for public dancing and drumming, for being sent to prison and upon being released. Those who could not find work were taxed for being unemployed, and if they traveled to another village in search of work, they paid a passage tax. When people could not pay, the monasteries lent them money at 20 to 50 percent interest. Some debts were handed down from father to son to grandson. Debtors who could not meet their obligations risked being cast into slavery…"

    According to Gorkar Mebon, the mayor of Lhasa in the 1950s, when the death sentence was administered "it was in the form that made no person responsible for the death: by hurling the person from a precipice or sewing him in a yak skin and throwing him in a river. Lighter sentences were of amputation of a hand, both hands, a leg or both legs, the stumps being sterilized with boiling butter." ("Tibet", Winnington)

    The whip was also a common form of punishment, Mebon says. "If a person had 300 strokes of it properly applied he would almost certainly die afterwards." In this way it could be said that the government, in accordance with religious law, had directly killed no one."

    After the overthrow of Tibetan feudalism in 1959 the serfs opened an exhibition of the torture instruments used against them. The exhibition was presented as a show on the "abuse of religion" and the execution of "evil deeds under cloak of religion." Anna Louise Strong who visited the exhibition describes the torture equipment by the Tibetan overlords.

    "There were handcuffs of all sizes, including small ones for children, and instruments for cutting off noses and ears, gouging out eyes, breaking off hands, and hamstringing legs. There were hot brands, ships, and special implements for disemboweling. The exhibition represented photographs and testimonies of victims who had been blinded or crippled or suffered amputations for thievery. There was the shepherd whose master owed him a reimbursement in yuan and wheat but refused to pay. So he took one of the master's cows; for this he had his hands severed. Another herdsman, who opposed having his wife taken from him by his lord, had his hands broken off. There were pictures of Communist activists with noses and upper lips cut off, and a woman who was raped and then had her nose sliced away."

    There is an extensive body of writings and recordings by earlier visitors to Tibet of what they witnessed of Tibet's "Theocratic despotism."

    In 1895, an Englishman, Dr. A.L.Waddell, wrote that the populace was under the "intolerable tyranny of monks" and the devil superstitions they had fashioned to terrorize the people.

    In 1904 Perceval Landon described the Dalai Lama's rule as "an engine of oppression."

At about that time, another English traveler, Captain W.F.T. O'Connor, observed that "the great landowners and the priests… exercise each in their own dominion a despotic power from which there is no appeal," while the people are "oppressed by the most monstrous growth of monasticism and priest-craft." Tibetan rulers "invented degrading legends and stimulated a spirit of superstition" among the common people. In 1937, another visitor, Spencer Chapman, wrote, "The Lamaist monk does not spend his time in ministering to the people or educating them….The beggar beside the road is nothing to the monk. Knowledge is the jealously guarded prerogative of the monasteries and is used to increase their influence and wealth."

    It is said that some monasteries owned up to 6000 serfs and slaves. Records unearthed show that the current Dalai Lama himself owned 2000.

    Now this could be easily dismissed as Chinese propaganda. But the thing is the Dalai Lama has never come out and denied these claims.

    He instead promotes a mythical Tibet of class mobility and a false "friendly serfdom". It is interesting to note that those who escaped with the Dalai Lama to India when the Chinese took over in 1959, comprised of monks and upper class Tibetans. These are the same people who have been promoting a "return of Tibet" from China in the last 60 yeas.

    It is also interesting to note that the instigators of the recent unrest in Tibet were the monks, the very beneficiaries of old Tibet. Don't be fooled for a minute by the stereotypical image of the peaceful pacifist Tibetan monk.

    The Dalai Lama has accused the Chinese Central Government of sinocizing Tibet, of oppressing Tibetan culture and "breeding out" the Tibetan ethnicity.

Such claims would've been thought absurd if applied to any Western society. But this is the Dalai Lama and his "government"-in-exile against communist China, the country the west, the western media and their governments for years fear and loath and love to hate.

    Such absurdity is quickly gobbled up as fact.

    If anything, China could never be accused of cultural separatism or cultural oppression for that matter, because China revels in its cultural diversity. It's a fabulous country of many contrasts, of both people and landscape. Its ethnic diversity makes China what it is today.

    Despite Han Chinese being the populous ethnicity, in China you see ethnic Chinese from up north who look like Russians and others from the deep south, who look like they just stepped out of the Arabian nights.

    There are Tibetan Buddhists as there are Han Buddhists, Muslims, Shintos and Hindu Chinese. Freedom of religion had been a cornerstone of Chinese policy in Tibet since 1959. And through the years, the central government has poured millions in protecting Tibetan Language, promoting Tibetan culture and restoring Tibetan temples. These have also been huge investments in the construction of school, roads, public utilities and city infrastructures.

    Though many Tibetans still respect the Dalai Lama because of his spiritual standing in Tibetan Buddhist worship, the outright majority of Tibetans who had been serfs and slaves during the rule of lamas and now enjoying many freedoms under the Chinese Central Government, do not favor a return to Old Tibet.

    And the world needs to listen to their story.



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