Maybe I was wrong about Tibet….?

A reader (I believe she’s native Chinese and living in North America) wrote to me to point out that I may have a gross misunderstanding of the liberation of Tibet, as it’s referred to here. Earlier I had written, “Then again, maybe the Chinese do know more about liberating countries than we do. After all, they liberated Tibet, though, come to think of it, they didn’t call for the UN to step in and handle that liberation, now did they? And anyone who asked, “Liberated Tibet from who? Liberated Tibet from what? is rotting away in a Chinese jail….

The emailer wrote,

“How much you know of that region? Have you ever been there? I met many Americans or westerners who have strong opinion on this topic. But once we started discussion, I found they barely know anything about the issue except Dalai Lama and a general impression of how much tibetan people are suffering from suppression. They don’t know before 1956 (?), tibet had slavery system. Most tibetans were slaves or peasants, owned by monks and aristocrats. They don’t realize that dalai lama was indeed an emperor living in a huge palace, serving as both political and religious leader, enjoying all the luxuries (he had a car disassembled into parts in order to get into Lahsa.) I believe if Dalai never left tibet, he might not allow girls to go to school even up to today.

Fewer people know that as early as 400 yrs ago, then 5th dalai came to beijing to see the mandarin empiror to receive an official title and subsede to central government… I figured it’s getting nowhere to argue with people without these basic knowledge. I’ve been to tibet myself. I’m sure the freedom of religious pratice is limited there. But I also saw the tremendous change the area has embraced. Ask an ordinary tibetan, would he/she choose modernity or primative living condition, you may have very dispersed answers.

I admit I have no formal knowledge of this topic other than what I have learned in school and read in the papers. After reading this email I tried to do some research on the Internet, where I discovered there are two very different schools of thought on the topic, and I have no way of knowing, at least not yet, which is true.

This was a fascinating exercise, because it forced me to consider that fact that I had a very fixed notion about a topic, simply because I had been told that it was so. Maybe America’s propaganda is as bad as that of less free societies, at least in some ways…. I asked several of my colleagues and friends here about the subject, and was shocked to find that virtually all of them agreed with my emailer friend. They all said it was simply a matter of fact that the Tibetans’ lot was improved immeasurably and that it was an act of mercy.

I was shocked because this totally flies in the face of what I — and, I believe, nearly all Americans — know to be “true.” And I must admit that at this moment, I am inclined to say that at least maybe, possibly, we in the West are all under a vast misimpression when it comes to Tibet, and maybe, just maybe, the Dalai Lama is not the saintly, gentle creature who dared stand up to the wicked communists. Maybe.

Anyway, I am holding off any final judgment until I have a better grasp of the facts, but this really did get me thinking. I looked back at my education during the height of the Cold War and all the vile things we were taught about Red China and its partner in crime, The Evil Empire (most of which were grounded in fact), and I just have to wonder, were we duped, at least in this case?

Sorry to make so much about this, but it was like having cold water thrown on me. The crushing of freedom in Tibet — a liberation? Okay, I’ll let it go at that for now.

The Discussion: 2 Comments

this post is extremely interesting. i heard very little about tibet in china. altho they always celebrated different minority groups on the new year’s day. after i came the US, i started hearing all the screams about freeing tibet.. i was wondering what exactly is happening there that made such a great impression. then i realized Dalai Lama had visited the US and won the peace prize. this reminds me of US backing up Chiang Kai-shek’s regime without considering how corrupted it actually was. sometimes i feel US can be too hurrily to take on the role of the world police to do a in depth research on what they are really doing. i hate many things about the chinese government but the country also has much to be proud of. the problem is too many westerns are eager to jump to the conclusion without deeply study this thousands years old civilization just because it is ran by a government that’s different from theirs.

November 26, 2003 @ 5:50 am | Comment

I think we all want to see things in black and white, because when you take into consideration all the shades of gray it becomes more difficult to evaluate. So I would say by far the majority of Americans have a very inaccurrate perception of Tibet and its history.

November 28, 2003 @ 7:32 am | Comment

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