Tibetans, second-class citizens?

Yes, I know all about the schools, the hospitals, the highways and the end of serfdom. I know about improvements in the quality of life and all the economic benefits. I know how Chinese people see Tibet and I know that there is some justification for it. But I also know that many, many Tibetans do not see the CCP’s involvement in Tibet to be liberating. Many rage against the interference of the Han Chinese even while they profit from it. (This phenomenon is described in one of the best chapters of the new book Chinese Characters.) Some even go so far as to self-immolate.

But the debate as to how much the Tibetans have benefited thanks to the largesse and munificence of the CCP is largely irrelevant to the discussion of how so many Tibetans are treated as second-class citizens. And the fact that they are is simply undebatable. It is a matter of fact.

I urge you all to read this excellent interview of a leading Tibetan scholar by my former blog buddy Matt Schiavenza. Tibetans are being denied passports because the Party fears they’ll travel to India to hear the teachings of the Dalai Lama. Han Chinese, of course, face no such restrictions. Tibetans are the Untouchables. Matt asks the scholar, Robert Barnett, about other restrictions:

There have been many. These include the Chinese government putting Communist Party cadres in every monastery, requiring every monastery to display pictures of Chairman Mao Zedong, putting troops on every corner of the Tibetan quarter in Lhasa, limiting foreign visitors to guided groups, having to give their names before photocopying, not being allowed to enter Lhasa without a police guarantee if they’re from another Tibetan area, and many more.

The strategy of pouring money into Tibet has failed to bring the Tibetan people to that stage of enlightenment wherein they view the Communist Party as liberators. It will never happen so long as the CCP tries to force its own culture down the Tibetans’ throats. Things have only deteriorated since the riots of the Spring of 2008, and no matter how thrilled the CCP propagandists say the Tibetans are with their liberation (and you gotta check that link), the truth is far darker. The Party can trumpet its generosity and label all protest as the work of the jackal the DL, but the fact remains that many Tibetans do not believe they have been liberated, and instead see the Han as colonizers. Is it that hard to wonder why?

Read the whole piece

The Discussion: 211 Comments

Tibet can remain part of China only through the extreme use of authoritarian force.

No, not really. The method I outlined above–using educational NGOs and compulsory public education to secularize Tibetan youth, as well as enticing the most capable of them to Chinese urban agglomerations rather than remote monasteries, then parachuting them back in to govern their own people–does not require authoritarian force at all. Indeed, it’s explicitly modeled on how liberal countries have dealt with their own ethnic minorities.

The ‘force’ component will always be there–just as secession from the United States by Native American tribes, territorial dependencies, or Texas would be dealt with by force–but the force wouldn’t be ‘authoritarian’ in nature, insofar as it would take a different form than tear gas and fire extinguishers.

One of the other solutions some Chinese Tibetan experts have advocated, aside from subsidizing food and fuel so as to control the ability of TAR residents to survive in harsh environmental conditions, has been tying tourism to the plateau with gaming, in the same way that Indian reservations in the United States are allowed to run casinos. The profits would then go to tax-deductible religious charities, and the funds would be commingled and mixed with religious donations for the monasteries. The logic goes that this would open a source of income for religious elites independent of how pious they seem–they would get busy competing with each other to see how best they could cater to tourists and gamblers, which would naturally draw them further from the Dalai Lama’s ascetic ideology. And given how much Chinese people love to gamble, there shouldn’t be any difficulty in attracting customers, especially if the central government pretends not to notice any money laundering that goes through these casinos while clamping down on those same activities in Macau.

To quote the expert–“If we can make Lhasa look like Las Vegas, and Ngaba look like Reno, then the problem is essentially solved.”

February 21, 2013 @ 2:37 pm | Comment

And yes–a liberal China would be able to control, Sinify, and secularize the youth of Tibet through these mechanisms (gambling, education, economic opportunity, a strict emphasis on the separation of church and state) just as effectively as an authoritarian government–perhaps even more effectively, as they use less Torquemada and more Cass Sunstein, less axe, and more scalpel.

It is toward that liberal goal–a free, prosperous, and confident China–that reformers work towards every day. They are the heroes of China, and, ergo, they deserve the support of every true Sinophile.

February 21, 2013 @ 2:42 pm | Comment


You’re proposing the sinification of Tibet through casinos? Do you write for the China daily show or something?

February 21, 2013 @ 7:25 pm | Comment

You’re proposing the sinification of Tibet through casinos? Do you write for the China daily show or something?

Would you rather we pacify the region through brute force instead?

February 21, 2013 @ 8:11 pm | Comment


‘Would you rather we….’

What’s all this ‘we’ business? You’re in Chicago, buddy.

February 21, 2013 @ 11:19 pm | Comment

What’s all this ‘we’ business? You’re in Chicago, buddy.

Does that matter? Answer the question.

February 22, 2013 @ 12:29 am | Comment


‘Does that matter?’

Yes. I doubt that you could play much of an active role in either the cultural carpet bombing of Tibet or the pacification of Asia while sitting at your laptop in Starbucks, Chicago. So perhaps you shouldn’t use ‘we’.

February 22, 2013 @ 7:16 am | Comment

Wow, much ado about nothing going on here. Tibet will remain part of China for the foreseeable future.

The geopolitics of the modern era demands this whether China democratizes or not. The Himalayas is a natural boundary between the two regional powers of India and China. Offensive force projection is basically nullified by this natural fortification. No sane Chinese leadership will just give it up. Too bad, so sad…

To the guy above ranting about a liberal revolution with Han marching side by side with Tibetans, LOL. This is reality not a Les Miserables musical, buddy.

February 22, 2013 @ 1:13 pm | Comment

@t_co #201 and #202

You really think that will work? I expect it would have no effect, or maybe be counterproductive. I suppose Beijing has been planning on parachuting in a reliable Tibetan leadership since 1951. How’s that going so far?

@FOARP #200,

You’re right. It’s hypothetically possible to have a long-term equilibrium in which Tibet is an autonomous part of a liberalized China. The more anger and resentment build up from the current policies, the harder it will be to effect this.
I’m not sure what you mean about co-opting the élite. Most of them are in exile. Tsering Shakya noted in 2008 that the government was having a hard time finding influential lamas to lean on to support their policies, having lost so many to exile, prison, and gradual attrition to old age (for instance, Bomi Rinpoche, the widely-respected Acting Gandän Thripa, who presided at the selection of the Chinese Panchen Lama, got sick not much later and died after a couple years. There doesn’t seem to be a new Acting Gandän Thripa). Almost no reincarnated lamas were identified in China prior to the Karmapa in 1992, so the younger generation of Rinpoches (e.g. Pawo, Trungpa, Ghungthang, Reting) is still young and their ability to influence the public untested. As far as secular leaders, it’s notable that, in the last few years, two of the most prominent Tibetan businessmen, who were seemingly non-political, have gotten lengthy prison terms for putative subversion.

February 23, 2013 @ 12:11 am | Comment

@ t_co #204,

Would you rather we pacify the region through brute force instead?

Bring it on, son. We will resist you by any means necessary, even if it requires us to develop morals, ethics, a more just and decent system of international legal norms, or visions and dreams for a better world in the future. Non serviemus.

February 23, 2013 @ 12:38 am | Comment

This thread has generated a huge spam attack and I’m closing it. If anyone wants to add a comment please email me. Thanks.

February 26, 2013 @ 12:20 am | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.