Tibetan flag Tibetans traditionally have merged politics and religion. Before China took control of Tibet, monasteries played major roles in administering Tibet and the monasteries and their leaders often fought among one another for political dominance. The Tibetan government at that time was a theocracy controlled by lamas and monks from their monasteries. The monasteries ran schools, managed health and street cleaning services, organized festivals, provided money for the poor and collected taxes. Lamas presided over marriages, divorces and disputes. "Police monks" kept order.
The feudal aristocracy and the monasteries were often interwtined. Administration was taken care of by a small bureaucracy made up of officials from the aristocracy and the monasteries who were given title to land in exchange for their services. The bureaucracy was under the control of the Dalai Lama. It had a religious branch and a secular branch which collected taxes and provided government services. Local governments were run by village headmen and estate stewards. They collected taxes and settled disputes. Tibetan style government still prevails in remote areas of Tibet.
Since 1965 Tibet has been administered by the Chinese government as the Tibet Autonomous Region. Subsidies from Beijing make up half local government revenues. See China and Tibet
Tibet Autonomous Region in modern China is not a province but is an autonomous region as its name says. It is made up of the municipality of Lhasa and six prefectures---Ali, Shigatse, Nagchu, Shannan, Nyingtri and Chamdo. These in turn are divided into 70 counties. The Tibetan area known as Kham is now part of the Chinese provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan The Tibetan area known as Amdo is now part of Gansu and Qinghai.
Chinese Government in Tibet, See China and Tibet
Good Websites and Sources: Central Tibetan Administration (Tibetan government in Exile) www.tibet.com ; Chinese Government Tibet website eng.tibet.cn/; China and Tibet : Tibet China Conflict PDF file eastwestcenter.org ; Tibet and China, Two Distinct Views www.rangzen.org ; Chinese Government’s Take on Tibetan History index-china.com; White Paper on Tibetan Culture english.people.com.cn ; Tibet Activist Groups: Tibet Online tibet.org ; Students for a Free Tibet studentsforafreetibet.org ; Students for a Free Tibet UK /sftuk.org ; Friends of Tibet friendsoftibet.org ; Tibetan Review tibetan.review.to ; Campaign for Tibet (Save Tibet) savetibet.org ; Tibet Society tibetsociety.com ; Free Tibet freetibet.org ; Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy tchrd.org Links in this Website: TIBETAN GOVERNMENT Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINA AND TIBET Factsanddetails.com/China ; PRESENT DALAI LAMA Factsanddetails.com/China ; DALAI LAMA’s CURRENT LIFE Factsanddetails.com/China ; DALAI LAMA AND POLITICS Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBETAN HISTORY Factsanddetails.com/China ; TIBET UNDER CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ;TIBETAN UPRISING IN 2008 Factsanddetails.com/China ; FALL OUT OF TIBETAN UPRISING IN 2008 Factsanddetails.com/China THE 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING AND POLITICS Factsanddetails.com/China
Tibetan Government in Exile
The Tibetan government in exile has a constitution and an elected government headed by a quasi-prime minister, known as the kalon tripa, who administers the day to day affairs of the government in exile. The Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies is the government in exile’s parliament. The government-in-exile has a stated mandate to rehabilitate Tibetan refugees and restore "freedom and happiness" in Tibet. The government-in-exile is not recognized by any foreign governments, China refuses to acknowledge it, and its legitimacy in the eyes of Tibetans in Tibet might be questioned without the Dalai Lama's patronage.
In 1960, a year the Dalai Lama’s arrival in India, a parliament in exile was set up in Dharmasala, India. Three years later a draft constitution was introduced. Largely subordinate to the Dalai Lama in matters of major policy, the organization’s main focus is on the welfare of the Tibetan exiled community in India, running schools, health services and cultural activities.
In 2006, 80,000 Tibetans in India voted for their government in exile. Members of the Tibetan diaspora in India, Nepal, Bhutan, the United States, Europe and Australia that pay voluntary taxes to the government in exile have the right to vote.
In 2001 the first election for a prime minister, known as the Kalon Tripa, was held. The status of the Kalon Tripa among the Tibetan community and international supporters is way below that of the Dalaia Lama. Few people even know who he is. Before 2011 the Tibetan government was headed by Samdhong Rinpoche, a lama based in Bangalore India. He won 81 percent of 38,793 votes cast among Tibetan voters in elections held in 2003. In earlt Tibetan elections, only half of eligible voters turned out.
Dalai Lama and Tibetan Leadership
The present 14th Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and the head of the government-in-exile of Tibet.
The Dalai Lama spends much of his time traveling the world to raise support for the Tibetan cause. He participates in meetings with religious leaders, presides over ceremonies for Tibetan Buddhists living abroad, appears at mass rallies, lectures businessman on "Ethics and the Bottom Line," attends fund raisers with Hollywood celebrities, and gives lectures on Buddhism ethics and religious practices. When he speaks at public gathering he usually speaks in Tibetan, which is translated into English by his translator, but occasionally he breaks into English himself.
According to the regulations stipulated by the Qing government (1644-1911), the final step of confirmation of the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama was the "drawing of lots from a golden urn" ceremony in the presence of the Resident Official of the Qing government in Tibet.
The Chinese claim that the Dalai Lama has traditionally regarded the Chinese emperor as the Son of Heaven, which "proves" Tibet's traditional suzerainty to China, and they assert that visits by the 5th Dalai Lama and the 13th Dalai Lama to the Forbidden Palace to visit the Chinese emperors are "proof" of Tibetan recognition of Chinese rule.
The Dalai Lama has been officially recognized by the Chinese government since 1653, when Emperor Shunzhi of the Qing Dynasty officially gave the Fifth Dalai Lama his title. The present Dalai Lama voted on the Constitution of the People's Republic of China and was elected a vice-chairman in the First National People's Congress in 1954, when his picture was taken with Chairman Mao.
The Tibetan government in exile has been accused of being “directionless” in trying to “reorient their objectives around other issues such as the environment, world peace, religious freedom, Cultural preservation, human rights---everything but the previous goal of Tibetan independence.”
On the issue of a greater Tibet, embracing Tibetan areas in Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan, some have called for a regional Authority for Tibetan Affairs that would deal with issues like education, religion and culture for Tibetans regardless of what province they lived instead of each province having their own policies.
Other issues of importance to Tibetans include stopping the flow of Han Chinese immigrants to Tibet, perhaps by stopping the practice of issuing residency permits in Tibet to non-Tibetans; giving more Tibetans government jobs; and easing restrictions on monasteries.
Woeser (See Tibetan Literature) is a Tibetan writer and blogger who arguably speaks to more loudly on Tibetan affairs than anyone else in China. She is under constant surveillance and has had her blog closed down several times. Even posting her blog from overseas has not protected it from being shut down by hackers.
Tibetan Position on Tibet
The Tibetans, on the other hand, claim that Tibet is an independent country, which until recently has had a limited Chinese presence. China says Tibet has always been part of its territory, but many Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries until Chinese troops invaded in the 1950s.
There has been some discussion of creating a Greater Tibet made up of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) plus Tibetan areas in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan Provinces. Many feel this claim is stretch. It is true that many Tibetans live outside TAR and Tibetan influences have gone far beyond TAR boundaries but the Tibetan leadership has never held political control much beyond the borders of the TAR. Plus it is unrealistic to think that China world ever consider giving up control to what amounts to 2.4 million square kilometers of land.
Peter Hessler wrote in Atlantic Monthly, Tibetan history is so muddled that one can see in it what one wishes. The Chinese can ignore some periods and point to others." The Chinese, for example, base part of their claim on Tibet on a marriage in A.D. 641 between Songsten Campo, the king of Tibet, and princess Wen Cheng, the daughter of the Tang emperor Taizong. The king it turns out was also married to three Tibetans and a Nepalese princess.
Many Tibetan believe that the clampdown on Tibet culture and religion only breeds resentment and doesn’t quell ambitions of independence at all it only temporally buries them. One monk told Reuters, “We’re a people with no rights and freedoms.” Others disagree. Some Tibetans have said they happier being materially better off under Chinese rule.
The Han Chinese have felt a resurgence in national pride as the fortune of China has improved. Tibetans can only share in these sentiments if they embrace the idea that they are Chinese and forsake their own identity. Many Tibetans view Tibetans who cooperate with Han Chinese as collaborators. One monk told Reuters, “The Tibetans who work for the government here are bad people. They are working with the Han to suppress our culture and religion.”
Tibetans traditionally celebrate the arrival of the new year a month later than the Chinese, with New Year’s Day usually falling in March, a month that has many political associations. Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times, “The month of March is a delicate time in China-Tibet relations. The Dalai Lama fled to India in March 1959, after the Chinese Army quashed a Tibetan uprising in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, during the initial Chinese occupation there. There has been a history of Tibetans protesting Chinese rule on the anniversaries of the Dalai Lama’s flight, and one such protest by monks in 2008 in Lhasa, and the suppression of it by security forces, led to the widespread uprising that enveloped much of the Tibetan plateau that spring. Since then, the Chinese government has increased the presence of security forces across the plateau each March and has barred foreigners from traveling to many areas there during that month.
See Separatism and Terrorism, Government; See Dalai Lama and Politics, Dalai Lama; See China, Mongolia and Tibet, See History
Independence and Displeasure with Dalai Lama's Middle Way
On how ordinary Tibetans view the independence issue, Tibetan filmmaker Losang Gyatso told the Los Angeles Times: “: The Dalai Lama has made clear from the mid-1980s that he was not pursuing independence for Tibet, that he is pursuing a policy that sees Tibet within the Chinese constitution and the Chinese state. But this Tibet must have a larger say in its religious and cultural and linguistic affairs. It’s wrong to say that all would be happy with a solution within China, but they would accept the Dalai Lama’s position. [Source: Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times, June 6, 2013]
Tseten Dorjee, a member of Tibetan Youth Congress, told Newsweek, “Look at what the Dalai Lama’s middle way has brought us in the last 50 years. He got a few medals, some awards and Western followers. But what did we get? Nothing! ... If someone in desperation picks up arms to fight for his freedom, I am all for it.”
Sherab Wosar, a leader in the Tibetan Youth Congress, told Newsweek, “If you look at history, we’ve had great warrior kings, It was only after Buddhism came that the Tibetan people started being more spiritual and began thinking twice about even killing a mosquito. I won’t be surprised if the Tibetan people decide to take up arms to fight for their land. Free Tibet is our aim and we’ll employ any means to achieve it.”
New Strategy in Tibet?
The Dalai Lama said the conciliatory approach with Beijing “has failed.” He said, “the Chinese leadership had so far not responded to our overtures and does not seem interested in addressing the issue in a realistic way.” He called for a special meeting of Tibetan exiles to talk about the lack of progress made with the Chinese and future actions.
In late November 2008, 500 Tibetan exile leaders met for six days in closed-door discussions in Dharmasala to map a strategy for Tibet’s future. Samdohing Rinpoche, the prime minister of the exiled government, pushed for independence and abandonment of the Dalai Lama’s conciliatory “middle way” approach.
The meeting began with the singing of the Tibetan anthem accompanied by pipes and drums and a moment of silence for the victims of the Tibetan uprising. In the discussions 15 groups with about 40 members each were formed to brainstorm ideas and present the conclusions to the exile government.
The discussions were said to be sometimes heated and emotional. In the end the Tibetan exiles decided to go stick with the “Middle Way.” Karma Choepla, speaker of the Tibetan parliament in exile, said, “We will continue with the Middle Way approach, and if there is no progress within a short period we will consider other options, including independence.” A minority, mostly young Tibetan leaders, called for pursuing independence. Many conceded the Middle Way had achieved little and holds little promise for achieving much in the future but saw few other options.
Analysts and many Tibetans felt the Dalai Lama called the meeting to unite the Tibetan exile government around a common approach, give more power to the exile government and prepare the way for his gradual retirement, especially if his health becomes an issue.
International Relations and Tibet
The Tibetans have a well-financed lobby group in Washington. The United States has appointed a special coordinator for Tibetan issues.
See Dalai Lama Activities and Dalai Lama Politics
Several countries have taken a strong position supporting Tibet. In 1996, Germany froze official contracts with China in a dispute over Beijing's human rights record on Tibet. The Taiwanese government has approved the establishment of a de facto mission for Tibet in Taipei.
In 2002, U.S. President George Bush signed the Tibetan Policy Act urging a negotiated settlement on Tibet. In 2005 U.S. Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice asked China’s leader to “reach out to the Dalai Lama.”
In January 2006, a Spanish court said that it would consider lawsuit a by a human rights group---the Madrid-based Committee to Support Tibet---that accused of leaders of China of committing genocide, crimes against humanity, torture and state terrorism in Tibet.
Indian support of the Tibetan government is a point of contention between India and China. See India and China, International Relations.
In March 2008, the Obama government issued a statement on the 50th anniversary of the failed 1959 Tibetan uprising that said: “The United States respects the territorial integrity of the People’s republic of China and considers Tibet to be part of China...At the same time, we are deeply concerned by the humans rights situation in Tibetan areas.”
Tibet, the West and China
Some have argued that Americans and European support for Tibetans ultimately hurts Tibetans more than it helps them because the support triggers feelings of nationalism and being unfairly accused among Chinese that manifests itself in anti-Tibetan feelings and hostility towards Tibetans and a lack of conciliatory moves by the government towards Tibet.
In the eyes of many Chinese Tibet has has been part of China longer than the United States has even been a country. They also take a dim view of the United States getting involved in the Tibetan issue in light of CIA support of anti-government Tibetan rebels in the 1960s and British adventures in Tibet as well in China during the Opium War period.
Money from Westerners has become an important source of income for building new temples and monasteries. Lamas that have followings overseas gain more prestige in Tibet. Many Chinese view Western sentiments towards Tibet as based more on a desire to weaken and break up China rather than doing the morally right thing in Tibet.
Rigzel Losel is the director of the Research Institute for Contemporary Tibet at the China Tibetology Research Center, “Like any scholar, I value academic freedom. I am concerned that some Western scholars of Tibet do not practice genuine academic research. Instead, they come with preconceptions.... A case in point is an American scholar I recently encountered at a forum in Tibet. When asked about China’s plan to invest 300 billion yuan in Tibet for the next five years, he immediately dismissed it as beneficial to the local Chinese population and unhelpful to the Tibetans. How could a serious scholar make such a foregone conclusion before he understands the details of the investment, and before it even starts?
Western Romanticized Views of Tibet
Dinah Gardner wrote in the South China Morning Post, The Western obsession with Tibet has long been the subject of academic study, and there are plenty of scholarly books on the subject - Prisoners of Shangri-La (1998) by Donald Lopez; Imagining Tibet: Perceptions, Projections and Fantasies (1996), a collection of essays; and Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri-La From the Himalayas to Hollywood (2000) by Orville Schell, to name a few. In contrast, Han Chinese fascination with Tibet has been little studied. [Source:Dinah Gardner, South China Morning Post, November 20, 2011]
"Romanticised views of Tibet among Westerners are scarcely mitigated by any knowledge of the nature of Tibetan society prior to the mid-20th century," says Barry Sautman, associate professor of social science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. "Few educated Han people lack such knowledge, and thus their romanticisation is somewhat tempered by it."
Seven Years in Tibet ---the 1997 Hollywood film, starring Brad Pitt, which paints the Tibet of the late 40s as a paradise of peace-loving Buddhists about to be crushed by the cruel Chinese Communists’sparked a huge outpouring of sympathy for Tibet's status and a fascination among young middle-class liberals in the West.
See Lost Horizon, Shangri-La, James Hilton and Films About Tibet Under Tibetan Literature and Media.
Spanish Judge Seeks Tibetan Genocide Charges
A Spanish judge is seeking the arrest of China's former president and premier over accusations of genocide in Tibet dating back the time of the 2008 Tibetan uprising. Reuters reported: “High court judge Ismael Moreno asked Interpol to issue orders for the detention of former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, ex-premier Li Peng and three other officials for questioning on charges brought by Tibetan rights groups in Spain. However, the case may not progress as Spain's ruling People's party is pushing rules to limit judges' ability to pursue cases under universal jurisdiction – the principle that crimes against humanity can be prosecuted across borders. [Source: Reuters, February 10, 2014 /=/]
“This is the same concept used by former judge Baltasar Garzón to bring about the arrest of Chile's ex-dictator Augusto Pinochet in London in 1998. Pinochet was eventually allowed to return to Chile for health reasons. "Jiang exercised supervisory authority over the people who directly committed abuses, which makes him responsible for acts of torture and other major abuses of human rights perpetrated by his subordinates against the people of Tibet," Moreno wrote in the order, citing lawyers for the Tibetan plaintiffs.” /=/
“Moreno asked Interpol to issue the arrest order seeking Jiang's detention for genocide, torture and crimes against humanity. He issued similar orders for Li and other Chinese officials in the 1980s and 1990s. Interpol, the international police organisation, issues "red notices" for wanted persons, based on judicial orders from courts in its 190 member countries. Police in member countries can detain wanted persons on their soil based on the alerts. China's foreign ministry called on Spain to prevent further lawsuits that seek to investigate alleged rights abuses in Tibet.” /=/
In November 2013, Associated Press reported: “Spain’s National Court issued arrest orders for former Chinese president Jiang Zemin and four other officials as part of a probe into alleged genocide by China against Tibet. The court said it accepted arguments from Spanish pro-Tibet rights groups that international reports indicate the five may have had a role in the alleged genocide and should be questioned. The five also include former prime minister Li Peng; former security and police chief Qiao Shi; Chen Kuiyan, a former Communist Party official in Tibet; and Pen Pelyun, ex-family planning minister. None has been formally charged.China has previously described the investigation as interference in its affairs and called the claims “sheer fabrication.” [Source: Associated Press, November 19, 2013 \*\]
“Former Chinese president Hu Jintao is also under investigation although his arrest has not been sought. When he was named in the probe, China’s Foreign Ministry said the Tibetan issue was a Chinese matter, adding that it hoped Spain would handle this issue properly. Spain’s legal system recognizes the universal justice principle, under which genocide suspects can be put on trial outside their home country. The policy allowed former judge Baltasar Garzon to try to chase late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. \*\
Alan Cantos, president of Spain’s Tibet Support Committee, which first pressed for the probe in 2008, expressed satisfaction with the court decision but was not overly optimistic that anyone would be brought to trial. “It’s not easy, but it’s a big step,” Cantos told The Associated Press. “They are stuck in their own country and a competent court is pointing the finger at them. It’s so they don’t have it too easy.” \*\
Tibet and the United States
In 2014, a U.S. State Department spokesman said that the United States remains “deeply concerned about continuing tensions and the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas of China” and that it will continue to urge the Chinese to “address the policies in Tibetan areas that have created tensions and that threaten the distinct religious, cultural, and linguistic identity of the Tibetan people.” [Source: Annie Gowen, Washington Post, October 19, 2014]
International attention to the issue from the Obama administration and other institutions has diminished, according to Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R.-Va.), who has advocated for Tibetans for years on Capitol Hill. Meanwhile, he said, China’s alleged abuses of ethnic and religious minorities have “There is a greater crackdown by China in many areas of human rights,” Wolf said. “There is nobody speaking out for any of them. There’s silence here in Washington. That’s your biggest problem.” [Ibid]
See the Dalai Lama
Image Sources: Julie Chao http://juliechao.com/pix-china.html , Tibet Train.com
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated July 2015