DALAI LAMA, CHINA, AUTONOMY AND INDEPENDENCE
Tablet with golden letters
in four langauges given to the
7th Dalai Lama from
the Chinese Emperor Beijing says the Dalai Lama is a "wolf in sheep's clothing" who seeks to use violent methods to establish an independent Tibet. The Dalai Lama says he only wants genuine autonomy for Tibet and denies advocating independence or violence. In 2018, the Dalai Lama said Tibet can exist within China in the same spirit as the European Union sticks together. "I always, you see, admire the spirit of (the) European Union," he said. He also expressed a desire to return to Tibet. [Source: Business Insider, March 17, 2018]
The Chinese want to retain territorial integrity and sovereignty. The Dalai Lama and Tibetans want meaningful autonomy. The Dalai Lama has repeatedly said that all he and Tibetans want are things already promised them in the Chinese constitution. After the riots in March 2008 the Dalai Lama said, ‘since our utmost concern is to safeguard Tibetan Buddhist culture as well as the Tibetan language and the unique Tibetan identity, we have worked whole heartedly towards achieving meaningful self-rule for all Tibetans. The PRC’s Constitution provides the right for nationalities such as Tibetans to do this.”
In the early years of his political activism, the Dalai Lama sometimes demanded Tibetan independence. He abandoned this demand in 1988 when, he said he was prepared to discuss a version of autonomy for Tibet in which Tibet would be part of a Chinese confederation and China would have control over foreign affairs and defense policy in Tibet as long as Tibet’s religion and culture are respected. The Dalai Lama has endorsed the "one country, two systems" arrangement that China and with Hong Kong and proposed a five-point plan to set up a similar arrangement in Tibet. this. For the most part the Dalai Lama’s proposals have been ignored by Beijing.
The Dalai Lama has said on many occasions he is willing to accept a degree of autonomy for Tibet under Chinese control. He uses the term “genuine Tibetan autonomy within a benevolent China” and has repeatedly told the Chinese leaders in Beijing that he wants to sit down with them without any preconditions and hammer out a workable solution for the Tibet problem. In the late 1990s, he said, "My position is clear. I am not seeking independence although Tibet is historically a separate country. My main concern is not just the political status’self rule, autonomy, or independence...The most important thing is the preservation of Tibetan Buddhist culture."
During the acceptance ceremony for the Nobel Prize, the Dalai Lama quoted Gandhi as a way of expressing his feelings towards the Chinese: "I speak without a feeling of anger or hatred towards those who are responsible of the immense suffering of our people and the destruction of our land, home and culture. They too are human beings who struggle to find happiness and search for our compassion." The Dalai Lama has said that he wants t make a pilgrimage to Mount Wutai, a group of sacred peaks in China, and meet with China’s leaders there.
The Dalai Lama has accused China of promoting "cultural genocide." "A kind of cultural genocide is taking place in Tibet," he told the French daily Le Monde. "Losing one's independence is acceptable, but losing one's culture, accepting the destruction of our spiritualism, of Tibetan Buddhism, is unthinkable.” In Taiwan the Dalai Lama said, "Until some degree of freedom or autonomy materializes, sooner or later Tibetan Buddhist culture will die. This is not party politics or power politics. The Dalai Lama has called on Tibetans to make a “concerted effort” to reach out to Chinese and win their sympathy to the Tibetan cause. He rejects even modest attempts to influence the Chinese government such as hunger strikes and economic boycotts. He has said, “I don’t dislike the Chinese, only their actions.” The Dalai Lama has been accused by some Tibetans of being too conciliatory with the Chinese leadership while the Chinese leadership has been accused of being too soft on Tibetans by many Chinese nationalist and ordinary Chinese.
Chinese Take on the Dalai Lama
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 also claim that the Dalai Lama has traditionally regarded the Chinese emperor as the Son of Heaven and they assert that visits by the 5th Dalai Lama and the 13th Dalai Lama to the Forbidden Palace to visit the Chinese emperors as "proof" as 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.
In 1959, Chinese authorities tore down the Dalai Lama's family home in Taktser and then had it rebuilt during negotiations for his return in 1986. The home is currently cared for by the Dalai Lama's cousin and around 4,000 pilgrims visit it each year. The Communist Chinese have not responded to the Dalai Lama’s non-violent methods as the arguably more conscious-driven colonial British responded to Gandhi’s non-violent methods.
According to the Chinese government: “The Dalai Lama title started in the sixth year of the Wanli period in the Ming dynasty (1587). Since then, it became an established rule that the incarnation of every generation of Living Buddha should be conferred by the central government. In the 16th year of the Qianlong period (1751), the Qing government authorized the Seventh Dalai to administer the local Tibet political power, and Dalai Lama became the most powerful political and religious leader of Tibet. In 1959, after the democratic reform, bound of politics and religion was strictly distinguished, and Dalai Lama's feudal privilege in politics was abolished. The Dalai Lama now is the 14th.” [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]
The Chinese government tries to spread a lot of propaganda, disinformation and outright lies about the Dalai Lama. In 2015, a Chinese official said the Dalai Lama supported Islamic State.
Chinese Take on the Incarnations of Lamas
According to the Chinese government: “Incarnation of Living Buddha is a system set up by the Tibetan Buddhism temple groups to solve the problem of succession of leader and to keep their vested interest. It stems from the statement of soul reincarnation and transmigration of life and death in Buddhism. "Living Buddha" is called "Zhugu" in Tibetan, which means "god and Buddha transform into mortal body". [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]
“The incarnation system of Living Buddha started from the Gamagaju Denomination of the Tibetan Buddhism. After the rising of the Gelu Denomination, monks were not allowed to get married, so they also adopted the incarnation system to solve the problem of inheritance of religious leader, which started from the Third Dalai Suonanjiacuo. Details are: after the passing away of the Living Buddha, according to indication of the Living Buddha before his death, clues provided in the will, and rites such as divination, vanquishing gods and observing holy lakes, members of the upper level of the temple find a number of babies who was born at the time when the Living Buddha died (called "incarnated boy"), and select one from them as the "incarnation". Because the person selected was always manipulated by the upper level groups, in the 57th year of the Qianlong period of the Qing Dynasty (1792), they stipulated that the method of "drawing lot from gold urn" was used to decide on the incarnation of the Living Buddha who was registered by the Court of Colonial Affairs, so as to prevent cheating. Lama in other middle-sized or small temple who enjoys prestige can find the child as incarnation by himself. ~
“For example, the Tenth Panchen E'erdeni Quejijianzan passed away in Rikeze in 1989, and they started the work of looking for the incarnation child at the same year. The State Council decided that the inquiring team was assumed by the democratic managing meeting of Zhashilunbu temple. The work was done strictly according to religious rites and procedure. The procedure includes such activities as chanting sutra and praying, observing reflections on lake, visiting clever and spiritual children secretly, and identifying things left behind by the Tenth Panchen. ~
“After careful selection by the inquiring team, three boys became candidates to take part in the lot drawing in gold urn, and the team earnestly required the government of the Tibet Autonomous Region to verity it and submitted a report asking for the ratification of the Stage Council. In 1995, the lot drawing from the gold urn decided that the six-year-old incarnated living Buddha Jianzannuobu in the Jiali County in the northern Tibet was the incarnation of the Tenth Panchen, and he was ratified by the Central People's Government as the Eleventh Panchen E'erdeni.” ~
Chinese Position on the Dalai Lama
The Chinese have not negotiated with Tibetan exiles since 1993. Beijing refers to the Dalai Lama as a "splittist" and "barbaric" dictator and has accused him of keeping 9 out 10 Tibetans in slavery and "drinking “wine from human skulls." The Chinese have even referred to the Dalai Lama as the “enemy of the Tibetan people.” In June 1998, a Communist official called the Dalai Lama a relic of the dark Ages who wound "send Tibet back into original serfdom, so dark, so savage, so cruel. The same year, according to Indian authorities, a Tibetan Chinese spy entered the Dalai Lama's palace during a monthly prayer hosted by the Dalai Lama at his palace, to scope out security for a possible future attack on his holiness.
The Chinese like to use transcripts of the Dalai Lama’s speeches to attack him or his positions. In many cases they use mistranslations of passages or words from the speeches to undermine his position. In one case the word for “freedom” was mistranslated as “independence” so the Dalai Lama’s call for “more freedom” for the Tibetan people was mistranslated as a call for “more independence.”
In the past the Dalai Lama has said that he will not return to Tibet until the Chinese have left but over the years has softened his position. The Chinese have invited the Dalai Lama back to Tibet on the condition he makes certain concessions — namely recognizing China's claim to Tibet. The Chinese are aware of what happens when exiles — like the Ayatollah Khomeini returning to Iran — return to their homelands.
Sometimes it seems that Beijing is simply trying to outlast the Dalai Lama and wait for him to die. It hopes that after he dies, disputes and quarreling sects will divide Tibetans and weaken their threat to the Communist party. The Dalai Lama told Newsweek, "I feel so healthy, I think I'm going to live to be 100. And if I do, then I'll die in a Free Tibet." One of Beijing’s worries is that if more autonomy is given to Tibet then other regions in China might want more autonomy too and China as it exists today might collapse like the former Soviet Union.
Dalai Lama’s Lost Opportunities to Negotiate with China
In the 2000s, the Chinese government said that it is open to the idea of the Dalai Lama returning to China and living in Beijing. Beijing secretly floated the idea having the Dalai Lama visit China to participate in a memorial service for victims of the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 but no definite action was taken. It would have been the first time the Dalai Lama set foot in China in 50 years but was not acted on. The Chinese have invited the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet In 1983, the Chinese government announced that if the Dalai Lama returned he world be given a "desk job in Beijing." In 1988, China offered to let the Dalai Lama come to China to attend the funeral of the Panchan Lama. The Dalai Lama declined and the offer has since been withdrawn. The Dalai Lama is also concerned that he returns it will legitimatizes Chinese rule over Tibet.
In 1989, the year he won the Nobel Peace Prize and hundreds were killed around Tiananmen Square, Beijing authorities invited the Dalai Lama to make his first trip China in decades, to attend the funeral of a high-ranking lama. But his advisers worried that accepting the trip could weaken his bargaining position and he declined, a decision that senior aides now regret.
Some scholars have said this episode demonstrated the Dalai Lama's unwillingness to make the compromises needed to reach a resolution with Beijing. Melvyn Goldstein, a Tibet scholar at Case Western Reserve University, told The New Yorker the Dalai Lama's ostensible successes at building support in the West "look more and more like Pyrrhic victories." Of the decision to appoint a Panchen Lama, Goldstein writes, "From China's perspective, once again, at a critical time, the Dalai Lama had thumbed his nose at Beijing." [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, October 4, 2010]
China Rebuilds the Dalai Lama's Village
“Beijing has recently rebuilt the Dalai Lama's birth village’ Takster in Qinghai Province — with modern houses. All 54 houses in Taktser have been rebuilt at state cost, and in an attempt to win the hearts of the Dalai Lama's followers, the new homes have been designed with traditional Tibetan flourishes. Every Tibetan household was consulted for its requirements before the overhaul, said Dong Jie, head of the Civil Affairs Bureau of Ping'An County, who oversaw the project.”[Source: Saransh Sehgal, Asia Times, October 5, 2010]
“Chinese officials boast of how the place has improved since the time the Dalai Lama lived there. The old Tibetan homes have been replaced with modern structures of brick and strong timber, says Xing Fuhua, chief official of Shihuiyao township, which administers Hong'Ai. The village now has roads and a stable power and water supply, although it is still not connected to the world via the Internet.”
“One of the rebuilt homes is that of Gongpo Tashi, a Tibetan whose main job is to maintain the birthplace of his uncle, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. A state media report quoted Gongpo, who still awaits the Dalai Lama to return Tibet, as saying, “If I call him some day, I will definitely tell him of the changes at home.” Gongpo has visited the Dalai Lama twice in India, but says he has not contacted his uncle for a while. He is not sure the Dalai Lama will ever see the changes. “Am I waiting for his return? Well, if he is back, all problems will be solved,” Gongpo said.
Easing of Tensions Between Tibet and the Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama said in 2008, “The main thing is to preserve our culture, to preserve the character of the Tibetans. This is the most important thing not politics.” He has also said that “our nation’s problems can no longer be satisfactorily solved by itself alone and says he wants a Hong-Kong-like “one country, two systems” model. The Dalai Lama has said that if a settlement between China and Tibetans is reached he would abandon his role as a political figure and would coordinate his movements and activities in Tibet with the Chinese government to ensure there are no problems.
The Dalai Lama has showed his willingness to accept three of China’s demands: 1) abandon requests for independence; 2) halt separatist movements; and 3) and accept the legitimacy of the Chinese government. On a forth demand, that Tibetans concede that Taiwan is an integral part of China, the Dalai Lama said the Taiwanese should decide that issue.
The Communist Party government held nine rounds of dialogue with the Dalai Lama’s envoys from 2002 to 2010 but the process produced no visible results. Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari is the Dalai Lama’s top envoy in Washington. He and fellow Tibetan Kelsang Gyaltsen have served as the Dalai Lama’s envoys to Beijing.
In the early 2000s, the Dalai Lama’s elder brother visited Beijing for secret talks after being invited by the Chinese government. He was allowed to visit Tibet. Beijing also hosted personal envoys of the Dalai Lama, described by the Tibet government in exile as “bridge building agents,” in September 2002 and May 2003. Before these meeting representatives of China and Tibet had not met since 1993.
In 2014, the Dalai Lama said he was in informal talks with the Chinese to return home on a pilgrimage. The Chinese quickly refuted those comments, with a Foreign Ministry spokesman saying the Dalai Lama should give up “splitting China” before his future can be resolved, according to Agence France-Presse, the French news agency. [Source: Annie Gowen, Washington Post, October 19, 2014 ***]
Communist Officials in Tibet Punished for Helping Dalai Lama
In January 2015, in a highly unusual move, investigators announced that they had found 15 Communist Party officials in Tibet joined underground Tibetan independence organizations, provided intelligence to the Dalai Lama and his supporters or participated in activities deemed harmful to China's security, a party agency said. [Source: Louise Watt, Associated Press, January 28, 2015]
Louise Watt of Associated Press reported: “The involvement was uncovered in 2014 during an investigation of a small group of party officials, according to a statement from the Communist Party Disciplinary Commission of Tibet posted on its website. Fifteen officials received unspecified punishment for violating party and political discipline, the commission said. The commission's statement gave no details of the groups that the party members joined, the intelligence they provided or other activities that would have harmed national security. While details such as the name of the officials punished were not provided, it is likely they were ethnic Tibetans.
“A discipline investigator, Ye Dongsong, was quoted in the party-run Global Times newspaper as saying that the Tibetan regional government should focus on neutralizing separatists, maintaining social stability and more strictly monitoring projects in the region. The announcement follows warnings of stiff punishments for those who offer support to the Dalai Lama or Tibetan separatism, and shows that the government has failed to eradicate support for the spiritual leader, even among party officials, said Kate Saunders, communications director for the Washington, D.C.-based International Campaign for Tibet. She said that failure has come despite efforts to guide people in the region into being more "patriotic and progressive.""The Chinese government is literally seeking to replace loyalty to the Dalai Lama in Tibetan hearts and minds with allegiance to the Chinese Party-state," she said.
Image Sources: White House, Dalai Lama 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.
Last updated September 2022