Tibet: China Strikes Back + Tibetan monks embarrass China (videos)

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Global Pulse

China launched a propaganda war as the Olympic torch was kindled. Tibetans were shown beating up Han Chinese and looting shops, juxtaposed with picturesque features on Chinese guarantees of freedom for Buddhists. Chinese nationalism has been stoked, but the path of the Olympic torch is already rife with dissent.

SOURCES: TV5, France; Al Jazeera English, Qatar; BBC, U.K.; Fox News and ABC News, U.S.; Asia Today and China Today, China.

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Monks disrupt Tibet media visit

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BBC
27 March 2008, 05:00 GMT

Tibetan monks have disrupted a tour by the first foreign journalists invited by China to visit Lhasa since protests erupted two weeks ago, witnesses say.

About 30 monks shouted pro-Tibetan slogans and defended the Dalai Lama as journalists toured the Jokhang Temple, an Associated Press reporter said.

China has accused the Dalai Lama of masterminding the protests.

But US President George W Bush has urged Beijing to begin dialogue with Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader.

…continued

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

How To Resolve The Tibet Crisis by Eric Margolis

Dandelion Salad

by Eric Margolis
March 24, 2008

The current Tibetan rebellion against Chinese rule has captured world attention and sympathy. Protests from Katmandu to New York have ensured it stays on TV screens almost everywhere – except China, of course.

China’s government, which has been preparing a massive, carefully orchestrated Olympic summer extravaganza in Beijing, has been deeply embarrassed and lost a great deal of face. The latest Tibetan `intifada’ erupted just after China’s party congress was celebrating the nation’s economic upsurge and orderly development.

Who is right about Tibet? Beijing claims Tibet has always been and remains an integral part of China. The Dalai Lama, insists Beijing, is a dangerous `splittist’ fomenting rebellion with Western help. Chinese civilians have been attacked by Tibetan mobs, says Beijing.

The Dalai Lama, his followers, and international supporters assert China is conducting `cultural genocide’ in Tibet by bringing in settlers and drowning its ancient Buddhist traditions in a flood of Han Chinese newcomers.

Is Tibet historically part of China, as Beijing claims? Yes and no. The thirteenth century Mongol emperors adopted Tibetan Buddhism as their new state religion and hailed the Dalai Lama as their `teacher’ and spiritual guide. When the Ming Dynasty took power in China around 1370, it adopted and continued this `priest-ruler’ relationship.

Tibet’s Buddhist theocracy recognized the ultimate political mastery of China’s emperor, while he recognized the spiritual primacy of the Dalai Lama in Lhasa and Tibet’s total autonomy. Lhasa became the Vatican for the Mongol Empire and China’s Ming Empire.

In 1913, while China was in chaos, Tibet, backed by the British Empire, declared independence. War-torn China had no chance to reassert its claim to Tibet until the end of the civil war in May, 1950. Four months later, China’s People’s Army invaded Tibet and declared it `reunited’ to China. Many Tibetans, particularly the warlike Champa, resisted furiously. A year earlier, Chinese troops had invaded and crushed the independent, four-year old Muslim Republic of East Turkistan – today called Xinjiang – whose Turkic-Mongol Uighurs, long fought Chinese rule and Han Chinese immigration.

The world laments for the Tibetan cause, but utterly ignores the unfashionable cause of Tibet’s northern neighbors, the Uighurs. After 2001, the Bush Administration even branded Muslim Uighur resistance movements `terrorists.’

How many Tibetans are there? China has obscured census figures. When I met with the Dalai Lama, who inspired my book, `War at the Top of the World’ – which is in part about Tibet – he told me there were over seven million Tibetans. About three million are in Tibet proper, and the rest in the neighboring Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai, to which protests have spread. The last two Chinese provinces used to form part of historical Tibet.

A primary cause of the Tibetan `intifada’ is continuing settlement by Han Chinese. After what I call `ethnic inundation,’ ethnic Chinese settlers now outnumber Tibetans. The same process of inundation occurred in Inner Mongolia, whose people are ethnically close to Tibetans.

But we should be aware that China has also uplifted Tibet from frightful poverty and medieval superstition, brought education, hospitals, electricity, roads, and ended widespread serfdom. Last year, a remarkable new high altitude rail line linked Lhasa to Beijing.

When I last visited Tibet in 1993, people came up and begged me with tears in their eyes for a photo of their beloved exiled Dalai Lama. I saw anti-Chinese demonstrations in Lhasa, and regiments of Chinese paramilitary police and soldiers. Resistance has simmered for decades. Now, the pot has boiled over.

So far, China, keenly aware of the upcoming Olympics and its world image, has been fairly restrained so far in suppressing the uprising. As of this writing, the uprising appears to be abating. But if it flares anew and gets out of hand, China will use much more force.

Another danger: China’s giant rival, India, would dearly like to drive China from the strategic Tibetan Plateau, which looms over northern India. China has built a score of air and missile bases in Tibet that deeply alarm India. Growing unrest could tempt India to back Tibetan resistance. In the late 1940’s, India also had its eye on Tibet but lacked the military power to take action. But it seems likely that had not China annexed Tibet, it would have become an Indian protectorate, like those other forgotten Himalayan kingdoms, Bhutan, Sikkim and Ladakh (known as `little Tibet’).

Any Indian or American move to destabilize Chinese rule over Tibet would be met with a fierce response from Beijing, which considers the Tibetan plateau its most militarily sensitive region after the coastal stretch of territory opposite Taiwan and the Beijing military region.

So what can the world do? Some EU members urge boycotting the Olympic opening ceremonies. Similar calls are coming from North America. Others demand outright trade sanctions.

Such overt action won’t work. China will never voluntarily relinquish control of Tibet. No one is going to tell China what to do. A face-saving compromise needs to be found for this confrontation.

The best solution is the one proposed by the Dalai Lama: Beijing restores the old `priest-ruler’ relationship. Tibet recognizes China’s political mastery and military presence, China accepts Tibet’s genuine internal autonomy, ceases Han immigration, and allows the Dalai Lama to return.

As globalization plays an ever larger role in China’s economy, its positive image abroad is extremely important. Stomping on Tibet is counter-productive. Beijing should respond with patience, and accord the Dalai Lama, a fierce pacifist and great soul, the same reverence and respect as did the Mongol and Ming emperors.

copyright Eric S. Margolis 2008

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

see

Tibet, the ‘great game’ and the CIA

The Role of the CIA: Behind the Dalai Lama’s Holy Cloak (2007)

“Democratic Imperialism”: Tibet, China & the National Endowment for Democracy (2007)

Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth by Dr. Michael Parenti (01.02.07)

US cops beat the sh*t out of Tibetans (03.17.08)

BBC Pictures of Tibetans killed in uprising in Ngawa, Amdho

Steve Chao in Bora, Amdho (Gansu province) + Clash that ’sparked’ Tibet’s violent protests

Tibet, the ‘great game’ and the CIA

Dandelion Salad

by Richard M Bennett
Global Research, March 25, 2008
Asia Times

Given the historical context of the unrest in Tibet, there is reason to believe Beijing was caught on the hop with the recent demonstrations for the simple reason that their planning took place outside of Tibet and that the direction of the protesters is similarly in the hands of anti-Chinese organizers safely out of reach in Nepal and northern India.

Similarly, the funding and overall control of the unrest has also been linked to Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, and by inference to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) because of his close cooperation with US intelligence for over 50 years.

Indeed, with the CIA’s deep involvement with the Free Tibet Movement and its funding of the suspiciously well-informed Radio Free Asia, it would seem somewhat unlikely that any revolt could have been planned or occurred without the prior knowledge, and even perhaps the agreement, of the National Clandestine Service (formerly known as the Directorate of Operations) at CIA headquarters in Langley.

Respected columnist and former senior Indian Intelligence officer, B Raman, commented on March 21 that “on the basis of available evidence, it was possible to assess with a reasonable measure of conviction” that the initial uprising in Lhasa on March 14 “had been pre-planned and well orchestrated”.

Could there be a factual basis to the suggestion that the main beneficiaries to the death and destruction sweeping Tibet are in Washington? History would suggest that this is a distinct possibility.

The CIA conducted a large scale covert action campaign against the communist Chinese in Tibet starting in 1956. This led to a disastrous bloody uprising in 1959, leaving tens of thousands of Tibetans dead, while the Dalai Lama and about 100,000 followers were forced to flee across the treacherous Himalayan passes to India and Nepal.

The CIA established a secret military training camp for the Dalai Lama’s resistance fighters at Camp Hale near Leadville, Colorado, in the US. The Tibetan guerrillas were trained and equipped by the CIA for guerrilla warfare and sabotage operations against the communist Chinese.

The US-trained guerrillas regularly carried out raids into Tibet, on occasions led by CIA-contract mercenaries and supported by CIA planes. The initial training program ended in December 1961, though the camp in Colorado appears to have remained open until at least 1966.

The CIA Tibetan Task Force created by Roger E McCarthy, alongside the Tibetan guerrilla army, continued the operation codenamed “ST CIRCUS” to harass the Chinese occupation forces for another 15 years until 1974, when officially sanctioned involvement ceased.

McCarthy, who also served as head of the Tibet Task Force at the height of its activities from 1959 until 1961, later went on to run similar operations in Vietnam and Laos.

By the mid-1960s, the CIA had switched its strategy from parachuting guerrilla fighters and intelligence agents into Tibet to establishing the Chusi Gangdruk, a guerrilla army of some 2,000 ethnic Khamba fighters at bases such as Mustang in Nepal.

This base was only closed down in 1974 by the Nepalese government after being put under tremendous pressure by Beijing.

After the Indo-China War of 1962, the CIA developed a close relationship with the Indian intelligence services in both training and supplying agents in Tibet.

Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison in their book The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet disclose that the CIA and the Indian intelligence services cooperated in the training and equipping of Tibetan agents and special forces troops and in forming joint aerial and intelligence units such as the Aviation Research Center and Special Center.

This collaboration continued well into the 1970s and some of the programs that it sponsored, especially the special forces unit of Tibetan refugees which would become an important part of the Indian Special Frontier Force, continue into the present.

Only the deterioration in relations with India which coincided with improvements in those with Beijing brought most of the joint CIA-Indian operations to an end.

Though Washington had been scaling back support for the Tibetan guerrillas since 1968, it is thought that the end of official US backing for the resistance only came during meetings between president Richard Nixon and the Chinese communist leadership in Beijing in February 1972.

Victor Marchetti, a former CIA officer has described the outrage many field agents felt when Washington finally pulled the plug, adding that a number even “[turned] for solace to the Tibetan prayers which they had learned during their years with the Dalai Lama”.

The former CIA Tibetan Task Force chief from 1958 to 1965, John Kenneth Knaus, has been quoted as saying, “This was not some CIA black-bag operation.” He added, “The initiative was coming from … the entire US government.”

In his book Orphans of the Cold War, Knaus writes of the obligation Americans feel toward the cause of Tibetan independence from China. Significantly, he adds that its realization “would validate the more worthy motives of we who tried to help them achieve this goal over 40 years ago. It would also alleviate the guilt some of us feel over our participation in these efforts, which cost others their lives, but which were the prime adventure of our own.”

Despite the lack of official support it is still widely rumored that the CIA were involved, if only by proxy, in another failed revolt in October 1987, the unrest that followed and the consequent Chinese repression continuing till May 1993.

The timing for another serious attempt to destabilize Chinese rule in Tibet would appear to be right for the CIA and Langley will undoubtedly keep all its options open.

China is faced with significant problems, with the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province; the activities of the Falun Gong among many other dissident groups and of course growing concern over the security of the Summer Olympic Games in August.

China is viewed by Washington as a major threat, both economic and military, not just in Asia, but in Africa and Latin America as well.

The CIA also views China as being “unhelpful” in the “war on terror”, with little or no cooperation being offered and nothing positive being done to stop the flow of arms and men from Muslim areas of western China to support Islamic extremist movements in Afghanistan and Central Asian states.

To many in Washington, this may seem the ideal opportunity to knock the Beijing government off balance as Tibet is still seen as China’s potential weak spot.

The CIA will undoubtedly ensure that its fingerprints are not discovered all over this growing revolt. Cut-outs and proxies will be used among the Tibetan exiles in Nepal and India’s northern border areas.

Indeed, the CIA can expect a significant level of support from a number of security organizations in both India and Nepal and will have no trouble in providing the resistance movement with advice, money and above all, publicity.

However, not until the unrest shows any genuine signs of becoming an open revolt by the great mass of ethnic Tibetans against the Han Chinese and Hui Muslims will any weapons be allowed to appear.

Large quantities of former Eastern bloc small arms and explosives have been reportedly smuggled into Tibet over the past 30 years, but these are likely to remain safely hidden until the right opportunity presents itself.

The weapons have been acquired on the world markets or from stocks captured by US or Israeli forces. They have been sanitized and are deniable, untraceable back to the CIA.

Weapons of this nature also have the advantage of being interchangeable with those used by the Chinese armed forces and of course use the same ammunition, easing the problem of resupply during any future conflict.

Though official support for the Tibetan resistance ended 30 years ago, the CIA has kept open its lines of communications and still funds much of the Tibetan Freedom movement.

So is the CIA once again playing the “great game” in Tibet?

It certainly has the capability, with a significant intelligence and paramilitary presence in the region. Major bases exist in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and several Central Asian states.

It cannot be doubted that it has an interest in undermining China, as well as the more obvious target of Iran.

So the probable answer is yes, and indeed it would be rather surprising if the CIA was not taking more than just a passing interest in Tibet. That is after all what it is paid to do.

Since September 11, 2001, there has been a sea-change in US Intelligence attitudes, requirements and capabilities. Old operational plans have been dusted off and updated. Previous assets re-activated. Tibet and the perceived weakness of China’s position there will probably have been fully reassessed.

For Washington and the CIA, this may seem a heaven-sent opportunity to create a significant lever against Beijing, with little risk to American interests; simply a win-win situation.

The Chinese government would be on the receiving end of worldwide condemnation for its continuing repression and violation of human rights and it will be young Tibetans dying on the streets of Lhasa rather than yet more uniformed American kids.

The consequences of any open revolt against Beijing, however, are that once again the fear of arrest, torture and even execution will pervade every corner of both Tibet and those neighboring provinces where large Tibetan populations exist, such as Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan.

And the Tibetan Freedom movement still has little likelihood of achieving any significant improvement in central Chinese policy in the long run and no chance whatever of removing its control of Lhasa and their homeland.

Once again it would appear that the Tibetan people will find themselves trapped between an oppressive Beijing and a manipulative Washington.

Beijing sends in the heavies The fear that the United States, Britain and other Western states may try to portray Tibet as another Kosovo may be part of the reason why the Chinese authorities reacted as if faced with a genuine mass revolt rather than their official portrayal of a short-lived outbreak of unrest by malcontents supporting the Dalai Lama.

Indeed, so seriously did Beijing view the situation that a special security coordination unit, the 110 Command Center, has been established in Lhasa with the primary objective of suppressing the disturbances and restoring full central government control.

The center appears to be under the direct control of Zhang Qingli, first secretary of the Tibet Party and a President Hu Jintao loyalist. Zhang is also the former Xinjiang deputy party secretary with considerable experience in counter-terrorism operations in that region.

Others holding important positions in Lhasa are Zhang Xinfeng, vice minister of the Central Public Security Ministry and Zhen Yi, deputy commander of the People’s Armed Police Headquarters in Beijing.

The seriousness with which Beijing is treating the present unrest is further illustrated by the deployment of a large number of important army units from the Chengdu Military Region, including brigades from the 149th Mechanized Infantry Division, which acts as the region’s rapid reaction force.

According to a United Press International report, elite ground force units of the People’s Liberation Army were involved in Lhasa, and the new T-90 armored personnel carrier and T-92 wheeled armored vehicles were deployed. According to the report, China has denied the participation of the army in the crackdown, saying it was carried out by units of the armed police. “Such equipment as mentioned above has never been deployed by China’s armed police, however.”

Air support is provided by the 2nd Army Aviation Regiment, based at Fenghuangshan, Chengdu, in Sichuan province. It operates a mix of helicopters and STOL transports from a frontline base near Lhasa. Combat air support could be quickly made available from fighter ground attack squadrons based within the Chengdu region.

The Xizang Military District forms the Tibet garrison, which has two mountain infantry units; the 52nd Brigade based at Linzhi and the 53rd Brigade at Yaoxian Shannxi. These are supported by the 8th Motorized Infantry Division and an artillery brigade at Shawan, Xinjiang.

Tibet is also no longer quite as remote or difficult to resupply for the Chinese army. The construction of the first railway between 2001 and 2007 has significantly eased the problems of the movement of large numbers of troops and equipment from Qinghai onto the rugged Tibetan plateau.

Other precautions against a resumption of the long-term Tibetan revolts of previous years has led to a considerable degree of self-sufficiency in logistics and vehicle repair by the Tibetan garrison and an increasing number of small airfields have been built to allow rapid-reaction units to gain access to even the most remote areas.

The Chinese Security Ministry and intelligence services had been thought to have a suffocating presence in the province and indeed the ability to detect any serious protest movement and suppress resistance.

Richard M Bennett is an intelligence and security consultant, AFI Research.

The CRG grants permission to cross-post original Global Research articles on community internet sites as long as the text & title are not modified. The source and the author’s copyright must be displayed. For publication of Global Research articles in print or other forms including commercial internet sites, contact: crgeditor@yahoo.com

www.globalresearch.ca contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to our readers under the provisions of “fair use” in an effort to advance a better understanding of political, economic and social issues. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes other than “fair use” you must request permission from the copyright owner.

For media inquiries: crgeditor@yahoo.com
© Copyright Richard M Bennett, Asia Times, 2008
The url address of this article is: www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=8442


see

The Role of the CIA: Behind the Dalai Lama’s Holy Cloak (2007)

“Democratic Imperialism”: Tibet, China & the National Endowment for Democracy (2007)

Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth by Dr. Michael Parenti (01.02.07)

US cops beat the sh*t out of Tibetans (03.17.08)

BBC Pictures of Tibetans killed in uprising in Ngawa, Amdho

Steve Chao in Bora, Amdho (Gansu province) + Clash that ’sparked’ Tibet’s violent protests

US cops beat the sh*t out of Tibetans (03.17.08)

Dandelion Salad

Warning

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This video may contain images depicting the reality and horror of war/violence and should only be viewed by a mature audience.

alexdech

US cops beat the shit out of Tibetans in front of the UN building, shot by a white free-Tibet warrior.

more info about what is NOW going on in Tibet, please read the blog by a Canadian tourist in Lhasa:
http://kadfly.blogspot.com/

Vodpod videos no longer available. from www.youtube.com posted with vodpod

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h/t: Mary and Colby

see

The Role of the CIA: Behind the Dalai Lama’s Holy Cloak (2007)

“Democratic Imperialism”: Tibet, China & the National Endowment for Democracy (2007)

Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth by Dr. Michael Parenti (01.02.07)

BBC Pictures of Tibetans killed in uprising in Ngawa, Amdho

Steve Chao in Bora, Amdho (Gansu province) + Clash that ’sparked’ Tibet’s violent protests

The Role of the CIA: Behind the Dalai Lama’s Holy Cloak (2007) (article removed)

Dandelion Salad

Here is a similar post:

Risky Geopolitical Game: Washington Plays ‘Tibet Roulette’ with China by F. William Engdahl

Note: due to copyright issues, this article has been removed from here and Global Research, please read the comments below. ~ Lo

by Michael Backman
Global Research, March 23, 2008
http://www.theage.com – 2007-05-23

Global Research Editor’s note

This incisive article by Michael Backman outlines the relationship of the Dalai Lama and his organization to US intelligence.

The Dalai Lama has been on the CIA payroll since the late 1950s. He is an instrument of US intelligence.

An understanding of this longstanding relationship to the CIA is essential, particuarly in the light of recent events. In all likelihood US intelligence was behind the protest movement, organized to occur a few months prior to the Beijing Olympic games. — M. C. 23 March 2008

[Article removed]

see

Evading spies in Tibet + Secret report from the roof of the world

Dispatches: Undercover in Tibet (video)

Risky Geopolitical Game: Washington Plays ‘Tibet Roulette’ with China by F. William Engdahl

“Democratic Imperialism”: Tibet, China & the National Endowment for Democracy (2007)

Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth by Dr. Michael Parenti (01.02.07)

BBC Pictures of Tibetans killed in uprising in Ngawa, Amdho

Steve Chao in Bora, Amdho (Gansu province) + Clash that ’sparked’ Tibet’s violent protests

BBC: Undercover filming near Tibet

Dandelion Salad

marchtotibet

BBC: Undercover filming near Tibet (Hezou, Amdo) 

The BBC’s James Reynolds reports from Gansu Province, China, defying a ban on foreign media covering the Tibet protests.

Vodpod videos no longer available. from www.youtube.com posted with vodpod

.

see

“Democratic Imperialism”: Tibet, China & the National Endowment for Democracy

Steve Chao in Bora, Amdho (Gansu province) + Clash that ’sparked’ Tibet’s violent protests

“Democratic Imperialism”: Tibet, China & the National Endowment for Democracy (2007)

Dandelion Salad

by Michael Barker
Global Research, August 13, 2007

People familiar with Asian history will be aware that during Tibet’s popular uprising against their Chinese occupiers in 1959, his Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama (then aged 23), escaped from his homeland of Tibet to live in exile in India. Subsequently, the Dalai Lama formed a Tibetan government-in-exile, and to this day the Dalai Lama and his government remain in exile. The Dalai Lama’s tireless efforts to draw international attention to the Tibetan cause received a welcome boost in 1989 when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and since then the Dalai Lama has been able to demand sustained media attention (globally) to his ongoing non-violent struggle for a free Tibet. This part of Tibetan history is fairly uncontroversial, but a part of Tibet’s story that less people will be familiar with is Tibet’s historical links to the US’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Indeed, as Carole McGranahan (2006) notes “[t]he case of Tibet presents a mostly unexplored example of covert Cold War military intervention.”[1]

While in recent years far more information has been made available concerning the CIA’s violent linkages with Tibetan forces, to date only one article has examined the connection between Tibet’s current independence campaigners and an organization that maintains close ties with the CIA, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

A Brief History of CIA-Tibetan Relations

In 1951, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army entered Lhasa (Tibet’s capital) and proceeded to force the Dalai Lama’s government to sign a “Plan for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet”, which effectively ratified the Chinese occupation of Tibet. This action combined with the ensuing Chinese repression of Tibetan activists subsequently inspired a popular revolution, which owing to its anticommunist orientation drew upon strong support from the CIA.[2] As Jim Mann (1999) notes, “during the 1950s and 60s, the CIA actively backed the Tibetan cause with arms, military training, money, air support and all sorts of other help.”[3] Furthermore, as Michael Parenti (2004) has observed at the same time:

“… in the United States, the American Society for a Free Asia, a CIA front, energetically publicized the cause of Tibetan resistance, with the Dalai Lama’s eldest brother, Thubtan Norbu, playing an active role in that group. The Dalai Lama’s second-eldest brother, Gyalo Thondup, established an intelligence operation with the CIA in 1951 [although CIA aid was only formally established in 1956]. He later upgraded it into a CIA-trained guerrilla unit whose recruits parachuted back into Tibet.”[4]

Indeed, according to formerly secret US intelligence documents (released in the late 1990s), it turned out that “[f]or much of the 1960s, the CIA provided the Tibetan exile movement with $1.7 million a year for operations against China, including an annual subsidy of $180,000 for the Dalai Lama”.[5] By 1969, however, it appears that covert support for the Tibetan cause had either served its geopolitical purpose (or it was decided that these operations were simply no longer effective), and the CIA announced the withdrawal of its aid for the Tibetan revolutionaries. That said, support for the Tibetan freedom fighters was still provided by the Indian and Taiwanese governments “until 1974, two years after President Richard Nixon normalized U.S. relations with China” (as were the U.S. subsidies for the Dalai Lama, which also continued until 1974): however, thereafter – especially once the Dalai Lama urged the fighters to put down their weapons – the violent resistance collapsed and the “CIA quietly paid to resettle the survivors”.[6] With the apparent end of CIA operations in Tibet, John Kraus (2003) observes that although:

“…President Ford ended the U.S. government’s involvement with Tibet as part of its Cold War strategy. The next phase of the U.S. relationship with the Dalai Lama and his people was to be cast in terms of a contest between human rights and political engagement with China.”[7]

Thus Kraus adds that in 1979 the Dalai Lama was “finally granted a visa by President Jimmy Carter… to visit the United States” and the “Tibetan cause then found new sponsors in a bipartisan group of senators, members of Congress, and congressional staff assistants who worked with the Dalai Lama’s entourage to focus the attention of successive U.S. administrations and a responsive world community on the Tibet situation”. As this article will demonstrate, a large part of this freedom work is presently being actively supported by the NED, so the following section will now examine this organization and it anti-democratic history.

The National Endowment for Democracy: Revisiting the CIA Connection

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was established in 1984 with bipartisan support during President Reagan’s administration to “foster the infrastructure of democracy – the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities” around the world.[8] Considering Reagan’s well documented misunderstanding of what constitutes democratic governance,[9] it is fitting that Allen Weinstein, the NEDs first acting president, observed that in fact “A lot of what we [the NED] do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA”.[10] So for example, it is not surprising that during the 1990 elections in Nicaragua it is has been estimated that “for every dollar of NED or AID funding there were several dollars of CIA funding”.[11]

By building upon the pioneering work of liberal philanthropists (like the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations’) – who have a long history of co-opting progressive social movements – it appears that the NED was envisaged by US foreign policy elites to be a more suitable way to provide strategic funding to nongovernmental organizations than via covert CIA funding.[12] Indeed, the NED’s ‘new’ emphasis on overt funding of geostrategically useful groups, as opposed to the covert funding, appears to have leant an aura of respect to the NED’s work, and has enabled them, for the most part, to avoid much critical commentary in the mainstream media.

The seminal book exposing the NED’s ‘democratic’ modus operandi, is William I. Robinson’s (1996) Promoting Polyarchy, which as it’s title suggests, lays out the argument that instead of promoting more participatory forms of democracy, the NED actually works to promote polyarchy. Robinson argues that the NED’s active promotion of polyarchy or low-intensity democracy “is aimed not only at mitigating the social and political tensions produced by elite-based and undemocratic status quos, but also at suppressing popular and mass aspirations for more thoroughgoing democratisation of social life in the twenty-first century international order.” His book furnishes detailed examples of how the NED has successfully imposed polyarchal arrangements on four countries, Chile, Nicaragua, the Philippines, and Haiti; while similarly, Barker (2006) has illustrated the NED’s anti-democratic involvement in facilitating and manipulating the ‘colour revolutions’ which recently swept across Eastern Europe. More recently, both Barker and Gerald Sussman (2006) have provided detailed examinations’ of how the NED works to promote a low intensity public sphere (globally) through its selective funding of media organizations.[13] This article will now extend these three initial studies by critically examining the NED’s support for Tibetan media projects from 1990 onwards.

‘Democacy Promoters’ and Tibet

The International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) was founded in 1988 and is a non-profit membership organization with offices in Washington, DC, Amsterdam, Berlin and Brussels. Their website notes that they “fundamentally believe that there must be a political solution based on direct dialogue between the Dalai Lama and his representatives and the People’s Republic of China.” ICT received their first NED grant (of the 1990s) in 1994 to:

“…enhance Chinese knowledge of Tibet by contributing articles about Tibet to newspapers and magazines within China and abroad; translating books about Tibet into Chinese; and facilitating a series of discussion meetings among key Chinese and Tibetan figures, focusing on bringing Chinese journalists and pro-democracy leaders together with Tibetan leaders in exile.”

Since then, the ICT has received regular support from the NED, obtaining subsequent grants in 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003 (all for media work except the 1997 grant). Like many groups that obtain NED aid, ICT are not afraid to boast of their ‘democratic’ connections, and in 2005 they even awarded one of their annual Light of Truth awards to the president of the NED, Carl Gershman. Furthermore, the year before (in 2004) ICT gave the same award to both Vaclav Havel (who had received the NED’s Democracy Award in 1991, and serves on the advisory board of the Project on Justice in Times of Transition), and also to one of the earliest ‘democracy promoting’ organizations, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. (For a summary of the key ‘democratic’ connections of the Project on Justice in Times of Transition and all the other groups mentioned in this article see, Barker (2007) Hijacking Human Rights: A Critical Examination of Human Rights Watch’s Americas Branch and their Links to the ‘Democracy’ Establishment. Due to this article’s heavy reliance on internet sources most links have been omitted from the paper, however, a fully referenced paper can be obtained from the author upon request.)

Some of ICT’s directors are also integral members of the ‘democracy promoting’ establishment, and include Bette Bao Lord (who is the chair of Freedom House, and a director of Freedom Forum),[14] Gare A. Smith (who has previously served as principal deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor), Julia Taft (who is a former director of the NED, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State and Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, has worked for USAID, and has also served as the President and CEO of InterAction), and finally, Mark Handelman (who is also a director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights, an organization whose work is ideologically linked to the NED’s longstanding interventions in Haiti).[15] The ICT’s board of advisors also presents two individuals who are closely linked to the NED, Harry Wu, and Qiang Xiao (who is the former executive director of the NED-funded Human Rights in China).[16] Like their board of directors, ICT’s international council of advisors includes many ‘democratic’ notables like Vaclav Havel, Fang Lizhi (who in 1995 – at least – was a board member of Human Rights in China), Jose Ramos-Horta (who serves on the international advisory board for the Democracy Coalition Project), Kerry Kennedy (who is a director of the NED-funded China Information Center), Vytautas Landsbergis (who is an international patron of the British-based neoconservative Henry Jackson Society – see Clark, 2005), and until her recent death, the “mid-wife of the neocons” Jeane J. Kirkpatrick (who was also linked to ‘democratic’ groups like Freedom House and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies).[17]

Next up is the Tibet Fund, who first received NED aid in 1990 to “produce audio cassettes that will bring world and Tibetan news into rural communities in Tibet.” They then received continued NED support for this work in 1994 and 1996, whereupon the distribution of the audio tapes was extended to Tibetan exile communities in India and Nepal as well as those in Tibet. In 1996, the Tibet Fund also received NED aid on behalf of the Tibet Voice Project, “for an educational initiative based in Dharamsala, India, aimed at raising the social, political, economic and environmental awareness of Tibetans through audio-visual media.” The NED notes that:

“Particular emphasis will be given to speeches of the Dalai Lama on the topics of democracy and human rights. In Dharamsala, it will continue a series of lectures and films emphasizing social issues, politics, the economy and environment for new refugees and Tibetans in exile; and will organize grassroots level dialogues between Tibetans in exile and Indian youth to increase awareness and support for the Tibetan cause in India.”

The Tibet Fund’s work with the Tibet Voice Project was continued in 1998, and the Fund also received NED aid to run “an electronic media workshop for Tibetan journalists, and to introduce a bi-monthly Chinese language news magazine about Tibet.” Tenzing Choephel is the Tibetan scholarship program co-ordinator for the Tibet Fund, and it important to note that he previously helped “lay the foundation of the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy [a group that was founded in 1996 and received NED funding in 1999], where he worked as an Office Administrator / English Researcher for three years in Dharamsala.” Finally it is interesting to observe that three people who are involved with the International Campaign for Tibet are linked to the Tibet fund, these are Lodi G. Gyari (who is the the executive chairman of the board of the ICT, and an emertius director of the Tibet Fund), Gehlek Rinpoche (who serves on ICT’s advisory board, and is a director of the Tibet Fund), and Tenzin N. Tethong (who serves on ICT’s advisory board, and is a founder and emeritus director of the Tibet Fund).

Another group that has received strong NED backing is the London-based Tibet Information Network (TIN), who between 1999 and 2004 received annual NED grants (excepting 2000) to “provide comprehensive, accurate information about political, social, and economic developments in Tibet to Tibetan audiences, the international community, human rights groups, and the media.” TIN was cofounded in 1987 by Nicholas Howen (who is now the secretary general of the International Commission of Jurists) and Robert J. Barnett. Robert J. Barnett was the Director of TIN between 1987 and 1998 and now works at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, alongside fellow faculty member Andrew J. Nathan (who is an editor of the NED’s Journal of Democracy, and also serves on the advisory board for the NED-funded Beijing Spring magazine). It is important to note that between 1998 and 2002 – the time coinciding with the start of the NED’s support for TIN – the organization was directed by Richard Oppenheimer who incidentally had just spent 22 years working for the BBC World Service. In 2002, Oppenheimer was then replaced by the world famous Tibetologist, Thierry Dodin, who left TIN in 2005 when it was announced that TIN “had to close down for lack of funds”, and he subsequently went on to direct the TibetInfoNet.[18]

The Tibetan Literary Society received NED aid between 2000 and 2005 to publish the Bod-Kyi-Dus-Bab (Tibet Times), a Tibetan language newspaper which was founded in 1996 and is published three times a month in Dharamsala, India. In 1998 and 1999 the newspaper itself also received direct support from the NED. Another group to receive NED support is the Tibet Multimedia Center, which received three grants from the NED between 2000 to 2002 to:

“…provide objective information about Tibet for Tibetans in the country and in exile as well as for audiences in China. The center will produce audio and videocassettes, organize debates among Tibetan high school students in exile and publish a Chinese language magazine to educate the Chinese public about the situation in Tibet and the struggle for human rights.”

Between 1999 and 2005 the Tibetan Review Trust Society received four grants to publish the Tibetan Review, a monthly English-language news magazine based in New Delhi, India, “that covers Tibet-related news and analysis.” The Tibetan Review was founded in 1968 and it’s precursor was Lodi G. Gyari’s (see earlier) The Voice of Tibet: in the early 1970s the Tibetan Review was published by Tenzin N. Tethong (who at the time headed the International Campaign for Tibet), and after passing through the hands of a number of other Directors it is now being edited by Pema Thinley (who is the former Executive Editor of Tibetan Bulletin, the “official journal of the Central Tibet Administration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama”).

Finally, in 2001 and 2002, the Voice of Tibet – a Tibetan-language shortwave radio station which was founded in 1996 – obtained NED aid to provide “regular news about Tibet, the Tibetan exile community, and the Tibetan government-in-exile, for listeners in Tibet and in exile in neighboring countries.” According to their website “[e]very day Voice of Tibet broadcasts a 30 minutes news service in the Tibetan language and a 15 minutes news service in Mandarin Chinese.” Voice of Tibet was founded by three Norwegian NGOs; the Norwegian Human Rights House, the Norwegian Tibet Committee and Worldview Rights. The final group is particularly interesting as it is also known as the Points of Peace Foundation, which is a “human rights organisation based in Stavanger, Norway, with a mandate to support Nobel Peace Prize Laureates in urgent need of media, dialogue and communication assistance in their home countries and internationally.” Crucially, the Points of Peace Foundation’s advisory board includes Jose Ramos-Horta, John Hume (who is a former patron of the British version of the NED, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy), Aung San Suu Kyi (who is a member of the international advisory board of the Democracy Coalition Project, and is an honorary director of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance), Wangari Maathai (who is a member of the international advisory board of the Democracy Coalition Project, and is a trustee of World Learning), Mairead Corrigan Maguire (who is a member of the international council of advisors for the International Campaign for Tibet), and Muhammad Yunus (who is on the advisory board of Stockholm Challenge, where he sits alongside NED director Esther Dyson, and US Institute for Peace advisory board member John Gage). (Two other groups to receive NED aid for communication work in Tibet since 1990 for which no further information could be ascertained include the Tibet Justice Center (which received a single grant in 2002), and the Tibet Museum (which received NED support in both 2004 and 2005).)

Conclusion

This article has demonstrated the close ties that exist between the Dalai Lama’s non-violent campaign for Tibetan independence and U.S. foreign policy elites who are actively supporting Tibetan causes through the NED. This finding is particularly worrying given the high international media profile of many of the groups exposed in this article, especially when it is remembered that the NED’s activities are intimately linked with those of the CIA. This funding issue is clearly problematic for Tibetan (or foreign) activists campaigning for Tibetan freedom, as the overwhelmingly anti-democratic nature of the NED can only weaken the legitimacy of the claims of any group associated with the NED. In this regard it seems only fitting that progressive activists truly concerned with promoting freedom and democracy in Tibet should first and foremost cast a critical eye over the antidemocratic funders of many of the Tibetan groups identified in this study. Only then will they be able to reappraise the sustainability of their work in the light of the NED’s controversial background. Once this step has been taken, perhaps progressive solutions for restoring democratic governance to Tibet can be generated by concerned activists, so that Tibetan people wanting to reclaim their homeland will able to be more sure that they are bringing democracy home to Tibet, not polyarchy.


Michael Barker is a doctoral candidate at Griffith University, Australia. He can be reached at Michael.J.Barker@griffith.edu.au


References

[1] McGranahan, C. “Tibet’s Cold War: The CIA and the Chushi Gangdrug Resistance, 1956–1974.” Journal of Cold War Studies, 8 (3), (2006), p.105.

[2] Conboy, K. and J.Morrison. The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002.

Deane, H. “The Cold War in Tibet.” Covert Action Information Bulletin 29 (Winter 1987): 48-50.

Knaus, J. K. Orphans of the Cold War: America and the Tibetan Struggle for Survival. New York: Public Affairs, 1999.

[3] Mann, J. “CIA Funded Covert Tibet Exile Campaign in 1960s.” The Age (Melbourne), 16 Sept. 1998. 21 Jun. 2007. http://listserv.muohio.edu/scripts/wa.exe?A2=ind9809c&L=archives&P=14058.

[4] Parenti, M. “Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth (Updated).” Jul. 2004. 21 Jun. 2007. Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth by Dr. Michael Parenti (01.02.07)

[5] Mann, J. “CIA Funded Covert Tibet Exile Campaign in 1960s.” The Age (Melbourne), 16 Sept. 1998. 21 Jun. 2007. http://listserv.muohio.edu/scripts/wa.exe?A2=ind9809c&L=archives&P=14058.

[6] Knaus, J. K. Orphans of the Cold War: America and the Tibetan Struggle for Survival. New York: Public Affairs, 1999.

Salopek, P. “The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet.” Seattle Times, 26 Jan. 1997. 21 Jun. 2007. http://www.timbomb.net/buddha/archive/msg00087.html.

[7] Knaus, J. K. “Official Policies and Covert Programs: The U.S. State Department, the CIA, and the Tibetan Resistance.” Journal of Cold War Studies, 5 (3), (2003), p.78.

[8] Reagan, R. W. “Address to Members of the British Parliament.” Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, 8 Jun. 1982. 21 Jun. 2007. http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1982/60882a.htm.

[9] Rasmus, J. The War at Home: The Corporate Offensive Against American Workers and Unions from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. San Ramon, CA: Kyklos Productions, 2006.

[10] Ignatius, D. “Innocence Abroad: The New World of Spyless Coups.” The Washington Post, 22 September 1991.

[11] Robinson, W. I. and J. Gindin. “The Battle for Global Civil Society.” Venezuelanalysis.com, 13 Jun. 2005. 21 Jun. 2007. http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/articles.php?artno=1477.

[12] Barker, M. J. “Taking the Risk Out of Civil Society: Harnessing Social movements and Regulating Revolutions.” Refereed paper presented to the Australasian Political Studies Association Conference, University of Newcastle 25-27 September 2006. 21 Jun. 2007. http://www.newcastle.edu.au/school/ept/politics/apsa/PapersFV/IntRel_IPE/Barker,%20Michael.pdf.

Roelofs, J. Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2003.

[13] Barker, M. J. “The National Endowment for Democracy and the Promotion of ‘Democratic’ Media Systems Worldwide.” Communication for Development and Social Change: A Global Journal (In Press).

Barker, M. J. “Democracy or Polyarchy? US-Funded Media Developments in Afghanistan and Iraq Post 9/11.” Media Culture Society (In Press).

Sussman, G. “The Myths of ‘Democracy Assistance’: U.S. Political Intervention in Post-Soviet Eastern Europe.” Monthly Review, Dec. 2006. 21 Jun. 2007. http://www.monthlyreview.org/1206sussman.htm.

[14] Barker, M. J. “A Force More Powerful: Promoting ‘Democracy’ Through Civil Disobedience.” State of Nature, Mar. 2007. 21 Jun. 2007. http://www.stateofnature.org/forceMorePowerful.html.

[15] Fenton, A. “Canada’s Growing Role in Haitian Affairs (Part I).” Znet, 21 Mar. 2005. 21 Jun. 2007. http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=7496.

[16] For a detailed examination of both individuals strong ties to the NED see Barker, M. J. “Promoting a Low Intensity Public Sphere: American Led Efforts to Promote a ‘Democratic Media’ Environment in China.” A paper to presented at the China Media Centre Conference (Brisbane, Australia: Creative Industries Precinct, 5-6 July 2007).

Also of interest is Barker, M. J. “Hijacking Human Rights: A Critical Examination of Human Rights Watch’s Americas Branch and their Links to the ‘Democracy’ Establishment.” Znet, August 3, 2007. http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=80&ItemID=13436.

[17]Grandin, G. Empire’s workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006.

[18] Robert, P. “Tibet Information Network Closes as Funds Dry Up.” Tibet Information Network, 13 Sep. 2005. 21 Jun. 2007. http://www.phayul.com/news/article.aspx?id=10679&t=1&c=1.

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The url address of this article is: www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=6530

see

Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth by Dr. Michael Parenti (01.02.07)

BBC Pictures of Tibetans killed in uprising in Ngawa, Amdho

Steve Chao in Bora, Amdho (Gansu province) + Clash that ’sparked’ Tibet’s violent protests

Steve Chao in Bora, Amdho (Gansu province) + Clash that ‘sparked’ Tibet’s violent protests

Dandelion Salad

Warning

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These videos may contain images depicting the reality and horror of war/violence and should only be viewed by a mature audience.

marchtotibet

Steve was able to get footage of the Protest that happened in Bora, Amdho. Tibetans raise a Tibetan flag at a School.

Added: March 19, 2008

BBC: Clash that ‘sparked’ Tibet’s violent protests

Proof that the Chinese Military agitated the peaceful protesters and sparked the protesters to fight back.

Shot “believed to be” outside of Drepung Monastery, March 10th.

Added: March 20, 2008

see

BBC Pictures of Tibetans killed in uprising in Ngawa, Amdho

Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth by Dr. Michael Parenti (01.02.07)

ITN footage of Tibetan students protesting in Beijing

Dandelion Salad

Warning

.

This video may contain images depicting the reality and horror of war/violence and should only be viewed by a mature audience.

archtotibet

The journalist gets harassed as he tries to get footage of Tibetan students protesting the killings in Lhasa in Beijing by holding a silent sit-in, candlelight Vigil.

Vodpod videos no longer available. from www.youtube.com posted with vodpod

.

see

Tibet protests spread to Amdho Labrang (videos)

Tibet protests spread to Amdho Labrang (videos)

Dandelion Salad

Warning

.

These videos may contain images depicting the reality and horror of war/violence and should only be viewed by a mature audience.

Tibet protests spread to Amdho Labrang

dezzyl

Anti-government protests in Tibet have spread to Gansu and neighbouring provinces with large Tibetan populations. Tania Branigan reports from Xiahe on the tense stand-off between monks, lay people and security forces.  Added: March 16, 2008

CTV Newsnet: Steve Chao with the details

marchtotibet

Steve Chao reports from Xining. Added: March 16, 2008

Protesters at Chinese office in Tibet 15Mar

nexus6s

Phayul.com – for all audios and videos on Tibet
http://media.phayul.com/?av_id=89
Thousands of Tibetan protesters have gathered in front of a Chinese office in Labrang, Amdo, Tibet on 15th March. This video is taken around 1pm (Tibet time) on a mobile phone

━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━
China Blocks YouTube Over Tibet Videos
BEIJING ― China’s communist government is apparently blocking YouTube over videos covering the recent protests in Tibet.-FOXNews
China blocks YouTube access Afterdawn.com
Videos Posted Of Tibetan Protest Drive China To Block YouTube

Added: March 15, 2008

h/t: Mary and http://tibetanuprising.org/

see

Tibetan monks lead protests against China + Tibet riots (vids)

Tibetan monks lead protests against China + Tibet riots (vids)

Dandelion Salad

RussiaToday

Beijing has set a deadline of Monday for demonstrators in Tibet to surrender. Chinese officials say the violence in the last few days has left ten people dead. But exiled Tibetan leaders put the death toll at a hundred and claim many more protestors have been injured.

Continue reading

Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth by Dr. Michael Parenti (01.02.07)

Dandelion Salad

by Dr. Michael Parenti

Global Research, November 18, 2007

Michael Parenti Politcal Archive – 2007-01-02

Expanded and Updated Version

I.
For Lords and Lamas

Along with the blood drenched landscape of religious conflict there is the experience of inner peace and solace that every religion promises, none more so than Buddhism. Standing in marked contrast to the intolerant savagery of other religions, Buddhism is neither fanatical nor dogmatic–so say its adherents. For many of them Buddhism is less a theology and more a meditative and investigative discipline intended to promote an inner harmony and enlightenment while directing us to a path of right living. Generally, the spiritual focus is not only on oneself but on the welfare of others. One tries to put aside egoistic pursuits and gain a deeper understanding of one’s connection to all people and things. “Socially engaged Buddhism” tries to blend individual liberation with responsible social action in order to build an enlightened society.

A glance at history, however, reveals that not all the many and widely varying forms of Buddhism have been free of doctrinal fanaticism, nor free of the violent and exploitative pursuits so characteristic of other religions. In Sri Lanka there is a legendary and almost sacred recorded history about the triumphant battles waged by Buddhist kings of yore. During the twentieth century, Buddhists clashed violently with each other and with non-Buddhists in Thailand, Burma, Korea, Japan, India, and elsewhere. In Sri Lanka, armed battles between Buddhist Sinhalese and Hindu Tamils have taken many lives on both sides. In 1998 the U.S. State Department listed thirty of the world’s most violent and dangerous extremist groups. Over half of them were religious, specifically Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist. 1

In South Korea, in 1998, thousands of monks of the Chogye Buddhist order fought each other with fists, rocks, fire-bombs, and clubs, in pitched battles that went on for weeks. They were vying for control of the order, the largest in South Korea, with its annual budget of $9.2 million, its millions of dollars worth of property, and the privilege of appointing 1,700 monks to various offices. The brawls damaged the main Buddhist sanctuaries and left dozens of monks injured, some seriously. The Korean public appeared to disdain both factions, feeling that no matter what side took control, “it would use worshippers’ donations for luxurious houses and expensive cars.” 2

As with any religion, squabbles between or within Buddhist sects are often fueled by the material corruption and personal deficiencies of the leadership. For example, in Nagano, Japan, at Zenkoji, the prestigious complex of temples that has hosted Buddhist sects for more than 1,400 years, “a nasty battle” arose between Komatsu the chief priest and the Tacchu, a group of temples nominally under the chief priest’s sway. The Tacchu monks accused Komatsu of selling writings and drawings under the temple’s name for his own gain. They also were appalled by the frequency with which he was seen in the company of women. Komatsu in turn sought to isolate and punish monks who were critical of his leadership. The conflict lasted some five years and made it into the courts. 3

But what of Tibetan Buddhism? Is it not an exception to this sort of strife? And what of the society it helped to create? Many Buddhists maintain that, before the Chinese crackdown in 1959, old Tibet was a spiritually oriented kingdom free from the egotistical lifestyles, empty materialism, and corrupting vices that beset modern industrialized society. Western news media, travel books, novels, and Hollywood films have portrayed the Tibetan theocracy as a veritable Shangri-La. The Dalai Lama himself stated that “the pervasive influence of Buddhism” in Tibet, “amid the wide open spaces of an unspoiled environment resulted in a society dedicated to peace and harmony. We enjoyed freedom and contentment.” 4

A reading of Tibet’s history suggests a somewhat different picture. “Religious conflict was commonplace in old Tibet,” writes one western Buddhist practitioner. “History belies the Shangri-La image of Tibetan lamas and their followers living together in mutual tolerance and nonviolent goodwill. Indeed, the situation was quite different. Old Tibet was much more like Europe during the religious wars of the Counterreformation.” 5 In the thirteenth century, Emperor Kublai Khan created the first Grand Lama, who was to preside over all the other lamas as might a pope over his bishops. Several centuries later, the Emperor of China sent an army into Tibet to support the Grand Lama, an ambitious 25-year-old man, who then gave himself the title of Dalai (Ocean) Lama, ruler of all Tibet. Here is a historical irony: the first Dalai Lama was installed by a Chinese army.

His two previous lama “incarnations” were then retroactively recognized as his predecessors, thereby transforming the 1st Dalai Lama into the 3rd Dalai Lama. This 1st (or 3rd) Dalai Lama seized monasteries that did not belong to his sect, and is believed to have destroyed Buddhist writings that conflicted with his claim to divinity. The Dalai Lama who succeeded him pursued a sybaritic life, enjoying many mistresses, partying with friends, and acting in other ways deemed unfitting for an incarnate deity. For these transgressions he was murdered by his priests. Within 170 years, despite their recognized divine status, five Dalai Lamas were killed by their high priests or other courtiers. 6

For hundreds of years competing Tibetan Buddhist sects engaged in bitterly violent clashes and summary executions. In 1660, the 5th Dalai Lama was faced with a rebellion in Tsang province, the stronghold of the rival Kagyu sect with its high lama known as the Karmapa. The 5th Dalai Lama called for harsh retribution against the rebels, directing the Mongol army to obliterate the male and female lines, and the offspring too “like eggs smashed against rocks…. In short, annihilate any traces of them, even their names.” 7

In 1792, many Kagyu monasteries were confiscated and their monks were forcibly converted to the Gelug sect (the Dalai Lama’s denomination). The Gelug school, known also as the “Yellow Hats,” showed little tolerance or willingness to mix their teachings with other Buddhist sects. In the words of one of their traditional prayers: “Praise to you, violent god of the Yellow Hat teachings/who reduces to particles of dust/ great beings, high officials and ordinary people/ who pollute and corrupt the Gelug doctrine.” 8 An eighteenth-century memoir of a Tibetan general depicts sectarian strife among Buddhists that is as brutal and bloody as any religious conflict might be. 9 This grim history remains largely unvisited by present-day followers of Tibetan Buddhism in the West.

Religions have had a close relationship not only with violence but with economic exploitation. Indeed, it is often the economic exploitation that necessitates the violence. Such was the case with the Tibetan theocracy. Until 1959, when the Dalai Lama last presided over Tibet, most of the arable land was still organized into manorial estates worked by serfs. These estates were owned by two social groups: the rich secular landlords and the rich theocratic lamas. Even a writer sympathetic to the old order allows that “a great deal of real estate belonged to the monasteries, and most of them amassed great riches.” Much of the wealth was accumulated “through active participation in trade, commerce, and money lending.” 10

Drepung monastery was one of the biggest landowners in the world, with its 185 manors, 25,000 serfs, 300 great pastures, and 16,000 herdsmen. The wealth of the monasteries rested in the hands of small numbers of high-ranking lamas. Most ordinary monks lived modestly and had no direct access to great wealth. The Dalai Lama himself “lived richly in the 1000-room, 14-story Potala Palace.” 11

Secular leaders also did well. A notable example was the commander-in-chief of the Tibetan army, a member of the Dalai Lama’s lay Cabinet, who owned 4,000 square kilometers of land and 3,500 serfs. 12 Old Tibet has been misrepresented by some Western admirers as “a nation that required no police force because its people voluntarily observed the laws of karma.” 13 In fact. it had a professional army, albeit a small one, that served mainly as a gendarmerie for the landlords to keep order, protect their property, and hunt down runaway serfs.

Young Tibetan boys were regularly taken from their peasant families and brought into the monasteries to be trained as monks. Once there, they were bonded for life. Tashì-Tsering, a monk, reports that it was common for peasant children to be sexually mistreated in the monasteries. He himself was a victim of repeated rape, beginning at age nine. 14 The monastic estates also conscripted children for lifelong servitude as domestics, dance performers, and soldiers.

In old Tibet there were small numbers of farmers who subsisted as a kind of free peasantry, and perhaps an additional 10,000 people who composed the “middle-class” families of merchants, shopkeepers, and small traders. Thousands of others were beggars. There also were slaves, usually domestic servants, who owned nothing. Their offspring were born into slavery. 15 The majority of the rural population were serfs. Treated little better than slaves, the serfs went without schooling or medical care, They were under a lifetime bond to work the lord’s land–or the monastery’s land–without pay, to repair the lord’s houses, transport his crops, and collect his firewood. They were also expected to provide carrying animals and transportation on demand.16 Their masters told them what crops to grow and what animals to raise. They could not get married without the consent of their lord or lama. And they might easily be separated from their families should their owners lease them out to work in a distant location. 17

As in a free labor system and unlike slavery, the overlords had no responsibility for the serf’s maintenance and no direct interest in his or her survival as an expensive piece of property. The serfs had to support themselves. Yet as in a slave system, they were bound to their masters, guaranteeing a fixed and permanent workforce that could neither organize nor strike nor freely depart as might laborers in a market context. The overlords had the best of both worlds.

One 22-year old woman, herself a runaway serf, reports: “Pretty serf girls were usually taken by the owner as house servants and used as he wished”; they “were just slaves without rights.”18 Serfs needed permission to go anywhere. Landowners had legal authority to capture those who tried to flee. One 24-year old runaway welcomed the Chinese intervention as a “liberation.” He testified that under serfdom he was subjected to incessant toil, hunger, and cold. After his third failed escape, he was merciless beaten by the landlord’s men until blood poured from his nose and mouth. They then poured alcohol and caustic soda on his wounds to increase the pain, he claimed.19

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.20

The theocracy’s religious teachings buttressed its class order. The poor and afflicted were taught that they had brought their troubles upon themselves because of their wicked ways in previous lives. Hence they had to accept the misery of their present existence as a karmic atonement and in anticipation that their lot would improve in their next lifetime. The rich and powerful treated their good fortune as a reward for, and tangible evidence of, virtue in past and present lives.

The Tibetan serfs were something more than superstitious victims, blind to their own oppression. As we have seen, some ran away; others openly resisted, sometimes suffering dire consequences. In feudal Tibet, torture and mutilation–including eye gouging, the pulling out of tongues, hamstringing, and amputation–were favored punishments inflicted upon thieves, and runaway or resistant serfs. Journeying through Tibet in the 1960s, Stuart and Roma Gelder interviewed a former serf, Tsereh Wang Tuei, who had stolen two sheep belonging to a monastery. For this he had both his eyes gouged out and his hand mutilated beyond use. He explains that he no longer is a Buddhist: “When a holy lama told them to blind me I thought there was no good in religion.”21 Since it was against Buddhist teachings to take human life, some offenders were severely lashed and then “left to God” in the freezing night to die. “The parallels between Tibet and medieval Europe are striking,” concludes Tom Grunfeld in his book on Tibet. 22

In 1959, Anna Louise Strong visited an exhibition of torture equipment that had been used 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, whips, and special implements for disemboweling. The exhibition presented 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.23

Earlier visitors to Tibet commented on the 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.”24 As much as we might wish otherwise, feudal theocratic Tibet was a far cry from the romanticized Shangri La so enthusiastically nurtured by Buddhism’s western proselytes.

II. Secularization vs. Spirituality

What happened to Tibet after the Chinese Communists moved into the country in 1951? The treaty of that year provided for ostensible self-governance under the Dalai Lama’s rule but gave China military control and exclusive right to conduct foreign relations. The Chinese were also granted a direct role in internal administration “to promote social reforms.” Among the earliest changes they wrought was to reduce usurious interest rates, and build a few hospitals and roads. At first, they moved slowly, relying mostly on persuasion in an attempt to effect reconstruction. No aristocratic or monastic property was confiscated, and feudal lords continued to reign over their hereditarily bound peasants. “Contrary to popular belief in the West,” claims one observer, the Chinese “took care to show respect for Tibetan culture and religion.”25

Over the centuries the Tibetan lords and lamas had seen Chinese come and go, and had enjoyed good relations with Generalissimo Chiang Kaishek and his reactionary Kuomintang rule in China.26 The approval of the Kuomintang government was needed to validate the choice of the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama. When the current 14th Dalai Lama was first installed in Lhasa, it was with an armed escort of Chinese troops and an attending Chinese minister, in accordance with centuries-old tradition. What upset the Tibetan lords and lamas in the early 1950s was that these latest Chinese were Communists. It would be only a matter of time, they feared, before the Communists started imposing their collectivist egalitarian schemes upon Tibet.

The issue was joined in 1956-57, when armed Tibetan bands ambushed convoys of the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army. The uprising received extensive assistance from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), including military training, support camps in Nepal, and numerous airlifts.27 Meanwhile in the United States, the American Society for a Free Asia, a CIA-financed front, energetically publicized the cause of Tibetan resistance, with the Dalai Lama’s eldest brother, Thubtan Norbu, playing an active role in that organization. The Dalai Lama’s second-eldest brother, Gyalo Thondup, established an intelligence operation with the CIA as early as 1951. He later upgraded it into a CIA-trained guerrilla unit whose recruits parachuted back into Tibet.28

Many Tibetan commandos and agents whom the CIA dropped into the country were chiefs of aristocratic clans or the sons of chiefs. Ninety percent of them were never heard from again, according to a report from the CIA itself, meaning they were most likely captured and killed.29 “Many lamas and lay members of the elite and much of the Tibetan army joined the uprising, but in the main the populace did not, assuring its failure,” writes Hugh Deane.30 In their book on Tibet, Ginsburg and Mathos reach a similar conclusion: “As far as can be ascertained, the great bulk of the common people of Lhasa and of the adjoining countryside failed to join in the fighting against the Chinese both when it first began and as it progressed.”31 Eventually the resistance crumbled.

Whatever wrongs and new oppressions introduced by the Chinese after 1959, they did abolish slavery and the Tibetan serfdom system of unpaid labor. They eliminated the many crushing taxes, started work projects, and greatly reduced unemployment and beggary. They established secular schools, thereby breaking the educational monopoly of the monasteries. And they constructed running water and electrical systems in Lhasa.32

Heinrich Harrer (later revealed to have been a sergeant in Hitler’s SS) wrote a bestseller about his experiences in Tibet that was made into a popular Hollywood movie. He reported that the Tibetans who resisted the Chinese “were predominantly nobles, semi-nobles and lamas; they were punished by being made to perform the lowliest tasks, such as laboring on roads and bridges. They were further humiliated by being made to clean up the city before the tourists arrived.” They also had to live in a camp originally reserved for beggars and vagrants–all of which Harrer treats as sure evidence of the dreadful nature of the Chinese occupation.33

By 1961, Chinese occupation authorities expropriated the landed estates owned by lords and lamas. They distributed many thousands of acres to tenant farmers and landless peasants, reorganizing them into hundreds of communes.. Herds once owned by nobility were turned over to collectives of poor shepherds. Improvements were made in the breeding of livestock, and new varieties of vegetables and new strains of wheat and barley were introduced, along with irrigation improvements, all of which reportedly led to an increase in agrarian production.34

Many peasants remained as religious as ever, giving alms to the clergy. But monks who had been conscripted as children into the religious orders were now free to renounce the monastic life, and thousands did, especially the younger ones. The remaining clergy lived on modest government stipends and extra income earned by officiating at prayer services, weddings, and funerals.35

Both the Dalai Lama and his advisor and youngest brother, Tendzin Choegyal, claimed that “more than 1.2 million Tibetans are dead as a result of the Chinese occupation.”36 The official 1953 census–six years before the Chinese crackdown–recorded the entire population residing in Tibet at 1,274,000.37 Other census counts put the population within Tibet at about two million. If the Chinese killed 1.2 million in the early 1960s then almost all of Tibet, would have been depopulated, transformed into a killing field dotted with death camps and mass graves–of which we have no evidence. The thinly distributed Chinese force in Tibet could not have rounded up, hunted down, and exterminated that many people even if it had spent all its time doing nothing else.

Chinese authorities claim to have put an end to floggings, mutilations, and amputations as a form of criminal punishment. They themselves, however, have been charged with acts of brutality by exile Tibetans. The authorities do admit to “mistakes,” particularly during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution when the persecution of religious beliefs reached a high tide in both China and Tibet. After the uprising in the late 1950s, thousands of Tibetans were incarcerated. During the Great Leap Forward, forced collectivization and grain farming were imposed on the Tibetan peasantry, sometimes with disastrous effect on production. In the late 1970s, China began relaxing controls “and tried to undo some of the damage wrought during the previous two decades.”38

In 1980, the Chinese government initiated reforms reportedly designed to grant Tibet a greater degree of self-rule and self-administration. Tibetans would now be allowed to cultivate private plots, sell their harvest surpluses, decide for themselves what crops to grow, and keep yaks and sheep. Communication with the outside world was again permitted, and frontier controls were eased to permit some Tibetans to visit exiled relatives in India and Nepal.39 By the 1980s many of the principal lamas had begun to shuttle back and forth between China and the exile communities abroad, “restoring their monasteries in Tibet and helping to revitalize Buddhism there.”40

As of 2007 Tibetan Buddhism was still practiced widely and tolerated by officialdom. Religious pilgrimages and other standard forms of worship were allowed but within limits. All monks and nuns had to sign a loyalty pledge that they would not use their religious position to foment secession or dissent. And displaying photos of the Dalai Lama was declared illegal.41

In the 1990s, the Han, the ethnic group comprising over 95 percent of China’s immense population, began moving in substantial numbers into Tibet. On the streets of Lhasa and Shigatse, signs of Han colonization are readily visible. Chinese run the factories and many of the shops and vending stalls. Tall office buildings and large shopping centers have been built with funds that might have been better spent on water treatment plants and housing. Chinese cadres in Tibet too often view their Tibetan neighbors as backward and lazy, in need of economic development and “patriotic education.” During the 1990s Tibetan government employees suspected of harboring nationalist sympathies were purged from office, and campaigns were once again launched to discredit the Dalai Lama. Individual Tibetans reportedly were subjected to arrest, imprisonment, and forced labor for carrying out separatist activities and engaging in “political subversion.” Some were held in administrative detention without adequate food, water, and blankets, subjected to threats, beatings, and other mistreatment.42

Tibetan history, culture, and certainly religion are slighted in schools. Teaching materials, though translated into Tibetan, focus mainly on Chinese history and culture. Chinese family planning regulations allow a three-child limit for Tibetan families. (There is only a one-child limit for Han families throughout China, and a two-child limit for rural Han families whose first child is a girl.) If a Tibetan couple goes over the three-child limit, the excess children can be denied subsidized daycare, health care, housing, and education. These penalties have been enforced irregularly and vary by district.43 None of these child services, it should be noted, were available to Tibetans before the Chinese takeover.

For the rich lamas and secular lords, the Communist intervention was an unmitigated calamity. Most of them fled abroad, as did the Dalai Lama himself, who was assisted in his flight by the CIA. Some discovered to their horror that they would have to work for a living. Many, however, escaped that fate. Throughout the 1960s, the Tibetan exile community was secretly pocketing $1.7 million a year from the CIA, according to documents released by the State Department in 1998. Once this fact was publicized, the Dalai Lama’s organization itself issued a statement admitting that it had received millions of dollars from the CIA during the 1960s to send armed squads of exiles into Tibet to undermine the Maoist revolution. The Dalai Lama’s annual payment from the CIA was $186,000. Indian intelligence also financed both him and other Tibetan exiles. He has refused to say whether he or his brothers worked for the CIA. The agency has also declined to comment.44

In 1995, the News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina, carried a frontpage color photograph of the Dalai Lama being embraced by the reactionary Republican senator Jesse Helms, under the headline “Buddhist Captivates Hero of Religious Right.”45 In April 1999, along with Margaret Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, and the first George Bush, the Dalai Lama called upon the British government to release Augusto Pinochet, the former fascist dictator of Chile and a longtime CIA client who was visiting England. The Dalai Lama urged that Pinochet not be forced to go to Spain where he was wanted to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

Into the twenty-first century, via the National Endowment for Democracy and other conduits that are more respectable sounding than the CIA, the U.S. Congress continued to allocate an annual $2 million to Tibetans in India, with additional millions for “democracy activities” within the Tibetan exile community. In addition to these funds, the Dalai Lama received money from financier George Soros.46

Whatever the Dalai Lama’s associations with the CIA and various reactionaries, he did speak often of peace, love, and nonviolence. He himself really cannot be blamed for the abuses of Tibet’s ancien régime, having been but 25 years old when he fled into exile. In a 1994 interview, he went on record as favoring the building of schools and roads in his country. He said the corvée (forced unpaid serf labor) and certain taxes imposed on the peasants were “extremely bad.” And he disliked the way people were saddled with old debts sometimes passed down from generation to generation.47During the half century of living in the western world, he had embraced concepts such as human rights and religious freedom, ideas largely unknown in old Tibet. He even proposed democracy for Tibet, featuring a written constitution and a representative assembly.48

In 1996, the Dalai Lama issued a statement that must have had an unsettling effect on the exile community. It read in part: “Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability.” Marxism fosters “the equitable utilization of the means of production” and cares about “the fate of the working classes” and “the victims of . . . exploitation. For those reasons the system appeals to me, and . . . I think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist.49

But he also sent a reassuring message to “those who live in abundance”: “It is a good thing to be rich… Those are the fruits for deserving actions, the proof that they have been generous in the past.” And to the poor he offers this admonition: “There is no good reason to become bitter and rebel against those who have property and fortune… It is better to develop a positive attitude.”50

In 2005 the Dalai Lama signed a widely advertised statement along with ten other Nobel Laureates supporting the “inalienable and fundamental human right” of working people throughout the world to form labor unions to protect their interests, in accordance with the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In many countries “this fundamental right is poorly protected and in some it is explicitly banned or brutally suppressed,” the statement read. Burma, China, Colombia, Bosnia, and a few other countries were singled out as among the worst offenders. Even the United States “fails to adequately protect workers’ rights to form unions and bargain collectively. Millions of U.S. workers lack any legal protection to form unions….”51

The Dalai Lama also gave full support to removing the ingrained traditional obstacles that have kept Tibetan nuns from receiving an education. Upon arriving in exile, few nuns could read or write. In Tibet their activities had been devoted to daylong periods of prayer and chants. But in northern India they now began reading Buddhist philosophy and engaging in theological study and debate, activities that in old Tibet had been open only to monks.52

In November 2005 the Dalai Lama spoke at Stanford University on “The Heart of Nonviolence,” but stopped short of a blanket condemnation of all violence. Violent actions that are committed in order to reduce future suffering are not to be condemned, he said, citing World War II as an example of a worthy effort to protect democracy. What of the four years of carnage and mass destruction in Iraq, a war condemned by most of the world—even by a conservative pope–as a blatant violation of international law and a crime against humanity? The Dalai Lama was undecided: “The Iraq war—it’s too early to say, right or wrong.”53 Earlier he had voiced support for the U.S. military intervention against Yugoslavia and, later on, the U.S. military intervention into Afghanistan.54

III. Exit Feudal Theocracy

As the Shangri-La myth would have it, in old Tibet the people lived in contented and tranquil symbiosis with their monastic and secular lords. Rich lamas and poor monks, wealthy landlords and impoverished serfs were all bonded together, mutually sustained by the comforting balm of a deeply spiritual and pacific culture.

One is reminded of the idealized image of feudal Europe presented by latter-day conservative Catholics such as G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. For them, medieval Christendom was a world of contented peasants living in the secure embrace of their Church, under the more or less benign protection of their lords.55 Again we are invited to accept a particular culture in its idealized form divorced from its murky material history. This means accepting it as presented by its favored class, by those who profited most from it. The Shangri-La image of Tibet bears no more resemblance to historic actuality than does the pastoral image of medieval Europe.

Seen in all its grim realities, old Tibet confirms the view I expressed in an earlier book, namely that culture is anything but neutral. Culture can operate as a legitimating cover for a host of grave injustices, benefiting a privileged portion of society at great cost to the rest.56 In theocratic feudal Tibet, ruling interests manipulated the traditional culture to fortify their own wealth and power. The theocracy equated rebellious thought and action with satanic influence. It propagated the general presumption of landlord superiority and peasant unworthiness. The rich were represented as deserving their good life, and the lowly poor as deserving their mean existence, all codified in teachings about the karmic residue of virtue and vice accumulated from past lives, presented as part of God’s will.

Were the more affluent lamas just hypocrites who preached one thing and secretly believed another? More likely they were genuinely attached to those beliefs that brought such good results for them. That their theology so perfectly supported their material privileges only strengthened the sincerity with which it was embraced.

It might be said that we denizens of the modern secular world cannot grasp the equations of happiness and pain, contentment and custom, that characterize more traditionally spiritual societies. This is probably true, and it may explain why some of us idealize such societies. But still, a gouged eye is a gouged eye; a flogging is a flogging; and the grinding exploitation of serfs and slaves is a brutal class injustice whatever its cultural wrapping. There is a difference between a spiritual bond and human bondage, even when both exist side by side

Many ordinary Tibetans want the Dalai Lama back in their country, but it appears that relatively few want a return to the social order he represented. A 1999 story in the Washington Post notes that the Dalai Lama continues to be revered in Tibet, but

. . . few Tibetans would welcome a return of the corrupt aristocratic clans that fled with him in 1959 and that comprise the bulk of his advisers. Many Tibetan farmers, for example, have no interest in surrendering the land they gained during China’s land reform to the clans. Tibet’s former slaves say they, too, don’t want their former masters to return to power. “I’ve already lived that life once before,” said Wangchuk, a 67-year-old former slave who was wearing his best clothes for his yearly pilgrimage to Shigatse, one of the holiest sites of Tibetan Buddhism. He said he worshipped the Dalai Lama, but added, “I may not be free under Chinese communism, but I am better off than when I was a slave.”57

It should be noted that the Dalai Lama is not the only highly placed lama chosen in childhood as a reincarnation. One or another reincarnate lama or tulku–a spiritual teacher of special purity elected to be reborn again and again–can be found presiding over most major monasteries. The tulku system is unique to Tibetan Buddhism. Scores of Tibetan lamas claim to be reincarnate tulkus.

The very first tulku was a lama known as the Karmapa who appeared nearly three centuries before the first Dalai Lama. The Karmapa is leader of a Tibetan Buddhist tradition known as the Karma Kagyu. The rise of the Gelugpa sect headed by the Dalai Lama led to a politico-religious rivalry with the Kagyu that has lasted five hundred years and continues to play itself out within the Tibetan exile community today. That the Kagyu sect has grown famously, opening some six hundred new centers around the world in the last thirty-five years, has not helped the situation.

The search for a tulku, Erik Curren reminds us, has not always been conducted in that purely spiritual mode portrayed in certain Hollywood films. “Sometimes monastic officials wanted a child from a powerful local noble family to give the cloister more political clout. Other times they wanted a child from a lower-class family who would have little leverage to influence the child’s upbringing.” On other occasions “a local warlord, the Chinese emperor or even the Dalai Lama’s government in Lhasa might [have tried] to impose its choice of tulku on a monastery for political reasons.”58

Such may have been the case in the selection of the 17th Karmapa, whose monastery-in-exile is situated in Rumtek, in the Indian state of Sikkim. In 1993 the monks of the Karma Kagyu tradition had a candidate of their own choice. The Dalai Lama, along with several dissenting Karma Kagyu leaders (and with the support of the Chinese government!) backed a different boy. The Kagyu monks charged that the Dalai Lama had overstepped his authority in attempting to select a leader for their sect. “Neither his political role nor his position as a lama in his own Gelugpa tradition entitled him to choose the Karmapa, who is a leader of a different tradition…”59 As one of the Kagyu leaders insisted, “Dharma is about thinking for yourself. It is not about automatically following a teacher in all things, no matter how respected that teacher may be. More than anyone else, Buddhists should respect other people’s rights—their human rights and their religious freedom.”60

What followed was a dozen years of conflict in the Tibetan exile community, punctuated by intermittent riots, intimidation, physical attacks, blacklisting, police harassment, litigation, official corruption, and the looting and undermining of the Karmapa’s monastery in Rumtek by supporters of the Gelugpa faction. All this has caused at least one western devotee to wonder if the years of exile were not hastening the moral corrosion of Tibetan Buddhism.61

What is clear is that not all Tibetan Buddhists accept the Dalai Lama as their theological and spiritual mentor. Though he is referred to as the “spiritual leader of Tibet,” many see this title as little more than a formality. It does not give him authority over the four religious schools of Tibet other than his own, “just as calling the U.S. president the ‘leader of the free world’ gives him no role in governing France or Germany.”62

Not all Tibetan exiles are enamoured of the old Shangri-La theocracy. Kim Lewis, who studied healing methods with a Buddhist monk in Berkeley, California, had occasion to talk at length with more than a dozen Tibetan women who lived in the monk’s building. When she asked how they felt about returning to their homeland, the sentiment was unanimously negative. At first, Lewis assumed that their reluctance had to do with the Chinese occupation, but they quickly informed her otherwise. They said they were extremely grateful “not to have to marry 4 or 5 men, be pregnant almost all the time,” or deal with sexually transmitted diseases contacted from a straying husband. The younger women “were delighted to be getting an education, wanted absolutely nothing to do with any religion, and wondered why Americans were so naïve [about Tibet].”63

The women interviewed by Lewis recounted stories of their grandmothers’ ordeals with monks who used them as “wisdom consorts.” By sleeping with the monks, the grandmothers were told, they gained “the means to enlightenment” — after all, the Buddha himself had to be with a woman to reach enlightenment.

The women also mentioned the “rampant” sex that the supposedly spiritual and abstemious monks practiced with each other in the Gelugpa sect. The women who were mothers spoke bitterly about the monastery’s confiscation of their young boys in Tibet. They claimed that when a boy cried for his mother, he would be told “Why do you cry for her, she gave you up–she’s just a woman.”

The monks who were granted political asylum in California applied for public assistance. Lewis, herself a devotee for a time, assisted with the paperwork. She observes that they continue to receive government checks amounting to $550 to $700 per month along with Medicare. In addition, the monks reside rent free in nicely furnished apartments. “They pay no utilities, have free access to the Internet on computers provided for them, along with fax machines, free cell and home phones and cable TV.”

They also receive a monthly payment from their order, along with contributions and dues from their American followers. Some devotees eagerly carry out chores for the monks, including grocery shopping and cleaning their apartments and toilets. These same holy men, Lewis remarks, “have no problem criticizing Americans for their ‘obsession with material things.’”64

To welcome the end of the old feudal theocracy in Tibet is not to applaud everything about Chinese rule in that country. This point is seldom understood by today’s Shangri-La believers in the West. The converse is also true: To denounce the Chinese occupation does not mean we have to romanticize the former feudal régime. Tibetans deserve to be perceived as actual people, not perfected spiritualists or innocent political symbols. “To idealize them,” notes Ma Jian, a dissident Chinese traveler to Tibet (now living in Britain), “is to deny them their humanity.”65

One common complaint among Buddhist followers in the West is that Tibet’s religious culture is being undermined by the Chinese occupation. To some extent this seems to be the case. Many of the monasteries are closed, and much of the theocracy seems to have passed into history. Whether Chinese rule has brought betterment or disaster is not the central issue here. The question is what kind of country was old Tibet. What I am disputing is the supposedly pristine spiritual nature of that pre-invasion culture. We can advocate religious freedom and independence for a new Tibet without having to embrace the mythology about old Tibet. Tibetan feudalism was cloaked in Buddhism, but the two are not to be equated. In reality, old Tibet was not a Paradise Lost. It was a retrograde repressive theocracy of extreme privilege and poverty, a long way from Shangri-La.

Finally, let it be said that if Tibet’s future is to be positioned somewhere within China’s emerging free-market paradise, then this does not bode well for the Tibetans. China boasts a dazzling 8 percent economic growth rate and is emerging as one of the world’s greatest industrial powers. But with economic growth has come an ever deepening gulf between rich and poor. Most Chinese live close to the poverty level or well under it, while a small group of newly brooded capitalists profit hugely in collusion with shady officials. Regional bureaucrats milk the country dry, extorting graft from the populace and looting local treasuries. Land grabbing in cities and countryside by avaricious developers and corrupt officials at the expense of the populace are almost everyday occurrences. Tens of thousands of grassroot protests and disturbances have erupted across the country, usually to be met with unforgiving police force. Corruption is so prevalent, reaching into so many places, that even the normally complacent national leadership was forced to take notice and began moving against it in late 2006.

Workers in China who try to organize labor unions in the corporate dominated “business zones” risk losing their jobs or getting beaten and imprisoned. Millions of business zone workers toil twelve-hour days at subsistence wages. With the health care system now being privatized, free or affordable medical treatment is no longer available for millions. Men have tramped into the cities in search of work, leaving an increasingly impoverished countryside populated by women, children, and the elderly. The suicide rate has increased dramatically, especially among women.66

China’s natural environment is sadly polluted. Most of its fabled rivers and many lakes are dead, producing massive fish die-offs from the billions of tons of industrial emissions and untreated human waste dumped into them. Toxic effluents, including pesticides and herbicides, seep into ground water or directly into irrigation canals. Cancer rates in villages situated along waterways have skyrocketed a thousand-fold. Hundreds of millions of urban residents breathe air rated as dangerously unhealthy, contaminated by industrial growth and the recent addition of millions of automobiles. An estimated 400,000 die prematurely every year from air pollution. Government environmental agencies have no enforcement power to stop polluters, and generally the government ignores or denies such problems, concentrating instead on industrial growth.67

China’s own scientific establishment reports that unless greenhouse gases are curbed, the nation will face massive crop failures along with catastrophic food and water shortages in the years ahead. In 2006-2007 severe drought was already afflicting southwest China.68

If China is the great success story of speedy free market development, and is to be the model and inspiration for Tibet’s future, then old feudal Tibet indeed may start looking a lot better than it actually was.

Michael Parenti received his Ph.D. in political science from Yale University. He has taught at a number of colleges and universities, in the United States and abroad. Some of his writings have been translated into Arabic, Bangla, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Serbian, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish.

Notes

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