Dialogue  October-December, 2012, Volume 14 No. 2

Editorial Perspective

Tibetan Tragedy

Two factors, emerging just after India’s independence, continue to work as impediments for the country’s all-round development. These are (a) Tibet’s occupation by China’s Red Army and (b) Partition of India. The first converted the most peaceful Indo-Tibetan border into Indo-Chinese border and a zone of conflict; the other created, for the first-time, a long border inside the country. With these twin developments, India now has two new frontiers to defend. India, the highly pauperized country due to British colonial exploitation, in spite of resource-crunch, had to divert its precious resources to defend its borders and fight wars with China and Pakistan. The weaknesses of power-centric myopic Indian politics further complicated the problem. India mishandled the problems related to both. The country had to pay heavily for the information and insight-deficit about Tibet, China and Pakistan at the top-most political, administrative and academic levels

Nehru took the initiative in organizing the ‘Asian Relations Conference’ in March 1947 in Delhi and a second one in Indonesia in 1947. This antagonized Mao, as he considered China and himself to be the leader of Asia. In Mao’s mind, the question as to ‘who will lead Asia?’ was supreme. The Chinese occupation of Tibet served five purposes simultaneously: (i) it satisfied the Chinese colonial instinct; (ii) it fulfilled the Marxist task of ‘liberating’ a State from feudalism; (iii) China occupied a most strategic location of South and South-East Asia, as stated by Ginsberg that "he who holds Tibet dominates the Himalayan piedmont; he who dominates the Himalayan piedmont, threatens the Indian subcontinent; and he who threatens the Indian sub-continent may well have all the South-east Asia within his reach, and all the Asia"; (iv) it was a step of capturing the palm (Tibet), with Mao’s claim on the fingers – Laddakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh; and (v) it was a master-stroke to show the Asian and Non-aligned nations to show that Nehru was only a ‘paper tiger’, incapable of protecting a small nation, and therefore incapable of leading Asia and others. Fear of looking like a neo-colonialist, or whatever be the reason, India even did not claim anything inherited from the British in Tibet.

Sardar Patel wrote to Nehru on November 7, 1950 after the occupation of Tibet in 1950 by Chinese People’s Liberation Army: "The Chinese Government has tried to delude us by professions of peaceful intentions. My own feeling is that at a crucial period they managed to install into our Ambassador (academic K.M. Panicker) a false sense of confidence in their so-called desire to settle the Tibetan problem by peaceful means." Tragedy is that Nehru, even after that, and even other Prime-ministers of India, like Atal Bihari Vajpayee, preferred to remain in delusion even after repeated shock-treatments by Beijing.

What happened in Tibet was a tragedy not only for Tibet, but also for India, and in long run, for South-East Asia too, as the sources of many of the Indian and South-East Asian rivers lie in Tibet and China is going to divert the water resources of Tibet towards its dry regions. Moreover, China is least interested in maintaining the ecological balance in the Tibetan plateau. Its development and mining related activities have already started disturbing the fragile ecological balance of the plateau.

China has broken all the promises made to Tibet vide 17 Point Agreement of May 17, 1951 between the PRC and Tibet’s representatives, who were forced to sign the same under duress. while they were in Beijing. In reality, the country has least regard for treaties, agreements and promises. The politico-military nature of the governanment in China with military’s role in the policy-making makes that country intolerant and arrogant. However, overall strength of China, including its economic muscle, lies in its capacity to create extremely cruel exploitative work culture and its insensitivity towards the sufferings of its citizens.

China, in spite of its extreme boastfulness, is a highly calculative nation; it avoids risks. China started its "Forward Policy" in Tibet, for the first time, only after Col. Francis Younghusband’s expedition of the British government of 1904 exposed the military weaknesses of Tibet and appeasement policy of London towards China and Russia became evident. Moreover, China fully exploited the differences between Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama and the antagonism between the Lhasa administration and the chieftains of Kham and Amdo. China used to exploit fully the intra-Tibet difference through its representative (Amban) in Lhasa.

Soon after Younghusband’s departure from Tibet, General Zhao Erfeng, the Chinese warlord and governor of Sinning, invaded Kham province of Tibet in 1905. Zhao (Tibetans remember him as butcher Zhao) began meticulously razing monasteries, killing monks, beheading Tibetan officials and immediately replacing them by Chinese officers. It initiated the process of sinicization of Kham. The provinces of Amdo and Kham became the administrative provinces of Quinghai and Xihang. Thirteenth Dalai Lama had to come to India as Fourteenth Dalai Lama was forced to do half a century after that. It was the end of the Choe-yon (priest-patron) relationship; Tibet became part of Chinese empire. Mao’s China’s action in Tibet was the repeat performance of what Zhao did earlier.

The advancing People’s Liberation Army of China introduced "democratic reforms" in some areas of the eastern Tibetan provinces of Kham and Amdo in 1956 and the same extended throughout these provinces and in the central Tibetan province, U-Tsang; the property and possessions of the aristocratic and wealthy sections of the society were confiscated. Tibetans were herded into "mutual aid teams". Grain and animal products were seized as "Patriotic public grain tax", "Surplus grain sales" and "Contribution of past grain reserves". These steps were necessary for feeding Red Army stationed in Tibet. Later on, the "mutual aid teams" scheme was phased out, the people were organized into communes and forced to work together under the supervision of the leaders of the "production brigade’ and also eat together from the "one big pot". The Tibetans were forced to grow wheat in 80 percent of their fields to feed the army and the Chinese civilians in Tibet. As the wheat output started declining after initial few years’ bumper crops the civilians suffered. It needs mention that barley, rather than wheat is the native and preferred crop of Tibet and the latter depleted fertility of the Tibetan soil soon. Forcing the nomads to lead sedentary commune life, forbidding them from roaming with their herds in search of seasonal pastures had also most disastrous impact on the Tibetan society. Jasper Becker, in his Hungry Ghosts: China’s Secret Famine writes:

"The Golok warriors escaped on horseback to the mountains or to India but the women and children remained and were forcibly settled into communes. In 1958, the tribe was brought together to live in a city of tents in Qinghai laid out in straight rows and traversed by streets named "Liberation Road" or Beijing "Road". Instead of roaming in small groups over the thin pasture, which grows on a bleak plateau 12,000 feet above sea level, the herds of each family, usually numbering a hundred yaks, were concentrated in one spot. There was no forage prepared, and what pasture was there, was soon eaten bare. Before long the animals were starving. Normally, nomads slaughter animals in autumn when they are fat to provide food for the winter. Now no animal could be killed without the express permission of provincial authorities, hundreds of miles away, who made no allowance for the customs of the herdsmen. By early 1959, the animals had either died of starvation or were so thin that their emaciated bodies could provide little sustenance." Here it needs mention that Golok, originally located in Amdo, was separated from the same and designated as Guoluo Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture is now part of the Qinghai Province of China.

As expected, the measures mentioned above, proved disastrous for the Tibetans; famine became widespread in Tibet’s rural hinterland between 1968-73. More than 340,000 persons were starved to death.

In 1963, authorities divided people into different classes; "class struggle sessions" (thamzing, Tibetan) were introduced. A section of the Tibetans were forced to publicly accuse, criticize or beat other Tibetans, who had either worked earlier in the independent Tibet’s government or had achieved prosperity or a high level of scholarship. The latter were categorized under the black hats of "landlords", "money-lenders", "serf owners", etc and tortured. As reported, these resulted in the death of 92,000 persons. Moreover, the policy of "he who does not work shall not eat" badly hit the households with infants, aged parents or infirm members. A large number of Tibetans were forced to survive on rodents, dogs, worms, grass, bark and leaves.

Due to politico-military culture, Chinese government is not only brutal to the Tibetans, Uighurs, Manchus and Mongols (of Inner Mongolia), but also to a large sections of the Han Chinese. However, Hanization of Tibet, Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia and Manchuria by settling Han Chinese in those regions brought extra disadvantages for the ethnic minorities of China, who have become minorities even in their own homelands. It needs mention that People’s Republic of China is following systematic policy of finding lebensraum for the Hans in these provinces. The indication of Beijing’s population transfer policy was given by Mao himself in 1952, and later on by the President Liu Shao-chi in 1955 by a statement to Panchen Lama and then by Premier Zhou Enlai in 1960.

Tibetans were also put to disadvantage by transferring parts of eastern Tibet to mainland Chinese provinces. Traditionally, Tibet had three provinces, namely, Amdo, Qinghai and U-Tsang. Amdo is now divided into three parts and merged with Qinghai, Gansu and Sichuan provinces of China. Kham, the traditional eastern Tibetan province, is also divided between "Tibet Autonomous Region" or TAR, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan provinces. Part of Tibet, west of Drichu (Yangtze River) and south of Kunlun mountains, formerly known as U-Tsang, is now designated as Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR; in Chinese, Xizang zizhiqu). Tar, constituted as "autonomous region" in 1965, is the only area recognized by modern day China as Tibet. The Tibetan plateau is re-named now as Qinghai-Tibet plateau. It needs mention that out of 5.4 million sq. km. of the Western China (or the Western Region, with about 300 million population, consisting of six provinces of Gansu, Qinghai, Shanxi, Sichuan and Yunnan; one city Chongqing; three autonomous regions of Tibet, Xinjiang and Ningxia), 2.5 sq. km. constituted the parts of Tibet. Evidently, the two-way strategy of (i) merging the Tibetan plateau’s parts to other Chinese provinces, and (ii) making Tibetans minority in Tibet by settling Hans, is proving disastrous. The voice of dissent brings endless repression. There is poverty of human development, although enormous efforts are going on to develop road and rail communication and other infrastructures to derive benefits from its strategic location and natural resources. The benefits of development, hardly, reach most of the Tibetans. Tibetan language, culture and religion, is gradually being pushed to the margin.

Chinese leaders often accuse Dalai Lama as splittist; any protest –violent or non-violent –is usually attributed to "Dalai Clique". They are hoping that Tibetans will reconcile to their present status after his death. In reality, it is a fond hope of the myopic Chinese.leaders, who fail to realize that only His Holiness Dalai Lama is capable of preventing radicalization of Tibet, especially its youth. They should, therefore, use him to achieve permanent settlement of the vexed problem. Moreover, China can never maintain its present status of growth due to various reasons. China is finding it difficult to produce cheap wares due to the demands for higher wages by the Chinese factory workers. Yet another factor can not be ignored that its population is also ageing. Even the economists of Chinese origin –Yasheng Huang, Minxin Pei and Gordan Chang –are skeptical about the same.

In 1979, Deng Xiaoping called China’s invasion of Vietnam a replication of the lesson taught to India in 1962. China, while stepping up cross border incursions and encouraging India-bashing, while offering meaningless talks, does not cease to use that language even now. Its official organ, with a recent China Institute of International Strategic Studies commentary said that an "arrogant India" wants to be taught another 1962-style lesson. Unfortunately, Chinese have failed to realize that learning is always better than teaching and now, it is China’s turn to learn to avoid such language. It is not 1962, and any potential aggressor may not go without receiving unacceptable damage. And again, it was Vietnam, and not China, which humbled American superpower. In 1971, Peking made threatening noises only on Pakistan’s behalf, as Russia was with India.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   —B.B. Kumar

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)                                                Astha Bharati