Eurasia, Lecture 5: R. James Ferguson © 2003

INTR13-304 & INTR71/72-304, The Department of International Relations, SHSS, Bond University, Queensland, Australia

Lecture 5:


Topics: -

1. Historical Introduction
2. The Buddhist Transformation
3. The Incomplete Buffer
4. The Chinese Invasion
5. Two Conflicting Interpretations
6. The Politics of Exile
7. Ironic Changes(Seminar)
8. Bibliography and Further Reading

1. Historical Introduction

The theme for this week is the study of two ancient kingdoms in their modern context. The countries of Mongolia and Tibet link Central Asia to Eastern Asia, and form crucial frontiers for China. Today we will only have time to study Tibet (those of you who wish to pursue seminars or essays on Mongolia, see Badral 1995; Bardral & Rice 1995; Enkhsaikhan 1995; Hahm 1993; Harper 1994; Kaplonski 1998; Milne 1991; Pmam & Pritchatt 1989; Stobdan 1997; Yusuf 1992; Enkhsaikhan 2001).

The origin of the Tibetan peoples is uncertain, but they were probably one of the 'nomadic, non-Chinese Chiang tribes, who herded sheep and cattle in eastern Central Asia up to the furthest north-west borders of China many centuries before the Christian era' (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p21), perhaps the same people identified in Shang Dynasty oracle bones (Beckwith 1987, p5, p8). These groups subsequently migrated west and south into current Tibet. A unique Tibet political entity developed a feudal system in the Himalayas and Tibetan plateau during the 5-9th centuries A.D. (see Snellgrove & Richardson 1968). It was during the 8th and early 9th century that the Tibetan kingdom, known as Tufan, became a regional power which pushed northwards to control access to the Silk Road, as well as depriving China of control of sections of territory in her western and south-western borders (e.g. in Kansu, Szechwan, Yunnan and Shansi regions, see Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p31; Beckwith 1987, pp34-36; Perelomov & Martynov 1983, pp152-4). Khotan on the Silk Road, for example, was open to Tibet attacks as late as 950 A.D. (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p112). Even after the decline of the first centralised Tibetan kingdom in 842 A.D., Tibetan groups remained a powerful force on the Chinese western border down to the thirteenth century (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, pp110-111).

The Tibetans were at this time renowned as fierce warriors, and at all times refused to accept an inferior position within the Chinese tribute system (see further below). In particular, in 730 A.D. Tibetan emissaries refused to the accept the emblems which signified an inferior status, the 'fish-bag' method in which a foreign official accepted a bag which contained 'half of a metal fish, the other half of which was kept at the T'ang court' (Beckwith 1987, pp89-90, p106). Likewise, Tibetan version of Tibetan-Chinese treaties of the early 9th century insisted on equal status, a reality reflected in Tibetan power during this period (Beckwith 1987, p20; Perelomov & Martynov 1983, p156-7). This is particularly the case of the Tibetan version of the treaty of 821-822 A.D., where both countries are regarded as sovereign, though the relationship would be like that between and uncle and a nephew (in Tenzin Gyatso 1990, pp45-47; the sheng jiu or dbon shang relationship, see Perelomov & Martynov 1983, p154, p157).

The Tibetan kingdom was essentially a feudal system based on two main groups: the agriculturalists of the valley systems (mainly in the eastern part of the country), and nomads with their herds of animals in the plateau regions (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p20).

2. The Buddhist Transformation

Buddha was a reforming Indian prince who arrived at a more egalitarian religion than the forms of Hinduism current during the 6th century B.C. His ideas diffused widely into the Ganges river system of northern India, into Kashmir, and then northwards in the trading cities of the Silk Road, including Kucha, Kashgar and Khotan. From there, Buddhism was exported into China, with hundreds of Sanskrit texts being translated into Chinese. Buddhism was thus very much part of the South Asian, Central Asian and East Asian world (see further Franck & Brownstone 1986).

We will not be looking in the history or philosophy of Buddhism in detail in this lecture (see for example Harvey 1990; Humphreys 1980; Saddhatissa 1987), but a few salient features need to be noted. Buddhist philosophy was partly a refinement of earlier Indian concepts, but focused on the idea that everything in the world changes, that nothing is permanent. In this condition, to desire anything will only lead to suffering. Once this is realised, a person can begin to walk the path towards Enlightenment, though most schools of Buddhism recommend that the Middle Path, avoiding extremes, was the best way for ordinary people to live. However, ignorance and desire cause people to commit errors and harm others, the effects of which can be carried over into later lives (via reincarnation). Here there is a principle of almost universal causation, called karma. From these factors the idea of Compassion for all beings and for all of nature emerges as a crucial belief. In Tibetan Buddhism, though the main aim is to seek enlightenment, even enlightened beings will be reincarnated in order to help others: this is the Bodhisattva ideal (i.e. someone who 'dedicates themselves entirely to helping all other sentient beings towards release from suffering', Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p224). From the Tibetan view, some beings who are on this Bodhisattva path can choose their own future reincarnations. The Dalai Lama (the current Dalai Lama is supposed the fourteenth reincarnation of the same being) and the Panchen Lama are two examples (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p238). Reincarnating lamas (tulku) of various grades form an important part of the entire religious and political system (Kolas 1996, p54).

External Resource: For photographs of The Fourteenth Dalai Lama,
and other images of Tibet, go to

During the seventh century Tibet had established a powerful kingdom with cultural contacts with China, India, Western Turkic groups in Central Asia (Beckwith 1987, p33), and with Persia. In 627 A.D. Song-tsen-gam-po became king and in 640 A.D. took a Chinese princess as bride. It was from this time that Tibet became a great regional power, expanding both towards China and south into Nepal and for a time controlling parts of Kashmir (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p49). At the same time Buddhism was first introduced from northern India, perhaps partly at the instigation of the king's Chinese and Nepalese wives (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p50). This king also adapted the Indian Gupta alphabet for use as the Tibet script which would launch his country on its sustained literary tradition (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, pp74-5). Yet if at first mainly a religion of the court and elite, Buddhism soon took root, partly amalgamating with features of the earlier indigenous Bon religion, and became a religion of every level of Tibetan society (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p67). At this time as well the first state-funded temple and monastery was built, the Sam-yä, constructed on the design of a gigantic mandala system, with its circles and squares representing the structure of the universe (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p78).

Although the Tibetans fought with the Chinese (or made treaties with them) for over more than 300 years, it is interesting that during this time Chinese culture had little impact on them. By the twelfth century A.D. Tibet had become almost exclusively focused in importing and developing Indian forms of Buddhism and art, and even later were only slightly affected by Chinese customs, domestic utensils, food (e.g. drinking tea), and to a certain extent Chinese art (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p64, p159, p231). This tradition of following the Indian form of Buddhism was reinforced by a great debate held in the Sam-yä monastery in 792 A.D. The supporters of Indian based (Mahayana) Buddhism, emphasising the gradual evolution of the 'would-be buddha' (bodhisattva), defeated their opponents, who supported a Chinese strand of Buddhist interpretation which focused on the possibility of the sudden achievement of enlightenment within one lifetime (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, pp78-9).

Interestingly enough, this Indian based form of Buddhism would survive long after it was eradicated in northern India after 1200 A.D., largely by Hindu religious resistance (and revival) as well as by the Moghul (Islamic) invasion of northern India. Prior to that time Tibet had not only imported Indian spiritual teachers, sent numerous students to study in India, but had also imported thousands of Sanskrit texts which it set about rigorously translating. The vast scale of this cultural importation is hard to envisage: over some 1100 years Tibetan religious communities dedicating themselves to translating, understanding and commenting on these religious texts, as well as expressing these ideas in art, music, dance, medicine and architecture, and mastering all levels of yoga and tantric meditational techniques. For example, a set of 225 volumes of translated works from Indian masters was just the core of a much wider library held by most monasteries (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, pp142-143). The level of this cultural importation and transformation does not mean that Tibetan culture was not unique. Far from it, they gave the religion their own nuance, and made it their own.

This line of kings from Yarlung would decline after the assassination of their last king in 842 B.C. (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p54, p110). After this time, aristocrats, and then Buddhist abbots would occupy positions of influence in power in Tibetan society. There was initially a decline in Buddhism, but it was revived through the country by the late 10th century, partly stimulated by visiting Indian scholars such as Atisa and Smriti (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, pp112-3). Likewise, from this time major Tibetan religious orders developed, often tied to local noble families, whose sons would enter the order, and who would help fund the monasteries (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p136). It was during this early period as well that the idea of reincarnating abbots who would repeatedly lead the order in their new lives was first used by the Bri-khung-pa order, as it would latter on the by the 'Red Hat' and 'Black Hat' orders, and also by the 'Yellow Hat' order of the Dalai Lama (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p136-7). From the 11-15 centuries numerous religious orders flourished, but after this time it was dGe-lugs-pa (Model of Virtue) order, i.e. the Yellow hats, who became the pre-eminent religious authority in the land. This order was founded by the writer and teacher Tsong-kha-pa, who in 1408 established the great Jokhang (Cathedral) in Lhasa, and who founded the annual New Year ceremony (the Great Prayer), which was only stopped by Chinese interference in 1959 (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p181).

The impact of Buddhism on Tibetan character can be debated. Certainly it did not at first reduce the warrior spirit of the Tibetan nobility (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p138). However, by the time of the 19th century, the Tibet character had been strongly affected by this long tradition. Likewise, Tibet housed a huge and alive Buddhist tradition that excelled in painting, wall decoration, temple-banners (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p142), religious architecture, literature, and music. This culture was supported by a huge population of monks, who formed perhaps 15-25% of the population. Huge monasteries in the region of Lhasa numbered altogether perhaps 20,000 monks in 1950 (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p237). These were not just centres of religious retreat, but huge economic and intellectual centres which were more like university cities (for modern cultural trends, see Mackerras 1999).

3. The Incomplete Buffer

Tibet might be viewed as a remote, hermit kingdom whose location, right in the middle of Asia, and on a high plateau ringed with mountains, make it a natural buffer and retreat. This is at best only partially true. It is better to think of Tibet as an incomplete buffer which would be repeatedly drawn into the politics of Greater Central Asia, and part of the Great Game played out between the British and Russians in the 19th century (see Meyer & Brysac 1999).

The first major incursion into Tibet by a foreign power would leave a lasting legacy which still influences Tibet today. From another remote, land-locked country, the Mongols burst out of Mongolia to control other tribes and form a huge empire which included most of Asia, all of Russia and, briefly, parts of Eastern Europe. Genghiz Khan attacked northern China in 1210 A.D., while his descendant Kublai Khan from 1263 gained control of all of China and established a new Chinese dynasty (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p144). In 1207 envoys arrived in Tibet to receive its submission, which was duly given. On this basis, modern Chinese (PRC) commentators have argued that from the 13th century, "Tibet was formally included in the territory of China', which 'ever since has exercised sovereignty over Tibet' (An Zhiguo 1988, p4).

However, a deeper relationship that mere submission emerged between Mongolia and Tibet. It is possible that Genghiz Khan had some interest in Buddhism, but Buddhism made its major entry into Mongolia when in 1244 the Lama of the Sa-skya order went to the Mongolian court, where he fully submitted to Mongolian authority. On this basis the Lama's nephew, Phags-pa (1235-80) became an intimate of Kublai Khan, who became a patron of the Buddhist religion (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p148). This meant that from the 13th century there was also much stronger contact between Tibet and China, which was also conquered by the Mongols. From this time on there emerged a relationship which would later on be invoked by the Chinese in their claims to rightly control Tibet. This was the Patron and Priest relationship, 'by which the ruler of Tibet in the person of the predominant grand lama was regarded as the religious adviser and priest of the Emperor, who in return acted as patron and protector' (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p148). The exact nature of this relationship, however, was far from formalised (see Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, pp148-152). The Mongol dynasty was driven out of China in 1368 by Chu Yuan Chang, who founded the following Ming dynasty. Thereafter, Tibet proceeded to remove traces of Mongol influence (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p153).

The influence of Tibet on Mongolia was considerable in that Tibet proved a script for the writing of the Mongolia language. There was further contact between the third Dalai Lama and Altan Khan, leader of the Tumed branch of the Mongols (circa 1578), and Buddhism of the Tibetan form became widespread in Mongolia. In fact the Chinese emperors would encourage this contact in the hope it would reduce the warlike nature of the Mongols (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, pp183-4). Indeed, the very title Ta-le (= Dalai) was given to Tibetan grand lamas by the Khan, meaning 'Ocean', i.e. 'Ocean of Wisdom'. After the death of the third Dalai Lama, 'his reincarnation was discovered in a great-grandson of Altan Khan', thereby ensuring further support for the Yellow Hat religious order, as well as creating a precedent for political intervention by outside powers in Tibetan religious politics (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, pp185-194). Buddhism would remain a strong influence in Mongolia until their socialist revolution suppressed it after 1911 (for Mongolia past and present, see Hahm 1993; Harper 1994; Milne 1991; Onon & Pritchatt 1989; Yusuf & Javed 1992). Relations between Mongolia and Tibet were also continued through a 1913 Treaty of Friendship and Alliance, emphasising their freedom from Manchu China (Kolas 1996, p59).

From this time, Tibet was drawn somewhat more into relationships with China: -

From the end of the Yuan dynasty (1368) there was no fixed relationship, certainly not one of subordination, between the rulers of Tibet and the emperors of the Ming dynasty, but contact was maintained by the frequent visits to China of monks and lamas of the great Tibetan monasteries. Although Chinese diplomatic fiction describes these as 'tribute missions', the participants, who represented no authority but their own monastery, went solely for valuable commercial concession they received. (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p157).
Once the Manchus invaded China and set up the Ch'ing dynasty after 1664, relations between Tibet and China were once again based on factional groups within Tibet gaining support from the Manchu court. The Mongol Khan Gu-shri, who controlled regions on the border of Tibet, had met and supported the Dalai Lama of his time, and convinced him to go to the Manchu court at Peking. Whatever 'interpretation was placed upon this afterwards by the Chinese, it was clearly a meeting between equals' and the Chinese asked the Dalai Lama to use his influence to reduce the Mongol threat to China (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, pp198-9).

These trends also reinforced the power and prestige of the Dalai Lamas, especially after the great fifth Lama (17th century), but it must be recognised that there were functional problem with this institution of the 'Dalai Lama'. The first of these was the idea of selection of a successor on the basis of finding the last Lama's reincarnation in a young child, usually born 1-2 years after the death of the previous Lama. Such a procedure not only involves potential disputes over picking the right child, but means that there is a 10-18 year delay while the child grows up, during which state and religious affairs must be largely controlled by a Regent (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p204). The Regent is also often a reincarnating lama (Kolas 1996, p54). Such disputes arose concerning the 6th Dalai Lama, and justified an invasion by a Mongol Khan who had the full backing of the Chinese emperor, thereby turning Tibet into a formal vassal of China for a short time, 1706-1717 (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p208). In fact the Chinese would act as a patron of the next Dalai lama, claiming a role as protector of the Tibetan state (the last occasion the Chinese would fulfil this role was in 1768-9 when Chinese forces helped repel a Gurkha invasion, see Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p226). From 1721 the Chinese emperors claimed that Tibet was a tributary state, and the Manchu emperor was 'technically  overlord of Tibet' (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p218). Most Tibetans reject this interpretation, regarding this period as at best no more than the earlier 'patron and priest' relationship between the Mongols and Tibet (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p10).

The Chinese from this time did not intervene heavily in Tibet affairs, though the Emperor did declare that the Panchen Lama, perhaps the second most holy figure after the Dalai Lama, was sovereign over his region of Western Tibet (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p220). However, the Manchu dynasty did impose one great restraint on Tibet; fearing that the recent Gurkha invasion may have been prompted by British intervention, they helped influence Tibet to limit foreign visits (especially British and Russian) as much as possible (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p227). This policy was not entirely unrealistic - as we have seen, in the 19th century Britain and Russia engaged in a Great Game of influence, espionage and military expeditions in Central Asia, with Afghanistan and Tibet emerging as rather ineffectual buffers for their interests (Meyer & Brysac 1999). An example of how strongly these suspicions influenced the Tibetans can be seen in the case of a lama who unintentionally helped 'a secret agent from India' - the poor lama was drowned (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p233). Yet the Tibetan policy of referring all British attempts at contact to Peking and then repudiating any agreements thus made could not last. In general, the Tibetans tried to keep their borders closed to Europeans, especially the English, though a few hardy travellers in the 19th century managed to visit either with or without permission (Meyer & Brysac 1999). After a brief British expedition to Lhasa in 1904 by Colonel Younghusband, trade-markets, exact borders and an indemnity were negotiated (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p233).

However, the British then withdrew, perhaps in response to a deal being forged with Russia. Their spheres of interest were defined in the following way: -

The agreement with Great Britain, signed on August 31, 1907, was a landmark in Russian foreign policy, for it transformed a relationship of traditional and often bitter hostility into one of cordiality. That result was achieved through compromise in those areas where the interests of the two countries clashed: in Persia, Russia was assigned a large sphere of influence in the northern part of the country, and Great Britain a small one in the southeastern section, while the central area was declared neutral; Russia agreed to consider Afghanistan outside its sphere of influence and to deal with the Afghan ruler only through Great Britain, Great Britain in turn promising not to change the status of that country or interfere in its domestic affairs; both states recognized the suzerainty of China over Tibet. (Riasanovsky 1993, pp416-7)
Of course, Tibet was not consulted on these arrangements. After 1914, the southern Tibetan border was somewhat more open, with the flourishing trade between Tibet (exporting high quality wool) through Nepal and India (in return for consumer goods) supporting a small, prosperous class of Tibetan merchants (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p235). Tibet retained its partial isolation by remaining staunchly neutral during World War II.

External Resource: for maps of Tibet, go to

4. The 1950 Chinese Invasion

Overt tensions began in 1949 when the newly victorious Communist Party of China declared its intention to 'liberate' Tibet. Border incidents then followed in the Kham province of Tibet resulting in the expulsion of all Chinese officials from Lhasa in 1949 (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p56). In 1950, Chinese forces carried out what they termed the 'peaceful liberation' Tibet, occupying the eastern parts of Tibet which henceforth became incorporated into Chinese provinces, and taking control of Lhasa itself. This view was deeply ingrained in PRC’s educational system and accepted by many Chinese (PRC) officials. It regards the invasion and subsequent reform as ending a terrible serf system, and as the freeing Tibet. However, it is possible that this liberation involved several major battles, and in the view of the Dalai Lama cost a total of 87,000 Tibetan lives (see Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p162). Appeals for help to the UN, to India, Nepal, Britain and the US did not bring about any effective response to the invasion.

For several years the Dalai Lama and his administration tried to cooperate with the Chinese forces. Indeed, in 1955 the young Dalai Lama visited Beijing and had extensive talks with Mao Zedong and Chou Enlai. At first he hoped that some compromise between Buddhism and Marxism could be reached. However, in one famous personal interview with Mao, who seemed happy with the Dalai Lama's desire for modernisation, this dream was shattered. Mao confided to the Dalai Lama that 'Your attitude is good you know. Religion is poison. Firstly it reduces the population, because monks and nuns must stay celibate, and secondly it neglects material progress.' (in Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p108).

Back in Tibet, increasing friction between the Chinese and Tibetans resulted in a major insurrection, once again mainly in the eastern areas, in 1959, with up to 10,000 Tibetan deaths estimated. In this insurrection, the Khampas of the Kham province, were particularly active (they would continue to wage a guerilla warfare during the 1960s with limited CIA help, see Tenzin Gyatso 1990, pp133-4). Several thousand also operated from 1960 from the tiny kingdom of Mustang, right on the border with Nepal (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p210). U.S. support was never on a large scale, and of course stopped when the US recognised the PRC as the legitimate government of China after negotiations through the 1970s, with formal recognition in 1979). Likewise, the heavy garrisoning of the city of Lhasa by Chinese troops led to inflation and shortages of food within the city, with the Tibetans engaging in civil disobedience and outright ridicule of the Chinese forces (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p80).

By March 1959 thousands of Tibetans took to the streets, fearful that the Dalai Lama would be arrested, resulting in a potentially bloody clash within the city. It was at this time that the Dalai Lama, disguised as an ordinary Tibetan soldier, left the city with his administration and fled to India. From that time, the Dalai Lama has run a virtual 'government in exile' (not recognised as such by either India or China), located in Dharamsala in northern India (with an initial exile population of over 5,000). In spite of the unwillingness of the Indian government to recognise the governmental status of this group, the Indian government has given generous financial assistance, including funding education for the exiles, and in the late 1990s, after three Chinese spies were discovered there in 1995, providing increased security for the Dalai Lama. In general terms, Tibet remains something of a strategic dilemma for both Indian and China, intensifying suspicion between the two countries (see Norbu 1997; Margolis 2000; for changes through 2001, see Rahm 2001).

Since that time, more than 100,000 Tibetans have fled their homeland, and have lived in dozens of settlements in India, including agricultural communities in southern Mysore and in Orissa. Other smaller settlements are in nearly Nepal, Bhutan, as well as small groups in Switzerland, the US, Great Britain, Canada and Australia (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p220). During this time, they have built some 300 temples and monasteries in India and Nepal, as well as created a major Library, Archive and Translation project (the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives), which has the 40,000 original Tibetan texts, and so far has published 200 books in English (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p201; Australia Tibet Council 1995, p5; Kolas 1996, p58). At the same time, the Tibetan community has also been expanding its library of materials on China, international relations, and the politics of oppressed people, hoping to prepare its people for the future.

Numerous motives existed for the Chinese invasion. Among the most mundane of these was the considerable mineral wealth of Tibet, including gold, silver, copper, iron, lead, semi-precious stones, (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p21) and uranium. Alongside this, the country has considerable reserves of timber in its eastern sections, though this was rapidly being cleared by Chinese clear-felling (complete removal of timber), though at least some replanting programmes were in operation in the 1980s, especially in the Lhasa Valley (Bower 1994, p415; Terzani 1985, p143).

At the time of the invasion, however, Chinese motivations were much more focused on strategic and national issues (see Bowers 1994). The newly born People's Republic of China claimed all the areas that had once been part of the early territorial domain of Imperial China. This policy was directed to regions including Inner Mongolia, Manchuria, Tibet, Xinjiang (sometimes called East Turkestan), Hong Kong, Macau and of course the 'renegade province' of Taiwan. Furthermore, China's hold on Tibet strengthened after 1959, and may have been a response to growing tension with the USSR (these tensions began in 1958 but had hardened by 1960 - in 1969 they would lead to a brief but intense border war). All these factors meant that control of Tibet, with its borders close to India, Burma and the USSR, was a strategic as well as a symbolic asset. It is for this reason that up to 150-300,000 Chinese troops are in Tibet, with perhaps 50-70,000 in and around Lhasa (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p261; Smith 1987, p23). In fact the Tibetan Plateau is ideal as a raised launching platform, and the Chinese have stationed missile and nuclear force units in Tibet, along with some 14 military airfields, 4 nuclear missile bases, and 17 radar stations, as well military production facilities and dumping grounds for nuclear waste (Bowers 1994, p415).

5. Two Conflicting Interpretations:

It must be noted that the interpretation of Tibetan history and contemporary affairs has become highly politicised. Facts provided by the Chinese government (PRC) on the one hand, and by the Dalai Lama and human rights groups in the West often show great discrepancies. Both sides need to be looked at closely. I will leave it to you to assess the strengths of their arguments (outlined in sections A and B below). At present, a major propaganda war is still raging over the nature of the relationship between China and Tibet.

A. The Chinese National Perspective

A classic case of this conflict of values can be seen in the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Although this involved some erosion of Tibetan religion and culture, and the bloody suppression of revolts, these actions must be interpreted in the light of Maoist (Chinese Communist) views on feudalism and the repressive function of religion. Also important were the traditional connections between the Tufans of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the culture of the Tang dynasty (Shaouyi 1982, p214), the need to gain firmer control of Buddhist institutions (Fairbank 1969, p452), and the various historical cases of Tibet being forced to recognise Chinese suzerainty in 1652, the 1720's and 1905 (Haw 1990, pp192-194).  Quite simply, the Chinese government has not accepted the political legitimacy of the Tibetan state or of its religious leadership, and stress that the Tibetans are one nationality among many in their multi-national state. From the Chinese viewpoint, being a nationality does not automatically infer the right to statehood (Kolas 1996, p65). Once this has been understood, it is easy to see that concerns for the unity of China, as well as pragmatic military and economic gains, have been allowed to overtake measures to preserve the autonomy of Tibet.

The main arguments maintained by China (PRC) include the following: -

* Ancient China's view of itself was based on two central conceptions. The first of these was China was the Middle Kingdom (or central kingdom), which as an advanced and long-enduring civilisation had a rightful place of supremacy in East Asia. This was in part due to a cosmological conception of the Chinese Emperor as supreme under Heaven, and therefore having a leading moral and political role in ordering world affairs.

* A related historical conception was that beyond the frontiers of China there were only partly civilised regions, viewed as the 'wild' domains of 'barbarians', especially to the north and west. Imperial China saw her role here as protecting her civilised heartland, and creating a zone of peace and tranquillity adjacent to her borders. This was done both through the export of her superior Chinese culture, but also through what has come to be called the tribute system of international relations. The tribute system refers to traditional patterns of diplomatic relations and deference between stronger and weaker powers, in which the weaker power  gains direct material benefits.

This was the way Chinese sources liked to conceive of ancient Chinese relations with tribes and nations on its borders, and implied in many cases positive economic benefits for the weaker power in the relationship, while enhancing the status and prestige of imperial China, whose emperor was viewed in some sense as a 'world-arranger' (Perelomov & Martynov 1983, p49). Once a state entered the tribute system, it might find itself at least partially protected (Mackerras 1992, p113) under the place it had now found as a respecter of Chinese cultural values. At the least, it would find trade and diplomatic relations much easier (Mackerras 1992, pp109-111). In fact, from the 3rd century B.C. onwards, Chinese emperors tended to declare all forms of trade 'tribute' (Perelomov & Martynov 1983, p46), a fact which resulted in nationalities as far distant as the Roman Empire being at times declared part of the tribute system. Silk, as well as other valuable trade goods (including porcelain) became part of this economic and political relationship.

* One assertion that is often made is that via the tribute system China could never deal with other states as equals, but only as part of a subordinate group. Two systems were used for this. The first was the tribute system, with the recipients being clearly subordinates. A second way involved less subordination, but still involved hierarchy, by using matrimonial alliances to bring other countries into a family of nations (Perelomov & Martynov 1983, p154). China, of course, was interpreted as the head of this family, and therefore provided leadership and could expect adequate respect. This foreign policy was made attractive to the barbarians by the wealth China offered, and raising their ambitions by allowing them to marry Chinese princesses. The fact that sometimes they passed off Chinese commoners as daughters of the Emperor was viewed as irrelevant (only 3 of 21 princess given away during the Tang dynasty are likely to have been genuine daughters of the Emperor, Perelomov & Martynov 1983, pp63-4, p154). Both methods relied on the barbarians' greed, and were a means to convert the sons and grandsons of enemies into loyal servants (Perelomov & Martynov 1983, p62) by linking them into subservient roles within the pattern of Chinese international relations. In 706 A.D. the Chinese passed of one such false princess to the Tibetan king of the time (Perelomov & Martynov 1983, p155). However, the Tibetans then turned the tables by then repeatedly demanding an alliance (meng) and the status of an equal state (Perelomov & Martynov 1983, p156).

This statement of universal inequality in dynastic Chinese international relations is not quite true. At times, China has been willing to negotiate on an equal basis with other major powers, e.g. the Xiongnu barbarians on their northwest in 193 B.C. (Perelomov & Martynov 1983, p57), Tibet (Tufan) in the early 9th century, and with the Russian Empire in the 17th century, while in the 20th century China has had to recognise the reality of Russian and American power. However, the tribute-relationship was held to apply to relations with Tibet, and therefore justified (in Beijing's eyes) its absorption into the modern state of China.

The tribute system, though officially defunct once China lost Korea as a tributary ally in 1895 (Mackerras 1992, p112), nonetheless still has some bearing on modern Chinese conceptions. Modern Chinese diplomacy is still concerned with the recovery of what Chinese leaders see as China's proper place in Asia and in world affairs generally (Shih 2000; Dellios 1994; Shih 1993). This conception has direct implications for Chinese relations with Vietnam, Taiwan, the two Koreas, and in the long-term, perhaps more problematically, with Japan. This conception of China's rightful place is more significant than straightforward border claims in mapping potential future conflict in Northeast Asia. Tribute in the past inferred recognition of status. Today, though no physical tribute is required, recognition of what China considers its legitimate role in Asia is a major issue for Beijing.

* Furthermore, the imperial Chinese tended to conceive of a heartland (the Central Kingdom), surrounded by outer areas which had to be pacified either by protective walls, by tributary relationships with pacified tribes, or by the creation of military colonies which allowed them to seize and control enemy lands by a process known as 'can shi, a policy of "gradually consuming [alien territory] as the silk worm consumes leaves"' (Perelomov & Martynov 1983, p53).

* All major nations of the world, including U.S., Britain and India have recognised that Tibet is part of China's sovereign territory, and none of these nations have given official recognition of the government-in-exile status to the Dalai Lama. In April 1954 the Indian government made an agreement with China not to intervene in each other's internal affairs, explicitly recognising that Tibet was part of China, a view based on the fact that the Indian leader Nehru hoped for friendly relations with an adjacent socialist country, and wished to avoid border wars which would destabilise the new (and still poor) Indian state (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p113, p161). Thus, when the Dalai Lama travels the world, he is received as a religious and moral leader, not as a head of state.

* After 1950 the Dalai Lama's government signed a Seventeen-Point Agreement with China which recognised Chinese sovereignty (contested by the Dalai Lama as  an agreement under duress and therefore invalid, see below).

* PRC claims that the population of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, outside of military forces, still remains more than 95% Tibetan, with a total population of 2.02 million of whom 1.93 million are Tibetan (Johnson 1989, p23). Furthermore, during the 1980s, there was no official policy of mass migration into the country, and only elite cadres were brought in to complete special projects in the country. However, there was an attempt to reduce even these cadres in the period 1980-84, but thereafter extra officials and skilled workers were brought in (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p270; see Huang 1995; see the alternative interpretation below, which includes Tibetans outside the Autonomous region). However, overall in the 1980s, there was an effort to reduce 'political' cadres (Huang 1995, p200).

* Prior to 1950 Tibet had one of the most old-fashioned and oppressive serf societies in the world. After rioting in the 1980s, Chinese authorities sought to remind the world of this earlier 'slave society' by publishing a picture in the People's Daily of a Tibetan peasant whose eyes had been gouged out as a punishment under the old system (Australian 1989a).

* China has tried to modernise Tibet and improve it materially. This has been demonstrated by large areas of government investment , (1) the development of industry, and the training of Tibetan children, some of the best of whom are sent into China for further education (Lu Yun 1988). China has also build dozens of schools in Tibet, including 64 middle schools, 14 secondary technical schools, and three institutes of higher learning (Lu Yun 1988, p17). China has also developed large farming and irrigation projects, e.g. The Three River Project, costing upward of US$362 million dollars (Beijing Review 1993). It has also built major road and new rail links into the country, linking it economically and strategically to China's western regions. (For the negative interpretation of this, see below)

* Since 1980, though Chinese is taught in schools, Chinese authorities have allowed the use and study of Tibetan language, even among students studying in China (Lu Yun 1988, p18). In 1987, probably in an attempt to mollify Tibetan resistance and world opinion, Tibetan for the first time was made the official language in Tibet (Economist 1987), with even Chinese cadres being encouraged to learn it. At the same time, university and technical level education still relies on Chinese, and to some extend English (especially for postgraduates).

Since 1960s the Chinese have attempted various proactive policies to improve their situation in Tibet. From the 1960s they called for the return of the Dalai Lama, though at first they suggested he should live in Beijing, not Lhasa. Later on, it was suggested he could live in Lhasa, though there would need to be division between political and secular administration (Terzani 1985, p156). In particular, he would need to accept that Tibet is an integral part of China, a view re-emphasised in 1988 (Beijing Review 1988a; Time 1988). From 1979 talks opened between delegates of the Dalai Lama and those of the Chinese government (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p253). The Dalai Lama came close to accepting central Chinese demands in the 1988, when he declared that he would accept that complete independence for Tibet was impossible, but asked for internal autonomy, with China looking after defence and foreign affairs issues (Asiaweek 1988). This proposal did not seem ridiculous, bearing in mind the autonomy promised by the PRC to both Hong Kong and Taiwan (one country, two systems) if they unified with China. Indeed, a Chinese academic has recently argued that complete internal autonomy under the 'one-country, two-systems' approach is the best way to resolve real problems in Tibet (see Xu 1998).

However, visits by Tibetan delegates to Tibet were met by huge massed crowds supporting the Dalai Lama, indicating how Chinese social programs had not won the loyalty of Tibetans.(2)  Furthermore, continued riots in Lhasa from 1987-1989 indicated that the formula of internal autonomy might be a dangerous one (see below). Other impediments included the site for talks: China chose Beijing, the Dalai Lama Geneva, though in 1989 he proposed Hong Kong as an alternative. Behind the scenes contact continued through 1985-1995, but did not bear fruit (Evans 1995, p9), perhaps in part due to the crack down of liberal-forces in China from 1989 onwards. In 1995 the Dalai Lama once again called for the resumption of talks, this time adding that he would being willing to talk anywhere (Wolf 1995). Through the late 1990s downs to 2002, the Dalai Lama continued an active international political campaign, but was met by repeated criticism in PRC media, which has continued to portray him as a 'splitist', or 'separatist' (see below). Only in late 2002 were contacts made again between Beijing and the Dalai Lama, via the envoy Lody Gyari, based on the idea of an autonomous Tibet within China (Geographical 2002). At the same time, some problems continue within Tibet, with dissidents still being arrested and imprisoned. However, through early 2003, China lifted most travel restrictions for tourists, indicating its secure control of the region.

The Chinese also released the former Panchen Lama in 1978, after some 10 years in jail and re-education (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p245, p257), while in 1980 the Chinese leader Hu Yaobang publicly recognised that the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s had a very destructive effect on China and had a strong negative impact on Tibet, arguing that a broad economic reform and localisation policy was needed to improve conditions (Tenzin Gyatso 1990; Asiaweek 1987b). In the 1980s, 60% of all leadership cadres included 40-60% Tibetans, though this did not include military posts (Asiaweek 1987a). Unfortunately, Hu Yaobang was himself discredited for being too liberal in 1987. However, as we shall see, the selection of the next Panchen Lama would result in major controversy.

B. The Perspective of the Dalai Lama and Western Human Rights Groups.

A very different view has been presented by the Dalai Lama and supporters of Tibet. These arguments include: -

* The presentation of pre-1950 Tibet as nothing more than a harshly oppressive feudal society with a large number of parasitic priests supported by the labour of virtual slaves is a distorted image. This view has been challenged both by the religious view of monks providing a real source of enlightenment, education and health care for the community, as well as by Western sociological analyses. It has been suggested that most Tibetan monasteries (aside from the big three around Lhasa) were quite small, with only 50-200 monks, and that they met the educational and religious needs of nearby communities (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p247-8).

* That the feudal system in Tibet, though harsh, was in fact moderated by the principle of compassion, which was central to Buddhist religion. At the same time, even the Dalai Lama would come to admit that certain Tibet institutions ground down the poor, e.g. the system of inheritable debt (see Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p86). However, the Dalai Lama argues that Tibetan serfdom was in fact less oppressive than that found in Imperial China, and that the Chinese confuse the Tibetan feudal system with their own past (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, pp111-2).

* The peoples of Tibet are ethnically, racially and culturally distinct from the Chinese, and do not even use the same writing script (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p69).

* That with the expulsion of Chinese forces from China in 1912, Tibet confirmed its position as an independent sovereign state, both in international law and in fact, a view published by the International Commission of Jurists in 1959 (in Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p69).

* That the systems of collective farms introduced by the Chinese, along with types of grain (winter wheat instead of barley) were not suited to Tibetan climate, resulted in famine and thousands of deaths during the first two decades of Chinese occupation (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p87, p258).

* That the special status of Tibet as an "Autonomous Region" is largely undermined by the strong presence of the PLA (People's Liberation Army) in the country, and that during the early period Tibet was in fact effectively governed by the PLA (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p98).

* That the invasion of Tibet was not based on Marxist principles, nor on a desire for justice for poor Tibetans (these were later rationalisations). In fact, the invasion was driven by Chinese nationalism and Han chauvinism (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p123).

* That the Chinese security forces have engaged in arbitrary arrests, executions, torture and degradation of their political opponents in Tibet, a view first published by the International Commission of Jurists in 1960, but sustained today by International Organisations such as Amnesty International (see Amnesty International 1995), and of course by the U.S. State Department (see U.S. Department of State 1996). Many of these groups argue that the harshness of the Chinese occupation was such that it can be viewed as either genocide, or cultural genocide. This was certainly true during the period of the Cultural Revolution, during which Maoist Red Guards tried to destroy all forms of religion and superstition in Tibet. The Dalai Lama suggests that 1.25 million Tibetans have lost their lives since 1959 (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p275). Of more than 1,500 functioning temples and monasteries, only 26 were functioning in 1987 (Economist 1987). Other articles speak of up to 6,254 monasteries destroyed (Iyer 1988, p40). Part of this destruction of monasteries may have been a traditional Chinese fear of the Buddhist monasteries being centres of subversion, a trend which emerged within China itself as early as the Tang dynasty. Furthermore, in so far as religion seems an essential part of traditional Tibetan values, this was also a strong attack on Tibetan identity (Australia Tibet Council 1995, p3).

* That political suppression continues in Tibet, with torture and imprisonment for political reasons common. Showing the Tibet flag, singing songs about an independent Tibet, or even having a picture of the Dalai Lama, can result in arrest, though this policy may have been softened in 1995-7. Increased tensions over religious organisations within the PRC generally re-emerged by 1999-2002, though there was the release of some prisoners during this part in order for China to improve the perception of its human rights record. At least through September 2002 China seemed to be tightening its hold on Tibet (Lev 2002).

* In contradiction to the more lenient policy used for many Western minorities in China (for the Kazakhs for example), a two child per couple policy has been imposed on Tibet since 1990 (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p260).

* There has been a massive immigration intake of Chinese, prompted by more open economic policies. Even if not officially planned (Huang 1995, p184), it results in more Chinese than Tibetans in the entire region that used to be the 'kingdom' Tibet. Overall, exile sources argue that 7.5 million Han Chinese have entered historically defined Tibet, compared to 6 million Tibetans (Bowers 1994, p412; Johnson 1989, p23). The discrepancy with Chinese official figures (see above) is partly a product of changing borders. Here part of the issue is that large parts of north and eastern Tibet were incorporated into the nearby Chinese provinces of Szechwan, Kansu and Qinghai - it is possible that much of the Chinese immigration has been into these areas, though the Chinese presence in Lhasa is also growing. The Dalai Lama suggests that in Qinghai province (once Amdo province of Tibet), there are 2.5 million Chinese and only 750,000 Tibetans (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p276). However, the Tibetans in exile also claim that even in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, Chinese already outnumber Tibetans (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p277), an interpretation strongly disputed by the Chinese authorities.

* The supposed Seventeen-Point Agreement was in reality forced upon Tibet by the invasion, and that since China had since broken many clauses of the agreement, the Agreement is in any case invalid (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p166).

* The Tibetan government-in-exile has modernised itself, set up democratic system of voting to create a parliament of regional representatives, established a constitution which even allows for the electoral take over of executive functions of the Dalai Lama (on the basis of a two-thirds majority in the new National Assembly), and also encouraged the involvement of women in state affairs (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, pp167-8, p183, p186; Kolas 1996, p60). In other words, it is no longer a feudal system. As of 2002, the ‘Tibetan community had its first direct election . . .  for a prime minister as a step toward forming a government that could function separately from the Dalai Lama’ (Associated Press 2003)

* That although the Chinese have allowed the rebuilding of some monasteries, these are largely show pieces for tourists and done for propaganda reasons. Serious study and teaching of religion is still limited, while the intake of new monks has also been extremely limited, especially since 1993 (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p278; Australia Tibet Council 1995; Bowers 1994, p422). Although ordinary religious practises are allowed, any that are too political are declared against public order ('criminal activity in the guise of religious practice', U.S. Department of State 1996). Clampdowns on monasteries and rebellious monks, as well as attempts at Chinese patriotic indoctrination, have continued through 1994-1998 (Faison 1998) and into 2001.

* That although the Chinese have tried to modernise Tibet and improve the economy, most of this wealth comes back to Chinese (Han) nationals. This was demonstrated by the fact that through the 1980s the average pay for Tibetans was half that of an urban worker in eastern China, and that his life span is 10-14 years less than that of the Chinese (Economist 1987). This situation has only been slightly improved in the 1990s.

6. The Politics of Exile

Flight before a stronger adversary by the head of state can be a useful tactic. It had been used by an earlier Dalai Lama, who fled to Peking when the British invaded in 1904, thereby giving the Chinese more arguments to claim Tibet's tributary status (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p234). Flight was also used in 1910 when Chinese forces tried to take direct control of Lhasa, this time to find that the Dalai Lama and his government had fled to India. This occupation was short lived when the Republican revolution of 1911 overthrew the Manchu dynasty. The Dalai Lama returned to Tibet in 1912, and in the early 1920s tried to modernise the Tibetan army, police force and educational system. However, pressure from conservative religious authorities soon undermined these efforts (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p244), so that in 1950 the Tibetan army had no heavy equipment and no modern command structure.

We can compare Chinese policies towards the Dalai Lama to that towards the Panchen lamas, who since the 18th century had always had strong Chinese support. The former Panchen lama, born in 1938, became an important political figure, who was used by the Chinese from 1949-1962 to help support their involvement in Tibet.  However, he soon ran into the limits of freedom of speech, and after a critical memorandum concerning Tibet to Chairman Mao in 1962, was promptly arrested (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p257). Once again in 1964 he gave a public speech in Tibet, voicing support for the Dalai Lama, and was again arrested (Delfs & Ali 1989, p12). He only reappeared in public life after 1979. After that time, he emerged as 'something of a Tibetan nationalist', though willing to accommodate himself to Chinese as well as Tibetan interests (Economist 1987). After the 1987 Lhasa riots, he publicly tried to soften Chinese hardline reactions, and personally secured the release of 59 Tibetan monks (Delfs & Ali 1989, p12). His death removed one of the main moderating influences within China, and also removed one line of communication between the Dalai Lama and the Beijing leadership (Delfs & Ali 1989, p12).

The Dalai Lama has used a wide number of strategies to promote his cause. One of these was to have the issue raised in the UN, at first very difficult since at that time neither Tibet nor the PRC was a member. In the end, the issue was discussed in 1965 in the UN, with Thailand, the Philippines, Malta, Ireland, Malaysia, Nicaragua and El Salvador critical of China (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p194). UN resolutions of 1959, 1961 and 1965 had very little effect. The 1991 UN 43 Sub-commission on human rights passed a resolution that complained about 'continuing reports of violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms' in Tibet (Kolas 1996, p61), but no sanctions or political action backed up these statement. Later resolutions either failed to pass, or else were not enforced by international action (see below).

One of the great dangers of any country which has been invaded is that their population will eventually lose their sense of identity and history, and their unique culture will become first just a memory, then die. Western sympathisers have sometimes argued that 'the civilisation of the Tibetan people is disappearing before our very eyes, and apart from a few gentile protects here and there the rest of the world lets it go without comment and without regret' (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p15). For communities in exile, in particular, there is the difficulty of keeping in touch with the homeland as well as that of keeping alive the 'critical mass' which can ensure that the products of a unique people, its art, literature, and ideas, remain vital and more than just a museum of the past. In this area the small Tibetan community overseas has been surprisingly successful, but not without an enormous struggle. It has also managed to keep its monastic tradition alive, with some 6,000 monks escaping into exile, with 1,500 funded to maintain the religious scholastic tradition (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p183). As of 1992, there were some 13,000 monks and 500 nuns focused on 165 monasteries and 8 nunneries in India and Nepal (Kolas 1996, p57). At the same time, there is no doubt that there has been considerable modernisation and westernisation among some of the younger refugees (Asiaweek 1989b). Some of these refugees are no longer content with the non-violent policies being pursued by the Dalai Lama.

The long delay in any serious improvement in Tibet's autonomy has also had other effects. Based on Buddhist principles, the Dalai Lama's approach has always been based on the principle of non-violence (Ahimsa), at best advocating civil disobedience but rejecting the idea of armed revolt. Here he may have in part been influenced by the example of the non-violence politics of Mahatma Gandhi, whom he greatly respected (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p127). The Dalai Lama has since developed a philosophy of Universal Responsibility, in which he argues that unequal development around the world must be the concern of all humans if there is to be real progress for humankind (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p190). This responsibility also extends to 'all sentient beings and also for all of Nature' (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p219). These policies certainly have had some effect: it was probably the use of this policy which led to the Dalai Lama receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1989, recognising his role as a religious and a political leader (Kolas 1996, p61).

Although not recognised as an official government-in-exile, many countries have recognised the religious and cultural significance of the Dalai Lama and his organisation. He has visited many world leaders and governments, e.g. in the US, Germany, and Australia, and in early 1997 even visited Taiwan. At the same time, many governments ensure that their protocol does not accord the Dalai Lama too much status, as most countries do not wish to offend the Chinese government (with whom many have strong trade relations). Former Presidents Bush and Clinton have both met with Dalai Lama as a religious and cultural leader, but British Prime Minister Major refused to see him at all in 1991, arguing that there was no point giving the Tibet exiles false hope. The Dalai Lama has also visited as diverse places as Russia, Mongolia and Australia. Thus the Dalai Lama cannot open embassies or consulates, but has opened 'offices' in Kathmandu, New York, Zurich, Tokyo, London and Washington, aiming both to help Tibetans abroad, as well as disseminating information about Tibet (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p200). As a result of these efforts, as well as the efforts of various pro-Tibet organisations (e.g. the Australia Tibet Council; The International Campaign for Tibet) and the sympathy of scholars and other religious leaders, the Tibetan cause has been made quite widely known throughout the West. In 1985, 91 members of the US Congress endorsed a letter asking the Chinese Government to allow direct talks with the Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p272), a process which was derailed by the PRC clamp-down in 1989, while in 1994 and 1995 many members of the US Congress also endorsed documents condemning Chinese human rights abuses in China (Bowers 1994, p428). Wherever Chinese leaders and delegates visit, e.g. to the U.S., EU, or to WTO meetings, they are now likely to be met by small but active numbers of Tibetan protesters.

At the same time, there are some dangers in this use of foreign pressure. As noted by one Asiaweek editor: "Nothing stiffens the backs of Chinese leaders as much as bald reproaches of their judgement. Such rebukes may be common in Western culture, where they are even commended as a highly effective political technique, but in traditionalist East Asia, they are anathema." (Asiaweek 1989a) China rejects any internationalisation of the issue as foreign interference in her internal affairs. She is also afraid, of course, the situation of Tibet might be compared to other regions over which she has claims, e.g. Taiwan.

The Dalai Lama has put forward several creative proposals to solve the Tibet problem. In September 1987 he spoke to a Human Rights Subcommittee of the US House of Representatives, and he put forward a Five-Point Peace Plan: -

1. The transformation of the whole of Tibet into a zone of peace.

2. Abandonment of China's population transfer policy which threatens the very existence of the Tibetans as a people.

3. Respect for the Tibetan people's fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms.

4. Restoration and protection of Tibet's natural environment and the abandonment of China's use of Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and dumping of nuclear waste.

5. Commencement of earnest negotiations on the future status of Tibet and of relations between Tibetan and Chinese people. (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p273)

From the Dalai Lama's point of view, this plan was not too radical, since Nepal had already proclaimed itself a zone of peace, and since the plan would allow the demilitarisation of the de-facto Chinese border with India (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, pp274-5). The Dalai Lama reiterated similar proposals at a press conference at the European Parliament Building in Strasbourg in June 1988. Furthermore, the plan to reverse environmental damage by creating a zone of peace for the ecology as well as politically was in line with Buddhist principles (for environmental damage in Tibet, see Doran 1996). However, the Chinese interpreted these proposals as no more than rebellious separatism or splitism (dividing the motherland, Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p279), and as an attempt to internationalise the issue, i.e. bring foreign intervention into an internal Chinese issue, thereby compromising Chinese sovereignty (An Zhiguo 1988; Beijing Review 1988a). Furthermore, the proposals directly imply that China's previous policies are in serious error, something its current leadership finds difficult to accept publicly.

However, even from 1955 many groups within Tibet preferred armed resistance, and today many young Tibetans argue that the politics of non-violence will never be effective against the Chinese. Small organisations which support a more aggressive strategy exist overseas, one with a headquarters in New Delhi. Furthermore, there have been repeated disturbances, public demonstrations and riots within Tibet itself. Major revolts took place in 1959 and 1969 (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p199), followed by serious riots in October 1987, March and December 1988 and in March 1989, all exacerbated by poor economic conditions and inflation in the cost of basic commodities (Bowers 1994, p414; Australian 1989b & 1989c). From March 1989 till May 1990 martial law (Kolas 1996, p56) was used to suppress these large scale demonstration. Protests, often on a smaller scale, have continued regularly down through 1995, and with less publicity in the late 1990s. To put it simply, China has not won the majority of the hearts and minds of Tibetans, either within Tibet or abroad.

7. Ironic Changes

Several important factors emerge from this discussion. Firstly, even if Tibetans would like independence, they realistically lack the power and friends to force this on the Chinese for the foreseeable future. Likewise, even as there are some signs that the Chinese government is trying to treat Tibetan economic and cultural interests with more respect, economic imperatives combined with more economic freedom means that the influx of Chinese into what was once eastern Tibet will continue. Likewise, just as China seems willing to begin to accept the unique cultural legacy of Tibet, there has been a fear within some PRC circles of the political activity of religious organisations within China (see Forney 1996).

The Chinese have not been able to 'turn around' the Tibetan problem. Tibetan aspirations remain a thorn in their side, have embarrassed China internationally, and have allowed the world to focus on their human rights record at the very time that China is seeking to integrate itself more closely into the world economy, as with her recent joining the World Trade Organisation. This may prompt some effort to reduce the negative global press impact over Tibet by some level of contact with the Dalai Lama through 2002-2003 (see below).

Certain Chinese leaders have even admitted that their policy in Tibet has not been fully successful, a rare admission. Nor have Chinese policies been able to entirely tame Buddhism, nor undermine the influence of the exiled Dalai Lama and the large Tibetan diaspora living abroad. Interestingly enough, western China today is itself experiencing a boom in religious self-discovery. There seem to be strong revivals in Islam and Tibetan Buddhism (Chinese Studies Association 1995), while in southern China there has been some revival in Buddhism and Taoism. Likewise, with widespread cynicism towards Marxist-Leninist thought, Beijing has at times considered a cautious revival of Confucianism in order to provide a set of moral values during a period of rampant economic growth and opportunism.

In this context, there is a certain irony in Beijing trying to control the religious aspirations of the Tibetans, and their policies of abusing the Dalai Lama have clearly failed internationally. Put simply, the attempt to suppress religion has undermined, not strengthened, the legitimacy of Chinese rule: -

More than anything else, the suppression of religion has alienated the Tibetan people from their Chinese rulers. The suppression of religion has become a metaphor for Chinese repression in general, in a process where religious expressions have come to stand for resistance. (Kolas 1996, p55)

Here the Chinese administration has reserved for itself a third option - that of controlling rather than eradicating religion. This policy was long held in reserve, where the early Chinese governments allowed Tibetan thinkers to live in China, and even play major roles in the Chinese Buddhist Association (Snellgrove & Richardson 1968, p245). The Panchen lama has played a role here, and it is for this reason that the Chinese have been insistent in pushing forward their choice for the new Panchen lama, and suppressing the different choice made by the Dalai Lama (the boy Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, a six year old named in May 1995). The boy chosen by the Dalai Lama has since disappeared (along with his family) from Tibet, but might very well be under house arrest in China. Xinhua new agency has also stated that the boy chosen by the Dalai Lama was 'a dog-killer unfit for religious service' (Eckert 1996). It is interesting to note that the Chinese have changed their policy since 1989, at the death of the last Panchen, when they declared that they would not recognise further reincarnations (Delfs & Ali 1989, p12). Since that time, they seem to have decided to control religious traditions rather than oppose it directly. On December 8, 1995, they enthroned their choice for the new Panchen Lama, the young boy Gyaincain Norbu, who promptly supported the unity of Tibet with China.

However, in general, Chinese patronage of religion is challenged by Tibetan monks and nuns (Kolas 1996, p56). Further tensions have risen with the flight of another key Lama from Tibet into India. The 17th Karmapa Lama, recognised by both the Dalai Lama and China, arrived in Dharamsala on 5 January 2000, and provoked demonstrations by Buddhist supporters who asked the Indian government to grant him political asylum (Reuters 2000). Human rights issues, both in Tibet and in relation to the Falungong religious sect, have also complicated relations between China the U.S., with China in late January 2000 warning the U.S. not to introduce 'a resolution censuring China at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in March' (AFP 2000). Small embarrassing events continue each year: the "15-year-old 17th Karmapa Lama [third highest-rank lama] arrived in India in January last . . . after making a hazardous 1400-kilometre journey in mid-winter through the mountains'. In February 2001 he was given refugee status in India (Schauble 2001). Protestors have also learnt to embarrass financial interests: in February 2001 'Tibet activists are demanding the British oil giant sell its stake in PetroChina, which is building a gas pipeline on what they call Tibetan ancestral land, and have filed a resolution to that effect for BP's annual shareholder meeting' (Page 2001).

The fact is, however, that regardless of these difficulties Tibet remains an important possession for China. Its economic and strategic significance as part of a larger border zone has been summarised by Stephen Bowers: -

This question is relevant not because Tibet by itself is so important to China but because the Chinese claim upon Tibet is similar to the claims which also justify Chinese control over Inner Mongolia, Manchuria, and Xinjiang (East Turkestan). If you consider, therefore, all four of these regions and calculate the consequences of their collective loss from China, there emerges a picture of a China which would not be like the present nation. Many of the minority areas have rich and important natural resources, resources that are especially valuable to a China that has embarked on an ambitious course of domestic reforms. Not only do the collective minority areas possess significance amounts of oil and minerals, they also produce an estimated 80% of China's milk and meat and have equal amounts of the nation's livestock. Taking away all of these regions would lead to a dramatic reduction in the size of the Chinese nation. In fact, it would be less than half its present size and would lose its borders with India, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Korea. It border with the former Soviet Union would be reduced to a mere fraction of what it is today. (Bowers 1994, pp430-1).
In the long run, the Chinese may have been hoping that the Tibetan problem would reduce as Tibet modernised, and as young Tibetans learned Chinese and adopted Chinese culture (Asiaweek 1987c). Furthermore, they may hoped that once the current charismatic Dalai Lama dies there will be less active resistance to China's control of Tibet. However, both hopes are problematic. Even well-educated Tibetans do not seem to be turning away from Buddhism, while there is no guarantee that some new mechanism may not be found to continue a strong Tibetan protest movement overseas (for some schisms within the Tibetan community, see Wilson 1999).

Here one of the early dreams of the Dalai Lama should not be readily dismissed. He had hoped to find some way of combining Marxism and Buddhism, a project which was actively taken up after 1959 by a number of scholars in India (Tenzin Gyatso 1990, p170, p251). In the 1980s, the Dalai Lama has reiterated that he thinks Buddhism can show Marxism how to become a genuine socialist ideal 'not through force, but through reason, through a very gentle training of the mind, through the development of altruism' (Iyer 1988, p42). Furthermore, the Dalai Lama seems to still hope for further serious dialogue with China. In November1998 the Dalai Lama's visit to the US prompted Chinese fears of another round of protests within Tibet, but the Chinese leadership made it clear that it was not willing to make serious concessions (Lam 1998). Furthermore commentary in Chinese newspapers through early 2002 continued to signal strong disapproval of the Dalai Lama's international agenda, while at the same time promising to boost Tibet's infrastructure and economy, noting average growth of 12.4% in GDP for Tibet since 1994 (Asiainfo Daily China News 2001). They may be playing a waiting game, waiting for the current charismatic Dalai Lama to age and die. Simply hoping that both sides will give in or compromise seems unlikely, unless key external pressures are brought to bear (see Sautman 2002). (3)

Through late 2002, there were some renewed contacts between the Dalai Lama envoys and PRC officials, and in February 2003, it has been rumoured that secret negotiations are now preparing the ground for a visit of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. This is on the basis of the new leadership within China (President Hu Jintao), and on the need to improve the human rights perception of China in preparation for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing (Guardian 2003). It is ironic that Hu Jintao was the official who declared martial law in Tibet in 1989 (Kittridge 2003), but his knowledge of the real problems within Tibet may end up leading him towards a more moderate solution. It may also be based on recent words of moderation by the Dalai Lama: “Tibetan demand for full autonomy is within the framework of the constitution of China and it will not affect the unity and integrity of China” (BBC 2003). Whether this is merely a negotiation point, or serious diplomacy, remains to be seen. Prospects for the Tibetan cause remain uncertain, and largely dependent on the future of conditions in China.

8. Bibliography and Further Resources


The Chinese view on Tibet can be found in various issues of the China Daily, which can be searched on the Internet at:

Two detailed Tibetan views will be found in the Tibetan Government in Exile webpage at and in Tibet Online at

Voluntary Further Reading
ARPI, Claude The Fate of Tibet: When Big Insects Eat Small Insects, New Delhi, Har-Anand Publications, 1999
ENKHSAIKAN, Jargalsaikhany "Mongolia's Status: The Case for a Unique Approach", Asian Affairs, 27 no. 4, Winter 2001, pp 223-231 [Access via Bond Library Databases]
MARGOLIS, Eric S. War at the Top of the World: The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet, N.Y., Routledge, 2000
SAUTMAN, Barry “Resolving the Tibet Question: Problems and Prospects”, Journal of Contemporary China, 11 no. 30, 2002, pp77-107 [Access via Ebsco Database]
SNELLGROVE, David L. A Cultural History of Tibet, Boston, Mass., Shambhala, 1986 (in Library)
TENZIN GYATSHO, DALAI LAMA XIV Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of His Holiness the  Dalai Lama of Tibet, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1990 (in Library)
XU, Mingsu "Complete Autonomy: The best Approach to Peaceful Resolution of the Tibet Problem", Journal of Contemporary China, 7 no. 18, 1998, pp369-378 (in Library - serials section)
Discussant Footnotes

 1. According to Doje Cering, chairman of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, between 1952 and 1986, some $2.7 billion in central government subsidies, see "Damage Control", Asiaweek, 13 November 1987.
 2. In 1992, one young Lhasa monk could state that 'The Chinese have Mao, we have the Dalai Lama', Kolas 1996, p57.
 3. Contra the simplistic analysis in "A Break for Tibet", The Economist, 14 November 1998, p18.


AN ZHIGUO "The Dalai Lama's 'New Proposal'", Beijing Review, August 1-7, 1988, p4
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL People's Republic of China: Persistent Human Right's Violations in Tibet, Internet Report, London, Amnesty International, 1995 []
Asiainfo Daily China News, "China Vows to Boost Tibet's Economy", 3 December 2001 [Access via Proquest Database]
Associated Press “Dalai Lama says China will 'sooner or later' give autonomy to Tibet”, 23 January 2003 [Access via Nexis Database]
AUSTRALIA TIBET COUNCIL Report on Religious Freedoms in Tibet, Prepared for the Foreign Affairs Committee of the German Parliament, 1995
BADRAL, Surenguin (Webmaster) "Introduction to the History of Mongolia", Internet Access from Mongolia Webpage, 1995
BADRAL, Surenguin & RICE, Mitch (Webmasters), "The Concept of Mongolia's Foreign Policy", Internet  Access from Mongolia Webpage, 1995
BAIRD, Vanessa "Adventures with Tintin", New Internationalist, December 1995a, pp10-11
BAIRD, Vanessa "Dreams, Schemes and Prayer Wheels", New Internationalist, December 1995b, pp24-5
BAIRD, Vanessa "Exit the Dragon", New Internationalist, December 1995c, pp28-30
BAIRD, Vanessa "The Great Escape", New Internationalist, December 1995d, pp7-9
BAIRD, Vanessa "Learning from the Enemy", New Internationalist, December 1995e, pp15-16
BAIRD, Vanessa "The Man Himself", New Internationalist, December 1995f, pp26-27
BAIRD, Vanessa "Shadows, Videos and Mobile Phones", New Internationalist, December 1995g, pp12-14
BAIRD, Vanessa "Yaks, Pats and Daredevils", New Internationalist, December 1995h, pp20-21
BATCHELOR, Stephen The Jewel in the Lotus: A Guide to the Buddhist traditions of Tibet, London, Wisdom Publications, 1987
BBC “Dalai Lama Hopes Tibetans Will Get Autonomy”, 23 January 203 [Access via Nexis Database]
BECKWITH, Christopher I. The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1987
BELL, Charles, Sir Portrait of a Dalai Lama: The life and Times of the Great Thirteenth, London, Wisdom, 1987
BOGDONOFF, Philip (Webmaster) "The 1995 U.S. Visit by His Holiness The Dalai Lama of Tibet", International Campaign for Tibet, 30 September 1995 (Internet Source)
BOGDONOFF, Philip (Webmaster) "Information on Tibet", International Campaign for Tibet, 1995 (Internet Source)
BOWERS, Stephen "Tibet since Mao Zedong", The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, 19 no. 4, Winter 1994, pp409-432
DELFS, Robert & ALI, Salamat "Panchen, the Pacificer", Far Eastern Economic Review, 9 February 1989, p12
DELLIOS, Rosita Modern Chinese Defense Policy: Present Developments, Future Directions, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1989
DELLIOS, Rosita Chinese Strategic Culture: Part 1 - The Heritage from the Past, The Centre for East-West Cultural and Economic Studies, Research Paper no. 1, 1994
DELLIOS, Rosita Chinese Strategic Culture: Part 2 - Virtue and Power, The Centre for East-West Cultural  and Economic Studies, Research Paper no. 2, 1994
DORAN, Chris "Tibet: Destruction of Shangri-La", Internet Article, 1996 []
ECKERT, Paul "Amnesty Says Tibet's Disputed Boy Lama 'Missing'", Reuter, 19 January 1996
ENKHSAIKHAN, J. "Mongolia's Security Policy: Regional and International Aspects", The Mongol Messenger, no. 18 (210), 14 July 1995 (Internet Access from Mongolia Webpage)
EVANS, Louise "Tibet Expects Change When Deng Dies", Australian, 7 February 1995, p9
FAIRBANK, John K. "China's Foreign Policy in Historical Perspective", Foreign Affairs, 47 no 3, 1969, pp449-463
FAISON, Seth "Tibet Monasteries Suffer in China's 'Rectification' Drive", International Herald Tribune, 19 November 1998, p5
FORNEY, Matt “Gods Country: Be It Buddhism, Christianity or Centuries-old Sects, Chinese are Flocking  to Religion in Unprecedented Numbers”, Far Eastern Economic Review, 159 no. 23, 6 June 1996, pp46-50
FRANCK, Irene M. & BROWNSTONE, David M. The Silk Road: A History, N.Y., Facts on File, 1986
Geographical “Tibet: Dalai Lama Contacts Chinese Authorities”, 74 issue 12, p15
Guardian “Beijing Talks on Dalai Lama’s Return”, 8 February 2003, p19 [Access via Nexis Database]
HAHM, Hongjoo The Development of The Private Sector in a Small Economy in Transition: The Case of Mongolia, Washington D.C., World Bank, 1993
HARPER, Caroline An Assessment of Vulnerable Groups in Mongolia: Strategies for Social Policy Planning, Washington D.C., World Bank, 1994.
HARVEY, Peter An Introduction to Buddhism: Teaching, History and Practises, Cambridge, CUP, 1990
HAW, Stephen G. China: A Cultural History, London, Batsford, 1990
HUANG, Yashang "China's Cadre Transfer Policy Toward Tibet in the 1980s", Modern China, 21 no 2, April 1995, pp184-204
HUMPHREYS, Christmas The Buddhist Way of Life, London, Mandala Books, 1980
INFORMATION OFFICE OF THE STATE COUNCIL (PRC) "Tibet - Its Ownership and Human Rights Situation", in FBIS-China, Supplement, October 9 1992, pp1-23
IYER, Pico "Tibet's Living Buddha", Time, 11 April 1988, p40-42
JOHNSON, Marguerite "Protest and Repression", Time, 20 March, 1989, pp22-23
KAPLONSKI, Christopher "Creating National Identity in Socialist Mongolia", Central Asian Survey, 17 no. 1, 1998, pp35-49 (Vertical File)
KIM, Samuel S. (ed.) China and the World: Chinese Foreign  Relations in the Post-Cold War Era, 3rd ed., Boulder, Westview Press, 1994
KITTRIDGE, John "New Chinese Leader has a Tainted Past", Toronto Star, 18 January 2003 [Access via Ebsco Database]
KOLAS, Ashild "Tibetan Nationalism: The Political of Religion", Journal of Peace Research, 33 no. 1, February 1998, pp51-66 (Vertical File)
LAGUE, David "China Pledged Troops to North Korea: Seoul Report", The Australian, 14-6-94a, p10
LAGUE, David "Revealed: Our Plan to Avert Conflict in Asia", Sydney Morning Herald, 26-7-94b, p1, p8
LAM, Willy Wo-Lap "Beijing Alert For new Tibet Protests", South China Morning Post, 18 November 1998, p8
LEV, Michael A. “China Tightens Hold: Tibetans Adapts and Live”, Chicago Tribune, 3 October 2002 [Access via Ebsco Database]
LU YUN "Training Qualified Personnel for Tibet", Beijing Review, May 30 - June 5, 1988, pp17-19
MACKERRAS, Colin Eastern Asia: An Introductory History, Melbourne, Longman Cheshire, 1992
MACKERRAS, Colin “Tradition and Modernity in the Performing Arts of the Tibetans”, International Journal of Social Economics, 26 no. 1-3, 1999, pp58-77 [Access via Ebsco Database]
MARGOLIS, Eric S. War at the Top of the World: The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet, N.Y., Routledge, 2000
MEYER, Karl & BRYSAC, Shareen Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia, Washington D.C., Counterpoint, 1999
MILNE, Elizabeth The Mongolian People's Republic: Toward a Market Economy, Washington D.C., International Monetary Fund, 1991
"Mongolia The New Oil Rich Giant", Asian Business Review, December/January 1996, p13
MONGOLIAN CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY "Review of the Mongolian Economy for 1994", Internet Access from Mongolia Webpage, 1995
NAKAMURA, Hajime Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples: India, China, Tibet, Japan, Honolulu, East-West Center Press, 1964
NORBU, Dawa "China's Dialogue with the Dalai Lama 1978-90: Prenegotation State or Dead End?", Pacific Affairs, 64 no. 3, Fall 1991, pp351-371
NORBU, Dawa "Tibet in Sino-Indian Relations: The Centrality of Marginality", Asian Survey, 37 no. 11, November 1997
ONON, Urgungge & PRITCHATT, Derrick Asia's First Modern Revolution: Mongolia Proclaims its Independence in 1911, Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1989
PAGE, Jeremy "UK Minister Seeks to Defuse BP Tibet Row", Reuters, 6 February 2001 [Internet Access]
PERELOMOV, L. & MARTYNOV, A. Imperial China: Foreign-Policy Conceptions and Methods, trans. by V. Schneierson, Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1983
RAHM, Julie “Russia, China, India: A New Strategic Triangle for a New Cold War”, Parameters, Winter 2001-2002, pp87-97 [Access via infotrac Database]
RIASANOVSKY, Nicholas A History of Russia, Oxford, OUP, 1993
SADDHATISSA, Hammalawa Buddhist Ethics: The Path to Nirvana, London, Wisdom Publications, 1987
SAUTMAN, Barry “Resolving the Tibet Question: Problems and Prospects”, Journal of Contemporary China, 11 no. 30, 2002, pp77-107 [Access via Ebsco Database]
SCHAUBLE, John "Indian Asylum for Boy Lama", The Age, 6 February 2001 [Internet Access]
SHIH, Chih-Yu China's Just World: The Morality of Chinese Foreign Policy, London, Lynne Rienner Publishes, 1993
SHIH, Chih-yu Reform, Identity and Chinese Foreign Policy, Taipei, Vanguard Institute for Policy Studies, 2000
SMITH, William E. "Fire in a Snowy Land", Time, 19 October 1987, pp22-23
SNELLGROVE, David L. A Cultural History of Tibet, Boston, Mass., Shambhala, 1986
SOMERVILLE-LARGE, Peter To The Navel of the World: Yaks and Unheroic Travels in Nepal and Tibet, Sevenoaks, Sceptre, 1988
STOBDAN, P. "Mongolia and Asian Security", Strategic Analysis, 21 no. 8, November 1997, pp1187-1198 (Vertical File)
TENZIN GYATSHO, DALAI LAMA XIV Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet, London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1990
TERZANI, Tiziano Behind the Forbidden Door: Travels in China, London, Allen & Unwin, 1985
Tibetan Ritual Music Chanted and Played by Lamas and Monks, Audio Tape, Lyrichord, LLCT7181
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE China Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996, Internet Access, Washington, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labour, 1996 [
VAN PRAAG, M. C. Walt The Status of Tibet: History, Rights, and Prospects in International Law, Boulder, Westview Press, 1987
WILSON, Mike "Schisms, Murder, and Hungry Ghosts in Shangra-la", Cross Currents, 49 no. 1, Spring 1999, pp25-38 [Access via Proquest Database]
WOLF, Jim "Dalai Lama Calls for Talks With China", Australian, 13 September 1995, p13
XU, Mingsu "Complete Autonomy: The best Approach to Peaceful Resolution of the Tibet Problem", Journal of Contemporary China, 7 no. 18, 1998, pp369-378
YUSUF, Shahid & JAVED, Shahid Developing Mongolia, Washington D.C., World Bank, 1992
Copyright R. James Ferguson 2003
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