The Tragedy of Tibet

By Ingram, Paul | Contemporary Review, September 1992 | Go to article overview

The Tragedy of Tibet


Ingram, Paul, Contemporary Review


SINCE 1945 nearly one hundred former colonies have gained their independence, but unfortunately we do not yet live in a post-colonial age, since one huge country was annexed after the War, and that country is Tibet. An article in the New internationalist (March 1992), declared Tibet to be |one of the last outposts of colonialism', and this is surely correct.

Tibet occupies an area of about 600,000 square miles (two-thirds the size of India), and stretches from the Karakoram mountains in the west, to Lake Kokonor in the east, which is situated some 800 miles east of Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. For most of its two thousand year recorded history Tibet has been independent, though the Chinese have claimed it since the 13th century, claims which the Tibetans have rebutted on numerous occasions. The Tibetan population is about 5-6 million.

In 1949/50 Communist China began a brutal occupation, which spells cultural genocide for this Buddhist culture. China justifies this occupation with arguments, which if used by John Major's government, would legitimise the occupation of Southern Ireland on the basis of claims made by the English Plantagenet kings of the 13th century. Not surprisingly, the Chinese encounter problems when justifying their annexation of Tibet at the UN Human Rights Commission, as they have been attempting to do since 1985.

The occupation of Tibet contravenes the UN Charter, which recognises the right of peoples to determine their own destiny. On the basis of similar claims, arising from ancient imperial dynasties, China has also occupied Mongolia (much of which was lost to the former Soviet Union), Manchuria and East Turkistan (Xinjiang). These three areas, together with Tibet, cover over 11/2 million square miles, and without them China would be less than half its present size, having no border with India, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Korea, and practically none with the former Soviet Union. China is arguably a land empire as the Soviet Union was, and seems destined to suffer a similar fate.

The Chinese stated that they had come to help the Tibetans and |introduce them to the ways of civilization', the classic justification for colonisation and empire. In October 1950, under threat of war, the Tibetans were forced to sign the |17 Point Agreement' in which the Chinese promised to respect Tibetan religion and culture. These, and many other promises, were systematically broken, resulting in the |Twenty Years War', in which some 400,000 Tibetans died, in a forlorn attempt to preserve their independence.

The Chinese occupation of Tibet is a double tragedy, not only because of the measureless human misery it has caused, but because |Tibet was the only ancient culture to survive intact into modern times', whose roots are lost in antiquity, as Fosco Morraine observed. It has been practically destroyed by the Chinese, when they were ideally suited to bring this unique Tantric Buddhist culture gently into the 20th century. Tibet is now a huge military base having an army of occupation of nearly half a million, together with nuclear missile bases, such as the one at Nagchuka, and parts of Tibet suffer from radiation and industrial pollution.

The old Tibet produced prodigies of art, religious iconography, sculpture, metalwork and literature, and this culture, which would have proved a treasure-trove to the anthropologist, the social historian, the archaeologist, the ethnologist, the student of myth and folklore, song and dance, has been virtually obliterated by Chinese communist barbarism. Intimate contact with other ancient cultures, such as those of Egypt, Greece, the Incas or the Aztecs was obviously impossible, but Tibetan culture actually survived until the time of the Suez Crisis.

The Chinese never lose an opportunity to emphasise the supposed cruelty of Tibetan culture, but cruel punishments were largely abolished by the 13th Dalai Lama some ninety years ago, and the defects of the old regime are like a candle to the sun, compared with wholesale Chinese crimes against humanity. …

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