China’s dilemma over the Dalai Lama

On Wednesday, May 15, 2013, in China, Dalai Lama, by Bhuchung K. Tsering

When it comes to the issue of Tibet and how much the top Chinese leaders know about the reality of the situation on the ground, one problem is that the officials serving in Tibet have not been providing accurate reports to Beijing.

Under the authoritarian system that is in China, there is a culture in which leaders only want to convey and hear good things, whether or not they are true. In the process the reality on the ground is ignored to serve a political interest, which in the course of time leads to unrealistic and misguided policies.

The latest example of this in the case of Tibet is utterances by Vice Director Cui Yuying of the State Council Information Office. In a meeting with visiting Indian and Nepali journalists recently, she told them the following: “Foreign media might have been spreading rumors that Tibetan people want repatriation of Dalai Lama. But this is not the situation,” adding, “Our investigation has shown that Tibetans do not want to see Dalai Lama coming back. ”

On the face of it, we could brush this away as a political statement from a Chinese official that does not deserve a second look. Leaving aside the issue of politics, it is not rocket science to get an idea of the aspirations of the Tibetan people vis-à-vis the Dalai Lama. The historical and spiritual bond between the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people go beyond the birth of the People’s Republic of China. In Tibetan cultural context, the Dalai Lama is the manifestation of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who is the “Lhakel” (“assigned deity”) for people of the Land of Snows. Thus, the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people are inseparable, to those who understand Tibetan culture and tradition. It is for this reason that despite his physical absence from Tibet in the past more than five decades, this bond has only grown closer.

Secondly, China’s own policies towards the person of the Dalai Lama contradict what Vice Director Cui is saying. Despite China’s claims that the Tibetan people enjoy religious freedom, the Chinese authorities have virtually banned the Tibetans from displaying portraits of the Dalai Lama in their houses, as is the Tibetan spiritual tradition. Additionally, the Chinese authorities forcefully make the Tibetans follow this command after realizing that Tibetans seek every opportunity to follow their tradition of revering the Dalai Lama.

Thirdly, even Chinese scholars and intellectuals who do not have this historical bond with the Dalai Lama have had their outlook on him changed after learning about his life and work. Today, many Chinese in China disagree with the perspective of the Dalai Lama that the Chinese leadership has been projecting to them.

All these information are known to the Chinese officials, which begs the question as to why the Vice Director should be making such a statement as above. I believe this has to do with the tunnel vision and the shortsightedness by which the Chinese authorities have framed their Tibet policy so far. The Chinese authorities have realized the tremendous reverence that the Tibetan people have for the Dalai Lama and somehow have concluded that this threatens the survival of the Chinese Communist Party’s hold over them. Rather than looking at this Tibetan tradition positively and finding ways to respect it, the Chinese authorities are have chosen to project the Dalai Lama as an adversary and to remove any reference to him from Tibetan society.

In the process, these Chinese leaders are forgetting China’s own claim of being a multi-ethnic country that respects the traditions of all the communities. Furthermore, such irrational utterances by Vice Director Cui goes against the new image of China that the new leadership in Beijing is trying to project.

This brings me back to the initial point about officials not conveying accurate information from the ground to the leaders in Beijing. Vice Director Cui knows the reality of the Tibetan people since she has served in Lhasa. Rather than tell the truth as it is and face it, she is choosing to misinform the public. In 1979 when the first fact-finding Tibetan delegation went from Dharamsala to Tibet, the leaders in Beijing were fooled by such a misinformation from Lhasa that led to them to order Tibetans not to disrespect the delegation as they are guests of Beijing. However, the tremendous and unimaginable positive Tibetan people’s reception to this, and the subsequent delegations, took Beijing by surprise.

It is time China and the Chinese leaders realize that their opportunistic statements are only fooling themselves and nobody else.

On the other hand, if the Chinese leaders really believe Vice Director Cui’s statement that “Our investigation has shown that Tibetans do not want to see Dalai Lama coming back,” there is a simple way to test this out. You know what I mean!

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2 Responses to “China’s dilemma over the Dalai Lama”

  1. Duo Hua says:

    While it may strengthen the arguments you make in this essay, readers may find it interesting that 55 year old Cui Yuying (崔玉英), a female official, is ethnically Tibetan and spent over 37 years of her career working in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Her “ancestral home” is said to be in central Shandong Province far from the Qinghai Tibet Plateau, but this region also happens to be one of the catchment areas for recruiters of what eventually became the PLA 18th Army. One therefore may speculate that perhaps she is the product of a mixed marriage or possibly even adopted. She most likely was born in Tibet and in 1975 at the age of 17 began working as a primary school teacher in Nyingtri which not coincidentally was then the home base of the 18th Army.

    There is no need to go into her education or career rise except to say she possesses the sort of background that is highly valued in today’s China: increasingly responsible Party and Government positions combined with some commercial experience. By 2006 Cui was a member of the TAR Standing Committee and head of the TAR Propaganda Department. At the end of 2011 she left the TAR with a promotion to the Party’s Central External Propaganda Office and State Council Information Office as a Deputy Secretary. Cui Yuying and another Tibetan woman from Chamdo, Lo Mei (罗梅) who is a Deputy Secretary of the Central Communist Youth League, are probably the highest ranking Tibetan officials based in the capitol today. No doubt Cui was brought out to meet the Nepalese and Indian journalists for two reasons: (1) She previously may have known and interacted with some of them when she was heading the TAR Propaganda Department and (2) it was calculated that her Tibetan ethnicity would give authenticity to whatever she said about Tibet.

  2. JP says:

    Chinese leaders did say so and their remark was reaffirmed by Kim Jon-un with an additional comment quoting that North Korea is the happiest place to live, a joy index conducted by his own administration single-handedly.

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