Such vehement attacks on the Dalai Lama that appear with seeming regularity in state-media have in large part been sanctioned by the Communist Party for nearly 20 years, since the Party’s Third Tibet Work Forum, held in 1994. The Tibet Work Forums are major policy meetings held on occasion to set the Party’s overall strategy as it relates to Tibet (the most recent forum, the fifth, was convened by the Party’s top echelon in January 2010). At the crucial Third Tibet Work Forum, however, Party leaders abandoned what had been a relatively less hostile approach, and began to publicly condemn the Dalai Lama, and citing him as the root cause of instability in Tibet.
Prior to the Third Work Forum, denigrating the Tibetan spiritual leader was not an explicit goal of Party policy. It follows that without that key decision, or a subsequent one like it, we probably wouldn’t see such articles teeming with utter contempt for the Tibetan spiritual leader and Nobel Peace Laureate. We would see Party leaders better positioned to sincerely engage with the Dalai Lama on the problems in Tibet, rather than shrouding their invitations for his greater involvement with cynicism and spurious claims, which has the effect of actively working against attempts at mutual cooperation.
As long as the Party leadership maintains their course of giving license to public condemnations of the Dalai Lama, they will face the contradicting goals of seeking to diminish the Dalai Lama’s influence, while at the same time seeking to utilize that very stature in order to address issues, such as the Tibetan self-immolations, that the Party itself has proven ill-equipped to face.
Perhaps recent suggestions emanating from within the Party that leaders in China cannot simply ignore the Dalai Lama’s religious significance could pave a way forward, and create the pretense needed for authorities to safely begin to confront the reality of the Dalai Lama’s role in Tibetan society. However, without ending the public condemnations, Party leaders allow themselves few realistic avenues for engaging with the Dalai Lama in order to address what is taking place in Tibet today. The first step Party leaders must take, is to stop denigrating the Dalai Lama.
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” or so the saying goes. However, a few more are sometimes required to explain what has been captured on film (or memory card). For example, China’s official news agency, Xinhua, recently published a couple of striking images of the Ganden Ngamchoe celebration in Lhasa which took place in front of the Jokhang temple. The celebration, observed across Tibet, marks the anniversary of the death of the Buddhist teacher Je Tsongkapa, founder of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. What the images do not show are the armed security personnel stationed in the area in case of…well, there seems to be a litany of things the armed personnel would act upon in a manner many would deem disproportionate, but let’s just generalize and say “in case of behavior not officially sanctioned by an authority figure.”
Images of the security personnel stationed near the Jokhang during this year’s celebration can be viewed here. Images such as these also help explain why Tibetans in Ngaba felt it necessary to celebrate Ganden Ngamchoe earlier than usual this year, in case authorities there decided to ban the celebration altogether (see ICT report, 9 December 2011).
If these are simply police stationed to “keep the peace,” then why shy away from showing them online in the official news outlet? Did the photographers simply miss the (painfully obvious) armed police? Did the photographers and editors, more simply, think the security outfits and guns clashed with the beautiful Jokhang surroundings? Or maybe the juxtaposition of soldiers with guns and monks lighting butter lamps was too much artistic commentating for the general public to appreciate? Who knows (besides the photographers, editors, and possibly most everyone else involved with taking and publishing these images)?
That armed security personnel are deployed for “crowd control” is certainly not unique to Tibet, leading some to find it easy to brush this aside. However, this incident, like so many things in this world, must be viewed in context, a context that includes an extensive crackdown following the protests which began in 2008, the overwhelmingly majority of which were peaceful; a context in which virtually every Tibetan is viewed as a potential “separatist” (if not an outright “separatist”) when expressing any aspect of their identity that is not officially sanctioned; a context in which seeing a Tibetan being treated fairly under the law is about as common as a Snow Lion sighting.
A single picture may well be worth a thousand words, but I still prefer a few words strewn together that ask more questions than they answer, rather than glossy images that beg to be considered a complete portrayal of a situation that leaves so much outside of the frame.
There is a saying that some Chinese officials are fond of using when lecturing to foreigners about Tibet, which goes something like this: “Seeing once is better than hearing it a hundred times.” I was reminded of this when seeing two very different perspectives relating to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans in exile. The reader can be the judge.
The first is a report in the mainstream Chinese media, People’s Daily, of October 28, the first paragraph of which says:
“The Dalai Lama always boasted devoting himself to advancing democracy, but his democracy practice often turns to be a laughingstock. For example, his ‘Tibetan People’s Parliament’ held the 8th session of fourteenth conference on September 7 in Dharamsala turned out to be a big joke.”
The “joke” actually refers to a very frank, acrimonious and forthright discussions that took place within the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile on a draft resolution during their recent session. Similarly, the People’s Daily refers to a recent write up by Jamyang Norbu la that was critical of Dharamsala. Then, by some quaint logic the article’s conclusion is: “All of this information revealed that the Dalai controlled everything about the ‘government in exile’. And the so called ‘government in exile’ and ‘parliament’ was only a pretense for democracy.”
This is not the time to see whether the issues relating to the draft resolution were right or wrong, or whether there was politicking going on during the discussions in the Tibetan Parliament. This is also not the occasion to discuss whether Jamyang Norbu la’s article reflected the reality of the situation or his own personal viewpoint. The relevant and significant fact here is that these Tibetans in exile were putting into practice a democratic process. As the People’s Daily report ironically and clearly testified, Tibetans in exile can dissent, and dissent publicly, without any risk of being thrown into some jails or being executed.
The worst part is that the Chinese official newspaper was relying on secondary information and distorting the context to reach on certain conclusions. To date, I have not known of any People’s Daily reporter having visited Dharamsala (or any Tibetan community in exile), not to speak of having watched the proceedings of the Tibetan Parliament. Judging by the way the report appears in the People’s Daily, including the very obvious misspelling of Tibetan names, I can guess that it contains materials translated into English from the Chinese translation of the original English or Tibetan.
On the other hand, three Nobel laureates were in Dharamsala in the last few days interacting with the Tibetan community there. There is a report on their website about a statement by them on their perception of the Dalai Lama and of the Tibetan people. I am reproducing the statement below.
“Nobel Peace Laureates Mairead Maguire and Jody Williams today launched the Thank You Tibet! Campaign at a press conference in Dharamsala, India. Together with Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, the women released a statement recognizing the many contributions made by Tibetans and His Holiness the Dalai Lama throughout their fifty years in exile.
“His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the people of Tibet affirm critical values that the world is in danger of losing. They are a model for all of us: despite the attack on their people and the displacement of their culture they preach and practice compassion and respect for the dignity of every person. Furthermore, by making a peaceful transition from ancient traditions of leadership by a small group of hereditary rulers to government by democratically elected leaders, Tibetans have set an admirable example. If a community exiled from their homeland and scattered across the world can come together and grow into a democratic society that respects human rights, every community can do so. The Tibetans also demonstrate how common core human values can and should transcend geography, ethnicity and culture.”
I think those Chinese officials are right who quote the saying, “Seeing once is better than hearing a hundred times.”
Photo Caption: Press briefing by two Nobel peace laureates – Jody Williams of the United States and Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland – in Dharamsala, India, on Oct. 28, 2009. (Sangey Kyap/TibetNet)