Tibet: Moving Forward, Holding On

In a 2002 article reprinted in National Geographic‘s May issue, which is devoted entirely to China, Pulitzer prize winning journalist Lewis M. Simons takes a closer look at the issues Tibetans face:

The greatest shift taking place everywhere in China is that with economic freedom now a reality, people are becoming increasingly independent minded. Tibetans are beginning to follow, but slowly and fearfully. Initiative does not come easily to Tibetans, conditioned by Buddhism to be content with their lot—overwhelmingly as impoverished serfs and nomads—and to await happiness in the next life. Added to this, Beijing’s spending on agriculture, transportation, and other infrastructure has helped foster a culture of dependence.

Even given their first signs of economic initiative, Tibetans are nowhere near achieving political self-determination. Although many are loathe to accept it, the reality is that China is there to stay. Just as most Americans believe they are the legitimate owners of land once occupied by Native Americans, most Chinese say Tibet is a legitimate, historic part of the motherland. They’d no sooner return Tibet to the Tibetans than the United States would return South Dakota to the Sioux. And unlike the U.S., which had no prior claim on Indian territory, China does at least have an arguable historic claim on Tibet: Chinese emperors dominated Tibet during most of the 18th and 19th centuries. For more than 1,000 years before that, China and Tibet made war on one another repeatedly. Fortunes reversed again and again, at times leaving Tibet with the upper hand. China lost control early in the 20th century before the communists took over Tibet once and for all in 1959.

And this is how Simons ends the article:

… the old and new, tradition and change, exist uneasily side by side. Among the Tibetans … I found a people conflicted by that change. Some candidly acknowledge the hardships and inequities of life under the . Others grudgingly concede economic progress under China. No one wants to return to the old, often abusive, theocracy. But no one wants the Chinese to remain in Tibet either. They don’t miss the old days and its old ways. They simply want their country back.

April 21, 2008 7:42 PM
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Categories: Economy, Main, Politics, Society