The Dalai Lama and the Future of Tibet

The Dalai Lama and the Future of Tibet

Last year when the 14th Dalai Lama announced that he may be the last incarnation of Tibetan Buddhism’s highest monk, Chinese authorities insisted that the lineage must continue after his death. In a recent visit to the hometown of the current Dalai Lama in Qinghai, the Washington Post’s Emily Rauhala looks at how the battle over his birthplace is an extension of the battle over the future of his title and of Tibetan Buddhism:

Last year, the Dalai Lama raised the possibility that his title may die with him, musing also that he might reincarnate as a woman, reincarnate outside Tibet or not reincarnate at all.

Beijing countered that the man they call a “wolf in monk’s robes” must absolutely reincarnate. It seeks to control what happens when he dies by, among other things, staking a claim on his place of birth.

That leaves Hongya in limbo. “In a way, his birthplace represents and embodies the Tibet problem: It’s there, and the Chinese authorities cannot make it disappear,” said Yangdon Dhondup, a research associate at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

“To find a way around this is to make it as difficult as possible to access it so that slowly, this place — and in extension, the Tibet problem — is forgotten from the mind and from history,” she said. On the road to Hongya, the sweep of history is in full view. [Source]

One way authorities try to divert attention from “the Tibet problem” is by restricting access to the region by journalists and other international observers. On a recent trip to China, Representative Nancy Pelosi and a group of Democratic lawmakers were allowed to make an unannounced visit to Tibet, but non-Chinese media were not allowed to accompany them. Upon return to Washington, participants spoke about the visit. From Julie Makinen at the Los Angeles Times:

Pelosi described the visit as highly controlled, estimating that more than 30 Chinese security officers accompanied the delegation of seven. Though she could not be sure just how Potemkin what they saw was, she noted, for example, that what China “wanted us to see was housing. And we did. Did we see families? I’m not sure.”

Still, she called the trip “very valuable,” adding: “The difference between seeing and not is vast – no matter how they show you what they want you to see.”

[…] Woeser, a Tibetan activist and writer who generally goes by one name, said China’s increasingly frequent but highly controlled invitations to visit Tibet pose a quandary for foreign dignitaries, reporters and others.

“Everyone wants to go — especially the foreign press. But if you don’t get approval [from the government] and don’t follow their arrangements, you won’t be allowed. You have to follow who they say and where to go. This is a difficult situation,” she said. “If you don’t agree to preconditions, you can’t go. But if you follow the closely arranged itinerary, you’ll be used by the Chinese government as well. So there’s no good choice for foreign press or politicians when it comes to Tibet.” [Source]

Soon after Pelosi’s visit, a group of foreign tourists were taken on a group tour of Tibet by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Bloomberg Businessweek’s Dexter Roberts tweeted from the trip:


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