Commemorating March 10

(14th Day,
1st Month, Earth Ox Year, Monlam Chenmo, 2009 C.E.)


March 10, 2009 is the 50th commemoration of the Lhasa uprising of 1959, when the Tibetans of
Lhasa and pilgrims and refugees from all over Tibet arose and, mostly unarmed,
tried to protect the 24 year-old Dalai Lama from being taken into captivity, in
the midst of a nationwide, unarmed and armed resistance that sought to
terminate the Chinese military occupation of their precious Tibet, the Land of

Chinese government led by President Hu Jintao is behaving in an inconceivably
immoral and impractical way, by encouraging irredentist cultural
revolutionaries such as Zhang Qingli and his backers and supporters to destroy
the Tibetan individual identity and Buddhist culture, and even, it seems the
Tibetan people. This nakedly reveals for all to see the basically genocidal intent of the Chinese
neo-colonialists in Tibet.

“White Paper” released by the Chinese government on March 2, 2009, in the
context of intense ongoing oppression, a virulent “Strike hard” campaign, is a
rehash of obsolete communist propaganda. It vilifies the Dalai Lama and the
Tibetan nation in the typical colonialist way, justifying the 58-year-long
Chinese occupation and genocide by pretending that the free society they invaded
was a horrible one that did not deserve to exist. It opens with the bare-faced
lie that Tibet has been part of China forever, which anyone with a slight
acquaintance of Chinese and Tibetan history easily sees to be untrue. If the
Tibetans were Chinese, then why would the Chinese need to strive for over fifty
years to destroy Tibetan culture, language, and one sixth of the population, in
the futile effort to replace their “Tibetanness” (i.e. identity, culture,
history, and language) with “Chineseness,” (i.e. a sense of being Chinese, a
culture conforming to Chinese culture, and a fabricated history where they’ve
always been Chinese, even without knowing it)?

the “White Paper” is too pathetic to merit the refuting of each propaganda
point with some glimpses of the reality of an imperial invasion, a military
occupation, a colonialist population transfer, and sadly, an ongoing, purposive
genocide. Its arguments and cooked-up “facts” are a throwback to 50 years
ago to the era of triumphal communism that was going to “liberate” the world by
conquering it for communism, out to destroy “old” cultures and religions to
make way for the brave new world of classless internationalism. Within China,
such impractical Stalinist ideology and cultural revolutionary activity has
long been discredited, along with the excesses of Mao and his gang of four.

then does President Hu Jintao think it is useful to unleash this same old thing
on the defenseless Tibetan people? He must be terribly afraid of the truth of
the Tibetan cause, of the reality of the Tibetan people’s feelings, not to
mention the often stated desire for freedom and democracy of the Chinese
people. His vicious oppression of the Tibetan people when he was in charge of
Tibet in the late 1980’s earned him spectacular advancement within the Chinese
Communist Party’s ranks, it so pleased the aging Deng Hsiaoping and his anxious
successor, Jiang Zemin.

however powerful Hu may feel as President of a “rising China,” he seems not to
have sufficient self-confidence or imagination to take the bold but realistic
steps needed of facing the reality of Tibet and radically changing course,
accepting the Dalai Lama’s sincere offer of friendship and letting the Tibetans
be Tibetans, having their Buddhism and their freedom on their own high plateau.
This would calm the Tibetans and stabilize the China-Tibet union, and begin the
process of environmental restoration of the high plateau that is vital for all
Asia and the entire world. It would also swiftly change his global stature from
sharing with Ahmedinejad of Iran the position of “least respected world leader”
(in a recent International Herald Tribune /Harris poll) to being universally
respected and honored as the fourth leader of China. He would be the first to
make the shift of China’s persona from being that of a self-contradicting
communist “world-liberator” through imperial conquest, to being the reasonable,
cooperative, truly peacefully rising, creative, ecologically and politically
constructive, new world power in the 21st century.

years have come and gone and the Tibetans still suffer under extreme injustice,
oppression, and genocidal destruction. The Dalai Lama still leads them in
mainly nonviolent resistance, though he pleads with them not to protest openly
in Tibet during this time, because it only provides an excuse for the currently
brutal regime to “strike hard” against their imagined enemy, the Tibetan who
persists in being Tibetan.

commemorating all this today on March 10th, one thing we can do at least in our
minds, it seems to me, is to take responsibility for our role in standing by
while this is happening. We should not blame it all on the poor Chinese. We
(meaning here the entire official world, our American government and those of
the Europeans, the Indians, and the East Asian free countries) have allowed the
Tibetan genocide to continue (along with those in North Korea, Burma, Darfur)
out of our greed to profit from China, either as an ally in the cold war
against Russia (forgetting in the process that the Chinese government is itself
a totalitarian communist dictatorship), or as a huge pool of cheap labor and a
mythical market for our goods and commodities. Out of our obsession with
ruthless short-term business, we have rationalized our neglect of the basic
humanity and justice that is the necessary foundation of a prosperous
globalizing world. Acting imperialistic ourselves, we have encouraged by
example the Chinese to behave imperialistically. Clinging to our own excessive
militarism, we have pushed the Chinese to militarize excessively. Ignoring our
own destruction of the natural environment, we have seduced the Chinese into
following our model of recklessly toxic industrialization. And now that we have
allowed the unrestrained greed of our financial elite to abuse our democracy
and destroy our own prosperity and turn us back into an under-developed
country, there is a danger that we will imitate the Chinese and turn
authoritarian ourselves, thus reinforcing the Chinese fear of democratization
and entrenching them further in their unrelenting totalitarianism.

So, on
this March 10th, which some call Tibetan National Uprising Day but I prefer to
commemorate as Tibetan Independence Day, remembering the heroic Tibetans who
lost their lives in their struggle for freedom from oppression, we should also
deeply reflect how we can do our part not to stand by in silent acquiescence
but to stand up for Tibet by correcting our own misunderstandings and
inappropriate behaviors, and so set an example for the Chinese leadership to
abandon their 50 years of failed genocidal policies and practices and extend
a hand of true respect and friendship to the Tibetan people and their chosen
leader and let the Tibetan and Chinese people enjoy their natural freedoms and
join together to restore their lands and cultures and societies.

Thurman is the Professor
of Buddhist Studies at Columbia University, President of
Tibet House U.S., and author of “Why the Dalai Lama Matters”

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