By Consul B. John Zavrel
View of the Potala Palace in Lhasa
New York/Toronto (meaus) "The often used Chinese assertion that Tibet is a part of China is a complete lie," were the first words of Professor Thubten Jigme Norbu, the older brother of H.H. the Dalai Lama. The 75-year old gentleman with friendly face and bright eyes is at the head of a group of Tibetans on their 600-mile march from Toronto to New York City to protest the continuing occupation of Tibet by China, now in its 48th year. The United States have long supported the Tibetan struggle for freedom and independence for many years. President Bill Clinton received His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the White House several years ago, and met him again this spring.
Tibet was not part of China at any time, in any way. During the first few years of occupation the Chinese official line was that Tibet should be part of China because a Tibetan Emperor had once married a Chinese princess. Later on, the Chinese said that Tibet was part of China bacause of Genghis Khan. They talk about the time when the Mongols came to Tibet and subdued it. The Genghis Khan and the Mongols controlled Tibet, but they never incorporated Tibet into China. If that kind of reasoning were correct, then America should belong to England.
Although the Chinese attempt to deny it, the Tibetans and the Chinese are completely different people: their culture, religion, way of life, habits, way of eating are all different. The languages are of course completely different. Tibetans have a spoken language, and a written language which comes from the Indian script Sanskrit.
Tibet had its own government before the Chinese took over. It was a theocratic government led by H.H. the Dalai Lama. They had a National Assembly, and its own army. Tibet also had its own currency, gold and silver coins, as well as paper money. Tibet had its own postal system and its own stamps. Before the Chinese invasion, Tibet had nothing to do with the Chinese.
What did the Chinese bring to Tibet in July, 1949 when they invaded this country at the top of the world? They brought many disasters and great sorrows to the Tibetan people. Now, all of Tibet has become a prison. Everywhere the Chinese spy on the Tibetans. So many people were executed by the Chinese, so many people perished! The Chinese can they pull any Tibetan out of his home at any time, day or night, throw them in the prison, and after that, no mercy: just execute them!
Since the Chinese invasion over 1 million Tibetans were murdered by the Chinese. Six million Tibetans lived in Tibet before the invasion. So it was over 17% of the entire population of Tibet that the Chinese killed. For example, in the Amdo region of northeast Tibet, of the 100,000 people of the nomadic Golok tribe who lived there before the invasion, as of 1979 there were left only 4,700 survivors!
In Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, the native Tibetan population is getting displaced by the Chinese; the Chinese are filling up Lhasa with their people and they want to make it all Chinese. This is a very grave situation. At this time, in Lhasa City, there is only 1 Tibetan for every 6 Chinese. So many Chinese immigrants came to Lhasa and to Tibet's other cities. Today, Tibetans are a minority in their own country. All the better jobs go to the Chinese settlers. Tibetans cannot find any jobs, since the Chinese took them all. The best job a Tibetan can get is as a truck driver.
What the Chinese are really doing in Tibet is a genocide against the Tibetan people and their culture.
Mountain sanctuary, Tirdrom in central Tibet.
The culture of Tibet is based on the ancient beliefs of Bon, and on Buddhism imported from India. Their daily life is based on these two: they are Bon believers and Buddhist believers. They take the best of the two religions, and their entire culture is based on that.
Some interesting bronze sculptures have originated in Tibet, and also many tankas, religious paintings. Also in many temples, whole walls 30 - 40 yards long used to be paintings. The Chinese completely destroyed all this.
Much of Tibetan art used to be in the art collection of the Potala Palace. Most of this art collection China took away. Now, today one can see in Peking, in what they call "People's Palace" and in its library all the good works of art which they stole from Tibet. The Chinese stole all this art, all these ancient books and manuscripts. They are not works of China; they belongs to Tibet and its people.
The Potala Palace in Lhasa is an enormous building. Thirteen stories high, with more than 1,100 rooms. It has many large rooms, the Dalai Lama's apartment, ceremonial halls. Also monasteries, many temples, and many tombs of the previous Dalai Lamas. Government offices used to be located there: various ministries, the Dalai Lama's secretariat, the treasury, etc. It is a huge place. People talk abot the Seven Wonders of the World. Potala must have been one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
But now it is changed so much. The Chinese made it into a museum, just for the tourists. The Chinese are only interested in making money. It used to be such a wonderful place. Even in the monasteries -- you go there, and see people wearing a monk's robe. But actually they are not monks -- they are lay people, who put on the robes only for tourists.
The Jokhang is the most important temple in Lhasa. To visitors, it looks like it is still in operation, but one can go there only at certain times. In the old days, anybody could go there at any time, burn some incense, walk around, meditate. In this temple, there used to be many statues, built in the 8th, 9th centuries. But all these statues have been destroyed by the Chinese. Now they have only replicas there.
The Tibetan people like to meditate, to pray, and to go on pilgrimages. To Tibetans, Lhasa is what Mecca is to the Muslims: at least once in lifetime they go to Mecca. And exactly in the same way Lhasa is important to the Tibetans. People may spend several years on a pilgrimage. Professor Norbu recalls: "For instance, from my home town, it is about 1,000 miles to Lhasa. And the people go there. In the old days, there were no airplanes, no cars, no railroad. I myself once went on a pilgrimage, and took a horse with me -- in 111 days I did it -- and it was just wonderful. We used to prepare all the food ourselves and for our animals, we carried it together ... that was in 1942 or 1943."
"Usually a large group cannot travel together; there is no habitation; the northen plateau has high passes, say around 12,000 to 13,000 feet. Four of Asia's great rivers originate in Tibet, and are very wide even in Tibet itself. You get across by swimming on horseback. Sometimes you see only the horse's nose sticking out of the water. That kind of life is so nice. Well, you have a little problem on rainy days, or on snow days in the high mountains. It is very cold there. I often think how in Tibet we had torn shoes, torn clothes, and we traveled in 30 - 60 degrees below zero," remembers Professor Norbu.
There was destruction of the ecological system and the environment in Tibet after the Chinese invasion. The woods in the mountains were deforested. Not to be used for building in Tibet, but all taken to China! Also many minerals silver, gold, lead, etc. -- all this is being taken to China. The Chinese are looting the country for the natural resources.
They are building dams and destroying all the lakes in the process. Tibet used to have many waterbirds -- and the Chinese shot them and now they are extinct. Now you do not see them in Tibet at all. Professor Norbu continues: "When I was in Tibet in 1980, I didn't see a wild yak even once. Before the Chinese came, the yaks used to cover entire slopes of the mountains. And we used to have in Tibet many wild horses, wild antelopes, wild sheep and deer -- the Chinese destroyed them all! It is all so terrible, done by this ruthless Chinese government, by these ruthless people. There is no way the Tibetans can keep quiet about this. We must inform people about this, the Chinese must hear it!"
Some of the very special places for pilgrimage in Tibet are Mount Kailas and Lake Manasovar. Mount Kailas is very sacred both to Hindus and the Buddhists. In the book My Tibet by the Dalai Lama, there are some great photographs of of both.
"There is a picture in this book which I like very much ... of the panda," continued Professor Norbu. "Do you know that panda is actually a Tibetan animal? The Chinese liars say that it is a Chinese animal and give it as a "friendship gift!" Look, here is the picture and see what His Holiness says about it: "The panda is actually a Tibetan animal. Its original range overlapped the traditional eastern border of China and Tibet. The local people in those regions are mostly Tibetan. Some of the captive pandas should be named Tashi or Tsering instead of Ling-ling or Mei-mei."
For the people of the Western World it is very hard to understand the Dalai Lama's attitude of non-violence. The Tibetans have suffered so much, so many of them were killed, so many suffer in prison. Why are most Tibetans still true to this philosophy of non-violence? Because of their religion.
Buddhism came to Tibet around the 8th century , and the Tibetans have always lived in its philosophy of non-violence. Tibetans used to be very happy people. Many profound philosophical ideas were brought to Tibet from India, and the Tibetan people and their leaders all live by this creed of non-vilolence and peace. "The practice of non-violence is a wonderful thing, and I myself fully believe in it. This is very important. If you use violence, you will suffer again and again. People will continue to suffer," said Professor Norbu.
Before the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese destroyed all our historical sites -- temples, monasteries, museums. They completely destroyed over 6,000 monasteries and historical sites! The Chinese put all the monks into labor camps -- some in Tibet, some in the Chinese Turkistan area, in the Mongol border area. Tibetans died in prison like flies.
In 1989 the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. That was an important international gesture of support for independence of Tibet. And somewhat earlier, in 1987 the Dalai Lama came up with the Five Point Peace Plan. So many Chinese immigrants are coming to Tibet, taking over all their land, all their culture. Something must be done fast. So the Dalai Lama proposed the Five Point Peace Plan, but up to now, the Chinese have never answered in any way.
On a recent visit to Taiwan, the Dalai Lama did not even speak about independence for Tibet -- he always suggests, use the "Middle Way". He asks China, "Give us genuine self-rule autonomy" -- that is His Holiness' wish. He is just trying to save some of his people, save some of their culture.
A summer festival at Chongra in eastern Tibet, where families gather from the surrounding areas.
We haven't heard recently much about Tibet in the United States media. The reason for this is that China is such a large, powerful country. Many governments think, "let us do business with China, let us get new contracts and make a lot of money!" But will they will ever actually get the money? That is a big question mark. But in any case, this is completely wrong. Nowadays, you go to a store -- any store -- and you buy an alarm clock, telephone, coffee maker, anything -- all is "Made in China". Economically, China is influencing the Western world too much. You buy all this "Made in China" merchandise, but it is produced by prison labor. Those people work day and night, slave labor, and also underage labor, young children! I think that people in the West should think about what they buy. And they should think, "Am I happy using this kind of product?"
Anytime the Dalai Lama goes anywhere, the Chinese always protest, although he never says bad things about China. He always says that we must learn from our enemy. The Dalai Lama always says, "It's all right, it's all right; we will talk and we will solve the problems". With the world situation being what it is, the Tibetans are very lucky to have such a leader.
In the Five Point Peace Plan, the Dalai Lama proposed to establish Tibet as a "sanctuary of peace". This is how he describes it: "It is my dream that the entire Tibetan Plateau should become a free refuge where humanity and nature can live in peace and in harmonious balance. It would be a place where people from all over the world could come to seek the true meaning of peace within themselves, away from the tensions and pressures of much of the rest of the world. Tibet could indeed become a creative center for the promotion and development of peace. The Tibetan Plateau would be transformed into the world's largest natural park or biosphere. Strict laws would be enforced to protect wildlife and plant life; the exploitation of natural resouces would be carefully regulated so as not to damage relevant ecosystems; and a policy of sustaining development would be adopted in populated areas. Tibet's unique history and spiritual heritage make it suitable to act as a "sanctuary of peace at the heart of Asia. In the future, Tibet need no longer be an occupied land, oppressed by force, scarred by suffering. It can become a free haven where humanity and nature live in harmonious balance".
Many legislators worldwide accepted this proposal in principle, but unfortunately in reality nothing has been accomplished in this respect so far. There are so many Chinese immigrants continuously arriving in Tibet, that this proposal is the best practical solution, before it is too late.
The Dalai Lama now spends most of his time in exile in Dharmasala, India. Since he received the Nobel Peace Prize, so many people want to see him, invite him to teach. In India, he often goes to all the Tibetan settlements there. And the people of the Western World want him to come to conferences. His Holiness is a marvellous human being. He has a big heart, a heart for everybody. Not just for friends. He says "We can learn from our enemies".
Can the the Dalai Lama find enough time to continue his own spiritual and meditation practice, when he has all these demanding engagements and official duties? His brother replies: "Yes, yes. That's what I asked him myself when I was with him in Japan a few years ago. There are so many people coming, and he has so little time to sleep, so I said, "How can you manage all this?", and he said, "It's all right, it's all right, I can manage". He is really an amazing person."
His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The six million Tibetans heroically continue their unequal struggle against the 1 billion Chinese. The Tibetan people desperately need help and support from other countries. "That's why I came for this walk-- to meet people, to share our sorrows with the world community and to tell China that we are not accepting what they are doing in Tibet. The world must find out what is happening there! But I think that we have hope. His Holiness guides us in his peaceful way. With justice and compassion, we must continue in a peaceful way, and we will win back our country," say Professor Norbu.
"The 21st century belongs to the world community. In the new century it will be very important to protect everyone's rights. It is the most important thing, and we only ask for our rights. This is our Tibet! We hope that some day the world will help us. Yes, a six million Tibetans against a billion Chinese -- it is a very difficult situation. But with our peaceful way and the world's community's compassion and sense of justice, we will regain our freedom."
Even now, in the spring of 1997, in Tibet many people are suffering in jail, many are being executed. The important thing is that everyone has a responsibility. We are asking only for our rights. There are 6 million people suffering in Tibet, and the world should support them in their struggle for independence. People should write to their governments and to their representatives about Tibet's suffering and about its desire for freedom and peace. The people of the world cannot close their eyes to this injustice, they should do something to help. We are all human beings--and human beings must help other human beings. There is no reason why some human beings must suffer.
This oppression is very hard especially on the young people. "In every family in Tibet, they all had some disaster -- a parent killed, a brother killed, children killed. Some younger people are getting tired of waiting. But still, Buddhism, the Dalai Lama's wisdom prevail most of the time," said Professor Norbu.
Looking at the political situation in China, Professor Norbu continues: "We all believe that change is always there. How -- we do not know. But definitely, there will be change. Whatever a superpower's strength may be, at a certain point it reaches an apex, and then it will fall. And Buddhism also teaches that change is very important. Everything is impermanent. So definitely the situation will change, but I don't know when or how."
What is the attitude of the average Chinese people toward Tibetans? Not all of them support what their government is doing in Tibet. "Look, we are on this 600-mile march to the United Nations, where we will arrive on June 14, 1997," says Professor Norbu. "Some Chinese from Malaysia, from Formosa-Taiwan have come to walk with us. We cannot say that all Chinese are bad. There are so many good Chinese, and so many bad Chinese. Tibetans are the same way: there are good Tibetans and there are some bad Tibetans, too. The important thing is that because of this ruthless Chinese government, their propaganda movies, lies, leaflets, etc....people do not know how the Tibetans really are. What kind of Chinese go to Tibet? Only the military and the card-carrying communists and opportunists."
Cultural exchanges and programs are very important. There should be more cultural exhibitions about Tibet, its people and its culture, such as the recent exhibition of Tibetan Art in San Francisco and New York City. Recently, a fascinating book by Heinrich Harrer, Seven Years in Tibet, has been made into a movie in Argentina, since China would not allow any part of the filning to be done in Tibet. The very special film will open in movie theaters in the United States in the fall of 1997.
The Dalai Lama is always trying to make contact with the Chinese, but they keep the door to negotiations closed. He has always has said, "we can come up and talk with no preconditions". We must talk, but China has such a ruthless government that they continue to refuse hold talks with Tibet.
Some time ago, the Dalai Lama said: "All the 6 million Tibetans should be on the list of endangered species. This struggle is my first responsibility". And there are people all over the world who feel genuine solidarity with the courageous people of Tibet, and wish them success in their long, truly heroic struggle for liberty and peace.
Originally published in 1996 in PROMETHEUS
© PROMETHEUS 130/2008
PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin - News, Politics, Art and Science. Nr. 130, April 2008