Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Let's Talk About Tibet

Hard facts and data on Tibet are hard to come by, most come from Beijing which folks in the West tend to reflexively dismiss as propaganda. I have just returned from Beijing where a retrospective on the 50 years of reform in Tibet is on display. I propose to focus on various statistical data presented at the exhibit and examine them for possible validity and credibility.

Nobody knows exactly how many Tibetan exiles live outside of China. A general consensus is around 150,000. Using this number as base, there are around 18 to 19 Tibetans living inside Tibet for every exile outside of China. Since there are slightly more Tibetans living in surrounding provinces outside of Tibet, we are on reasonably safe grounds to assume that there are 40 times more Tibetans inside China than out.

I find it strange that Dalai Lama and his cohort representing 2.5% of all the Tibetans are regarded as the legitimate voices representing all the Tibetans. His Holiness and most of his lieutenants have not seen Tibet for 50 years. Their assertions and statements about Tibet surely could not be more accurate than those coming from Beijing.

According to the exhibit in Beijing, the population in Tibet before the reform was roughly divided into three groups of people. The first group consisted of government officials, monks in monasteries and those of nobility made up about 5% of the population. The major group of serfs made up about 90%. The so called serfs have no rights and were obligated to provide free labor to the land owning class. The remaining 5% were called lang sheng (郎生), a genteel sounding name for the unfortunate group of people that were owned by the ruling class and treated like livestock.

The ruling class owned approximately 99.7% of all the agriculture land divided as follows: Local government officials - 38.9%
Monasteries - 36.8
Nobility - 24.0
Self supporting Tibetans 0.3

After Beijing suppressed the insurrection in 1959 that led to exile of the Dalai Lama to India, the central government began land reform in earnest which was completed by October 1960. During this period, approximately 85% of the land was redistributed to 200,000 households of former serfs and slaves, representing about 800,000 people that became land owners. There were approximately one million Tibetans living in Tibet then. The land distributed was equivalent to about 187,000 hectares.

Compared to the grain output before land reform, the yield in 2008 has improved by more than 4 fold and total heads of livestock increased by 2.5 fold. Nonetheless, even today locally derived revenue accounts for barely over 6% of the total budget, with the rest of Tibet’s annual expenditure coming from the central government subsidy.

The life expectancy in Tibet has improved from 35.5 years in 1959 to 67 in 2008. Today, the number of color TV’s in the urban area is 131 per 100 households and 62 TV’s per 100 households in the rural area. Even so, the exhibit admitted that the per capita GDP in Tibet is almost 40% below national average.

Approximately 98.5% of Tibetan children now attend primary schools and about 95% of the schools offer bilingual courses in both Chinese and Tibetan. In 1951, more than 95% of the Tibetan population was illiterate.

Are these facts and figures about Tibet “reliable”?

China has over 50 identifiably distinct ethnic minorities living in China. The policy of the central government is to extend favorable treatment to each ethnic group such as allowing more than one child per family, affirmative action influenced admission standards to higher education and bi-lingual education. The policy is to preserve ethnic diversity and not to eliminate them. Tibetans are treated no different from other ethnic minorities.

A world congress on Buddhism has just been concluded in Hangzhou before the venue moved on to Taiwan. The practice of Buddhism is flourishing in China and there is no evidence of any policy to discourage worship. Unless “cultural genocide” is strictly defined as preserving the good old days before the Communists entered Tibet, there is no indication of genocide of any kind taking place in China.

The “good old days” when Dalai Lama ruled Tibet were ghastly and brutal to most of the ordinary Tibetans. Not only there were no highways, TV’s and telephones, the exhibit showed plenty of photos of Tibetans with feet, hands, eyes or noses cut off as punishment meted by their masters.

Surely there can be no doubt that the lives of most Tibetans are better today than it was fifty years ago.


Anonymous said...

Regarding the 1959 insurrection - I think it is important to note (each and every time) the C.I.A.'s involvement in arming and training the Dalai Lama and his anti-government guerillas. Most people don't know this and would be appalled if they knew that the Free Tibet movement is a relic of the Cold War in which the U.S. wanted to seize a piece of China for strategic purposes. Imagine the reaction of the U.S. goverment if, in 1959, the Governor of Alaska was caught in bed with the KGB! Would the U.S. be in "talks" with the ex-Governor today? Would the "world community" have the nerve to demand it? Ha!

Thank you very much for all the effort you've put into your blog. I've learned so much about China and have recommended it to many people who I've felt needed to be de-programed of media bias against China.

George said...

According to the U.S. State Department report in 1998, CIA supported the Dalai Lamain to the tune of about $1.7 million annually from 1964 to 1968. Currently, Dalai Lama's Tibet Foundation has an annual budget of $5.5 million, over half of this budget has been contributed by the U.S. State Department.

Unknown said...

With the financial crisis hit so badly in the US, in the near future if there is any protest and chaos in the country, we will surely do the same to the Americans. Let them taste the bitterness of their pills.

George said...

My anonymous friend has sent us two important postings about China and Africa, interesting though not directly related to Tibet. The second post is especially noteworthy because it came TIME magazine, as mainstream as they come. I have been talking about China in Africa. Now I feel that I am part of the mainstream. Wow?

Anonymous said...

The Time Magazine piece on China is actually an anomaly in that it isn't ragingly anti-China as are most published articles in WORLD media. A search in the archives of http://www.realclearpolitics.com was an eye-opener for me. A key alliance in the strategy of containing China is with India-Japan-Israel. The lastest grand alliance is:


Do you think I am overly concerned?

George said...

Alliances are formed because of common self-interests and to the extent anti-China is part of their self-interest, then the alliance is to act as counter weight to China. But, I believe, most countries have many more pressing challenges than to be squandering their energy on opposing China.

What's there to oppose? Unlike America's neoconpoopism, China does not go around the world telling anyone what to do.

Bruce Gilley, author of the article, is in the throes of metamorphosis from a respected journalist to an academician. A journalist looks for controversy. Academician of his stripe believes in democracy as the universal panacea despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

India, Brazil and South Africa as shining beacons of human rights? Com'on, Professor Gilley, you're joking, no?

Chong Kok Wai said...

I have spoken to many friends from China. They have high confidence and support to the government in their country. I think this is more important than anything at the moment. It is important to keep the momentum up.

Although people are now concentrating on how China's government could successfully boost domestic consumption, I think it is equally important that China could increase the confidence of Chinese natives that are living outside China. There are tens of millions of Chinese natives born and bred in other parts of the world. I believe there are benefits in bringing these people closer through holding events and forums together like a small G20. It can be done by getting all Chinese associations in their respective countries together for a meeting to be held occasionally. This will create a mutual link and may create some trade among ourselves. Information and contacts can be exchanged through this way. It is especially important when there is an issue such as tibet rioting, or rioting in Italy's chinatown that happened sometime ago. We can then share information and know the truth from those who are involved.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Chong Wok Kai's suggestion that the Chinese diaspora needs to find a way to be able to share ideas and information in order to better support each other - we are going to need it.

China-bashing (and its attendant negative effects on ethnic Chinese has just begun) and will not go away until China is either accepted as a full partner by the West and its allies (UNLIKELY) or they succeed in marginalizing her to prevent further sharing of the world's resources and competition in the higher-end/high-value consumer goods markets.

George - is the Committee of 100 aware or interested in this issue?

George said...

The central mission of Committee of 100 is to promote positive bi-lateral relations between China and the U.S., being fully aware that any China bashing can quickly become bashing of Chinese Americans. Please go to their website to see the many aspects of their concerns and activities, www.committee100.org.

Also, how about providing a personal id so that we know how many different "anonymous" responses we have. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Then again, China's worst enemies can be the dissidents that the West cultivates. Perhaps China should fund disgruntled Americans and Europeans...

Here is yet another lovely Harry Wu contribution to Sino-American relations!

China dissident becomes Tibet's unlikely champion

WASHINGTON (AFP) – As China's leadership works to glorify its rule in Tibet, one of China's most prominent dissidents is on a very different mission -- to document his country's atrocities in the Himalayan land.

Harry Wu, who spent nearly two decades toiling in labor camps as a political prisoner, recently opened an exhibition at his Washington museum on suffering in Chinese-ruled Tibet.

"I've heard a few Chinese say that Harry Wu is a traitor to China," Wu said inside his Laogai Museum in the heart of the US capital.

"And I right away respond -- yes, I am. I am a traitor to the People's Republic of China. Because the People's Republic of China was established by the communists," he said emphatically.

In a sharp break with China's line that it liberated Tibet, the exhibition depicts authorities destroying temples and other religious heritage of the region and setting up labor camps -- the exact number of which Wu said is impossible to verify.


Anonymous said...

The "evil" Chinese are attacking the "good" Tibetan exiles along with the "good" people of at least 103 countries. The new Cold War being waged against China is going global.

Ghost hackers infiltrating the computers of Tibetan exiles and the U.S. electric grid have pulled the curtain back on 21st-century espionage as nefarious as anything from the Cold War — and far more difficult to stop.

Nowadays, a hacker with a high-speed Internet connection, knowledge of computer security and some luck can pilfer information thought to be safely ensconced in a digital locker. And the threat is growing, with countries — including the U.S. — pointing fingers at each other even as they ramp up their own cyber espionage.


bink said...

How come Zimbabwe and Tibet get all the attention?



As for Tibet, Britain's role in the former serf-based system (helpfully recalled by Lumley) was assumed after the communist takeover by the CIA, which bankrolled the Dalai Lama's operations for many years. Such arrangements have in recent years passed to other US agencies and western NGOs, as with the Zimbabwean opposition. And even if there is no prospect of Tibetan independence, for a US administration that has designated China as the main threat to its global dominance, its minorities are still a stick that can be used to poke the dragon.

What has made human rights edicts by the US and Britain since the launch of the "war on terror" even more preposterous is that not only are they themselves supporting governments with similar or worse records, but they are directly responsible for these outrages themselves: from illegal invasions and occupations to large-scale killing and torture - along with phoney elections - in Iraq and Afghanistan. The UN estimates that more than 700 people were killed in the recent US and British-backed attacks on the Mahdi army in Iraq - a central motive for which was to stop them taking part in elections.

The current focus on China is of course linked to the Olympics, and Britain must face the likelihood of large-scale protests over its own record in 2012. Meanwhile, the best chance both of settling the Zimbabwean crisis and of meeting Tibetan aspirations is without the interference of western powers, which would do better improving the human rights records of their allies and themselves. The days of colonial dictat are over and where attempts are made to revive them, they will be resisted. China is now an emerging global power - and, as the Zimbabwean ambassador to the UN said yesterday, Zimbabwe "is no longer a British colony".

bink said...

from a PBS.org discussion:

Tibetan specialist A. Tom Grunfeld is one of them. He is SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor at Empire State College, of the State University of New York, and specialises in the teaching of modern East Asian history with an emphasis on China and Tibet. He has been travelling and living in that region since 1966, and has published several books and over 150 articles and book reviews, including the well received The Making of Modern Tibet. If there is anybody who is an "expert" on Tibet, he is.

Grunfeld has pointed out that the "exiled Dalai Lama's money and power only continues as long as there are many stateless refugees. Consequently, it [has been] to the benefit of the exile leadership to keep the masses of Tibetans in children's homes, transit camps and temporary facilities for decades. For the same reasons, the Dalai Lama's 'government' opposes mixed marriages between Tibetan exiles and Indians and opposes masses of exiled Tibetans applying for citizenship in India - even though this legal status would make their lives much easier. Meanwhile it is common for the wealthy Tibetan upper class to apply for non-Tibetan status - including two of the Dalai Lama's brothers who are U.S. citizens."

Grunfeld also has a great deal to say about the hypocrisy of the Dalai Lama and his theocratic side-kicks. For example, Tibetans in exile and their supporters are constantly harping on about how Tibet's schools teach in the Chinese language rather than in the Tibetan language, and accuse the Chinese of cultural genocide for doing so.

Yet the lamaists adopted English as the main language of instruction in their exile school system in Dharmasala. The Dalai Lama himself justified this practice in his 1990 autobiography on the grounds that English is "the international language of the future." Fine. Schools in the Tibetan Autonomous Region also teach English, just as they also teach Tibetan as a language, though most subjects are taught in Chinese. And there is a very good reason why most subjects in Tibet are taught in the Chinese language too, I might add: there are precious few books and teachers available to teach many advanced political and scientific subjects in the Tibetan language. Simple as that.

Is the Tibetans in Exile Government also guilty of cultural genocide then, for teaching everything in the English language?