Freedom to Tibet's serfs and slaves

On July 1 2006 a railway connecting Bejing and the Tibetan capital Lhasa was opened. The line, which reaches an altitude of 16,604 feet (5,072 metres), has been hailed by the Chinese media as delivering economic benefits to one of the world's most impoverished regions with cheaper freight costs and a doubling of tourist revenue. Lhadon Tethong, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, said in a statement: 'China plans to use the railway to transport Chinese migrants directly into the heart of Tibet in order to overwhelm the Tibetan population and tighten its stranglehold over our people.'

On 17 March 1959, after two mortar shells landed just short of the Norbulinka Palace, the Dalai Lama and his government, the Kahag, consulted the Nechung oracle who advised him to leave Tibet. Disguised as a soldier, accompanied by a retinue of close advicers, family and bodyguards, the twenty-three-year-old marched out of Lhasa. Just over one month later the Dalai Lama crossed the border into safety in India.

Days after his dramatic escape, vicious hand-to-hand fighting broke out in Lhasa. The major monasteries around the city – Sera, Ganden and Drepung – were shelled and monks shot on sight. By the end of the year, the 1959 Lhasa Uprising and the city’s subsequent fall had led to the death of over 10,000 Tibetans. Thousands more were imprisoned or sent to labour camps; 80,000 would follow the Dalai Lama (left) to exile. On 23 March 1959, for the first time, a red flag of the People’s Republic of China was raised above the Potala Palace (header above). It has not been lowered since.

Forty years later in 1999, to mark the anniversary, Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, released a statement giving their version of events. ‘The democratic reform in Tibet started in March 1959 after the People’s Liberation Army put down an armed rebellion launched by the Tibetan local upper class reactionary clique.’ On 1 March, ‘The reform put an end to the clerical-aristocratic dictatorship combining political and religious rule that had long plagued Tibet, and rendered freedom to the serfs and slaves that made up 95% of the region’s population.’

The three paragraphs above are from Last seen in Lhasa by Claire Scobie. An important book about the life of a Tibetan nun in contemporary Tibet. Buy or borrow a copy if you possibly can.

Now playing: Lou Harrison's La Koro Sutro scored for 100 voice chorus with American Gamelan, harp and organ, conducted by Philip Brett. (New Albion Records NA015). Lou Harrison (below) was a practicing American Budhist, and in September 2005 His Holiness the Dalai Lama attended a performance of the late composer's 'Peace Piece One' at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, with Patrick Gardner conducting the Rutgers Kirkpatrick Choir. An accompanying exhihibition featured Tibetan sculpture, paintings, masks, and musical instruments and an audio-video installation of Patrick Gardner conducting La Koro Sutro.

Web resources * The Government of Tibet in exile * Free Tibet Campaign * Students for Free Tibet * Tibet Online * Information Office of the State Council of The People's Republic of China paper on Tibet - Its Ownership And Human Rights Situation * Kagyu Samye Ling Buddhist Monastery and Tibetan Centre, established in 1967 as the first and largest of its kind in the West. Located in a peaceful valley on the banks of the river Esk in the Scottish borders. As well as a centre of Buddhist wisdom and learning, and offering the highest standards of Buddhist teachings, it is also a centre for the preservation of Tibetan Buddhism, arts, medicine and culture. * Lou Harrison documentary project

Photo of Potala Palace from Dalai Lama from Rutgers State University. Lou Harrison from Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk
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Anonymous said…
Interesting piece. I'm no expert, and there are clearly many and varied legitimate criticisms of Chinese actions in Tibet since 1959. However, from what I've read about pre-1959 Tibet, it perhaps should be noted that it was hardly a free and open society, let alone one which had many of the hallmarks of a "democracy."

This is not to be an apologist for the actions of China, but (as I understand it) it might be worthwhile to give a bit of balance to the commentary.
Pliable said…
Scott you are quite right, and there is no claim in the article that Tibet was a free, open or democratic society prior to 1959.

Before then Tibet's land was worked by serfs most of whom were owned by the lamas and were sometimes subjected to cruel conditions, particularly if they tried to escape. Before Chinese rule, over 700,000 of Tibet's population of 1.2 million were in serfdom. But it should also be remembered that the spectre of Chinese intervention has hung over Tibet since the start of the 20th century, and the Tibetan Resistance Movement who were defeated in 1959 received considerable support from the CIA.

Tibet has been the unwilling pawn of the super-powers for more than a century. I am not expressing horror at the comparison between pre and post - 1959 Tibet. But I am expressing horror at China's human rights record there since 1959
Civic Center said…
I love Harrison's "La Koro Sutro." It's some of the nicest "morning" music around, though it is a bit more Indonesian in sound than Tibetan.
Pliable said…
Interesting article in today's Guardian about the hydropower dam in Yunnan Province on the southern border of Tibet.

Regarding pre-1959 Tibet Sky Burial by the Chinese author (now resident in London) Xinran is recommended, Chatto & Windus ISBN 0701176229.
AdSenseMaker said…
Dude thanks for discussing Tibet related issue. Free Tibet.
Anonymous said…
I think it must be remembered that the _significant_ aid given to the uprising by the CIA (and extra-governmental agencies) was also coupled with _massive_ propaganda internally and abroad. The effects of this propaganda can still be seen today, as most discussions regarding Tibet don't even mention the brutal lives the _majority_ faced prior to when China reincorporated Tibet into its territory.

Anyways, on to my main point - when a nation is commonly discussed as "evil" and "bad" by some of the more reactionary sections of American society, it does NOT help the situation if the Liberals join arms with the reactionaries. A country's right to sovereignty must ALWAYS be mentioned when discussing Tibet, as anything less could lead us into an asinine international policy in the future.
Unknown said…
It is brutal for Tibetans by communists. But this is not unique. All major powers did the same things. There is no much different if you look 200 years back into your own history, into what Whites did not Indians, Blacks, Asians. The situation will improve giving it another 100 years.

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