Published: June 25th 2012June 25th 2012
When I was in Nepal (April 2009), I met a young guy from China and also a Tibetan who now lives in the US (in his 30’s or 40’s) and both talked to me about the Tibet-China issue. The Chinese guy told me that long ago, Tibet not only imported Buddhism from India, but also their caste system. Tibet had a theocratic caste system with the Dalai Lama and head of Tibetan Buddhist sects on top, followed by important monks, then regular monks. Below these were everybody else who worked to support all the monks and temples. On the bottom were the pariahs or untouchables which also had subcastes the lowest of which were worse than animals. The monks were the only ones who became literate as they had to read scriptures. Castes were by birth and mobility was non-existent. (I thought what he said was pretty extreme but when I looked it up, reality was actually worse. http://www.michaelparenti.org/Tibet.html
) When the communists came, they removed the caste system so that all became equal which is why the monks were persecuted because they were the equivalent of the upper class oppressors. Technically speaking then, the lower classes are now better off than they were before the communist era.
What the Tibetan guy told me was that most people are better off now in Tibet than before because economy is booming and they can make lots of money and get ahead in society if they wanted, as long as they don’t talk about religion or politics. He said that unfortunately, people are not allowed to learn Tibetan, only in secret, which makes life hard. I looked it up and I guess things have changed since he left because schools in Tibet use Tibetan textbooks so nowadays, everybody can become literate in Tibetan, Chinese and English, the three languages taught in schools in Tibet. Wow, they get to learn 3 languages in school, damn lucky!
I thought about what they both said and here’s what I think. It’s not just the Tibetans but the whole bloody China is the same. 80% of China originally was made up of peasants and technically speaking, they were all freed from their servitude when the communists liberated everyone. Everybody in China is now free to make money and become rich as long as they don’t talk about religion or politics or anybody in power. Those in power persecute not just Tibetan activists but anyone who threatens the status quo. The only way to free Tibet is to free the whole of China. You can’t free just one set of people and leave the rest oppressed, those who would be left in oppression would never stand for it. But in order to free China, the people in power would have to give up their position and how would that ever happen? It’s really the same question the world over. When things go wrong on a large scale, rectification requires those in control to give up their power but it doesn’t happen unless catastrophe occurs because who in their right mind would give up power? It’s against the most basic of human natures. Is it possible for a person to wield control but not monopolize power? So we’re back to Confucius and his “virtuous prince” who, in fact, has never appeared in the whole of human history (let me know if I’m mistaken). I guess it’s only been 2.5 thousand years, a mere second in cosmic time, and the human race might yet come up with “virtue” in one form or another. Yes? Here’s to hoping…
A kind of a side topic but Han Hong is a Tibetan-Chinese pop star in China who I think is really amazing. Check out her videos on youtube.