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Published: November 30th 2010
We have each been assigned two chapters in a textbook about Tibet for next year's students. These are the drafts for my two chapters. All of the sources are cited in footnotes in my word documents! They just don't show up when I copy and paste them. Apologies for that.
Part V, Chapter 2
“Who Writes History When No One has Won?
Serfs and Imperialists: History Education in and About Tibet”
Laura Nash (email@example.com)
Throughout its history, many nations have been involved with Tibet in various capacities, and for many different reasons ranging from trade, exploitation of natural resources, its use as a buffer state, pure land lust, and more. Besides China, Mongolia, Nepal, Britain, and Manchuria (when Manchuria was experiencing one last heave of “statehood” as Manchukuo in the 1930s) have all had their hand in Tibetan affairs. China paid tribute to Tibet during the Tang dynasty. Mongol and Tibetan leaders exchanged titles and knowledge. Nepal invaded and occupied Tibet briefly in the nineteenth century. Britain signed an agreement with Tibet, over China’s head. The Manchurian Qing dynasty sent officials (known as Amban) and troops (known as Bannermen) to occupy Lhasa and supervise the government there, and sent their army into Tibet several times.
In other words, international affairs involving Tibet have been nothing so much as a tug-of-war. Domestic affairs have been no less sketchy, involving a class structure based on “feudal serfdom” (so-called by China) and religion. As they play out in the realm of the print and digital media, the details of Tibet’s history are not as important as the distortions created by China, the exaggerations of the Tibetan government in exile, and the fantasies promulgated by the West. As Melvyn Goldstein, the doyen of modern Tibet historians, concedes, “Typical of nationalistic conflicts, the struggle to control territory has been matched by a struggle to control the representations of history and current events.”
China’s communist party has an almost painfully one-sided version of Tibet’s history. A summary of China’s alleged claim to Tibet in a Xinhua news outlet begins “China is a unified multi-ethnic country and Tibet is an inalienable part of China, “ and continues in reference to all of the usual periods of history—the Tang dynasty, Yuan dynasty, Ming dynasty, Qing dynasty, and Republic of China—when China was involved in Tibet’s affairs, and brushing over everything else. Soon after the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, the Chinese government staged a “peaceful liberation” of Tibet. Point one of the Seventeen-Point Agreement, signed by China and Tibet in 1952, stated, “The Tibetan people shall unite and drive out imperialist forces from Tibet: the Tibet people shall return to the big family of the Motherland—the People’s Republic of China.” The PRC felt embarrassed and irritated by the British presence in Tibet, in light of the British colonization of India especially, and they labeled the British as imperialists. They made as though they were saving Tibet from imperialists: Britain, as well as the Mongols, and possibly other outside governments.
China also condemned Tibet’s previous system of feudal serfdom. The PRC holds that this system was aristocratic, oppressive of the lower classes, and strongly religious. Serfs and slaves, reportedly, made up 95%!o(MISSING)f the Tibetan population, and aristocrats, lords, monks, and religious leaders owned them, taxed them, traded them, and gave them the right to marry. Fifty years after the PRC came into power, China celebrated “Serf Liberation Day” in Tibet, further reinforcing its position that China had freed Tibetans from their feudal overlords. Officially, China has a single position on the status of Tibet, reinforced by propaganda campaigns, the censorship of dissenting points of view, by teaching this single viewpoint in public schools, etc. This narrative of liberation is incredibly pervasive. In a State Council report on Tibet in March 2009, the CCP compared its “serf liberation” of 1959 to Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation of African-American slaves in the United States during the Civil War. And in November 2010, movie theaters in Chengdu featured a cinematic love story called “Kangding Qing’ge ” about an idealistic PLA technician who, in the process of fixing the Sichuan-Tibet highway in 1950 in the Kangba region, falls in love and liberates a Tibetan slave girl “who,” the film’s press release hyperventilated, “had never been treated like a human before.”
The Central Tibetan Administration—the Tibetan government in exile—has another view of how things went. They believe that, prior to a 1949 invasion, Tibet was entirely independent from China. “As recently as 1914, a peace convention was signed by Britain, China, and Tibet that again formally recognized Tibet as a fully independent country.” Thus, the CTA views China as the imperialists, not Britain or India or any other country. They also blame China for many deaths and losses of freedom of religion and speech, in direct opposition to the PRC position of having saved and “liberated” Tibet. The CTA does not recognize the relationships between Tibet and China during the Tang, Yuan, Qing, or any other dynasty. It also denies that Tibet was ever organized as a feudal serfdom; this was a myth created by China to justify their invasion.
Tibetan refugees often flee to India. In Dharamsala, Tibetan children “obtain a decent religious and secular education in a country far away from home.” The Tibetan government in exile also attempts to teach the world about their view of Tibetan history through the Dalai Lama, through media outlets, etc. Just as China’s active historicization of the War of Resistance serves to produce diplomatic advantage for the contemporary PRC, the Tibetan Government in Exile enlists a differing view of a victimized history in the hopes of securing the support of foreign friends to help their cause.
Given that Chinese history is a relatively new subject in American public school curricula, it seems logical that Tibetan history, being even more peripheral, is not commonly taught in American schools. Tibet’s affairs are often mentioned in American newspapers, and protests often take place in city squares, but Tibet’s historical background is not common knowledge. It sometimes seems that American activists get involved in this issue only because it concerns China and a possible infringement on human rights.
First hand accounts of Tibetan history are available: Tashi Tsering’s autobiography, House of the Turquoise Roof, My Life and Lives. However, the question is not of what actually happened in the history of Tibet. The parties to this argument pick and choose the events that support their side. They deny the rest. Did China save Tibet from imperialism and feudal serfdom, or is China an imperialist infringing on the rights of Tibetans? The winner will decide. But the real history will most likely only be known by a few.
Part ?, Chapter ?
“Tourism in Tibet: For Better or Worse”
Laura Nash (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Tourism is yet another aspect of life in Tibet that the People’s Republic of China controls. All travelers must go through the Chinese government to receive permission to visit the Tibet Autonomous Region. It is impossible to visit Tibet unless a person is traveling with a Chinese-approved travel agency. A travel permit must be obtained through the Tibet Tourism Bureau. This, of course, means that the tour guide has most likely been screened by the PRC. The sites visited will also be approved by the PRC. Thus, it is impossible not to be affected by the PRC while traveling in Tibet.
For this reason, some extreme advocates for Tibetan independence discourage tourists from going to Tibet. They argue that traveling to Tibet actually harms the Tibetan people. “The equation is simple,” writes one such online critic, “visiting Tibet as a tourist does not in any meaningful way benefit the Tibetan people, it may well be a wonderfully exotic personal experience, one that draws the admiring attention of friends and family, but it does not service Tibet or its culture.” This particular writer argued that most of the money spent by tourists in Tibet does not benefit Tibetans, but Han Chinese-owned enterprises. Thus, tourists to Tibet are silently supporting PRC control of Tibet.
Another argument against tourism in the TAR is tourism’s contribution to commercialization, westernization, modernization. The more that tourists visit a place, the more accommodations are built for their purpose. For instance, more hotels, more restaurants, more tourism agencies, more airlines and airports, more bars and other entertainment outlets. Due to tourism in Lhasa, the market and areas around Jokhang temple and the Potala Palace have become more developed. Chinese and Western culture push aside Tibetan culture. Small business is affected negatively. Chains move in. The number of Dicos in Lhasa is a good example. A place loses its flavor after a while.
Other affects of tourism include disruption of traditional practices. Although it is possible that monks and civilian worshippers appreciate visitors’ interest in their practices, or at least don’t mind their attentions, it is also possible that monks are bothered by tourists watching them while they pray or debate, visiting their dormitories, or walking through their kitchens as they prepare their yak butter tea. We certainly get in the way, physically, of pilgrims visiting temples, boxing them in when they are trying to add yak butter to lamps by way of offering. Ignorant tourists walk the wrong direction around religious sites, and get in the way of prostrating worshipers circumnavigating relics. In addition, the trash produced by tourists, the greenhouse gases pumped into the environment by planes and tour buses, the erosion caused by the thousands of extra feet, all affect the environment.
On the other hand, tourism may benefit Tibet in many ways. Travel to Tibet may increase the travelers’ knowledge about Tibet. The China Tibet Tourism Bureau encourages travelers to learn cultural and historical information about Tibet. In a globalizing world, how can it be a bad thing for Tibet to open itself up to visitors? Tourists in Tibet take their knowledge back to their respective countries, and thus can spread the information they learn. Without tourists, how would the outside world know the extent of China’s military occupation in Tibet or the true character of the Tibetan people? Due to tourism in Tibet, more people in the world outside know about Tibet and can voice their respective opinions, thus weighing on the Tibet issue. Either this, or Tibet could stay hidden in its attic corner. But it is too late for that now.
The general Chinese citizenry’s contact with Tibet has increased as a result of the rise in tourism, and the rise in propaganda aimed to market Tibet for tourism. Images of Tibet have become more common in China. An example of this is the film “Kangding Qing’ge ,” a love story set in the beautiful scenery of Tibet involving two generations of Chinese falling in love with Tibetans.
The world knows about Tibet, and Tibet knows about the world. Tibet’s earlier generations have embraced the world through pop culture, in particular. Younger generations listen to world music, and watch television shows and movies produced in many other places. While traveling in Tibet, my tour group came into contact with a group of young boys—elementary school age—who wore trucker hats and wowed us with their break dancing skills. They were eager to show them off, and soon a group, including Americans and Tibetans, gathered around to watch. The People’s Liberation Army officers did not even attempt to break up the gathering. They merely stood by, just in case.
The PRC’s tourism policies focus on economic development. They have certainly succeeded. “Tourism is playing an increasingly important role in Tibet’s tertiary industry.” As tourism to Tibet has increased, so has its gross domestic product. “Tibet received over 4.02 million visitors in 2007, which increased 60.4%!t(MISSING)han that of the previous year, the total income of tourism reached 4.852 billion yuan.” Fluctuations in Tibet’s GDP tend to mirror fluctuations in tourism. In addition, knowledgeable travelers can choose to shop at stores and eat at restaurants owned by ethnic Tibetans. Monasteries, nunneries, temples and other such religious sites make much of their money by pilgrims and tourists. Otherwise, it would be difficult for them to support their populations and complete renovations.
Although a visit to Tibet may not, for a variety of reasons, be an “authentic experience,” this is not strange. When it comes to tourism, it is impossible to have an “authentic experience” anywhere. There are always reasons against and for traveling anywhere. Perhaps making the decision to travel somewhere as politically tense as Tibet is a little bit weightier. But it is up to the individual to decide.
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