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A deadly rehearsal

March 31, 2008

What does ‘people's war' mean in Tibet?

BY CLAUDE ARPI
The New Indian Express
March 30, 2008

A S Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao were reelected to their posts of President
and Premier of the People's Republic of China at the end of the 11th
Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), bad news was
in store for them.

As in March 1989 in Lhasa (and three months later on the Tiananmen
Square), ‘people' demonstrated against the Beijing regime. Today, there
is only a minor difference: Premier Wen Jiabao, who was seen with his
mentor Zhao Ziyang on the side of the students in June 1989, is now with
the apparatchiks.

After riots erupted last week in Lhasa and spread to different parts of
Tibet during the following days, the immediate reaction of the Chinese
authorities was the customary Party line: "We must wage a people's war
to expose and condemn the malicious acts of these hostile forces and
expose the hideous face of the Dalai Lama group to the light of day."

What is this ‘people's war'? For many China's watchers, this has been
one of the unanswered questions since the Communists came to power in 1949.

It was in the name of the ‘people' that Mao started the Great Leap
Forward during which more than 30 million perished of starvation; it was
‘for the people' that the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution left
millions of ‘people' dead and devastated an entire generation; it is
again in the name of the ‘people' that war is being today waged against
pacifist Tibetan monks.

The People's Liberation Army entered Tibet in October 1950 to ‘liberate'
the Roof of the World. In March 1959, the entire population of Lhasa
rose against the colonisers by assembling around the Summer Palace to
protect their leader. Sensing bloodshed, the Dalai Lama escaped at
night, heading towards India. A couple of weeks later, he was given
refuge by the Indian government.

In the repression which followed his departure, thousands were massacred
by the People's Army in Lhasa.

A first rapprochement between Beijing and Dharamsala happened in 1979
when Deng Xiaoping met Gyalo Dhondup, the Dalai Lama's brother. He told
him that he was ready to discuss everything except Tibet's independence.
This meeting was followed by the setting up of four fact-finding
delegations.

After twenty years, the Chinese Communist government was under the
impression that the ‘backward Tibetan people' had finally been
liberated. The local Communist authorities briefed the Tibetan
population in Lhasa about the forthcoming visit of the Dalai Lama's
delegates: "You should not resent this visit. You should not insult the
delegates; you should not spit on them, just receive them as your own
countrymen," were the strict Party instructions.

They had, however, misread completely the people's feelings, their deep
resentment, as well as their will to resist colonisation. The three
first delegations visited Tibet between 1979 and 1982; wherever the
Dalai Lama's envoys went, they were mobbed by crowds of Tibetans. One
delegation member remembers: "The Tibetans tried even to tear our chubas
(Tibetan dress) to have them as relics." The entire Lhasa population was
in the streets; everybody wanting a darshan of the Dalai Lama's envoys.

By the time the fourth and last delegation journeyed to Tibet in 1984,
the Communist authorities had learned their lesson. Spies were
everywhere, infiltrating crowds: "At first Tibetans came forward to
speak to us. But one discovered that some of the Chinese dressed in a
Tibetan chuba, were spying (on us) with a small walkman in the chuba
sleeves. People became nervous, they knew they were taped and would be
interrogated later. People became more cautious."

Twenty four years later, the surveillance is more sophisticated with
video cameras strategically located all over Lhasa and other big cities.
All the mobile phone calls are monitored and it is today rumoured that
people who have sent files (pictures or videos) to their relatives in
India are being arrested.

During the visit of the 1984 delegation, the ‘liberated people' of Tibet
had their own way to show their unyielding respect for the Dalai Lama:
"Because we were sent by His Holiness (the Dalai Lama), to get something
touched by us was (for them) a blessing… when our cars would leave, the
Tibetans would collect the soil out of the prints of the tyres of our
cars and keep this dust as prasad to eat or preserve it."

During the last few days, tens of thousands have taken to the streets
knowing fully well that they are being videoed and that they will
eventually have to pay for their act of bravery. It shows the state of
despair and desperation of the people of Tibet. And Beijing has now
decided to wage a ‘people's war' against them.

While doing so, the Communist leadership is taking a risk. During the
next few months, they were supposed to uphold the spirit of Olympism and
respect the traditional truce, not to wage a war against people, whether
they are ‘minorities' or not. How will the international community react?

Interestingly, the Communist leaders have not always responded with such
brutality. In May 1980, the politburo decided to send a high level
fact-finding delegation to the so-called ‘Tibet Autonomous Region'
(TAR). The delegation was headed by the top Party functionary, Hu
Yaobang, who was then the General Secretary of the Communist Party of
China. Reaching Lhasa, Hu Yaobang was shocked to see the level of
poverty in Tibet. During a meeting with the Party cadres, he asked
"whether all the money Beijing had poured into Tibet over the previous
years had been thrown into the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) river." He
said the situation reminded him of colonialism. Hundreds of Chinese Han
cadres were transferred back to China.

Unfortunately, this sensible policy did not last long. In 1988, Hu
Jintao took over as Tibet Party Chief. In January 1989, the new Tibet
boss visited the Tashilhunpo monastery in Shigatse. He was accompanied
by the Panchen Lama, the second highest ranking Tibetan Lama after the
Dalai Lama. To everyone's surprise, during the function, the Panchen
Lama denounced the Communist Party's role in Tibet.

"Although there had been developments in Tibet since its liberation,
this development had cost more dearly than its achievements.

This mistake must never be repeated," he said. Four days later, he
passed away in the most mysterious circumstances.

On March 5, when some demonstrations erupted, the People's Armed Police
quickly ‘took control of the situation.' A Chinese journalist Tang
Daxian witnessed some of the events. He later wrote in The Observer that
on March 6 alone, 387 Tibetans were massacred around the Central
Cathedral in Lhasa.

The next day, Hu Jintao declared: "The PAP following the instructions of
the Central Committee had maintained the unity of the Motherland… the
majority of Tibetans who had joined the disturbance… must be made to
feel guilty and promise they would never do so again."

Nineteen years later, the population of Lhasa did it again.
Retrospectively, the tragic events of 1989 in Lhasa seem to have been a
rehearsal for an even more serious incident: the student rebellion on
Tiananmen Square in June.

A few days after the incident Hu Jintao told Xinhua news agency: "We
should maintain vigilance against possible activity by the handful of
separatists and strike them with relentless blows." His ruthless
implementation of his bosses' orders and the subsequent replay of Lhasa
events at Tiananmen Square proved he was a leader who could be relied upon.

What is a ‘people's war'? It is still not clear to me.
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