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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Autonomy for Tibet

April 22, 2008

Elliot Sperling
The Deccan Herald ~~ Monday April 21 2008
IN PERSPECTIVE

Tibet was not Chinese until Mao Zedongs armies marched in and made it so.

For many Tibetans, the case for the historical independence of their
land is unequivocal. They assert that Tibet has always been and by
rights now ought to be an independent country. China’s assertions are
equally unequivocal: Tibet became a part of China during Mongol rule,
and its status as a part of China has never changed. Both these
assertions are at odds with Tibet’s history.

Tibet’s view

The Tibetan view holds that Tibet was never subject to foreign rule
after it emerged in the mid-seventh century as a dynamic power holding
sway over an Inner Asian empire. These Tibetans say the appearance of
subjugation to the Mongol rulers of the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th and
14th centuries, and to the Manchu rulers of China’s Qing Dynasty from
the 18th century until the 20th century, is due to a modern, largely
Western misunderstanding of the personal relations among the Yuan and
Qing emperors and the pre-eminent lamas of Tibet. In this view, the
lamas simply served as spiritual mentors to the emperors, with no
compromise of Tibet’s independent status.
In China’s view, the Western misunderstandings are about the nature of
China: Western critics don’t understand that China has a history of
thousands of years as a unified multinational state; all of its
nationalities are Chinese. The Mongols, who entered China as conquerors,
are claimed as Chinese, and their subjugation of Tibet is claimed as a
Chinese subjugation.

Here are the facts. The claim that Tibet entertained only personal
relations with China at the leadership level is easily rebutted.
Administrative records and dynastic histories outline the governing
structures of Mongol and Manchu rule. These make it clear that Tibet was
subject to rules, laws and decisions made by the Yuan and Qing rulers.
Tibet was not independent during these two periods. One of the Tibetan
Cabinet ministers summoned to Beijing at the end of the 18th century
describes himself unambiguously in his memoirs as a subject of the
Manchu emperor.

But although Tibet did submit to the Mongol and Manchu Empires, neither
attached Tibet to China. The same documentary record that shows Tibetan
subjugation to the Mongols and Manchus also shows that China’s
intervening Ming Dynasty (which ruled from 1368 to 1644) had no control
over Tibet. This is problematic, given China’s insistence that Chinese
sovereignty was exercised in an unbroken line from the 13th century onward.
The idea that Tibet became part of China in the 13th century is a very
recent construction. In the early part of the 20th century, Chinese
writers generally dated the annexation of Tibet to the 18th century.
They described Tibet’s status under the Qing with a term that designates
a “feudal dependency,” not an integral part of a country. And that’s
because Tibet was ruled as such, within the empires of the Mongols and
the Manchus. When the Qing dynasty collapsed in 1911, Tibet became
independent once more.

China’s argument

 From 1912 until the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949,
no Chinese government exercised control over what is today China's Tibet
Autonomous Region. The Dalai Lama's government alone ruled the land
until 1951.

Marxist China adopted the linguistic sleight of hand that asserts it has
always been a unitary multinational country, not the hub of empires.

There is now firm insistence that “Han,” actually one of several
ethnonyms for “Chinese,” refers to only one of the Chinese
nationalities. This was a conscious decision of those who constructed
20th-century Chinese identity. (It stands in contrast to the Russian
decision to use a political term, “Soviet,” for the peoples of the Union
of Soviet Socialist Republics.)

There is something less to the arguments of both sides, but the argument
on the Chinese side is weaker. Tibet was not “Chinese” until Mao
Zedong’s armies marched in and made it so.

– The New York Times (The writer is the director of the Tibetan Studies
program at Indiana University's department of Central Eurasia Studies.)
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