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China Attempts to Rewrite Tibetan History (Spiegel)

May 8, 2008

By Andreas Lorenz in Beijing
Spiegel (Germany)
May 6, 2008

A new exhibition on Tibet mounted in China's capital city portrays farmers who were heavily in debt while the Dalai Lama lived in the lap of luxury. The central message of the propaganda offensive against what Beijing likes to call the "Dalai clique"? China first brought civilization to Tibet.

The Dalai Lama: Beijing is continue its campaign of propaganda attacks against the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.
The exhibition's organizers keep a tight grip on security: Police cars and numerous officers stand in the forecourt and visitors have to show their IDs at the ticket office. Inside uniformed and plain clothes police officers are on patrol, as well -- and some of them are photographing the crowds.

In this way the authorities are creating a climate of fear -- one which fits in with their current propaganda. After the unrest in Tibet and neighboring provinces, the Chinese government has been unremittingly attacking the so-called "Dalai clique," branding it a terrorist organization which the state now needs to protect its people from.

"The exhibition shows the backwardness and darkness of the old Tibet," a sign at the entrance proclaims. The exhibition also demonstrates "the long and inseparable history between Tibet and its fatherland," because, as the exhibition suggests, it has been "Chinese territory" since ancient times.

The visitors, mostly elderly people, silently take in the exhibits. On display are stamps and documents, bows and arrows, primitive ploughs, but also chains once used to tie up slaves. As far back as in the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644), Beijing's empiral courts appointed Tibetan officials and Tibetans paid the emperors tributes, a display board informs.

The Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1911) then "strengthened its governance of Tibet and controlled the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Lama and important living Buddhas."

"Luxurious and Excessive" Lifestyle

Before the "democratic reforms," carried out by the Communists, the family of the 14th Dalai Lama had enjoyed a "luxurious and excessive" lifestyle -- complete with 27 estates and 6,000 serfs. In the exhibition the Dalai Lama is no longer mentioned after the point at which he fled to India in 1959.

Instead, exhibits in a second hall show the upswing in Tibet, the "Roof of the World," under Beijing's stewardship. After 200,000 farmers and nomads in 1960 burned their old certificates of debt -- which bound them to aristocrats, serf owners and monasteries -- and after they were given their own land by the Communist Party, "many broke into tears of joy," a photo caption reads.

Paramilitary policemen, visiting the Tibet exhibition, stand in front of a photograph of Tibetans.
And this is how it goes on: In 1979 the farmers and nomads apparently only earned 175 Yuan a year, in 2007 it was as much as 2,788. In those days, people had to go by foot, nowadays there are modern buses. In the past people starved, today they can "eat plenty." Last year, alone, the Chinese government invested around 77 billion Yuan (around €7 billion or $11 billion) in the autonomous region of Tibet.

The exhibition in the Cultural Palace of the Nationalities fits into a propaganda campaign, with which the party aims to prove the evil nature of Tibet's old regime. At present no day passes without extensive descriptions in newspapers and on television of the cruelty of the former monastical regime and its monks -- which is contrasted with today's salutary actions of the Communist Party.

But large parts of Tibet's history have been glossed over. The fact that the Communists took back the land they had distributed to Tibetans in large-scale forced collectivizations, is concealed, as are the Cultural Revolution and its cruel campaigns against temples and monks. The same is true for the destroyed monasteries, the arrests and uprisings.

What the Dalai Lama is demanding from Beijing for the Tibetans, what his envoys -- as they did on Sunday (more...) -- have been talking to Communist functionaries about in the last few years, is kept from the visitors.

Meanwhile, Beijing's difficult relationship to Tibet remains black and white -- just like the films from the old days in the exhibition.
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