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Opinion: Why History Matters!

July 27, 2008

By Tenzin Nyinjey
TibetNet
July 24, 2008

The huge importance of the accurate accounting of Tibet's history can
be gauged by the fact that it is the only bargaining chip we have in
our negotiations with the Chinese, and the world, to secure genuine
autonomy for Tibet.

A strong knowledge of history plays a highly significant role in
determining the fate of a nation's freedom struggle. This is
certainly the case with Tibet's ongoing struggle for freedom from
Chinese tyranny. China's endless post-invasion claims of so-called
sovereignty over Tibet rest on what it calls "historical facts".
Tibet, it says, became part of China during the Tang dynasty, when
Songsten Gampo took a Chinese princess as his wife.

The Chinese mandarins have been legendary for rewriting history. The
fact that China rests its 'ownership' claim over Tibet on their own
rewritten versions of historical analysis makes it critical for us to
have a clear understanding and knowledge about all aspects of our
nation's history. We must understand fully how Tibet evolved as a
civilization, and the significant role it played in shaping the
contours not just of itself, but also its neighboring countries.

Despite that we have been brutally subjugated and colonized under the
present and now widely known post-invasion conditions, we are
fortuitous that we still have strong and irrefutable knowledge of our
own history. It is thus crucially important that we understand and
question all aspects of this, to counter the overwhelming barrage of
propaganda being unleashed from Beijing.

It is important that we are meticulous in our own presentation of
historical enquiry, and question all official history, whether it is
being put out by us here in Dharamsala, or churned out from Beijing.
All material should be read with intense critical thinking, and
scrutiny, and academic integrity. We must carefully read all the
historical evidence, and take all possible material and documents
into account. Taking this modern historical approach, one can then
draw just and substantiated conclusions about whether Tibet was
forcibly or willingly incorporated into Communist China.

In other words, we need to examine all evidence to determine whether
Tibet was 'liberated' or 'invaded and illegally occupied' by China.

The reason I place so much importance on carefully examining the
accounts of third parties is because there are now many Tibetans who
are expressing doubts about the authentic historical status of Tibet.
A close friend of mine, who was educated in one of the Ivy League
universities of America, recently told me that he didn't think Tibet
was historically an independent nation! This is quite understandable,
considering the kind of history that was taught to us in our schools,
but such notions based on poor understanding of history will only
further dilute the truth, and must be avoided if we are to reach a
sane and just resolution to our situation.

Most of what we have learned about Tibet's traditional history was
written by Tibetan lamas, and their accounts were understandably
largely tinged and colored with a unique Tibetan Buddhist flavor.
Legends we were taught, such as that King Lang Darma had horns, are
enough to sow doubts into the minds of any modern educated person.
These folk legends are now being strenuously exploited by the Chinese
propaganda machinery, through so-called 'neutral' scholars.

So far the Chinese have not succeeded in winning the war of words
against the Tibetans in exile. Despite Beijing 's enormous political
and economic influence, and massive use of manpower to this end, the
international community is clearly not convinced of its claims of
historical "ownership" of Tibet, nor that it has brought "enormous
development and progress" on the roof of the world.

Lately, however, there are dangerous signs that this seems to be
changing, as China keeps on sending carefully prepared "Chinese
Tibetologists" around the world to "describe the true historical
status of Tibet" and "expose the lies of anti-Chinese forces". For
instance, just a few days ago, China sent a four-member "Tibetologist
delegation" on a three- day visit to Canada to promote what it called
"understanding on the Tibet issue". According to the Chinese state
media outlet Xinhua, "the delegation met with scholars from the
Canadian International Council, local media outlets, government
officials and parliamentarian representatives". Judging from the
confused responses of some Tibetans and some foreigners to this
barrage, the Chinese seems to have made some inroads in its attempt
to rewrite Tibet's history.

Under such alarming circumstances it becomes extremely important for
young Tibetans, and especially the most educated ones, to continue to
do a thorough examination of their country's history, and continue to
challenge and question, in true and open academic debate, thus
overcoming any fresh or lingering doubts about Tibet 's true status.
Otherwise such words of doubt unanswered intelligently and correctly
could easily become powerful tools for the ever-vigilant Chinese
propaganda department, further undermining our own strength and future.

* Tenzin Nyinjey is the editor of Tibet Journal, published by the
Library of Tibetan Wroks and Archives, Dharamshala. The Opinion Forum
of the Tibet.net is an open forum for the discussion of various
ideas. The ideas expressed in this forum are those of the authors.
The Central Tibetan Administration does not necessarily subscribe to
the opinions expressed here.
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