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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

From the archive: Lesson of an Escape

February 27, 2009

Apr 11th 1959 | TIBET
 >From The Economist print edition

SUBLIME mysticism and nonsense is apt to pour from many a pen as soon as
Tibet is mentioned. The Dalai Lama's success in escaping has even been
attributed (not too solemnly, one is glad to grant) to spiritual forces
that may have conjured up a belt of cloud to hide his fleeing retinue
from the Chinese air force. This is splendid stuff, but it diverts
attention from the real significance of the escape. It is a point of
agreement between the conflicting versions of the Tibetan revolt that
the Dalai Lama left Lhasa on March 17th and reached India on March 3Ist.
For two weeks, then, his party of about eighty people was plodding over
the plateaux and passes with Chinese troops and aircraft in pursuit.
Yet, according to Peking, he was being abducted by rebels whose total
strength throughout a country of over a million inhabitants was only
20,000, most of whom had merely been intimidated into joining the
revolt; while the great mass of Tibetans, "who all love the [Chinese]
People's Liberation Army," were enthusiastically helping it to mop up
rebel remnants. That simply will not wash. The "cloud" that really
helped the Dalai Lama in his remarkable escape was evidently the unity
of the Tibetan people in their hatred of Chinese military rule.

Peking's attempts to ascribe the revolt to a few reactionaries
manipulated by foreign powers are unconvincing in other respects as
well. The Chinese now admit that the Lhasa revolt broke out on March
10th, and that an "all-out attack" on their garrison was launched on the
19th; but no whisper of news or comment came from Peking until the 28th,
a week after the Indian government's revelations. Then, the Chinese
chose to break their silence with the inept claim, doomed to early
rebuttal, that the Dalai Lama had left Lhasa "under duress." They
claimed that no real monks had joined the rebels, only impostors in
monks' clothing—yet they explained their shelling of the Lhasa
lamaseries by saying that these were rebel strong-points. Perhaps the
clumsiest admission was that the rebels had appealed for the support of
the supposedly Sinoplile Tibetans with the slogan "Drive out the Han
[the Chinese]."

If Peking's version of the revolt is so transparently false, its claims
that the suppression of the revolt has been applauded by other central
Asian peoples are likewise discredited. Even if the statements it
attributes to leaders of those nationalities are genuine, and even if
they are truly representative leaders, they have been given a false
version of the facts on which to pass judgment. But it is revealing that
Peking should have taken such pains to round up these apparently docile
spokesmen. Evidently it feared that the Tibetans' example might be
infectious. That is why the revolt had to be mercilessly crushed,
however great the cost to China's international reputation.
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