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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

China erases Dalai Lama's face from Lhasa

August 31, 2009

Times of India
August 30, 2009

LHASA (IANS) -- There are 999 rooms and a
sprawling cave in the awe-inspiring, centuries
old Potala Palace in the centre of Lhasa Valley in Tibet.

But there is not a single photograph of the
exiled Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama,
in the palace-turned-museum where he spent his
teenage, was educated, held religious ceremonies
and met government officials and envoys.

As China officially ended the renovation of the
palace that was the seat of the god-kings of
Tibet when it was an independent Buddhist
kingdom, the erasure of the image of the 14th
Dalai Lama, who lived there from his formal
enthroning in November 1950 till his flight to
India in 1959, was virtually total.

The 74-year-old Nobel laureate, who remains a
constant thorn in China's flesh with his
government-in-exile in India, is never mentioned
by his name Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe
Tenzin Gyatso in any of the hundreds of labels
describing the thousands of exhibits visitors are allowed to glimpse.

While the vice-premier from the central People's
Government of China, who had an audience with the
Dalai Lama in 1956 in Potala Palace, has his name
preserved for posterity through an exhibit label,
Tenzin Gyatso has been reduced to a faceless entity.

The position is the same at the Tibet Museum,
showcased as Tibet's first comprehensive modern
museum and a must-visit for tourists. A key
Chinese project for social development, the
museum with over 30,000 exhibits is Beijing's
endorsement of the annexation of Tibet.

The displays emphasise that since the founding of
the Yuan dynasty in China in the 13th century,
Tibet remained under the jurisdiction of China's
central government which assigned the General
Administration as responsible for the political
affairs of Buddhist monks across the country as
well as the inhabitants in Tibet.

The museum also highlights that the posts of the
Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama, the two topmost
officials of theocratic Tibet, were formally
assigned by the Qing government of China in 1653 and 1713 respectively.

A key exhibit is the 17-point agreement signed
between the local government of Tibet and China
May 23, 1951, accepting measures for the peaceful
liberation of Tibet and formalising the merger of
the Buddhist kingdom with the communist republic.

What it excludes though is that when the pact was
signed, the Dalai Lama had already fled Lhasa to
Yatung near the Indian border, readying to go into exile.

At Lhasa's oldest and most important temple, the
Jokhang or House of the Buddha, built around 642,
there is a photograph of the current Panchen
Lama, the second-highest ranking lama after the Dalai Lama.

It is actually the photograph of Gyancain Norbu,
the boy chosen by the Chinese government in a
controversial move to replace the nominee of the
Dalai Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who has since
then vanished from public eye in Tibet.

In the bustling markets outside temples in Lhasa,
there are no photographs of the Dalai Lama,
unlike markets in Nepal and India where the Tibetan diaspora live.

In their household shrines or prayer rooms,
Tibetans abroad keep photographs of the Dalai
Lama before which they burn incense, light butter lamps and make offerings.

But household shrines in Tibet are bereft of
images of the popular red-robe-clad figure after
China dubbed the Dalai Lama a separatist. The
Government Information Office in Tibet issues
booklets projecting China's view of the Dalai Lama and his rule.

They project a horrendous image of a pitiless
feudal system where power and money remained
concentrated in the hands of only five percent
while the remaining were reduced to serfs and slaves.

The pamphlets describe graphically how serfs
would be punished: have their eyes gouged out,
legs hamstrung, tongues cut out, or hands
severed, hurled from a cliff, drowned or otherwise killed.

They also describe how each Dalai Lama had two
money-lending agencies that lent money at an
exorbitant rate of interest to bleed the people dry.

However, while the campaign has been effective in
effacing the Dalai Lama's image from Lhasa's
public life, it is questionable whether it has
succeeded in uprooting the exile from Tibetan hearts.

Every day, more than 1,500 Tibetans undertake a
tour of the Potala Palace. And each day, hundreds
of 'khadas' - traditional silk scarves - pile up
as offering before the empty throne of the Dalai
Lama at the conference hall, once known as the Chamber of Golden Radiance.
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