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Professor Goldstein responds to Jamyang Norbu's "March Wind's

March 8, 2009

Melvyn C. Goldstein
March 7, 2009

Jamyang Norbu is at it again misrepresenting my research.  In an essay published on 6 March in WTN, Norbu discusses a report I wrote in 1996 arguing it demonstrates that I am one of the leading "holocaust deniers." He also adds, with no reference to any writings, that I advocate allocating Tibetans to "cultural reservations" in the PRC. 

Norbu wrote:

"In his 1996 report on the Golok nomads of north-eastern Tibet, Goldstein makes passing mention that they resisted the Chinese occupation militarily, that the fighting was severe and that there were many casualties. But then he continues - without a hint of irony, or use of qualifications or parenthesis - that "… the area was pacified and liberated only in 1952." Goldstein further informs us that there was a second substantial outbreak of fighting in the 1957-58 period. In a footnote he adds: "It is interesting to note that the figure of Goulou (Golok) population growth in the Socio-Economic Baseline Survey reveals a sharp decline in population between 1957-58."

However, the 26 page report Norbu cites is actually a technical report written for the EU about its "Qinghai Livestock Development Project." Yes, WTN readers, it is not a report on Golok history and politics; it is a report assessing the socio-economic constraints the Golok nomads face now and their perspective(s) on the current situation with regard to pastures and fencing. It is a technical assessment of livestock numbers and management alternatives and sets out to refute charges made by Chinese and Western scientists that Golok nomads are pursuing an irrational management style that is resulting in livestock overstocking and the destruction of the Tibetan grasslands.  No kidding! 

The paragraph Norbu referred to (which is cited immediately below) was actually written to argue that Chinese studies that use 1952, the year the  PRC took control of the area, as a baseline for livestock numbers are misleading because the fighting and opposition of the Golok to democratic reforms led to heavy livestock losses at that time.  It is therefore not a useful baseline for comparisons.  The paragraph actually says,

Historically, the Goulou tribes were politically autonomous. Consequently, when the People's Liberation Army (PLA) moved to liberate Goulou after it liberated Xining in late 1949, the Goulou herders opposed them militarily.  Serious confrontations ensued with many casualties, and was the area was pacified and liberated only in 1952. Because of this, 1952 is likely to represent an artificially low base year due to the livestock losses one would expect to accompany such fighting and disruptions. Similarly, the chaos and disruptions of collectivization and the Great Leap Forward are likely to have negatively, not positively, affected herd growth.  And, in addition to these events, in Goulou there is said to have been a second substantial outbreak of fighting in the 1957-58 period. 

These data are also suspect because there was a tendency during the early years of the PRC for local officials to deliberately exaggerate farming and livestock production in reports in order to demonstrate both their socialist zeal and their competence. In some areas, this is said to have artificially precipitated famines when the inflated production numbers led to high government taxes and quotas that left insufficient resources for the population's subsistence. It is also widely believed among China scholars that early PRC officials seriously under-reported production levels at the time of liberation in order to demonstrate to their superiors that liberation led to large increases in productivity.  

That anyone, even a political hack like Norbu, would cut and twist this paragraph to try to prove that it says anything about the presence or absence of a Tibetan holocaust is shamefully ridiculous.

In addition, Mr. Norbu's claim that I advocate "cultural reservations" for Tibetans-is nonsense. I have written a lot on the Tibet Question since 1979 and have never used the term "cultural reservations," so putting it in quotation marks here is meant only to, as usual, mislead readers. My analysis, as laid out in the U. of California Press book titled, "The Snow Lion and the Dragon: China, Tibet and the Dalai Lama"  (1997) argues that negotiations between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama have failed because the position of both sides are too divergent. For example, the Dalai Lama's Strassbourg "middle way" position would require genuine political autonomy not just for the TAR but also for a Greater Tibet, and this autonomy would require a different political system in Tibet than in the rest of China. The Chinese, on their side, wanted the Dalai Lama to return to China as an honored citizen who would have titles and posts, but primarily live in Beijing.  From the start, Beijing was unwilling to agree to the 'one country two systems' arrangement the Dalai Lama sought, so no matter how many times the Dalai Lama's representative went to meet with Chinese officials, nothing ever came of it.  On the other hand, since both sides said they wanted a compromise solution, I suggested that a viable alternative might be for the entire Tibet Autonomous Region-not small "reservations"-- to remain under the same Chinese political system, albeit with sympathetic Tibetan and Han cadre taking the lead, and for the TAR to experience real cultural, demographic, economic, and religious autonomy. I think this is still a compromise that would work.  However, I am not politically involved on the Tibetan or Chinese side. It is for Tibetans and Chinese to decide what they want to do. It is for Western academics like me, on the other hand, to study and analyze what happened, what is happening and what may happen in the future.

However, WTN readers should take note that my analysis of what a compromise solution might look like was actually accepted recently by the Dalai Lama. I am not doing a Jamyang Norbu misrepresentation here. This is true. In an interview with the well-known N.Y.Times columnist Nicholas Kristof published on 6 August 2008, Kristof and the Dalai Lama said:

"The Dalai Lama recognizes that time is running out, and he is signaling a willingness to deal - comparable to the way President Richard Nixon sent signals to Beijing that he was ready to rethink the China-U.S. relationship before his visit to China in 1972.
One signal is this: For the first time, the Dalai Lama is willing to state that he can accept the socialist system in Tibet under Communist Party rule. This is something that Beijing has always demanded, and, after long discussion, the Dalai Lama has agreed to do so.
"The main thing is to preserve our culture, to preserve the character of Tibet," the Dalai Lama told me. "That is what is most important, not politics."

This is basically what I suggested in "The Snow Lion and the Dragon." I feel in good company.

In any case, read my analysis for yourself. Don't be duped by the deliberate distortions of Mr. Norbu.

Melvyn C. Goldstein, Ph.D.
John Reynolds Harkness Professor in Anthropology
Co-Director, Center for Research on Tibet (,
Case Western Reserve University,
Cleveland, Ohio 441106
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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