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THE CHATTER BOX

 
  
  
  The Chatter Box : Blathering On
  
  
  
 
Things Himalayan by tucsonmike on 3 September 2005 4:24am
 
I thought I'd share an article I sent to a magazine I help edit called Asia in Play. It is about Tibet. I also remembered I have now missed the Dalai Lama twice. Something tells me Buddhism isn't in my cards. A fundamentalist Christian Toastmasters colleague was relieved to hear this and wonders when I'll seek salvation. :-) I figured because of Himalaya it is relevant.

Is Shangri-La Still Shangri La?

What does Tibet mean to you? Is it climbing Mount Everest? Visiting the Potala Palace in Lhasa? The Dalai Lama himself?
For all those who read James Hilton’s book Lost Horizon and Seven Years in Tibet, Tibet, Shangri-La, the top of the world is still a land of mystery.
Well is Shangri-La still Shangri-La? Chinese troops of the Peoples Liberation Army first entered Tibet in 1950. They solidified their gains in 1959, and the Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India. Many elements of Tibetan culture, such as monasteries were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960’s. Tibetans rebelled against Beijing and were put down with great force.
I haven’t been to Tibet, but would like to see for myself.
My first interest in Tibet goes back to 1977 and my undergraduate days at City College of New York. I had a brilliant professor for International Politics, Dr. Ivo Ducachek. He had been a diplomat in the Czech Foreign Service. One of his colleagues was the father of one of our Secretaries of State Madeline Albright.
We had a diverse group across the political spectrum who Dr. Ducacheck always dealt with by saying,” you are entitled to your opinion. “ We had a member of a Maoist group in our class. He said one day “The brave Chinese people had liberated Tibet!”
I wanted to know just who Tibetans had been liberated from. Their yaks? Expeditions climbing Mt. Everest? To add some sarcasm to a sad situation, if we had conquered them instead it would have been No more Yaks Eat Big Macs? The Potala Palace would have been a theme park called Lamarama? Tibet, I'll bet? It would have been the highest elevation Casino and Theme Park on Earth. The Maoist had no sense of humor. He just thought I was another Capitalist Pig.
Well, this was when I started taking classes about China. I was fascinated. I was also raised to be fanatically Anti-Communist. Of course my gut reaction at the time was the Chinese were 100% in the wrong. I wrote my Asian Studies Masters Thesis on Chinese Communism and It’s Impact on Tibet. It is dated now, as it was written in 1982. The Tibetan refugee office was at Second Avenue and 42 nd Street in Manhattan. I used some of what I received from them to get their point of view and People’s Daily to find the Chinese point of view. Still, I saw the Chinese as aggressors who committed a terrible atrocity. Other than ideology, China didn't seem to have a real strategic reason for being in Tibet (unless you wanted to keep India awake at night).
I hadn't thought much about Tibet after my Thesis until 2003. I read Orville Schell's Virtual Tibet about Tibet and all the Hollywood types such as Richard Gere campaign for Tibetan independence.
Tibet and China had been going back and forth with each other for centuries. Tang Dynasty princesses were given to Tibetan kings in marriage, the Ching Dynasty claimed Tibet, but as the Dynasty grew weak lost its hold. So this isn’t new.
When I lived in Taiwan in 1980, I also learned something else. The Kuomintang also claimed Tibet. Therefore, even if Chaing Kai-shek had been victorious, Tibet would not have been an independent nation.
Before I say the next controversial thing, I have a great deal of respect for the Dalai Lama. He is one of those great world figures like Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King. He is a man of peace who cannot go home. Probably the only way he could ever go home would be as a dying old man as the head of the religion somehow being able to convince China he doesn't want independence for his people and he renounces any resistance groups.
Can Tibet be independent again? I would have to say in a modern world, no. Too much has changed.
• Tibet in a modern world cannot support itself economically. True, they might be better off tied to a nation other than China, but there you have it. They would starve.
• The Chinese are now the majority in Tibet. China has been absorbing neighbors for 2000 years. It's just this one wasn't a small tribe in South China and happened in the modern world.
• People can resent this all they want. If the world really wanted to help Tibet be independent, the time was the 1950's, not now. Bismarck would have called this Realpolitik. The world didn't immediately liberate the Concentration Camps in World War II. Sad, but true. My being angry about it won’t bring the people off all nations killed in it back. This does not downplay the things China did, especially during the Cultural Revolution. It's too late. Tibet is part of China and Realpolitik suggests working somehow within that reality. Call me cynical, but there you have it. I'm not sure what can be extracted from the Chinese government to treat ethnic Tibetans better. That is for more knowledgeable negotiators to decide.
• China has had problems with other movements from ethnic groups in Xinjiang Province who would like more autonomy. Even if they see Tibet as a mistake Mao made, to admit it would mean having to deal with Xinjiang or even Tibet differently.
• Evidence of China seeing Tibet as a mistake are being quashed by the building of the new high speed railway from The Chinese rail network 700 miles (1120 km) to Lhasa. This will make it clear there is no question China isn’t leaving.
So is Shangri-La still Shangri La? Yes, but it is a very different one that travelers will encounter.
 



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