People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 30

August 03 , 2008


No Heart Beats For Pre-Liberation Tibet

Debasish Chakraborty

On Return From Tibet

KINGTO Tashi was only a nine year old boy when Dalai Lama fled from Lhasa. His parents were serfs to nobles and Tashi had never worn a full cloth till then. Tashi, a more or less well-off farmer now with enough land to sustain not only his family but also his dreams, compared pre-1959 days with the present situation quoting a Tibetan saying: “It was like a little finger then, now it is like a thumb”. In more popular translation it would be like 'hell and heaven'.

Tashi and all of his fellow neighbours in Gaba, a village in the outskirts of Lhasa, have land, though differing in quantity. Earlier they used to cultivate as a commune. After 1984, under Land Contract system the lands were distributed to them. Income level of most of the villagers ranges from 20 to 27 thousand yuan per annum, which according to their own estimates is 'middle level'. The oilseeds, maize, corns and particularly the glasshouse farming have brought the village into life. Tashi was forthright in his opinion about Dalai Lama and the controversies surrounding him. “The central government had offered him extraordinary opportunities. He made a wrong choice. He is welcome if he agrees with the central governments' position, otherwise not”, said Tashi.  

It was almost the same response from Loshang Champa, one of the so-called 'Great Living Buddhas”. The traditional ritual of Living Buddhas as “reincarnations” is still prevalent in Tibetan Buddhism and they are widely revered. Dalai Lamas are themselves regarded as a reincarnation of “Avolokiteswara” for ages. Theocratic-political rule of the monasteries ended over fifty years ago, but the deep sense of religiosity and the corresponding customs are still prevalent in Tibet. There are 1700 religious sites with 46,000 monks in Tibetan Autonomous Region. As a section of the monks were involved in the riots in Lhasa streets on March 14, 2008 by burning shops, torching schools, even killing brutally, the question of their “loyalty” to the 14th Dalai Lama has again come into fore.

“Tibetan Buddhism has five major sects. Though Dalai represents the Gelupa or the yellow sect, all sects were following Dalai before he had fled. After that, he has ceased to be a religious authority, he is regarded as a political activist now”, says Loshang Champa. With a smile on his face, he adds “Dalai Lama is welcome only if he supports the policy of central government. But it seems till now he has no intention of doing so.”

Awang Dongje, the head of historical Drepong monastery, one of the biggest in Tibet, asserted that only a small number of monks took part in the riot. “Violence is not only illegal, it goes against the teachings of Buddism”, he said. A leader of the Gelupa sect himself Awang has no doubt that Dalai Lama had a direct link with the violence. “Tibet is an integral part of China. Dalai Lama should respect this historical fact and unity of the country”, he maintained. And yes, there was not even a single word of welcome for Dalai from this hugely influential religious leader.

Neither was it from the monks of Sera monastery, one of the most-revered institutions of learning in Tibetan Buddhism. Standing in front of the grand statues of “Three Buddhas” - past, present and the future - the seniors among the 550 monks categorically rejected any role for the 14th Dalai Lama in the affairs of Tibet. Interestingly, following traditional rituals the monks from Sera searched and found an intelligent boy Lhamo Toinzhub as the reincarnation as the 14th and present Dalai Lama. No monk from Sera has participated in the violence in March.



Dalai Lama is seen in the streets of Lhasa more as a West-sponsored conspirator than an embodiment of the age-old institution of Tibetan people. Particularly after the renewal of disturbances in March this year, different sections of the Tibetan society are increasingly doubtful of his propagation of “peace”. The attacks on schools stunned the people. Still shivering from the horror, Tachi Xoga, the headmistress of the No.2 Middle School in Lhasa recalled the incident of attack on March 14: “We heard huge shouts at around 12 pm while the children were in their classes, and then saw burning torches being thrown over the wall and onto the roof of the school building.”  The school has 842 students, 80 per cent of whom are Tibetan. The charred roofs and ceilings, burnt desks, chairs and books scattered in corridors, stands testimony to the violence. “We closed the gates and sheltered the frightened children into a safe area in the school,” she said. Another primary school with 1480 students, all of whom are Tibetans, was also attacked with same ferocity. Yang Sun, the headmistress of the school termed the attack as “indiscriminate violence to create a sense of terror and chaos”. Some of the attackers raised the slogan of “independence” of Tibet, she recalled.



The issue for most common people is not of “independence” but of development. For the last 50 years, and more specifically in the last 30 years of reform, Tibet has been transformed from a remote, backward hinterland to a rapidly progressing modern economy. The population figure rose from 1.14 million in 1951, the year of peaceful liberation to 2.84 million in 2007. To be precise, 95 per cent of the population is Tibetan. This is being mentioned as there is a concerted propaganda by Dalai Lama and his international friends that Han migration has deformed the balance in original Tibetan habitation.

Abject poverty, hunger and lack of medical facilities were reflected by the life expectancy of only 35.5 years in 1951. It has since risen to 67 years now. Under Dalai Lama and the theocratic-political rule, 90 per cent of the population never learnt to read and write. The scenario has changed amazingly now, with 98.2 per cent children going to school. The development of agriculture and animal husbandry and the onset of modern industries have remarkably contributed to the economic growth of Tibet. In 2007 the GDP of Tibet crossed 34 billion yuan, an increase of 14 per cent over 2006. The total retail sales of consumer goods reached to 11 billion yuans in 2007. The social expenditure by the State and the social consumption by the people both increased with wide margins in the recent years. However, with very difficult natural conditions Tibet is still lagging behind in many areas. The planning by the central government includes not only huge expenditure support but also special mobilisation of funds and technical skills from the developed areas of China. Thus, counties and prefectures in Tibet are being directly helped by the provinces like Guangdong, Fujian etc.

Travelling more than 400 kilometers from Lhasa to Lingji (spelt also as Nyingchi), one can see the effects of the development with one's own eyes. The villages are bursting with economic activities. Traditional agriculture is gradually being replaced by modern and profitable cultivation. Wholesale markets of farm produces have been set up. Animal husbandry resources are abundant and they are being gradually industrialised, offering more wealth and jobs for people. The houses for the farmers, herdsmen, built with State subsidies are all over the remote areas now. The emphasis on promoting tourism has helped greatly, with thousands of tourists from other parts of China now visiting Tibet, known for its exquisite natural beauties. The building of Qinghai-Tibet railway - a marvel of engineering - has brought Tibet closer to the world. This railway, popularly known as 'Train to Lhasa' crosses deserts, plateaus and ridges with an average height of 10,000 feet in Qinghai province and Tibet Autonomous region.



The senior Chinese officials and policy planners are not, however, complacent. “Tibet is developing faster than ever. It has brought changes in interests and correlation of forces too. At present, the very important task is modernisation and the harmonious, scientific, sustainable development. Though the March 14 incidents were minor in nature, the central government should be more vigilant about the development of Tibet,” says Dong Yunhu, Director General of the State Council Information Office and In-charge of the Bureau on Tibet and Human Rights in Beijing.

An expert on the Marxist studies, Dong points to the changes in the role of religious leaders in Tibetan society. “Before the democratic reforms, they had the ruling role in older system. They owned more than one-third of the productive forces. They had cultural, political and judicial dominance also. After the democratic reforms, they lost many of the privileges. Serfs and peasants were liberated. That caused some kind of discontent among monks, particularly among Living Buddhas. Chairman Mao had once remarked jocularly that the monks produce neither goods nor descendants, they only consume,” says Dong. He adds, “Chairman Mao urged Dalai Lama to lead the democratic reforms which he could not do. Modernisation is not only needed for China, it is needed for Tibet too. Few monks may be still nostalgic for the old days. They are far, far away  from modernisation.”

About the role of Dalai Lama, the Chinese government has a sharp, clear-cut stand. “Dalai does not want the stability and development of Tibet. He has pre-meditated the violence in Lhasa. For the last 50 years, Dalai has maintained relations with the Western forces, particularly the anti-China forces. In fact, they are the sources of his strength and he is being used as an instrument of hostile forces”, says Dong.

“However Dalai is spreading misinformation through the media and in the period of opening up, he is out to damage the image of China. We have to counter that propaganda. We have to show to the whole world the truth in Tibet, the reality in Tibet”, says Dong. The terms of negotiations with Dalai Lama and his representatives are also clear. “There is no point in discussing with him about the future of Tibet. Up to 1959, he was the minister in chief in Tibet. He is no one in Tibet now. Tibetan Autonomous Region government and the Chinese government are the only representatives of Tibet. We are ready to discuss with him only the future of the 14th Dalai Lama and not of the future of Tibet”, asserts Dong.

Back in Lhasa, the architectural marvel Potala Palace, once the residence of Dalai Lamas, looms large over the whole city. This treasure house of relics and statues is a world heritage site now and is thronged by hundreds of tourists every day. It does not wait for Dalai Lama.