Compassion or Just Politics as Usual?
One hundred twenty Tibetans have self-immolated since March 2011. This is in reaction to a Chinese government that has destroyed over 6,000 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and shrines beginning in 1949, stationed around 300,000 Chinese soldiers in Tibet, and forced thousands of Tibetans to abandon their traditional rural nomadic lifestyle and move into new housing colonies or towns.
Estimates of the number of deaths that resulted from the Chinese invasion of Tibet range from 800,000 to 1.2 million. Thousands more were imprisoned or tortured. In 1959, the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists and proponent of spreading an ethic of peace and compassion throughout the world, was forced into exile in Dharamsala, India.
He was followed by more than 100,000 Tibetans who helped him establish the Tibetan Government-in Exile.
Since that time, the Dalai Lama has maintained his role as the symbolic head of the Tibetan exiles, and his influence over the exile community will remain if he chooses to maintain it. The question that remains today is how Tibet will evolve under rule of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and what will the relationship between the “Tibetan Autonomous Region” in Tibet and the Dalai Lama as head of Tibetans in exile.
Breakthrough in Chinese relations with the Dalai Lama
Beginning in 2008 when anti-China protests resulted in deaths of more than 120 Tibetan activists, the PRC cracked down with anti-Dalai-Lama rhetoric, protester arrests, and limitations of use of the Tibetan language in schools.
Now, with encouragement from both Chinese and Tibetan officials and intellectuals, the PRC is considering proposals to allow display portraits of the Dalai Lama, put an end to public denunciation of the Tibetan leader, and relax police presence in monasteries. The new moves toward liberalization of the attitude toward Tibet have been reported on both Chinese web sites and social media.
A Tibetan in exile in India who has monitored the online debate said: “The level and depth of discussion at the meetings, which seem to have involved officials, is extremely unusual. Both Tibetans and Chinese have made favorable comments about the proposals on Weibo (Chinese version of Facebook), with one Chinese commentator saying that a new approach would be a good thing if it encourages genuine peace and harmony.”
DalaiLamaIt will be interesting to learn the Dalai Lama’s response to any changes that result in an new Chinese policy in Tibet. He announced his withdrawal from politics in 2011 upon the 52nd anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against the Chinese government in Lhasa, saying “As early as the 1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power.”
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