In the minds of most westerners, Tibetans bring about images of saffron and maroon-colored robes worn by Buddhist monks busy shuffling their feet within the confines of their ancient and holy monastery. A humble yet rewarding life, we presume.
The nation of Tibet — or rather the political boundaries deemed by the People’s Republic of China as the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) — offers the imagination jaw dropping mountain tops among centuries old architectural marvels, like the Potala Palace in capital city Lhasa. Together the people and popular image of Tibet have spurred the idea of Shangri-La, a mythical utopia in James Hilton’s Lost Horizon that scholars believe was based off Tibetan Buddhism’s concept of a mythical kingdom called Shambhala.
Unfortunately the reality of Tibet can be safely described on a multiple choice exam as “none of the above.” The life of the average Tibetan monk is not a happy-go-lucky meditation retreat. Nor is the TAR utopic by any stretch of the imagination. Unless, of course, you consider being constantly prodded by Chinese officers your idea of eternal bliss.
“What joy! Time for my daily chat with the local police. Perhaps I’ll be held in a small, unsanitary cell for an indefinite period of time due to having differing political views. Huzzah!”
Most of us know in our hearts that the TAR is no utopia. But we also know that due to China’s growing political power — thanks to their hold on the world’s fiscal cajones — nothing will be done about TAR’s political grievances. Even calls for greater cultural autonomy fall on deaf ears.
So our collective western minds try to offer a pretty picture that we can accept to the point where we have normalized the conflict in Tibet. Doing so has scrapped Tibet from news headlines across the globe, even as self-immolations continue inside and outside the TAR in protest of Chinese policies. This all makes Tibet the normalized conflict of our generation, where we will likely see the last hopes of Tibetan independence or even greater cultural autonomy fade away once the Dalai Lama dies and is replaced by a Chinese puppet.
Hope is so lost at this point that even recent events with a logical tie to the Tibetan conflict go unnoticed, which is surprising in a digital news era where everyone is trying to find a new angle to get you to click the link. For instance, the recent campaign for Scottish independence elicited connections in the news to other separatist movements, such as Catalonia and Quebec. A search for ties between Tibet and Scotland, however, reveal one article from an unsurprising outlet — The Tibet Post. The article was printed in February, no less.
Do Not Disturb
In other largely ignored news, a slew of Nobel Peace Laureates have vowed to boycott the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates in Cape Town if the South African government realizes rumors of denying the Dalai Lama’s visa application.
From eNCA, a South African news channel:
Nangsa Choedon, the Dalai Lama’s representative in South Africa, told eNCA that she had received a call from a Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) representative on Thursday informing her that the Dalai Lama’s visa application was not going to be approved.
When asked what reason was given, she said: “We were told this was a decision taken in the national interest, so as not to disturb the relations between South Africa and China.”
Surely this deserves, at the very least, a shoutout in between the cacophony of stories on ISIS, ISIL and ISIS, covering how we will be smashing them and whatever offshoots rise as a result of said smashing until the end of time.
Dig and you will find some interesting gems, such as clarification on the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation plans. Here Robert Barnett, Director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia, dives into the current Dalai Lama’s interest in reincarnating as a woman or possibly being elected. This put China in the hilarious role-reversal position of chastising the Dalai Lama for not adhering to Tibetan custom.
“China follows a policy of freedom of religion and belief,” said China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, “and this naturally includes having to respect and protect the ways of passing on Tibetan Buddhism.”
Tsk, tsk, Mr. Lama. How dare you sit there in your robes and act like an authority of a religion you’ve been studying your entire life? Surely the single-party state People’s Republic knows what they’re talking about when it comes to high lamas, mostly because they’ve kidnapped one.
Too Much Power
Venturing an educated guess, the Chinese Communist Party will continue to see no reason to negotiate with the Dalai Lama, who they have consistently blamed for anything and everything from instigating unrest to the neighbor’s dog barking all night long. Nor will they negotiate with the exiled government operating in Dharamsala, India.
In our lifetime, the Dalai Lama will inevitably pass away. And though he has said he will make his reincarnation plans clear before then, China will do everything in its power to hamper that news from reaching the TAR as they select a puppet Dalai Lama. This all may give greater power to younger generations fed up with the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way approach, which simply calls for greater cultural autonomy within Tibet sans outright independence, who might even be willing to take up arms. It could get messy and give Tibet one last shot at international headlines, but China has historically shown they have no qualms about putting down internal unrest using violent methods.
The sad fact is that China wields too much power in a world that values military and economic might more than culture, especially an indigenous one. Our collective normalization of the conflict in Tibet over the last few decades might just have been the final blow to the dream of a free and independent Tibet.
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