Fabricating aspirations of Tibetan protesters by outsiders

By Kalsang Dhondup | June 6, 2016

Being the voice for a voiceless people is a great service but being a false voice is a grave crime. For many years, westerners have tried to be the voice for marginalized people and have written extensively for academic purposes or otherwise. Some of those works are worthy to be heard, yet many of them are biased and based on personal assumptions rather than ground reality pertaining to the particular subject of their research. Is it because they have nothing to research in their own place or is it more profitable to generate works on other people? Either way, those works published by many self-acclaimed academicians on Tibet until now has been largely vague and unworthy to be considered as authentic and complete work for interested parties.

In an interview in The New York Times – “Q and A: Ben Hillman and Gray Tuttle on Ethnic Unrest in Xinjiang and Tibet” dated 26th May, 2016, two researchers shared their views regarding ethnic unrest in Xinjiang and Tibet, and from that interview I also learned that they have published a book titled ‘Ethnic Conflict and Protest in Tibet and Xinjiang: Unrest in China’s West’.  It is not surprising that they have published a book related to an experience they have never lived because since 1980s, Tibet has become a hit in the literary market. Many self-acclaimed Tibetologists, Tibetan Buddhism practitioners and researchers have published tons of books and documentaries but many of them are based on second-hand information, sometimes assumed facts which are not really the truth in many cases.

In the interview, the last question posed to them was “The Tibetan capital, Lhasa, was also the site of protests in the late 1980s. What is different about more recent unrest?” to which Mr. Gray Tuttle answered that “The biggest difference between the 1980s and 2008 and afterward is the locations and distribution of protests. Most of the demonstrations in 2008 and after took place outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region, to which they were largely confined in the 1980s. Also different is that many, if not most, of the demonstrations since 2008 are not seeking independence, but are just seeking to realize the autonomy and/or support that the state has promised.” The section of his answer that I disagree with is that he has confidently stated that most of the demonstrations since 2008 are not seeking independence, but are just seeking to realize the autonomy and/ or support that the state has promised. I really wonder on what basis he has made that claim.

Even most of the Tibetans in exile couldn’t confidently make that claim except for some Central Tibetan Administration’s leaders who, for the sake of garnering support for Middle Way Policy, have stated such views based on the words of a handful of Tibetans who have escaped from Tibet. So, how could a foreigner possibly know the true aspirations of Tibetan protesters in Tibet since 2008? It is one thing to earn your livelihood by producing materials regarding Tibet but it is totally unprofessional and unacceptable to falsely represent Tibetan people’s aspiration without any concrete data or investigation.

Maybe Mr. Tuttle made the statement based on the common slogan, “Tibet wants Freedom” raised by many of the Tibetan protesters. The Tibetan word ‘Rangwang’ comes closest to mean freedom. But when the Tibetan protesters call for freedom, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are seeking autonomy and not independence. Their call for freedom could mean freedom from the repressive Chinese government. And Rangwang doesn’t mean autonomy; in fact, its meaning is closer to independence than autonomy. There were instances where Tibetan protesters in Tibet have specifically called for Tibetan independence but never a slogan saying let’s live under china. In 2012, a 17-yr-old Tibetan self-immolator Sangay Dolma left a photo and a note before setting herself on fire. In the photo, ‘Tibet, an independent country’ was written on her hand. It is true that there were slogans raised for freedom of religion and to allow His Holiness to come back to Tibet. But no Tibetan protester has raised any slogan about wanting or agreeing to autonomy under Chinese regime. Only Tibetan political leaders in exile have been saying that the best solution to alleviate the suffering of Tibetans inside Tibet is to achieve autonomy, which they think is more practical than seeking independence and mutually beneficial to both the parties, when in fact it is not. If it had been mutually beneficial, China would have agreed to the autonomy proposal by now.

Tibetans have been enduring repressive policies of the Chinese Communist regime for a long time and until now, no collective data or survey has been done from which an authoritative conclusion can be drawn whether Tibetans in Tibet aspire for autonomy or independence from China. Merely concluding the aspirations of a whole people by just watching from afar and relating on few vague aspects is not only untrue but disrespectful to that people.

Kalsang Dhondup is a reporter cum translator for Bod-Kyi-Bangchen newspaper, one of the most read independent Tibetan language newspaper.    

Views expressed in this article are that of the author and must not be attributed to Tibet Express.


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