I just finished reading Isabel Losada’s ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Changing the World; For Tibet, With Love’ and am 3/4 of the way through the Dalai Lama’s autobiography, ‘Freedom in Exile’.
I guess, like a lot of people, I had heard bits and pieces about the Free Tibet campaign, and knew it had something to do with China and human rights abuses. It’s only after reading these books that I’ve started to get a sense of the sheer injustice in this situation; of Mao’s China effectively invading Tibet under the auspices of ‘reuniting’ this vast country, with its unique history and traditions, with the Motherland in 1950.
Slowly but surely, China took complete control of the country, crushing Tibetan groups who tried to resist them, torturing and imprisoning 1000s of monks and nuns, and destroying 6000 monasteries which had been the cornerstone of Tibetan life and culture for centuries. Fearing for his life, the Dalai Lama – Tibet’s spiritual leader – fled to India in 1959, and has been there (along with over 100,000 Tibetan refugees) ever since.
China continually refuses to recognise the Tibetan plea for independence, or even autonomy. And Western governments, while occasionally taking issue with human rights abuses in the region, have reaffirmed their stance that Tibet is part of China.
In October, 2008, the British government clarified their official position on Tibet’s status:
Our ability to get our points across has sometimes been clouded by the position the UK took at the start of the 20th century on the status of Tibet, a position based on the geopolitics of the time. Our recognition of China’s “special position” in Tibet developed from the outdated concept of suzerainty. Some have used this to cast doubt on the aims we are pursuing and to claim that we are denying Chinese sovereignty over a large part of its own territory. We have made clear to the Chinese Government, and publicly, that we do not support Tibetan independence. Like every other EU member state, and the United States, we regard Tibet as part of the People’s Republic of China.
Who knows whether they are right or not – historians throughout the centuries have grappled with Tibet’s legal status – is it an independent nation? An autonomous region of China? Or part of China proper? And arguably, it doesn’t really matter. Surely what’s important is what is in the best interest of the people who live there, and the refugees who were forced to leave. They have a right to safety and self-determination, particularly with regard to their religion, and China has an obligation to give this to them.
To find out more, read Isabel Losada’s ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Changing the World; For Tibet, With Love’ or the Dalai Lama’s autobiography, ‘Freedom in Exile’. Alternatively, visit www.actontibet.org or check out Amnesty’s view on human rights in Tibet here.
Picture Credit: TiagoPeriera on Flickr