Today is the commemoration of the Lhasa Uprisings of 1959, 1987-89 and 2008 when Tibetans took to the streets to oppose Chinese rule, at a disturbing cost to lives and individual freedom. The response from China’s regime was brutal, mass arrests, torture, Tibetans gunned-down, the record of these protests is bloody indeed.
After the March 10 1959 uprising the Chinese regime was quick to forge the narrative of a failed rebellion, releasing staged footage of Tibetans surrendering and laying down rifles. It was a story taken up by global media and decades later remains a journalistic cliché when reporting on the event.
No doubt this brings a warm glow of satisfaction to China’s Ministry of Propaganda, yet in consistently framing events in Lhasa on that day as a failure journalists are offering a slanted and less than complete account. For example in focusing on the military supremacy of China’s troops the courage, determination of Tibetans is ignored.
Yet it was their resistance and heroism which organized and protected the Dalai Lama’s journey into exile. That action resulted in the establishment of the exiled Tibetan government, creation of Tibetan settlements in India and the preservation and promotion of Tibetan culture for the tens of thousands of Tibetans who followed their leader across the Himalaya.
Moreover armed resistance to Chinese rule had predated the Lhasa Uprising (Tibetans inflicting significant losses on China’s army), this guerilla movement continued until the 1970s, only to be betrayed by then President Nixon and his advisor Henry Kissinger.
In truth the Tibetan spirit of defiance for Tibet’s national freedom was not defeated in Lhasa on March 10 1959, as evidenced by the continuence of the struggle, and revealed in mass-demonstrations of the 1980s and during 2008. This is not a failure, but a response of determination, bravery and hope. Such commitment continues today as Tibetans and their supporters around the world come together to raise the national flag of Tibet.
Journalists who write on this matter need to be mindful of these factors and think carefully about uncritically repeating China’s official line on events in Lhasa at that time. Is it really about being ‘balanced’ when talking of a ‘failed uprising’, minus important factual context? We wonder if the same correspondents and news agencies consistently describe the United States involvements in Afghanistan or Vietnam as ‘failed military campaigns’?