As Chinese rule inside occupied Tibet continues to eradicate Tibetan cultural and national identity reports have emerged this week of two more self-immolations. One took place in Eastern Tibet’s Kyegudo area of Kham region and Nagba, Amdo. Details have not been definitively confirmed, but the men involved were named as Tsering Samdup and 80 year-old Tashi Phunstok, who is said to have died as a result of the injuries.
Tibet’s culture is being burned into oblivion by the occupying Chinese regime, yet blazing even more fiercely within Tibetan hearts is the hope that one day their land shall be free of China’s tyranny and that their rightful independence will be regained. This aspiration has fueled resistance to Chinese rule since Tibet was invaded in 1950. More recently it has been a major demand issued by Tibetans who have self-immolated. A reality not only ignored by the exiled Tibetan Administration but cynically re-written, an action we oppose and expose.
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’?
We just received a report that in occupied Tibet the Chinese regime is now forcing Tibetans to memorize the words of China’s national anthem, lyrics which praise the glorious ideology of the communist party and supposed progress of the so-called Motherland.
This latest example of tyranny is further evidence of a calculated campaign to eradicate Tibetan national and cultural identity, those failing to comply face the ‘choice’ of prison, forced-labor camps and torture.
Reading of such genocidal assault upon Tibet it’s natural to feel outrage, sadness and indeed for some a sense of despair. Others may regard the momentum of Chinese rule over Tibetans has an inevitable conclusion, the demise of Tibetan culture, crushed into obscurity by increasingly aggressive measures that aim to eliminate the language of Tibet.
Such colonial violence was waged against the Irish when under occupation by the English the reasoning, crude as it is, hopes that in destroying the indigenous spoken language any sense of cultural and national identity is diluted. To the point that with successive generations a compliant, and uncritical population emerges. No doubt thankful and loyal subjects.
While the ability to speak the tongue of your culture and ancestors is a critical component defining the idea of cultural and national identity it’s erosion and forced replacement as a consequence of being occupied by a foreign power does not necessarily mean the game is won for the colonizing tyranny.
Take Ireland and its loss of Gaelic, beaten and humiliated out of Irish mouths by English rule, despite such a loss the resentment and determination among many Irish people to honor and maintain their culture was immensely strong. The language of those taking up arms against England in the cause of Irish freedom, was often English, yet the hearts and minds which sacrificed themselves for that struggle remained profoundly Irish. That reality offers hope for Tibetans suffering under the asphyxiating pressures of Chinese cultural dominance.
While Chinese may in time become the first language of occupied Tibet such a disturbing development would not in itself extinguish a Tibetan identity. That flickering sense of distinctness, if protected and nurtured within, could enable Tibetans to retain a vital connection. Not only with their cultural tradition and past, but as a spark which at some opportune time could allow the re-ignition of Tibetan cultural expression.
Of course it would be preferable if the people of Tibet could maintain their language, but the genocidal policies of China’s regime seek to exterminate a separate Tibetan identity. Language is the prime target. What the psychopaths of the Chinese government fail to understand is that socially engineering, through force, a generation of Chinese-speaking Tibetans does not address the oppression, injustice, suffering and cruelty; which has scarred every single Tibetan family since China invaded Tibet in 1950. It is that harrowing legacy, scorched across the collective memory of Tibetans, which will continue to undermine attempts to expunge the distinctiveness of Tibetan character.
Sure, it could be that with 24/7 Chinese language internet and television pumping into Tibetan homes, with ‘must speak Chinese’ requirements for employment and schoolchildren taught only Chinese we may well see a future Tibet in which Tibetan is a relic language. The interest only of academics and linguists. But depressing as that grim vision is, we believe it’s more than probable that political and civil dissent to Chinese rule will continue into the future, that the past will not be forgotten. What makes a people is more than language, and a culture and sense-of-belonging is not, as shown by history, vanquished by terrorism and persecution. Hope remains, even if its first words are in the language of an oppressor!