China-Tibet Anniversary

This month marks the 60th Anniversary of China’s controversial “peaceful liberation of Tibet”. Since the cultural revolution of the 1950’s and 60’s, the issue of Tibetan annexation has been fraught with political, historic and academic debate. In particular, the PRC strongly maintains that Chinese sovereignty over Tibet dates back to ancient times, bringing it into conflict with contradictory historical evidence maintained by Western academics. Accordingly, there is much conflict between Western and Chinese news media surrounding this historical landmark.

In the lead up to the anniversary, news media giant People’s Daily  pre-emptively released several articles which highlight China’s contributions and connections to Tibet’s culture and economy and denounce cultural ties claimed by the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual and political leader of Tibet. Similarly, People’s Daily also portrays “pre-liberated” Tibet negatively, while stressing the impossibility of Tibet’s separation from China.

In a misspelled May 11th article entitled “Extinction of Tibetan Culture: Absoluate Fallacy”, People’s Daily accused the 14th Dalai Lama of perverting the truth and distorting history by linking Tibetan culture to India in calling himself “the son of India”.  It then goes on to accuse the Dalai Lama, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, of intentions toward “cultural secession and national cultural conflict”. In the same article, the PRC is praised as a cultural savior that overthrew a system which “retarded the overall development of Tibetan culture”.

The article, in accordance with another column released on May 12th, also claims that China has “collected and preserved a huge amount of Tibetan cultural relics.” However foreign estimates range between 200,000-1,000,000 Tibetans were killed along with approximately 6,000 monasteries destroyed during the period of the “Peaceful Revolution”. The article also casts a negative light on pre-annexed Tibet, portraying it is as a “feudal-serfdom”, though the accuracy of this depiction is also widely refuted. People’s Daily also cited PRC investment and generous state-sponsored assistance for Tibetans including “free food, lodging and tuition for children of Tibetan farmers and herdsmen”. However, it is uncertain as to how much aid is actually received by ethnic Tibetans. Tibetan exile groups claim that the PRC has flooded the region with migrants (up to 60% of the capital, Lhasa’s population are apparently Han Chinese) and that they receive the bulk of the government assistance.

Another May 13th article released by People’s Daily provides a pro-China breakdown of the Cultural Revolution in Tibet and a condemnation of Western forces involved in the conflict. The article repeatedly states the impossibility of Tibet’s separation from China and coins Tibet’s historical subordination to China as a well-known fact. People’s Daily blames ‘upper-class civilians’, the ‘Dalai Clique’ and ‘hostile Western forces’ for “starting armed rebellions”, stating that these groups “must feel uncomfortable seeing the prosperous development of all Chinese ethnic groups including Tibetans”. The column concludes with a confusing and long-winded first-person narrative; “If they still think it is possible to separate Tibet from China, they may continue to try as they have done in vain many times. However, I firmly believe they will end up like those who tried to sabotage the peaceful liberation or those who launched armed rebellions.”

In previous years the anniversary of Tibetan annexation was met with anti-Chinese flare ups amongst Tibetans and Western activists and this year’s noticeable slew of articles from People’s Daily seems intended to head off any similar conflict. Possibly because previous protests were met by strong shows of force that didn’t play well internationally. The PRC’s pre-emptive move adds little to the debate in terms of content, however. Beijing has consistently blamed unrest on the Dalai Lama and Western forces. Further, the citation of unverifiable reports and inflated statements on Tibetan living standards and cultural/religious freedoms in the Chinese press are becoming more and more common. Ultimately, the fact that the PRC still has strict travel restrictions on Tibet, especially for foreign journalists, means that the foreign media and Western-based activists will remain suspicious of PRC statements. This, when coupled with the fact that the Dalai Lama continually maintains that he seeks autonomy rather than separation for Tibet, implies that the issue will not go away until meaningful reconciliation can be made, both between the PRC and the Western media and Beijing and the exiled Tibetan leadership.

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