Tibet: Serf Liberation, Mass Oppression, or Something Else?

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How do you mark the 50th anniversary of China taking over Tibet? If you were China, you’d create a national holiday, of course. On March 28 the Chinese government officially forced “Serf Liberation Day” onto the citizens of Tibet, its awkward answer to commemorations of the Dalai Lama’s exile and the Tibetan uprising of 1959.

The government stated through Xinhua that this new holiday would “offer Tibetans an occasion to remember history and remind themselves to cherish the good days they have enjoyed since the democratic reform 50 years ago,” while the website of the Tibetan government-in-exile countered that “Tibetans consider this observance offensive and provocative.”

In the May issue of In These Times, Stephen Asma takes a decidedly middle path on the situation in Tibet (article not available online), and recommends a cooling of the rhetoric on both sides. He cites problematic “doublespeak” from both China and the Tibetan exiles, influencing how the West has framed the debate:

“The Dalai Lama and his own propaganda machine have been effective in setting the parameters of discussion and reflection in the West. Most Americans know one simple story, when it comes to this vexed region: Tibet = mystical, peace-loving, good guys. China = godless, pugnacious, bad guys. The reality is more complicated.”

Asma states that the Dalai Lama’s views on Tibet’s future are more pragmatic than most reports acknowledge: “He wants an ethnically controlled, autonomous region together with the massive benefits of being part of China.”

He then takes the risky position that “If it wasn’t for China, Tibet would have no infrastructure or modern development to speak of. Roads would still be rudimentary; education would be largely theological; drinking water and medical facilities would be closer to the medieval condition they were in during the 1940s.”

Asma illuminates the fraught history between China and Tibet and then recommends that “The two sides could sit down and negotiate an honorable accord, in the spirit of the Seventeen-Point Agreement [which established Chinese sovereignty over Tibet]…The real issue worth working toward is the fair distribution of economic, educational and political opportunities for both the Tibetan people and the more recent immigrant Han population.”

Sources: In These Times,the website for the Central Tibetan Administration,Xinhua

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