“Old Tibet no Shangri-La”

An article appeared in The Atlanta Journal Constitution written by a Taiwanese student, Chi-Wen Yao, at University of Georgia. It is called “Old Tibet no Shangri-La” and points out, rightly, that old Tibet was a theocratic feudal system that abused human rights. The monasteries were the owners of huge tracts of land and owned the peasants more or less as slaves.

He’s right. There were terrible abuses and no one wants to return to a system like that. But he is misguided if he believes that returning to rule under the Dalai Lama means a return to that old system. As a young man the Dalai Lama already saw how terrible the system had become. He wanted to reform it, and, given the chance, I’m sure he would have moved Tibet toward democracy. He even considered some communist ideals as an option for a positive impact on Tibetan society and hoped that Mao would help him make those reforms. But that’s when he was a teenager! When the People’s Liberation Army came to Kham and Amdo to liberate the people from that oppressive system, they came with a complete disregard for ALL cultural and religious values, brushing aside the good with the bad. The only saw one way, the Han Chinese communist way.

Chi-Wen is right about supporting a new, democratic Tibet but he’s wrong in his assumptions that a return to lamaism will return Tibet to the dark ages. What the Dalai Lama has proven to the world, through his years of activism for his people and his repeated call for non-violence and discussion between Tibetans and Chinese, is that an autonomous Tibet will be different. The Tibetan community in exile have also seen the world and are used to free, democratic societies. If they are allowed to return to their homes in Tibet they would not want to live in the dark ages again for sure! In fact, the Tibetans living under Chinese rule now are much more aware of democratic freedoms and would not want to return to the dark ages either! Where does Chi-Wen get this notion anyway?