What is happening in Tibet, and in the reporting of what is happening?

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by Neil Godfrey

Related post now added at Tibet protests . . . hope for Diego Garcians. . .?

This post has an updated link at What is happening in Tibet, 2:

Firstly, I deplore the human rights situation in China, and was dismayed that it was chosen to host the Olympics in the first place. But having had some contacts with a few Tibetans, and watching the way some of the Tibetan protests are portrayed in the news here, I cannot help but seek answers to a few questions before jumping on board the free Tibet movement. Certainly I would support an increase in human rights in Tibet, as anywhere in China, but independence or even quasi-independence protests are another matter.

Questions that keep coming to mind:

Are the monk-dominated images I see on TV footage representative of the identity of the main body of protesters in Tibet? If so, what is the role of the population who are not monks in the clashes with Chinese authorities?

When TV footage comes with a voice over saying that it is showing monks coming between Chinese troops and other protesters, then why am I unable to see much evidence of the other protesters, and even see some monks throwing rocks and bars at the troops?

When a leader of the protesters was interviewed on a BBC film clip recently, was he translated correctly when he appeared to say: “That’s why we (the monks) have ordered (sic) these demonstrations”?

Why do so many commentators seem to trace Tibetan history in their commentaries back no farther than the 1950’s? At best, I have read of the time Tibet was prised away from China during the time when nineteenth century foreign imperial powers were intent on weakening and breaking up China. Is there any significance in the 1950’s time-frame of historical recollection in the news media coinciding with early Cold War attempts by the U.S. to attempt to undermine the new government of China?

What is the actual evidence that the bulk of the lay population of Tibet is strongly opposed to being part of China? To what extent are the Tibetans at the “free Tibet” booths and stalls one often sees at festivals, fairs, etc, in the West truly representative of the average Tibetans “back home”?

How can one be sure that by supporting Tibetan independence one is not playing into the hands of a well funded attempt by the U.S. in their games with China?

This post has an updated link at What is happening in Tibet, 2

See also Human Rights in China

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Neil Godfrey

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13 thoughts on “What is happening in Tibet, and in the reporting of what is happening?”

  1. I think you raise some interesting questions. I agree many people seem all too eager to go all pro-Tibet without actually looking at the situation from China’s point of view.

    However it should be realized that though China has performed impressively on an economic level, it’s treatment of minorities has been nothing short of deplorable.

    The Dalai Lama has raised concern over the Tibetan people becoming a minority in their own regions. One need but look at the once Uighur dominated province in west China to see how the communist state operates. The Uighurs used to be a majority (I believe close to 90% or higher) of the population.

    With a large influx of Han Chinese these people are now a minority in their own region. They have their own distinct Turkic culture and do not enjoy religious freedoms and have sufered too many human rights violation. The Tibetans fear the same happening to their lot. The Chinese have opressed the people of Tibet for too long. They cannot have everything their own way. I am certain the support for the cause is much wider then just monks.

  2. Perhaps so. I would just like to see the same sort of film evidence of it as was shown of the recent popular demonstrations in Burma. There it was clearly evident that the monks were coming out alongside the general population. Apart from one of the very earliest filmings of the Tibetan protests I have seen nothing comparable via the same news channels for some reason. The contrast between the film footages shown of the Burma and Tibetan protests has been (at least to my experience) stark. Why?

  3. Hi. Thanks for the interesting Asia Times article which has helped improve my understanding of the situation with Tibet.

    Indeed the big question to ask is WHY NOW? Of course the people of Tibet need greater rights but I myself feel the way the outside world has dealth with the situation may not be too conducive to improving the situation. Rather there has been a rise is polarization.

    If you havn’t seen it already here is an interesting video for a more Chinese perspective on the issue : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9QNKB34cJo
    (It is a bit offensive due to the f word so appologies. )

    Here are other interesting pieces from the British press:

    and here is something from the Washington Post on the Uyghurs:

    Finally about the difference with the Burma protests could be linked to the fact that China is big country with a more sophisticated system to control what gets out. There might even be greater fear amongst many people to show their demand for greater rights and freedom. This is true in many countries with a record of human rights violations. People are afraid. What happened in Burma could be termed an act of courage, it does not happen everywhere.

  4. I was interested to read an explanation for the first film images of the Tibetan riots showing lay civilians (not monks) in riots. Tourists are said to have reported that Tibetans were attacking Chinese civilians. Have the monks, (financed by outsiders?), exploited race riots for other political ends?

    From an AFP report on ABC News (Australia):

    China has reported a total of 20 deaths, 19 of them in the Tibetan capital Lhasa, which was shaken by violent anti-Chinese riots last month in which Western tourists said Tibetans attacked Chinese civilians with rocks and torched buildings.

  5. cheshmgir, the youtube video you link to reminded me of several books I read when in China a couple of years ago and was attempting to get the other side of the Tibet story. Nothing I have seen from western or non-Chinese sources has refuted those facts or their implications in international law. To call for Tibetan independence is to repeat the same international crime we saw in breaking Kosovo from Serbia. The Guardian and TimesOnline articles you point to are also excellent reading for anyone wanting understand of what is happening in Tibet and China.

    Human rights are in too short supply in most places — to single out Tibet at this time seems to me to be playing into the hands of other political manipulators. Human rights issues would be better served by a more strategic approach that was clearly seen to be separated from political intrigues and power games.

    The Uyghur article (by the president of the Uyghur American Association) unfortunately reminded me of the sorts of things we were once reading by the likes of Chalabi (remember him?) about Iraq. Against assertions of forced cultural assimilation, it appears from my admittedly very limited experience of China that China is fond of celebrating the cultural diversities of its many peoples.

    But I don’t want to sound like I’m soft or naive on China’s human rights record. It is appalling in the extreme. My concern is that human rights issues not be used as pawns by political rivals.

  6. The Uyghur issue is one which does not get too much attention in the international media (vs the Tibet cause.) They have a genuine concern, however I am also wary of taking it too the extent of a seperatist movement which is in no ones interest at this moment in time.

    Pakistan and China share a very close relationship so it is a matter of grave concern to both countries.

    Here is an interesting Pakistani perspective I would recomment to read:
    ….www.thenews.com.pk/print1.asp?id=102865 [Link inactive, 18th August, 2015 — Neil. Try http://www.thenews.com.pk/TodaysPrintDetail.aspx?ID=102865&Cat=9&dt=5/25/2008 ]

    Another link about Sino-Pakistan relations: http://blogs.reuters.com/pakistan/2008/04/09/pakistans-china-connection-strong-as-ever/

  7. I would like to remind people here to be very careful about what they believe. I have heard a lot about Tibetans making up stories to suit western ears. Recently I found more evidence of this in Robert Barnett’s essay ‘Women and Politics in Contemporary Tibet’. You can read it online here through googlebooks:


    Barnett is a lecturer in International and Public Affairs and coordinator of Columbia University’s Modern Tibetan Studies Program; therefore a trustworthy source. In his essay he describes this deceit, by a Tibetan woman in this case, as “performing her nation…by presenting a narrative that establishes her as part of the extended Tibetan body politic and identifies her within a history of nationality oppression and resistance.” Barnett then goes on to say that Tibetans are able to buy copies of a particular event that occurred in Lhasa many years before and that some Tibetans use this “regurgitated story” to gain asylum in the USA, he writes; “Accounts of that event can be bought from tutors in New York to be memorized by asylum seekers”. The purchasable story is based on this event covered in the New York Times:


    I wish not to promote that these abuses do not happen, but we do need to question just how many of the forced sterilizations and other accounts of torture and so forth coming out of Tibet are fabricated to gain support and assistance from a sympathetic yet gullible audience.

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