China Invasion and Development of Tibet
China's Development Strategy for Tibetan Nomads:
Tibet had been at intermittent war with various Chinese governments and other regional powers for hundreds of years before the most recent Chinese take over in 1951 with the signing of the 17 Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet. It is difficult to determine if Tibet at this time was an autonomously administered subordinate state to China or if it was truly independent. “The ancient Sino-Tibetan relations are complicated and questions remain regarding the subordination of Tibet to Qing China following first decade of the 18th century. In 1727, the government of China began posting two high commissioners, namely Ambans, to Lhasa. pro-Chinese historians argue that the ambans' presence was an expression of Chinese sovereignty while those favouring Tibetan independence claims tend to equate the Ambans with ambassadors.”2 The Japanese explorer monk, Ekai Kawaguchi, who was in Tibet in 1909, writes that “The loss of Chinese prestige in Tibet has been truly extraordinary since the Japano-Chinese War. Previous to that disastrous event, China used to treat Tibet in a high-handed way, while the latter, overawed by the display of force of the Suzerain, tamely submitted. All is now changed, and instead of that subservient attitude Tibet treats China with scorn.... The Tibetans listen to Chinese advice when it is acceptable, but any order that is distasteful to them is entirely disregarded...." This statement shows that China did have a degree of authority in Tibet, even though it had much faded by the early 20th century. This argument only has a modest sort of side-pertinence in this investigation though and I do not intent to take an ideological stance on the issue. Moreover, my aims are to discuss the actions of the Chinese government in Tibet subsequent to their imposition of authority in 1951.
Chinese authority in Tibet was firmly rooted and acknowledged with the creation and signing of the 17 point “Agreement on the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” The agreement was pretense by the following statement written by the Dalai Lama, “"The Tibet Local Government as well as the ecclesiastic and secular people unanimously support this agreement, and under the leadership of Chairman Mao and the Central People's Government, will actively support the People's Liberation Army in Tibet to consolidate national defence, drive out imperialist influences from Tibet and safeguard the unification of the territory and the sovereignty of the Motherland." The amount of coercion that ceded this agreement can be reasonable measured by the sheer amount of force that China showed during the initial stages of its invasion of Tibet in 1950. The “17 Point Agreement on the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” follows:
The political organization of the nomad estates were drastically changed as a result of the Communist takeover of China in 1949. Beginning in 1951, the nomads were impeded by a barrage of “reforms” which tried to influence them to take up the sedentary life of ranchers, agriculturalists, or other such observable, regulated and controlled profession. In the Phala region of Chang Thang (as well as in many other areas) the Chinese attempted to round the nomads up into pastoral communes:3
The nomads became “owners” of shares of the commune but in reality were simply laborers who worked in accordance with the commune leaders’ orders. The pastoral technology remained basically the same, but the social and political organization were dramatically restructured by transferring ownership of the means of production and all marketing and production decisions from the household to the commune.
Chinese policy during this period, therefore, sought to maintain pastoral production but destroy the social and cultural fabric of traditional nomadic life.
As is evident from the above statement, the nomads were far more autonomous under their traditionally created theocratic “feudalistic” system than they ever could be within the bounds of their Communist mandated “liberation.” Chinese policy did not take into account the various cultural contours of the Tibetan and tried to “Chineseify” them by force. Government schools were set up and Tibetan children were required to pursue an education on the Chinese model: they learned to speak Mandarin, were indoctrinated on various points of Chinese cultural and governmental policy, and were pushed in almost every way to acculturate themselves into “Chinese” society. Grey cotton slacks and shirts soon replaced traditional Tibetan clothing and the Tibetans were taught the ideology of the Chinese worker motif:
“Chinese think about their mission today very much the way American settlers did: They are bringing development and modernity. Asiatic, Buddhist Tibetans and Turkic, Muslim Uyghurs are being lifted out of the third world, whether they like it or not. They are getting roads, telephone lines, hospitals, and jobs. School fees are being reduced or abolished to promote basic education and Chineseness.”4
Education was just one point upon which the Chinese government attempted to rout out the traditional culture of the Tibetans, as they also sought to repress religious practice and other forms of overt and subvert “Tibetanness.” “From 1966 to 1976, during the Cultural Revolution, the central government made a strong but unsuccessful effort to eradicate Tibetan nationalism as a political force. During this period, virtually all temples and religious buildings were destroyed throughout China. The Tibetan refugee community estimates that more than 6,200 Tibetan monasteries were razed.”5
But why would the Chinese government invest so much money, man power, and effort in a great expanse of land that was previously though to be a barren wasteland? The answer is simply that Tibet serves as a political and geographical buffer between China and the great powers of India and the former Soviet Union. At the time of the initial Chinese initiative in Tibet, Russia controlled the eastern expanse of Central Asia and administered the countries that are now referred to as Kyrgystan, Kazakstan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. These regions shared a border with Tibet in the west, while India and the newly formed Pakistan sat to the south. In point, a number of global powers had their eyes on Tibet, including the British and Russians, and the region became a major security concern for China. As wrote in the book, China: Nation in Transition, Chinese policy is dominated here by nationalistic concerns and a perceived need to control remote border regions that might otherwise fall under the influence of foreign or domestic forces inimical to central government rule.”6 In 1909, the Japanese explorer monk, Ekai Kawaguchi, stated the following about the potential land-grab that Tibet provided for other regional powers:7
Tibet may be said to be menaced by three countries—England, Russia and Nepāl, for China is at present a negligible quantity as a factor in determining its future.
In the face of other world powers impeding upon their borders, the newly formed PRC acted and took full, undeniable claim of almost the entire Tibetan region.
The notion of political security interplayed with the need for natural resources as China occupied the entirety of the Tibetan region. In the book, Second World, Dudeworth writes that “ . . . Tibet . . . [has] the misfortune of possessing resources China needs: Tibet has huge amounts of timber, uranium, and gold deposits, while [it] constitute[s] China's geographic gateway for trade flow outward – and energy flow inward.”8 In point, Tibet could no longer remain an impartial, autonomous buffer zone, as it became far too valuable for the emerging and existing super powers in the region.
Subsequent to 1980, China seemed to feel as if Tibet was fully conquered
and began to allow for the continuation of many of the Tibetan's
previously held liberties, including religious practice.9
1Debra E. Soled, editor. China: A Nation in Transition (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1995). 303.
4Parag Khanna. The Second World (New York: Random House, 2008). 80.
5Debra E. Soled, editor. China: A Nation in Transition (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1995). 303-304.
6Debra E. Soled, editor. China: A Nation in Transition (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1995). 302.
8Parag Khanna. The Second World (New York: Random House, 2008). 79.
9Debra E. Soled, editor. China: A Nation in Transition (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 1995). 304.
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