Have Chinese government policies benefited Tibet, a region in southwest China? Or does Tibet deserve greater autonomy (if not outright independence) from China due to allegations that the Chinese administration is oppressive?
In March 2008, deadly riots broke out in Tibet, a relatively isolated region in southwest China. The rioting involved clashes between Chinese government forces and ethnic Tibetans, who are a majority in the region but a small minority within China as a whole.
Tibet has a long history of relative independence from China and a strong cultural identity that is distinct from China's. Many activists therefore argue that Tibet deserves to be autonomous or even fully independent from Chinese control, which many Tibetans regard as oppressive.
But Chinese officials counter that Tibet has been a part of China for centuries, and assert that Chinese policies have brought Tibet economic prosperity, improved health care and education, and an overall better standard of living.
The foremost critic of Chinese policy on Tibet is Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, who is the leader of Tibetan Buddhism and the head of a Tibetan government in exile based in India. Exerting powerful political as well as spiritual influence, the Dalai Lama actively lobbies for increased Tibetan autonomy but refrains from calling for complete independence from China.
In any event, China has steadily maintained control over Tibet since 1951.
Since Chinese communism was inherently secular, the Cultural Revolution proved especially damaging to Tibet's Buddhist culture. Pro-Communist forces destroyed thousands of religious sites in Tibet and elsewhere in China, and religious worship in general was suppressed.
More recently, China has renewed its efforts to negotiate with the Tibetan government in exile. Since 2002, Chinese officials have held a series of talks with the Dalai Lama's representatives that have been touted as attempts at reconciliation.
The Dalai Lama cautioned that "there is a real danger that the Tibetans will be reduced to an insignificant minority in their own homeland" if Han Chinese continued to migrate to the region.
Also, the so-called economic prosperity that China has brought to the region mainly benefits ethnic Han Chinese migrants, not native Tibetans!
Later in 1989, the Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his ongoing "struggle for the liberation of Tibet" by nonviolent means.
Chinese officials emphasize that their government's policies are helping to transform Tibet from a poor, isolated and rural area into a more urbanized and sophisticated one. "When they [rural Tibetans] were scattered they knew very little about the world," points out Huang Qian Min, a half-Tibetan, half-Han official. She adds, "Through [Chinese] TV and radio, they become more knowledgeable and make more progress. By living together, they can exchange ideas and improve themselves."
Striking a similar note, Foster Stockwell, an American writer who was raised in China, maintains that "Western concepts of Tibet embrace more myth than reality. The idea that Tibet is an oppressed nation composed of peaceful Buddhists who never did anyone harm distorts history."
Like Zizek, Stockwell suggests that China has advanced Tibetan culture beyond the allegedly feudal system in place before 1950, and he argues that most Tibetans appreciate the changes that China has instituted. "The idea that most Tibetans are unhappy...and want independence from China is a product manufactured in the West and promoted by the dispossessed [Tibetan] landlords who fled to India" after the 1959 rebellion, Stockwell claims.
Zizek also blames Tibetan activists for inciting violence during the March 2008 protests.
Chinese officials argue that Tibet has historically been a part of China, while Tibetan activists contend that Tibet has a history (and identity) distinct from China's. Which side do you agree with?
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