What Do Tibetans Think of China?

What Do Tibetans Think of China?

What Do Tibetans Think of China?

Consider also the case of Mary Kom, Olympics boxer from Manipur. Annexed by India in 1949, Manipur has tried for half a century to regain its independence, resulting in thousands killed by the state, but now that Kom is world-famous, New Delhi is proudly claiming her as a good daughter of India. Though the US has made so much noise about Tibet, it never mentions Manipur, a sovereign land invaded by an ally. Read more…


“At boarding schools in Tibetan-inhabited areas in Qinghai, students have free education, food, clothing, accommodation as well as free school supplies,” said a headmaster of a primary school in northwest China’s Qinghai Province.  “The Central Government grants at least 2,000 yuan to each primary student and more to middle school students,” said Kangbao, headmaster of a boarding school in Dawu County in Guoluo Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Qinghai.  “All the subsidies added up can satisfy the basic needs for studying and living of a student for a whole year,” added the headmaster.  Compulsory education in all Tibetan-inhabited areas is free. Living subsidies for primary school students were raised to 1,300 yuan a year from previous 300 yuan a year; for middle school students, it rose from 800 yuan to 1,500 yuan.

Boarding schools also provide students with subsidies for heating in winter. During compulsory
education years, pupils receive 40 yuan for school supplies while middle school students can have 30 yuan each.  “The total for a primary school student exceeds 2,000 yuan if subsides from local governments are included, and for middles school students it’s more than 3,000 yuan,” said Bajiao. “As a matter of fact, free compulsory education in Tibetan-inhabited areas in Qinghai has been made universal. Parents don’t need to pay anything if their kids go to school.”

But do we care what Tibetans themselves think?

It seems that our media does not. Fortunately, some people do care.  Rarely do their opinions (or the opinions of Chinese citizens for that matter) come into the equation when speaking about Sino-Tibetan issues. It’s taken as a given that they all want independence. That all of their lives are far worse under Chinese “occupation” than it was under the Dalai Lama’s Shangrila Kingdom. Westerners likely take the viewpoints of Tibetan emigres as a representative sample of 5.8 million Tibetans inside Tibet. But they are no more representative than are Cuban émigrés in Florida representative of Cubans’ opinions in Cuba.

Granted, there are few objective evidence (other than the anecdotal evidence from travelers) from surveys are rarely conducted inside Tibet. But I know of two that polls ethnic Tibetans inside Tibet for their views. But what are their views?

In this survey conducted in 2000 by the renowned Tibetologists Melvyn Goldstein, Cynthia Beall, Ben Jiao and Phuntsog Tsering, they asked a sample of Tibetans from across the TAR whether their lives are better than that of their parents: “Do You Have a Better Life Now Than Your Parents Did?”  One of the cohorts of that sample (N=150) is the age group between 60-79. In 2000, that means that they were born roughly between 1920-1940. That means their parents lived almost entirely before Chinese policies were instituted after 1959.

An astounding ~90% answered “Yes,” that is, their lives are indeed better than that of their parents.

So it would appear that the Dalai Lama’s claim (which the west accepts unquestioningly) that China had turned Tibetan “heaven on earth” to a “hell on earth” is, like many other claims about China and Tibet in the west, absolute rubbish.

But what about the question of independence? Well, that study did not directly question Tibetans on that thorny issue but one study conducted secretly by the Tibetan Government in Exile did–shortly after the ’08 March riots. Here, it looks that Tibetans inside Tibet who want independence (renzig) are in the minority (29% or about 5,000 out of a total sample of about 17,000).

This survey was likely crucial in getting the TGIE to stick with the so-called “middle way approach” after the riots, when they actively questioned that approach and contemplated seeking independence.

Keep in mind that this study was conducted BY the TGIE and so questions of pro-China bias does not arise. Also, more importantly, keep in mind that this study was done soon after the ’08 riots when tempers were flaring and the desire for independence was likely at its zenith inside Tibet. So if only 29% of Tibetans want independence, at most shortly after the Tibetan riots, that figure is likely lower today.

Here as elsewhere, the opinions of people actually part of the issue is dropped from the discussion in the west’s narrative. It is only our (white folks’) opinions that count speaking on behalf of everyone else. Sure the evidence is sparse from only two studies but studies like this are still better than conjecture, anecdote and mere bullshitting. I wonder what you’d find if you polled Native Hawaiians or the Lakota Indians for their views on whether they want their territories to be an independent state from the US?

[NOTE: Now the TGIE study did find that a plural majority (about 47% or 8,000) of respondents wanted to the Middle Way approach of Tibet remaining as part of China but with limited “true autonomy” (the 4,000 or so rest of the sample either wanted the status quo to remain  or did not have an opinion). But also keep in mind that the Chinese government offered the Dalai Lama a middle way approach for the autonomy for the TAR in the early ’80s but due to his intractable demands that even parts of Gansu, Sichuan, and other historically multi-ethnic provinces be included as “Tibet,” the deal fell through.]. Read more on Hidden Harmonies…

As always, your comments are welcome and encouraged. Issues like this need more than just one opinion. And do feel free to add links to useful sources and stories!

What do YOU think?

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