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SFT/USTC statement on March 10 controversy

posted May 17, 2015, 6:11 PM by The Tibetan Political Review

Date: April 15, 2015

The above statement was in response to the following letter, released by the Office of Tibet on April 10, 2015:

A Factual Account of the Tibetan Government’s Gold and Silver

posted Apr 22, 2015, 5:01 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Apr 22, 2015, 5:11 PM ]

by Paljor Tsarong

A 72 year old Tsarong arrested by the Chinese for leading the armed “rebellion" against the Chinese. He returned to Lhasa from India in early January 1959 to persuade the Dalai Lama to leave Tibet (from Chinese documentary film Putting Down the Rebellion in Tibet, 1959)


In a book just published, Mr. Gyalo Thondup says that when my father Dundul Namgyal Tsarong, alias George Tsarong was looking after the Tibetan government’s gold and silver most of the money was lost or stolen. He says that it is still a mystery but suspects that Tsarong may have taken the money.[1] This brief but fully documented account shows that Mr. Gyalo Thondup’s allegations are all false and describes exactly what happened to the Tibetan Government’s treasures. 

Brief Account of the Tibetan Government’s Gold and Silver 

In the first week of December 1959 Mr. Thondup called Tsarong to Calcutta and told him that the Tibetan government had decided to sell its gold and silver and that Tsarong was appointed as his assistant. He asked Tsarong to arrange air and ground transport and storage areas, which he did. The gold and silver were being brought down from the Gangtok Palace in Sikkim where it had been lying since the time the Tibetan government had it shipped there in 1950. When the gold and silver arrived at Calcutta airport they were taken under police escort as everything was done with the consent of the Government of India. All the gold was stored in bank safe deposits. The boxes of silver were stored at Calcutta’s Bara Bazaar under the supervision of Gyalo Thondup’s man Tashi Tsering.[2] Soon the silver ingots and coins were smelted and made into bars and their fineness stamped at the Indian government mint at Alipore, Calcutta.  

The selling of the silver and the gold started at the end of 1959 and the proceeds were put into the Mercantile Bank. Tsarong sent detailed accounts of all transactions to His Holiness’ Private Office. The accounts were sent in the names of Gyalo Thondup and Rimshi Tsarong[3] since Mr. Thondup was the person responsible for the project. Space does not permit me to go into detail suffice it to say that a number of investments were made. These were in companies such as Hindustan Motors, Indian Cable Company, G.M.C Company, Rotas Cement and other companies through L.K. Somani and Abdulla Ganjee. There were loans to Jetmull Bhojraj Bank and Tea Estate. Interest amounts received, sums given to His Holiness and all expenses are detailed. Those interested should see the accounts described in the notes.[4]

With large sums of money in banks and many investments, Tsarong knew a Trust had to be formed for tax reasons. He consulted his lawyers and briefed His Holiness. On February 4, 1964 His Holiness signed a legal document giving Tsarong the authority to form the Trust.[5] This authority was in addition to the legal document in which His Holiness appointed Tsarong as his Constituted Attorney.[6] The Dalai Lama’s trust in Tsarong was unquestioned as the document clearly states that whatever Tsarong did was the same as if the Dalai Lama himself had done it. Mr. Thondup now completely twists the facts saying that since Tsarong was dishonest a Trust was set up and managed by Rinchen Sandutsang, an honest official. As the document shows, the Dalai Lama entrusted Tsarong to set up the Trust. Mr. Thondup says, “Whatever... money we (emphasis mine) were able to retrieve was put in the Dalai Lama’s trust...”  Mr.Thondup writes as if he was now involved in retrieving the money and setting up the Trust. As will be shown below, it was Tsarong who was involved in retrieving the money for the Dalai Lama’s Trust. 

The money from the sale of the gold and silver earned 3% interest for short term deposits.[7] The newly created Exile Government needed immediate cash, so long term fixed deposits were not feasible. Tsarong was under pressure to look for higher yielding investments which meant more risks. As the documents show, most of the investments were successfully yielding interest except for two in Badla shares. These were investments through Jetmull Bhojraj who were bankers, tea estate owners, miners and store chain owners and Somani Brothers of Calcutta’s Chittaranjan Avenue, Brokers and Dealers in company stock and shares. Documents show that they paid interest for a few years but failed after that.[8] 

Since Somani’s investments were guaranteed by Jetmull, Tsarong was now continually chasing Jetmull for the money through endless letters, telegrams and phone calls. A brief excerpt from Jetmull’s K.K. Sukhani says, “My dear Tsarong Sahab..[sic]. Out of one hundred promises I have failed each and every one...but please Sahab [sic] I request you with folded hands to keep my request to allow me time till 10th September... giving my final proposal IN WRITING and this will be the final thing. This will cover Somani also... Please do write to me....”[9]  

On September 1 1965 Jetmull’s D.D. and P.C. Sukhani wrote to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Briefly, the letter said that Tsarong had advanced the money but after the death of their father disputes had arisen among the family members. It also says,   “We assure you, Your Holiness that your sacred money is safe and repayment with full interest will be completed in two to three years time.”[10] 

Jetmull continued to repay small amounts but Sushil Kumar Somani did not and was sued. The court case was rather uncomfortable for Tsarong since His Holiness’ name would appear as the plaintiff since the money legally belonged to him and his Trust. The court case Suit No 730 of 1969 of the Calcutta High Court was titled His Holiness Jetsun Ngawang Losang Tenzin Gyatso the Dalai Lama and Others Vs Sushil Kumar Somani and Others.[11] Of course Tsarong won the case for the Dalai Lama’s Trust. The fact that Tsarong, as the legal representative of the Dalai Lama, had to go to court to recover the money clearly shows what happened to the money. 

Mr. Thondup says that he sent a detailed report to the Private Office on what happened to the money; probably implicating Tsarong. He said he did not get a reply from the Private Office. He is very lucky he did not get a reply. The Dalai Lama knows everything since Tsarong had met him countless times regarding the work and had sent detailed accounts to the Private Office since 1960 onwards. 

Mr. Gyalo Thondup brings up another matter regarding a safe deposit box. When Tsarong left his job in 1970 he handed the keys to the empty safe deposit box to Mr. Thondup, his boss. Thirty years later Tsarong was getting bills for the box. He wrote to the Private Office to inform them on the matter and also wrote to Mr. Thondup. Mr. Thondup now found a great opportunity to mislead and cast doubts on Tsarong’s character by saying that Tsarong was trying to implicate him for taking money from the box. Tsarong had already made it known to the Private Office that the safe was empty. Mr. Thondup then says, “But I knew nothing about any safety deposit box and had no key.” However, a document signed by Gyalo Thondup shows that he took out various amounts of gold from the Safe Deposit, Calcutta.[12]

Mr. Thondup also states that Tsarong  “...used some of the the money to invest in a pipe factory... run by some Tibetan businessmen.” He writes as if Tsarong did it all on his own and that he or the Private Office knew nothing about it. He says the company failed because of mismanagement. So here is the truth.

 In 1959 Prime Minister Nehru had suggested to the Dalai Lama that Tibetans should pool their resources and invest in some enterprises. This was taken seriously by the Tibetan Government and Mr. Thondup also asked Tsarong to look into this matter. Tsarong consulted Mr. J.S. Mehta of the Ministry of External Affairs on starting certain industries. According to a letter, Mr. Thondup himself had written to Mr. Mehta regarding this matter.[13] After many consultations with the industry department a decision was taken to start a steel factory to produce cast iron spun pipes. A collaboration contract was made with Hore Fornue and Company in Belgium. 

Tsarong named the company Gayday Iron and Steel Company, headquartered at Calcutta’s 25 Ganesh Chandra Avenue. He purchased some 250 acres at Hirodhi, Bihar where a large factory was to be built complete with railway lines. About 10 Lakh Rupees of the Tibetan Government money was invested.  Private investors both Tibetan and others accounted for about Rupees 15 Lakhs, and an 11 Lakh loan was taken from the State Bank of India. Over the years the factory was built and production begun and the Dalai Lama also visited the factory and gave his blessings.[14] 

Nevertheless, the factory was plagued with problems and maintaining a successful production became more and more difficult. At the broad level it was India’s problem. The License Raj[15] and India’s socialist policy and bureaucratic red tape suffocated business. Also West Bengal and Calcutta had become nerve centres of violent movements, frequent strikes and monster rallies of the Naxalites and the CPI and the CPI (M), the two competing communist parties; and this hurt the company. It took years to finalize things and by time the machines arrived, prices had shot up and the Belgium collaborators impatient and furious and they never sent their engineers. Once the parts arrived it took forever to get them released from the Babus of the Calcutta customs. As the company grew there was more work, and more technical experts had to be hired, resulting in ever more expenses.

Though these various political and economic struggles impacted business, it was really the October 1962 Chinese invasion of India which had the most immediate impact on the company. The stock market crashed and few bought company shares. The State Bank was also hesitant to loan more money to the company. The invasion lasted only a month, but its effect on the economy was much longer. These were also the reasons that contributed to the failure of the investments mentioned earlier. 

With increasing expenses and a very few buying shares in the company, Tsarong convinced the Bihar Government, the Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI) and the Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) to underwrite[16] the shares. 

In the summer of 1966 Tsarong went to the United States to see if he could get some money from the State Department. The matter was followed up through William Strangward and his law firm in Cleveland, Ohio; but nothing came of it. The company struggled on producing pipes but was always short of money. Finally, Tsarong had no choice but to ask His Holiness’ help. On October 19, 1968 the Dalai Lama wrote to the Deputy Prime Minister Moraji Desai asking for financial help for Gayday Iron and Steel Company. On November 1968 the Deputy Prime Minister replied saying that the IDBI is prepared to advance Rs. 35 Lakhs but they wanted the right to appoint their own Directors.[17]  They said that the company’s problem was due to inexperienced management. That was not the problem however, because even with experience directors nominated by the IDBI, the company struggled on and finally closed in 1978. Father had resigned in 1970.

Gyalo Thondup Slanders the Tsarong Family

 Mr. Thondup now tries to malign Tsarong through the method of vilifying earlier generations of the Tsarong family. He says that the original Tsarong (Minister Wangchuck Gyalpo) was assassinated since he was “too pro-Chinese.” Mr. Thondup does not mention that the Dalai Lama appointed Tsarong to look after things at Lhasa while His Holiness and his entourage escaped to India. This was in 1910 when Lhasa itself was occupied by Chinese troops.  As far back as 1904, Minister Tsarong believed in rapprochement with the Chinese as opposed to a more independent course of action with outside support. Does this sound familiar today? Yes, Tsarong was more than one hundred years ahead of those who today espouse a similar policy towards China.  

Mr. Thondup also says that George Tsarong’s father Tsarong Dasang Dadul (hereafter Tsarong) was a big thief. He says that Tsarong was just some commoner and became part of the aristocracy when he married into the Tsarong household. Mr Thondup forgets that Tsarong was already a Letsenpa, a Fifth Rank government official in 1908, many years before he married into the Tsarong family.[18]   

Mr. Thondup tries to portray Tsarong as someone who was going to be tricked by the British into starting a military coup in Tibet. He says that Tsarong was invited by the British Governor General and the Dalai Lama was sort of suspicious and so he sent Lukhang to spy on Tsarong.  The truth is that Tsarong was not invited by the British. The Dalai Lama had granted him a pilgrimage cum work leave and the day he left home for India he stopped by to see the Dalai Lama. They spent many hours discussing and on that day Tsarong and his family only managed a journey of 5 miles when the daily average ride was close to 20 miles. Tsarong spoke to the Dalai Lama about inspecting Norbu Tsukyi mint near Sikkim and then going to India to speak to the British about military training.[19] According to a letter sent by the Kashag to the British, the ministers wrote that Tsarong is also presently in India and that he might also remind them of the need to levy customs duties to support the Tibetan military.[20] So Tsarong was also on official duty and that is why Lukhang was sent. Every cabinet minister was appointed a Gakpa, an ADC who must accompany the minister wherever he went and Lukhang was Tsarong’s ADC.

Mr. Thondup also says that when Tsarong and his military entourage returned from India the Dalai Lama sent a messenger near Phari Dzong demoting Tsarong as Commander-in-chief. The fact is that Tsarong never left or returned to Lhasa with a military entourage but travelled with his wife, his 4 year old son, nanny Ani Chungkyi and a few servants. Tsarong was relieved of his Commander-in-chief position when he arrived at Chushul, near Lhasa. Mr. Thondup forgets to mention that the government demoted all the senior officers of the Tibetan army including Tsarong to satisfying the conservatives who were against Tsarong’s modernization programs. [21]

Mr.Thondup also says that the Dalai Lama removed Tsarong as minister of the Kashag and “Henceforth, he was nothing more than an ordinary official” and “... Tsarong was never given another official appointment.” The fact is that the Dalai Lama never removed Tsarong from the Kashag and he continued to be a minister for many years after that. In 1931 the Dalai Lama officially appointed Tsarong to assist Thubten Kunphel at the Drapchi Office. Tsarong continued to be a high ranking official with Dzasa rank; same Third Rank as the ministers. Tsarong was also the most outspoken and senior-most leader in the National Assembly until the 1959 Uprising. In 1954, the government under the present Dalai Lama appointed Tsarong to head the Development Office (Zuktrun Lekhung) in which he worked till the end. 

Tsarong was in India a few months before the 1959 Uprising but returned to Tibet to propose to His Holiness that he should leave Tibet. The Dalai Lama confirmed this in one of my interviews with him.[22]  When the Lhasa uprising began the people of Lhasa choose Tsarong as one of their leaders as they had full trust in him, and respected his experience as a former and successful commander-in chief of the Tibetan army. 

As a people’s representative, Tsarong soon learned that the Dalai Lama had escaped from Lhasa because Minister Surkhang’s letter to the assembly said so. The assembly wanted Tsarong to stay and guide them. He did so fearlessly. A few assembly delegates immediately fled to India right after that meeting adjourned. Tsarong set up his HQ at Shol and attempted to direct the fighting in Lhasa. After enduring continuous Chinese artillery fire for two days, he was captured and imprisoned at Chinese Military Headquarters Prison. He died a few months later under mysterious circumstance. His fellow prisoners believed that the Chinese had him quietly killed in prison so that he could no longer serve as an inspiration for resistance. 

Mr. Thondup continues his denigration of this great Tibetan hero and says that Hisao Kimura, a Japanese spy, “told me” that Tsarong kept a printing press in his house to print money and that explains why Tsarong got so rich. Hisao Kimura’s biography has nothing but high praise for Tsarong saying that “Tsarong represented the best of the old generation of Tibetan nationalists.” and that he was “known for his open-mindedness … and was always attempting to introduce new scientific innovation in conservative Lhasa”. Kimura concludes: “I held this man in the deepest respect.” [23] There is not a single word about Tsarong keeping a printing press in his own home. 

Anybody who knows anything about how traditional Tibetan Government offices functioned will see that what Mr.Thondup says is just not possible. Printing the paper money of Tibet was a big operation that just could not be done at home. The Drabchi Office which printed Tibet’s currency was headed by Thubten Kunphel, the 13th Dalai Lama’s chensel [24] and the most powerful official of his time. He was assisted by many officials. One of them was Tsarong with Dzasa Third Rank. There were other Fourth Rank officials with Rimshi, Tsepön and Drunyichemo designations. Below them were fifteen other Fifth Rank officials and a large staff under them.[25]

To print money the senior officials discuss  procurement of the materials such as papers, ink colours, spare machine parts, the quantity to be printed and even minute details as the colour and design of the money. They take their memorandum to the Kashag and a document is drawn up. This document must be submitted to the Regent/Prime Minister’s Office and from there to the Dalai Lama, who makes changes if any in red ink and marks it as “Seen”. 

Only then can the Kashag give the order to Drabchi office to print money or order materials.

Technologically, Drabchi Office had numerous machines for lathe work, stamping, rolling and printing machines. Electricity was supplied from the Dhodey Hydroelectrical Station which had a substation at Drabchi with an AC motor driving a DC 220 volt motor. 

Various items necessary for printing were kept in storerooms and looked after by Fifth Rank officials.  Every evening the storerooms were locked and sealed. All office seals and printing seals were locked in a seal box. Every morning a senior officer comes to inspect the seals. Only then can the storeroom be opened. The daily accounts book, the seal box, etc, can are only opened when all the senior officials have gathered. The office had calligraphers; scribes specially recruited from Aye in Southern Tibet for any work regarding the writing of texts and numbers for printing. The above account proves, without any doubt, that no single individual in Tibet could ever print money. 

 Nevertheless, Mr. Thondup says that Tsarong got rich by printing money at home. Now it is common knowledge how Tsarong made money. Tsarong engaged in traditional trade and business just like the traders and monastic institutions. Tsarong shipped wool to India and brought back cloth, dye and numerous other items. Like large traders and monastic institutions Tsarong also loaned money. From the eastern frontier Tsarong was involved in the tea trade and bought horses and guns from Sinning. 

 Tsarong also bought boxes of coral and amber from an Italian dealer in Calcutta and Rolex and Omega watches from Mr. M.L. Bhatia of J. Bosek and Company on Calcutta’s Chowringhee Street. Heinrich Harrer mentions in his book about helping Tsarong write letters to these companies. Not far on the same avenue was the jewellery shop of M.Walters from whom Tsarong bought diamonds, sapphires, ruby and emeralds for family use and for sale. Tsarong also bought much jewellery from Bombay. From Calcutta Tsarong also bought bicycles, BSA motorcycles, jeeps, a Land rover and even a Bedford Truck. He sold some of these. That’s how Tsarong got rich. 

What more can I say on Mr. Gyalo Thondup’s defamatory statements about two generations of the Tsarong family?  Let me just conclude by stating how unfortunate it is that the Dalai Lama’s older brother should make such derogatory and baseless accusations against two of the Dalai Lama’s own trusted and loyal officials: one who served him in exile in the most difficult of times, and the other who saved the life of the 13th Dalai Lama, and fought and died in 1959 to ensure that the 14th Dalai Lama escaped to freedom. 

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[1] Gyalo Thondup and Anne F. Thurston, The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong: The Untold Story of My Struggle for Tibet, (Vintage Books, 2015) See pages 214-219 on the Tibetan Government’s gold and silver and on Tsarong.
[2] Goldstein Melvyn, William Siebenschuh, and Tashi Tsering, The Struggle for Modern Tibet, (M.E. Sharpe, 1997), 58
[3] Rimshi means Fourth Rank
[4] Account 1959-61, Account 1962, Account 1963-65. These and all other documents of George Tsarong have been sent to various institutions and libraries, including the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, Songtsen Library and to various interested individuals.
[5] Document HHDL Trust, February 4, 1964
[6] Tsarong’s February 8, 1963 letter to the Government of India, Excise Inspector shows that Tsarong was the Constituted Attorney of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
[7] See the Accounts in Note 4
[8] Ibid.
[9] K.K. Sukhani Letter, August 9 (1964), pages 1-4.
[10] Jetmull September 1, 1965. 
[11] Document July 22, 1969. Tsarong interview, 2000, Dharamsala.
[12] Safe Deposit, February 12, 1961. Signed memorandum of Gyalo Thondup and Tsarong.
[13] Gyalo Thondup letter 3-10-1960
[14] Dundul Namgyal Interview, Dharamsala, 2000.
[15] Under the License Raj few got licenses to do business and the government had total control over the economy.
[16] An underwriter buys company shares and sells them to investors.
[17] Deputy Prime Minister’s Letter 11-11-1968
[18] Tsarong Dundul Namgyal, In the Service of His Country, (Ithaca: Snow Lion, 1989), 21. Tsarong Interview, 2000, Dharamsala.
[19] Ibid, page 74.
[20] Goldstein, Melvyn C, A History of Modern Tibet 1913-1951: The Demise of the Lamaist State. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989, page 86.
[21] Ibid. Page 135-138
[22] Dalai Lama Interview, Dharamsala 1994
[23] Hisao Kimura, Japanese Agent in Tibet (As Told to Scott Berry), (London: Serindia, 1990), 195-197.
[24] A personally favored official.
[25] Since Drabchi office was started in 1931 there were also others officials appointed, as the usual service term was 3 years. On the Drabchi Office see 1) Tsarong  Dundul Namgyal, Interview, 2000, Dharamsala. Tsarong also worked in Drabchi Office from 1948-1955. 2) Laja Thubten Tempa Rang myong drang brjod kyi zin bris Dharamsala: Department of Information and International Relations 2003 and 3) Grwa bzhi glog ‘phrul las khungs in Bod kyi lo rgyu rig g.nas dpyad g.zhi rgyu cha bdams bsgrigs  Vol. 13 No 4, page 71.

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Making progress on Tibet

posted Apr 22, 2015, 4:52 PM by The Tibetan Political Review

Looking homewards: novices at a Tibetan monastery in Mustang, Nepal. Many Tibetan exiles are banking on reforms in China to resolve the dispute. (Photo: Bartosz Hadyniak, iStock).
By Robert Barnett, Columbia University
Excerpt :
“... The Chinese government has responded with tighter controls on movement, worship, speech and information in Tibetan areas, together with increased mechanisms for surveillance. But the reason for the failure to resolve the issue is not because of tensions on the ground. It’s because of the inability of the two leaderships to agree on what the issue is.

... Each side has an undisputed leader who could sign a deal, the weaker side has long agreed on the need to compromise, and the two sides are — in principle — only arguing over one thing: what degree of autonomy Tibetans should enjoy ...
... The Dalai Lama’s success in getting world support since the 1980s led to ten rounds of preliminary talks with China from 2002–10. But he has little time left (he turns 80 this year), urgently needs to find effective leaders to succeed him, and has wavered over recent issues like the self-immolations, to which he failed to call a halt.

The Chinese side faces even greater obstacles, such as entrenched conservativism within the bureaucracy. It has a long history of introducing policies that worsened rather than assuaged relations with its key minorities. But it needs to avoid anything that might look like a concession to outside pressure…..Despite these obstacles, the Chinese leadership might well decide that a negotiated solution to the Tibetan issue would be in its interests. But for that to be successful, Tibetan and Chinese leaders will need to recognise each other’s views of the Tibetan situation, both as a site of ethnic tensions and as a place with a singular and distinctive past."
Robert Barnett is Director of Modern Tibetan Studies at Columbia University, New York.
Excerpt from the full article published at:   

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“Using ‘Inter-Ethnic Marriages’ to ‘Fight Splittism’ is Essentially A Continuation of Colonialism”

posted Apr 5, 2015, 7:30 AM by The Tibetan Political Review

By Woeser 

2015 03 25 Using Inter Ethnic Marriages 1

The website China Tibet News reported on June 19, 2014: “The symposium for inter-ethnic marriages hosted by Chen Quanguo promotes ethnic unity using inter-ethnic marriage as an important starting point”. 

 “Inter-ethnic marriages are a strong security in Tibet’s battle against splittism, we (…) should actively encourage inter-ethnic marriages, and (…) formulate preferential policies.” This is what the Secretary of the TAR Party Committee, Chen Quanquo, said at a “Symposium for Inter-Ethnic Marriages” in 2014; after appearing in China’s official media, it triggered a storm of protests and was ridiculed with the slogan, “Intermarriages against splittism”.

2015 03 25 Using Inter Ethnic Marriages 2

A photo from “Dana Sakura” showing a Japanese police officer and his indigenous Taiwanese wife and their children. 

This world has already become openly opposed to any forms of colonialism, even Xi Jinping has had to explain that what China is doing in Africa is not “neo-colonialism”, but “a step towards peaceful development characterised by mutual benefits.” Chen Quanguo’s words about inter-ethnic marriages as a way to fight splittism, on the other hand, exude all the blood-reeking and cruel platitudes that countless colonialists have used in history.

For example, the Japanese, the most hated enemy of many Chinese, who invaded and colonised numerous countries in Asia used various measures, including “intermarriage” or “special education”, to assimilate indigenous populations. This is, for example, shown in the Taiwanese film “Seediq Bale” that is believed to be “the greatest epic of Taiwanese indigenous people”; other historical records are even more concrete, writings: When Japan first colonised Taiwan, they drew up a “Five Year Plan” in which they stipulated that any police stationed among indigenous Taiwanese groups would be awarded when marrying the daughter of local leaders. “Through marriage, resistance against Japan can be eliminated, and by ‘manipulating the indigenous women’, information from within the group can be obtained, which ultimately serves the goal of controlling them.” This kind of marriage was called “He Fan” (uniting with the foreign), helping the Japanese to complete their mission of “giving amnesty to” and “edifying” the colonised.

If we look back at human history, we clearly see that the old-school colonisers like Spain, Portugal, England, France etc. all encouraged intermarriages between colonisers and the colonised when they arrived in their respective colonies, whether in the Americas or Australia. They believed this to be a simple and effective way to assimilate local people and thereby more easily governed. The author of the American “Declaration of Independence”, the third President Thomas Jefferson, believed that intermarriage and other ways of amalgamation had fundamentally altered the physiological structures of Indian Americans; it began by “civilising” them, gradually and eventually extinguishing all differences between the “barbarians” and the “civilised” people; these methods clearly reflected the feeling of superiority of the colonisers and were acts of racial discrimination; in fact, they rationalised the indiscriminate plundering of indigenous people’s resources and land. 

2015 03 25 Using Inter Ethnic Marriages 3

Zhao Erfeng – “Butcher Zhao” – who issued the “Han-Barbarian Intermarriage Order”.

In Chinese culture, one sentence has been deeply engraved in our history books for 2000 years: “Those who are not from our group will surely be different”. Hence, “minor differences are assimilated, moderate differences evoke alertness, major differences are attacked; differences threaten us and will inevitably be destroyed!” It means that many of those who were “different” were either “assimilated”, once and for all amalgamated and integrated, or they were “attacked”, which means they were “destroyed”. This process, to use the rhetoric of the CCP, used to be called “liberation” and is now called “stabilisation” or “anti-splittism”.

Using “intermarriage” for “ethnic assimilation” has been common in the history of Tibet. It has been highly praised by Party officials and attributed by a large group of nationalists to “the first minister governing Tibet during the late Qing”, the “so-called high officer of the border province”, Zhao Erfeng, who Tibetans call “Butcher Zhao”. He implemented the so-called system of Liuguan that replaced former Tusi as the governors of ethnic groups; it included a series of “policies of assimilation” that resulted in the murdering of countless Tibetans in different areas, the forced resettlement of local people, and a number of preferential policies encouraging Han-Tibetan intermarriages as a means to foster “assimilation” and “integration”. It even included a special “Han-Barbarian Intermarriage Order” that encouraged Han officials and soldiers to marry local Tibetan women; it stipulated that “Each couple is given 10 litres of highland barley each month; couples raising children are given 10 litres per person per month. Those joining the army and cultivating savage land, will be entitled to keep this land and after three years, be exempt from paying an official grain quota to the government” etc.

In today’s 21st century, the CCP officials governing Tibet propagate publicly that “with regards to schooling, employment, joining the Party, joining the army, obtaining support for business start-ups or innovation, respective policies are geared towards effectively mobilising inter-ethnic marriages”. It is obvious that this is a direct imitation of Butcher Zhao’s ideas. Of course, in order to realise “inter-ethnic marriage”, the migration of other ethnic groups is required. For the most part, the policies exist to encourage Han Chinese to migrate to Tibet so as to dilute and trivialise ethnic problems and tensions. Marriage should really be a natural “I like you, you like me” matter; but now it is used by those in power, it is forcefully encouraged and enticed by means of various “special policies”. I have even heard of certain work-units in Lhasa offering a reward to people who engage in “ethnic intermarriage”. The long-term consequences of this will certainly be profound.

I really admire the Party officials who expose their colonial intentions in such a shameless way, not even officials during Maoist times, let alone Mao himself, would have been so self-destructive; Mao was happily promoting the romantic image and Communist ideals of “one humanity” with “no differentiations”; he did not rear the ugly head of colonialism by trying to assimilate “barbarians” through “intermarriage”.

Then again, it must be tough for this Party. It has been occupying Tibet for over half a century but still has not fully solved the Tibetan question and so all it can do is revert to the old rhetoric of feudalism, fall back on the methods of the old school colonialists and approach difference by “assimilation”, “alertness”, and “attack”. They use “intermarriage” to transform Tibetan people’s language, customs, religion and social structure and make them fit the Chinese world view, thus creating that one single “price tag” that Party Secretary Chen propagated at the above-mentioned symposium. 


Republished with permission from "High Peaks Pure Earth"

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posted Mar 24, 2015, 8:43 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Mar 24, 2015, 8:52 PM ]

By Warren W. Smith, Jr. Ph.D. 

          The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in Exile’s Middle Way policy was officially announced at the European Parliament in Strasbourg in 1988. However, its origins are to be found farther back in the history of Sino-Tibetan relations.
[1]  The announcement of the Middle Way policy in 1988 caused consternation among many Tibetans, who imagined that the Tibetan cause was still about independence, even though they were well aware that Tibetan envoys had negotiated with China in the early 1980s on the basis of an autonomous status for Tibet within the PRC. Many foreign supporters of Tibet and the international community in general were more welcoming of the Strasbourg Proposal because of its seemingly pragmatic character. The conciliatory nature of the proposal was in fact cited in the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Dalai Lama in 1989, which confirmed the wisdom of the policy for many of its proponents. The distress and demoralization experienced by many Tibetans was temporarily overshadowed by the international acclaim received by the Dalai Lama and the increased attention to the Tibet issue due to the Nobel Prize. Nevertheless, the Strasbourg Proposal and the Middle Way created a division in Tibetan society that has only widened as the policy has failed to produce any resolution with China. Tibetan society is now deeply divided between those who maintain that Tibet should hold out for independence and those who follow the Dalai Lama’s policy that Tibet must accept a status of autonomy within the PRC.

          As a non-Tibetan I feel that this is a debate in which only Tibetans have any right to take a position.  Nevertheless, I have argued elsewhere[2] that China will never allow any “genuine autonomy” in Tibet of the type sufficient to preserve Tibetan cultural or national identity, which is what the Middle Way is all about.  Current Chinese policy in Tibet is apparently aimed at the elimination of Tibetan national identity because of the separatist threat it poses.  Chinese leaders seem to have determined that the most fundamental aspects of Tibetan culture must be eliminated, or assimilated to Chinese culture, in order to repress Tibetan national identity.  Ultimately, China believes that it has no need to negotiate with Tibetan exiles because it already has the solution to the Tibetan problem by means of political repression, economic development, colonization and assimilation.  Many Chinese seem to believe that the demise of the Tibetan political issue will be simultaneous with that of the 14th Dalai Lama.  

          The debate among Tibetans may thus have little ultimate consequence if Chinese policy remains so intolerant of Tibetan aspirations and so relentlessly aimed at assimilation.  The independence advocates maintain that in this eventuality their position would at least preserve the historical claim to Tibet’s independence and national identity that the Middle Way would forever abandon.  Despite its possible irrelevance to Tibet’s actual future, the debate between the two sides in Tibetan politics has become increasingly virulent and the TGiE has become increasingly less tolerant of criticism of its policy.  The Dalai Lama’s age has seemingly increased his desire to achieve some success for his policy before he departs the scene.  Despite his declaration of intention to withdraw from politics, he has recently played an even larger role in the promotion of the Middle Way.  His subordinates have gone further in attempting to impose conformity to the policy among Tibetans in exile and to ostracize critics.

          For many Tibetans who went into exile or who were born in exile, the Strasbourg Proposal was regarded as a betrayal of what they thought was their legitimate goal of Tibetan independence.  However, the Strasbourg Proposal merely made official what was already TGiE policy.  In response to questions about the origins of the Middle Way policy, the Dalai Lama eventually dated its inspiration to the year 1973.  He did not specify why he chose that date but it was presumably because that was when the US and China reestablished relations and the US abandoned its covert support for the Tibetan Resistance.  However, the policy could as easily be said to date to 1959, when Gyalo Thondup was obliged to abandon the claim to independence in the Tibetan appeal to the United Nations due to the lack of American or international support.  It could even be said to be inherent in the 17-Point Agreement whose provisions ostensibly perpetuated much of Tibet’s traditional autonomy.  The most fundamental difference was that Tibet had to formally acknowledge Chinese sovereignty.

          Ultimately, the origins of the Middle Way are to be found in Tibet’s concept of its traditional relationship with China, or actually with Mongol Yuan (1260-1358) and Manchu Qing (1642-1912) dynasties of China. This relationship was formalized by the Tibetan side as Cho-Yon, in which Cho is Tibetan Buddhism and Yon is the political patron of the Tibetan Buddhist establishment in its role as the political authority in Tibet. The Cho-Yon relationship was established by Sakya Pandita and his nephew Phagspa as a means to forestall a Mongol invasion of Tibet in the mid-thirteenth century. Sakya Pandita’s goal was also to promote the authority of his own sect within Tibet by means of Mongol patronage and to promote Buddhism further abroad among the Mongols and their subjects. Tibetan Buddhism thereby gained Mongol patronage while the Mongol Khans gained Tibetan spiritual legitimization as chakravartins, or universal Buddhist kings. Sakya Pandita’s nephew Phagspa, who formalized the Cho-Yon system under Khubilai, declared Khubilai an incarnation of Manjushri.

          Contrary to modern Tibetan claims that this system was unique, or sui generis, this sort of relationship was not unique to Tibet within the Mongol Empire. The Mongols favored religious practitioners of all types in all the countries they conquered. This was due not only to their interest in all manifestations of religion, and, no doubt, to their fear of the supernatural, but also to a policy of using local religious authorities to impose and legitimate Mongol rule. Patronage of religious authorities could be manipulated to defuse discontent among subject populations while at the same time preventing the rise of any secular authority around which resistance might coalesce.[3]

          The Cho-Yon, as elaborated by Phagspa, was a theory of universal empire of both spiritual and secular realms, which were regarded as equal, as were the rulers of each. The relationship was conceived as personal, between equal representatives of complimentary realms, or as the Mongols were more likely to have interpreted it, between lord and distinguished subject. Phagspa’s theory was dependent upon the extraordinary personal relationship between himself and Kubilai. It was not a theory or a practice at this time of state to state relations, despite later Tibetan attempts to interpret it as such. During the era of Phagspa and Khubilai, the idealized Cho-Yon relationship may have been realized to some extent, but, dependent as it was upon personal relationships, the idealized form of the relationship lasted only so long as did Phagspa and Khubilai themselves. Phagspa’s theory of the Cho-Yon was extremely sophisticated in its understanding of the cultural and political needs of the Mongols, but extremely naïve in anticipating political implications for Tibet. A serious flaw of the Cho-Yon relationship was that it established the Buddhist church, with its inherent dependence upon foreign patronage, as the dominant political authority in Tibet. 

          Although the Cho-Yon relationship did not survive the era of Phagspa and Khubilai, except in theory, its effects on Tibetan politics were more permanent. Mongol patronage, not only of the Sakyapas, but of all Buddhist sects, was instrumental in establishing the political dominance of the Buddhist church in Tibet. Because the church was universalist rather than nationalist, Tibetan Buddhist sects had less reluctance than the aristocracy to accept foreign patronage. Sakya Pandita and Phagspa were more pragmatic than the secular aristocracy in accepting Tibet’s submission to the Mongols. Their primary interest was not the political status of Tibet but the propagation of Buddhism. Pagspa’s theories of the equality of the two sides in the Cho-Yon relationship obscured the Sakyapas’ political dependence upon foreign patrons and the implications of that dependence on Tibet’s political status.

          Phagspa achieved the potential of the relationship with the Mongol Khans envisioned by Sakya Pandita. The compromise with the Mongols also created some degree of political unity in Tibet under the Sakyapa. However, the Mongol Yuan dynasty established a political administration for Kham and Amdo separate from that of central Tibet that set the precedent for later Chinese divisions of Tibet along the same lines. The Manchu Qing dynasty was content with the nominal submission of the Fifth Dalai Lama in 1650, until the Dzungar Mongol invasion of 1720 and the Gurkha invasions of 1788-91, after each of which it imposed more direct administration.   

          The Tibetan relationship with China was almost exclusively through the Mongol and Manchu empires and dynasties, but these foreign conquest dynasties had a different conception of their relationships with frontier dependent states than did native Han Chinese dynasties, although there were also similarities. Both aimed to establish dependent states on their frontiers as the first step toward actual administration of those areas. However, Chinese dynasties differed in that they aimed at the ultimate annexation of frontier territories, achieved by colonization and cultural assimilation. While native Han dynasties allowed autonomous political entities to exist on their frontiers, at least temporarily, autonomy was never considered to be a permanent situation. Political incorporation and cultural assimilation was always the ultimate goal because only in that way could the frontier be made secure. That this process had no ultimate limit was consistent with the conception of universal Chinese rule. 

          The Later Han dynasty of the first two centuries of the modern era (25-220 AD) developed a system of dependent states (shu-kuo), ruled by native chieftains, known as Tu-shi, to govern areas created by Han expansion into the former territory of, among others, the frontier Chiang peoples, some of whom fled to the highlands of Tibet to become one of the progenitors of the Tibetans. The Tu-shi system was the first step in the ultimate goal of the establishment of Chinese political authority and assimilation to Chinese culture. A characteristic of the Chinese frontier feudalistic system was the award of official titles and seals of office to the indigenous rulers. These titles and seals were often employed by native rulers to legitimate their authority over their own people. Native rulers thus became dependent upon Chinese patronage. Although initially allowing a great deal of autonomy, the Tu-shi system aimed at the political and eventually cultural assimilation of barbarians through their elites. As Han colonization increased, native officials were replaced by appointed Han officials and finally the shu-kuo states were incorporated within the Chinese provincial system. This traditional strategy of Chinese expansion and assimilation was eventually applied to Tibet, particularly to Kham after the conquest of Chao Er-feng in the early twentieth century and even under the Chinese Communists, who gave honorific social and political positions to upper class secular and religious leaders during the 1950s under the United Front system, only to deprive them of all but symbolic authority as Chinese control increased.

          The Tibetan conception of Tibet’s traditional relations with China, as exemplified by the Middle Way proposal, is an idealized version of that relationship that differs in significant respects from the Chinese version. The Mongol and Manchu conquest dynasties of China treated Tibet, or at least Central Tibet, as something like a dependent state. However, native Han dynasties regarded Tibet not as a dependent state but as a frontier territory that had entered the traditional process of incorporation and assimilation. The vagueness of Tibet’s relationship with China, which allowed for differing interpretations, was a characteristic of the era of empires with indefinite boundaries and feudal-type relationships with surrounding states. However, the era of feudal relationships and autonomous dependent states ended with the industrial revolution and the development of modern political nationalism.

          The industrial revolution facilitated infrastructure development, like roads and railroads, that allowed formerly decentralized states to directly administer previously loosely controlled territories. Tibetan nationalism was aroused by the British invasion of 1904 and the Chinese invasion in response from 1905-1910. Chinese nationalism was characterized by the desire to throw off the alien Manchu rule while at the same time retaining all the territory of the former Manchu Empire.

          The British invasion of Tibet forced the Tibetans to reexamine their political status and their relationship with China. Tibet had previously sought Chinese protection and assistance when necessary, against the Gurkhas for instance, and denied any Chinese control when convenient, as when Tibet denied that China had the right to grant British trade relations with Tibet. When the British invaded Tibet, supposedly to secure those trade relations, the 13th Dalai Lama sought refuge in Mongolia and then in China. When the Chinese demanded greater control over Tibet, and invaded eastern Tibet and reached Lhasa, the Dalai Lama then sought refuge with the British in India. The British invasion forced the Dalai Lama to seek Chinese patronage against the British, but when the Chinese invaded he sought British patronage against the Chinese. The complimentary invasions by both the British and the Chinese forced the Tibetans to redefine their political status and stimulated the development of Tibetan national identity.

          Under British patronage the Dalai Lama was emboldened to declare Tibet’s independence of China and to take steps to defend that independence by creating a Tibetan Army. The influence of the Buddhist church was temporarily diminished, since it no longer had a powerful foreign patron, while that of the secular nationalist aristocracy increased under British patronage. Tibet successfully defended its independence against the Chinese in eastern Tibet and increased the territory under the administrative control of the Lhasa government. Only when the aristocracy attempted to establish a system of secular education did the monasteries react and move to force the Dalai Lama to curtail secular reforms. He was also forced to downplay the confrontation with China, leaving Tibet at his death in 1933 with a poorly defined political status. British policy toward Tibet was also unhelpful in defining Tibet’s status since Britain was willing to support only Tibetan autonomy under Chinese “suzerainty,” a term the last British resident in Tibet, Hugh Richardson, admitted was indefinable.

          After the death of the 13th Dalai Lama and during the minority of the14th, Tibet resisted Kuomintang Chinese attempts to force it to acknowledge Chinese sovereignty. In negotiations with China after the Dalai Lama’s death, Tibet was willing to acknowledge some Chinese influence but demanded a degree of autonomy much like what Tibetans considered traditional in relation to previous Chinese dynasties. However, the Chinese Nationalists were not content with the vague political relationships of the past, and the Chinese Communists even less so even though their nationalities doctrine professed otherwise. The Nationalists were unable to establish actual Chinese administration of Tibet, but the Communists were determined to do so.

          The 17-Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet imposed by the Chinese Communists, after their invasion of eastern Tibet, appeared to grant Tibet, or at least that part of Tibet under the Lhasa government’s administration, an autonomous status compatible with the Tibetan conception of Tibet’s traditional relations with China. The Agreement promised no changes in the political system of Tibet, including the status and powers of the Dalai Lama. Freedom of religion was guaranteed and monasteries were allowed to keep their traditional sources of income. This last promise was sufficient to secure the approval of the monasteries. Tibetan support for the 17-Point Agreement came primarily from the monastic establishment, while opposition came mostly from secular nationalists, mostly of the aristocratic class, including members of the Dalai Lama’s own family.

          The 17-Point Agreement was contradictory in promising no changes while at the same time speaking of certain reforms, which would be undertaken only if the Tibetans themselves were to raise demands for such reforms. While Tibetans imagined that the 17-Point Agreement guaranteed that nothing would change in Tibet, the Chinese planned that almost everything would change according to their program for “democratic reforms” and “socialist transformation.” The Chinese Communists had no intention of allowing the traditional Tibetan social or political system to continue to exist indefinitely. Tibetans had no idea that democratic reforms meant class warfare, or that socialist transformation meant communization, and they did not know that “national regional autonomy” actually meant total Chinese control. While the Middle Way is sometimes compared to the sort of autonomy China promised in the 17-Point Agreement, the Chinese never considered such autonomy as a permanent status for Tibet.  

          Mao once said that either Tibetans would reconcile themselves to Chinese rule or they would revolt. Either scenario, he said, would be favorable to China. Revolt would be embarrassing, even without the unanticipated escape of the Dalai Lama, but China would gain a free hand in Tibet without the need to even pretend to cooperate with an “autonomous” Tibetan government. After the revolt the Dalai Lama repudiated the 17-Point Agreement at Lhuntse Dzong on the Indian border, with the intended effect that this would reestablish Tibet’s rightful claim to independence. In India he expressed his intention to declare Tibetan independence, which the Indian Government advised against. According to a CIA eyewitness report, the Dalai Lama expressed his dissatisfaction with the advice he had been given by Indian Prime Minister Nehru to return to Tibet in 1956 and to try to work with the Chinese, saying that he and all Tibetans were now convinced that attempts to gain autonomy were useless, that Tibetans were fighting for complete freedom and independence, and that he was determined to struggle for this goal no matter how long it took regardless of the opinion of the Government of India.[4]

          This resolve lasted only until Gyalo Thondup presented Tibet’s case, with American support, to the United Nations in September 1959. The Tibetan appeal referred to Tibet’s previous 1950 appeal to the UN in regard to a violation of Tibetan independence by China, which had been shelved contingent upon the possibility of a peaceful resolution of Tibet’s status, which the 17-Point Agreement ostensibly was.  The Dalai Lama informed the UN that no peaceful resolution had been achieved, implying that the 17-Point Agreement had been coerced, and appealed again for a restoration of Tibet’s legitimate independence. However, the US, after discussing the issue with other UN delegations, determined that there was no support for a resolution on Tibet’s political status and instead advised the Tibetans to appeal only on the basis of the violation by China of Tibetan human rights.[5] Gyalo Thondup was reportedly distressed at this news, particularly at the lack of support from Asian countries, but had to reconcile himself to the realities of international politics. He was told that only on the basis of human rights issues would Tibet receive a hearing at the UN at all.

          From 1959 to 1973 the Tibetan exile position was theoretically that Tibet was deprived of its rightful independence, while realistically Dharamsala knew that it had little international support for that position. Hopes lay with American support, particularly through the CIA for the Tibetan Resistance operating out of the Mustang region of Nepal. However, by 1968 that support had dwindled to almost nothing due to CIA dissatisfaction with the inability of the resistance to operate inside Tibet. Tibetan hopes remained for US support for Tibetan independence until the US rapprochement with China in 1973, which is presumably why the Dalai Lama later dated the origins of the Middle Way to that year. However, the choice of this date seems to have been made only in retrospect, since some statements by the Dalai Lama after that time implied that independence was still the goal. No announcement of an official change in policy was made to the Tibetans in exile, with the result that they were surprised by the Strasbourg Proposal in 1987. Even though Tibetan delegations negotiated on the basis of autonomy in the early 1980s, the popular belief among Tibetans in exile was that they were still striving for the restoration of Tibetan independence.   

          The Tibetan delegation visits and negotiations of the early 1980s were initiated by a meeting between Gyalo Thondup and Deng Xiaoping in December 1978 in which Deng reportedly said that “anything but independence can be discussed.” This was interpreted by the Tibetan side to mean that Tibet’s political status up to but not including independence was open to discussion; that is, that the terms of Tibetan autonomy could be negotiated. However, in actual negotiations the Chinese were unwilling to discuss Tibetan proposals in regard to Tibet’s autonomous rights within the PRC. This leads to the conclusion that what Deng actually meant by his use of the word “independence” was the entire issue of Tibet’s political status as a part of China. Presumably, Deng used “independence” as shorthand for the political issue, given that the essence of that issue is Tibet’s claim to have formerly been independent of China. Whatever the interpretation, the dialogue went nowhere, but the Tibetan exile representatives did negotiate with China on the basis of an autonomous status for Tibet within the PRC.  

          The Dalai Lama’s 1988 Strasbourg Proposal was meant to revive negotiations by formally accepting Deng Xiaoping’s condition that he “give up the idea of Tibetan independence.” It was the first official acknowledgment that he would accept the reality of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet in exchange for well-defined autonomous rights. It elaborated some of the conditions proposed by Tibetan negotiators in the early 1980s and was again based upon the “one country, two systems” status that China had offered to Hong Kong and Taiwan. It also attempted a legal definition of Tibet’s autonomous status within the PRC. Tibet’s status in relation to China was defined as one of “association,” with Tibet having a democratic political system and some international legal identity and international rights. The Strasbourg Proposal and the Middle Way policy were based upon the Tibetan contention that Tibet had been independent before 1950 and might be independent again, to be decided by a referendum of the Tibetan people. The Dalai Lama’s acceptance of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet thus appeared to the Chinese to be temporary and conditional and failed to satisfy their demand that he give up the “idea of independence,” past, present and future.

          The status of “association” meant to define Tibet’s relations with China was proposed by the Dalai Lama’s Dutch legal adviser, Michael van Walt, in his book, The Status of Tibet,[6] which was, essentially, a legal brief commissioned by Dharamsala. The  “associative status” argument is based upon the 1960 United Nations Resolution1514, “Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples,” and the accompanying Resolution 1541, which set out the means by which a non-self-governing territory might reach a full measure of self-government, including independence, free association, or integration with another state. Application of this UN resolution to Tibet would require that Tibet be defined as a non-self-governing or colonial territory, which the PRC would of course never admit. The status of “free association” was claimed to be the means by which Tibet might achieve self-determination, if a majority of Tibetans voted to accept an autonomous status within the PRC. However, the flaw in this argument is that self-determination is not a one-time choice; self-determination implies that a population might choose a different status at any time. Tibetans’ acceptance of autonomy by referendum at one time does not mean that they could not choose independence at another time.

          The Strasbourg Proposal may represent an overestimation by Tibetans of their leverage at the time, given international pressure and the unrest within Tibet, combined with the ostensible Tibetan acceptance of Deng Xiaoping’s conditions for a resolution of the Tibet issue. The status of free association was described by Van Walt as similar to the protectorate relationship, but different in that the associated state would have the unilateral power to alter the association at any time by exercise of a democratic choice. Associative status was therefore claimed to offer a pattern for the future for the transition to self-government of formerly dependent or colonial states. But he also claimed that the status was particularly appropriate to Tibet’s situation since it “bears significant similarities to the traditional Cho-Yon relationship.”[7] This assertion reveals the archaic rather than progressive nature of the Strasbourg Proposal as well as the Middle Way policy.

          By means of Van Walt’s legal arguments, Dharamsala appeared to be attempting to undo its acceptance of the 17-Point Agreement and to return to a traditional relationship with China of an earlier political era. However, despite the attempts to characterize this sort of relationship as modern and progressive, rather than archaic, the era of empires and dependent states had long ago given way to the modern era of national states that exercise uniform sovereignty and administration over all their territory. Despite Van Walt’s attempt to characterize autonomous “associative” status as relevant to the modern world and as the solution to other issues of disputed sovereignty, the world was moving in the opposite direction, toward resolution of such disputes by means of independence, gained usually after violent conflict, or total absorption and integration by the dominant state.

          Needless to say, the Strasbourg Proposal and the Middle Way policy have not resulted in a resolution of the Tibet issue. China has instead resorted to its own traditional policy for the resolution of frontier issues by means of colonization and assimilation. China engaged in two series of “dialogues” with Tibetan representatives, who it characterized as personal representatives of the Dalai Lama, in which it refused to talk about any issues except the personal status of the Dalai Lama. China is now apparently uninterested in any more dialogue; its policy appears to be to await the demise of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, which many Chinese leaders seem to think will resolve the issue once and for all in China’s favor. China has scornfully and repeatedly rejected the Middle Way as the basis for dialogue and it has further curtailed autonomy in Tibet after the uprising of 2008 demonstrated the persistence of Tibetan national identity and dissatisfaction with Chinese rule.

          The Middle Way having apparently been rejected by Beijing with finality, its only lasting effect is a tragic division among Tibetans. That division was once just a difference of opinion but has increasingly become an attempt by one side to silence the other. Some Middle Way supporters seem to think that they must follow the Dalai Lama and that to oppose him is equivalent to disloyalty or even treason against the Tibetan cause. This type of loyalist Tibetan fails to make the distinction between the incarnate deity and the nation he represents. Others maintain that China would dialogue with exile representatives and perhaps accept the suggestions of the Middle Way policy if only they could believe that all Tibetans in exile had truly given up independence. Chinese officials may be suspected of having suggested as much in talks with Tibetan exile representatives.  Or perhaps they had no need to do so, since Tibetans in exile might logically assume that China would negotiate if it believed that Tibetans had given up independence. Samdhong Rinpoche has led the effort to silence critics of the Middle Way policy, first by suggesting that Tibetans not demonstrate against Chinese leaders on their foreign visits, then by organizing seminars on the Middle Way in Tibetan settlements that include the suggestion that opposition to the policy is equivalent to opposition to the Dalai Lama himself.  

          Proponents of the Middle Way see it as the only reasonable choice and also as acceptable to China because it is, for the most part, in compliance with the Chinese Constitution and the Regional Ethnic Autonomy Law (formerly National Regional Autonomy Law). It differs only in demanding more, or “genuine,” autonomy over a unified Tibetan nationality territory. However, the demand for “genuine” autonomy implies that the autonomy Tibetans now supposedly enjoy is not genuine. A unification of all Tibetan autonomous regions and districts into one Greater Tibetan Autonomous Region also seems reasonable since all the territories involved are already designated as autonomous Tibetan (or combined Tibetan/Mongol or Tibetan/Kazakh) territories. However, the PRC divided Tibetan autonomous territories based upon historical justifications dating from the divisions of Tibet by the Mongol Yuan dynasty, even though historical divisions were theoretically not supposed to be taken into account. Autonomous regions were supposed to be based upon “contiguous occupation” by the minority nationality in question, which would make all Tibetan areas part of one autonomous region, except that political reasons were the real justification for the divisions.

          The Memorandum on Tibetan Autonomy submitted to Chinese officials in 2008 is indeed reasonable assuming that China actually wants to allow Tibetan autonomy and to permit Tibetan culture and Tibetan national identity to survive. However, it is increasingly apparent that this is not what China wants. The Chinese Communists in the early 1950s imagined that Tibetan separatism would last only for a short time after Tibet’s “peaceful liberation.” However, they underestimated the strength of Tibetan culture and they overestimated the efficacy of CCP nationality policies. They have been continually surprised at the persistence of Tibetan culture and Tibetan resistance to Chinese rule, most recently during the liberalization era of the 1980s. And they are perpetually angered and irritated that Tibet has remained an international issue. They deny that there is really any discontent among Tibetans and imagine that international support for Tibet is nothing but Western interference aimed at denigrating China and preventing its legitimate rise to a position of leadership in world affairs. They are aware that Tibetan culture is the basis for Tibetan separatism, so they are unsympathetic to demands for any increased or “genuine” Tibetan autonomy. Tibetan national identity and Tibetan nationalism are thus what China is determined to eradicate, not perpetuate.

          Middle Way proponents typically fail to understand China’s motives in regard to Tibet as they characterize the Middle Way as beneficial to both Tibetans and Chinese due to its potential to promote harmony. However, ethnic harmony is not so much a Chinese priority as is national unity, territorial integrity and the elimination of Tibetan separatism. In any case, what China means by “harmony” is enforced conformity and suppression of dissent. Tibetans also tend to dismiss as propaganda or even as “negotiating tactics” all of China’s denunciations of the Dalai Lama, its refusal to negotiate about Tibetan autonomy and its rejection of the Middle Way. They do not understand that for the Chinese Communists propaganda is actual policy. They fail to realize that international pressure is no longer sufficient to move China on Tibet or any other issue, if it ever was. The Middle Way policy has been successful in gaining international support for dialogue about Tibet and its proponents are therefore reluctant to give up that support despite the lack of any progress with China.

          Some of those who oppose the Middle Way do so because they realize that China will never negotiate on that basis since it has no intention of allowing any “genuine” Tibetan autonomy. Their promotion of Tibetan independence, or Rangzen, may be unrealistic, but they maintain that it is less unrealistic than the illusion that China will ever allow Tibetan autonomy sufficient for the survival of Tibetan national identity. The difference between the two sides among Tibetans often comes down, as it always has to a large extent, to their relative religiosity and loyalty to their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. As was the case during the debate over accepting or rejecting the 17-Point Agreement, the religious establishment and the more religious among the population has preferred compromise with China even at the expense of Tibetan independence, while the more secular nationalists have preferred a policy of no compromise on the fundamental issue of independence.

          Tibetan history is replete with examples of the anti-nationalist, universalist interests of the Buddhist establishment in contrast to the more nationalist interests of the secular aristocracy. The Tibetan Empire, the only era of a unified and independent Tibet, was the creation of a secular aristocracy, united for the first time by the kings of Yarlung. The Empire was sustained by the Bon religion, not by Buddhism, which overcame Bon in influence only during the latter part of the Empire. However, Buddhism may well be responsible for its demise. Modern research by Samten Karmay has revealed that Lang Dharma, characterized in Tibetan Buddhist history as a persecutor of Buddhism, was actually only trying to curtail the excess privileges granted to the clergy by his predecessor, and brother, Ralpachen.[8] The Tibetan Empire, then, may well have been brought down by a reaction from Buddhist monks denied the privileges to which they had become accustomed. With the collapse of the Empire came the collapse of organized Buddhism as well, given that the clergy had also benefitted from the patronage of a centralized state.

          Tibet was unified again only four hundred years later, when Sakya Pandita submitted to the Mongols. Submission may have been the only alternative to an all-out Mongol invasion, but Sakya Pandita and his nephew Phagspa willingly sacrificed Tibetan independence for the sake of Buddhism. They were primarily interested in promoting Buddhism to the Mongols and Chinese and they were amazingly successful in doing so, but they forever compromised Tibetan independence. The Fifth Dalai Lama established the political supremacy of the Buddhist Church only with the foreign military patronage of Gushri Khan, who was declared “King of Tibet.” For the subsequent two and a half centuries of the Manchu Yuan dynasty of China, the religious establishment was far more willing to accept Manchu patronage, and generous gifts to monasteries, than was the secular aristocracy, which made some attempts to maintain Tibetan autonomy, if not independence, in relation to the Manchu.

          The Thirteenth Dalai Lama took advantage of the collapse of the Manchu Yuan Dynasty to declare Tibetan independence, but he did so only with British political patronage and British support for secular reforms, like creation of an army and establishment of a more representative political system. His secular reforms were fatally compromised by the opposition of the monasteries, which had long prospered under Chinese patronage and were more interested in the opportunities for the promotion of Buddhism in China than in Tibetan independence. Secular reforms, including the creation of an army and secular governmental institutions, were a direct threat to their control over culture and polity in Tibet. After the Chinese invasion of 1950, it was the religious establishment that favored accepting the 17-Point Agreement while several of the secular nationalist aristocracy opposed it.

          Despite his previous experience that Tibetan autonomy under China was not possible, the Dalai Lama has become the foremost proponent of compromise with China. He, like Tibetan lamas before him since Sakya Pandita and Phagspa, seems more interested in the promotion of Buddhism than Tibetan nationalism. The Buddhist doctrine is in its essence universalist and anti-nationalist. Buddhism has no national identity or national boundaries; its goal is human enlightenment rather than the more narrowly constricted goal of national political independence. The Dalai Lama has said that Tibetan “happiness” is the ultimate goal and that he would accept autonomy under China if that were achieved. He has often said that Tibetans could benefit economically by being part of a prosperous Chinese state. He has said that all Tibetans, himself included, would prefer independence, but that independence is an unrealistic goal. This of course implies that he thinks autonomy is not an unrealistic goal, which means that he does not understand why China rejects “genuine” Tibetan autonomy of the type he proposes. It also implies his lack of understanding of the need for an independent state within which to exercise genuine Tibetan human rights, especially the most fundamental right of national self-determination.

          The Dalai Lama has repeatedly said that more and more Chinese are supporting Tibet and that many are becoming Buddhists, which he apparently assumes to mean that they would be more sympathetic to Tibet. As for Chinese support for Tibet, the TGiE has researchers constantly looking through Chinese websites for any positive comments about Tibet and they report all such evidence to the Dalai Lama, who has cited ever increasing numbers of such expressions of support. However, this is an exercise in self-deception. In fact, since 2008 Chinese society has become more anti-Tibetan than ever before. The Chinese reaction to the uprising and the protests against the International Olympic Torch Relay was one of the main sources of a new Chinese anti-Tibetan, anti-Western nationalism. Many Chinese regarded the uprising in Tibet as an attempt, supported by anti-China foreigners, to denigrate China just as it was trying to present its new face to the world via the Beijing Olympics.  

          Supporters of the Middle Way point out its reasonableness and its compatibility with already existing Chinese law and argue that China will eventually see its advantages. However, China has failed to see its advantages for quite some time since it was formally proposed in 1988. And, since the Middle Way’s origins lie farther back in Tibetan history and Sino-Tibetan relations, particularly in the 17-Point Agreement, China may think that it has already tried such an arrangement and that it failed because of Tibetan resistance. In fact, China was never sincere about the promises of autonomy to Tibet contained in that agreement, but it did learn that Tibetan resistance was more persistent than it imagined, a lesson it had to relearn during the period of liberalization in the 1980s. The persistence of Tibetan nationalism and separatism is the reason that China now fears to allow any real autonomy at all and why it sees no advantage in negotiating with the Dalai Lama about allowing even more autonomy in Tibet.

          The Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Policy is essentially a proposal by Tibetans in exile to reverse history and return to an earlier era when China’s authority over Tibet was mainly symbolic. The Middle Way is an attempt to restore a sort of Tibetan autonomy that was already an anachronism in 1950 when China was finally able to substantiate its historical claim to sovereignty over Tibet. It proposes a return to a type of political relationship between China and Tibet that existed only in a previous era. Tibetan autonomy existed only because the Mongol and Manchu empires did not have the ability to actually control and administer Tibet, or the need to do so except in the case of threats from outside powers.  Modern China had more nationalistic ambitions to exercise actual sovereignty over Tibet and a greater ability to do so. Republican China was unable to achieve actual administrative control over Tibet, although it claimed to the world that it did. British support for Tibetan autonomy under Chinese “suzerainty” was an attempt to perpetuate a type of political relationship of an era that had already passed. The nationalist and anti-imperialist Chinese Communists were not about to allow any such vague status of a former imperial era to survive into the “New China” of their creation.   

          The Chinese Communists were determined to establish actual Chinese sovereignty and administration over Tibet and they had the means to do so with a veteran army and the absence of any outside power capable of opposing them. They promised a system of autonomy for Tibet almost equivalent to Tibet’s previous status of de facto independence. However, they considered Tibet’s “peaceful liberation” and its “return to the Motherland” as the achievement of China’s long-held ambition to exercise actual sovereignty over Tibet. What was promised in the Seventeen-Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet, and what the Middle Way would like to restore, was for the CCP only a temporary arrangement until actual military and political control could be established. For the Chinese Communists to allow Tibetan autonomy such as the Dalai Lama proposes, or even that they themselves once promised, would be contrary to what they have proclaimed as a natural and inevitable “merging of nationalities,” and a reversal of what they regard as one of their greatest accomplishments.

          The Chinese typically think of Tibet more as a territory than as a people with any rights to the land itself or to any of its resources. Current Chinese activities in Tibet are incompatible with any Tibetan rights to their own territory or their own natural resources. China’s policy is that all land and resources are the property of the Chinese state, which is a clear expression of China’s conquest mentality in regard to Tibet. China’s primary development efforts in Tibet are now devoted to mining and tourism. Both are essential aspects of China’s plan for Tibet’s economic development and its integration within the Chinese economy. Both have important assimilative purposes and effects.

          Tourism is aimed at turning Tibet into something like a theme park where Chinese can go to indulge their fantasies about primitive Tibetan society and where they can be entertained by Tibetans singing and dancing in gratitude for their liberation from their own backwardness. Theme parks and cultural performances are being developed in Lhasa where Chinese tourists can experience an unthreatening version of Tibetan culture and an altered version of Tibet history in which Tibet has “always” been a part of China. Fake Tibetan “model villages” are being built in lower areas of eastern Tibet like Nyingtri in Kongpo where Chinese tourists can live in Tibetan houses and be entertained by Tibetan singers and dancers. Tourist numbers reached almost 13 million in 2013 of whom 99 percent were Chinese. The perpetual presence of so many Chinese tourists in Lhasa significantly alters the population balance and cultural dynamic.

          Chinese mining in Tibet is also contradictory to any concept of Tibetan autonomous rights to their own natural resources as proposed by the Middle Way policy. Tibetans currently receive no economic benefits from Chinese mining activities, whether in jobs or profits, but they suffer all the negative environmental consequences. Chinese mining in Tibet is for the benefit of China, not Tibet. Contrary to the typical assumption that China has already extensively mined all the mineral resources of Tibet, mining on the scale necessary to exploit most mineral resources is only just getting underway due to the previous lack of infrastructure like roads, railroads and hydroelectric power. Mining, like tourism, increases the numbers of Chinese in Tibet and creates isolated enclaves of Chinese where large mines are located. Mining is particularly contrary to any Tibetan autonomous rights in regard to resources or exclusive Tibetan rights to inhabitation.

          There is no indication that China wishes to give up its full sovereignty in favor of Tibetan autonomy, or any logical reason that it should do so, especially when any such autonomy is contrary to China’s economic and political interests. China has no intention of abandoning its rights to exploit Tibet’s natural resources when mining on a large scale is finally becoming feasible. China has no intention of giving Tibetans the right to exclusive inhabitation of their own land when the Chinese regard Tibet as a relatively empty part of China open for Chinese colonization and exploitation. And China has no intention of allowing any autonomy in Tibet that would perpetuate a separate Tibetan culture and national identity and the consequent Tibetan separatist threat to China’s territorial integrity and national security.

          China’s response to the Middle Way, and specifically to the Memorandum on Tibetan Autonomy, leave little doubt that China has no intention of allowing any “genuine autonomy” of the type proposed. Given the lack of any positive Chinese response to the Middle Way proposals, the only question is how long will the Tibetans in exile maintain this position? The meetings that China has conducted with Tibetan exile representatives cannot be said to have been a genuine dialogue since the Chinese side refused to talk about Tibetan autonomy at all. Their invitation to the Tibetan side in July 2008 to explicate what they meant by “genuine” autonomy appears in retrospect to have been either a mistake by a junior official or a ploy to defuse international criticism and Tibetan protests just before the Olympics. The scorn and finality with which the Memorandum on Tibetan Autonomy was rejected after the Olympics left little hope for any further dialogue and, indeed, to this point there have been no further meetings.  

          The most recent series of meetings seem to have been little more than a delaying tactic by China, one that also served to persuade the world that China was open to dialogue and thus to satisfy foreign critics’ constant demands that it do so. China now seems to not care enough about foreign criticism to even make a pretense of willingness to dialogue. Chinese policy now appears to anticipate a time when the 14th Dalai Lama has departed and a 15th has been named by the CCP. This timing may also be the answer to the question about how long Tibetans will support the Middle Way policy. Presumably, only after the demise of the 14th Dalai Lama will a realistic reappraisal of the policy be possible. Much of the support for the policy at the present is based upon loyalty to the Dalai Lama, a condition that will be lessened with his departure. Even then, Tibetan loyalty to his legacy will be an important factor.

          There is a remote possibility that the Dalai Lama could renounce his own policy at the end of his life, given his realization that the Chinese would be less likely to negotiate after he is gone than before. But, to renounce the Middle Way would be to renounce much of his own legacy. However, he could, by renouncing his own failed policy, create a new legacy. He might rationalize that he had tried to be conciliatory, as in the 1950s, but now, as after the 1959 revolt, had decided that autonomy under China was impossible. He might then revive the claim for Tibetan independence. Certainly, this would be the best way to defy the Chinese expectation that his demise would be the end of the Tibet problem and it would also be the best way to provide a continued inspiration for Tibetans. The aspiration for independence may be all that Tibetans ever get, but, as the independence advocates have pointed out, it is the abandonment of that aspiration that is the most demoralizing aspect of the Middle Way. Only a repudiation of the policy by the Dalai Lama himself would heal the rift in Tibetan society caused by that policy. Tibetan independence may be unlikely, but the claim to rightful independence is essential for the preservation of Tibetan national identity. The claim of Tibetan independence in the past as well as the legitimate right of independence in the present is essential for the sake of a truthful and authentic Tibetan history as opposed to one rewritten and falsified by the Chinese.

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[1] In this paper I use Tibetan Government in Exile (TGiE) rather than Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) because the latter term has no meaning in relation to Tibet’s status within the People’s Republic of China (PRC), which is what the Middle Way is supposed to address. Central Tibetan Administration is a term adopted to refer to the administration of the Tibetan refugee settlements in India and was intentionally meant to exclude any claim to be a government in exile. This change was made reportedly in order to avoid offending India, or China, or both, but it did not change the character of the Dharamshala government, which remains for all intents and purposes a government in exile. I also use Middle Way rather than Middle Way Approach (MWA) because “Way” and “Approach” are essentially the same thing.

[2] China’s Tibet: Autonomy or Assimilation (Boulder, Rowman and Littlefield, 2008); Tibet’s Last Stand: The Tibetan Uprising of 2008 and China’s Response (Boulder, Rowman and Littlefield, 2010).

[3] Turrell Wylie wrote, “The exploitation of religious leaders at the expense of secular lords in order to subjugate foreign populations was a sociological pattern not unknown to the Mongols. Therefore, given the fragmented and dichotomous nature of Tibetan society at the time, it was logical that Prince Kotan would select a lama than a layman to surrender Tibet.” Turrell Wylie, “The First Mongol Conquest of Tibet Reinterpreted,” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (1977), 112.

[4] See Tibetan Nation, 460.

[5] See Tibetan Nation, 493.

[6] Michael van Walt van Praag, The Status of Tibet: History, Rights and Prospects in International Law, (Boulder: Westview Press, 1987).

[7] Van Walt, Status of Tibet, 202.

[8] Samten G. Karmay, “King Glang Dar-ma and his Rule” The Arrow and the Spindle, Studies in History, Myths, Rituals and Beliefs in Tibet, Vol II. (Mandala Publications, Kathmandu, 2005), 15.

Originally published in Trails of the Tibetan Tradition, a volume in honor of Professor Elliot Sperling

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Tibet on the Cards of History: Revisiting the Tibetan National Flag

posted Mar 22, 2015, 4:56 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Mar 23, 2015, 5:17 PM ]

By Nick Gulotta and Dicky Yangzom

A number of publications on Tibet have created confusion regarding the historical status of the Tibetan national flag. Without qualification, these works assert that the flag was simply a "regimental banner” used by the Tibetan army and later promoted to the rank of a national flag by Tibetans in exile.[1] [2] This claim ignores a vast selection of scholarship, primary sources, and visual documentation to the contrary. These works also carelessly omit the fact that the flag was internationally recognized and even well known as the national flag of Tibet long before Tibetans came into exile.

The history and international recognition of the Tibetan flag has been well documented. As Tibetan writer Jamyang Norbu points out, before 1959, the flag was used to represent Tibet in international diplomatic affairs and was featured widely from an official British Crown publication in 1930 to National Geographic’s “Flags of the World” issue in 1934. [3] One previously unexplored example of the flag’s international popularity was its use on collectable trading cards. Beginning in the late 1920s, images of the Tibetan flag were widely published by companies in Europe, North America, South America, the Middle East, and Oceania in national flag trading card collections.

Throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries, companies would include trading cards with their products. Intended to boost sales and brand loyalty, these cards were sold with cigarettes, chewing gum, tea, and virtually every type of product. Collecting trading cards was a favorite pastime for many and a trip to the store usually brought back some of these attractive, brightly colored cards. They were ubiquitous with pop culture—often featuring celebrities, famous events, national flags, and other encyclopedic themes. The demand for trading cards eventually surpassed the the demand for the products they accompanied resulting in the sale of trading cards by themselves. [4]

On Cigarette Cards

1) Abadie Zigarettenpapier Ltd.  1928. 2) Massary Zigarettenfabrik, 1929. 3) Bulgaria Zigarettenfabrik, 1933. 4) Tabakmonopol Danzig, 1933. 5) Monopol Zigarettenfabrik, 1936. 6) Kosmos Zigarettenbilder 1950, 7) Cento Tobacco Company, 1950. 8) Kane Products LTD., 1958. 9) Sweetule Products LTD., 1962.

Click image to enlarge

As early as 1928, Abadie Zigarettenpapier, an Austrian company circulated the Tibetan flag on their cigarette cards and until the early 1960s nearly a dozen German, Austrian, Dutch, and English tobacco companies also featured it on cigarette cards. For decades, these cards were included in virtually all packs of cigarettes and other tobacco products. Each card was printed in a themed series and was widely collected by the public with print-runs that ran into hundreds of millions. [5] Many companies also published albums that catalogued these cards and included a description of each country’s flag. The albums had titles such as “Flags of the World” and “Flags of Non-European Countries.”

Vlaggen Van Alle Landen, De Faam, Breda, Netherlands, 1952.

Click image to enlarge

On Chewing Gum, Chocolate, and Candy Cards

Following the success of cigarette cards, chocolate manufacturers also began issuing collectable cards. In 1938, Chocolat Meurisse, a Belgian company included a Tibetan flag with their collection, “The Costumes of Nations.” After World War II, which halted card production due to paper shortages, it became common for candy packets of all types to include trading cards that were often their selling point. [6] One Dutch peppermint company, De Faam, published a series of cards with an accompanying book titled “Flags of all Countries” in 1952.

1) Chocolat Meurisse, 1938. 2) Topps, 1950. 3) Baylan Pastaneleri, circa 1950. 4) De Famm, 1952. 5) Topps, 1963. 6) Topps, 1956. 7) Topps-designed card in Hebrew circa 1959. 8) Saiem, circa 1957.
Click image to enlarge

In 1950, 1956, and 1963, the popular American company Topps, printed three different Tibetan flag cards. Their 1956 “Flags of the World” card was used by a number of companies in Europe and the Middle East and translated into several languages. One example of the 1956 card can be seen above printed in Hebrew. Similarly, “Tibet” is spelled with a dotted “İ" from the Turkish alphabet on the above card from Baylan Pastry, a Turkish chocolate company. Other cards were also sold in coin-operated vending machines with gumballs such as the one printed by Saiem circa 1957 in France.

On Other Trading Cards

1) Eucalol, 1935. 2) Birkel, 1952. 3) Veen, 1954. 4) Agência Portuguesa de Revistas, 1957. 5) Sanitarium, 1959. 6) Gouda’s Roem, 1950. 7) Nannina, 1961. 8) Saiem, 1959. 9) Minepba,1961. 10) Golden Glow Sales Corp., 1963.

Click image to enlarge

Outside of Asia and Europe, the earliest example of the flag’s use was perhaps in 1935 by Eucalol, a popular Brazilian soap company. Eucalol enclosed flag cards with soap boxes of from their series “Flags of the world.” Similarly, in 1950, a Dutch food company, Gouda’s Roem, included Tibetan flag cards with with boxes of butter. Birkel, Germany’s principal noodle manufacturer in 1952 published a magazine titled “Countries and Flags” which included a card with the Tibetan flag before an image of the young Dalai Lama. In 1954, the Dutch publisher Veen, produced a collectable cards book titled “Flags and Postage,” which included a card with the Tibetan flag above a Tibetan government postage stamp. The Agency of Portuguese Magazines also included the flag in their 1957 educational magazine, “Flags of the Universe,” which contained removable trading cards. The same card was also featured by the Brazil-America Limited publishing house in their “Flags and Typical Costumes” magazine later that year. The New Zealand-based health foods company, Sanitarium, enclosed a Tibetan flag card from their 1959 “National Flags and Costumes” series with breakfast cereals. The flag also made several appearances in Greece on at least 3 different cards around this time. One such card can be seen above with “Tibet” spelled using the Greek letter “Θ” (theta). Several Dutch and German companies even featured the flag on collectable card-like matchbox labels.

Various Tibetan flag matchbox labels 1950-60.

Click image to enlarge

The flag appears to have been printed and reprinted up until China’s annexation of Tibet became well known around the world. In 1959 and 1961, Tibetan flag cards were published by two Italian companies, Sidam and Nannina. Nannina published an album titled “Flags and Costumes World” which included an image of Tibet’s historic borders. A later 1960’s edition of the Sidam card featured the “Occupation of Tibet” in place of its country card. The American Golden Glow Sales Corporation published an educational magazine in 1963 titled “Our Wonderful World of Wonderful People,” which included a Tibetan flag card. The back of the card reads, “it is presently under Chinese Communist domination. A recent revolt forced the recognized and sovereign religious leader of Tibet, the Grand Lama, to seek refuge in neighboring India.”

The National Flag of Tibet

The circulation of these trading cards show that there was a vast international recognition of the Tibetan flag. Although reflecting the orientalist and romantic aura that is often built around Tibet, these trading cards nonetheless unveil the absurdity of the claims of historians like Patrick French (2009) and Melvyn Goldstein (2009) that the Tibetan flag was simply a regimental banner and later promoted as a national flag by Tibetans in exile. While the proliferation of nations was a defining feature of the 20th century, since much of the world was struggling for national recognition, Tibet’s national symbol, had long been recognized. Only after the colonization of Tibet, would this historical fact be distorted by revisionist historians and writers.

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Far from being an exhaustive study of Tibetan flag cards, this article explores one example of the flag's international popularity. It is our hope more research will be done on this subject. Additional information on the cards mentioned can be found here:

1. Goldstein, Melvyn C.; Jiao, Ben and Tanzen Lhundrup. On the Cultural Revolution in Tibet: The Nyemo Incident of 1969. University of California Press. 2009. p. 209.

2. French, Patrick, Tibet, Tibet. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2009. p14-15.

3.  Norbu, Jamyang, Independent Tibet, The Facts. 3rd ed. High Asis Press, March 2011. p. 3.

4. Crane, Ben, A Brief History of Trade Cards, The Trade Card Place, n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.

5.  "It's on the Cards." Card History. The London Cigarette Card Company, n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.

6. Ibid.

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Cartoon of the Day

posted Mar 22, 2015, 4:40 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Mar 22, 2015, 4:44 PM ]

- by Tendor

(Click cartoon to enlarge)

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Why Tibetans were divided on the March 10th Tibetan Uprising Day

posted Mar 21, 2015, 1:24 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Mar 21, 2015, 1:31 PM ]

By Choenyi Woser | March 21, 2015

The author is a reporter at Tibet Express based in Dharamsala, India; the views expressed in this piece are those of the author's.

Translated from the original text in Tibetan language by Lobsang.

Following China’s invasion of Tibet, China forced Tibetans to sign the seventeen point agreement under duress.  When China violated its own forced agreement to implement destructive campaign in Tibet, Tibetan people ultimately came out on the streets of Lhasa on March 10th protesting Chinese invasion calling for Tibet’s Independence and long life of His Holiness 14th Dalai Lama.

Unfortunately on the 56th Tibetan National Uprising day, instead of paying homage to the sacrifices made by our martyrs, a few individuals have tried to ban the Free Tibet slogans and alienate those calling for Tibet’s Independence in New York, USA.

Who were the organizers of the March 10th Demonstrations in New York?

The organizers of the March 10th demonstrations in New York were Tibetan Community New York and New Jersey (TCNYNJ), Regional Tibet Youth Congress New York and New Jersey (RTYCNYNJ), Regional Tibetan Women’s Association (RTWA) and Regional Chushi Gangdruk Association.

Since the Tibetan Community New York/New Jersey (TCNYNJ) is an organization formed for the welfare of the Tibetans living in New York, devoid of any ideological affiliations, if this organization turns itself into a specific political ideology-driven organization that exhibits intolerance to difference in opinion and starts excluding people supporting Tibetan independence, then the community members need to reflect on its founding objectives.  Individuals mainly responsible for ostracizing those protestors shouting slogans calling for “Free Tibet” were Sonam Gyaltsen, President of TCNYNJ, Thinley Kelsang, Vice President TCNYNJ, and Ngawang Palden, President of RTYCNYNJ.  I hope that the act of ostracization was a personal initiative of these three leaders, and does not reflect the official policy of the organizations that these people were representing.  The intention behind forcibly pushing aside those carrying “Free Tibet” banner was clearly to bring division in our community rather than bringing everyone together.

Since the founding of the Tibetan Youth Congress the crucial goal of the organization has been to struggle for Tibet’s Independence, and with time, the organization has gained much respect from the Tibetan Government-in-Exile as well as the Tibetan People.  However, few former and current executive members of RTYC New York and New Jersey, while still in their official capacity have spoken out against TYC’s political stand.  It clearly shows that their intention is none other than to disrupt the organization. If they did not agree with TYC’s political stand, they were free to step down from their official position and join Tibetan People’s Movement for Middle Way which already exists.

The original image of Sangay Dolma with “Tibet is an indepenpent county” written on her left hand.

Tibetan Women’s Association was initially founded to rebuild the nation but in recent time it has fallen under directives of few influential individuals in exile.  By doing so, TWA has proved that they lack the capacity to take a firm stand on any ideology, and work towards it.  Therefore it would be difficult for any Tibetan woman advocating for Tibet’s independence to be a part of the organization.  When RTWA New York commemorated March 12th Tibetan Women’s Uprising, they should have paid tribute to the sacrifices made by the Tibetan women in 1959 uprising.  But shockingly enough, at the commemoration, RTWA carried an edited and altered image of Sangay Dolma, a Tibetan woman who self-immolated in Tibet against China’s occupation.  The original image of Sangay Dolma, taken before she set herself on fire and received by the Tibetan exile community after her self-immolation protest, features “Independence for Tibet” written on her hand.  At the March 12th commemoration, RTWA New York displayed the cropped image of Sangay Dolma without her message of Independence.  This was not a mistake as Central Tibetan Women Association in their newsletter ‘Voice’ published the cropped image of Sangay Dolma.  Such an act of manipulation is nothing but a dishonor to the brave sacrifices made by Tibetan women inside Tibet.

Members of RTWA displaying cropped image of Sangay Dolma without her message.

Though Chushi Gangdruk was formerly a voluntary resistance army led by Andruk Gonpo Tashi to counter the Chinese military invasion, this once fierce resistance army has become a Khampa Welfare Association in exile due to various reasons.  As a result, they are unable to carry the legacies and aspirations of the brave soldiers of the resistance army.  In recent years, this association faced division among themselves and key leaders of Chushi Gangduk faced lots of challenges within the community.  To avoid such problems, they had to affiliate to various political scenarios in exile resulting in subjugation of their authority.  Does the decision of New York Regional Chushi Gangdruk reflect the fear of what happened in the past or did they fail to take a firm stand.  If Chushi Gangdruk becomes an organization that bans the call for Tibet’s Independence, it is a gross disrespect to the sacrifices of their martyrs.

Why do we Commemorate March 10?

Commemoration of March 10 is not a platform to strive for Independence, let alone seeking Genuine Autonomy for Tibet.  The day is not to create division among ourselves but to collectively remember the uprising in 1959 against Chinese invasion and the demands of those Tibetans who took part in it.  Having received permission from the American government to hold the rally and being entitled to the right to protest, how can we divide the Tibetan community and decide who can participate in protests, and who cannot?

Neither shouting slogans of “Free Tibet” on March 10th would threaten China nor will banning the slogan receive a pat on the back from Beijing either.  But by censoring “Free Tibet” slogans, it is highly possible that the world will start believing China’s claim that “there has never been a problem in Tibet”.  Most importantly, Middle Way Policy is a middle point between independence and complete subjugation.  By removing calls for Independence, we remove the basis for Middle Way.

Since the occupation of Tibet, Chinese government has implemented many repressive policies in Tibet.  In the name of economic development, Tibetans have been segregated and divided across various parts and many more such policies are being planned to completely eradicate the unique identity of the Tibetans.  Therefore it’s very important for our movement in the long run not to project the call for Independence as hindrance among our younger generation.

Goals of March 10th Tibetan National Uprising Day

The organizers of the March 10th rally in New York have time and again stressed on the importance of following His Holiness’ wishes and the Central Tibetan Administration’s policies.  Is it the wish of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and CTA’s guidelines not to allow those who call for Tibet Independence in the march?  Who are they trying to blacklist, and whose purpose does it serve?

Few Tibetan politicians in exile, for whom it has become a ritual to make statements maligning others, are saying it wasn’t done in the right spirit.  However, those who call for Independence are not a minority, and in New York, there were many people who came out shouting “Free Tibet”.  It would also be wrong to think those people who were not displaying Tibet Independence banner were against those who were calling for Independence.

These days, few Tibetans pretending to represent His Holiness and CTA, undermine the Tibetan Freedom Movement by criticizing those who advocate for Tibetan independence.  Thinley Kelsang, Vice President of TCNYNJ, who was involved in dismantling RTYC New York during his Presidency, has accused Students for a Free Tibet’s 2008 campaigns for its “negative impact” on the Tibetan movement.  He even criticized Tibetans inside Tibet who took down Chinese flag and raised the Tibetan flag in 2008 uprising against Chinese oppression.  Such accusations not only serve Chinese claims but also have negative impact on our movement.

Even the Tibetan Education Minister, Ngodup Tsering who was present at the March 10th event in New York, didn’t bother to investigate the incident thoroughly and presented only one-sided information which was reported to him by the organizers in his clarification at the ongoing Tibetan Parliament session.  [See video at approx. 43:00]  From his seemingly cautious explanation, it appears as if CTA has endorsed such actions.  It is very unfortunate if these actions, which create division in the Tibetan community, are being promoted by our own administration in Dharamsala.

Such actions by key community leaders not only cause conflict and division but will also discourage people from taking part in future Tibet campaigns.  As a result we have no right to criticize people for losing their passion and not taking part in the movement.  Generally, in a democracy, while we go with the decision of the majority, the minority has the right to express their dissatisfaction.  Where can we find a democracy where the decisions of one or two people are being followed without question?

Dhardon Sharling, Member of Parliament had said in the Parliament, “If few individuals use the Middle Way Policy as a platform for their personal political agenda, the real objective and purpose of the Middle Way Policy will be lost.”  If this keeps on going, a day might come when it will be hard to find a single person who truly holds the authentic demand of Genuine Autonomy.  (Dhardon Sharling is a Middle-Way supporter, and Human Rights and Democracy activist).

Students for a Free Tibet, which was initially started as a Tibet support organization by Tibetans and non-Tibetans together, was compelled to step down from the organizing Committee of the New York March 10th event.  This organization, which has members of different nationalities along with many young Tibetans, has become a strong campaign group in Tibet Freedom movement.  But I still think signing of the initial agreement on the March 10th demonstrations by leaders of SFT New York with the organizers was mistake from their side.  By misusing His Holiness Dalai Lama’s name, in recent years, some people in the Tibetan community in exile have found a way to criticize and render ineffective Tibetan Youth Congress and a few individuals; I suspect their target has now shifted to Students for a Free Tibet.

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A Tibetan Feminist's Response to Adele Wilde-Blavatsky

posted Mar 20, 2015, 5:05 PM by The Tibetan Political Review

By Tsechi Chuzom

[In response to "Conflict at US-Tibetan Exile Event Symptom of Widening Rift" , published at Huffington Post]

According to this “author,” I, Tsechi Chuzom, child of Tibetan refugees who fled Tibet during the communist Chinese invasion, president/board member of SFT MHC & Lakeside for multiple years, cannot “understand” or “speak on the behalf of Tibetans in Tibet” (don’t worry, I’ve been there and still don’t claim to do so).  But somehow she, Adele Wilde-Blavatsky, whiter than crack,* has the moral and cultural authority to say that we in the US Tibet movement advocate “a particular pseudo-intellectual, Occidentalist, hyper-nationalist brand of identity politics” that is bad for Tibetans in Tibet.

I know this is just an insecure troll, and I don’t like dignifying her accusations and embittered rants with a response, but I also cringe at the thought that others might read this or her other “writings” on Tibetan culture and society, thinking it is an accurate or fair portrayal of the Tibetan diaspora.

She holds onto the notion that living in Dharamsala and choosing to study Tibetan Buddhism and language gives her credibility in determining all things Tibetan.  What she fails to understand is that whether or not I identify as Tibetan isn’t so clear a choice for me as it is for her.  It’s very easy to sit back and criticize a community to which you are not fundamentally attached.  Unlike her, I don’t have the privilege of deciding one day that I don’t want to care about Tibetan issues anymore because they are not necessarily mine to care about.  Being Tibetan is a fundamental part of who I am.  When there is criticism, I and my fellow Tibetans bear the burden of resolving those issues; she chooses whether to be affected or offended by it or not.  Being a self-proclaimed “Tibet supporter” does not automatically give you the cultural context and authority to constructively– and respectfully– criticize our community and cultural heritage.

God forbid the Tibetan community make any mistakes.  In her article, she argues that any Tibetan who does not “present a Shangri-la version of Tibetan society… is demonised and isolated.”  Yet, she seems to hold us to that very same impossible Shangri-la standard that she is so eager to denounce.  Of course Tibetans are going to be hostile when an outsider is speaking half-truths and taking a verbal dump on our culture.  While I admit Tibetans, especially our elders, are fairly conservative and unresponsive to criticism, this is an understandable result of losing one’s own country and having one’s traditions completely ripped apart.

What we Tibetans are witnessing is the active cultural desecration and dilution of our ancestral homeland and way of life.  It is comprehensible that some hold onto the very justified fear of cultural extinction, which may translate into what is perceived to be a certain strain of xenophobia and/or conservatism.  I am not saying this is okay, but at the same time, this reaction is not unique to Tibetan society.  Are we not allowed to work within our own community to resolve our issues on our own terms?

I don’t claim to have a clearcut solution.  All I know is, I will not chastise nor distance myself from my community simply because certain aspects are seemingly flawed or imperfect; I will recognize the responsibility and privilege I have as a Tibetan to try to work through these issues for the greater good of our people.  And most importantly, I will always choose to be a positive force in whatever I endeavor.

*Is crack even white? No disrespect to white people– much love to my white friends!

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SFT's statement regarding March 10 in New York

posted Mar 20, 2015, 4:55 PM by The Tibetan Political Review

March 20, 2015

All of us at Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) were inspired by the global display of solidarity for the Tibetan freedom struggle shown on the 56th commemoration of the Tibetan National Uprising Day on March 10th. The European rally in Paris, together with events in dozens of cities across the world, demonstrated that international support for the Tibetan people’s fundamental right to freedom is alive and strong. 

Unfortunately, there were some problems in New York and, given the confusion created by this issue, we would like to clarify SFT’s involvement. What follows is a brief timeline of the major agreements and decisions in the lead up to March 10:

  • 01/12/15 - SFT and all members of the organizing committee agreed to work together in a spirit of unity, and to focus the March 10th spotlight on the situation inside Tibet. Based on this consensus, SFT signed a working agreement that would do the following three things: 
  1. Reserve a special guest speaker spot for a representative of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA); 
  2. Have the Tibetan Community of New York & New Jersey take the lead on facilitating the March 10th planning; and 
  3. See all messaging for placards, slogans and speakers decided amongst the six organizations.
  • 01/16/15 - It was made clear to SFT that the four Tibetan community organizations wanted to promote the goal of Genuine Autonomy for Tibet, to the exclusion of all other political stands and voices. SFT proposed alternative options for March 10th that would accommodate all pro-Tibetan voices.
  • 01/16/15 - The two speakers SFT and U.S. Tibet Committee (USTC) submitted for consideration were Tenzin Dorjee (Tendor) and MP Dhardon Sharling. Tendor was rejected due to his belief in Rangzen. Dhardon Sharling was accepted.
  • 01/20/15 - SFT sent a letter to the organizing committee reiterating our emphasis on making the March 10 rally a more inclusive event. 
  • 01/22/15 - In an urgent meeting held between the six organizations, the four Tibetan community organizations remained unwilling to find a way to include all voices in March 10th. As a result, SFT had no option but to resign from the organizing committee, because we were not comfortable organizing an event that would promote censorship.
  • Upon SFT’s resignation, all executive members of the six organizations present at the meeting unanimously agreed that the 01/12/15 working agreement was no longer valid.
  • 01/27/15 -  SFT re-stated this in an email sent to the committee, saying that the “...representatives of all 6 organizations unanimously came into agreement that this decision to step down for this year made on January 22, 2015 nullifies the agreement signed on January 12, 2015.”
  • SFT and USTC were not present during any meeting where placard and slogan messaging was agreed upon.
  • SFT was not informed in advance of a general ban on slogans i.e. “Free Tibet”, “Rangzen” and “China out of Tibet” (i.e. from the public). These slogans were not banned at last year’s March 10th. This is why we were shocked when we were excluded and barricaded from the rally for carrying our banners this year. 

On March 12th we contacted all affected parties to ask for a meeting with the hope that we can resolve this issue as swiftly as possible. Our efforts to find a solution are fueled by our respect for the good work that the Tibetan Community of New York and New Jersey, the Regional Tibetan Women’s Association, the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress and Chushi Gangdruk have done in the past. 

Wherever possible, and certainly on March 10th, we believe Tibetans and supporters should work together in a spirit of cooperation because - ultimately - we are stronger when we are together. However, we should be careful not to mistake unity with uniformity. We hope and trust that in the future, for the sake of Tibetans inside Tibet, our community will continue to promote and enable a dynamic and inclusive global movement. 

SFT remains committed to doing everything in our power to help end China’s colonial occupation of Tibet and oppression of the Tibetan people. We are working towards a vision where His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is reunited with the Tibetan people in a free Tibet. 


Tenzin Dolkar

Executive Director

Students for a Free Tibet International

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