Opinion: What happened in Tibet?


Haoran Li is a junior communication studies major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. He can be reached at [email protected].

Haoran Li

Last week, President Obama met the Dalai Lama, one of the spirit leaders of Tibetan Buddhism. On one hand, Obama appealed the human rights issues for Tibet; on the other hand, after Obama announced meeting Dalai Lama, China’s Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said it would “grossly interfere in the internal affairs of China, seriously violate norms governing international relations and severely impair China—U.S. relations.” In spite of both side’s claims, let’s review what happened in Tibet around 60 years ago.

Before 1951, Tibet was an area where people were divided into different social classes, and less than five percent of the population of landlords controlled more than 95 percent of the population’s freedom of life, economics and religion. They suffered destitution, cruel oppression, exploitation and by no means possessed personal freedom. “The key characteristic of the system was that individuals did not have the right to opt out. They could not give back their land to the estate and live as free peasants,” said Melvyn Goldstein, at Ohio University’s Center for Research on Tibet.

Furthermore, Tibet was an area that combined politics and religion into one person’s hand—the Dalai Lama. It was a feudal-theocratic government. When Tibetans were liberated after 1951, everyone had the right to attend school, to have freedom to life and rights pursing their own goals instead of being slaves to wealthy landowners.

However, the Dalai Lama was not satisfied without powers to control Tibetans. He incited rebellion in Tibet and wanted to separate Tibet from China. Fortunately, he failed and was exiled to India in 1959. In fact, the Dalai Lama and Tibetan rebels were secretly funded by the CIA. The rebels included monk Athar Norbu and the Dalai Lama’s elder brother, Gyalo Thondup, was the CIA liaison.

The New York Times reported, “It received $1.7 million a year in the 1960’s from the Central Intelligence Agency, but denied reports that the Tibetan leader benefited personally from an annual subsidy of $180,000. The money allocated for the resistance movement was spent on training volunteers and paying for guerrilla operations against the Chinese, the Tibetan government-in-exile said in a statement. It added that the subsidy earmarked for the Dalai Lama was spent on setting up offices in Geneva and New York and on international lobbying.”

What was going on after 1959?

Tibet has built 77 water factories, which provide water for around 60 percent of Tibet, and transportation has vastly improved. Tibet had only one highway before 1951; however, it had around 30,000 miles of roads for transportation in an area with an average elevation of 4,900 meters. Moreover, Tibet has had a railway from Lasha to Qinghai, with a length of 1,215 miles.

In China, Tibetans have been taught Tibetan in school, and, like all Chinese ethnic groups of fewer than 10 million members, they were exempt from the one child policy.

What the Dalai Lama wants is to act as a leader who can control people’s freedom of life, economics and religion once again.  The White House maintains a good relationship with him because Dalai Lama is a good excuse to blame China, for which the White House can gain international attention in a name of human rights. However, when you take Tibet’s history into consideration, it is easy to tell that the visit between the White House and the Dalai Lama was purely for the sake of propaganda.