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Opinion: The truth about Tibet

June 1, 2008

Linyou Cao
The Stanford Daily (Stanford University, USA)
May 30, 2008

For the past couple months, political tension, riots and arrests in
Tibet have sparked controversy around the world. On the eve of the
2008 Olympic Games, Tibet supporters seized the opportunity to gain
unprecedented global attention by interfering with the Olympic torch
relay and advocating a boycot of the Games.

I don't dispute China's track record on human rights. Given the
massive social transformations in China, I'd be very surprised if
there was not tension or resentment. As a non-Tibetan Chinese
citizen, I hope that some day Tibetan and Chinese people can enjoy
the religious and political freedoms common in a Western democracy.
Tibetan protesters, however, need to recognize some larger truths.

Though the relations between Tibet and China are complicated, Tibet
has been under Chinese rule from the Yuan Dynasty of the 13th and
14th centuries to the Qing Dynasty from the 18th century until the
20th. In 1751, the Chinese emperor QianLong established the Dalai
Lama as Tibet's spiritual and political leader, subject to
supervision by a resident commissioner from the Chinese central
government. Effectively, Tibet has been part of China longer than the
United States has been an independent nation.

Since its establishment in the seventh century, Tibet has maintained
a close connection with regions of China. The first governor of
Tibet, Songtsan Gampo, married Princess Wencheng, the niece of the
Chinese emperor of the Tang Dynasty. Both Chinese and Tibetan are
tonal languages and are from the same Sino-Tibetan language family.
Linguists today consider the Tibetan language to be the closest
relative to Chinese.

Although the Chinese government has been at fault during many of its
proceedings with Tibet, it is unfair that Tibet supporters in the
West so rarely acknowledge China's great contributions to Tibet. The
Chinese government abolished slavery, feudalism and the Tibetan
serfdom system of unpaid labor. Before the 1950s, when the Dalai Lama
presided over Tibet, the majority of the rural population, some
700,000 of an estimated rural population of 1,250,000, were serfs,
forced to work on land owned by monasteries or aristocrats. The
Communists also brought economic prosperity and social welfare,
including daycare, health care, housing and education. None of these
services were available to common Tibetans before the installation of
the Communist government. While people may perceive the Tibet issue
as solely a matter of religious freedom, they must understand that
there is a greater context involving the clash between China's modern
economy and the feudalism aspect of the Tibetan society.

There is a tendency amongst Westerners to romanticize the Tibetan
religion and the suppression of the Tibetan people. Tibet feudalism
is largely cloaked in Buddism, and Tibetans are normal people, not
perfected spiritualists or simple political symbols. In fact, there
are numerous other groups that have been marginalized by the dramatic
social transformations on-going in China today. Relative to many
other ethnicities in China, Tibetans actually enjoy more governmental
benefits than most. As of 2007, Tibetan Buddhism was still practiced
widely and tolerated by officials. The Chinese government exempts
Tibetans from all taxation.

Tibet supporters should recognize that the Communist Party has made
numerous efforts to aid Tibet's economic and social development. With
appropriate reforms, there is no reason that Chinese and Tibetans
cannot coexist peacefully in a unified China. Those who boycott the
Games should also acknowledge the difference between the Chinese
people and the Chinese government. I support the games as a
representation of the pride of all Chinese people, as a symbol of
Chinese progress and as a reminder of the ideals and values that we
must uphold as China moves forward.

Linyou Cao, originally from the southern JiangXi province of China,
is now a Ph.D student in the Department of Material Science and Engineering.

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