q: What is the Chinese perception of Tibet?
jamyang: The Chinese think of Tibetans essentially as Barbarians. Now, the Chinese also think of Tibetans as people with magical powers. Especially since historically they’ve had long association with Tibetan Lamas. Especially after the Mongol invasions when the Mongol Khans were patrons to the Lamas. And a lot of these Lamas, they had magical powers as reported by Marco Polo. They levitated the Emperor … .. and things like that. And there’s always been this perception in traditional Chinese eyes of Tibetans being barbarians, nevertheless having certain spiritual and magical powers.
Therefore, a lot of Chinese– if they’re Buddhists and they want to have certain, let’s say Buddhism things done in their home, they feel the Tibet Lama is very effective. But, overall the perception that Tibetans are barbarians runs all the way through their sort of history. It’s never ever been away from the Chinese sort of thinking.
q: When was the last time you were in contact with people there. What are the Chinese in Tibet doing?
a: The more recent accounts I’ve heard– it’s quite troubling because they’ve managed to sort out their thinking on the problems that they have with Tibetans. Essentially, one is of culture. And the Chinese party boss in Tibet, he’s quite an intelligent person and he’s worked it out that the real problem for China is the fact that the Tibetans will never become part of China, unless culturally and linguistically they become absolutely Chinese. Unless all that is wiped out.
And, I must say he’s correct. Tibetans main nationalism comes from our culture. And, the very, very different culture that we have from the Chinese. And, I don’t think Tibetans will ever give up independence as long as they have that.
So, the Chinese have realized this now. They know they cannot compromise even on this. So, they are now working on the question of Tibetan education, making it much harder for Tibetans to really study the language or to get any kind of employment, even if they know that language. To make it that only Chinese language in any way will benefit the Tibetans. So, that’s why many Tibetans, who really have no command of the Chinese or poor command of Chinese, really have no substantial job. There’s about 75 to 80 percent unemployment among the youth of Tibet. People just hanging out in the streets, drinking, playing pool.
Furthermore, they have a movement now to remove any kind of Tibetan, even loyal party personnel, from important positions, and to replace them with the Chinese. For instance, even in a sensitive position like the University of Lhasa, they’ve removed the Tibetan, let’s say the Dean he could be called, and replaced him with a party hack, essentially someone who has really no qualifications to head a kindergarten, far less a university.
So, there are all these programs that are coming to the fore. All of them together constitute– I use the term cultural genocide. And it’s been used quite often. But, I really don’t think we can find any other term to fit the realities of Chinese oppression in Tibet.
q: Tibetans don’t seem to have the economic opportunity that the Chinese do, especially young people.
a: Essentially, there is so much unemployment in Tibet, because the system is rigged against the Tibetans. The people in power, at the top of the pyramid, are Chinese. And, in China, I think anyone who’s traveled through China knows that the system is one of “The Back Door.” If you want to have anything done, you need connections.
There is no way that you can do anything through a legitimate kind of channel. And then all the best jobs are reserved for the Chinese. If there’s a guy in the education ministry and that teachers wanted, he is going to write to his cousin, maybe in a faraway province town, and get them to come up and take a look at the position, than hand it out to a local Tibetan.
So, in that sense, every kind of official job there is taken over by the Chinese. Now, there are a few kind of cosmetic positions that they need Tibetans for. And, most of these Tibetans are not even qualified for that. They really don’t have to work or go to the office or do anything; they just take their pay and during certain festivities and celebrations, they come out in the open and their pictures are taken.
And, another thing is the fact that for any kind of official position you need to be as good as a Chinese in the Chinese language. And, most Tibetans start off with a disadvantage right there.
Now, in Tibet, the number of university Tibetan students inside Tibet are far less than what we have in exile. In exile, you have one hundred thousand Tibetans we have more university going kids than in the whole of Tibet, among six million Tibetans, you have far less there. So, I mean, that alone tells you the whole story.
q: So, in summary….
a: Well, education and unemployment is just one thing. But, when you take another factor into account, there are psychological factors. All the time, even when you go to a school, you are privileged to go to a Chinese school, or a Tibetan school.
You are taught that Tibetan culture is nothing; it’s a barbaric culture. You are taught that your parents, your ancestors, are fools, superstitious idiots, people far less advanced than the Chinese. It creates a certain way of thinking and inferiority complex. People with chips on their shoulder. To a certain extent like maybe, Native Americans, the way these people think.
People don’t become alcoholics for– for the love of it. There are certain conditions where everything seems to be hopeless. And the only rosy thing in life is what you see in that bottle. Tibetans are coming to that, and I don’t want to say it in many ways because the official propaganda, even among Tibetan in exile, that the _… (inaudible) government is that things are improving, we can get along with the Chinese, and something wonderful is going to happen, it’s just around the corner.
I don’t see that at all. I see a broken people; broken by the cultural revolution; broken by what’s happening now.
Then, the answer sometimes is escape. Escape from Tibet. A lot of them do it. They cross some of the highest passes in the world. Just near Mount Everest there’s a pass called the.. … (inaudible) If you even take one look at the pass, it’s terrifying. These people are not climbing for the fun of it. Not saying it’s there so you can climb. These people are trying to get away from the Chinese communist.
When see that vast wasteland, all the ice and the snow and he … … (inaudible), it just sort of stuns you, there’s nothing you can do. But, people are doing it with no equipment, just wearing sneakers and wearing a light jackets, maybe a sweater. A lot of them die.
I ran a newspaper a couple of years ago, I was editor. And, one of my informants gave me photographs he had taken on one of the side of the pass. And there was this Tibetan there, dead, he had tried to cross. And his body was totally desiccated. It was like the body of this … … (inaudible) man they found in the Alps some time ago. I think they call him the “Ice Man” or whatever. And it’s just like that
This guy was there. His skin was just tight over his bones. He had this … … (inaudible) His eyes were big hollows. And he’s dead. There’s a lot of people trying this. Young children as young as 8 or 9. And a lot of them show up in _… (inaudible) in the end. They’ve got frostbite, some of them don’t have toes, some of them don’t have fingers. It’s all a big tragedy.
When you talk of cultural genocide in Tibet, we have to consider first that the way the Chinese go about it is not an unsophisticated and immediate one.
The Chinese have a very subtle approach to this, because of their long-standing relation with Tibet, over two or three thousand years of history is between us. And, the Chinese know how to deal with a lot of these things.
The way they work about it is in some ways very, very devious. For one, let’s say with the Tibetan language, the changes that they are introducing to it, even in the manner of tone. Because Tibetan tonally is very different from Chinese. It’s a different language altogether.
Radio Lhasa Television, — all these kind of official radio, television, broadcasting stations, and even movies–the kind of language that is used there is supposed to be Tibetan, but tonally it’s been devised so that it sounds no different from Chinese.
In Tibet that is the problem with language; it is not there to communicate. A lot of it is there to change the way people think about their own language and their culture, to make Chinese
Now, even in the terms of genocide right now let’s say mass killings of Tibetans are not going on as they did, in the 60’s and maybe in the 70’s. But, a lot of Tibetans regard this as a rest period. And even the most brutal killers cannot kill every day; people have to take a rest, Maybe, this is kind of a timer, the Chinese are relaxing, sort of storing up their energy for a next move. You never know what’s going to happen in Tibet.
Another thing that’s going on inside Tibet-. In the 70s when they first started the so-called liberalization policy, there was an idea that maybe the Tibetans might be allowed to practice their own culture, as long as they didn’t demand independence.
Now, that thinking has totally changed. The Chinese realize that any little opportunity given to Tibetans to demonstrate their kind of cultural differences from China, they use that as an opportunity to demand independence. And the Tibetans do it. So, the Chinese really are in a kind of situation where they have no alternative but to clamp down on the Tibetans.
Because if they give Tibetans religious freedom, Tibetans use that religious freedom to demonstrate their difference from China.
For instance, the Tibetans have this … … (inaudible) ceremony, where you take– where you burn sprigs of juniper. And when the smoke goes up in the air, Tibetans throw handfuls of barley to … … (inaudible) the Gods of Tibet. Now, that was considered okay by the Chinese sometime ago. But, then the Tibetans began to do that whenever the … … (inaudible) Lama made a big kind of– It was a success for him, let’s say, when he got the Nobel Peace Prize, he was received by Clinton in the White House. Tibetans began to celebrate that by doing this.
And, the Chinese realized actually that the whole religious and the political thing were intertwined, so they clamped down. That’s not allowed anymore.
Even in the case of, let’s say, diet, there’s a Tibetan pancake which is filled with meat and which is deep fried. That is called independence food and it’s not _… (inaudible). Because when Tibetans were thrown in jail during the demonstrations, all their families and neighbors they tried to take food into the prisons. And, they found the most convenient food was this pancake because it’s got protein and it’s got a lot of fat, because of the deep trying. And it’s got the dough. And it’s convenience. You can just take it, someone can eat it like you’re eating hamburger.
So, this was being sent to the jails and, it was called after awhile, it was called …which is independence food. And the Chinese banned this.
So, in these small ways, you build an overall totality where your whole culture and your life is banned by the Chinese. The way Tibetans express anything, if it’s perceived by the Chinese. And, in a way, it’s perceived correctly as demonstrating that we are different from the Chinese. We don’t to live under China; we want to have no part of China. We want our freedom.
q: Cultural genocide, what does it mean?
a: Well, as I said early, when the Dalai Lama talks of cultural genocide, essentially it means just what you said, the entire civilization of Tibet is being denied to its people, and it’s being destroyed. But, I think also, sometimes I wouldn’t know, because we talk of cultural genocide, but is it culture alone? Thousands and thousands of people are being thrown into jail. They are being beaten. You may have heard nuns being prodded with electric cattle prods, and their genitalia being– you know, like raped, what have you. And you’re given these long, dreadfully long prison sentences.
When you have this, you are creating a population– Because earlier, let’s say the fathers and the mothers, a lot of these people are going to jail right now, have also been to prison for over 19, 20 years before. You have a whole nation of people with prison backgrounds. Essentially, the idea is to break the spirit of the people. You may not kill all these people, but essentially you are making them into no persons.
There are a lot of Native Americans still alive in the United States, but they are not a viable force. Something has been done to them, whether intentionally or not. In the case of Tibet, it is being done very intentionally, it’s to break the spirit of the Tibetan people.
For me, I think it would be much better if the Chinese actually just lined up all the Tibetans, shot them there outright; it would be far more merciful. Then to make them into really sort of broken third rate people, who like 10, 20, 30, 40 years from now will just be someone who’s begging from tourists. Just bums, people with chips on their shoulder, the wrong attitude for life. Basically, these sort of people are being created, so–
Yes, far more than even cultural genocide, I think actual genocide is being practiced.
q: How does the West see Tibet?
a: I think, primarily the West sees Tibet, to some extent, as a fantasy land, as a Shangri La. Of course, this is a kind of stereotype that has existed in the Western kind of perception for a very long time, even before the movie “Lost Horizon,” the movie was made. Initially, the perception came from ideas of medieval Europe that they had of … … (inaudible), the Christian king who lived behind the mountains of Gog and Magog, and who would come maybe to make the whole of Asia a Christian country.
Because maybe people in medieval times heard of Tibet and a lot of liturgical practices in Tibet, religious rites and ceremonies, resembled the Roman Catholic ones.
q: Tibet is suddenly very chic in America. Why is that?
a: There’s a kind of New Age perception of Tibet, which is fed to some extent quite deliberately by propagandists for Tibet, many New Age type Buddhists, Tibetan Buddhists. And, also subscribed gradually by Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama and a lot of prominent Lamas. The idea that this even materialist west will be saved by the spiritualism of the Tibetan Buddhists. It’s total nonsense.
Tibetans are in no position to save anyone, least of all themselves in the first place.
But, this is the kind of idea that’s being subscribed by a lot of New Age type people. This is the problem that Tibetans face, because their issues and the tragedy of Tibet has not being taken seriously. Primarily, it’s very fuzzy; it’s sort of a feel good issue, rather than a stark, ugly reality.
You have the Palestinian problem. Now, whether you like the Palestinians–and I’m sure a lot people in the West don’t like them—- but you give them the respect that their condition is real.
A lot of people love Tibetans in the West, tremendous sympathy, but it’s a very fuzzy kind of sympathy, because it never touches on the reality. It doesn’t touch on the reality that the Tibetan people are disappearing, they’re being wiped out.
You look at even supportive friends of Tibet like Galen …. Have you seen his calendars? It just says everything is wonderful. Tibet is wonderful. The culture is wonderful. The land is wonderful. It does not touch on the tragedy that people are actually being wiped off the face of the earth and their culture is being wiped out. That is not touched; it’s considered in bad taste.
Interviews: jamyang norbu
q: What is the Chinese perception of Tibet?