I’m sure most people are at least partially aware that something big is happening in Tibet right now. I know it gets some coverage on the major online news carriers, though if you want more in-depth information you might check out Phayul. The articles there will give you an appreciation of how things are actually playing out at the moment, rather than the major news articles which tend to lack details.
I was also in contact with a few friends when the uprising first started and so was able to get some information from them, though I haven’t heard anything for a few days now, which is ominous.
First, a brief history is probably in order - you can always search online for more details. March 10th is known as Tibetan Uprising Day. The year was 1959 - 8 years after delegates of the Dalai Lama were forced to sign the 17-point agreement with China, and 9 or 10 years since the Peoples Liberation Army of China had invaded Tibet to ‘liberate’ them. From whom is a gray area, since the Tibetans were living peacefully at the time.
Anyway, the 24-year-old Dalai Lama was invited to a Chinese army camp in Lhasa for a theatrical performance, but was told that he would not be allowed to bring his retinue of bodyguards. He was also asked to leave the Norbulingka (his summer palace) covertly. At that time the Dalai Lama wasn’t in the public eye as much as he’s forced to be today, so anytime he left the palace was a big event - there were throngs of worshipers lining the road. The pointed requests from the Chinese army weren’t very good at hiding their true intentions (no different to today) - they planned on doing harm, and didn’t want any witnesses (no different to today).
Hundreds of thousands of Tibetans happened to be in the capital at the time - displaced from the fighting in eastern Tibet, but also to celebrate Losar, or Tibetan New Years. When word broke of the Chinese request, over 100000 (some say as many as 300000) Tibetans formed a human barricade around the Norbulingka, to protect their young spiritual leader from kidnap - or worse. The Dalai Lama was forced to decline the invitation made by the Chinese army.
Over the years many had asked the Dalai Lama to flee Lhasa so that he would be safe. He’d always declined, believing that his place was there with those who looked to him for guidance. All that changed on March 17, 1959, when the Chinese lobbed mortars at his palace. It was decided that he would leave that night, disguised in an army uniform and carrying a gun over his shoulder. He was on his way to India.
Meanwhile, back in Lhasa over the next couple of days, carnage ensued. Tens of thousands of ill-equipped Tibetans were slaughtered by the Chinese army.
Since Chinese occupation - or ‘liberation’, depending on your view of history - the accepted numbers are roughly 1.2 million Tibetans killed, and 6000 monasteries destroyed. There are numerous online accounts of the atrocities, so I’ll spare you the gory details.
There have been a few uprisings over the past 49 years, and they generally occur around this time of year. The last major uprising in Lhasa was back in March of 1989. There was no help from the rest of the world, the Chinese army came down hard on the protesters, and there were rules implemented that Tibet is still trying to recover from. They lost even more of their freedom, and were denied the rights to celebrate certain religious festivals from that day forward. With everyone watching China this year because of the upcoming Olympics, the Tibetans believed it was once again time to bring their plight to the eyes of the world.
Having spent a lot of time in China and Tibet, I know how the ‘game’ is played by the Chinese. I know what they say, but then I also know what they do, and the two rarely correlate. I’ve had first-hand experience at their baiting techniques - trying to get me to say something incriminating, and I’ve talked to friends who have suffered more severely at their hands. I’ve watched them orchestrate grand charades - a visit by the Chinese Panchen Lama, and China forcing Tibetans to attend and celebrate a 40-year ‘anniversary’ in their honor spring to mind. Therefore, I have no illusions about what is currently happening, and can see through the official doctrine being spouted.
Some of what is happening right now:
- Incoming foreigners are being turned back at the airport
- Foreigners already in Lhasa are being ‘encouraged’, or forced, to leave
- Foreigners are being forcibly moved from hotels and guesthouses in the Tibetan quarter to other areas of the city
- Those hotels are often without electricity, even when surrounding buildings have electricity, such that foreigners can’t send e-mails - no communication with the outside world
- SIM cards are being removed from phones so photos can’t be taken
- Curfews are in place
- A group of Hong Kong reporters were just ‘escorted’ out of Lhasa - taken to the airport, where they were bought one-way tickets to Chengdu
Why would all these measures, and more, be implemented? To eliminate witnesses. There have already been a few chilling comments by Tibetans in news articles….”Most alarming is the fact that we haven’t seen any foreigners or foreign reporters on the streets in the last few days”. They know what that means, and it’s not good news for the Tibetan people.
Even though the Chinese imposed deadline for turning yourself in if you’re a Tibetan who participated in the recent uprising was just midnight last night, it’s said that the door-to-door beatings and arrests began a few days ago.
I read a quote by a Chinese official that news reports were false, that they hadn’t used any lethal weapons to control the protesters. Of course, it’s hard to maintain that rhetoric when photos are circulating of at least 8 people who were shot and killed in Gansu Province. You can see the photos on the aforementioned Phayul site. If those aren’t bullet holes, I don’t know what they are.
That is what has always frustrated me the most with China. Officials will say the most idiotic things - things that any sane person sees through immediately, and yet they’ll stand up there and swear that what they’re telling you is true. Or that they’re really doing something with the best of intentions. I’m sure today they’d tell you they’re moving foreigners out of the Tibetan area of Lhasa for their own protection. It has nothing to do with the fact they’re about to go in and wreak havoc….honest.
It’s one thing for the local populace to believe the rhetoric - they’ve been raised to not question, but for the rest of the world to fall in line is maddening. Everyone sees through the lies - knows what’s happening, and chooses to turn a blind eye. China is allowed to do as it pleases for one simple fact - there are 1.2 billion potential consumers waiting to snap up western goods and services. There’s money to be made, and that’s always the bottom line. If there’s nothing in it for us - land to be won, oil to amass, glory to be had, we want nothing to do with it. Look at the uprising by the monks in Burma/Myanmar last year - what came out of that? Nothing. They put their lives on the line to stand up to an oppressive regime in the hope that the rest of the world would stand beside them and help them in their struggle. And we ignored them.
Tibet is currently making that same cry for help. What will we do…….