D’SHALA DIARY: Mr N Ram and fellow travellers
Tuesday, 31 July 2007, 11:12 a.m.
By Thubten Samphel
Mr N RAM has contributed three articles on Tibet. These are all sub-titled reality check. The first massive reality check on Tibet was done in The Frontline, the magazine he edits, in its 15 September 2000 issue. The latest two are seven years after when the Chinese authorities in Tibet hosted him and a group of Indian reporters to showcase the region’s economic development. The second piece is an op-ed in The Hindu, a respected daily in India. The third appeared in the 14-27 July 2007 issue of The Frontline.
Apart from the liberal and unsuspecting use of official Chinese information and the occasional quotes of top functionaries of the autonomous region, Mr. N. Ram has not interviewed even a single Tibetan regarding what he or she thinks about the benefits Mr. N. Ram asserts the Tibetans are enjoying. His failure to solicit the views of ordinary Tibetans and un-questioning acceptance of facts and figures officially served to him reduce Mr. N. Ram’s reality checks on Tibet to biases reinforced.
For sheer exuberance and imagination, Mr. N. Ram’s three articles are stunning. As one breezes through his latest article, one’s only regret is Mr. N. Ram’s inability to quit reporting to take up fiction as his profession. Reading his offering on his recent pilgrimage to Tibet, one gets the impression that instead Mr. N. Ram wants to be a psychologist. In psychoanalyzing Dharamsala’s main campaign themes, Mr. N. Ram says, “In psychology and psychoanalysis, reality testing is defined as the technique of objective evaluation of an emotion or thought against real life, as a faculty present in normal individuals ( that’s Mr. N. Ram ) but defective in some psychotics.’ Only in some? Anyway, that’s us, the psychotic Tibetan refugees.
Mr. N. Ram continues, “In case of China’s Tibet, the reality testing was not against what the protagonists and victims of the ‘independence for Tibet’ campaign felt or believed – in exercise of what is known as the ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€¹Ã…â€œego function’- but against the defining themes of the campaign.”
All this hot air is released for the simple reason that Mr. N. Ram, apart from regurgitating Chinese propaganda on Tibet, doesn’t really have anything new to say to his long-suffering readers.
Despite his best efforts to hoist himself as an authority on Tibet based on just two visits in 2000 and 2007 and his enthusiastic embrace and mastery of official Chinese statistics, Mr. N. Ram, because of his blatantly one-sided account of a complex issue, comes out as a fellow traveller. Starting with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and the emergence of the Soviet Union, in the 1930’s when Russia was going through one of its worse famines, a long line of Western writers, including Bernard Shaw and the British social reformers, Beatrice and Sidney Webb, made pilgrimages to the ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€¹Ã…â€œsocialist paradise.’
They came out gushing that they had seen the future and future was now and in the Soviet Union. Lenin called them “useful idiots.” They kept up the Soviet Union’s Potemkin Village image. Their future became history for the rest of the world when the Soviet Union imploded.
As for China’s own “useful idiots,” Mr. N. Ram is in distinguished company. He follows in the footsteps of the likes of Roma and Stuart Gelder, Anna Louise Strong, Israel Epstein, Felix Greene, Neville Maxwell and Han Suyin. In the early 1960’s, Roma and Stuart Gelder came out with Timely Rain, a report of their guided travels in Tibet during the period when the Tibetans were subjected to the worst excesses of communist rule, including the first famine in the country’s recorded history. Anna Liouse Strong’s book on Tibet, When the Serfs Stood Up, sang the same praises for communist rule when the supposed serfs of Tibet were forced to do anything but stand up. She denied the great famines both in Tibet and China. As for Israel Epstein, all his books were published in Beijing. His book Tibet Transformed, published by New World Press in Beijing in 1983, is a shoddy justification of Tibet’s economic development to excuse the Tibetan people’s suffering. Felix Greene, the cousin of the writer Graham Greene and author of Awakened China: The Country Americans Don’t Know, made a documentary film on Tibet that extolled the virtues of communist rule for the benighted Tibetans. If things were so good for Tibetans, he should have lived in Tibet instead of taking up station in sunny California. Neville Maxwell took up the Chinese argument in the 1962 war between India and China. His book is called India’s China War. Han Suyin, a friend of Natwar Singh, is the author of the famous book called Love Is A Many Splendoured Thing. Since then she specialized on writing on communist China. She developed a talent for justifying the policies and thinking of the people in power, including the Gang of Four, and the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. Deng Xiaoping assumed power after the death of Mao in 1976. He swept away the worst excesses of Mao’s China. With that went Han Suyin’s reputation as a China hand. Her book on Tibet is called Lhasa: An Open City at a time when the Tibetan capital could truly be considered the forbidden city.
The irrelevance of these writers today is because they wilfully ignored or simply did not know the human costs of political campaigns like the Cultural Revolution or those of social engineering like the Great Leap Forward. These campaigns resulted in the death of at least 30 million Chinese. Others put the figure as high as 70 million. The Tibetan toll is 1.2 million, which Mr. N.Ram calls “holocaust” and accuses the Dalai Lama of accusing China of.
In reality check, part three, Mr. N. Ram argues that living standards in Tibet have improved and predicts that within 25 years or earlier Tibet will “reach the status of a developed society.” He also argues that China is in firm control in Tibet and that Tibetan independence is a hopeless cause. Mr. N. Ram asserts that China will never accept the proposals in the Dalai Lama’s Middle-Way Approach of having the whole of Tibet under a single administration enjoying real autonomy. Mr. N. Ram says these demands “cannot be accommodated within the Chinese Constitution.” Mr. N. Ram also says there is no population transfer of Chinese settlers to Tibet. Mr. N. Ram calls this the Dalai Lama’s “false accusation” against China. To prove his point, he asks his readers to refer to official Chinese censuses and foreign observers and experts.
Regarding the Tibetan holocaust, as suggested, let us refer to official China. The Nationalities Commission of the People’s Republic of China published Forty Years Work On Nationalities. In this official document, the number of Tibetans from 1953 to 1964 fell from 2.78 to 2.5 million. The same document says the number of Mongolians rose by 400,000 to 1.97 million within the same period. Jasper Becker, in his book Hungry Ghosts: China’s Secret Famine, argues, “If the Tibetan population grew at a similar rate, from 1953, it might have peaked at 3.4 million in 1959. Since by 1964 the population had decreased to 2.5 million, this suggests that some 900,000 are missing.” And the statistics in the book by the Nationalities Commission do not cover the Tibetan population outside of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region. There are more Tibetans living outside of the autonomous region than within.
A part of the reduced number of Tibetans could be explained by the fact that about 87,000 Tibetans managed to follow His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1959 to exile. What happened to the rest?
The mystery is explained by the late 10th Panchen Lama at a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region on 28 March 1987. The Panchen Lama said, “In Qinghai, for example, there are between three to four thousand villages and towns, each having between three to four thousand families with four to five thousand people. From each town and village, about 800 to 1,000 people were imprisoned. This means almost half of the prison population perished. Last year (1986), we discovered that only handful of people had participated in the rebellion. Most of these people were completely innocent. In my 70,000-character petition, I mentioned that about five percent had been imprisoned. According to my information at the time, it was between 10 to 15 percent. But I did not have the courage to state such a figure. I would have died under thamzing (struggle session) if I had stated the real figure.”
The Panchen Lama’s 70,000-character petition presented to the Chinese leadership in 1962 is a blistering critique of the communist policies in Tibet. Professor Dawa Norbu wrote in his introduction to the book, A Poisoned Arrow: The Secret Report of the 10th Panchen Lama, “No Chinese (with the possible exception of Peng Dehuai), and certainly no other leader of the national minority, had dared to challenge the communist policies so fundamentally within the PRC since its founding in 1949, as did the Panchen Lama in 1962 and 1987.”
The Panchen Lama spent nine years and eight months in solitary confinement.
Mr. N. Ram vehemently denies that there is population transfer onto the Tibetan plateau. In the op-ed piece in The Hindu he states,”He (the Dalai Lama) has falsely accused China of rendering Tibetans, through state-sponsored policy of population transfer and Hanisation, into a ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€¹Ã…â€œminority’ in their own land. The plain truth, borne out by official censuses and easily verifiable by foreign observers and experts, is that Tibetans constitute more than 92 per cent of the Tibet Autonomous Region.”
Whether the increasing number of Chinese streaming into Tibet is state-sponsored is another matter. We will come to that later. The reality is that these censuses do not include the growing number of migrant Chinese workers and soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army and members of the People’s Armed Police stationed in Tibet. A random survey of the statistics released by the media of the autonomous region say that population of the region was 2.6 million in 2005. It grew to 2.7 million in 2006 and is now at 2.8 million. This increase of the population of the region by 100,000 every year is explained by Tibet TV. In its evening broadcast of 17 March 2007, the reporter of Tibet TV reporting live from Lhasa’s railway station said that the new railway line brings about 3,000 Chinese visitors, mainly workers, to the city. The reporter said out of this a little more than 1,000 take the train back . The autonomous region’s various media put the current total population of Lhasa at 300,000. Out of this only 100,000 are Tibetan.
As for Mr. N. Ram’s argument that the population transfer is not state-sponsored is disingenuous. This is exposed for what it is by the actions of the Chinese government. In 2000, the Chinese government wanted to move about 58,000 farmers from Gansu province to a place called Tulan in Amdo in north-eastern Tibet. China wanted a US$ 40 million loan from the World Bank to finance the project. In the face of stiff international protests, the World Bank withdrew from this project. China said it would finance the project on its own.
Mr. N. Ram says China will reject the proposal by His Holiness the Dalai Lama that the whole of Tibet come under a single administration. This proposal is not something new. This idea was first aired by a group of Khampa representatives in Beijing as far back as 1953. It was again raised by Tibetan representatives at the Qingdao conference in July 1957 when the minority nationality delegates to the National People’s Congress and those attending the Political Consultative Conference met.
In 1956, Chen Yi, the Chinese foreign minister and vice-premier, visited Lhasa. In his memoir, A Tibetan Revolutionary by Melvyn Goldstein, Baba Phuntso Wangye, who accompanied the foreign minister as his interpreter, recounts, “At a meeting of the Tibet Work Committee, Chen Yi pointed to a map and said that in future it would be good if Lhasa became the center of a Tibet Autonomous Region that included all the ethnic Tibetan areas, including those now in other provinces. This would be good for the friendship of Chinese and Tibetans, and it would also be good for Tibet’s development.”
If the Chinese leaders were sanguine about this idea then, why can’t they be now? If they have the political will, the Chinese authorities can change Tibet’s borders. They did it in the 1970’s when they detached Ngari, the region bordering Ladakh and where Mount Kailash is situated, from Tibet and added it to Xinjiang. Later, the authorities, for reasons best known to them, gave it back to Tibet. The Chinese leaders made no mention of lack of constitutional provisions for this re-adjustment of borders here in Tibet and elsewhere in China.
Tibetans in Tibet recommend that China should positively consider these proposals. Shortly before his death, the Panchen Lama at the consecration of the stupas of his predecessors at his monastery of Tashi Lhunpo in Shigatse, Tibet’s second biggest town, said on 17 January 1989, “According to tradition, the major issues relating to Tibet concern both the Victorious Father and Son. That is to say, it is necessary for both the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Erdeni to confer… I alone cannot make a decision.”
These same sentiments are echoed by Phuntso Wanyge. He led the advance force of the People’s Liberation Army into Tibet in 1951 and interpreted between the Dalai Lama and Mao when the Tibetan leader visited China in 1954. In a letter he wrote to the secretariat of the State Council, the Chinese cabinet, on 5 July this year and reported by Reuters on 17 July, the veteran Tibetan communist said that the majority of the Tibetans in Tibet want the Dalai Lama’s return. He said the Dalai Lama’s un-diminished influence in Tibet is reflected by the fact that thousands of Tibetans risked death to cross the Himalayas to seek his blessing.
These views are shared by Chinese themselves. A growing number of Chinese scholars in and outside China in their writings are urging Beijing to seriously consider the Dalai Lama’s Middle-Way Approach. They argue that this approach is the best way for the Chinese leadership to prevent Tibet slipping away from China. As China continues to reap the benefits from its dazzling economic development, the leadership must accommodate the views of these citizens if President Hu Jintao’s harmonious society based on ethnic equality and social justice is to be realized.