Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Permit me to dissent from the Dalai Lama Hoopla

Here's a bit of corrective to some of the recent hoopla over the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama leaving Tibet, for example, here.


No mere spiritual leader, he was the head of Tibet's government when he went into exile in 1959. It was a state apparatus run by aristocratic, nepotistic monks that collected taxes, jailed and tortured dissenters and engaged in all the usual political intrigues. (The Dalai Lama's own father was almost certainly murdered in 1946, the consequence of a coup plot.)

The government set up in exile in India and, at least until the 1970s, received $US1.7 million a year from the CIA.

The money was to pay for guerilla operations against the Chinese, notwithstanding the Dalai Lama's public stance in support of non-violence, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

The Dalai Lama himself was on the CIA's payroll from the late 1950s until 1974, reportedly receiving $US15,000 a month ($US180,000 a year).

The funds were paid to him personally, but he used all or most of them for Tibetan government-in-exile activities, principally to fund offices in New York and Geneva, and to lobby internationally.

Details of the government-in-exile's funding today are far from clear. Structurally, it comprises seven departments and several other special offices. There have also been charitable trusts, a publishing company, hotels in India and Nepal, and a handicrafts distribution company in the US and in Australia, all grouped under the government-in-exile's Department of Finance...

It is not clear how donations enter [the exile government in Tibet's] budgeting. These are likely to run to many millions annually, but the Dalai Lama's Department of Finance provided no explicit acknowledgment of them or of their sources.

Certainly, there are plenty of rumours among expatriate Tibetans of endemic corruption and misuse of monies collected in the name of the Dalai Lama.

Many donations are channelled through the New York-based Tibet Fund, set up in 1981 by Tibetan refugees and US citizens. It has grown into a multimillion-dollar organisation that disburses $US3 million each year to its various programs.

Part of its funding comes from the US State Department's Bureau for Refugee Programs.

Like many Asian politicians, the Dalai Lama has been remarkably nepotistic, appointing members of his family to many positions of prominence. In recent years, three of the six members of the Kashag, or cabinet, the highest executive branch of the Tibetan government-in-exile, have been close relatives of the Dalai Lama.

An older brother served as chairman of the Kashag and as the minister of security. He also headed the CIA-backed Tibetan contra movement in the 1960s.

A sister-in-law served as head of the government-in-exile's planning council and its Department of Health.

A younger sister served as health and education minister and her husband served as head of the government-in-exile's Department of Information and International Relations.

Oh, here's something the Dalai Lama doesn't exactly talk much about...

BEIJING -- Chinese geologists have discovered more than 600 new sites of copper, iron, lead and zinc ore deposits on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau since 1999, according to the results of the latest geological survey.

Preliminary estimates show the plateau has reserves of 30 million to 40 million tons of copper, 40 million tons of lead and zinc and billions of tons of iron, said Zhang Hongtao, vice director of the China Geological Survey Bureau.

Zhang said geologists have also compiled the country's first Qinghai-Tibet plateau geological map on the scale of 1:250,000 and the plateau's first map of metal and nonmetal deposits on the scale of 1:1.5 million.

Currently 90 percent of China's iron ore deposits are of low grade but geologists have discovered three large high-grade iron ore deposits on the plateau, including the one in Nyixung with reserves of 300 million to 500 million tons.

Large quantities of oil shale resources, which could be turned into oil, were also found on the plateau.

The plateau may have "large or super-large" deposits of hydrocarbon resources, said Zhang, adding that geologists had detected promising reserves of oil and gas in northern Tibet.

"These deposits will fundamentally ease China's shortages of mineral resources", said Zhang.

Oh, one more thing:

Here's some context as to how the Chinese no doubt think of the whole Dalai Lama thing. Admittedly, it's an American history source, but still...

Call it the Shangri-La factor. In the popular imagination, pre-Communist Tibet was a fabled theocracy in which a beatific Dalai Lama smiled over a kingdom where no man raised a hand in violence as he spun his prayer wheel in search of nirvana. Then along came the Communist Chinese, who made short work of these placid people. Fifty years after the Chinese takeover of Tibet, the myth still persists and has even grown, thanks to the media and the increased interest of Westerners in Buddhism.

But contrary to the pop history version, the Tibetans did not simply let the Chinese roll over their country in 1951. For almost 20 years afterward they fought a long, bloody war of resistance that struck serious blows to Chairman Mao Tse-tung’s expansionist plans. Invisible to outsiders as it raged, this largely unknown struggle that no novelist could have dreamed up got support from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, which sponsored secret training camps and made arms and equipment drops to aid horse-mounted herdsmen against the bombers and artillery of the largest standing army on the planet.

By way of background, the story begins in the fall of 1951, when the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) marched into the ancient Tibetan capital at Lhasa, after forcing the Dalai Lama’s religious government to sign a ‘Plan for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet.’ This thin fiction of an agreement was somewhat maintained in Lhasa, but in the outlying regions the Chinese occupation involved forced collectivization and the killing of tribal chiefs and lamas.

At that time influential Tibetan traders began to mobilize in a resistance movement that would later become Chushi Gandrug (Four Rivers, Six Mountains). Chushi Gandrug’s organizer was a hard-fighting, hard-drinking 51-year-old trader named Gompo Tashi Andrugtsang. Uncoordinated and poorly armed as they were, Tibetans conducted a series of surprisingly successful raids and battles.

A widespread popular revolt finally broke out in February 1956, after the Chinese bombed ancient monasteries at Chatreng and Litang, killing thousands of monks and civilians massed there for protection. Given the growing military might of Tibet’s occupiers, Gompo Tashi and the meagerly equipped Chushi Gandrug knew they were going to need outside support. Consequently, the Dalai Lama’s elder brother, Gyalo Thondup, who had already been approached by the CIA, contacted the Americans. The Americans, he found, were quite intrigued with the prospect of supporting the Tibetans as part of a global anti-Communist campaign. If nothing else, their resistance would be one more way to create a ‘running sore for the reds,’ as one CIA man put it, even though at the top levels of the U.S. administration there was no pretense of commitment to Tibetan independence. Gompo Tashi’s guerrillas were excited at the prospect of American support. They knew little about the United States, but judging from the Communist propaganda they received, this faraway country was China’s greatest enemy.

The Chinese no doubt saw this movement headed by the Dalai Lama as an attempt to destabilize their government.

I could go on, but there's clearly more than what some folks think is going on.

I'm all for nonviolence as is the next guy, but there simply is no parallel for this in the US, unless maybe you think Leonard Peltier qualifies, and there ain't no way he's being let out of prison anytime soon, I'd guess. Maybe at the end of Obama's second term.

But I would invite other Buddhists, especially bloggers, to consider that the Dalai Lama's image, like any other political figure, is crafted and packaged, and does not necessarily conform to the historical reality. The Dalai Lama was, and no doubt in the in eyes of the Chinese, still is a leader of a violent rebellion, one which goes to attack very heart of the official dogma on which the legitimacy of the People's Republic of China rests: i.e., that all the people are the source of the legitimacy off the government regardless of their nationality.

As with the prevalence of racism in the US, the situation in China in this regard has historically been problematic, no doubt. But the Dalai Lama as democrat, advocate of freedom, truth, justice, etc. is not the historical truth, it's historical revisionism. And his cause, certainly to the Chinese, has less to do with this or "preservation of Tibetan culture" (even with the baggage on race that goes with that) than other aims which might have more material concerns behind them.

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