1950s >> 1959 >> no-657-may-1959

Turmoil in Tibet

The rebellion in Tibet, its draconian suppression, and the escape of the Dalai Lama, have exploded like a star-shell to illuminate a world in the Iron Curtain’s dark shadow. Events in Tibet have been compared with the recent suppression in Hungary and while there is a resemblance, both revolts and the backgrounds have been reported everywhere befogged with misunderstanding or misrepresentation by people who do not seem to have a clue as to what the factors are that make society tick.A Britisher says his piece
Mr. Hugh Richardson, the last British representative as Officer-in-Charge of the British Mission in Lhasa from 1947-1950 writing in The Observer, 5th April, 1959, gave a sincere, emotional, but woolly-headed review of the happenings and the historical background there. He said that the benefits of science conferred by the Chinese were illusory to the Tibetans when compared with the freedom to retain their old customs. He also naively berated Mr. Nehru for the part he played, “There is still no word from him of condemnation of the use of force beyond anything that an internal affair could warrant. Is such circumspection necessary or honourable?” He also makes out a case against the Chinese invasion on grounds of pure illegality.

Because Tibet has been off the beaten track of world trade, surrounded by land and without any ports conveniently available, she has been left severely alone by the great Capitalist groupings of the world whose main basis of transport is the steamship. Trade with Tibet had to be carried on with the aid of caravans for moving the merchandise, and this obsolete method renders out of the question cash crops and mining ventures, two of the great standbys of this profit-making age.

But there is a certain amount of trade with the contiguous countries, and this is to a large extent in the hands of the Tibetan nobles who, unlike the British aristocrats of last century, do not consider indulging in trade to be beneath them.

Tibet entered the Twentieth Century committed by the leanings of its ruling theocracy towards isolationism, and straining to get rid of its vassalage to Peking. The nobles wish to keep all of the profits of exploitation. The Tibetan ruling class is closely supported by the princes of the Buddhist church, who co-operate to preserve a subject-class docile, and amenable to the demands of their masters. Marx was by no means the first to realise that religion is the opiate of the people! Both British and Russian governments at that time had ambitions which extended to Tibet. But Prime Minister Arthur J. Balfour stated the British case simply, “It would be a serious misfortune to the Indian Government and a danger to our northern frontier, should Tibet fall under any European influence other than our own ” (Eastern World, December, 1956).

Tibet, a weak country, was but a pawn in the game of power politics then, as in the present fracas.

Would the Chinese Nationalists act the same ?
Chiang Kai-shek, the discredited Nationalist from his retreat in Formosa, criticised the Chinese government for their part in the affair and promised the Tibetans his support. He also proposed to organise an airlift, but the Tibetans, though they have not studied the Bible, probably know better than to lean upon a broken reed. Both the “Communist” and the Nationalist governments of China act on behalf of Chinese Capitalism. The “Communist” government of China has taken over from the Nationalists the map of China showing Tibet as being included within the country’s boundaries.

But the tongue-in-cheek protestations of Chiang Kai-shek ring hollow to those who remember his activities in 1950, when the Chinese “liberated” Tibet. Lhasa’s appeal of November 7th, 1950, to the United Nations for help against “the armed invasion of Tibet for the incorporation of Tibet within the fold of Chinese Communism, was presented in the United Nations, as a resolution by El Salvador. The Chiang Kai-shek delegate from Formosa opposed entering the item on the agenda on the challengeable grounds that Tibet had been part of China for 700 years.” In fact, as hollow as the sympathy for Tibet expressed by the press both here and in America. Chiang Kai-shek was allowed to have his way: neither Britain nor the United States rose to make an issue of the Tibetan nobles’ right to self-determination, i.e., the right of the Tibet ruling-class to exploit the subjugated and keep the loot all to themselves. Apparent good intentions on the part of ruling-classes, when probed in the light of Socialist knowledge, so frequently appear as having economic motives. Whenever principles conflict with self-interests it seems as though it is always the principles that are jettisoned. The right to self-determination becomes the right to exploit: a rose by another name! The Tibetan government, standing alone, was forced in May, 1951, to submit to “Peaceful Liberation,” otherwise known as invasion and subjugation.

“Liberations”
The “liberation” of Tibet by the so-called Communist government of China in 1950-1 was by no means the first time that the country has seen invaders. The first Gurkha invasion from the south was in 1788, but in 1792 the Chinese government despatched an army of both Tibetans and Chinese under Chinese leadership and in the arctic cold of winter forced the Gurkhas to retire. The Chinese closed the frontier, but in 1841 an invading force from Kashmir were almost exterminated by the Tibetans. A Gurkha invasion of 1855 opened the country up to trade with the Indian sub-continent which was then governed by the British.

But Tibet, long regarded romantically by Europeans as the Land of the Lamas, is of strategic importance in the virtually New World that is Asia, and the country can be compared there much in the same way as control of the Middle East is regarded as vital by Western interests. Fairly recent events surely underline the truth of this contention. But Tibet no longer acts as a buffer zone; instead, it constitutes a forward area for Chinese penetration into South Asia.

 

Missiles from the Roof of the World
The Chinese are constructing airfields in Tibet. The Tibetan plateau of 12,000 foot altitude provides, in this age of jet bombers, an air base unique in the world. Calcutta is only about 550 miles from Lhasa. According to a report in the Eastern World, December, 1956, north of Tibet, through Kansu and Sinkiang, work is progressing on the Lanchow-Urumchi Railway, scheduled for completion (with a link to the Soviet Turk-Siberian Railway) in 1960. In August, 1956, Georgi Pokrovsky, a Soviet natural scientist, in a magazine article, proposed the construction of a Trans-Hymalayan railway running from the Soviet Union across Sinkiang to Kashmir and on to Delhi, thus connecting the Soviet Union, China and India by rail.

 

Those are all tremendous undertakings, and some of them are only projects for the future. But it is to the future that Peking and Moscow are looking, and the blueprints fit together. And in that context Tibet is being developed as a base from which China would be enabled to manoeuvre. For land power, not sea power, dominates Asia. Tibet thus becomes a factor in world strategy.

 

China and Tibet
Most of the 4,500,000 Tibetans actually live within the confines of China in the areas bordering on Tibet. Only about 1,000,000 live in Tibet proper, under political allegiance to Lhasa. Their social classification is roughly: 50,000 nobles and merchants, 150,000 monks, 800,000 serfs. About one-seventh of the population is in the monastaries—more than one man in four. Those who are not in the church have mostly swallowed the religious bait, hook, line and sinker, and live in subjection to the nobles. They live, imprisoned by the ties of their religious convictions.

 

A Reuters report published in the Far Eastern Review (November 1952) on developments in Tibet describes how the Chinese, using the Tibetan ruling-class governmental control of the population, are developing the country. As a reprisal for the Chinese occupation, the U.S.A., who are the main buyers of the wool crop (the chief item of export to the outside world), stopped purchases, in conformity with their policy of no trade with Communist countries. This brought about a minor crisis among the Tibet traders, but the Chinese met it by buying about 4 million pounds of wool for the China home market. While the Tibetan ruling-class co-operate with the Chinese government and the latter rally to their aid in time of trouble, it is only those who believe the State Capitalism of China is really Communism, that would consider these two groups to be other than two of a kind.

 

Industrialisation goes on apace

 

  Many factories, including an automatic repair plant, an iron works, bricks and tiles plants, saw mills, and a chemical plant, are now in operation. Hydro-electric or steam power stations have been built in Lhasa, Shigatse and Chamdo. Many Tibetan homes which once used yak-butter lamps or had no illumination at night at all, are today using electric light. Over 4,000 miles of motor roads have been constructed and many bridges built; some of them are remarkable feats of engineering skill. These roads link up all the major cities and towns and the principal agricultural, pastoral and handicraft areas which seven years ago were solely dependent on yak, horse and donkey caravans for the transportation of goods. They also connect Tibet with Chinghai, Sinkiang. Szechwan and other parts of China. A passenger air service is now running between Lhasa and Peking. Several airfields have been constructed both for civil and military aviation. Many towns and settlements have sprung up along the newly built highways. Nagchuka, a point along the Chinghai-Tibet highway where there were only a few cottages and tents before, today has become a town with banking, postal and telegraph, trading and health services. A free primary school has also been opened. New dwellings in great numbers have been added in Lhasa, Shigatse, Chamdo and Gynagtse. Industrial activities have given Lhasa a modern look. Its uninhabited northern outskirts are now dotted with factories and living quarters.
More than 500 species of farm crops and vegetables have been successfully cultivated by the three agricultural experimental farms located on the high Tibetan plateau. Corn has been grown in Shigatse, nearly 12,000 feet above the sea level. Tibetans are being helped by Chinese workers to develop agriculture and livestock breeding. There are now about 80 primary schools attended by more than 6,000 pupils. Last year the first secondary school was opened. Students are given free board, clothing and books. During their study period they get pocket money. There are now three well-equipped general hospitals and several smaller hospitals and clinics in Tibet. About 4.000 Tibetans are now studying in higher institutions in Peking and other cities of China. More Tibetans are being trained locally and in China as doctors, nurses, teachers, radio-operators, tractor drivers and skilled workers.
The China-geared economic revolution is gradually creating a new social consciousness. Radio, newspapers and cinema are gradually breaking the long-standing barrier of backwardness.

 

But it must not be thought that China is acting from purely altruistic motives. Tibet is rich in a range of minerals, including uranium—the raw material of atomic power and atomic bombs—according to Chinese surveys.

 

  China is doing a very commendable job in improving the economic conditions of Tibet. Industries are being developed, agricultural reorganisation is being carried out, the transportation and communication system is being rapidly extended, illiteracy is being removed and health improved, and, above all, mineral surveys are being conducted to utilise vast untapped resources. So far the surveys have revealed that there are more than 30 kinds of mineral resources of industrial value in Tibet. Besides precious metals, coal and iron, Tibet is said to be rich in uranium. There is no doubt that preliminary exploitation of Tibetan mineral resources will be undertaken before 1962. When the envisaged industrial revolution takes place Tibet will become an important economic unit of China. Already it has been established that about two-thirds of the northern Tibetan plateau is very good cattle grazing ground. Hence plans are afoot to make the area China’s major livestock breeding zone in the future. Specially picked Chinese families are being settled in Tibet to help the projected industrialisation of the region and to render smooth the Sino-Tibetan racial unification. The region therefore has become a reservoir for Chinese settlers. Tibet, which has an area of about 12.3 per cent, of that of China, has a total population of only about 1,200,000.

Eastern World, August, 1958.

 

Chinese in Mongolia—a foretaste of happenings in Tibet
Mongolia bordering China in the north has already experienced a full-dress rehearsal of what is now taking place in Tibet. The former country, also remote, with a lama dominated population, has already had a taste of “liberation,” Chinese style. Mongolia, a vast country dominated by its cattle baron aristocracy, who look askance at the teeming Chinese settlers. As in Tibet, some are engaged in mining. The coal deposits there, for instance, are estimated at 2,000 million tons. Chinese agriculturalists are swarming in, turning the ancient open pasture lands into farms. Mass trials of Mongolians and killing off the disaffected have been the order of the day, and make a mockery of Article 72 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China dealing with the protection of minorities.

 

In Mongolia as in Tibet when economic motives beckon, all other considerations have to give way, and the Chinese government behave like any old-time colonial power, except that they falsely act in the name of Communism.

 

Who are the transgressors in Tibet ?
The Chinese authorities, probably feeling more secure in their grip of Tibet, and therefore more independent of the services of the Tibetan ruling-clique, had begun clamping on taxes, especially on the monasteries, which have tremendous influence, and had never before been taxed. The Tibetan court, steeped in traditional ways of thought, probably found that a conversion of their feudal economy, almost overnight, into a colonial appendage of a Capitalist power, was a bit too much to stomach, and that they could no longer co-operate, and so they went whilst they still had the chance to get away.

 

The Dalai Lama and his retinue has been reported as having crossed the Indian frontier, no doubt with heavy hearts, but also with a caravan loaded with gold and jewels. Moreover, it appears that the contents of his palace, reported as having been looted, are insured in India for a vast sum. The Indian government are considering whether they will allow him to build a palace there. Whilst the Dalai Lama may feel miserable he will, apparently, at least be able to be miserable in comfort.

 

But what is the lot of those who have been left behind: Newspapers report that practically all the young able-bodied men in Lhasa have been separated from their families and driven off by the Chinese apparently to forced labour camps. The Chinese appear to be trying to close the frontier, when, liquidation, a euphemism for extermination, will become the order of the day. The sum total of human suffering there mounts up. Once again, there is a resemblance between the fairly recent events in Hungary, in the plight of the refugees, who, for the moment, are fleeing across the frontiers. Once again, there is a break-up of families and the horror of both young and old at being uprooted and driven out, but this is an almost continuous process in a class-dominated society. The Tibetan refugees now join the grim procession: before them the Dutch from Indonesia, the Hungarians, the 900,000 Arab refugees in the Middle East, the Muslims who fled from India, the Hindus from Pakistan and the continuous stream from East Germany. This column of spectres will go on, it seems, while Capitalism lasts.

 

The trouble in Tibet is a revolt of the feudal rulers against the imposed rule of State-Capitalist China—these are the transgressors in Tibet. Whichever side wins, the underprivileged on either side will still continue to be exploited, even though serfs become wage-slaves. Tibet compares with Hungary in that, once again, it is a quarrel between ruling-cliques and is not worth the shedding of one drop of workers’ blood on either side.

 

Frank Offord