Why is it that the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people, does not live in Tibet? Many people are aware that the Dalai Lama lives in exile and that he has done so for 51 years, but surprisingly few in Taiwan are familiar with the story of why he was forced to flee 51 years ago.
Recently, a Chinese-language version of the Dalai Lama’s autobiography My Land and My People was published in Taiwan and it is an absolute must for anyone curious about that time in history. More importantly, the book also provides many lessons for Taiwan today as it faces the formidable challenge of rapprochement with China.
What happened in Tibet half a century ago? Why did the country not enjoy peace after signing a “peace agreement” with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), a document that is better known as the Seventeen-Point Agreement, in 1951?
Why did Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, later erupt into mass riots and why was the Dalai Lama forced to flee his homeland?
The Seventeen-Point Agreement not only failed to facilitate a sustainable peace, it resulted in exile for many, with more than 100,000 people losing their homes and thousands more their lives.
In My Land and My People, the Dalai Lama says that when he accepted an invitation from India to take part in the 2,500th Buddha birthday celebrations in 1956, he did not want to return to Tibet.
However, then-Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru persuaded the first premier of the People’s Republic of China, Zhou Enlai (周恩來), to personally guarantee that the CCP would not enforce its “reforms” on the Tibetan people.
That was the reason the Dalai Lama was willing to return to home.
However, after only a few years, the situation deteriorated so badly that he had no choice but to flee for India.
If we look at more recent history, in 1979, when paramount leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) said that everything other than independence was open for discussion, the Dalai Lama decided to start negotiations with the CCP for the welfare of his 6 million countrymen in Tibet.
To that end he asked for a high degree of autonomy and gave up on ever gaining independence.
However, in 30 years of China-Tibetan talks, little of substance has been achieved and the CCP still accuses the Dalai Lama of being a separatist.
The CCP has also not wasted time, seizing more and more land in Tibet, encouraging “Han” Chinese immigration and promoting large-scale sinification.
Today there are more “Han” Chinese residents in Lhasa than Tibetans and Tibet is becoming a second Mongolia, where not even 20 percent of the population is Mongolian.
Tibet’s experience in negotiating with the CCP has been a bloody one and this is an experience that Taiwanese must not forget in their own dealings with China.
Some people in Taiwan propose signing a “peace agreement” with China, but with no war between the two countries, why do we need to sign a peace agreement?
If there is a war, how is it that the governments of Taiwan and China continue to exchange friendly words with one another?
The lessons of history are there to be learned: A “peace agreement” with China failed to save the Tibetan people and that is something the Taiwanese public needs to think about long and hard.
Chow Mei-li is chairperson of the Taiwan Friends of Tibet.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON
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