With all of the recent media coverage of the Tibetan protests and the Olympic torch I figure that something has to be said about the reality of the Tibetan issue. Firstly let me say that the way that the Chinese have handled the Tibetan unrest is not appropriate, and that they have done an even worse job handling the public relations of this matter. Nevertheless Western, and particularly American, media have completely misportrayed the Tibetan issue and are seizing on the Tibetan protests as an opportunity for outrageous anti-Chinese propaganda.
The issue of Tibet is in fact very complicated, much more complicated than the vast majority of Americans realize.
What few Americans realize is that the current "Free Tibet" movement in rooted in Cold War anti-Commmnist campaigns launched by the CIA. When the Chinese liberated Tibet in 1950 American leaders immediately saw this as another example of the spreading of Communism that had to be stopped.
In fact, however, the overwhelming majority of Tibetans did view the Chinese occupation of Tibet as a liberation, and the majority of Tibetans fought on the side of the Chinese when they invaded. Even today the majority of Tibetans support Tibet being a part of China and favor Chinese rule over the rule of the Lamas.
The Tibetan uprising of 1959 that we hear so much about in American media was in fact a CIA operation that had little support from the local Tibetan population. The fleeing of the Dalai Lama and the setting up of the "government in exile" in India were all encouraged and aided by the CIA. The Dalai Lama was on the CIA payroll from the 1950s through the early 1970s, and during the 1950s and 1960s the CIA was funding the small Tibetan guerilla opposition movement.
So, the "Free Tibet" movement is, at its base, the remnants of an old Cold War CIA program intent on undermining the Chinese government. From all appearances it seems that the CIA did fully abandon this program in the 1970s and stopped all funding to Tibetan opposition groups, but by that time the movement had taken on a life of its own, similar to how Al-Queda took on a life of its own after the CIA had funded Bin Laden and other Jihadists during the Afghan war against the Soviets during the 1980s.
The reality about Tibet is that Tibet was ruled by a horrible and brutal regime, the regime of the Dalai Lama, prior to the Chinese liberation. The current Dalai Lama was very young at the time of the liberation and personally bore little of the responsibility for the Tibetan government, and he himself has become a moderate and reasonable person during his time outside of Tibet, but the Tibetan system prior to the Chinese occupation was essentially a Medieval kingdom where 90% to 95% of the population were slaves ruled by an extremely abusive and oppressive religious aristocracy. Even in 1950 just prior to the Chinese liberation there were no secular schools in Tibet, 95% of the population was illiterate, the average life expectancy was 35 years, there was no movement towards modernization, there was basically no medical care at all aside for the elite, women had no rights to even choose their own partners, much less to do anything else, all of the land was owned by less than 10% of the population, and people were taught from birth that the Dalai Lama was god, they had to worship him, and they their station in life was a part of the order of the universe and that they could do nothing to change their lot in life. If they were born peasant farmers they were taught that this was punishment for being a bad person in their past life and that they had to suffer punishment and abuse in this life as atonement for their past evils. They were taught from birth that the wealthy were being rewarded for being good in their past life and that opposition to them would only bring more punishment in the next life (as well as this one).
At this time the Tibetan rulers, the Lamas, were also cooperating with the Europeans in the exploitation of the Tibetan population, exporting goods to Europe for low prices on the backs of the Tibetan slaves.
This is what the Chinese liberated the Tibetan people from, and it is why the majority of Tibetans supported the Chinese invasion and continue to support the Chinese rule. However, you don't hear anything about this in the American media.
Not only this, but the charges against the Chinese by Tibetan exiles (mostly former members of the ruling cast or Tibetan who never lived in Tibet) are largely bogus. The Chinese government has put a lot of effort into trying to improve conditions in Tibet. Sure there are cultural conflicts, but these are blown out of proportion by Western media. More Tibetan can read and write in their native Tibetan language now than under the rule of the Lamas. There is in fact more religious freedom in Tibet now than under the rule of the Lamas. Buddhism has never been outlawed in Tibet, though the strongest elements of it were suppressed, but this was in fact a good thing. Tibetan Buddhism was the core of the oppressive feudal system in Tibet. What the Chinese did in Tibet was basically no different than what the Europeans did all over Europe, taking rights, power, and land away from the Catholic Church during the 17th and 18th centuries because the Church was part of an oppressive aristocracy. There was zero religious "freedom" in Tibet under the Lamas. What there was was religious tyranny, more like what currently exists in Saudi Arabia. Now Tibetans can actually learn about other religions and can adopt other religions, which they couldn't do in the past. In fact in the past most Tibetans couldn't even practice Buddhism the way that they do today. Now more Tibetans can practice Buddhism in a fuller way today than they could in the past, where learning about Buddhism was restricted to the elites, just like in past only Catholic priests were allowed to read the Bible but today everyone can.
More Tibetans own their own land now that any time in Tibetan history. Tibetans have far more rights and freedom under Chinese rule than they did under the rule of the Lamas.
The Chinese actually have many laws that are preferential to the Tibetans. They are spending more money to preserve the Tibetan language and to teach it to others than the United States spends on preserving all Native American languages combined. The so-called "one child policy" doesn't apply to the Tibetans, even though it does apply to the Han Chinese. The Chinese government spends far more on infrastructure and services in Tibet than it collects in taxes from the Tibetan region. The Chinese have spent enormous resources bringing electricity and roads to Tibet without charging the Tibetans a dime for it and the majority of Tibetans are overwhelmingly supportive of such efforts.
Yes there are conservatives and extremists who don't like the modernization taking place in Tibet, this is no different than what takes place anywhere. A perfect example is the FLDS polygamy sect in America that was just raided in Texas. Their first complaint was that the raids were a form of religious oppression by the government. There are always going to be complainers. The problem with the Western media is that it gives voice solely to these complainers and does nothing to look at the reality of the situation or to report fairly on the views of everyone in Tibet.
In addition, the Chinese also make things worse by simply responding with slogans and trying to suppress access to the dissenters. The Chinese actually are on the right side of this issue and have a lot that they can honestly point to as having gone out of their way to help the Tibetans, but the way they react only makes it look like they have something to hide. If the Chinese leadership would be more open and more honest they would get more people on their side.
But really the pattern of anti-Chinese sentiment in the American media and even among American leaders, largely among the Democrats actually, is outrageous.
For more on this see:
Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth
Tibet: who’s for feudalism?
Western media miss the real Tibet story
The unusual suspect
Risky Geopolitical Game: Washington Plays ‘Tibet Roulette’ with China