One of our readers, JL wrote this in an earlier thread:
So Tibet is very similar to the European colonies. Researching this is my day job so I can provide you more references if you want. And I’m disappointed that you would deny it because you think “its dangerous” to do so. I thought you were interested objective reality?
My point here is not that Tibet should be independent, or even that it should be more autonomous: after all the Maori now have very little autonomy in New Zealand. But I would have liked to have seen some honesty regarding Tibetan history from Chinese netizens. Happily, there are Chinese scholars who are more honest about Tibet’s colonial past and present though. I suggest you check out 王力雄, a Beijing based researcher, whose work presents Tibetan history from a fairly neutral perspective.
Your “suggestion” that we read Wang Lixiong’s works is not only patronizing, but also misguided. I’ll respond to this below.
Many, many Chinese netizens have by now read every word ever written by Wang Lixiong. (And I regularly read and post to his wife Woeser’s blog.) I can’t claim to be an expert in his writings (especially since its probably been 5 years since I read his original writings on Tibet), but even my superficial memory tells me you’re completely misinterpreting his “fairly neutral perspective” on history when you claim that “Tibet is very similar to the European colonies”, especially vis-a-vis New Zealand or other foreign lands claimed by the British Empire.
I’ll translate this part of Wang Lixiong’s writing, speaking specifically of European colonialism and how Tibet + China fits into the picture:
— translation begins —
It can be argued that one of the unique symbols of humanity’s modern history is the rise of the West. During the 200 year period of the 18th and 19th centuries, the West was an unstoppable force that went out in the world and expanded, conquered, and colonized, breaking open every sealed society in Asia (including China and Tibet). All those who opposed were taken down in defeat, and the West went from victory to victory. By the 20th century, all of humanity had basically been absorbed into a global society led by the Western civilizations.
It’s not a surprise of course that the maintenance and operation of this global society’s basic values and procedures fell into the hands of the West. Since we really are speaking of a global society, it’s not possible for two different or multiple different values and procedures to co-exist; other value systems inevitably have had to change. In the story we’re going to talk about below, Tibet paid the price of total defeat and embarrassment as the price of its attempt to hold firm to its values and traditional values. China of course tasted this bitter fruit even before Tibet. Unless you can force others into respecting your strength and abilities, you will have to accept the values and rules of others. And if you don’t change, you’ll be beaten – this is the implicit rule of the international jungle.
In recent history, many non-Western countries have begun to change their own behaviors on the basis of Western standards. In making these changes, other than those forced to do so, some have also accepted Western principals as axiom and implemented their own reforms. Traditions have been destroyed, balance has been lost, civilizations are in conflict, societies are in chaos… the confusion and loss of transition, the destruction of national spirit… non-Western countries have paid an incalculable cost during this period of change.
If the world could have stayed unchanged from the 18th century, the relationship between Qing-dynasty China and Tibet described in my earlier article (“one side getting face, the other getting practical benefits”) could have been maintained in a fuzzy non-defined status, and an appropriate and natural balance could have been achieved. However, once the Western concept of sovereignty was adopted, China and Tibet had to transition to this new system, and rearrange its relationship based on these new rules, to the point of rewriting history on the basis of these new standards. It should be obvious if you think of it that once China accepted the Western concept of sovereignty, it would have to establish clear control over Tibet’s sovereignty. And when Tibet accepted the Western concept of sovereignty, it would want to escape China and declare independence. These two bodies originally peaceful co-existed on the basis of a fuzzy definition which could not be transferred over into a clear definition of sovereignty. Therefore, once this system took effect, China and Tibet’s relationship would have to become confrontational.
From a fundamental definition of sovereignty, Tibetans can claim to have always had sovereignty in practice. It has had the territory, people, and government demanded of independent countries; it had an independent army, issued its own currency, and had an unique culture. But China in turn can use Tibet’s history of submission as evidence, claiming that China has always had sovereignty from a legal perspective. For 200 years officials sent to Tibet from the imperial court didn’t have much in terms of actual control rights, but this symbolic rule has given Beijing (ed note: not the Communist government; referring to all Beijing governments) a firm inner conviction: Tibet belongs to China. This belief didn’t just exist in Beijing’s political elite, but has become the collective perception of the vast majority of Chinese. This belief has naturally been equated to the newer, more recent definitions of sovereignty.
The confrontation from both sides, in the context of the sovereignty system and its associated nationalism, has become sharper day by day. The modern media era has allowed average people to participate in this process, and mediating this confrontation has been increasingly difficult. We can say that all that has happened between China and Tibet to date was destined from the moment the Western empires began to search for a new continent, from the moment when they began to sell opium to China. The entire 20th century history of Chinese-Tibetan relations at heart can be defined as the establishment, adaptation, and adjustment of the philosophy of sovereignty. This process has created a large amount of conflict, setting the foundation for today’s relationship between China and Tibet.
— translation ends —
And yet you continue to insist that we should refer to Tibet by Western standards of colonialism? Colonialism itself is a Western concept that fits even more poorly when applied to Tibet than the labels of “suzerainty” and “independence” placed on it by your forefathers.
I personally have no interest in being painted into this corner. I refuse to engage any longer in the historical debate of whether Tibet was a “colony”, “independent” or “a part of China” in the years 1911, 1950, and 1959. For the academic historians that are paid to study this and place their dead labels on live history, do your worst. For the rest of us, we will continue to struggle to find and define a righteous and long-lasting solution for Tibet’s status within China… guided only by our own principles, beliefs, and conscience.
Only by building a strong China can we rest assured that it will be our principles that will eventually define the outcome in Tibet. That, too, is the rule of the international jungle.