It has now been more than 2 months since the Lhasa riots, and weeks since the Beijing government met with the Dalai Lama’s personal envoys in Shenzhen. The passions aroused by the protests associated with the Torch relay has cooled a little. Now, we can turn to deeper, less emotional consideration of the Dalai Lama and what he stands for.
The Dalai Lama’s recent trip to Europe is giving us a new opportunity to evaluate exactly what his position is, and whether he’s a potential partner for peace. A previous blog entry discussed the possibility of a new bargaining position for the Dalai Lama, and clearly positions have changed dramatically over recent weeks.
For the lack of a better option, we’ll have to rely on the Xinhua state news agency to ask the questions that are on the minds of many Chinese. Below is the translation of a blog entry from a Xinhua news reporter, about his experience at a Dalai Lama news conference in Germany.
Before I get to that translation, a few comments. When the Western media mentions Chinese media coverage of the Tibet issue in general and the Dalai Lama in particular, it prefers to jump right to the bottom. The picture Western reports prefers to paint of the Chinese media is that of a rhetoric-filled, state-controlled factory of lies; this is the only reasonable explanation, of course, for the hundreds of millions of drooling Chinese nationalist idiots who oppose the Dalai Lama’s clearly benevolent positions.
For example, the quote “wolf in monk’s robes” (一只披着袈裟的豺狼) makes its appearance in numerous Western media report on the subject:
- Independent UK: Beijing has not abandoned its fiery rhetoric: it calls him “a wolf in monk’s robes” …
- Times Online UK: the Chinese … have been busily painting the Dalai Lama as “a demon” and “a wolf in monk’s robes”.
- Wall Street Journal: Chinese officials have called the Dalai Lama a “wolf in monk’s robes,” and state-run media have whipped up popular opposition to the Tibetan leader.
- Associated Press: The new attacks on the Dalai Lama follow others in recent weeks in which Beijing branded him a “wolf in monk’s robes” and his followers the “scum of Buddhism.”
In contrast, when you look for Chinese media reports that actually used this phrase (using Baidu), you see it mentioned once in an interview with the party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region on March 20th, less than a week after the violent Lhasa riots, and as other violent riots still blazed throughout Tibet. The phrase hasn’t been used since, except in a report from the Asian Wall Street Journal (repeating the Western media version).
The Chinese state media hasn’t exactly been kind towards the Dalai Lama, of course. But if you’ve only been reading the Western press, you probably don’t have a very good idea of what the criticisms of the Dalai Lama truly are. If many Chinese are still skeptical about cooperating with the Dalai Lama, it’s not because we’re unaware he claims to have rejected independence; it’s because we question whether he really means what he says.
This article from a reporter at a Chinese state newspaper, the International Herald Leader, provides a counter-point to the Western media’s simplistic view of what the Chinese know of the Dalai Lama.
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On May 15th, the Dalai Lama begin his six day visit to Germany. In contrast to previous “religious trips”, the Dalai Lama gave speeches in four German cities on this trip. “The primary purpose of this visit is to talk politics”, according to the chairman of the “Tibet Help Association” responsible for organizing his itinary.
In order to build momentum for this “political trip”, on the morning of May 16th, the Dalai Lama held a press conference in the city offices of Bochum. But perhaps he didn’t expect that the question raised by this reporter would be so difficult to handle.
At 9:30 or so, the Dalai Lama walked into the hall accompanied by the Bochum mayor, other officials, and six bodyguards. He flashed his trademark smile, and hugged or shook hands with the reporters he passed by. After shaking hands with the German reporter next to me, he suddenly discovered my Asian face. He walked over shook my hands, and patting me on the shoulder, saying in Mandarin: “ni hao! ni hao!”
The Dalai Lama repeatedly stressed that he “did not seek independence”, a posture that suggested “the responsibility rests entirely with the Chinese”.
The press conference was nearing its end, and the organizers in the hallway were already beginning to pack up. But I raised my hands at this time. The Dalai Lama looked around, saw it, and said: “Please, a question from the reporter from China.” All eyes turned towards me.
“You said that you are not seeking independence for Tibet, but only true autonomy. But I have a question. Not long ago, the chief negotiator that you sent to meet with China was your personal representative Lodi Gyari. When I searched online, I realized that Lodi Gyari was also one of the founders of the Tibet Youth Congress. The Tibet Youth Congress website clearly says that one of its primary principles is: ‘To struggle for the total independence of Tibet even at the cost of one’s life.‘ By sending a negotiator who’s willing to sacrifice his life to struggle for the total independence of Tibet, does this conflict with your statement that you ‘do not seek Tibet independence’? Second, is the Tibet that you’re referring to ‘Greater Tibet’, or the current Tibet Autonomous region?”
I put down the microphone, and watched the Dalai Lama. His trademark smile was gone, and was quietly discussing something with one of this assistants. I could hear him saying “your organization”, possibly because he wanted his assistant, a member of the Tibet Youth Congress, to answer the question.
But he quickly decided he’d take the question himself, and his voice was suddenly raised: “Right now, everyone knows that the Tibet Youth Congress represents Tibet independence. I’ve clearly said to this organization, that your position and our position isn’t completely the same, we’re not seeking independence for Tibet”.
But at this point, the assistant sitting at his side reminded him: “he asked about Lodi Gyari”. The Dalai Lama’s voice quieted down, and he said at a lower voice: “you should ask Lodi Gyari directly.” He then launched into a long discussion of history. The general meaning was, Lody Gyari was indeed one of the founders of the Tibet Youth Congress, but some members of this group later joined the government in exile, and that people’s opinions could change.
The atmosphere wasn’t quite as friendly as before. Perhaps the Dalai Lama realized this, and he turned around and began attacking the Chinese media, saying that we were demonizing him, calling him “a devil with horns”. The Dalai Lama put both hands on his head to emulate “horns”, and the foreign media finally laughed again.
The Dalai Lama then began wrestling with the “Greater Tibet” question. He said: “if we were seeking independence, then the border question would be relevant. But because we’re not seeking independence, but only true autonomy, then this question doesn’t exist. Within the same country, as long as there is true autonomy, then borders are not a problem.”
Of course, it’s common knowledge that the “Greater Tibet” that Dalai Lama clique has repeatedly called for includes the Tibet Autonomous Region, all of Qinghai province, 1/2 of Xinjiang, 2/3rds of Gansu, 2/3rds of Sichuan, half of Yunnan, with a total size of 2.4 million square kilometers.
Because he had to rush, after answering my question, the Dalai Lama ended his press conference. Three German and two Japanese reporters came up to me to ask me about Lodi Gyari. Suddenly, I felt an embrace from behind. I turned around, and it was the Dalai Lama! The Dalai Lama was hugging me as he repeatedly muttered something. Because of the noise on the scene, I couldn’t hear what he said clearly. But a foreign reporter later told me he was telling me “don’t be angry”, and asked me to “send his best wishes to the Chinese people.”
The long-winded answers from the Dalai Lama reminds us of the long and complicated legacy of seeking independence that has defined the exile government for decades. Not many Chinese believe that the Dalai Lama is “a demon”, but many of us believe he’s a slick politician with devious political goals. If the Dalai Lama is truly committed to erasing this legacy, he will have to expect to face similar hard questions in the future.