The Dalai Lama has visited Taiwan twice, once in 1997 and 2001. However, soon after Ma took office on a platform promising to amend ties with the Mainland, a request for the Dalai Lama to visit was turned down by Ma, citing the timing as not proper. A Dalai Lama visit then could have derailed Ma’s plan for closer ties with the Mainland – and still has the potential to do so the same.
I have commented before that these latest developments smack of political jockeying by opportunistic politicians (i.e. local DPP politicians), and I still stand by that statement. Annecdotal evidence suggest that while most Taiwanese do not object to the visit, the people on the ground – the true victims of the storm – appear only lukewarm. As is with the political circus that has developed in the aftermath of the storm, efforts are directed toward political jockeying rather than to helping people on the ground.
I am satisfied that Beijing clearly sees what is going on in Taiwan and has refrained from wholesale condemnation of the Taiwanese government. Personally, I think that as long as the Dalai Lama’s visit does not chill cross-strait relations, this visit may turn out to be a blessing … after all.
Well – hopefully this high profile visit will debunk a few myths.
Over the years, many in the West seem to have come to believe that Tibetan culture and Han culture are mutually incompatible. This is far from the truth. The Dalai Lama is relatively popular in Taiwan, where the demographics / culture is predominantly Han. Most Taiwanese are Buddhists, and many look to the Dalai Lama as a well respected spiritual teacher. Both my mom and my uncle personally attended ceremonies held by the Dalai Lama both times the Dalai Lama visited Taiwan before. The temple I go to have many books by current Buddhist teachers, including many by the Dalai Lama. Han culture would not be Han without Buddhism. To the extent that we are talking about religion, Han culture is definitely not incompatible with Tibetan culture.
Some in the West believe that Han Chinese do not care about Tibetan culture. That is also far from the truth. Tibetan mysticism, Tibetan Buddhist teachings, and Tibetan art are wildly popular in Taiwan (as well as among the growing middle class all throughout the Mainland I hear). The last time I perused a bookstore in Taipei, books about Tibet – its history, its culture, its people, its religion – occupied two entire walls. Tibetan art motives and themes can be found in almost every temple you visit in Taiwan (and throughout the Mainland, including the ones that are being reconstructed). Tibetan art artifacts are popular in museums, art stores, and art shows and fairs in Taiwan.
Some in the West believe that Han Chinese and Tibetans cannot live peacefully side by side. This can be easily debunked by history – even without going to Taiwan. The Dalai Lama has stated many times that Tibetan and Han Chinese history are intermixed, and that most of this history can be characterized as one of peace and mutual cooperation rather than one of conflict. In Qinhai and Sichuan, Tibetans and Han Chinese – as well as other ethnic groups – have lived peacefully amongst each others for centuries if not millenia. If we must go to Taiwan, we will find that Tibetans in Taiwan (there are many) live their daily lives immersed with other Taiwanese people.
What this trip hopefully will reveal is that the controversy about the Dalai Lama is political – not cultural … or religious. There is nothing fundamentally incompatible about Tibetan or Han culture. Of course, this does not mean that Han and Tibetan culture are – or need to be – one and the same. But they can both represent important elements in the great tapestry making up the Chinese tradition.
The Dalai Lama has asserted many times that he intends to reach out more to all Chinese people – not just Westerners – or ethnic Tibetans. Taiwan can be a stepping stone. I hope the Dalai Lama will follow through by reaching out to Beijing and the people on the Mainland as a whole. The Dalai Lama is an important part of Tibetan – and more broadly Chinese – culture. Taiwan, as part of the ROC, can provide a sort of home welcoming. But the real destination is Tibet. To get there, the Dalai Lama must learn to reach out to Beijing, not just the DPP, or the KMT…