Home > Uncategorized > Does the west care about what real Tibetans think?

Does the west care about what real Tibetans think?

It seems not. Rarely does their opinions (or the opinions of Chinese citizens for that matter) come into the equation when speaking about Sino-Tibetan issues. It’s taken as a given that they all want independence. That all of their lives are far worse under Chinese “occupation” than it was under the Dalai Lama’s Shangrila Kingdom. Westerners likely take the viewpoints of Tibetan emigres as a representative sample of 5.8 million Tibetans inside Tibet.

Granted, other than the anecdotal evidence from travelers, there are few objective evidence  from surveys are rarely conducted inside Tibet. But I know of two that polls ethnic Tibetans inside Tibet for their views. But what are their views?

In this survey conducted in 2000 by the renowned Tibetologists Melvyn Goldstein, Cynthia Beall, Ben Jiao and Phuntsog Tsering, they asked a sample of Tibetans from across the TAR whether their lives are better than that of their parents (“Do You Have a Better Life Now Than Your Parents Did?”).  One of the cohorts of that sample (N=150) is the age group between 60-79. In 2000, that means that they were born roughly between 1920-1940. That means that almost all of their parents lived entirely before Chinese policies were instituted after 1959.

An astounding ~90% answered “Yes,” that is, their lives are indeed better than that of their parents.

So it would appear that the Dalai Lama’s claim (which the west no doubt accepts unquestioningly) that China had turned Tibetan “heaven on earth” to a “hell on earth” is, like many other claims about China and Tibet in the west, absolute bullshit.

But what about the question of independence? Well, that study did not directly question Tibetans on that thorny issue but one study conducted secretly by the Tibetan Government in Exile did shortly after the 08 March riots. Here, it looks that Tibetans inside Tibet who want independence (renzig) are in the minority (29% or about 5,000 out of a total sample of about 17,000). This survey was likely crucial in getting the TGIE to stick with the so-called “middle way approach” after the riots when they actively questioned that approach and contemplated seeking independence. Keep in mind that this study was conducted by the TGIE and so questions of pro-China bias is out the window. Also, more importantly, keep in mind that this study was done soon after the 08 riots when tempers were flaring and the desire for independence was likely at its zenith inside Tibet. So if only 29% of Tibetans want independence, at most shortly after the Tibetan riots, that figure could be much lower today.

Here as elsewhere, the opinions of people actually part of the issue is dropped from the discussion in the west’s narrative. It is only their (white folks’) opinions that count speaking on behalf of everyone else. Sure the evidence is sparse from only two studies but studies like this are still better than conjecture, anecdote and mere bullshitting. I wonder what you’d find if you polled Native Hawaiians or the Lakota Indians for their views on whether they want their territories to be an independent state from the US?

[NOTE: Now the TGIE study did find that a plural majority (about 47% or 8,000) of respondents wanted to the Middle Way approach of Tibet remaining as part of China but with limited “true autonomy” (the 4,000 or so rest of the sample either wanted the status quo to remain  or did not have an opinion). But also keep in mind that the Chinese government offered the Dalai Lama a middle way approach for the autonomy for the TAR in the early 80s but due to his intractable and unreasonable demands that even parts of Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan, and other historically multi-ethnic provinces be included as “Tibet,” the deal fell through.]

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  1. China southern
    April 12th, 2012 at 19:19 | #1

    “Westerners likely take the viewpoints of Tibetan emigres as a representative sample of 5.8 million Tibetans inside Tibet.”

    You mean all Westerners, most Westerners, or a few Westerners?

    Please site some evidence for you assertion.

  2. China southern
    April 12th, 2012 at 19:25 | #2

    “Also, more importantly, keep in mind that this study was done soon after the 08 riots when tempers were flaring and the desire for independence was likely at its zenith inside Tibet. So if only 29% of Tibetans want independence, at most shortly after the Tibetan riots, that figure is likely far lower today.”

    Again, wherre is your evidence that “that figure is likely far lower”?

    What if there were another riot which killed 100 people next week? If feelings are much lower today, how would you explain their instantaneous rise leading to a riot?

  3. April 12th, 2012 at 20:48 | #3

    @China southern
    The attitude of most western government in this matter. If not they would not be patting TGIE on the back.

  4. April 12th, 2012 at 20:53 | #4

    @China southern
    If we take inter-ethnics violence in the US as a referrence, which happened everyday including murder. The US is a racial riot hell hole.

    Inter-ethnics violence in China is much rarer than in the US, France, UK etc.

  5. China southern
    April 13th, 2012 at 03:28 | #5

    “Mele” referred to “Westerners” not “Western governments”. If he had meant Western governments he would have said so. Why don’t you let him answer for himself?

    And why would we “take the US as a reference”? This post is not a comparative study of America and China and how it treats it’s minorities, so no need for the knee- jerk “America is worse!” reaction.

    Ray, you should think more before you speak

  6. April 13th, 2012 at 06:31 | #6

    @China southern
    It is important because projection of China’s image and policy is a product of western, fundamentally US Government. For example, Tenzin Gyatso is virtually an unknown in the world stage until his promotion by the western government. If you think the US and other western government has no hand in this issue, you are being naive.

    Despite knowing the concrete fact in 1989, ALL western government chose to allow their “free and neutral” press sell the image of Tiananmen massacre to their gullible audience. Average westerners view of China are thus shaped. Think before you speak.

    If there is no reference to any government treatment of ethnic relationship how does one know it is good or bad. A five foot boy can be the tallest kid in his whole school, a six foot basketball player is considered short. Again, think before you speak, if there is no reference point. The issue of rights does not exist. I could simply say that paying less than $50,000 per annum for any job is a violation of worker’s rights.

  7. Jimmy
    April 13th, 2012 at 06:52 | #7

    @China southern

    You need some basic logic here.

    How would you make a point if you did not compare things?!

  8. April 13th, 2012 at 17:18 | #8

    China southern :
    “Westerners likely take the viewpoints of Tibetan emigres as a representative sample of 5.8 million Tibetans inside Tibet.”
    You mean all Westerners, most Westerners, or a few Westerners?
    Please site some evidence for you assertion.
    EditMore OptionsModerateSpamTrashMoveE-mailBlacklist

    My evidence for that is common sense which I suspect you will not be persuaded by. Anyway, since you have nothing else to add other than persistent trolling, there’s really no reason to put any more effort into responding to anything else.

  9. XiaoXiao
    April 16th, 2012 at 07:11 | #9

    So what is the different between Western governments and Westerners?

    After hearing Western governments propaganda in the media. Westerners will became government mouthpieces. Just look at the many Westerner comments in internet regarding Tibet issue, they just copycatting what their government propaganda said. One of the finest example was on the 2008 Beijing Olympic.

    I just hope Westerners are not like that. We live in internet era, where information are easily obtained. We can easily get information from many different perspective. I hope internet will build a bridge between Chinese and Westerner for better understanding and friendship. I hope we, the people, can change our ‘hostile’ government attitude for the world peace and unity for all human.

  10. April 16th, 2012 at 11:29 | #10

    * Free Tibet , my holy foot *

    Please do not liberate my country. I understand your energy, good nature and idealism. I was the same when I was at your age. I hope you’re there to protest for China when your ancestors pushed opium to China. It is history that the Britain’s evil parliament approved to send warships to enforce the opium trade to China.

    First, thanks you all. Now, I’m a naturalized US citizen collecting generous welfare benefits. You do not understand how my life has been improved staying here. Just imagine living in the highest mountain in your country year round.

    There are always folks wanting to be kings and queens. They have their ambitions and revolutionary ideas. The last ones went to India after the failed revolt sponsored by CIA. Please let me know who sponsor today’s Tibetan movements – not seem to be a Mickey Mouse production. They do not speak for the common folks who just want a peaceful life.

    News on Tibet must feed a lot of reporters in the west but hurt their conscience. Some are not true. The recent Tibetan riot was started when Han Chinese were murdered but was reported wrongly with photos that were bought and modified to indicate it was the other way round. To be fair, Chinese reporters are no angels.

    The Chinese will not give up Tibet. It is the major water source for most of Asia. We get more from the Chinese than giving back. How many territories within a country become independent? Our standard of living improves substantially and so is our literacy rate.

    The new train and the proposed 750 small dams to generate electricity are recent gifts. I bet the extraction of natural Chinese will improve our living standard further. It is the same as opening a casino in an Indian reservation. The benefits outnumber the drawbacks.

    China had been ruled by Mongolians and Manchurians. We’re one of the 55 minorities, same as the blacks in your country or the Quebec French in Canada. Dali Lama must be the best salesman on earth with the circus of silly and most likely uneducated Hollywood celebrities – most of them approved Polanski in raping a 13 year girl. If there were one like him for Mongolia, one for Manchuria, you guys will be busy for a long while.

    Unless you can convince your congress to send soldiers to ‘liberate’ us, please do not stir up our rebellious sentiment towards the Chinese. The more you do, the more our folks suffer and ‘disappear’.

    Spend your energy elsewhere. The choices are unlimited: CEOs enjoying outrageous benefits/bonuses from companies receiving bailouts, or killing Iraqi children in a war you cannot afford. Hope you folks can find the mass destruction weapon in Iraq some days.

    Everywhere in China, you see Tibetan cultures have been maintained – different from what your ‘reporters’ report. All the minorities have been exempted from the one-child policy. Check out this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqtS5k-nQK4&feature=related. Do they look oppressed to you?

    It sounds like propaganda. I want you to know that I have no connection with the Chinese government. Your action on the wheel-chair torch bearer for Olympic showed the world how barbarous and coward you are.

    I just want to be realistic and the world at least my world will be more peaceful without your demonstrations. I wrote the above from the mind of a silent majority of Tibetans.

    Wrote this a while ago. T

  11. perspectivehere
    April 18th, 2012 at 08:52 | #11

    Found some interesting articles from the New York Times Archives about the British invasion of Tibet in 1904. Of special interest is the reaction of certain sections of the public in England to the news of the massacre of Tibetans at Guru when British troops with the newly invented Maxim guns (machine guns) fired on Tibetans carrying swords, spears and antique muskets, killing 1,300 Tibetans in the space of 10 minutes.

    A 2008 exhibition of posters showing Norfolk’s historical connexions with China in Norfolk put it this way: “The machine gunners slaughtered the Tibetan soldiers; thirteen hundred died in the massacre. ‘I got so sick of the slaughter that I ceased fire, though the general’s order was to make as big a bag as possible’, wrote Lieutenant Arthur Hadow, commander of the machine-gun detachment. ’I hope I shall never again have to shoot down men walking away’.”

    The British invading force was led by Colonel Francis Younghusband.

    The New York Times March 31, 1904 reported:

    Hundreds Mowed Down By Artillery After Being
    Surrounded. LHASA GENERAL IS KILLED Tibetans
    Demanded That Invaders Retire, and Fighting Was
    Precipitated by Effort to Disarm Them.

    TANU, March 31. — News has been received here of severe fighting,
    the Tibetans having attacked the British mission under Col

    There were two engagements, and the
    Tibetans were repulsed with heavy loss.
    The British captured the Tibetan camp at Guru.

    While the British advance had practically been unopposed,
    the expedition suffered great hardship from the intense cold,
    and it was sometimes found impossible to use
    the Maxim guns and rifles, owing to the
    congealing of the oil.

    Among the Tibetans killed were the Lhasa General,
    the military commandant of Phari and Lata,
    and the representative of the Golden Monastery,
    to whose influence and violent hostility
    the existing difficulties are largely due.”

    When the reports of the massacre reached England, it proved to be too much for the public to stomach, and Col. Younghusband came under heavy criticism, as
    this April 2, 1904 report from The New York Times shows:

    Possibility That Col. Younghusband May Be Recalled.
    Liberal Newspapers Characterize the
    Occurrence as One of the Worst Blots in England’s History.

    LONDON, April 2. — The slaughter in Tibet has roused much feeling in Great Britain, and it is possible that Col. Younghusband will not be allowed to proceed further with the expedition. He has seventy-five miles more to travel before he reaches Gyangste, where he has been ordered to stop and parley before actually demanding entrance into ancient Lhassa, distant another 160 miles. In any case it can be taken for granted that the Government will do everything in its power to prevent a repetition of the bloody scene at Guru.

    The extreme Liberal papers characterize the slaughter as one of the worst blots on the history of England. The Daily News declares that no more ‘wanton or discreditable business has been brewed by our pro-Consuls in India since the time of Lord Lytton.’ Other papers of the same political views describe Col Younghusband’s mission as another Jameson raid….

    The Government organs, while expressing the regret felt in official circles that such an event occurred at this moment, reiterate Foreign Secretary Lansdowne’s assurances to Russia that Great Britain has no intention of annexing Tibet. The text of those who defend Col. Younghusband’s action is Lord Lansdowne’s statement in the House of Lords that all Great Britain desires is a new convention with the Tibetans and with China as the suzerain power of Tibet.

    The Opposition, however, points out that China has repeatedly protested against the strength of the escort with which this ‘political mission’ is accompanied, and declares that, as a matter of fact, Great Britain is now at war, not with Tibet, but with China, thereby endangering China’s neutrality toward Russia and Japan and risking the peace of the World….

    It is not regarded as likely that serious international complications will follow this affair, but China’s action in the matter will be anxiously awaited.”


    Articles from the NY Times archives are a fascinating primary resource for understanding how people saw and thought about historical events at the time they were happening.

    What I find remarkable is that a colonial atrocity once regarded as “one of the worst blots on England’s history” is virtually forgotten today.

  12. jxie
    April 18th, 2012 at 11:44 | #12


    The Younghusband adventure is well known in the Tibetan context.

    Quite possibly NYT was a dopey newspaper outfit even back then. Despite the “feeling in Great Britain”, or the talk of not letting Younghusband march on, Younghusband was the one who wrestled away a treaty with the Lhasa government later that year. The British Empire was built by men like Younghusband. In the grant scheme of things though GB couldn’t possibly alter the balance of power vis-a-vis Russia with a gimme like this in the Great Game… in a way all of those lives were wasted for no meaningful purpose, not even advancing the GB interest. You can sum it all up as, some British just felt like killing.

    If we count both direct and indirect murders, e.g. famines caused by bad and often deliberately bad policies, smallpox-infested blankets, this for sure wouldn’t even crack top 100 in the Hall of Shame of the British Empire.

    When Younghusband reached Lhasa, the previous incarnation of this Dalai Lama had long skipped town. Well, the reincarnation process doesn’t seem to retain one’s memory, even among the living buddhas. This Dalai Lama is a life-long fan of the messenger of the British Empire, or whatever is left off it these days, BBC. Between the UK and the US, you’d think Americans didn’t kill any Tibetans and actively supported his brothers’ small-scaled insurgencies (you can almost call them mischiefs), he would like the US over the UK. Oh no, not even close… But I digress.

  13. perspectivehere
    April 24th, 2012 at 08:11 | #13


    Thanks for the comment.

    There has been more written in recent years about the Younghusband expedition. I am especially interested in the descriptions of the massacre at Guru, particularly the attempts by British writers of the time (including Younghusband himself as well as various “embedded” journalists) to justify their actions. The details offered up in this May 2010 narrative, “Ministry of Silly Wars: Britain in Central Asia” by British writer Lawrence Osborne are quite interesting:

    “The British, as usual, sought a pretext for war. On November 4, 1903, Curzon urged the British government, then under Prime Minister Arthur Balfour, to invade Tibet. As he phrased it, the aim would be to force the Tibetans to accept a British mission in the hitherto isolated city of Lhasa and normalize free trade. The Tibetans, he argued, had despoiled a few border markers and made sundry incursions into Nepalese territory. They had refused both to acknowledge the messages sent to them and to trade according to the Convention of 1890, a treaty signed by the Chinese, the British, and the Tibetans. Two British spies—Indians—had been arrested by the Tibetans at the town of Khamber Jong and, apparently, executed. Outrage was voiced. Something had to be done. A quick, painless invasion could be had, Curzon said, for about £153,000.

    Sensing that London might question this trumped-up casus belli , Curzon sent an additional telegram that introduced a note of Monty Python: “An overt act of hostility has taken place,” he wrote feverishly. “Tibetan troops having, as we are now informed, attacked Nepalese yaks on the frontier and carried off many of them.” It was now an ‘international incident.'”

    Any excuse works when the Brits want to start a war.

    “Finally, at the end of March 1904, an advance party of one thousand men, with about two hundred British troops, arrived at the desolate hamlet of Guru, where an old wall had once barred the caravan trail. It was now manned by a Tibetan force determined to resist. The British brought up their two seven-pound guns (named Bubble and Squeak), but neither side appeared eager to commit to bloodshed. A Tibetan general from Lhasa rode out to meet Younghusband and Macdonald as they sat imperiously under a crackling Union Jack surrounded by sheepskins.

    Perceval Landon, the Times correspondent “embedded” with the mission, described the late-colonial scene: “the strange forked guns embossed with turquoise and coral; the richly worked sword-hilts; the little grey and bay ponies . . . all these things straight from the sacred and forbidden city possessed a new and intense interest for us.”

    The European nineteenth century and the Asian Middle Ages came together in a tortured collision when the order was given to the British troops to disarm the Tibetans. It turned into a brawl. The affable Lhasa general, infuriated by a Sikh trying to wrest away his musket, shot the man in the jaw. Perhaps relieved to be back to business as usual, the British opened fire.

    A photograph survives of the sodden and bleak battlefield a few hours later, with Tibetan corpses strewn across it. Edmund Candler of the Daily Mail had his hand cut off by a Tibetan sword. Some of the gunners had stopped firing their Maxim guns out of pity and disgust at the massacre, but the toll for the Tibetans was nevertheless fearsome: seven hundred killed, including their general. A hundred and sixty-eight of their wounded were given first aid and gladly accompanied their captors all the way to Lhasa. There were no British fatalities. Three Russian rifles were captured, to much fanfare, and treated as weapons of mass destruction.

    Back in Britain, however, the slaughter at Guru produced deep unease. The public disliked the one-sidedness of the killing and the invasion itself began to seem duplicitous. Had they been told the truth by the government about the reasons for this obviously unnecessary and one-sided war?”

  14. LOLZ
    April 28th, 2012 at 19:07 | #14

    The Tibet Independence movement is remnant of the cold war policy to contain China. IMO it’s actually one of CIA’s more successful programs. Browsing through some of the more popular Free Tibet sites, my sense is that most of the sentiments are born out of hatred of China and the desire to punish all Chinese over the world, rather than to make Tibetans living in Tibet’s lives better. This is because other than China bashing there is very little of self reflection on what can be done better in Tibet outside of basic politics.

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