We Americans are notoriously short-sighted. Perhaps it should come as no surprise when you consider that our collective viewpoint is that of a nation less than 250 years old. When I hear news reporters continually refer to China’s invasion of Tibet in the 50s I suggest we take a look at history the way the Chinese do, on a much greater timeline.
Recent bronze archaeological discoveries in China authenticate that nation to proudly trace its history back over 7,000 years. Exploring Chinese history is much like discovering an iceberg. You soon realize that there is an additional nine-tenths submerged and a vast amount of work required to get the big picture in focus.
China traces its historical relationship with Tibet back to the 7th century. That’s when warrior King Songstan Gambo succeeded in unifying the diverse Tibetan tribes under one ruler to create the Kingdom of Tubo. His marriage to China’s Princess Wen Chung of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the marriage of Princess Jin Chung to another Tubo leader firmly cemented the initial bond between China and Tibet.
When the Tubo Kingdom collapsed 200 years later in the mid-9th century the Tibetan region fragmented back into a patchwork of warring tribal factions. Many of these groups sought to gain support from China by pledging and maintaining an ongoing allegiance to the court of the Song Dynasty (960-1279).
China became vast, greatly unified and powerful under the rule of the famous Mongol warrior Kublai Kahn, founder of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). The Kahn also conquered Tibet, granting administrative authority over the region to the Sagya regime, making Tibet an official part of the Chinese nation. Yuan leaders passed laws and policies that governed Tibet.
Throughout the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties rulers maintained their cultural, economic and administrative relationship with Tibet. They granted titles of leadership that included the naming of princes and were the first to bestow the honorary title of “Dalai Lama.”
Perhaps we Americans just have it in our genes to dabble in the foreign affairs of other sovereign nations, a genetic disorder that we can attribute to being spawned from Great Britain, one of the world’s foremost imperialist powers. In 1600 the British considered India to be the brightest pearl in the crown of their Queen. And in order to protect and preserve that treasure, they hatched a number of plots to safeguard their colonial asset. Not only did they invade China’s coastal regions, they also oversaw the invasion and conquest of Tibet as a means to further buffer their control of India. Throughout the first half of the 20th century the British intensely worked to lever Tibet apart from China.
The British and American scheming continues to this day, while China’s historical relationship with Tibet spans several dynasties and thousands of years. Before China, under Mao Zedong, reclaimed its control over Tibet in 1951, 90% of the Tibetan people were enslaved by the monks and the aristocracy under a system of feudal serfdom. Today Tibet enjoys greater economic and cultural prosperity then ever before as an integral part of “New China’s” emerging socialist democracy.
Asking expatriate Tibetans who live in the USA for their opinion on these issues is like asking Cubans living in Miami for their opinion of Castro. Flying the flag of a Tibetan separatist movement over public buildings in Madison, Wisconsin was a regional insult to the Peoples Republic of China. Awarding a medal to the Dalai Lama is a national insult. The sad fact is that liberal thinkers who have been co opted into supporting the notion of a free Tibet are being used by the same British and American forces that decided it was just to invade the sovereign nation of Iraq.
As a journalist and film maker I recently lived in the Province of Yunnan, China, just below the Tibetan Autonomous Region for 5 months last winter. After learning about the Chinese history of Tibet I interviewed the many Tibetans I met there and asked them all the same question: “Were 90% of the Tibetan people slaves to the monks and aristocracy in Tibet before China took back control of the region?”
All of them responded with the same answer… “Yes!”