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  • Tibet through Dissident Chinese Eyes: Essays on Self-Determination
  • June Teufel Dreyer (bio)
Cao Changching and James D. Seymour, editors. Tibet through Dissident Chinese Eyes: Essays on Self-Determination. Armonk and London: M. E.Sharpe, 1998. xxviii, 133 pp. Hardcover $48.95, ISBN 1-56324-922-7.

Tibet, for reasons both ethical and romantic, arouses strong emotions in the West. The notion of a deeply spiritual and unique culture being destroyed by a neighboring state in the name of nationalism and progress is profoundly disturbing to large numbers of people in the outside world. At the same time, Tibet arouses equally strong emotions in the People's Republic of China: the Beijing government teaches that Tibet is, and has long been, a part of China, but was stolen from the ancestral land by predatory imperialists. Having finally been restored due to the diligence of the Communist Party, Tibetans must now become one with the other nationalities of the country.

This fascinating book attempts to come to grips with the Tibet issue from a different point of view. Coeditor Seymour points out in his introduction that, although the Chinese learned about imperialism the hard way—by being its victims—many of the lessons they learned were the wrong ones. While much of the rest of the world has abandoned hegemonistic thinking, the Chinese have concluded that a modern state must maximize its real estate holdings and territorial waters. He notes that most outside scholars who have studied the status of Tibet from the standpoint of international law have come to the conclusion that China fails to meet the burden of proof on the sovereignty issue. The Cao-Seymour volume presents a third perspective: that of Chinese, most of them exiles, who believe that Tibetans have been the victims of their own (i.e., the Chinese) country's imperialism.

Within this broad perspective, the essays by the thirteen contributors present a variety of opinions on Tibet. This reviewer has been struck by the irony that dissidents, who frequently excoriate their government's control over and cynical [End Page 394] manipulation of the media, have often unwittingly accepted its version of events with regard to Tibet. They appear to be genuinely surprised on discovering that another interpretation of history exists. Some believe the "new" version; others reject it, continuing to express "imperialist" attitudes about Tibet while rejecting the government that imparted these values. Harry Hongda Wu represents the former stance. In the course of an abortive attempt to investigate the labor camps in which he had been imprisoned for nearly two decades, Wu happened upon a stone tablet commemorating the marriage of Tang dynasty princess Wen Cheng to Tibetan king Songsten Gampo in A.D. 641. He describes his astonishment on reading that she had performed a ritual farewell ceremony to her country and family, after which she donned Tibetan clothing and was escorted away forever by her fiancé's soldiers. This wording, Wu points out, indicates a political marriage between two sovereign states, and contradicts everything he had learned in Chinese schools about Tibet coming under Chinese rule. Wu believes that Beijing should allow the Tibetans to decide for themselves whether they want to remain a part of China or break away.

Coeditor Cao Changching also believes that independence is the right of the Tibetan people, as does Wang Ruowang. Fang Lizhi, who became famous in the West when he took refuge in the American Embassy in 1989, advocates seeking ways to live together after the Communist Party collapses—as he is certain it will. He is not explicit about the political arrangements under which this living together will take place, possibly because the contingencies involved are unforeseeable at this point. Yan Jiaqi, who, like Fang, fled the People's Republic after the 1989 demonstrations, concludes that a federal system is the best alternative for a future China. He presents four arguments: such a system would (1) effectively safeguard the nation's territory, (2) promote the development and progress of each nationality and region, (3) avert the possibility of interminable warfare as a result of China's disintegration, and (4) bring about the peaceful unification of Taiwan and mainland China.

Yan appears...


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pp. 394-396
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