5 The Chinese Assimilation of Tibet
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89 As was the case in the previous examinations, we are here dealing with two centers of localness: the ancient and very traditional local reality of Tibet, the core of which is Tibetan Buddhism, and the evolving and dynamic culture of the People’s Republic of China, the core of which is the customized ideology of Chinese communism. As we will see, the conquest of modern Tibet by the Chinese led to a period of experimentation as the authorities in Beijing sought the most effective and efficient way to assimilate the Tibetans into the Chinese nation. In this effort the Chinese government had all the advantages that come with control of the information environment. For example, Tibetan mass media became an extension of Chinese mass media. We will also see that the Chinese convinced themselves through a reinterpretation of history that Tibet was always part of China. The Tibetans, on the other hand, found that their traditional ways of life and oral and written histories confirmed an independent past. Thus Chinese occupation of Tibet is not only a struggle to control territory . It is also a struggle to obliterate a cultural past as a basis for present resistance. For this to be accomplished, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) must not only maintain a supportive thought The Chinese Assimilation of Tibet 5 2 collective among the Chinese but also remake the thought collective of the Tibetans. They have determined that this can only be done with the destruction of traditional Tibetan religion and its replacement with a patriotic devotion to the Chinese communist way of life. This process of cultural genocide is accompanied by a storyline designed for Chinese as well as Tibetan consumption. Just as was the case for the settlers on the American frontier relative to the Indians, the Russian public relative to the Jews, and the Israeli Jews relative to the Palestinians, the stronger party must create a thought collective that makes the victims’ culture appear antiquated and unworthy of survival. In the past three cases, religion has played an important supporting role in the thought collective of the aggressor. In the case of the Chinese, the denigration of religion as a false ideology and a barrier to progress is an important part of the communist rationale. It is a function of natural localness that the vast majority of Chinese, be they of the majority Han culture or other various ethnic minorities, know nothing about Tibet, past or present. They will not pay attention to happenings in Tibet unless they reside so close to this far-away place that it is regarded to be “in the neighborhood.” Likewise, some will pay attention to the goings on in Tibet if they have friends or relatives there. But in neither case does this include the vast majority of citizens in the People’s Republic. This means that the pictures in the heads of this majority will perforce be secondhand and filtered by a very extensive bureaucracy. The capacity of this organization to create and maintain specific messages about the “other” is much greater than the case of the American colonists or the czarist Russians. The Chinese capacity in this regard is comparable to that of the Israeli Zionists. Thus there is no objectively accurate knowledge of Tibet to be had among the ordinary Chinese or––and this is of greater import––the soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army sent to Tibet. cultural genocide 90 The latter arrive with a consciousness shaped by emotive language that leads them to see themselves on a mission. It is a civilizing mission evoking the language of superiority and inferiority, and in this regard the underlying thought collective resembles that of our other examples. Such language leads to a scenario familiar to our other cases, a conviction that the inferior are historically destined to give way to the superior. Historical Background Tibet lies outside of the territory traditionally considered by the West as part of China. And it is historically true that Tibet was an independent land for many centuries, with its own ruling elite and indigenous Buddhist form of religion. That elite would periodically recognize the power and authority of the Chinese emperor (often a fellow Buddhist), but doing so did not result in any day-to-day interference by Chinese authorities. It was hoped, however, that it did mean the Chinese would offer assistance in resisting invasion from the West (such as British India) and expansionist European colonial forces...



Subject Headings

  • Jews -- Russia -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
  • Palestinian Arabs -- Israel -- Social conditions -- 20th century
  • Tibet Autonomous Region (China) -- Social conditions.
  • Assimilation (Sociology).
  • Indians, Treatment of -- North America -- History.
  • Ethnic conflict.
  • Persecution -- Social aspects.
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