Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

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Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

Postby Indrajala » Mon Jun 03, 2013 4:58 am

Elsewhere we've discussed varying religious explanations for the cultural destruction of Tibet. In this regard, I brought up the point that I seldom hear anyone, especially Tibetan Buddhists, point out it was the bad political decisions of the Tibetan government that failed to deter the PRC takeover of Tibet.

I imagine this has something to do with the issue that if you criticize the former government, you're indirectly criticizing the 13th Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatso, which may be perceived as criticism against the present 14th Dalai Lama.

In any case, while the pro-Tibetan lobby frequently lays full blame on homicidal communist forces from China, there were a few factors that made the takeover of Tibet relatively easy.

- Tibet was very reluctant and slow to modernize both its infrastructure and military, thus posing little challenge to the battle hardened mechanized army of the PRC. There was almost no military deterrent.

- The Tibetan government kept foreigners out and didn't make an active move for international recognition until it was too late. They didn't establish embassies in the capitals of world powers. After WWII when it was clear the British were moving out of India, it would have been apparent that Tibet should have entered onto the world stage.

- Despite several famous prophecies about the imminent downfall of Tibet, it seems the government didn't do much in the way of serious defensive works to deter foreign aggression.

- Lhasa didn't really have control over places like Kam. It was bandit territory that even the government avoided. Arguably in such anarchy and ill-managed areas a foreign invading force could have just rolled right in, deep into Tibetan territory, as did happen. The Tibetan government didn't do much to secure their borders or even consolidate themselves as a proper nation state which in turn made it easy for the PRC to claim sovereignty over Tibet without much protest from the international community.


Now, granted, what's past is past, but nevertheless the narrative of Tibet's downfall, which is an intrinsic part of Tibetan Buddhism nowadays, is quite slanted and one-sided. Good Tibetans versus Evil Communist Chinese. That's perhaps easier to digest than the reality where China could opportunistically seize Tibet owing in part to the bad political decisions of the Lhasa government. Understandably, there's going to be a reluctance to acknowledge that point. Still, the pro-Tibetan propaganda line doesn't really help matters much because it is skewed and heavily biased.
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Re: Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

Postby lobster » Mon Jun 03, 2013 6:09 am

I once went to a Western Tibetan Temple, on the same street a few minutes away, was a Chinese Buddhist Temple. I was explained the marvellous nature of the resident Rinpoche and the teachings of Compassion.
'What dialogue/interaction/mutual celebration/sharing was there with the Chinese Temple?'
'None. They have their way, we have ours.'

There was more dialogue with local Christians . . .

Fine Dharma words and many Buddhists in China. Do we have Westerners have to facilitate the enactment of Dharma? Come on you Lamaist's, show us your dharma . . .

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Re: Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

Postby Wu-Ji » Mon Jun 03, 2013 7:34 am

Great posting, I've never thought about that before. :) But I guess it make people feel better about themselves to attack some "big evil nation".
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Re: Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

Postby smcj » Mon Jun 03, 2013 8:02 am

Before the Chinese came the border with Nepal & India was closed to keep people from getting in.
After the Chinese came the border was closed to keep people from getting out.

What does that tell you?
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Re: Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

Postby Clarence » Mon Jun 03, 2013 8:25 am

Anyone who has read a few academic books on the subject knows that a lot could have been prevented. Of course, in the end, none of that matters as China still invaded Tibet. That said, I hear there is a lot of tension in Dharamsala between the Tibetans who come from Tibet and the ones already living there or born there. Apparently the Tibetan Tibetans are disappointed because there standard of living diminishes when they arrive in India (this applies to Lhasa Tibetans).
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Re: Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

Postby mindyourmind » Mon Jun 03, 2013 8:45 am

Would it have made any difference whatsoever to Tibet's future had the government kept and maintained a modern, updated military, as best they could given their financial capabilities at the time? Or would it simply have added to the suffering, and maybe even given some form of legitimacy to the then "military conquest"?

I agree with you however that we tend to see the recent history of Tibet in rather two-dimensional proportions.

Indrajala wrote:Elsewhere we've discussed varying religious explanations for the cultural destruction of Tibet. In this regard, I brought up the point that I seldom hear anyone, especially Tibetan Buddhists, point out it was the bad political decisions of the Tibetan government that failed to deter the PRC takeover of Tibet.

I imagine this has something to do with the issue that if you criticize the former government, you're indirectly criticizing the 13th Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatso, which may be perceived as criticism against the present 14th Dalai Lama.

In any case, while the pro-Tibetan lobby frequently lays full blame on homicidal communist forces from China, there were a few factors that made the takeover of Tibet relatively easy.

- Tibet was very reluctant and slow to modernize both its infrastructure and military, thus posing little challenge to the battle hardened mechanized army of the PRC. There was almost no military deterrent.

- The Tibetan government kept foreigners out and didn't make an active move for international recognition until it was too late. They didn't establish embassies in the capitals of world powers. After WWII when it was clear the British were moving out of India, it would have been apparent that Tibet should have entered onto the world stage.

- Despite several famous prophecies about the imminent downfall of Tibet, it seems the government didn't do much in the way of serious defensive works to deter foreign aggression.

- Lhasa didn't really have control over places like Kam. It was bandit territory that even the government avoided. Arguably in such anarchy and ill-managed areas a foreign invading force could have just rolled right in, deep into Tibetan territory, as did happen. The Tibetan government didn't do much to secure their borders or even consolidate themselves as a proper nation state which in turn made it easy for the PRC to claim sovereignty over Tibet without much protest from the international community.


Now, granted, what's past is past, but nevertheless the narrative of Tibet's downfall, which is an intrinsic part of Tibetan Buddhism nowadays, is quite slanted and one-sided. Good Tibetans versus Evil Communist Chinese. That's perhaps easier to digest than the reality where China could opportunistically seize Tibet owing in part to the bad political decisions of the Lhasa government. Understandably, there's going to be a reluctance to acknowledge that point. Still, the pro-Tibetan propaganda line doesn't really help matters much because it is skewed and heavily biased.
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Re: Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

Postby Indrajala » Mon Jun 03, 2013 9:06 am

mindyourmind wrote:Would it have made any difference whatsoever to Tibet's future had the government kept and maintained a modern, updated military, as best they could given their financial capabilities at the time?


It would have been a deterrent. The threat inherent in having a military deterrence is often enough to halt foreign invasions, even if you don't ever employ violence outwardly. Tibet could have maintained its sovereignty perhaps by allying itself with Britain and then India, but again that would have meant establishing a lot of formal ties decades before even WWII.

However, they maintained an isolationist policy which was their undoing.


I agree with you however that we tend to see the recent history of Tibet in rather two-dimensional proportions.


My concern is that this slanted history is a part of Tibetan Buddhism as a religious narrative, too. It simply strikes me as dishonest to place all the blame on the PRC. I don't think the People's Liberation Army was so benevolent, but then their leadership was opportunistic and saw their chances at a quick territory grab, which the Tibetans never really prepared for.
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Re: Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

Postby mindyourmind » Mon Jun 03, 2013 9:41 am

After all is said and done, the PRC invaded Tibet. We must be careful not to fall prey to the charms of revisionism.

While we can debate whether Tibet may have somehow made the job easier, the blame still fully falls on the PRC. The same arguments about inefficient government can be levied at places like Poland, the Netherlands and even France pre-1939.



Indrajala wrote:
mindyourmind wrote:Would it have made any difference whatsoever to Tibet's future had the government kept and maintained a modern, updated military, as best they could given their financial capabilities at the time?


It would have been a deterrent. The threat inherent in having a military deterrence is often enough to halt foreign invasions, even if you don't ever employ violence outwardly. Tibet could have maintained its sovereignty perhaps by allying itself with Britain and then India, but again that would have meant establishing a lot of formal ties decades before even WWII.

However, they maintained an isolationist policy which was their undoing.


I agree with you however that we tend to see the recent history of Tibet in rather two-dimensional proportions.


My concern is that this slanted history is a part of Tibetan Buddhism as a religious narrative, too. It simply strikes me as dishonest to place all the blame on the PRC. I don't think the People's Liberation Army was so benevolent, but then their leadership was opportunistic and saw their chances at a quick territory grab, which the Tibetans never really prepared for.
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Re: Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

Postby Indrajala » Mon Jun 03, 2013 10:10 am

mindyourmind wrote:After all is said and done, the PRC invaded Tibet. We must be careful not to fall prey to the charms of revisionism.

While we can debate whether Tibet may have somehow made the job easier, the blame still fully falls on the PRC. The same arguments about inefficient government can be levied at places like Poland, the Netherlands and even France pre-1939.


On the other hand, Tibet in past times demonstrated itself to be just as predatory. During the Tang period the Tibetan Empire invaded China, captured city states in the Tarim Basin and generally behaved like a lot of other aggressive cultures. While there probably wasn't much in the way of widespread popular Buddhism in the Yarlung dynasty period, we still nevertheless hear later myths still propagated about the great Buddhist kings.

Apparently the 13th Dalai Lama predicted before dying:

    "Very soon in this land (with a harmonious blend of religion and politics) deceptive acts may occur from without and within. At that time, if we do not dare to protect our territory, our spiritual personalities including the Victorious Father and Son (Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama) may be exterminated without trace, the property and authority of our Lakangs (residences of reincarnated lamas) and monks may be taken away. Moreover, our political system, developed by the Three Great Dharma Kings (Tri Songtsen Gampo, Tri Songdetsen and Tri Ralpachen) will vanish without anything remaining. The property of all people, high and low, will be seized and the people forced to become slaves. All living beings will have to endure endless days of suffering and will be stricken with fear. Such a time will come."

Songstän Gampo was actually an aggressive warlord. The Tun-Huang Chronicles state the following:

    ...the paternal subjects rebelled; the maternal subjects revolved. ... The father gNam ri was given poison and died. The son Srong btsan firstly wiped out the families of the rebels and the prisoners.

However, later Buddhist historians distorted the earlier record. Butön Rinchen Drup (1290-1364) relates the following:

    ...Thirteen years of age he ascended the throne and, brought under his power all the petty chiefs of the borderland who offered him presents and sent their messages (of submission).

In 636 he was ready to attack China and did so. He wasn't really a Dharma King all things considered. Nevertheless, the later religious narrative distorts the actual history.

My concern is that this is happening again with modern Tibetan Buddhism where the history is being slanted in a dishonest direction.
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Re: Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

Postby mindyourmind » Mon Jun 03, 2013 10:30 am

Dear Indrajala

I could not agree that Tibet's recent history is being slanted, at least not in a "dishonest way".

Their own past history, which undoubtedly included unwarranted violence and expansionism, would certainly not justify the PRC's actions. If so, places like the USA and most (if not all) European countries would be similarly able to be invaded without us raising an eyebrow.

I agree that we should take a cold look at Tibet's history, but if you are saying that this in any way justifies the PRC's conduct then I will have to disagree with you.
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Re: Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

Postby Indrajala » Mon Jun 03, 2013 10:44 am

mindyourmind wrote:I agree that we should take a cold look at Tibet's history, but if you are saying that this in any way justifies the PRC's conduct then I will have to disagree with you.


I'm not justifying the PRC's conduct. I'm simply saying it is more complex than evil communists invading and acquiring a peaceful Himalayan Buddhist country. It isn't so black and white. History is never really so binary. Even talking about "the Tibetans" is problematic when we consider that places like Kham basically didn't answer to Lhasa. There wasn't much of a nation state called Tibet, which again was one of the factors leading to the downfall of the Lhasa state.

Basically, my concern is that relatively recent history, which can be generally objectively understood, is being subverted to a religious narrative that distorts and obscures the past realities.

But then as they say the closer to the present you are, the more obscure history becomes. China has its own official warped version(s) of events.

It might be too much to ask the numerous factions to look at things with a bit more of a critical eye. There are vested interests, both political and religion, in the varying narratives.
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Re: Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

Postby lobster » Mon Jun 03, 2013 11:48 am

Indrajala wrote:It might be too much to ask the numerous factions to look at things with a bit more of a critical eye. There are vested interests, both political and religion, in the varying narratives.


Ain't it always the way. :thinking:
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Re: Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

Postby kirtu » Mon Jun 03, 2013 2:49 pm

Indrajala wrote:Even talking about "the Tibetans" is problematic when we consider that places like Kham basically didn't answer to Lhasa. There wasn't much of a nation state called Tibet, which again was one of the factors leading to the downfall of the Lhasa state.


There was a general culture which was similar enough to be called Tibetan even with strong divisions. Partly unification of the culture was exercised on the basis of language (even though dialects are mutually unintelligible) and secondly, religion. As noted, there was not an actual nation state even in the 17th century view of "nation state". Tibet was much more like pre-1871 Germany.


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Re: Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Jun 03, 2013 4:45 pm

I imagine this has something to do with the issue that if you criticize the former government, you're indirectly criticizing the 13th Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatso, which may be perceived as criticism against the present 14th Dalai Lama.



I don't think so. Most of the Tibetans I know hold the opinion that the pre-occupation Tibetan government was incompetent. I have read and heard that actually the 13th Dalai Lama tried to instigate reforms, including a more modernized army, but that these efforts were stalled by Lhasa aristocrats and a few influential monastic officials. They simply didn't want the funds to go to these projects.

There is the famous story of the border post radioing officials in Lhasa to warn them of Chinese troops massing at the border. The person who answered was told it was not a good time as the officials could not be disturbed during their picnic.
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Re: Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

Postby Konchog1 » Mon Jun 03, 2013 7:44 pm

Indrajala wrote:
mindyourmind wrote:After all is said and done, the PRC invaded Tibet. We must be careful not to fall prey to the charms of revisionism.

While we can debate whether Tibet may have somehow made the job easier, the blame still fully falls on the PRC. The same arguments about inefficient government can be levied at places like Poland, the Netherlands and even France pre-1939.


On the other hand, Tibet in past times demonstrated itself to be just as predatory. During the Tang period the Tibetan Empire invaded China, captured city states in the Tarim Basin and generally behaved like a lot of other aggressive cultures. While there probably wasn't much in the way of widespread popular Buddhism in the Yarlung dynasty period, we still nevertheless hear later myths still propagated about the great Buddhist kings.

Songstän Gampo was actually an aggressive warlord. The Tun-Huang Chronicles state the following:

    ...the paternal subjects rebelled; the maternal subjects revolved. ... The father gNam ri was given poison and died. The son Srong btsan firstly wiped out the families of the rebels and the prisoners.

However, later Buddhist historians distorted the earlier record. Butön Rinchen Drup (1290-1364) relates the following:

    ...Thirteen years of age he ascended the throne and, brought under his power all the petty chiefs of the borderland who offered him presents and sent their messages (of submission).

In 636 he was ready to attack China and did so. He wasn't really a Dharma King all things considered. Nevertheless, the later religious narrative distorts the actual history.

My concern is that this is happening again with modern Tibetan Buddhism where the history is being slanted in a dishonest direction.
I forgot where I read it, but some Indian Buddhists went to visit one of the Dharma kings (I forget who), saw the bodies of executed prisoners and thought 'such a king cannot be a virtuous king'. They were about to leave but Avalokiteshvara stopped them saying 'Tibet is a barbarous land. In order to subdue it, the Bodhisattva king has manifested illusory people whom he executes in order to frighten his warlike subjects into being virtuous. He hasn't killed anyone.'

So there are revisions that don't deny the actions, but still promote the Dharma kings as virtuous rulers. I prefer this kind of revision to the "never happened" kind.

EDIT

Also as for the 'Kham being semi-independent' comment. In Patrul Rinpoche's commentary of Bodhicharyavatara, The Nectar of Manjushri's Speech, he says that the Dharma is only available due to the kindness of Tibetans. A footnote explains that this remark isn't as arrogant as it appears because Patrul Rinpoche was Khampa and thus didn't consider himself Tibetan. The remark was directed at himself and other Khampa.
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Re: Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

Postby smcj » Mon Jun 03, 2013 8:35 pm

I hear there is a lot of tension in Dharamsala between the Tibetans who come from Tibet and the ones already living there or born there. Apparently the Tibetan Tibetans are disappointed because there standard of living diminishes when they arrive in India (this applies to Lhasa Tibetans).

They are free to go back. They don't.
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Re: Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Jun 03, 2013 9:02 pm

This is a blanket statement-it actually is not true in all cases. Some can go back, but not all.

It depends greatly on the region they come from, their family history, and the reasons why they left. Some people face great harassment and even imprisonment for trumped up charges when they return.
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Re: Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

Postby Nilasarasvati » Mon Jun 03, 2013 9:48 pm

Lobster:
I once went to a Western Tibetan Temple, on the same street a few minutes away, was a Chinese Buddhist Temple. I was explained the marvellous nature of the resident Rinpoche and the teachings of Compassion.
'What dialogue/interaction/mutual celebration/sharing was there with the Chinese Temple?'
'None. They have their way, we have ours.'

There was more dialogue with local Christians . . .

Fine Dharma words and many Buddhists in China. Do we have Westerners have to facilitate the enactment of Dharma? Come on you Lamaist's, show us your dharma . . .


This is a generalization, but many Chinese in China and worldwide are often taught and believe that Tibetan Buddhism is the degenerate worship of demons, a cult, and that the Dalai Lama is the most insidious, separatist public enemy of the PRC who has ever walked the earth. Even if they are Buddhists, the Chinese often have little common ground and little empathy or understanding of what has actually happened to the Tibetan people over the past 65 years or so because of the lack of transparency within the PRC about what really happens anywhere, much less in Tibet.

The Tibetans for their part generally have cultural and familial memories and first-hand experiences of massacre, the destruction of their monasteries and temples, mass-imprisonment and forced labor camps, exile, oppression, and the creeping obliteration of native culture, language, and population by the burgeoning numbers of Han Chinese in Tibet. It's not a family feud; it's cultural genocide.

To wonder if Westerners will "have to facilitate the enactment of Dharma" suggests an imperialist superiority complex. Like the Tibetans have been sitting on their hands waiting for the White Western saviors to teach them what their religion really means. As if His Holiness hasn't devoted his life to making sure his people have a voice, preserve their traditions, and struggle to improve human rights within Tibet through nonviolent means. As if the Chinese Buddhists are all waiting with open arms to acknowledge what their government. I think the onus of invitation, initiation of healing/communication, etc. is on the Chinese.
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Re: Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jun 04, 2013 3:18 am

Nilasarasvati wrote: I think the onus of invitation, initiation of healing/communication, etc. is on the Chinese.


It probably won't happen anytime soon, if ever.

The PRC as far as I know hasn't even officially apologized for all the deaths under Mao. They just blame it on incompetent underlings and it all sounds like some kind of unfortunate accident in history that doesn't really need to be addressed through apologies.

Chinese history, modern and pre-modern, is filled with unapologetic massacres and other such atrocities.

I think in the general Chinese political paradigm, apologizing is perceived as a sign of weakness and incompetence. If you can make the enemy apologize, then you strengthen your own position both at home and abroad.

On the other hand, if you refuse to apologize to them, then you might actually gain their begrudging respect. This is why despite the PRC howling whenever Japanese politicians visit Yasukuni Shrine, it is actually in the interests of the Japanese to carry on doing so. Passive aggressive behaviour in East Asia is actually a way of indicating a strong position without having to beat war drums. On the other hand if you roll over and submit, you are clearly only worthy of contempt, and thus you deserve whatever fate you get.

I don't personally like such approaches to politics and life (it works like this in business too), but that's how things are.
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Re: Government of Pre-PRC Tibet

Postby Indrajala » Tue Jun 04, 2013 3:26 am

Konchog1 wrote:...he says that the Dharma is only available due to the kindness of Tibetans.


That's an ignorant remark.

Tibetans were never and are not the sole caretakers of Dharma in the world.
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