Monday, April 28, 2008

What Do Tibetans Want?

What if someone held a protest and nobody could be there to report it?  And even if they could, what if nobody heard what the protesters were saying? Or if they heard, what if they didn't understand? Or what if the things they were saying got hijacked or drowned out by other people with their own very different concerns? Could such a protest be said to have taken place at all?

In recent weeks news from Tibet has been painfully slow in getting to the outside world. I just today received this information from an English translation of Wozer's Chinese-language blog entry of April 26, 2008:
Two nuns, 32-year-old Lhaga and 30-year-old Sonam Dekyi in Draka Nunnery in Ganzi County in Kham (Ganzi Prefecture, Sichuan Province) were arrested by the police on April 23, when they distributed “Wind-horse” banners with scriptures and leaflets written with such words as ‘Long Live the Dalai Lama” and “Tibet is a independent country,” etc, while shouting slogans in the county seat of Ganzi County.
{On the same incident, there is a bit at RFA.  Thanks for the tip from Agam's Gecko. Note how the PSB officer does not verify the story when the journalists phone him. Indeed, he denies it.}
Like much of the more recent information coming out of Tibet, to my knowledge the facts about this event have not been verified. Indeed, verification of news is one of the main obstacles preventing news about Tibet from reaching the newspapers. This was so even last month, when news agencies seeking verification would often desperately search for a phone number, any old phone number, of a hotel or office in the vicinity of the protest. Even then they would often get people unwilling or "not authorized" to say anything.

With all the normal channels of communication, the ones we take so much for granted in the 21st century, closed off by the party in power (a story we heard back in 1987), it makes it all the more crucial to find out what these protests are all about. One way of doing this would be to examine what we can objectively know about what the protesters are saying. And one way we can be clear about their demands in a way that doesn't require much in the way of 2nd-hand verification is to look at what they say on their protest banners, banners like the one in the photo above held by monks marching in Rebkong in Amdo.

Of course there are obstacles, not least of all the fact that most of the protest banners have been written in Tibetan language only, even if the protest took place in Beijing. And in one case at least it's too difficult to read them in the videos & photos we have. Watching the video of the Labrang monks' protest of April 9th, I was frustrated not to be able to get a clear look at the Tibetan words, although I imagined, after freezing frames every second or two, that one cloth banner started with the words "drowa mii tobtang" ('gro-ba mi'i thob-thang), which means 'rights of human beings,' or more simply, 'human rights,' which might suggest that this was the main issue on these monks' minds. I got the clearest glimpse of this banner in this Dutch-language newscast. This shows a 2nd banner, even less legible.  But you can also see the monk saying in very fast and for myself (I'm ashamed to admit) only partially intelligible Amdo language translated into Nederlands in the sub-titling as We hebben geen vrijheid, helemaal geen vrijheid, en ook geen rechten.  We willen dat de Dalai Lama terugkomt."I imagine that may have made perfect sense to you, but I'll try a translation anyway: 'We have no freedom, no freedom at all, and no rights either. We want the Dalai Lama to return.' Clear enough? I think so.

The Rebkong protests were not well covered by the international press, first of all because it seems no tourists were present, or endangered by the events. Sad to say, but I believe this does make a difference to them when deciding what is newsworthy. And besides, as I said before, because the usual journalistic standards for verification have proven difficult to fulfill.

So first, before talking about the banner and its inscription, I'd like to copy a long account of the recent history of demonstrations in Rebkong/Rebgong, based on the same source quoted above, the blog dated April 17:

As early as two months ago, i.e. on the evening of February 11, because the military police disrupted the religious ceremony held by the local monastery in Rebgong (Ch. Tongren) County in Tsolho (Ch. Huangnan) Prefecture, Qinghai Province, it caused great resentment among the local monks and lay people. Thus, they shouted slogans demanding freedom of religious belief and wishing a long life to the Dalai Lama. Consequently, they were dispersed by the local government with tear gas, and they madly arrested over 200 monks and lay people. 

The next day, this prompted several thousand monks and lay people to stage a demonstration at the county seat, demanding the local government to release the monks and lay people who were arrested. Under the pressure, the local government had to release all those who were arrested, but three monks and one old man were severely injured from beating, and had to be sent to the emergency room so as to save their lives. 

Soon afterward, the authorities transferred special police from Xining and Zhengzhou (in the local hotel there are banners on which such words as "Welcome the special police from Zhengzhou to stay at our hotel") to Rebgong. Suppressed by the massive forces, the “Incident of February 11” that happened in Rebgong was temporarily calmed down, but we can say this was the prelude to the series of incidents that happened after March 10 in Lhasa and protests which spread to all Tibetan areas. 

On March 17, all the monks of Rongwu Monastery in Rebgong (Ch. Tongren) County made incense offering at the mountain pass to the west of Rongwu Monastery, reciting in unison prayers for the Dalai Lama. 

Later when the monks were about to go on to protest in the downtown, they were prevented from going by lay people who were crying out loud and pleading with them not to go. Some monks slashed their wrists under great indignation and resentment, and appeared to be very excited. 

At that time, the armed policemen were on high alert. In the end, the monks made several demands to the government via the reincarnated lama of the monastery Sharitsang Rinpoche: the armed policemen cannot patrol around the monastery; dismantle the security cameras installed in the monastery; Buddhist activities such as making incense offering should not be stopped unreasonably. 

The local government agreed to all the demands. However, in the afternoon, the local officials organized work teams to visit Tibetan families, forcing Tibetans to sign their name on the written pledge. They had to pledge not to go on protest etc. 

At the same time, on March 18, police with special duties from Xining were dispatched to Rebgong and the authorities continued their revenge against the protesters. 

On April 15, the authorities again arrested the old man and monks who were injured through beating in the “Incident of February 11” and kept them in custody. Thereafter, some monks and lay people who participated in the protest were arrested one after another. At the same time, they had been keeping a close watch on and controlling the dissidents in the region. This morning (April 17) some monks from Rongwu Monastery went to inquire about the conditions of monks and lay people who are imprisoned by the authorities, the local government ignored them, and did not give any answers to them. 

On their way back to the monastery, these monks were surrounded and blocked by the military police. First they arrested 20 monks on the spot. The common people pleaded with the police and attempted to prevent them from taking action; soon quite a great number of these lay people were also arrested and taken away. This incident happened around noon. 

According to a local person, at that time about 100 monks and lay people, who filled four military trucks, were arrested. Among them there was a reincarnated lama known by his Dharma name Khaso,* who is a well respected 60-year lama. He was also arrested when he was trying to mediate. Throughout the incident, none of the monks or lay people resisted, they were just expressing their wishes and appealing. 

In the afternoon, the authorities dispatched a great number of military police to rush to Rebgong from Xining. It is said that, in reality, they are infantry soldiers who changed into military police uniform and changed their plate numbers as well. Meanwhile, a great number of fully armed military police charged into Rongwu Monastery, carrying batons and machine guns. They searched all the living quarters of the monks, confiscating all the photos of the Dalai Lama and all the DVDs concerning the Dalai Lama. Many monks were arrested and taken away from the monastery. The local people said that 80% of the monks in Rongwu Monastery** were arrested, and altogether at least 200 monks and lay people were arrested. 

At present the monastery is rather empty. There are only a few old monks left in the monastery, but even they are not allowed to leave the monastery. The local people’s morale is rather low, and they are sad and indignant. Even those Tibetans who are incorporated into the Chinese system are very dissatisfied. Everyone feels insecure, and the atmosphere is rather tense."
{*For more about this respected religious teacher, 80-year-old (!!) Alak Khasutsang, along with a photograph, look here. I've already placed him in my short list of heroes (and by 'heroes' I do not mean martyrs) for his willingness to put himself in harm's way in order to negotiate peace. (And Yes, this list most definitely includes Grace Wang or rather Wang Qianyuan, a young woman who deserves to be the pride of Chinese people everywhere, and I'm confident she will be in the near future.) While you are there, take note of the protest banners at the top of the page. The one on your left is the same one depicted above, just in a different photograph of the same event. **If you would like to know about the history of Rongwo Monastery, see the book by Gruschke listed below.}
According to the source of the photo, it was taken during the demonstrations of March 17. You will notice that the faces have been 'fuzzed' to prevent recognition. This is sadly necessary since they might well be used as evidence in a country that recognizes no such thing as a legal demonstration (the only exception, in actual practice, being when it seems China's national pride has been slighted; and of course Hong Kong is also an exception for the time being ...).

Let's have a look at the wording which, as might be expected in a banner, is crisply and concisely worded. In direct letter-for-letter transcription (transliteration) according to the Wylie system, which is practically the standard system, it reads like this: 
gong sa gdan zhu /
rang dbang rtsol len /
You could roughly pronounce this in a central Tibetan dialect (of course these Amdo monks would read it with a different pronunciation) as:
kongsa dänshu /
rangwang tsöl len /
We'll analyze this word-for-word using the phonetic version. Kongsa means 'High Earth' or 'Lofty Level' [Level of Buddhist spiritual attainment, called Bhumis in Sanskrit].

I guess it's fairly well known that Tibetans rarely refer to His Holiness as "the Dalai Lama." It has become the accepted international norm, so when Tibetans speak in English, they will certainly do so as well. There are certain frequently-used ways to speak of His Holiness in Tibetan, of which Kongsa is only one. Others are Kündün (sku-mdun), "the Presence"; Kyabgön (skyab-mgon), "Lord who Protects" or "Lord who Provides Refuge"; Gyelwa Rinpoché (rgyal-ba rin-po-che), "Precious Victor" ['Victor,' Sanskrit Jina, is usually used for the Buddha'], and Yishin Norbu (yid-bzhin-nor-bu), "Wish-granting Jewel."

Dänshu, being a very polite term (what is sometimes called 'honorifics') literally means "to request to take [His] seat," and often means 'invitation' or, understood as it must be here as a verbal form, 'to invite.'  Some might have preferred to see a 'high honorific' used here, but I think that doesn't matter much (Amdowas are not famous for their use of honorifics to begin with). It isn't especially clear what the tense of the verb ought to be, although I assume it is or was meant to be imperative (or a future used as a kind of subjunctive). So I read this first line to mean "Invite the Dalai Lama!" although I suppose it could just as well be rendered, "We invite the Dalai Lama!" or "The Dalai Lama ought to be invited."

Rangwang, as you know from the latest Tibeto-logic blog, means 'independence.' In its literal syllable-by-syllable meaning, it could be awkwardly translated as 'own power' (being under one's own power rather than under that of another).

Tsöl, means to work hard for something, to strive or to seek.

Len means to take.

So I would translate the second line as "Seek [and] take independence!"

I hope you not only learned a little Tibetan today, if you haven't already, but that you would also have a little clearer idea about what at least one group of Tibetan protesters say they want, inscribed in very large and clear black letters drawn on white cloth for all to see. And if you have any clarifications to offer, I'd especially welcome the comments of Tibetans.  Amdowas all the more so.

Read more, see more, hear more, feel more, think more, predict more:

Cao Changching, Independence: The Tibetan People's Right, Chinese Studies in History, vol. 30, no. 3 (Spring 1997), pp. 8-28.

Cao Changching & James D. Seymour, eds., Tibet through Dissident Chinese Eyes: Essays on Self-Determination, M.E. Sharpe (London 1998).

Dru C. Gladney, Internal Colonialism and the Uyghur Nationality: Chinese Nationalism and Its Subaltern Subjects.  Available here.  Note especially the quote from a 1995 interview with Liu Binyan, a former Xinhua journalist who became a dissident and moved to the U.S.  He said,
Nationalism and Han chauvinism are now the only effective instruments in the ideological arsenal of the CCP.  Any disruption in the relationship with foreign countries or among ethnic minorities can be used to stir 'patriotic' sentiments of the people to support the communist authorities.  
We can certainly read the truth of these words in the newspapers today.

Andreas Gruschke, The Cultural Monuments of Tibet's Outer Provinces: Amdo, Volume 1, the Qinghai Part of Amdo, White Lotus (Bangkok 2001), pp. 51-54, on Rongwo/Rongwu (Rong-bo) Monastery's history, with remarkable color photographs on pp. 139-142.

Thomas Heberer, Old Tibet a Hell on Earth? The Myth of Tibet and Tibetans in Chinese Art and Propaganda, contained in: Thierry Dodin & Heinz Räther, eds., Imagining Tibet: Perceptions, Projections, and Fantasies, Wisdom (Boston 2001), pp. 111-150.  An earlier German-language version is available with the title Das alte Tibet war eine Hölle auf Erden. Mythos Tibet in der chinesischen Kunst und Propaganda, contained in Thierry Dodin & Heinz Räther, eds., Mythos Tibet, DuMont (Cologne 1997), pp. 114-149.  In recent days the author, a well known Sinologist, has written against demonizing China; see this for example, which contains these words:
"In the eyes of Europe and North America, Tibet has long been something very special and mystical. Tibet is considered an exotic entity, which is idealized. A book published a few years ago described this phenomenon as the so-called 'myth of Tibet'," said Heberer.
Interesting to notice that he refers to the same book, Mythos Tibet, that contains his article about how Chinese idealize and exoticize Tibetans.  (It is entirely possible that his statement is misrepresented.  This is old news, but the PRC news-release agency always only makes use of the bits it knows to be politically acceptable.)

Jamyang Norbu, From Tibet the Cry is for Rangzen, contained in: Edward Lazar, ed., Tibet: The Issue Is Independence, Parallax Press (Berkeley 1994), pp. 75-78.  This has been republished recently in the author's new book, Shadow Tibet.

Elliot Sperling, The Rhetoric of Dissent: Tibetan Pamphleteers, contained in: Robert Barnett & Shirin Akiner, Resistance and Reform in Tibet, Hurst (London 1994), pp. 267-284.

Wu Naitao, Independence of Tibet: Untenable and Futile, Beijing Review, vol. 27, no. 25 (June 18, 1984), pp. 20-21.

If you would like a fast review of the events in Tibet during the Ides of March and events leading up to them, I think one of the more reasonable and factual (certainly more intelligible) accounts is this one.

A collection of some of the most disturbing and dramatic photographs from the Tibet protests between March 14th and March 17th may be found at the webpage of Citizen Journalism Report. But be warned that the first pictures are extremely difficult for beings who are at all human to look upon without extreme pain.  Very honestly, I recommend preparing your mind as far as possible before tapping on this link.  Be aware you will be seeing some bullet-ridden corpses (Tibetan corpses that the PRC press denies ever existed).  And you may rest assured that sufferings of Chinese shop owners in Lhasa are also well represented here. And if you look carefully, you will locate a very fine AP photo of the Rongwu monks' defiant act of incense burning on March 16th. At the same time, you should be aware that a few of the photos are mislabeled, including the one with the following label:
In this image made from video and provided by APTN, a protestor speaks with authorities, Friday, March 14, 2008, in Lhasa, Tibet. Police fired tear gas to disperse Buddhist monks and others staging a second day of protests Saturday in western China in sympathy with anti-Chinese demonstrations in Lhasa, local residents said. (AP Photo/APTN)
This and the photo that follows it were both taken in Nepal (in Kathmandu most probably), not in Lhasa.  (For more examples, see; they got this part right, the fact that news agencies got confused about what took place where.  I'd give the link, but everybody in the universe has had a look at it already.)

I feel I benefitted from listening to this hour-long audio program at Tibet Connection with its very interesting comments by Dr. John Powers of Australian National University, among others.

For more on what is going on inside Tibet, have a look at the latest news in Agam's Gecko.

I'd also like to recommend Donald S. Lopez Jr., How to Think about Tibet, published on March 31, 2008, and available online at the OpenDemocracy website.  Dr. Lopez, professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, makes connections between Tibet and Latvia that certainly never occurred to me.  While you're there, have a look at the piece by Gabriel Lafitte, published on March 18, 2008: Tibet: Revolt with Memories.

The incense burning of March 16, 2008 (or was it March 17?) on a hill above Rongwu Monastery (AP Photo/Cara Anna).  Another photo here.

Update of April 28 on conditions at Rongwu Monastery (from Wuzer's new blog):
It is reported that since April 21 the work team consisting of over 50 cadres carried out the “Patriotic Education Campaign” in Rongwu Monastery in Rebkong County (Ch. Tongren) in Amdo. The monks were required to criticize the Dalai Lama, and those who disobeyed were struck with batons. At present, Rongwu Monastery is controlled by a thousand military police, and monks are not allowed to enter or leave the monastery. There are about 400 or 500 monks left in the monastery, among whom over 160 were injured and over 300 are still in custody.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Tibetan Independence: Testimonies from Two Professors & a Bird

Let's try and be brief, because frankly I'm in a hurry.  And I fear you may not be ready to give me much of your time, either. With the Tibet issue proving it's not going away, there are a lot of people eager to think with their feet, which is understandable given the deep investments we have and have had in Tibet for a very long time. (Don't have the slightest what that talk about 'trendiness' is supposed to mean, do you?) Still, I think we ought to use our heads and consider carefully what we ought to be doing and why.  In internet discussions these days, nothing whips those PRC nationalists into quite as much of a lather as the mere mention of the word 'independence' in the same sentence with Tibet.  Even the TGIE ("Tibet Government in Exile" in Dharamsala, India) is troubled to hear it. It makes them uncomfortable. In the TAR, pronouncing in public the modern Tibetan word for it, Rangtsen/Rangzen (rang-btsan), may be one of your quickest tickets to a long holiday in a place where there won't be any jacuzzis or complimentary massages, believe you me (or if you don't, visit Amnesty International).  

There are those who lay down the groundwork for discussion by saying that the question of just how autonomous Tibet might have been during its long history is an unanswerable one, better avoided.  I would suggest that the situation is hardly all that bleak.  Experts on Tibetan history (and by that I mean experts free to come to their own conclusions and not constrained to repeat the party line) are actually in remarkably close agreement about the general outlines of the history of Sino-Tibetan relations.  To the best of my knowledge everyone agrees that Tibet was in fact (in Latin, de facto) independent from 1912 through 1949 (or 1951).  This means that the Tibetan government in Lhasa believed in its own independence, proclaimed its independence, and conducted itself independently and therefore, for all intents and purposes, was independent.  Maybe you are familiar with the expression "If it walks like a duck"?  It does not mean that any country other than Mongolia recognized its independence in an official way (see Mehra for the classic study). Hmm... Mongolia was also within the Manchu sphere (like Tibet, never ever made into a province of China; yes, OK, Inner Mongolia, but let's not get into that now), but it's an independent country today.  Why might that be?

Historians of Tibet are also aware that Tibet fell within the orbits of power of the Mongolian Yuan and the Manchu Qing dynasties. They differ on the degrees to which Tibetan rulers were beholden to the Mongolian and Manchu rulers of China during those times. Still, not one of them would deny that in certain times and in certain matters Mongols and Manchus were able to exert some influence on the governance of Tibet.

The PRC once claimed (and very occasionally still does claim) that Chinese control over Tibet originated in the Tang Dynasty when a few Chinese princesses were used to seal matrimonial alliances between the two countries.  I understand that it is still very risky for Tibetan intellectuals in the TAR  ("Tibet Autonomous Region") to mention that there ever was a matrimonial alliance with Nepal, which could then lead to a collapse in the logic, since then Tibet would have become part of Nepal, or half part of Nepal... Regardless of all that, it's just the case that securing a matrimonial alliance with China was not a sign of Tibetan weakness or submission, just the contrary.  It was a sign of Tibetan power and influence.

It is generally agreed that Sakya Pandita was the main Tibetan responsible for Tibet's submission to Mongol power, clearly done under threat of an invasion that never really happened, and Tibet was never occupied by the Mongols in the way they occupied China. Interesting that this verse is attributed to Sakya Pandita's authorship:

All independence is happiness.
All dependence on others is suffering.
Common ownership serves as a basis for disputes
while agreements serve as causes for bondage.

rang dbang thams cad bde ba ste //
gzhan dbang thams cad sdug bsngal yin //
thun mong ba ni rtsod gzhi ste //
dam bcas pa ni 'ching ba'i rgyu //
Remember that word Rangwang (rang-dbang) for independence.

But in any case it was not my intent to tell my own ideas on the subject, or even to convince the unconvinced.  What I'd like to do is to send you off first to listen to an audio of an interview with Robert Barnett.  You are already familiar with him from recent Tibeto-blogs, so I will just remind you that he is the director of the Modern Tibetan History Program at Columbia University.  You decide what you think of it. For the moment I'd just like to object to three words used by the interviewer, "tiny mountain nation." Surely she was thinking of San Marino, not Tibet.  

So go now to hear "Tibetan Sovereignty has a Long, Disputed History."  It's on the website of National Public Radio.  It originally aired on April 11, 2008.  It will only take ten minutes of your time.  When you're done, back click your way back here.

Your next step is to go to the web version of the New York Times, the Opinion Page of April 13, 2008.  There you will find Dr. Elliot Sperling's "Don't Know Much about Tibetan History" (schmoogle the title if you can't get access through this official link).  The author is director of the Tibetan Studies program of the Department of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University, Bloomington.  He has enviable mastery of both Chinese and Tibetan, both colloquial and literary, classical and modern, among still other languages.  I won't assume everyone in the globe will catch the cultural allusion contained in the headline, which may have been the invention of a newspaper editor, not the author.  I know not everyone is all that familiar with the early history of American rhythm & blues and soul music.  You might have never even heard of Otis Redding or his famous song. (The song was originally performed by Sam Cooke, and the Otis Redding was just a 'cover'... I stand corrected.)  Prof. Sperling's piece is a masterpiece of brevity, so it won't take long to read either. If you are up for it and have some more time on your hands, you can always read the book that stands behind it: The Tibet-China Conflict: History & Polemics.  It's freely available. But like I said, Ya'll come back now.

And, at last, not least, the bird.  In recent years it seems to have become established that the real author of the Story of the Bird and Monkey (Bya sprel gtam rgyud) was not the tragically short-lived Eleventh Dalai Lama (1837-1855).  No. It was an earlier and actually more famous figure named Doring Kalön Tendzin Paljor (Rdo-ring Bka'-blon Bstan-'dzin-dpal-'byor), who must have written it soon after the year 1788.  This was in fact the 'Qianlong Era,' a time when Manchu power in Tibet was at its height, when golden edicts were regularly issued telling Tibetans what to do (so what if they were often ignored or selectively applied?).  In just another few decades, the imperial treasury nearly depleted, the Manchus were unable to afford military ventures.  They could no longer push their weight around in neighboring areas as they pleased.

The context of the dialog (and the explanation for it) is very likely the negotiations meant to end the Gurkho-Tibetan war (see this back-blog) in which our author was himself a negotiator. The bird very clearly represents the Tibetan party, with the monkey representing the Gurkhas of Nepal (I really don't see any ethnic slurs intended in this animal symbolism, although I suppose I could be wrong).  The monkeys leave their homes on the plains and head up into the mountains devouring all the flowers, mushrooms and fruits that were ordinarily eaten by the birds.  Well, since I think neither you nor I have time for it, I won't go into the general story of this nicely told tale in six chapters.  I'll get to the point.  In the first chapter, the bird is responding to an argument by the monkey chief, who wants to say, basically, 'Well, anything goes and we'll go where we like.'

Listen to me oh chief of monkeys.
You see one side, you don't see both.
You see the peak of the matter,
but you don't comprehend the main part.

These down-rolling stones of your misunderstandings,
if they get caught up in the gullies, come back to you.
It may be this mountain came to be through general karma.
But each place has its owner.
Haven't your tiny little eyes seen this?
Or perhaps your ears are hard of hearing?

If we take this realm of Jambu Island* as an example,
it came to be through general karma.
But still each place - India, China, Mongolia and Tibet,
Khotan (Tarim region), Nepal and others -
has its own independence.

India was taken over by the King of Dharma.
China was taking over by the King of Tsina.
Mongolia was taken over by King Chinggis.
Khotan region was taken over by the King Yambu.
Don't you know about them?
{*Jambu Island, an Abhidharmic geographical concept, is said to lie to the south of Mt. Meru.  Although often identified with the Indian sub-continent, Jambu Island sometimes means something more like 'the world as we know it.'}
The word for 'independence' here is not  Rangzen, but the word more likely to be found in old literary writings in its place, but with the same meaning.*  Rangwang (rang-dbang), literally 'own power' or 'power over oneself,' is still very often used, and it has the meaning of taking care of ones own affairs oneself. It is used, too, in the 13th Dalai Lama's declaration of independence.  My point here is only that, understanding the bird to be the author himself thinly disguised, this prominent Lhasa political figure is saying in the clearest possible way that no one can deny the independence of Tibet.  To deny Tibetan independence would be tantamount to denying the independence of China, India and Mongolia.
{*Actually, I do know of one usage of Rangzen in a work that predates the mid-12th century, but please, I don't want to over-complicate matters by discussing such exceptions today.  The word used in the name of the TAR, is Rangkyong (rang-skyong). It means literally 'self-protecting' or 'self-governing.'  The TAR was officially formed only in 1965.  Of course since its leaders are directly appointed by Beijing, it is anything but autonomous [think about the 'autonomous okrugs' of the Soviet era].  I generally agree with Martin (1996: 60): "We should note here also other expressions for independence. Rang-rkya or rang-skya means independence in the sense of being able to stand on ones own two feet. Rang-dbang and rang-btsan are words used by Tibetan nationalists, often rendered 'self-determination.' There is also, nowadays, the relatively innocuous expression rang-skyong, 'self-governance' or 'autonomy' which occurs in the official name "Tibetan Autonomous Region" or T.A.R. All these words begin with the syllable rang, which is used to form reflexive (often self-referential) expressions."}

* * * * *

AFTER WORDS  Here you will find the passage in Tibetan in Roman transcription for the sake of readers of Tibetan.  I use a single version published in an anthology in India, although there have been at least two separate publications in the PRC, one just last year.  I've translated rather freely and of course according to my own lights.  Some graduate student ought to take it upon herself to do a full study of this text within its historical context.  I think the 4th line is intended to imitate the sound of the bird, specified to be a gong-mo bird. This bird is supposed to be a kind of light-colored grouse with a red beak that lives in meadows, although I haven't the faintest idea, really, what its birdsong sounds like.  Some translate gong-mo as partridge, but I believe it must indeed be none other than the Tibetan Snowcock that is speaking these words:

khyod spre'u'i gtso bo tshur la nyon //
khyed phyogs gcig mthong ste gnyis ma mthong //
don rtse mo shes kyang mthil ma rtogs //
ha ma go ha ma go ril ril de //
don nyag la bkag na rang la 'khor //
ri spyi mthun las* kyis grub mod kyang //
gnas so sor bdag po sprad pa de //
khyod phra chung mig gis ma mthong ngam //
thos chung rna bas ma go'am //
yul 'dzam bu gling 'dir dper mtshon na //
spyi mthun las kyis grub na yang //
rgya gar rgya nag hor dang bod //
li dang bal yul la sogs pa //
rang rang dbang re so sor yod //
rgya gar chos kyi rgyal pos bzung //
rgya nag tsi na'i rgyal pos bzung //
hor sog jing gir rgyal pos bzung //
li yul yam bu rgyal pos bdag //
de tsho khyod kyis ma go 'am //

{*The dictionary by Tsepak Rigzin featured in the previous weblog defines, on p. 168, spyi-mthun-gyi las as "Collective karma; common karma, e.g. karma of a society or locality."}
Shakabpa's history in its more detailed Tibetan version contains (Tsepon W. D. Shakabpa, Bod-kyi Srid-don Rgyal-rabs [=Political History of Tibet or An Advanced Political History of Tibet], Shakabpa House [Kalimpong 1976], vol. 2, pp. 219, bottom of the page, through 223, mid-page) supplies the content of a document dated the 8th day of the first Tibetan month of 1913, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama's seal attached, announcing Tibet's independence from China. Already in November 1912, the National Assembly of Tibet had written to the Indian Governor-General a declaration of their intention to act independently of Peking. Mongolia had, with Russian backing, declared their independence already in 1911. It may also be of interest that the official Chinese history of the time does not at all deny that a declaration of independence took place. Quite to the contrary, it says that the Dalai Lama "expelled Chung Ying and proclaimed independence" -- see Josef Kolmas, Ch'ing Shih Kao on Modern History of Tibet (1903-1912), Archiv Orientalni, vol. 32 (1964), pp. 77-99, at p. 99.

Read these if you want to:

Bsam-gtan, "Bya sprel gtam rgyud kyi rtsom pa po'i skor rags tsam gleng ba," Bod kyi rtsom rig sgyu rtsal, vol. 35, issue no. 3 of the year 1986, pp. 53-69. Bsam gtan, "Bya sprel gtam rgyud dang de'i rtsom pa po su yin skor rags tsam dpyad pa," Bod ljongs zhib 'jug, vol. 18, issue no. 3 of he year 1986, pp. 77-94. I don't have this article at hand (I assume the two publications are identical), but supposedly it established the Doring Kalön's authorship over other candidates.

Doring Tendzin Paljor (Rdo-ring Bstan-'dzin-dpal-'byor, b. 1760 CE), Bya sprel gyi gtam rgyud, contained in: Gtam rgyud / kha shags / 'bel gtam / sgrung dang / zlos gar gyis brgyan pa'i rol rtsed sna tshogs pa srid pa'i skyid sdug gi rnam 'gyur rjen char mthong ba'i me long, Blo bzang dgongs rgyan mu tig phreng mdzes series no. 38, Drepung Loseling Educational Society (Mundgod 1999), pp. 100-129.  The part translated here appears on pp. 101-102.  So far I know of at least five publications of the Bya sprel gyi gtam rgyud,  bearing various authorship attributions.

D. Martin, Wrapping Your Own Head: Problems of Context and Individuality as Pre- and Post-considerations for Translating "The Path of Ultimate Profundity," contained in: Enrica Garzilli, ed., Translating, Translations, Translators: From India to the West, Harvard Oriental Series, (Cambridge 1996), pp. 59-73, with its discussion of Tibetan words for independence at p. 60.

Elliot Sperling, Awe & Submission: A Tibetan Aristocrat at the Court of Qianlong, International Review of History, vol. 20 (1998), pp. 325-335.  This is most highly recommended for its treatment of Qing-Tibetan relations, it's account of the involuntary visit to the Qianlong Emperor by our same Doring Tendzin Paljor, and for its bibliographical references to literature on those subjects.

P. L. Mehra, The Mongol-Tibetan Treaty of January 11, 1913, Journal of Asian History, vol. 3 (1969), pp. 1-22.

Sakya Pandita, Good Sayings.  Rje btsun sa skya paṇḍi ta'i legs par bshad pa rin po che'i gter zhes bya ba'i bstan bcos (Treasury of Good Sayings of Sa skya Pandita the Eminent Tibetan Lama, 1182 1251: Development of Awareness and Conduct), ed. by Lozang Jamspal, tr. by Lozang Jamspal and Ngawang Sonam Tenzin (Jared Douglas Rhoton, 1941-1993), Ladakhratnashridipika (Leh 2003), pp. 107, 116 (I've translated based on the Tibetan found here).

Sakya Pandita, Good Sayings.  Sakya Pandita, Ordinary Wisdom: Sakya Pandita's Treasury of Good Advice, tr. by John T. Davenport with Sallie D. Davenport and Losang Thonden, Wisdom Publications (Boston 2000), pp. 141, 147.

Sakya Pandita, Letter to Tibetans.  This is found in the works of Sa-skya Pandi-ta as contained in Sa-skya-pa'i Bka'-'bum, vol. 5, pp. 401-402. This was translated in Giuseppe Tucci's Tibetan Painted Scrolls, pp. 10-12. See David P. Jackson, Sa-skya Paṇḍita's Letter to the Tibetans: A Late and Dubious Addition to His Collected Works, Journal of the Tibet Society, vol. 6 (1986), pp. 17-23.   Tucci's book was very lavishly produced and may be difficult for most people to afford or find, even the more recent reprints.  Anyway, his translation needs to be carefully redone and the question of its authenticity thoroughly investigated and reconsidered. It could be the most important single source in Tibetan language on the question of Tibet's degree of incorporation into the Mongol Empire. It is never mentioned in contemporary discussions about Tibet's independence.  I don't understand why not.  Tucci translated ngo-bltas-pa as 'vassal,' although it literally means 'those who behold the face,' or 'those who are beholden.'  I think it is used to denote the people actually attendant on the Mongol court, including Sakya Pandita himself, and by extension the various peoples they represented.  

A NOTE:  The reason to be beholden to the Mongols in those days was for one thing and one thing only, protection.  Protection from the Mongols themselves, naturally.  All of Eurasia stood in terror of them, the Chinese people not least of all.  Later on in the 13th century, Sakya Pandita's nephew Pagpa ('Phags-pa) would use his religious influence to save the Chinese people from a systematic 'human weeding' (mi-yur) or, in modern terms, genocide. Here is a painting depicting this Tibetan receiving an assurance that no more such genocides would occur in the future.  On the right side you see naked bodies, their limbs flailing against the river current. The Mongol men in their fur-trimmed red hats at the riverside are probably the ones who were taking away their clothes and tossing them in (but they are now stopping this from happening, to believe the label).  This picture, published as part of a series depicting the life of Pagpa, was published in Lhasa in 1987.  The paintings themselves are said to date from the late 15th century, and I think this is correct.  Chos rje 'phags pa'i mdzad thang [Scroll Paintings Illustrating the Biography of Dharma Lord Pagpa], Bod-ljongs Mi-dmangs Dpe-skrun-khang [Tibet People's Printing House] (Lhasa 1987), p. 55. The Tibetan-language description on p. 54 tells us that after Chinggis Khan assumed power in China, there were a lot of revolts, so every year he sent an army that captured many tens of thousands of Chinese who were thrown into the river and killed. Pagpa's heart couldn't withstand this, so he requested from Sechen (Khubilai Khan) as an 'initiation gift' that the practice be brought to an end.  We can thank our lucky stars the Mongolian people have evolved since then into such nice people.

The Tibetan inscription visible here in gold letters reads:
mi yur mi byed par bka'
gnang ba dang mi yur bcad tshul //
The agreement not to perform acts of genocide [on your left]
and the way the genocide was stopped [on your right].

Even those who are good-natured
Will grow malicious when continually abused.
Though sandalwood sticks are cool by nature,
When rubbed together they burst into flames.

rang bzhin bzang po rnams la'ang //
rgyun du gtses na gnod sems skye //
tsandan bsil ba yin mod kyi //
gtsub par gyur na 'bar bar 'gyur //
- Sakya Pandita, Good Sayings (Davenport translation no. 198)

• • •

One last quote, added on (on April 21) just for those who find unintended humor in propagandistic statements.  This is taken from today's article from People's Daily, edited by Xiong Qu, with the title "Tell You a True Tibet: Origins of So-called 'Tibetan Independence'." Overlooking the title for the moment, this article doesn't demonstrate the least knowledge of what Tibetan language sources do say, or acknowledge that they might be worth hearing, or somehow relevant to the discussion of Tibetan independence.  Tibetans never get a voice.  They could never speak.  They never can speak. They just have to shut up.  I'll let you schmoogle for it, since making a link from here to there somehow doesn't seem right to me.  Here's the quote of the day.  See if you can spot the mistake.
"There was no such word as 'independence' in the Tibetan vocabulary at the beginning of the 20th century."
A useful hint for the confused:  Whenever you see the words "true Tibet" or "true Tibetan" you know that PRC propaganda engines are at work.  You know that truth is not what you are getting.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Three Tibetan Voices to Hear

Today I'm blogging for no good reason except to send you off to read a newspaper interview with an extremely intelligent person working in Tibetan studies in Georgia these days. Although he has accomplished many other things, and I mentioned his book about Tibetan festivals in an earlier blog, Tsepak Rigzin (Tshe-dpag-rig-'dzin, born in western Tibet in 1957) is perhaps best known for compiling one of the essential reference works for anyone learning to read Buddhist texts in Tibetan. It was published by the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala in 1986, with a revised and enlarged version published in 1993. So, without further ado, just go away from here and read the story at the Meyul website. It won't take long.  I'm always on the lookout for testimonies about the Tibet situation by seasoned experts in Tibetan studies, and will keep you posted as I come up with more.

In a category all its own, I vigorously encourage you go to Agam's Gecko blogspot and view the video of a 40-minute Dalai Lama interview by Ann Curry of NBC.

If you have trouble with the video formats, you can read the complete transcript of the interview here.

Then if you have any time left follow Agam's link to the editorial by Isabel Hilton (if you would like to know more about her, look here) in the April 12th Guardian.  It's still worth going back to read one of her older editorials, here.  Rare among journalists writing about Tibet these days, she has actually written an entire book on the subject, even quit her job to write it, The Search for the Panchen Lama.

Today this story by Barbara Demick about "patriotic [re-]education" appeared in the Baltimore Sun.  It quotes from Tibetologist Ronald D. Schwartz (author of the book Circle of Protest: Political Ritual in the Tibetan Uprising), and mentions the open letter to Hu Jintao signed by Schwartz and "more than 200 other Tibet scholars ... calling for the Chinese government to negotiate over Tibetans' grievances." I just went to the webpage a few minutes ago. There were 78 signers of the original petition before it was posted on the internet. With a few exceptions these are professional Tibetologists. That means people with research jobs involving teaching and/or research in the field of Tibetan studies. More people signed online since then. In this second list there is the problem of several duplicate names (some people clicked the button twice), but I simply downloaded the list and eliminated the doubles, coming up with 448 people who signed it online (this number includes quite a few professors, too, but also graduate students and Tibetologists without academic affiliation). This comes to a grand total of 526. This is far more than 200.  

It might not need pointing out, although I will do it anyway, that while nearly if not quite every professor, researcher, language instructor and grad student in the field of Tibetan studies in the globe (regardless of their national identity and personal background) did sign this petition, there is one group that is entirely absent. That group of Tibetanists lives and works inside the Peoples Republic of China. I won't insult your intelligence by telling you why that might be.

Oh, and one last but not least thing.  Here's an opportunity to hear an audio file that includes a fairly long interview with Lobsang Sangay (Blo-bzang-sangs-rgyas; his name could be translated 'Good Mind Enlightened One') about the current situation done for Minnesota Public Radio. Lobsang-laa is very articulate in at least two languages, and manages to make considerable sense of Tibetan discontents and their background.  This program in particular addresses questions not even brought up elsewhere.  I had an opportunity to see him speak in person several years ago, and was quite impressed by what I heard. 

I'm sure we'll be hearing more from him.  He's a senior fellow in the Harvard Law School these days, although he is destined for greater things.

* * * * *

"The Chinese media spin the story as anti-Chinese riots instead of anti-government riots. They try to make it something against the Chinese people. It is not against the Chinese people."

Tsering Wangdu Shakya, Chair in Modern Tibetan Studies, University of British Columbia
Follow me on