The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

    Aflame, Tibet fights for freedom

    Only the freedom of Tibet can stop the burning and pull this nation from the fires of the Chinese counterculture.

    As darkness swallows the Tibetan plateau, a growing number of young Tibetans force light to break through the eclipse.

    The Chinese government has smothered traditional Tibetan culture, language and identity in hopes of welcoming Tibet into the modern world.

    Thus, approximately 30 Tibetan people have welcomed fire and their own deaths in protest to Chinese rule.

    Today, the Tibetan people continue to proudly fight a long-standing battle to save the Tibetan identity, many of whom have chosen to combat Chinese control and influence by lighting themselves on fire, an act known as self-immolation. Though change closes in on Tibet, the Tibetan people’s resistance remains strong in the face of violent adversity.

    “What we see from the Chinese is they end up beating the people who have just lit themselves on fire; they’re the ones who are shooting them; they’re the ones who are clubbing them with (spiked clubs),” said U.S. Director of Students for a Free Tibet Tenzin Dolkar in an interview with The Guilfordian.

    “It is Tibetans who, for decades, have been looked at as second-class citizens; who have been looked at as backward barbarians and now really are building pride in themselves for being Tibetan and the Tibetan identity,” said Dolkar. “That’s an amazing thing, because it is powerful for the young Tibetans who have … only known their Tibetan-ness as a second-class citizen.”

    The story of the plateau’s seizure begins long ago.

    In the thirteenth century, the Mongol Empire controlled both Tibet and China. At some point during this occupation, China claimed Tibet to be part of the Chinese region and this continued long after the fall of the Mongol Empire.

    At this time, China had a tributary system in which the small countries around China received military, political and economic support in exchange for gifts of local products or beautiful women to the Chinese emperor.

    By the 19th century, China had been weakened by war and divided by the imperialism of other nations. Other powers took parts of China, which led to the end of the Chinese tributary system.

    Tibet, however — nestled in the Himalayas above the war and chaos — was left independent, perhaps because of its hostile climate and a lack of what others would consider important crops.

    Within the last century, however, China, took back Tibet. About 60 years ago, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, leader of the Tibetan theocracy, fled in exile to Dharamsala, India.  Having escaped Chinese prosecution, he survived to observe China’s forced assimilation of Tibet and act as a spiritual leader to the small nation that was swallowed up in China’s modernity.

    Some would argue that the protests and self-immolations are unnecessary, and that the Tibetans are ungrateful. Zhihong Chen, assistant professor of history, argues that China was acting to protect and help Tibet. The Chinese government was not attempting to harm this unique nation, but rather was afraid for Tibet, fearful of the foreign abuse it would otherwise be forced to endure.

    “The fear is that Tibet would become a stepping stone for foreign relations,” said Chen. “When I say ‘Free Tibet,’ am I in a way really serving a foreign political agenda?”

    In the same way that China sees small neighboring nations as “little brothers,” Tibet, too, was seen as a dependent in need of protection, according to Chen.

    Chen notes that during the Cold War era, the U.S. and the Soviet Union divided Korea; both powers using the smaller nation as a weapon or a tool. China could have been acting in defense of Tibet and worried that the region would be converted into a foreign tool to attack the Chinese empire.

    In addition to the protection that China’s powerful government offers to Tibet, China also offers the people of Tibet free healthcare, excuses Tibet from the one-child policy and has built railroads from Tibet to China to stimulate more business opportunities.

    Some would ask, why are the Tibetans still wishing for independence?

    “The culture,” said George Guo, associate professor of political science and East Asian studies. “A large number of Tibetans, a huge number, still want to hold on to their culture; their identity.”

    “Better lives, … better healthcare and welfare cannot replace the cultural identity,” added Guo. Dolkar agreed.

    “There are about 2.25 million Tibetans who … lead (a form) of nomadic life, and what China is trying to do is systematically remove them from their lifestyle on the Tibetan grasslands, on the plateau, and move them into these ghetto-style housing blocks and systematically trying to destroy this culture, this way of life which is really essentially the core of Tibetan identity, the core of Tibetan culture and religion and tradition and language,” Dolkar explained.

    In March alone, approximately 30 individuals voiced their dissent through self-immolation. Sonam Dhargyal, Losang Tsultrim, Jamyang Palden, Gepey, Dorjee, Rinchen and Tsering Kyi were just seven of many who sought to offer up their lives in flames for the cause of the Tibetan people.

    “These acts that are sacrificial … are non-violent in that they could not hurt someone else,” said Dolkar. “(The Tibetan people) intentionally could not hurt another person.”

    These fires are not a symbol of insanity or stupidity, but stand as symbol of the Tibetan struggle and of the darkness under which they must live. When their rulers would not hold their traditions in the light, these individuals created a light for themselves.

    “Every individual who has lit themselves on fire (wants) freedom for Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama, and what they’re saying is that they cannot endure one more day under Chinese rule,” said Dolkar.

    Only the freedom of Tibet can stop the burning.

    Alongside the people of this endangered culture, Free Tibet and Students for a Free Tibet are just two of the many organizations fighting to protect Tibetan tradition.

    Darkness may swallow the Tibetan plateau, but the Tibetan culture will not go down without a fight.

    Leave a Comment
    More to Discover

    Comments (0)

    The Guilfordian intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. Comments are expected to adhere to our standards and to be respectful and constructive. As such, we do not permit the use of profanity, foul language, personal attacks, or the use of language that might be interpreted as libelous. Comments are reviewed and must be approved by a moderator to ensure that they meet these standards. The Guilfordian does not allow anonymous comments, and requires a valid email address. The email address will not be displayed but will be used to confirm your comments.
    All The Guilfordian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *