I’ve finally started to feel sorry for the Chinese, especially the younger generation. So many, even though they are being sent for education abroad, where the whole range of historical evidence is available for them to peruse and consider, are remaining ignorant. And now, it seems, aggressively so.
I’ve just read through the piece in today’s New York Times entitled “Chinese Students in U.S. Fight View of Their Home”. Right at the beginning, I burst out in disbelieving laughter. Here’s how the article starts:
“When the time came for the smiling Tibetan monk at the front of the University of Southern California lecture hall to answer questions, the Chinese students who packed the audience for the talk last Tuesday had plenty to lob at their guest:
“If Tibet was not part of China, why had the Chinese emperor been the one to give the Dalai Lama his title? How did the tenets of Buddhism jibe with the ‘slavery system’ in Tibet before China’s modernization efforts? What about the Dalai Lama’s connection to Hitler?”
Wow. Now, much of this site is devoted to Mongolian culture and history. I can’t claim to know much about this subject, but one episode is far from obscure. This is the fact that the epithet ‘Dalai Lama’ was first spoken by one Altan Khan. Does that sound like the name of a Chinese emperor? Of course not. It’s Mongolian for “Golden King,” and refers to the ruler of the Tumet and a whole chunk of other Mongol tribes in a 16th c. confederation. He regularly plundered the neighboring Chinese of the Ming Dynasty (a favorite Mongol pastime) until the Chinese emperor Longqing was forced to offer a peace and trading treaty in 1571.
Now, our young Chinese friends might be fooled by two facts. One is that, upon the signing of the treaty, Altan Khan was conferred a title by the Chinese emperor that translates as “Obedient and Righteous King”. This could be construed as Altan Khan accepting the supremacy of the Chinese emperor. But such titles were regularly accepted by neighboring rulers (including in independent Tibet) because they opened the door to extremely profitable trade monopolies with China. The other confusion might arise from the fact that Altan Khan founded Khokh Khot (Mgl: “Blue City,” so-called because of the preponderance of blue-glazed roof tiles) now called Hohhot in Chinese-occupied Inner Mongolia. Because the Chinese administer it now, they think they’ve been there forever.
So, it was Altan Khan who invited the great Tibetan lama Sonam Gyatso to his court. Well, “invited” is pretty generous since it seems he sent raiding parties into Tibet and imprisoned a bunch of monks to ensure his second invitation was accepted (Sonam Gyatso ignored the first). At any rate, the name “Gyatso” means “ocean” in Tibetan, poetically indicating the oceanic nature of the lama’s wisdom and compassion. All of the 14 Dalai Lama’s have “Gyatso” somewhere in their names (the current one is “Tenzin Gyatso”). So, as many now know, “dalai” is the Mongol word for “ocean”. It’s a translation, not a title, and certainly not a title conferred by anyone remotely Chinese. The partnership of Altan Khan and Sonam Gyatso seems to have been the catalyst for really converting most of the Mongol population to Buddhism and setting the tone for the Buddhist culture that would develop in Mongolia until the interruption of the Communist takeover in the 1920’s.
But, if you’re connected to the internet in mainland China, you will never read these words because this blog, and all of the other free expressions on all of the major blogging services are blocked wholesale by the paranoids who populate China’s government.
The other graf that jumped out at me was this:
“Students argue that China has spent billions on Tibet, building schools, roads and other infrastructure. Asked if the Tibetans wanted such development, they looked blankly incredulous. ‘They don’t ask that question,’ said Lionel Jensen, a China scholar at Notre Dame. ‘They’ve accepted the basic premise of aggressive modernization.’”
The hidden phrase is “aggressive modernization of an independent country that did not invite the occupation, and that relentlessly denigrates the indigenous culture.”
Tangentially connected, my friend Sue from Sydney, Australia sent in these photos from the pro-Tibet demonstrations during the Olympic torch’s scamper through Canberra, as well as two illuminating YouTube links that give a visceral sense of what it was like among the pro-China crowd here and here:
Oh, and the Hitler thing is cuz mountaineer Heinrich Harrer, once a Nazi Party member, sought refuge in Tibet after escaping a prison camp in India. This resulted in the famous book Seven Years in Tibet, in which he discusses befriending the young Dalai Lama, teaching him some English, etc. And since our indelible image is of Brad Pitt playing Harrer in the movie of the book, the Chinese are going to have to do a little better than that.