Thursday, March 4, 2010

This Week in Tibet

Next Wednesday is March 10th, which is a very significant date in Tibetan history- the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising, which had been set in motion years earlier by guerrilla resistance in the eastern region of Kham and finally erupted in Lhasa on March 10th. Obviously the uprising failed to expel the Chinese occupiers, and days later the Dalai Lama escaped to India. Next week I’ll have more about how that started and exactly what happened.

For now, the timely connection is that Beijing has launched yet another “Strike Hard” campaign in anticipation of the anniversary. For those not familiar with the term, “Strike Hard” campaigns are periods where officials and enforcement bodies are specifically encouraged to disregard the usual limits of the law and go wild. Any offense, regardless of how slight, can be used as an excuse for beatings, torture, lengthy imprisonments, or even executions. They’ve become an annual fixture around March 10th, because Beijing hopes to intimidate Tibetans who would recognize the anniversary.

For the time being, then, anything can serve as an excuse to punish Tibetans. Listening to a pop song which obliquely references the Dalai Lama within earshot of a policeman, failing to be appropriately reverent of the Chinese flag, looking at a Communist Party member less than lovingly- anything will do. Even by the usual standards, the next few weeks will be dangerous ones for Tibetans inside Tibet.

Next, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference has announced their list of new members for the year. This body has little power of its own, but a seat on the CPPCC is viewed as a cushy reward for retiring government figures, or for rich businessmen. The list of new appointments surprised observers with its inclusion of Gyaincain Norbu, the fake Panchen Lama.

The real Panchen Lama, the one chosen by the Dalai Lama and a number of prominent Tibetan Buddhists, still hasn’t been heard from since 1995, when he was abducted by the Chinese government at the age of 6. The reason behind the abduction was obvious- the replacement offered by Beijing is the son of two Communist Party members, and has been used as a transparent ploy to subvert Tibetan religion to aid the occupation. The attempt has failed, though: Tibetans refer to Gyaincain Norbu as the “Panchen Zuma,” or fake Panchen. The name has stuck, and today if you type “Panchen Zuma” into Wikipedia it will automatically redirect you to the Chinese-picked candidate.

His appointment to the CPPCC is an attempt by Beijing to up the ante. Instead of reconsidering their plan, they’ve doubled down and given him a prominent political position. Their attempted smearing of the Dalai Lama as a politician in monk’s robes is even more ironic now, with their creation of a supposed high lama who is openly just a pro-Beijing politician. He was ignored by the other delegates at the 2006 World Buddhist Forum, but damned if he won’t do a great job of talking about how great China has been for Tibet!

That wasn’t the only reason Beijing abducted the real Panchen Lama, though. Traditionally the Panchen Lamas have been tasked with identifying the next Dalai Lama. The end goal of the Chinese plan is to use the fake Panchen to lend legitimacy to their choice of a fake Dalai after the current Dalai Lama passes away. More on what that will mean and what the exiled Tibetan community is doing to prepare for it some other time.

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