The Karmapa Visits the Northwest

Jeff Alworth

This Saturday and Sunday, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa, will appear in Seattle at four public events.  It is the third stop on his inaugural North American visit, the first time he has been able to leave India since fleeing there from Tibet in 2000.Hhk The 22-year-old head of the Kagyu lineage is regarded as a prodigy and a born leader, inspiring language like this, from the NYT: “Ogyen Trinley Dorje’s age, spiritual presence and dramatic escape have made him a rock star in certain precincts of Tibetan Buddhism, and some have invoked a Barack Obama parallel. Elle Magazine named the meditative master one of its '25 people to watch.'”  So his visit is being hailed by some (like me) as a big deal.

But why should you care?

Background
It is often misleadingly reported that the Karmapa is the third most-important leader in Tibetan Buddhism.  This is a statement of political authority and by that metric the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama are indeed the two most important.  But it's sort of like saying the Archbishop of Canterbury is the second most powerful Christian in Europe.  True, but not wholly relevant.

Tibetan Buddhism has four main schools or "lineages," and the Karmapa is the leader of the Kagyu school.  The Dalai Lama is the head of the Gelugpa school, and there are two other schools with important heads.  Since the Chinese invasion and subsequent exile of these leaders, the schools have worked more closely together to maintain their traditions and the continuity of Tibetan culture and history.  The Karmapa has been living in Dharamsala, India and receives guidance and instruction not only from Kagyu religious leaders, but also meets and works with the Dalai Lama. 

And this is where it gets especially interesting for outside observers: the Dalai Lama, who turns 73 in July, has no obvious successor.  The Panchen Lama, responsible for identifying and educating the 15th Dalai Lama, has been abducted by the Chinese and has vanished.  When a controversy arose over the identity of the 17th Karmapa, the Dalai Lama authenticated Ogyen Trinley Dorje.  Many wonder if he might not return the favor in the future.

World Relevance
It's not certain what role the 17th Karmapa will play in the future of Tibet.  At 22, he shows enormous potential, yet who can say how events will unfold.  But his prospects seem even more lofty because of his circumstances: he was born in occupied Tibet and raised among Chinese citizens; he speaks Mandarin and, critically, has been recognized by the Chinese government as the authentic reincarnation (a strategic decision they now regret).  Unlike the Dalai Lama, who struggled as a minor figure until midlife and was always a flashpoint for the Chinese government, the Karmapa begins life as an international figure, with followers around the globe. 

The Karmapa may be in a position to escape the trap both the Chinese and Dalai Lama find themselves.  Although the Dalai Lama no longer argues for an independent Tibet, the Chinese have spent too much political capital demonizing him to work toward a possible solution.  The Karmapa, a less obvious political figure and someone with ties to China, might be able to finally make progress.  It would definitely be good for China to have a lasting solution in Tibet, and of course, Tibetans would love to have some measure of autonomy to practice their way of life.

I hold out even more lavish hopes about what he might achieve.  Tibetans have unique insight into the threat posed by China, and yet none of the Buddhist leaders urge violence.  Quite remarkably, they call for understanding.  They are firm in their call for civil rights of citizens there, but their mode is one of compassion rather than aggression.  Even when the Chinese initiate another round of suppression against the Tibetans, the Dalai Lama and Karmapa do not call for violence.  Unlike our leaders before the Iraq invasion, they see ripple effects of both compassion and violence.  This is not milquetoast appeasement, but a kind of abiding strength forged in very difficult circumstances--and an understanding of long-term effects.  It could be that the 17th Karmapa might be able to teach the US something about dealing with hostile neighbors.

In any case, the first visit is a historic one, and I hope it will have long, positive benefits.

[Full Disclosure: I am a member of the board of directors of Kagyu Changchub Chuling (KCC), a local Tibetan Buddhist center.  KCC was one of a number of organizing centers for the Seattle visit.]

Comments

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    The four different Tibetan religious cliques are not working closely together, as you state. In fact, there is huge tension between the black and yellow hat cliques.

    Westerners, particularly Americans, have a weird fascination with Tibet, which, until 1949, was more or less a medieval society ruled by a religious oligarchy. Debts passed down from father to son. The majority of people were serfs. A large number of Tibetans were slaves (bought and sold at market) to lamas and other "religious leaders", including the Dalai Lama's family.

    While there are certainly problems with China today, the situation in Tibet -- for the average Tibetan -- is far, far better. I have visited China probably 20 times in the past 5 years, and the media over here is quite wrong on its reporting of Tibet... the media in China is also quite wrong. The truth lies in the middle.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    A follow-up... first, I have great appreciation for Buddhism generally. I have studied in SE Asian monastaries, and stayed in Tibetan lamasaries... and here in Portland, I go to a Tibetan-oriented ashram probably 3 times a week.

    BUT, that said, there were grave problems with the Tibet of 60 years ago. Many of those problems -- including slavery, feudalism, poverty, illiteracy, infant mortality rates, etc. -- were rapidly ameliorated by Maoism. When the Chinese army rode into Lhasa (and the religious oligarchs fled), the slaves and serfs held huge bonfires burning off their debt sheets and celebrated.

    The Dalai Lama is a great man. And I am sure he regrets his previous incarnations' ownership of slaves. And his current incarnation's derision of homosexuality. Yet his coterie are like Cubans in Florida... desperate to go back and claim their confiscated holdings. BUT they don't realize that those original holdings were fraudulent and corrupt to begin with.

    It's sad to see Americans accept the "free Tibet" nonsense without any critical thinking. Tibet was freed in 1949 when the shackles of slavery were thrown off.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    (1959.)

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    Peter, whenever I hear someone use a word like "clique," which is a word used by the Chinese to denigrate Tibetans (never have I heard it used by a Tibetan), I wonder what political agenda is at work. While you're right that Tibetan society was socially backward in 1959, this point isn't in dispute. Even the Dalai Lama agrees, and early on, was interested in the Communist experiment (based on the rhetoric, not the experiment). He has suggested pretty broad reforms that far exceed the Chinese prescription. You seem like a Chinese apologist.

    Other charged words "Tibetan lamasaries." This is a purely political term, not in use by Tibetans or religious scholars (I was one). I bring this up because people unfamiliar with the situation will not realize that these are buzz words. I don't actually care if you disagree, but your comments are filled with really hackish language.

    Much as when I hear someone offering "objective" commentary who refers to the "Democrat Party," your words leave me wondering if you have an ax to grind.

    I know that the Tibetans I know in the US and India would find your commentary shockingly offensive. You do not speak for them.

  • Barbara O'Brien (unverified)
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    Jeff -- I'm proprietor of The Mahablog and also the About.com Guide to Buddhism; nice to meet another Buddhist progressive political activist. I went to one of the Karmapa's public teachings in New York. I understand what you mean about potential. It's clear His Holiness the Dalai Lama is mentoring the Karmapa for a leadership position in Tibetan Buddhism.

    I run into comments like Peter Bray's a lot, to which I say: Catch up. I don't think anyone -- not lay Tibetans, not the Buddhist establishments -- want to go back to the way things were before the invasion. Yes, there was backwardness and corruption in Tibet before the invasion. However, Tibet could have been reformed and modernized without mass slaughter and cultural genocide.

    There's a kind of counter-reactionary chic in part of the western Left that disses the Tibetans and exonerates the Chinese. Needless to say, these people either are grossly ignorant of Chinese atrocities in Tibet, or they don't care.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    I apologize if the words I use are politically charged. Trust me, when I visit temples and note the CCP flag and officer, and Han trinket sellers, I have pangs of sadness. Much reform needs to occur.

    But there are two sides to every coin. It's easy to hold an elite diaspora, fueled by foreign government money and celebrity endorsers, as a beacon of civility and spirituality, while ignoring their ignoble past. And it's equally easy to criticize and condemn a developing country that, despite significant foolhardiness and actions that shock Western sensibilities, has bootstrapped its populace out of abject poverty and slavery or serfdom.

    As for Ms O'Brien, what to say? She criticizes my language, but then throws about terms like "mass slaughter and cultural genocide" as though they were well-accepted facts. A short while back I was in the Yonghe Lamasery (note that even Lonely Planet uses this term) in Beijing... it was packed with Han Chinese tourists praying and offering to ALL of the bodhisattvas. While there are lamentable losses of culture with development (we can't keep Tibet in a little timewarp), it seems as though the province is doing a pretty good job of expanding ITS culture to a broader public, both domestic and international.

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    Peter, the criticisms you offer of casual fans of Tibet may have some purpose ... somewhere. No one would suggest that this situation, alone in the world, is without nuance. But you're arguing a straw man, some disconnected LA celebrity. I just don't relate to any of it.

    I think the difference is that I'm connected to Tibetans in India who are allowed to conduct their religious activities as they wish. There's a big difference between that and the "lamasaries" of China. When you're not allowed to carry a picture of the Dalai Lama in a country, it's hard to argue that there are the robust freedoms you seem to suggest China has extended to the Tibetans. Rather than talk about Tibetan freedoms with the Chinese, why not try some Tibetans? They may challenge your notions of an "elite diaspora."

    Two factual notes: "mass slaughter and cultural genocide" are indeed accurate terms. Also, Lonely Planet generally uses language that allows them the greatest freedom in the countries they write about, so using the Chinese (and derogative) term "lamasaries" is typical. The Lonely Planet isn't a scholarly publication, as you know.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    My conversations about Tibet with Chinese-born co-workers and acquaintances tend to come around to them making these points:

    --The feudal society of Tibet before the Communist take-over (largely correct, I think). --The significant improvement in the material life of Tibetans since the Communist take-over (again, largely correct). --The fact that Tibet has been within the Chinese sphere of influence for a long time--long before 1959 (again, correct).

    What my Chinese-born co-workers and acquaintances typically miss is this point:

    --Chinese rule in Tibet is fundamentally colonial in nature. Colonization by ethnic Han is turning ethnic Tibetans into a minority in their own heartland. In this way, Tibet is being assimilated into "Greater China" in the same way that other territories have been added to the Han Chinese center over the last couple of thousand years. Aggressive colonization of this sort has also been going on in Xinjiang (NW China) since Communist rule.

    There is a great deal of ahistorical romanticization of Tibet in the West, casting it as some sort of paradise before 1959. It wasn't. But even if one sets aside the outrages of the Cultural Revolution, modern Chinese rule in Tibet is, again, fundamentally a colonial rule.

  • Paul Wille (unverified)
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    Excellent discussion, friends. I am glad to see such a wealth of information within these comments.

    I think the main problem with Mr. Bray's argument is he proposes that because metrics of economics and health have improved within Tibet that the Tibetan people are better off now than they were in 1959. This imposes a western view of societal improvement upon a society that has a much different value set from modern western society. The impression I have been left with from interactions with Tibetan Buddhists is that creation of a harmonious society in line with their religious views is paramount. Certainly, this isn't to say that health and economic improvements aren't to be celebrated, but if they are done at the point of a gun, and their land is overrun in a Chinese version of American Manifest Destiny, then has Tibetan life really improved?

    In the end, as a Buddhist myself (of a different tradition), my hope is that the conflict between China and the Tibetan people can be resolved non-violently and compassionately, leaving all parties happier. And if the western world can help facilitate that by highlighting the fact that Tibetans have lost their ability to freely practice their religion, then I hope we can join together to do that.

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    Jeff, thank you for this post. It's good to learn a few things now and then... and not just argue the same political arguments all the time.

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    I just got an email from The Tibet Post, which linked to this and asked for a link back. It is a recently-founded site that you might find interesting.

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    Fascinating topic! I love posts like these.

    Some questions:

    • Just so we're clear, the "current" Dalai Lama is the 14th Dalai Lama in terms of ordination, yes?

    • "Disappearing" a religious leader as Jeff reported happening to the Panchen Lama, um, wtf? How is this not something people are making a Gigantic Deal about? If the Chinese took him, they should give him back! How'd the Catholics like it if say, five of the College of Cardinals just went missing? D'oh! Our bad!

    • To follow up with that, what happens to the "office" of Panchen Lama if the Chinese can't/don't give him back?

    Thank you in advance, and also, I'm hoping once again to touch off a flashpoint of diatribes that seems to happen whenever I talk about race or religion - NOT.

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    Jeff, thanks for an interesting post.

    Out of curiosity, what term do religious scholars use, monasteries? Something else? What are these communities like? Is there any problem about using terms referring to religious communities originating in Egypt and North Africa and spreading to Europe in a Christian context (monks, monasteries) to describe Buddhist religious devotees?

    I'm not arguing, just curious about what the scholarly practice is, and in comparisons to African studies. In the latter context, for instance, there was at one point a fairly extensive argument about the appropriateness of applying the term feudalism to certain African social relations. They might or might not apply to using that term about Tibetan history. Is it just a way to say "pre-capitalist," perhaps useful because familiar, but also perhaps misleading as to what the actual relationships were like?

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    Another example of blatant, pro-buddhist editorial bias here at Blue Oregon.

    Where was the equal coverage of the Pope's visit?

    Shame on Jeff and on Kari (who is undoubtedly shilling for his Tibetan Masters..........)

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    I think most of us would agree that theocracies are generally bad. Insofar as Tibetan "practice of religion" meant kowtowing to feudal religious overlords that kept people in multi-generational serfdom, well, that's bad news, and it was rightfully abolished. And that abolishment was painful and complex because those overlords subjugated people BY WAY OF religion.

    When the Raj outlawed sati in India, there were huge protests. I suppose it could be argued that England should have not meddled in Indian religious affairs, just as China shouldn't meddle in Tibetan affairs. But the former saved hundreds of thousands of widows from horrible deaths, and the latter has helped alleviate poverty and cruel subjugation.

    Old political monks, like the Dalai Lama, may be passing out of leadership to new monks, such as the one this post is about. Hopefully those monks will help ease the separation between religion and politics, rather than exacerbating it further.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    This imposes a western view of societal improvement upon a society that has a much different value set from modern western society. The impression I have been left with from interactions with Tibetan Buddhists is that creation of a harmonious society in line with their religious views is paramount.

    Maybe so. Even Gandhi started a "fast unto death" to undermine a British political partition that afforded Dalits ("untouchables") equal rights. At the time, many orthodox Hindus did not want Dalits to have equality as they saw that caste's "untouchability" as necessary for full expression of karma within society.

    By allowing religion to enter into government so pervasively, I suppose you might help create a "harmonious society". But, at least for those religions that view poverty and inequality as necessary, it's sure going to pound down hard on some people.

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    To follow up with that, what happens to the "office" of Panchen Lama if the Chinese can't/don't give him back?

    The office and the person are one. The whole reincarnate deal is a little arcane and I recognize how it sounds to a nice, rational bunch lefties. But short version: as long as the Panchen Lama is alive and removed from public work, the office is in limbo.

    Out of curiosity, what term do religious scholars use, monasteries? Something else?

    The Tibetan word (and the word used by Lonely Planet in refering to monasteries in Nepal, India, and Tibet/Ladakh is gompa. "Monastery" or "gompa," when referring to a Tibetan establishment.

    In pre-invasion Tibet, the monasteries were wealthy institutions that controlled land around the monasteries. I won't quibble with the word "fuedal," though of course any word that comes out of another context--the European--suggests features that were absent there and also fails to capture other elements that were present. One big difference is the question of individual agency, about which scholars, Peter, and I disagree. But it's an interesting debate. Oh, and religious communities in the Buddhist context are referred to as "sangha," or for monks, "ordained sangha."

    Peter, are you familiar with the work Orientalism by Edward Said? I suggest giving it a read. It is wonderful in clarifying how the judgments like yours fit into a context of cultural misunderstanding and conflict. I'm always skeptical when I hear someone outside a culture render opinions at odds to those within it. Particularly when you use sati as an analogue to the practice of Tibetan monastic Buddhism.

    (Sati, for those unfamiliar, is the practice of immolating widows one the funeral pyres of their deceased husbands. Generally women did not perform Sati of their own will--though those cases do exist--and it has always been a controversial practice within Indian society. You can see why it is, like many things Peter's referencing, not a particularly neutral example.)

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    To follow up with that, what happens to the "office" of Panchen Lama if the Chinese can't/don't give him back?

    The Chinese have identified another Panchen Lama in line with Tibetan tradition.

    Previous incarnations of Dalai and Panchen Lamas were often selected by Chinese emperors since the mid-1700s -- names were written on balls and one was randomly selected.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    I haven't read it, but others have suggested I read it in the past. I understand your point. However, it seems no more invalid to offer opinions from my Western perspective than to link or refer to opinions expressed on politicized Web sites from exiled Tibetans.

    There are lots of quotes you can find from Tibetans WITHIN Tibet who are appreciative of progress... now I understand that they may be pressured, etc. And I myself have talked to many many people in Tibet and elsewhere in China... I don't claim that Tibet is a peaceful happy place, far from it.

    My purpose in referencing sati is to give another historical example where an "occupier" does away with a religion institution that is objectively bad (murder or widespread subjugation) but desired by the populace for religious reasons.

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    The Chinese have identified another Panchen Lama in line with Tibetan tradition.

    Previous incarnations of Dalai and Panchen Lamas were often selected by Chinese emperors since the mid-1700s -- names were written on balls and one was randomly selected.

    But you can't have another Panchen Lama until the old Panchen Lama is gone, so depending on whether "the Chinese" who took the old one are the same ones selecting the new one, that would be tantamount to saying the old one died.

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe any leader of a world religion, any human emissary of the Divine, gets to RETIRE.

    If that was my religious leader, I would not rest until I knew of ALL the circumstances surrounding that particular death, and maybe even then, I wouldn't.

    It's the Switching Darrens of major world religion: No other religion would stand for it, and object lesson in how even rational Democrats can be scared to death of the Chinese government.

    Yet, because it's Asia, far far away, and we're ignorant in the ways of the East, we're just supposed to accept that and move on.

    Unconscionable. Good people doing nothing.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe any leader of a world religion, any human emissary of the Divine, gets to RETIRE.

    You are wrong. For example: papal abdication.

  • truffula (unverified)
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    Folks who are interested more generally in the many Buddhist traditions represented in Portland may wish to participate in the 5th Annual Buddhist Festival in the Park next Saturday (June 7th) at Colonel Summers Park in SE. There are both adult and children's activities. The opening ceremony is at noon and the closing dedication is at 4:30 pm. The main sponsor of the event is the Portland Chapter of the (non-denominational) Buddhist Peace Fellowship.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't believe any leader of a world religion, any human emissary of the Divine, gets to RETIRE.

    There's often controversy over who is the "correct" incarnation of a lama. After all, the lama inherits all of the land/wealth of the original lama. In fact, the Karmapa is a disputed lama right now... there are two separate individuals claiming the title.

    And while I don't believe that lamas can "retire", per se, I do recall that the Dalai Lama banned another lama from reincarnating. (This was later rescinded.)

  • byard pidgeon (unverified)
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    Thank you, Peter Bray! Some realism about Tibetan history is long overdue in the idolizing, idealizing, shangri-la smitten usa. The Tibetan Buddhists have a long history of cooperation and combat with China, and as you say, the Chinese have selected Lamas in the past...and, in at least one case, the Tibetans have turned over a "troublesome" DL to the Chinese, where he "fell ill" and died (#6, if I remember correctly). The current DL didn't start talking about "reform" until pretty much forced to by being pressed on it by activists...the word "democracy" was not in his vocabulary until fairly recently, and there have been incidents of violence perpetrated on dissident monks and nuns even in the usa...the Tibetans know how to crack heads of protestors as well as do the Chinese. One can be vehemently opposed to the DL, and to the practices and belief system of Tibetan Buddhism (and a good case can be made that the Buddha wouldn't have approved), without being opposed to Buddhism...just as one can be opposed to Israeli practices without being anti-jewish.

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    So, then, the current Panchen Lama retired, abdicated, died, or is imprisoned? I'm pretty much down to those results.

    Any of those, too, could be verified by an independent camera crew, say, during the Beijing Olympics.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    A good way to think of the lama system is to think of the British peerage system of Dukes, Earls, Barons, etc... disputed titles, pretender kings, corruption, murder, and lots and lots of wealth!

    And while you and I might not be able to become a Duke, we can hold out hope for some place in the Tibetan pantheon... heck, even Steven Seagal is a reincarnated tulku!

  • Russel Childs (unverified)
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    China itself is the root cause of violence. I could care less whether or not you agree with this analysis.

    When China truly allows Freedom of Speech and Belief and ceases it's police-state brutality, only then will the violence stop.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    Interesting conversation.

    Peter Bray mentioned slavery and/or indentured servitude as institutions in pre 1959 Tibet. Does Jeff agree that this is true, and does he believe that disapproval of this would be an example of Said's Orientalism, that it fits "into a context of cultural misunderstanding and conflict"?

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~

    I believe there is worth in many if not all spiritual traditions, including Buddhism, but I am quite uninterested in the political structures and traditions of particular religions, whether considering the infallibility of Catholic popes, the hereditary castes of Indian Hinduism, or the reincarnation of Buddhist spiritual leaders. Folks should be free to practice their own religions, but should not force others to play along, even other folks in the same culture. Very few places stay spiritually homogeneous without coercion, and I place little value in religions that rely on such coercion.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    Taking note of pre-1959 feudalism in Tibet IS NOT the same as making excuses for China's present colonial policy in Tibet. And I do mean colonial in all the usual ways: populating the territory with outsiders of an alien ethnicity; forcing the locals to learn an imposed language (Mandarin) in school and generally speaking to conduct any business; and so on. This is entirely analogously to what we did to the Native Americans, to give only one example.

    By the same token, noting that the hierarchy of various Buddhist orders in Tibet, pre-1959, were part of the feudal system IN ANY WAY implicates the present Dalai Lama, who was a young man when he fled Tibet and has been in exile for nearly 50 years.

    I suggest that anyone with an ounce of objectivity would conclude that the present Dalai Lama is distinctly uninterested in restoring feudalism to Tibet.

    "Tibet was freed in 1949 when the shackles of slavery were thrown off." Where in the world does Peter Bray come up with this stuff? (I'm gritting my teeth avoiding references to his equally weird commentary about the Obama/Clinton race.) And Iraq was freed in 2003 when Saddam Hussein was toppled, I suppose?

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    Sorry, I obviously meant to type "In NO WAY".

  • Barbara O'Brien (unverified)
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    The Chinese have identified another Panchen Lama in line with Tibetan tradition.

    Here's what happened:

    The 10th Panchen Lama died in 1989.

    On May 14, 1995, the Dalai Lama identified a six-year-old boy named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as the 11th reincarnation of the Panchen Lama.

    By May 17, 1995, the boy and his parents had been taken into Chinese custody and have not been seen or heard from since. It's a good bet they were killed.

    In November 1995, the Chinese government named another boy, the son of a Communist Party official, as the new Panchen Lama.

    I understand the Tibetans do not consider the government's Panchen Lama to be legitimate.

    On top of this, the 10th Panchen Lama had been imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese for several years for being critical of the government. He was free at the time of his death, but I don't believe Beijing ever gave a cause of his death.

    Peter Bray seems to think this is all just fine, and the Tibetans should be grateful they have better sewage systems and more electricity. Excuse me for being angry.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    My question of Jeff was not meant to suggest that present Chinese control of Tibet is a good thing. It was meant to elicit Jeff's thinking about forming political opinions on foreign cultures and governments. I imagine that Orientalism as Said defined it could relate to American attitudes toward the Chinese as much as to the Tibetans.

    I do not much care for bullies, no matter from where they hail and no matter what their justification. Political situations are generally full of bullying and quite complex. It's usually safe to conclude that whoever is in power bullies some who are not in power. Unfortunately, this leaves outsiders trying to judge who to support with the task of deciding who is the worst criminal: who commits the worst crimes in the greatest numbers for the most selfish and ignoble reasons.

    In practice, getting involved in foreign politics usually has the character of US involvement in Iraq. It is imperialism masquerading as concern for democracy, national determination or human rights. Occasionally, intervention takes a more positive character, as in the anti-apartheid effort for South Africa, but this is not so common, unfortunately.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    The 10th panchen lama was indeed imprisoned during the cultural revolution -- but then again, so was the family of later leader Deng Xiaoping. When he was released, however, he went on to serve as a Vice Chairman to the communist party's congress. He married a Han Chinese and had a daughter (who went to the US and returned to China later).

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    And I do mean colonial in all the usual ways: populating the territory with outsiders of an alien ethnicity; forcing the locals to learn an imposed language (Mandarin) in school and generally speaking to conduct any business; and so on.

    You are reading way too much propaganda. All primary school education in Tibet is in Tibetan. Secondary school education, which is rare for most Tibetans, is in Mandarin, but Tibetan cultural studies are mandatory.

    As for different ethnicities freely moving to the bigger Tibetan cities, I suppose you would criticize if the alternate were to happen, too: a segregated system where two races aren't allowed to intermingle.

    As far as Mandarin spoken for business deals, well, I suppose you could enforce Tibetan to be used, but that seems hardly practical. If I remember correctly, Tibetan is required on ALL signage, including those with Mandarin.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    Oh, and don't forget the affirmative action programs in place in Tibet:

    "China is much more conscious of minorities as groups than most developing countries," said a Western diplomat in Beijing. "They have an amazingly well defined minority policy and program. You can criticize it, because they don't have real power or because it's often window-dressing. But there are efforts to bring minorities into high-profile positions, which has its own value because then they begin to serve as role models."

    In Yunnan, one reason for the relative contentment seems to be the preferential treatment given to members of minority groups. Typically, ethnic minorities are allowed to marry earlier than members of the Han ethnic majority, and, most important, to have more children. Their children can also get into universities with lower examination scores than are required of Han students, and model members of minorities are chosen to fill prominent Government posts. The Governor of Yunnan Province, for example, is a member of the Naxi minority.

  • Barbara O'Brien (unverified)
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    Peter -- since you don't comment, I assume the "disappearing" of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family is OK with you. I mean, Beijing picked out its own puppet Panchen Lama, and one's the same as another, right?

    I practice Japanese Soto Zen, which has no tradition of reincarnated teachers. However, I have some appreciation of how the Tibetans understand the karma and rebirth of the bodhisattva-lamas and how vital this is to the practice of their religion. One enthroned kid is not as good as another to them. Your callous attitude is absolutely appalling.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    Ms O'Brien:

    Of course it's not "ok" with me.

    There are many things wrong with China, just as there are many thing wrong with the US. It's easy to find particular instances in both countries that are shocking and upsetting.

    There are also many appalling things happening in the world. The situation in Burma, for one. These things seem far more appalling than whether child A or child B is deemed to be a living deity.

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    Thank you, Barbara, for answering my question.

    Peter, I don't envy you your role as apologist for a government that imprisons, tortures and murders six-year-old children precisely because they are considered by some others to be living deities.

    Because for Chinese religious persecution to be equivalent to that in the United States, either David Koresh would have had to be six years old when he died at Waco, or Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family were stockpiling weapons and threatening to self-immolate in downtown Shanghai at morning rush hour.

    Neither are bloody likely.

    Look, I think the new Pope is a tool, and he's gonna hurt Catholicism, or grease it along the path to cottage religion, depending on your perspective, but I wouldn't want or have wanted to see him whacked, especially at an age when he was basically too young to even form a political outlook.

    And even if I'm the stand-in for the worst of Bush's atrocities against ordinary, non-threatening Muslims, I never, ever go there. I don't even cap a neighborhood mullah, or have six-year-olds at Abu Ghraib. Thank God for that.

    There are too many of these things in China's relatively recent past as a communist nation to just say, 'um, well, yeah, Cultural Revolution, Tibet, Taiwan, Panchen Lama, Tienanmen Square are admittedly bad, m'kay, moving on.'

    No, China sucks exactly because its government does this shit more frequently and in larger spectacle than other countries.

    And we're either so deferential, so disinterested, so passive, so in the tank for the PRC, or so numb that in a room full of Democrats, and lovers of life that no one bats an eye when Jeff says by way of oblique reference, oh yeah, the government made a six-year-old and his family permanent religious martyrs?

    Nuh-uh. I so fucking call shenanigan, knowing full well that Nike will hate me, and that it will most likely jeopardize my chances to see the Olympics or the Great Wall in person.

    But I guess I'm odd that way.

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    The interventions of previous Chinese emperors in Tibetan religious succession issues seems unlikely to be comparable to the current situation. First, the Chinese emperorship itself was religious, involving an idea of ruling by "the Mandate of Heaven," and governing via a Confucian bureaucracy which had at least quasi-religious dimensions, with a Taoist and in some areas Buddhist backdrop to my understanding (Muslim Uighur areas being somewhat different); whereas the current Chinese state is officially atheist and anti-religious. The negotiations involving the first type of central ruler would be bound to be quite different from those with the second type.

    Second, the new colonial relationship that Joel Dan Walls mentions really is quite different to the older kind of empire. The great agrarian empires of past centuries, whether it be the Romans or Austro-Hungarians or the Mughals or the Russians or on and on almost without exceptions were based on communal tribute and communal autonomy. Subject historical polities, or ethnic areas (things that became in the 19th and 20th centuries proto-nations and nations with the triumph of the nation-state) generally were let to themselves, provided they ponied up required revenues, sent soldiers when required, and observed certain forms of symbolic submission. The current Chinese project in Tibet (and Uighur outlying areas to the north, btw) involves a much more thoroughgoing effort at systematic integration using technological means, social policies and population movements of a sort unknown in the old empire. The mixed effects of similar efforts within the old Soviet Union can be seen in numbers of now-independent former Soviet republics.

    Peter Bray:

    <bold>My purpose in referencing sati is to give another historical example where an "occupier" does away with a religion institution that is objectively bad (murder or widespread subjugation) but desired by the populace for religious reasons.</bold>

    Why the scare quotes around occupier? The British certainly were occupiers in India, colonialists proud of their empire and defenders of imperialism, questions coming mostly after the late 1890s. The rhetoric justifying imperialism and empire was exactly that of bringing progress and civilization. Marx partook of some of that outlook, as his journalism about the British in India in the late 1850s and 1860s reflects (rather like liberal icon John Stuart Mill's), and it perhaps is unsurprising then that a Marxist state, of a sort, in China might use a form of similar rhetoric.

    British colonization of Africa, mostly after 1880, was explicitly justified in terms of the suppression of slavery and the slave trade (as was the French in West Africa). In both cases, there was great diminution of the slave trade inter-regionally and out of the continent to the Arab middle east, but very little effort to end "domestic slavery." Such justifications have to be taken with great skepticism.

    The structural similarity of this kind of argument to the justifications of the U.S. aggression against Iraq and subsequent occupation, and for U.S. support of the Ethiopian invasion and occupation of Somalia, by an Ethiopia controlled by the autocratic and ethnically and politically repressive Meles Zenawi, who seeks to impose Amhara dominance throughout Ethiopia (another historical example of a classic multi-ethnic agrarian empire) also should not be missed.

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    Peter, you are uniformly arguing the Chinese line. I have no interest in that, and my post wasn't an invitation to debate the Chinese occupation. I wrote it because a figure of importance is visiting the US. There's a lot of security, and watching this thread, I see why.

    But you should stop talking about the religious elements. While the politics are murky and debatable, your view of the religion is wrong. While you may believe the Chinese line on the politics, there is absolutely no reason to buy that line on the religion. It's an athiest Communist state. Why on earth you find this view valid is beyond my understanding. Who cares whom the Chinese think is the valid Panchen Lama--they actively refute the tenets of Buddhism and reincarnates. There's no murkiness there: capturing and secluding/killing the Panchen Lama, only to put forward an imposter is not religion. Surely you see this.

    I get that you think the Tibetans are wrong on the political issue and have a history nasty enough to warrent invasion. You will promote the Chinese version of events. Fair enough. But could you leave aside the religious stuff? For some of us, it's not a political football. I've got pretty thick skin, but comments like this begin to pain me: "A good way to think of the lama system is to think of the British peerage system of Dukes, Earls, Barons, etc... disputed titles, pretender kings, corruption, murder, and lots and lots of wealth!"

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    Peter Bray mentioned slavery and/or indentured servitude as institutions in pre 1959 Tibet. Does Jeff agree that this is true, and does he believe that disapproval of this would be an example of Said's Orientalism, that it fits "into a context of cultural misunderstanding and conflict"?

    I am not a scholar of Tibetan history, but slavery is news to me. I can't speak to your question about Said on this one, but in nearly every comment that Peter's made on this thread where I can speak to his cultural misunderstanding, I can say with confidence that he grossly misunderstands Tibetan culture. I'd add that it strongly appears to be a version of Tibetan culture filtered through the propaganda of the Chinese government, based on language and arguments he's consistently used.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    Mr. Bray,

    Some words on language in Tibetan schools, from an article in The Atlantic Monthly:

    "Two of the schools I visited were mixed Han and Tibetan, and classes were segregated by ethnicity. The reasons here are linguistic: most Tibetan children don't start learning Mandarin until elementary school, and even many Tibetan high school students, as the Han teachers complained, don't understand Chinese well. This segregation leads to different curricula -- for example, Tibetan students have daily Tibetan-language classes, whereas Han students use that time for extra English instruction. To the Chinese, this system seems fair, especially since Tibetan students have the right to join the Han classes.

    "But Tibetans feel that there is an overemphasis on Chinese, especially at the higher levels, which threatens their language and culture. All the classes taught by Han teachers are in Chinese or English, and most of the Tibetan teachers in the middle and high schools are supposed to use Mandarin (although the ones I spoke with said they often used Tibetan, because otherwise their students wouldn't understand). In any case, important qualifying exams emphasize Chinese, and this reflects a society in which fluency is critical to success, especially when it comes to any sort of government job. Another, more basic issue is that Tibetan students are overwhelmed. One Han teacher told me that his students came primarily from nomad areas, where their families lived in tents; yet during the course of an average day they might have classes in Tibetan, Chinese, and English, three languages with almost nothing in common."

    There are "different ethnicities freely moving to the bigger Tibetan cities", as you put it, because Tibet was incorporated into the People's Republic of China. Actually, "freely moving" is inaccurate, as nobody moves from one city to another in China without permission. There is an elaborate system of internal controls.

    As for those "different ethnicities" moving to Tibet, in point of fact they're almost entirely Han, who make up about 95% of China's population. There are something less than 10 million Tibetans all told, and many of those live in areas adjacent to the Tibetan Autonomous Region proper, spread across several provinces. There are more than 1 billion Han Chinese. It takes only a few tenths of 1 percent of the Han population moving to Tibet to completely alter the ethnic balance...and this is precisely what has happened, in fact.

    I happen to speak some Mandarin, have traveled in China (outside of Tibet), and have a lot of interest in and affection for the Chinese culture and people. But I am not foolish enough to regard Chinese rule in Tibet as anything other than the colonial rule that it is.

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    Chris, as always, I appreciate your careful and well-researched comments. In particular, this gives substance to Barbara's comment upthread that the Chinese perpetrated cultural genocide and mass killings on the Tibetans:

    The current Chinese project in Tibet (and Uighur outlying areas to the north, btw) involves a much more thoroughgoing effort at systematic integration using technological means, social policies and population movements of a sort unknown in the old empire.

    The Chinese approach has never been as blunt or short-sighted as old-fashioned genocide. They merely mean to faze the Tibetans out of Tibet. And my many accounts, they're substantially there.

    One of the central tenets of Buddhism is the concept of impermanence. The Dalai Lama has spoken at length and eloquently about how the Tibetan invasion was a perfect example. I don't romantacize old Tibet any more than the Dalai Lama does. I can look at the various factors there and see how old Tibet, as a human institution, had many problems. But one doesn't have to believe in a Shangri-la to conclude that most or all of what the Chinese have brought to Tibet has been negative.

    But I think all of this misses an even more important point: rather than litigating old fights, the more interesting and hopeful consideration is what comes next. I have some confidence that this person who's in Seattle (where I write from now) may be able to bring the kind of clarity and open-mindedness needed to transcend these old battles. If I were a smarter guy, I would have done the same.

    Peace to all of you. I'm going to sign off now and hear what he has to say.

  • Frank Carper (unverified)
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    To back up for a second, Peter Bray's flown to China 20 times? Wow, nice carbon footprint. Maybe Peter can buy a Hummer with those frequent flyer miles.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    I want to support Mr. Alworth's point (reminder, that is) that this thread was really about a Tibetan cultural/religious figure visiting the Northwest. It's unfortunate that it has instead turned into a political pissing match between Peter Bray and various others of us.

    As Mr. Alworth, noted, "Tibetans have unique insight into the threat posed by China, and yet none of the Buddhist leaders urge violence. Quite remarkably, they call for understanding. They are firm in their call for civil rights of citizens there, but their mode is one of compassion rather than aggression." That's because compassion is at the core of Buddhist practice, whether of the Tibetan variety or otherwise.

    Someone wrote that "one can be vehemently opposed to the Dalai Lama, and to the practices and belief system of Tibetan Buddhism (and a good case can be made that the Buddha wouldn't have approved)...." I wonder if Mr. Alworth can comment. I do Buddhist practice in another tradition and know little about Tibetan Buddhism except that it descends from one strand of Indian Buddhism...a strand that developed many centuries after the Buddha lived. Whether he "wouldn't have approved" seems like a weird question to pose.

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    I think this post and its exchange of comments has been informative and important. I know I found it enjoyable and stimulating. I am sorry some have had their feelings hurt. My thanks to those of you who made comments.

    How we deal in the future with a China growing in economic and military power is one of our biggest challenges. We need to all spend more time learning about China and discussing what we should do.

  • thenekkidtruth (unverified)
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    At the end of a talk he gave, someone asked him, "Why didn't you fight back against the Chinese"? The Dalai Lama looked down, swung his feet just a bit, and then looked back up with a gentle smile and responded, "Well, war is obsolete you know." After a few moments, he face turned grave, as he said "Of course, the mind can rationalize fighting back…but the heart, the heart would never understand. Then you would be divided in yourself, the heart and the mind, and the war would be inside of you."

    tnt, Rinsai-jin

  • thenekkidtruth (unverified)
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    Buddhism is a different culture, and it's helpful to understand it in context. Examples:

    Begging - this is a proud Buddhist tradition. Rural Japanese obousan (monks) cannot eat but for alms from the villagers. Since giving is an honor to the giver and the monks provide counseling and other services, it's very much considered a mutual arrangement.

    Slavery - unrecognizable to our Western Hemispheric vision of the definition of word. While it is unpaid labor, this is as close to "slavery" as it used to get. It was considered an honorable way to pay off debts for instance, and there was no stigma (let alone maltreatment) attached to being an unpaid worker.

    Wealthy Nobles - the Dalai Lama lives on USD 42,000 a year ! While he's backed by an international organization which permits him to travel, speak, and do good works, he's a lower middle-class guy.

    Lamasery - some consider the greatest damage done to Tibet is willful commercialization. This perhaps best illustrates how the Chinese view these holy places today.

    Nam Myoho Renge Kyo

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    Actually, "freely moving" is inaccurate, as nobody moves from one city to another in China without permission. There is an elaborate system of internal controls.

    Total BS. You are thinking of China circa 1985. You are totally wrong in this prejudiced and biased view. Learn facts before spouting nonsense.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    Slavery - unrecognizable to our Western Hemispheric vision of the definition of word. While it is unpaid labor, this is as close to "slavery" as it used to get. It was considered an honorable way to pay off debts for instance, and there was no stigma (let alone maltreatment) attached to being an unpaid worker.

    Wow. Unpaid labor as honorable. Wow. You do realize that in Tibet debts pass from father to son... so that multi-generations were enslaved "honorably"?

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    I am not a scholar of Tibetan history, but slavery is news to me. I can't speak to your question about Said on this one, but in nearly every comment that Peter's made on this thread where I can speak to his cultural misunderstanding, I can say with confidence that he grossly misunderstands Tibetan culture. I'd add that it strongly appears to be a version of Tibetan culture filtered through the propaganda of the Chinese government, based on language and arguments he's consistently used.

    Sir, have you been to Tibet? Have you talked to Tibetans IN TIBET? I have. And it is YOU who appears to be grossly misguided by political old exiled monks passing along their doctored beliefs via celebrities and others. You may believe that I am controlled by the Chinese government (what?), but I wonder if you have been to China? Have you seen Tibet? Or are you just reading crap on the Internet or listening to others in your "Tibetan" temple in Portland Oregon?

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    Why the scare quotes around occupier? The British certainly were occupiers in India, colonialists proud of their empire and defenders of imperialism, questions coming mostly after the late 1890s.

    Because Tibet is not "occupied" by China as even the Dalai Lama admits.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    Alworth accuses me of political terms. But he uses such loaded words as well... he refers to "Chinese occupation" of Tibet (uh, what?) and he ignorantly states that "most or all of what the Chinese have brought to Tibet has been negative." Once again I must ask Alworth if he has been to China, to Tibet? Or is he just talking to Steven Seagal, Sharon Stone, and the Beastie Boys for such studious opinions?

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    The British certainly were occupiers in India, colonialists proud of their empire and defenders of imperialism, questions coming mostly after the late 1890s. The rhetoric justifying imperialism and empire was exactly that of bringing progress and civilization.

    No doubt. The Victorian mindset was complex, both in India and England. Gandhi, after all, was an early architect of Apartheid in South Africa. And he initially welcomed (yes, welcomed) the Hindu/Muslim bloodshed in India so long as it led to total independence from England.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    "[M]ost or all of what the Chinese have brought to Tibet has been negative." -- Alworth

    Let's return to serfdom and slavery, poverty and subjugation, illiteracy and ignorance, feudalism and superstition! Yay to Alworth's very "progressive" proposals!

  • thenekkidtruth (unverified)
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    Wow. Unpaid labor as honorable. Wow. You do realize that in Tibet debts pass from father to son... so that multi-generations were enslaved "honorably"?

    That hasn't changed. Debts are still passed on through the generations today in Tibet as well as throughout all of China, Peter, and for that matter, it's no different here in the West.

    While "unpaid worker" would likely not be my first choice of reincarnation, I would have a freedom of speech level such that I might become a respected community leader, and that thought would be absurd under the Totalitarianism found there today.

    Judging from that factor alone, aside from any number of other personal freedom issues too numerous to mention, I might well freely choose "unpaid worker".

  • thenekkidtruth (unverified)
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    Wow. Unpaid labor as honorable. Wow. You do realize that in Tibet debts pass from father to son... so that multi-generations were enslaved "honorably"?

    That hasn't changed. Debts are still passed on through the generations today in Tibet as well as throughout all of China, Peter, and for that matter, it's no different here in the West.

    While "unpaid worker" would likely not be my first choice of reincarnation, I would have a freedom of speech level such that I might become a respected community leader, and that thought would be absurd under the Totalitarianism found there today.

    Judging from that factor alone, aside from any number of other personal freedom issues too numerous to mention, I might well freely choose "unpaid worker".

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    thenekkidtruth, you need to do a bit more studying, and your facts aren't correct. You are coming across as an apologist for slavery. Next, will you tell us that American slaves were thankful to their masters for introducing them to English and Christianity?

  • thenekkidtruth (unverified)
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    thenekkidtruth, you need to do a bit more studying, and your facts aren't correct.

    I need more than "my facts aren't correct", please. I've been there many times and I've seen it, and I don't know what you think I'm missing.

    What I am telling you is that the word "slavery" is so far off the mark as to what the instituion used to be as to be misleading to the point of being disingenuous. The word "slavery" has a concrete and unmistakable connotation to us here in the West, and I will warrant that if you asked one of those unpaid workers of the era if they thought that definition fit them, they would emphatically tell you, "No" !

    I'm flat telling you the word shouldn't even been used in this context, because it's that innacurate.

    Buddhist unpaid worker is an accurate description of what an acolyte monk is in modern rural Japan today. I was one, and I was not a slave.

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    Peter Bray,

    We'll have to agree to disagree about occupation, I think, I'm not terribly attached to the word, but is it not true that the relative degree of autonomy of status of Tibet within China was changed by a large-scale incursion of central government troops that imposed extensive reorganization of administration, changes in laws and so forth? When the FBI invaded the Pine Ridge Reservation in the early 1970s, although it was part of U.S. territory, I still consider it to have been an occupation. When the British army was sent to Massachusetts in the early 1770s and billeted into people's houses, it was an occupation in my view, despite the legal status of British sovereignty.

    Many of the changes you argue as progressive as a result of Chinese actions in Tibet were only possible because there was a substantial occupation of the territory and its power structures by coercive forces necessary to impose the changes. So you're saying the occupation has been on balance a good thing. That doesn't make it not an occupation.

    You are quite wrong about Gandhi being an architect of apartheid. That's somewhat similar to saying the Sun Yat Sen was an architect of Chinese Communism, in its anachronism at least.

    Apartheid was orginally a slogan in the South African electoral campaign of 1948, used by a rump of the National Party that had refused to join a "Fusion" government in the late 1930s between the original National Party led by JBM Hertzog and the South African Party led by Jan Smuts to join the Allied side in World War II. The irreconcilables, led by D.F. Malan and H. Verwoerd among others took over the name. Apartheid, meaning separateness, was a powerful but somewhat crude slogan not unlike Wallace's "Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." By the end of the 1950s the party and government tried to abandon "apartheid" in favor of "separate development," but weren't permitted the euphemism by opponents.

    Gandhi had been away from South Africa for nearly 30 years when this occurred. When he was in South Africa, he was a political enemy of the ancestors to the forces that created apartheid, which worked vociferously to deny rights to Indian South Africans and to oppress them racially.

    Gandhi lived in South Africa from about 1890 to about 1910. When he first arrived, in what was the independent Boer republic in the Transvaal, the South African Republic, there were two independent Boer repubics and two British crown colonies (the Cape Colony and Natal), which after the British conquests of the republics during the South African War (Anglo-Boer War) of 1899-1902 continued to be administered separately until the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910.

    Gandhi, like all Indian immigrants (primarily in Natal and in the Witwatersrand goldfields areas of the Transvaal) was denied the franchise in both the colonies and the subsequent Union. One of his first experiences in Johannesburg was being forced off the sidewalk by white thugs (sidewalks being reserved for whites).

    He did work as an ambulance man for the British & colonial army in 1906 during the savagely brutal suppression of an African armed revolt in Natal -- there were also units of mission-educated Africans who acted similarly.

    Gandhi helped form the Natal Indian Congress (later, merged with the Transvaal Indian Congress, a key ally of the ANC), which advocated in a communal way for Indian rights. In the same period each of the colonies had similar African nationalist communal organizations forming, which merged into the ANC in 1912. It was a period of considerable intellectual ferment among the political-intellectual classes of the racially oppressed groups in moving away from Cecil Rhodes style "equal rights for all civilized men" liberalism (relatively speaking), but toward what was much less clear.

    The NIC, the TIC and groups like the Natal Native Congress, the Transvaal Native Congress, the African Political Organization (representing Cape Coloureds) engaged in parallel advocacy against evolving British plans to form the Union of South Africa on a highly racialized basis that secured Boer/Afrikaner cooperation by preserving their forms of white domination in the former republics and severely restricting the prospects for future expanded political rights for any category of black people (Africans, Indians or Coloureds). They were unsuccessful. Neither Gandhi nor his organization acted in any way that could remotely be called being "an architect of apartheid," or of the pre-apartheid intensifying national segregation system. They were victims of it too.

    One of the first acts of independent India in the United Nations was to begin the process to challenging and stripping South Africa of its inherited League of Nations Mandate over South West Africa (now Namibia). Gandhian India was always a leader in international anti-apartheid efforts.

    (Sorry for going on so long, but South African history was my field of graduate study in history.)

    I am also deeply skeptical of your statement about Gandhi's welcoming Hindu/Muslim bloodshed as stated -- I believe this is a gross oversimplification. Not that I think Gandhi was a saint or was always right. But let's take your point at face value for a moment -- do you agree that it was worth the mass bloodshed to gain progress? You seem not to. It seems that there is something of a double standard in your "can't make an omelette without breaking eggs" approach to Tibet.

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    Thenekkidtruth, the Jamaican sociologist Orlando Patterson (now at Harvard) has created a typology for considering slavery systems across cultures and in particular for overcoming the limits of definitions that are defined with reference to Western private property ("chattel slavery") and wage systems.

    Patterson proposes that slaves are people who are subject to permanent, unlimited violent domination, what he calls natal alienation (primarily recognition of legally protected rights of marriage and kinship and to a lesser degree culture), and systematic social dishonor. The "natal alienation" and systematic social dishonor amount to constructing enslaved persons as permanent "outsiders" which both permitted the violent domination and was enacted and made visible by such violence -- e.g. beatings and whippings not just as inflictions pain to secure obedience, but as a type of theatrical performance to be witnessed to secure obedience from watchers as well.

    This is a sort of ideal type -- the most deeply enslaved people would be at the extreme end of all these phenomena. The opposite of slavery in this view would not be liberal freedom, but security from violent domination, embeddedness in family and culture, and social honor and recognition.

    Unpaid labor tends to leave people subject to violent domination, particularly if the debt also entailed lack of freedom to move away and a "right" to violently prevent such movement. Were the putative Tibetan slaves allowed to marry and have legally recognized families? You have suggested that working to pay off debt was considered honorable, but was the condition of being such a debtor dishonored, was it regarded as a degraded status that opened people to abuse? How did this condition compare say to early 19th century Russian serfdom, which despite its name, and not being chattel slavery in a liberal capitalist economy, is generally recognized by scholars of slavery as a form of slavery?

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    "natal alienation" = NON-recognition of marriages, kinship, denial of cultural heritage...

  • Joel Dan Walls (unverified)
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    Propaganda on internal migration in China, from Wikipedia:

    "Of major concern in China is its growing 'floating population', a large number of people moving from the countryside to the city, from underdeveloped economic areas to developed areas, and from the central and western regions to the eastern coastal region, as a result of fast-paced reform-era economic development and modern agricultural practices that have reduced the need for a large agricultural labor force.

    "Although residency requirements have been relaxed to a degree, the floating population is not officially permitted to reside permanently in the receiving towns and cities."

    Some more information on the status of internal migrants in China, from a report called The Invisible Hand and Visible Feet:Internal Migration in China

    "First of all, migrants occupy mainly in those jobs that are low paying, dirty, tedious, physically heavy, or hazardous to health and that local workers do not want to take (see Table 3). Secondly, with similar education attainments, migrants and local workers receive different wages, partly because the two groups are employed in different mechanisms: local workers are protected and subsidized under the old system, while migrants workers directly face the competition. Thirdly, migrants’ working and living conditions are relatively poor because they lack of bargaining power in the employment market, and being discriminated by the community service. In many cases, migrants are lack of access to normal housing, medical care, day caring, and children’s education."

    The book Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler, the New Yorker correspondent who lived for many years in China, is worth reading in this context, as much of it deals with young adults migrating from the interior to the booming coastal cities.

  • thenekkidtruth (unverified)
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    Were the putative Tibetan slaves allowed to marry and have legally recognized families? You have suggested that working to pay off debt was considered honorable, but was the condition of being such a debtor dishonored, was it regarded as a degraded status that opened people to abuse?

    There was no restrictions on marriage or family, nor the legal recognition of these. People very much had the opportunity to move out of 'unpaid worker' status by being recognized for valuable skillsets and talents.

    Being a debtor is not considered dishonorable in itself - only the personal failure to deal with that debt. What could commonly happen is that a debtor could contract temporarily for 'unpaid worker' status until the obligation is met, then migrate back into a 'paid worker' role once again. Basic necessities were always provided to the worker, even though otherwise unpaid.

    Abuse was purportedly relatively rare, violence all but non-existent, and there was no real stigma to unpaid worker status. A lot of this is simply a reflection of the Buddhist social viewpoint. On Patterson's scale which you describe, I'd have to think that it's very much towards the benign end of the continuum.

    As an obousan (Zen acolyte monk), I may have had a rougher time of it than these workers. If I wasn't successful in begging alms each day, I didn't eat :-)

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)
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    This discussion reinforces my gratitude for the genius of Thomas Jefferson and the other anti-federalists who insisted on the Bill of Rights. Nothing good comes of government intrusion on religion or religious intrusion on government.

    God[s] save us from theocracy.

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    My. Bray, may I suggest that you try to adopt a different tone. Disagreement is fine. Hectoring people, insulting them, and so on does not contribute to useful debate.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    I am also deeply skeptical of your statement about Gandhi's welcoming Hindu/Muslim bloodshed as stated -- I believe this is a gross oversimplification. Not that I think Gandhi was a saint or was always right.

    Obviously there was a great deal of complexity leading up to the partition. But Gandhi, lionized by the West, was certainly not guilt-free. After he heard of the Noakhali massacres, for instance, he said that "women must learn to die" before being raped or forcibly converted to Islam. He hectored refugees who had fled the violence and told them they should be ashamed. He went so far as to write to the penultimate Viceroy "if India is to have her bloodshed, let her have it."

    But let's take your point at face value for a moment -- do you agree that it was worth the mass bloodshed to gain progress? You seem not to. It seems that there is something of a double standard in your "can't make an omelette without breaking eggs" approach to Tibet.

    What progress are you referring to? The partition of India and Pakistan and multiple generations of sectarian violence? Nehru's misguided economic policies? The subjugation for decades of depressed classes?

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    Re: Gandhi in South Africa

    Neither Gandhi nor his organization acted in any way that could remotely be called being "an architect of apartheid," or of the pre-apartheid intensifying national segregation system.

    Not true. Check out Gandhi's "monster petition" to the Natal Assembly where he argued that Indians are of the same Aryan stock as Europeans, and, as such, that they should be able to practice freedom and civilization, unlike native blacks.

    In Indian Opinion, he frequently editorialized for segregation of native Africans from whites and Indians. "We believe in the purity of race as much as we think [whites do]", he wrote. He wrote that it was "very unfair" that Indians had to live with blacks in Jberg suburbs. Gandhi scholar James Hunt even wrote that "in this respect he became a segregationist". Elsewhere, he referred to blacks as a "barbarous race".

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    More words of Gandhi:

    "Clause 200 makes provision for registration of persons belonging to uncivilized races (meaning the local Africans), resident and employed within the Borough. One can understand the necessity of registration of Kaffirs who will not work, but why should registration be required for indentured Indians...?"

    "In the instance of fire-arms, the Asiatic has been most improperly bracketed with the natives. The British Indian does not need any such restrictions as are imposed by the Bill on the natives regarding the carrying of fire-arms. The prominent race can remain so by preventing the native from arming himself. Is there the slightest vestige of justification for so preventing the British Indians?"

    "Under my suggestion, the Town Council (of Johannesburg) must withdraw the Kaffirs from the Location. About this mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians I must confess I feel most strongly. It think it is very unfair to the Indian population, and it is an undue tax on even the proverbial patience of my countrymen."

    "A general belief seems to prevail in the colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than the savages or natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir".

    "We believe also that the white race of South Africa should be the predominating race."

    "The petition dwells upon ‘the co-mingling of the coloured and white races’. May we inform the members of the conference that, so far as the British Indians are concerned, such a thing is practically unknown? If there is one thing, which the Indian cherishes, more than any other, it is the purity of type. Why bring such a question into the controversy at all?"

  • joel dan walls (unverified)
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    I think I've got the Logic According to Peter Bray down:

    The Dalai Lama is neither infallible nor a saint. Gandhi was neither infallible nor a saint. Therefore Chinese colonization of Tibet is just fine.

    What this has to do with the actual point of Mr. Alworth's thread has been lost, but WTF, Mr. Bray gets one more item to stick on his curriculum vita.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    Close. But, rather...

    Subjugation, particularly via religious political systems, as in old Tibet and old/modern India, is objectively wrong (regardless of what Said might say).

    Human rights FIRST and foremost should deal with a population of people (rather than individual rights), and the poverty, enslavement, indentured servitude, and class systems of those people. Insofar as superstitious tenets of those people lead them to particular practices (sati, lama incarnations) that enshrine those violations of human rights, then they should absolutely be weeded out, excised, defocused, or banned.

    Americans rightly are outraged by the Islamic practice of female genital mutilation. Yet they somehow lionize those practices in Tibet -- from slavery (which a previous poster called "honorable") to the lama political system -- that are far worse.

    Alworth's post is seeped in codewords that continue the tired political maneuvering of old exiled monks, whether he realizes it or not. He chastises me for taking a Western perspective on the situation, but refuses to answer whether he has visited Tibet or has spoken to actual Tibetans in Tibet.

    Speaking to a diaspora in India is like getting a sense of the West Bank from speaking to Palestinians who have been living for the past 60 years in Saudi Arabian refugee camps... you are going to get a lot of anger and heat, but not much objective information about the actual facts on the ground right now.

    The Gandhi issue is orthogonal to this post, but somehow the conversation slid to that. What's perhaps pertinent if that both he and the Dalai Lama are pedestalized by the West... yet both are men with deep, deep faults. Neither of them should be anywhere near the levers of government.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    Therefore Chinese colonization of Tibet is just fine.

    By your sarcastic statements I assume that you view the Tibet situation as some grave rights issue. This is a Victorian perspective. Modern colonization is far more insipid and destructive than China's elimination of the Tibetan serf system (and the bent noses of the rich elites that fled to India).

    For instance, the US is effectively colonizing China through middle-class white couples adopting Chinese girls. While these couples may think they are doing something noble, they most certainly are not. They only perpetuate the one-child policy by allowing an "escape valve" that would otherwise lead to internal pressures that would have to be resolved.

    If those "unwanted" girls had to be dealt with by the Chinese, they might discard the one-child policy, they might initiate more programs that promote gender equality. But, as it is, there is brisk business to be made in the production of baby girls... on my first trip to China, a man came up and offered me a baby girl to buy.

    The abduction of a whole generation of Chinese girls leads to a serious gender imbalance that has massive impact on Chinese social structure. It is akin to the true "trail of tears" of American colonialism: stripping the young American Indians from their families and culture and forcing them into white families.

    So, if you want to talk about true loss of culture, look to this colonialism.

  • Peter Bray (unverified)
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    (Er, I didn't mean "Victorian perspective", I meant a "1950s Attlee perspective".)

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    Peter,

    I can find you quotes from a similar period in which mission-educated Africans who were forming the first African nationalist organizations, out of which modern liberation movements developed, were offering similar criticisms of "raw" Natives (and likewise criticisms by amabhinca "traditionalists" of the mission educated. In Natal and the Cape, although much more restrictedly so in Natal, Africans could apply for and gain exemption from "Native Law" (a codification of European views of African traditional law, inherently distorted just by the fact of codification, and substantively erroneous in other respects0; "exempted Natives" in turn could apply for the franchise.

    A considerable portion of the politics of the early African nationalist polltical intelligentsia was aimed at defending and expanding the privileges of "civilized" Africans, and the arguments were made often enough with invidious comparisons to traditionalists and laborers. Like Gandhi in the episodes you cite, what those Africans were doing in part was trying to defend themselves against an intensifying racist repression that was seeking to drive all racially oppressed peoples to the lowest levels possible.

    This was in the heyday of social evolutionism and the aggrandizement of claims for "progress" as equated to European civilization. You find the same kinds of things going on among African-Americans at the time, including distinctions of color among African-Americans, ideas like W. E. B. DuBois concept (later repudiated by him) of "the talented tenth," and even an ideology of "Afro-Saxonism" that tried to link black Americans with Anglo-Saxon ancestry to the growing WASP anti-immigrant ideology aimed at southern and eastern European Catholic, Jewish and Eastern Orthodox immigrants.

    Gandhi had racialist and ethnocentric views in South Africa. That is not the same as being an architect of apartheid.

  • bardonaut (unverified)
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    This is an interesting back-and-forth. A couple of things to add.

    That the Dalai Lama has appointed a "Karmapa" is historically unprecedented and represents the continued suppression of freedom by his exiled "government". The suppressed in this case consist of the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism who have recognized a different incarnate lama as Karmapa (the head of the Karma Kagyu), in a manner adhering to over 900 years of tradition. The Karma Kagyu lineage survived as an independent school of Buddhism under even the most repressive Lhasa (Dalai Lama) regimes.

    Also, though I may have missed mention of it, the governments of the 5th-12th Dalai Lamas were propped up by the Chinese emperors giving the Chinese Government ample historic precedent for their current foolishness.

  • lownslowav8r (unverified)
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    This has been an interesting conversation and useful thanks in large part to the deep knowledge of many of the commentators. This is not the type of conversation you are going to have on Little Green Footballs, or the equivalent authoritarian website.

    I don't claim any special understanding of Tibet pre-invasion but I do think that anybody who argues that someone (or some people) does not deserve the protection of their basic human rights because of some real or perceived past transgression is in dangerous territory.

    Everybody's ethnic group or nation has done something nasty in the past. I don't know of any society that has escaped this curse. Tahiti, Hawaii, and other Polynesian societies had terrible, vicious, wars over dwindling resources due to overpopulation. Scandinavia, today, location of some of the most progressive and civilized societies the world has ever seen, in the past was also the home of the Vikings, who were not much appreciated elsewhere in the world of their time.

    Any suggestion that the Chinese invaded Tibet for the benefit of the downtrodden "slaves" or religiously repressed subgroups is nonsense. If that was the case, they could have freed these people and left, but they didn't. They invaded because of greed and avarice, no other reason.

    Arguments spouting how the GNP of Tibet has exploded since the Chinese invasion are also suspect. All you have to do is to look at the history of this country and how America's increasing GNP has been used to justify many abuses. The last 30 years of corporate rule has an America with a increasing GNP which has largely gone to the ruling elites. I wonder how much of the money flowing through modern Tibet is going to the original people of Tibet and how much is going to the ethnic Chinese. I "wonder".

    But thanks to "Peter Bray" and others for pushing the totalitarian Chinese government's positions. I've not paid that close attention to the Chinese government's propaganda so it was useful for me to see it pushed and debunked in this comment thread.

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