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  May 9, 2002  

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Why Tibet is part of China

By Henry C K Liu

Karma Tsering raised some legitimate points about the errors of past Chinese policy on Tibet. Indeed, China needs to adopt a more respectful and nurturing policy towards indigenous cultures of its minorities. There are indications that current policies have moved in that direction. Yet policy errors do not alter the historical fact that Tibet is part of China. Modern Tibet is an autonomous region within the People's Republic.

"China's Tibet Culture Week", sponsored by the Chinese Association for Cultural Exchanges with Foreign Countries, will be held in Australia's Melbourne and Sydney as well as New Zealand's Auckland, from November 20 to December 8, 2002. A total of 60 Tangkar pictures will for the first time be on show abroad, which, as a unique art of Tibet, depicts its history, religion, arts, pharmacy, customs and people. A Chinese delegation with 45 people will invite 20 performers from the Lhasa Ethnic Art Troupe of China's Tibet to stage six performances and street shows, including Tibetan Opera, Religious Dance, and Traditional Tibetan Costumes and Ornaments Show. The troupe, founded in 1960, has been invited to perform in the United States, Canada, Switzerland, and Italy, and has won many national and international awards.

Beginning around the end of the 6th century, China's multinational society began to weave together its many fragmented ethnical strands into a reunified cultural force. In modern times, in addition to the majority ethnic Han nationality, China has 55 officially recognized national minorities living on 60 percent of its territory with a combined minority population of over 100 million among its total of 1.3 billion people. China's national minorities in modern times have a population equal to the combined total of France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria.

The history of China's relationship to Tibet dates from ancient times. Tibet has been an integral part of China since the 13th century.

The Tufans (Tibetians) are one branch of the Xi Qiang (West Qiang) tribes who founded a kingdom in Xizang (Tibet), the recorded history of which began only around Tang times in the early 7th century. Up until this time, they consisted of some 150 separate tribes who constantly quarreled among themselves and sought mediation periodically from succeeding courts of the Middle Kingdom (Zhongguo) since the Han dynasty (BC 206-220 A.D.)

Tufan zanpu (Tibetan king) Qizonglong Zan sent to the Tang court in 641 an emissary named Ludong Zan to ask for the hand of a Tang princess in marriage, a ritual gesture of a tributary vassal state. Two years earlier still, in 639, 13th year of the reign of Virtuous Vision of Genesis Emperor (Taizong), Tufan zanpu Qizonglong Zan had already sent 16,000 taels of gold (1 tael = 1.33 ounces, $6.6 million at the current price of $311.2/oz) to the Genesis Emperor as a sign of the zanpu's honorable intentions. Subsequently, Ludong Zan arrived in 641 with an additional marriage gift of 5,000 more taels of gold.

Princess Wencheng, hastily adopted by the Genesis Emperor from among the daughters of one of his 21 brothers, was given in marriage in the same year to 73-year-old Tufan zanpu Qizonglong Zan, after her aging suitor paid an additional final marriage gift of five times the weight of his young bride in gold. Princess Wencheng was at the time 16 years old and reportedly quite obese. The ceremony in which the hand of Princess Wencheng was formally requested in marriage would be memorialized by the famous Tang painter, Yan Liben (c 600-673), in a painting entitled Sedan Chair Portrait (Bulian Tu), on view in modern times at the Beijing Palace Art Museum. Not only does the name of the princess not appear in the title, she is not even portrayed in person in the painting. It is a reflection of how unimportant the bride is in the whole negotiated political affair.

The painting shows Li Shimin, Genesis Emperor (Taizong), being carried on a sedan sofa by six court-ladies, while two other ladies carrying large overhead fans with long stems, and one carrying a red, round parasol of silk, 10 feet high, shading the Genesis Emperor's head. Princess Wencheng is nowhere in sight.

Facing the emperor's entourage is a bearded Tang protocol officer, standing at attention, holding a folded fan in a traditional salute. The Tufan envoy, Ludong Zan, is shown as smaller in stature, looking submissive and eager. A stoic court attendant, dressed in white, stands humbly behind him. A colophon added to the painting by the celebrated 11th century Bei Song (Northern Song 960-1127) calligrapher, Zhang Youzhi, in small seal-style script, known as Zhuan script, records that the Genesis Emperor was so pleased with the diplomatic skill of Ludong Zan that he offered him one of the granddaughters of Princess Langya as bride, despite protests from Ludong Zan of having had a wife in Xizang (Tibet) since childhood.

Princess Wencheng, the personification of an ideal political marriage, whose image is absent in the famous painting, would be credited by historians as being instrumental in introducing Tang culture into Xizang (Tibet), as well as Mahayana Buddhism (Dasheng, meaning major vehicle), the growth of which she would help to foster throughout her life in the exotic land. Indigenous mystic concepts would modify Mahayana Buddhism soon after its introduction to Xizang.

Lamaism, which would be derived from Mahayana Buddhism, and modified by erotic mysticism of Tantrism and indigenous Tibetan rites, would not formally establish itself until much later. The first Lama monastery in Xizang would be established near Lhasa only after 750 by Indian scholar-monk Padmasambhava, a full century after Princess Wencheng's marriage to Tufan zanpu Qizonglong Zan.

Princess Wencheng was a remarkable woman and a devout Buddhist. She would win the love and admiration of her barbarian husband, zanpu Qizonglong Zan, 57 years her senior, who would die at age 82 after nine years of marriage to her. As a political bride of 16, she brought to Xizang many books on Tang culture, as well as an entourage of scholars and artisans. Under her influence, her husband ordered his subjects to adopt Tang rituals, customs and learning. Sons from Tufan noble households were sent to Changan as students, and many lived in Tang imperial palaces as guests of the Genesis Emperor and as pampered political hostages.

This practice of holding hostage barbarian princes in the Tang court in Changan is not unlike the way Roman Emperor Augustus kept Herod the Great, king of Judea (37-4 BC), in luxury in Rome among Roman imperial family members, after Herod abandoned Mark Antony following the battle of Atium. Despite Antony's having earlier secured for Herod the royal title, King Herod opted in favor of Otavia who later would become the victorious Augustus (BC 63-14 AD), first emperor of the Roman Empire.

Notwithstanding his Roman upbringing, or possibly because of his Greek-inspired Roman education, Herod promoted Hellenization of Judea while encouraging Jewish nationalism by publicly observing the Torah, the Laws of Moses, by building a temple and by re-establishing the Sanhedrin, the consequential legal-religious institution. Shortly before his death, while ruling at the time of Jesus's birth, King Herod ordered the massacre of all infants of Bethlehem in an effort to curb religious fundamentalism and to intercept the prophesied coming of the Savior who was supposed to replace Herod.

Not unlike the attitude of King Herod toward Rome, descendants of Zanpu Qizonglong Zan of Xizang would harbor a love-hate relationship with the Tang court for centuries.

Zanpu Qizonglong Zan would build an elaborate palace for Princess Wencheng in Lhasa. It would still stand in modern time as part of the since-expanded Potala. After her husband's death, Princess Wencheng would continue to enjoy the affection and adoration of her adopted people until her death 30 years later at age 55.

By 680, the disappointment felt by Tufans (Tibetans) from the refusal of the High Heritage Emperor (Gaozong), son of their great friend, the late Genesis Emperor (Taizong), to grant his daughter, 17-year-old Peace Princess (Taiping Gongzu), in marriage to 9-year-old Tufan zanpu (Tibetan king) Qinuxilong, on the thinly-veiled grounds that Peace Princess had been, since 8 years old, a nuguan (Daoist lay prioress), has developed into nationalistic dimensions with historic implications. It would contribute to the cultural isolation of Xizang and her embrace of Lamaism.

Lamaism, culturally-defensive, in time would evolve xenophobic and anti-Daoist sentiments, as well as anti-Han attitudes. Lamaism would develop as a modification of Mahayana Buddhism by Tantric rituals of erotic mysticism and by ancient shamanism and sorcery of the Bon, a primitive, indigenous animistic religion of Xizang, which believes in the existence of spirits separate from the body.

Tantrism, an arcane cult within Hinduism, centering around erotic, magical and mystical rites, was influential in the development of orthodox Hinduism, of Mahayana Buddhism and later of Lamaism. The Tantric cult has elaborate devotional ceremonies, and it is held that only through ritualistic sexual union would the gods respond to the initiated. Female divinities are worshiped, and women are accorded high places in Tantrist cults.

Lamaism would enjoy imperial sponsorship in China under Kublai Khan's Mongolian Yuan dynasty in the 13th century, partly because of its anti-Daoist and anti-Han ethnic colorations. Buddhist reformer Tsong-kha-pa, who would die in 1419, would establish the Yellow Hat order which would gradually gain ascendancy over the original Red Hat order of Lamaism.

Three years before its final overthrow by the conquering Manchurians, a decrepit Ming court, in a feeble attempt to preserve the Han dynastic house's titular sovereignty, granted de facto temporal power over Xizang to the 5th Grand Lama of the Yellow Hat order, whose title would be the Dalai (ocean-wide) Lama, and would install him in Potala in Lhasa.

The Dalai Lama would be revered by his followers as a divine reincarnation of the Boddhisattva Avallokiteshvara, mythical ancestor of the people of Xizang. A boddhisattva is worshiped as a deity in Mahayana Buddhism. It is the name given to an enlightened being who compassionately refrains from entering nirvana in order to save others. The most well-known boddhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism is the female Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy.

In 1652, the Dalai Lama was invited to Peking, where he was received with great pomp by Emperor Shizu during the reign of Shunzhi (1644-1661) of the Manchurian Qing dynasty (1661-1911). Lamaism again enjoyed imperial patronage under Emperor Shizong during the reign of Yongzheng (1723-1735) of the Qing dynasty and remained active and influential in the Qing court until 1911, the founding of the Republic of China. Nine years after his accession, Emperor Shizong convert his palace in Peking, Yonghe Gong, into a Lama temple which still functioned in modern times as a high holy place of Lamaism.

Yonghe Gong is one of the main tourist attractions and a focus of pilgrimage for Lamaism in Beijing. By the personal intervention of Premier Zhou Enlai, it received protection from ideologically-inspired vandalism by radical Red Guards during the turbulent Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

While the Dalai Lama became traditional leader of Tibet, spiritual supremacy resided with the chief abbot of the influential Dashi Lumpo monastery near Zhikatse, 200 kilometers southwest of Lhasa. He is the Dashi or Panchen Lama, a reincarnation of Amitabha, the Buddha of Light.

The succession to Grand Lama, either Dalai or Panchen, depends upon direct reincarnation. Upon the death of either, his spirit is said to pass into the body of some infant born shortly after, the identity of whom is determined by a series of exacting tests and divinations. Upon identification, the selected child is then brought to Lhasa and meticulously trained to assume his awesome spiritual role.

The 13th Dalai Lama fled to Peking from a British expeditionary force in August, 1904. On April 27, 1906, China, represented by the dying Qing court, as suzerain of Tibet, agreed to the terms imposed by Britain not to permit third countries to send representatives, receive transportation or mining concessions, or occupy, purchase or lease territories in Tibet without British permission. It was a policy designed by Lord Curzon, previously the expansionist viceroy of British India The policy aimed generally to protect British interests in Tibet and specifically to contain tzsarist Russian expansion into the region.

All "unequal" treaties signed by the government of the Qing dynasty during the age of Western imperialism, including those concerning Tibet, were since declared null and void by all subsequent governments of China, nationalist and communist alike. Four years after the British-Qing dynasty agreement, on February 25, 1910, during the chaos of the nationalist revolutionary uprisings that finally established the nationalist Republic of China, the 13th Dalai Lama again fled, this time to British India.

The 14th Dalai Lama, a 5-year-old boy, was installed on February 22, 1940 and the 9th Panchen Lama, a 7-year-old, in 1944. The 14th Dalai Lama signed a 17-point agreement with the government of the newly established People's Republic in Beijing on May 24, 1951 that reconfirmed Chinese sovereignty over Tibet with local autonomy.

Government forces clashed with CIA-supported ethnic dissidents in 1959 during the celebration of the Tibetan New Year, after which the 14th Dalai Lama, with CIA help, went into political exile in India. After 1959, the CIA trained Tibetan guerrillas and provided funds for the fight against a ChineseTibet. However, the effort stopped when Richard Nixon decided to seek rapprochement with China in the early 1970s. Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison, in The CIA's Secret War in Tibet, reveal how the CIA encouraged Tibet's revolt against China - and eventually came to control its fledgling resistance movement. The New York Times reported on October 2, 1998 that the Dalai Lama's administration acknowledged that it received $1.7 million a year in the 1960s from the CIA, but denied reports that the Tibetan leader benefited personally from an annual subsidy of $180,000. The money allocated for the resistance movement was spent on training volunteers and paying for guerrilla operations against the Chinese, the Tibetan government-in-exile said. It added that the subsidy earmarked for the Dalai Lama was spent on setting up offices in Geneva and New York and on international lobbying. The decade-long covert program to support the Tibetan independence movement was part of the C.I.A.'s worldwide effort to undermine communist governments, particularly in the Soviet Union and China.

The 9th Panchen Lama, after taking office under the new People's Republic on May 1, 1952 at age 15, died in Beijing on January 28, 1989 and his followers search for the reincarnation of his soul, the 10th Panchen Lama. On December 8, 1995, a six-year-old boy was annointed as Tibetan Buddhism's new Panchen Lama.
Henry C K Liu

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