Tibet's Davids meet China's Goliath. Lhasa's legacy of resistance
DURING demonstrations against Chinese rule this month, boys joined some 2,000 older Tibetans incensed by the arrest of Buddhist monks. Armed with slings made from yak hair, the boys hurled stones at heavily armed police in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. The boldness that these young, would-be ``Davids'' of the former Himalayan kingdom show in assailing the Chinese police ``Goliath'' highlights an anomaly of the Tibetan independence movement: It is renewed by youthful recruits struggling for a seemingly unattainable goal despite Chinese repression spanning 37 years.Skip to next paragraph
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Many of the monks and other Tibetan activists are under the age of 35, suggesting that the movement can count on new recruits for generations to come. Since it seems unlikely that the activists will win significant external support for their cause, the movement's appeal to Tibetan youth - more than any other factor - gives Tibetans the greatest hope of gaining a form of limited autonomy.
Deep-seated cultural and historical factors lie behind China's failure to prevent Tibetans from perpetuating their independence movement from one generation to another.
With a 2,100-year-old tradition that has merged religion with matters of state, Tibetans have found Peking's enforcement of atheistic communism particularly repugnant.
Harsh Chinese rule has intensified Tibetan political opposition and enmity. Peking has acknowledged that during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) Chinese Red Guards destroyed thousands of lamaseries. The Dalai Lama, Tibet's self-exiled spiritual and political leader, estimates that Peking has consolidated its control by killing some 1.2 million Tibetans.
Many Tibetans also remain alienated from China because they speak a different language and observe different traditions. Moreover, Tibetans show an awareness of the erstwhile kingdom's discrete, 1,500-year-old history - an awareness that tends to fuel resentment of Peking.
For most of the 8th century, Tibet extended more than 2,000 miles, from the Pamirs and Samarkand in the west to the captured Chinese capital of Xian in the east. In later periods (prior to the 1950 Chinese invasion and annexation), Tibet either enjoyed full independence or maintained nothing closer than a tributary tie with China.
Consequently, many Tibetans, speaking euphemistically, say they do not deal with Chinese from the heart. ``When we talk to the Chinese,'' one young Tibetan in Lhasa said, ``we do so only from the neck up.''
But Peking, for its part, has given no indications that it will ease its grip on Lhasa, much less consider the Tibetan appeal for greater autonomy.
Quashing sporadic demonstrations since Sept. 27, Police have killed at least seven Tibetans and arrested more than 120 monks and an undetermined number of other Tibetans.
Moreover, Peking has flown into Lhasa some 1,000 crack Chinese militia reinforcements armed with AK-47 rifles and electric-powered prods. The militia has proved more professional and decisive than the Lhasa police.
On the propaganda front, Peking has labeled the independence movement futile and reaffirmed its claim that it has ruled Tibet since the 13th century. And it has sought to discourage outside support for Tibet, expressing ``strong indignation'' Oct. 7 over a non-binding United States Senate amendment that condemned Peking for human rights violations in Tibet.
Chinese Minister of Justice Zou Yu early this month termed claims that officials have violated the human rights of Tibetans ``sinister slander.'' In an interview with the New China News Agency he denied that Peking has jailed some 20,000 Tibetans in 84 prisons in the region as reported by US author and Tibetan expert John Avedon. Rather, Mr. Zou said Tibet has just one prison and two labor camps with a total of 970 inmates, 27 of whom are serving sentences as ``counterrevolutionaries.''
(But Amnesty International reported that Chinese authorities have jailed dissidents in two prisons in Lhasa alone. The prisons include Drapchi, where one of Tibet's most well-known activists for independence, Geshe Lobsang Wangchuk, is serving an 18-year sentence for advocating a non-violent struggle against Chinese rule.)
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