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China Should Not Equate Sinicization of Tibet with Modernization

Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.

By Shyamal Sinha

Lhasa, the capital of Tibet.

Changes in everyday life like part-time permanent houses, motorbikes, mobile phones and (potentially) thermic insulation can improve daily living conditions; on the other hand, they imply radical changes in some aspects of the local culture and life style. This illustrates to some extent the sometimes conflictual relation between tradition and the quest for a better life. However, these changes cannot yet provide attractive jobs other than farming and herding to the local people.

For long the Chinese authorities in Tibet have tried to push the notion that Tibetans are backward, barbaric and uncivilized. Hence, it needed the good liberating grace of China to release the country from the shackles of an atrocious history and civilize the inhabitants from the shadows of barbarism.

As a result, in its frantic efforts to occupy the country and consolidate their invasion since 1959, China has taken it upon itself to ‘develop’ and ‘modernize’ the country. So much so that China’s self-serving efforts is reminiscent of the Kipling poem ‘White Man’s Burden’.

If we recall, the early imperialists roamed the world, backed by the persuasive power of gunboats, chanting the slogan of “civilization” to fulfill the so-called White Man’s Burden. The imperialist then stayed on, constructing roads, building railway lines, setting up schools and taking over the native administration, all geared towards plundering native resources. And that is exactly what happened in the case of Tibet.

Since the occupation, China has used every trick in the book to maintain its hold and legitimize the occupation: from distorting history to masquerading opinions as facts to downright deception and lies. In order to continue their domination, they have also disregarded and downplayed the distinct cultural, linguistic, religious and social heritage of the Tibetan people.

The study of Tibetan language for instance is severely suppressed to such an extent that language advocates are jailed under dubious charges and schools are shut down under the garb of bringing development to the region. In its place, the official language Mandarin is imposed in the name of national unification and increased educational and professional prospects.

Language by definition is a cornerstone of a national identity. Undermining native languages and introducing compulsory study of Chinese in schools is an attempt by the Chinese government to completely assimilate the Tibetan people into Chinese, part of their effort to Sinicize Tibet and to justify their false claim that Tibet is a part of China ‘from antiquity’ and that Tibetan and Chinese are ‘one’ people.

Moreover, the attempts of the Chinese government to paint the Chinese language as the superior language and the Chinese people, as the superior people, is itself self-defeating and at the same time, exposes their bluff that Chinese and Tibetans are one people.

This is also a profoundly totalitarian point of view, which seems to proclaim that: “China have the absolute medicine for every problem of humanity, and Tibetans and the rest of the ethnic minorities like Uighurs should follow China whether they like it or not.”

In the past, all the empires, dictators and oppressive regimes that have resorted to such tactics to retain their domination of the people have collapsed as a result of the foolhardiness of such measures.

Therefore, if China wants to fulfill its aspirations for a harmonious society and achieve territorial integrity, it should respect the culture and traditions of the people it governs.

Tibet has existed as a nation with a written history of over 2000 years and a unique culture, tradition and way of life. Sinicization of Tibet in the name of development and modernization is not the solution but will rather thwart their attempts to fulfill their aspirations.

However, the Tibetan areas are still very far from offering a comfortable living to their inhabitants.