Despite all the feelings of goodwill surrounding the visit of the Dalai Lama to the University of Oregon, not quite everyone on campus was so thoroughly enamored by the unprecedented visit by His Holiness.
For some Chinese students at UO, the Dalai Lama is an “enemy to Chinese,” according to The Emerald, the independent news organization on campus. (Full disclosure: I was a reporter for The Emerald -- formerly the Oregon Daily Emerald -- for several years as an undergraduate at UO). From the point of view of some Chinese students, Tibet is a province of China and its people are in rebellion.
However, most Tibetans disagree with this perception; they feel they are an autonomous country that China has invaded illegally in violation of international law. A quick review of Tibetan history appears to support this stance. Tibet has primarily been its own country since roughly the time of Christ.
Though Tibetans and Chinese have been fighting for centuries, other cultures have also laid claim to Tibet -- the Mongols, Indians and Nepalese. In 1950, when it was clear that the People’s Liberation Army led by Mao Zedong would defeat the Kuomintang led by Chiang Kai-shek, Tibet expelled both sides in the dispute.
When Mao assumed power, the Chinese government moved to secure Tibet quickly, assuming sovereignty in a “Seventeen Point Agreement” that the Dalai Lama -- as both temporal and spiritual leader -- refused to acknowledge. During a rebellion in 1959, His Holiness fled Tibet along with 100,000 other Tibetans and established a government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India.
Since then, the Chinese government has destroyed over 6,000 Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and shrines and millions of Tibetans have died. Today, more than 300,000 Chinese soldiers remain in Tibet. Tibetan resistance to Chinese occupation is exemplified by cases of self-immolation by Tibetan monks, the most outward sign of protest.
The real question here is who invaded Tibet? The Chinese? Or the communists? The government in China is radically different under the communists and unaccepting of religion. But even the Dalai Lama believes that Tibet needs the support of China’s central government. In turn, China needs to respect Tibet’s own culture and diversity.
But back to the issue of the Dalai Lama on campus as it relates to international students from China: some are concerned the UO will be dropped from the Chinese Ministry of Education’s list of accredited universities, but others are less concerned: “America is a kind of like ‘freedom country,’” one international student from China told The Emerald. “So people can do anything they want because it is legal.”
Freedom, huh? Irony aside, that kind of sums it up, doesn’t it? Most Tibetans -- including His Holiness -- would likely agree.