Just my two cents worth


March 2010

Tibet in this year’s Asian Studies Conference

This year’s conference of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS), “a scholarly, non-political, non-profit professional association open to all persons interested in Asia and the study of Asia” was held in Philadelphia from March 25 to 28, 2010. I had the occasion to participate in a similar conference held in 2008 and to present a paper then, which I titled “From Tsampa Eaters to Political Symbol: Evolution of Tibetan Identity in Tibet and Outside.” Tibet was very much a visible part of that year’s conference. Therefore, I looked at this year’s conference to see how Tibet fared. Lo and behold, out of the 282 sessions in the “China and Inner Asia Panels” there were five that dealt with Tibet. The following are details about those panels that are available on the AAS website.

Session 46: The Politics of Ethnicity in China
Rule of law in China’s ethnic regions: What happens when State and local laws conflict?, Katherine Kaup
“We are all part of the same family”: China’s ethnic propaganda, Anne-Marie Brady
From multinationalism to multiculturalism: New liberal logics and the National Regional Autonomy Framework in the PRC, Tashi Rabgey
Reflections on the course of China’s policies on ethnicity, from 1949 to the present day, Binghao Jin

Session 102: ‘Reconstructing’ Religion: Modernization and Tibetan Buddhism in Sino-Tibetan Areas During the Republican Period
Horizons of Scientia: Tibetan Buddhist Scholars on Sciences in the Republican Era, Nicole Willock
Xuan Xiafu: A Chinese for the Tibetans, Paul Nietupski
‘Reconstructing’ Tibetan Buddhism: Li Anzhai and the development of Modern Education in Labrang Monastery., Andres Rodriguez

Session 127: States of Marginality: Statehood, Sovereignty, and the Person Among Tibetans in the PRC and Beyond
Imperial Borderland/Socialist State: Authority, Sovereignty and the Closing of the Frontier in 1950s Northeastern Amdo, Benno Weiner
House-building, Development and Sovereignty in Tibet , Emily T. Yeh
The Abstract State: Dilemmas of Sovereignty and Scale Among Tibetans in China, Charlene E. Makley

Session 254: Agricultural Expansion and Ecological Crisis in the Late Qing
Militarizing Water: The Moral Economy in the Jianghan Plain in Late Nineteenth-Century China, Yan Gao
Fire and Qing Agricultural Borderlands: Chinese, Tibetan and Hui Cultural Landscapes, Jack P. Hayes
A Singular Reconstruction: Post-Taiping Zhejiang Province and Imperial Regulations for Agricultural Revival, Peter Lavelle
“Rice Paddies Like in the South:” Late Qing Attempts at Agriculture in Kham Tibet, Xiuyu Wang

Session 279: Love in Tibetan Literature
The Love of his Life: The Gungtang Princess and Yolmo Tendzin Norbu, Benjamin Bogin
Secular Love on a Sacred Journey: Dokharwa’s Account of Polhané’s Sojourn at Mindroling Monastery, Dominique Townsend
Love and Longing in the Auto/biographies of the Tantric Couple Sera Khandro (1892-1940) and Drimé Özer (1881-1924) , Sarah H. Jacoby
Great Expectations? Love in Contemporary Tibetan Women’s Poetry, Francoise Robin

Chinese Anxiety over the Dalai Lama’s Reincarnation

China may be an up and coming superpower. It can boast that economically it has the world on its knees. However, this world power is powerless to do anything when the Dalai Lama expands on his future incarnations. Hence in recent times we see increasing signs of worry coming from Beijing.

In the first half of March alone, three Tibetan officials, Pema Thinlye,
Jampa Phuntsok and Shintsa Tenzin Choedak, have been used by China to voice this anxiety in different ways.

China understands the important historical, religious and cultural bond
between the Tibetan people and the Dalai Lama. China also knows that its
adherence to atheism as a state policy puts it in a weak spot at trying to
control a very distinctly spiritual process like the reincarnation of the
Dalai Lama. At least the Manchu Emperors of the past, whom the present
Chinese rulers trace their lineage on this (to use a religious metaphor),
were in a better place because they themselves were patrons of Tibetan
Buddhism and even practiced it.

The Tibetan people in Tibet and outside have shown time and again that they know that the Dalai Lama has the welfare of the Tibetan people at his heart.
The strong bond between the Tibetan people and the Dalai Lama is something that the Chinese Government sees as a threat to its existence. Therefore, attempts are being made to make the Tibetan people choose between the Communist Party or the Dalai Lama with enough hints being given to make the “right” choice.

Even though His Holiness is in good health and despite their own
holier-than-thou pretension about waiting until this Dalai Lama passes away before talking about his reincarnation, Chinese officials are trying to
claim their right to select the next Dalai Lama. Given that they only have a
political agenda, the Chinese authorities are placed in difficulty when the
Dalai Lama talks about his reincarnation the way he has been doing. They
are not able to accept the reality that it is the present Dalai Lama who
will be calling the shot as far as his reincarnation is concerned.

At the most the Chinese Government can do is to select their own politicized boy when the time comes. If that happens, the Chinese will have far more difficulty in getting the Tibetan people’s acknowledgement, leave alone reverence, to such a person unless it has direct or indirect endorsement by the present Dalai Lama. Also, spiritually the Dalai Lama’s followers are not only in Tibet but also in the Himalayan region, Mongolia as well as internationally where there are increasing practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism. Even if the Chinese Government feels it can use political muscle to make the Tibetans in Tibet accept its selection, how would it hope to get the acceptance from these Buddhists who live in the free world.

Tibetan Buddhists believe that when the historical Buddha took birth in the
specific place and time as he did, he did so after taking into
considerations five congenial environmental factors. If the Chinese rulers
are really concerned about the next Dalai Lama they ought to look to
creating the proper spiritual environment. Vilification of the present Dalai
Lama is a wrong choice and will only serve China’s short-term political
interest without creating the necessary environment for a future Dalai Lama.

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