In a speech to mark the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule on March 10, 1959, the Dalai Lama today praised the conviction of young Tibetans who have engaged in peaceful protests across the plateau over the past year and gave a strong and reflective message on the current crisis in Tibet and hopes for the future.
The exiled Tibetan leader was speaking this morning in Dharamsala, India, to an audience of thousands of Tibetans from all over the world and a group of Chinese democracy activists and dissidents, who made emotional statements afterwards to the crowd about their solidarity with “our Tibetan brothers and sisters” and shared oppression under Chinese Communist Party rule.
The Dalai Lama’s March 10 statement included a strong rebuttal of Chinese representations of Tibet’s past that appeared to be in part a response to Beijing’s recent propaganda offensive and White Paper on Tibet’s ‘democratic reform.’ The Dalai Lama said that following the Chinese takeover of Tibet, “The forceful implementation of the so-called ‘democratic reform’ in the Kham and Amdo regions of Tibet, which did not accord with prevailing conditions, resulted in immense chaos and destruction… Having occupied Tibet, the Chinese Communist government carried out a series of repressive and violent campaigns that have included ‘democratic reform’, class struggle, communes, the Cultural Revolution, the imposition of martial law, and more recently the patriotic re-education and the strike hard campaigns. These thrust Tibetans into such depths of suffering and hardship that they literally experienced hell on earth.”
The Dalai Lama, speaking to a silent audience of Tibetan monks, nuns, schoolchildren and others from the exile community worldwide at the Main Temple (Tsuglag Khang) in his exile home, said that the last 50 years have “brought untold suffering and destruction to the land and people of Tibet” and that Tibetan religion and culture were “nearing extinction.”
The Dalai Lama opened his speech with a statement about his pride in those Tibetans who have engaged in peaceful protest since March, 2008, across the Tibetan plateau, despite the risks. He said that: “Most of the participants were youths born and brought up after 1959, who have not seen or experienced a free Tibet. However, the fact that they were driven by a firm conviction to serve the cause of Tibet that has continued from generation to generation is indeed a matter of pride… We pay tribute for all those who died, were tortured and suffered tremendous hardships including during the crisis last year, for the cause of Tibet since our struggle began.”
The speech included several direct assertions to Beijing, including a reiteration of the Dalai Lama’s position that the Tibetans will not accept Tibet as having been a part of China since before the takeover in 1949-50, “despite Chinese insistence.” The Dalai Lama said: “Distorting history for political purposes is incorrect.” He also hinted at possible political shifts in China, saying that “There is no country in the world today, including China, whose territorial status has remained forever unchanged, nor can it remain unchanged.”
In his speech and in comments beforehand, the Dalai Lama also appeared to challenge perceptions in some media reports that he has somehow given up or lost hope, citing international support from governments, the solidarity of many Chinese people, and the unshaken nature of Tibetan cultural identity in Tibet as reasons for a more positive viewpoint on Tibet’s future.
Yesterday (March 9), more than 5,000 Tibetans had gathered at the temple together with leaders of all Tibet’s four Buddhist schools for long life prayers for the Dalai Lama. Following the March 10 statement, Tibetans held a protest march down the winding narrow road from the Dalai Lama’s temple to lower Dharamsala, while Tibetan Parliamentarians later held a candlelit vigil.