Engagement and Vision

  by Woeser

Tibetans within the PRC had their own ways of taking part in the Special Meeting of Tibetans from around the world which concluded last Saturday. The reality resulting from so many recent events looks like an impasse that prevents people here from speaking out or taking action, but it can’t stop them from feeling and thinking. Those who can go online were doing searches; those who can listen to broadcasts took their radios to places where the signal isn’t jammed; those who have a satellite dish camped out in front of their TV. Of course, none of these things could be done openly. Friends have told me that every place in Lhasa is covered by surveillance equipment, but even so, a great many Tibetans have been managing to participate in their own way. On my blog, for example, lots of comments have been left anonymously; on the call−in show hosted by Dolkar, some of the audience have been quite resourceful in finding ways to phone in and express their views. One could say that when the future course of Tibet is under discussion, there is simply no way a Tibetan could not pay close attention, no way one could refrain from expressing oneself. It’s like the pressure of an underground stream: bottled up in darkness, it builds to an indomitable power.

Though Saturday’s special meeting was held by somewhat more than five hundred representatives in Dharamsala, it was happening — with respect to both ‘where’ and ‘who’ — on a much wider scale. At the conclusion of the assembly, one of the resolutions announced to the world was that the Middle Way would continue to be followed in an effort to resolve the Tibet problem, and it was emphasized that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the authentic representative of the Tibetan people. To what has been reported I would like to add a summary of the views I’ve heard.

This Special Meeting unanimously opted to include (along with its commitment to the Middle Way) a nod to positions in favor of independence or the self−determination of nationalities, as well as making some practical proposals. Thus it managed to accommodate a variety of viewpoints, embodying the progress which Tibetan exile society has made toward democracy — a marked contrast with Tibetan society at home where, under dictatorship, everyone must fend for himself. But notwithstanding this precious sign of democracy, the Special Meeting seemed rather conservative: its thinking was not liberal enough. Admittedly, this was the first time in history that such an important congress had been held to discuss the way ahead for our people, and moreover it brought together Tibetans from fourteen different countries as well as canvassing the opinions of more than ten thousand Tibetans within the PRC. These things are not easy, and it was only natural to proceed with caution. One can hope that the next Special Meeting, the second one, will show more creativity, vitality, and flexibility.

One of the Special Meeting’s conclusions, the endorsement of the Dalai Lama, does not require much discussion. Whether in this life or the next, to us His Holiness will always be His Holiness, the spiritual leader whom we shall follow across lifetimes and worlds, as has been the tradition for all Tibetans for four hundred years.

But Tibetans of the present day need not only be able to acknowledge their Master as their Master and their parents as their parents; they also require the consciousness to act for themselves and the spirit to stand on their own. Given the rare opportunity of this special meeting, the most important thing is to define a strategic direction, make a detailed analysis of the tactical steps, draw up plans, and implement specific tasks: and then ask His Holiness to bring to bear his great and irreplaceable abilities, complementing the strengths of the leaders of the younger generation. This alone will make possible an era after the Dalai Lama that is marked by initiative and self−reliance. There is in any case a need for realistic tactics that are implemented in stages from one detail to the next, from one project to the next, with simultaneous attention to both internal and external circumstances. For example, the scholar Lobsang Sangay has proposed establishing a day of commemoration that would unite in solidarity the hearts of Tibetans at home and abroad, a day when they would utter the wish, “This year in Dhasa, next year in Lhasa.” This wish would move hearts, and from it there might take shape the memory of a whole people, a memory that could never be effaced.

To sum up, I would like to quote a passage from On Protracted War, written by Mao Zedong during China’s War of Resistance against Japan.

“When the enemy is strong and I am weak, I am at risk of being destroyed. But the enemy may still have other weak points, and I may have other strong points. My efforts may sap the enemy’s strengths, and they may also widen his points of weakness. Our side, on the other hand, may build up its strengths through hard work, and likewise repair its own points of weakness. Therefore we can escape destruction and be victorious in the end, whereas the enemy shall ultimately be defeated, unable to avoid the collapse of the entire imperialist system.”

November 26, 2008

Woeser wrote this article for Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan−language service.

Translator’s Notes

took their radios to places where the signal isn’t jammed On China’s continued jamming of foreign Tibetan−language broadcasts, see the report by RSF

the call−in show hosted by Dolkar Radio Free Asia provides a number of call−in shows for Tibetans to express their views. Ms. Tseten Dolkar is the host of a popular RFA program in the Central Tibetan dialect.

On Protracted War A series of lectures which Mao gave at Yenan in 1938. The sentences quoted come from paragraph 30.

of being destroyed The English translation issued in the 1960s by Beijing’s Foreign Languages Press rendered this term ‘subjugation,’ which may have seemed appropriate in the context of a struggle between powerful and weak nations. But the sense of the Chinese word miewang is stronger.