March 10: The Tibetan National Uprising Day
I think I am speaking for the majority of Tibetans — or at least to me when I say that March 10 of every year, brings me a generational pain — a pain of my grandfather who starved to death in a prison for being a Tibetan, a pain of my mother who was looted of all her property and was forced to beg for food, and my own story of family separation. I think there’s not a single Tibetan family who does not share a story like mine or even worse.
What My Mother Risked in Smuggling Me Out of Tibet
Reflections on the promise of life beyond a border
On March 10,1959, thousands of Tibetans took to the streets in opposition to the illegal occupation of Tibet by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The PRC used their military forces to kill 87,000 civilians that day. Seven days after the protest, His Holiness the Dalai Lama escaped to India. Since then March 10 has been known as Tibetan National Uprising Day.
Every year, on March 10, Tibetans in New York rally around Time Square, the Chinese Embassy, and they end with a candlelight vigil in Jackson Heights, Queens. We wave our bright national flag, wear our traditional dresses, and chant slogans such as Human rights in Tibet, United Nation Stand Up for Tibet, and many others. In those moments of our peaceful, yet the heightened intensity of soaking in this collective energy of solidarity, resilience, and pain — it’s not uncommon to see protesters cry. I have on multiple occasions. For many Tibetans and its supporters, this isn’t their first or 10th time, we have commemorated March 10 for 60 years now.
For many Tibetans and its supporters, this isn’t their first or 10th time, we have commemorated March 10 for 60 years now.
The reason I called Tibet: A story of a minority among minority is that Tibetans within Tibet are a minority — and Tibetans across the globe are a minority too. In 2016, the National Bureau of Statistics of China reported the population of Tibet to be 3,310,000 with an area of 1.22 million sq km. Tibet also called as Xizang in Chinese is considered among the other minority ethnic groups such as Uyghurs(Xinjiang in Chinese). About 122,078 Tibetans live in exile across Asia, Europe, North America, and other places. To give you a perspective, New York has approximately 19,542,209 residents according to Census Bureau.
The reason I called Tibet: A story of a minority among minority is that Tibetans within Tibet are a minority — and Tibetans across the globe is a minority too
One might ask: you guys are a minority; I get it but what do I have to do with it? The answer is one word: Environment. Tibet is the largest source of freshwater in Asia, serving over a billion lives from the 46,000 glaciers. Hence, Tibet is also called “Asia’s water tower” and “the third pole.”The uninhibited exploitation of natural resources including mining, and damming major downstream rivers such as Mekong river and Brahmaputra tributaries has caused rising concern among environmentalists. In fueling the economic power by mining, around 1.5–2 million Tibetan nomads were deprived of their century-old livelihood, forcing them to flee to India to escape financial hardship. The implications of disrupting the ecosystem in Tibet, expand not only within Asia but also Europe, North America, and Australia. Tibet has been cited as a “large contributor to the rise of global sea levels”. There’s also scientific speculation whether “Tibetan Glacial Ice Core May Hold Clues About Climate Change.”
One might ask: you guys are a minority; I get it but what do I have to do with it? The answer is one word: Environment.
His Holiness, the Dalai Lama had asserted his environmental stance saying, “This is not a question of one nation or two nations. This is a question of humanity. Our world is our home”.
Aside from the environmental issue, the story of Tibet, broadly speaking has two versions of “truth”: Tibetans like me and a large number of non-Tibetans across the world, and the second one, is through the lens of the Chinese in China. A writer name Peter Hessler has published an article on The Atlantic, titled Tibet Through Chinese Eyes. In his article he wrote, “ From the Chinese perspective, Tibet has always been a part of China. This is, of course, a simplistic and inaccurate view, but Tibetan history is so muddled that one can see in it what one wishes. The Chinese can ignore some periods and point to others; they can cite the year 1792, when the Qing Emperor sent a Chinese army to help the Tibetans drive out the invading Nepalese, or explain that from 1728 to 1912 there were Qing ambans, imperial administrators, stationed in Lhasa.”
The Chinese-born writer Jianglin Li explained on The New York Times, “the roots of Tibetan unrest in China’s occupation of Tibet”. She says, “ Like everyone in China, I was raised on the party line. I never thought to question it until I came to the U.S. for graduate study in 1988 and discovered how differently people here think of Tibet.”
Probably, the strongest justification offered by PRC for their annexation of Tibet was that it was materially backward with 95% of the Tibetan population being “serfs” in a feudal system. American anthropologists like Franz Michael and Beatrice Miller, who extensively researched on Tibet pre-1959 believe that the word, “serf” is a politically motivated term. They explained that the word “commoner” or “subject” are a more accurate representation of Tibetan before the annexation than the word “serf.” They said, “ because of ample evidence that a large number of Tibetans were able to moderate their obligations to their lords by paying off some of their dues, and so could move from place to place.”
Another scholar, W. M Coleman also added that in reality, the Tibetans had more freedom than appears in the documents, and that “Tibetans could equally well be described simply as peasants with particular kinds of debts and taxation responsibilities, rather than using a politically and morally loaded term such as serf. “
So is it true that Chairman Mao, a founder of the PRC out of the goodness of his heart wanted to “liberate” Tibetan “serfs” –the same man who sits in the history of mankind as “the greatest mass murderer “?
After 60 years of occupation, how liberated are Tibetans today?
Over 100 Tibetans self-immolated as of December 10, 2018. A publication called Storm in the Grasslands: Self-immolations in Tibet and Chinese policy reported the motivation of self-immolators. Based on their statements and the last conversation, they reject the current state of repressive policies set against fellow Tibetans, protection of Tibetan cultural identity, freedom of self-determination, and to allow the return of the Dalai Lama.
All in all, it’s up to you whether my story of a minority among minority moves you to think or act in any shape or form.
Meanwhile, I will be on the street on March 10, 2019 with my fellow pro-justice, and pro-environmentalist fighters. I hope you can join us too.