Why China Hates the Dalai Lama

by Chris Seck on November 9, 2007


Despite Chinese protests, President Bush presented the Dalai Lama with a Congressional Gold Medal on October 17. During the award ceremony, Bush praised the Dalai Lama as a “shepherd of the faithful and a keeper of the flame for his people.” Later, speaking to reporters at the White House, Bush declared: “I want to honor this man […] I have consistently told the Chinese that religious freedom is in their nation’s interest.”

The Chinese, however, felt quite differently about their nation’s interest. The New York Times, for example, quoted a Chinese official who referred to the Dalai Lama as “a person who basely splits his motherland and doesn’t even love his motherland.”
The official added: “We are furious. […] If the Dalai Lama can receive such an award, there must be no justice or good people in the world.”

American and Chinese views on the Dalai Lama’s visit seem irreconcilable. However, the nations’ disagreement on this issue rests largely on their differing perspectives—perspectives that must be analyzed, not ignored.

First, consider America’s perspective. Although China sees the Dalai Lama’s visit as a hostile act, President Bush probably didn’t intend it that way—most Americans see the issue as one of religious freedom. Most Americans see the Dalai Lama as a harmless, bespectacled religious guru who often writes self-help books with titles like How to Expand Love, The Art of Happiness, and The Art of Happiness at Work. To Americans, it seems illogical, almost laughable, that China should see the frail 72-year old monk as a threat to their country and civilization.

Moreover, Americans are often shocked by China’s stance on religion—they have persecuted “underground” Christians, banned the Falun Gong, and destroyed a number of Buddhist monasteries. In many ways, President Bush is right about religious freedom, and he is correct to say that embracing freedom of religion might make China a better place.

However, there is a catch: China already considers itself to have freedom of religion—it’s a constitutional right in China, where Article 36 states that “Citizens of the People’s Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief. No state organ, public organization, or individual may compel citizens to believe in, or not to believe in, any religion.” Most Chinese are Taoists or Buddhists, and there are also an estimated 50 million Christians, 20 million Muslims, and even a small Jewish community. Millions of Tibetan Buddhists practice their religion peacefully. Why, therefore, does the Chinese government dislike the Dalai Lama?

The answer: China views the Dalai Lama as a political threat. China’s problem isn’t with Tibetan Buddhism, but Tibetan separatism. While it is true that the Dalai Lama has officially abandoned the idea of Tibetan independence, many of his supporters have not. The International Tibet Independence Movement (ITIM) continues to thrive to this day. Moreover, the Dalai Lama himself has continued to campaign for greater Tibetan autonomy despite the fact that Tibet is already a designated autonomous region within China. In addition, Tibetan separatism receives a lot of good press in the American media and Hollywood, with anti-China flicks like Seven Years in Tibet and Kundun garnering millions of dollars.

But why is China so determined to maintain control over Tibet?

Consider America. Just as a hand has five fingers, our nation consists of five main parts—European, African, Latino, Asian, and Native American peoples. Despite their cultural differences, all these groups share a common allegiance to the American constitution and flag. For example, although Barack Obama is of African ancestry, he identifies himself not as an African, but as a proud citizen of the United States.

Similarly, like America, the Chinese nation also consists of several parts, including the Han, Manchu, Tibetan, Mongol, and Zhuang peoples. Despite the cultural differences between these groups, they form an integral part of the Chinese nation. Just as a thumb is an integral part of the hand although it looks different from the other four fingers, so Tibet can be said to be an integral part of China even though its culture is different from the majority Han culture. Moreover, ever since the 13th century, Tibet has been under Chinese suzerainty and sovereignty for hundreds of years—centuries longer than Alaska and Texas have ever been part of the United States.

As such, when President Bush unreservedly praises the Dalai Lama, whose very presence incites Tibetan separatists to rebellion, it comes across as incredibly offensive to ordinary Chinese citizens—regardless of whether their ancestry is Han, Manchu, Mongol, or Tibetan. How would patriotic Americans feel if the Chinese invited a separatist leader from the Alaskan Independence Party to their capital, publicly gave him a medal, and praised him as a “shepherd of the faithful and a keeper of the flame for his people?” Few of us, not even our Alaskan cousins, would be amused.

Looking at the Dalai Lama’s visit from both sides, it is evident that America and China view him from different perspectives. America sees the Dalai Lama as a bespectacled religious guru who preaches a philosophy of peace; China sees him as a malevolent politician whose veneer of weakness hides his separatist intentions. In theory, America’s concern for religious freedom can be reconciled with China’s concern for its political integrity because the two are not mutually exclusive. In practice, however, such a foreign policy breakthrough seems unlikely.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Vlad January 25, 2010 at 12:33 pm

If Alaska wanted to be independent, or Texas wanted to be it’s own country, let them. If the Tibetan people want independence, it’s their right as a people to rebel. Just because there are many different cultures in the US doesn’t mean they want independence but Tibetans do. Mongolia is independent though some Mongols live in China. China just wants to control their colony but the age of imperialism is over and they need stop it but they won’t. The democratic nations of the west were once monarchies that lost their colonies due to rebellion. The Chinese military communist state will continue to force Tibet into submission with the threat of violence. There’s no reason for them to be offended that Tibetans want their own country. It shows insecurities and arrogance that have no place in the free world.

2 GreatBlue January 28, 2010 at 8:09 pm

The main problem with China’s argument about ethnicity is that it’s totally contrived. While in America we debate about the meaning of race, it’s organically created by the society-at-large. People from different cultures have come to America for generations, and the concept of being American has come from whatever has happened in society-at-large.
China however, has been trying to uphold a contrived idea about ethnicity. Going back to Sun Zhongshan (and his contemporaries), he argued all the people within the current territorial boundary-line of China are Zhonghua Minzu. In China, political ideology created ethnic labels that are used by the state.

So when this article says things like “Despite the cultural differences between these groups, they form an integral part of the Chinese nation. Just as a thumb is an integral part of the hand although it looks different from the other four fingers, so Tibet can be said to be an integral part of China even though its culture is different from the majority Han culture.”…. this is all a politically forced ideology. Just like Chinese citizens were forced to learn and recite Class Struggle ideology in the 1960s, Zhonghua Minzu is a staple diet for any Chinese citizen.

In America, if you are Alaskan, Cherokee, Hispanic, or Purple-monky-Dishwasher… nobody is forcing you to be anything. In China, most minority groups were forced to become Chinese, which is a guise of becoming “Han”. The entire idea gives the false impression that Tibetans are totally equal in standing among a plethora in the widely diverse China. Han constitute a minimum of 92% of China’s population and they dominate everything in the Communist Party. How many minority figures have been secretaries of provinces or ARs? Very few, and this is compounded by the fact that membership in the CCP also means you must constantly demonstrate your total submission to its inherent correctness.

China is stuck in the past, trying to create a Han empire like they dream about. But China’s mythological rendition of history was never exactly as they claim was always was. Whatever they want today, they claim was always true forever. Tibetans don’t want to be considered any type of inferior position to anything. This is where China constantly fails and doesnt seem to care. They can must focus entirely on some negative elements of past Tibet history, to prove they are superior and must maintain perpetual control. They force Tibet to play a submissive role in the so-called “happy motherland of China” which was forced on them by gunpoint.

How is America different? In about a thousand ways! If the majority of the residents of Texas were demanding independence, the issue would have to be heard and considered. In China, when this happens people go to jail and get tortured. Why? Because the entire Communist Chinese system is built on lies upon lies. If you admit that you actually invaded Tibet in 1950 and created man-made famines years later, then you open to the door to questioning everything up to the current day.

Respect is the most important thing to this Tibetan issue. China has no intention of giving Tibet respect. I think China’s deep sense of insecurity needs to keep Tibet humiliated, not just for financial gain but for a deep psychological sense of making itself feel superior, and the ZHONG GUO!

3 jigme May 12, 2010 at 1:42 am

Great blue
you are exactly correct!
As a Tibetan I feel frustrated and angry that Chinese are running rough shod over us . I would like to see some agreement in the future with them so that we could live amicably. However what angers me most is their contorted version of history which still harks back to the time of Mao-repeat a lie hundred times and it becomes a truth. Every Tibetan and I repeat every Tibetan knows Tibet was not a part of China-even the Governor of the TAR(he wont say it though-there will always be people who want to benefit from the system) . I am not blind believer in the Dalai Lama but he does represent the Tibetan people and is a symbol for us. How can the Chinese expect us to be happy when they call him a wolf in sheeps clothing!Which century are they living in?

4 Nityanand July 23, 2010 at 3:03 am

It is very shamfull for all the country who got freedom and Tibet is struggling for this.China is trying to occupy tibet,this shows that he is insecure.He tried to demolish the Budhism.I thing the country,person or state anybody who try to push the budhism back,could never alive longer.

5 Anon January 17, 2014 at 1:57 am

China has slaughtered almost half the Tibetan population as if they were animals, I cannot comprehend how they can possibly turn around and say that they are improving their state of living. The reason China is so adamant on maintaining control in Tibet and all across China is because they know that as soon as one corner begins to unravel, their entire framework will fall apart – because their entire foundations are built on a lie. How can such a large country be so afraid of one man, one unarmed man who is a worldwide symbol of peace? It’s because they know that the truth will always come out and good will always prevail over evil. The satanic control of the CCP will fall. How can you possibly call the Dalai Lama evil when you have Mao Zedong who killed 60 million of his own men? Long live the Dalai Lama, the most wonderful man on earth!

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