Letters from Prison: To Deng Xiaoping On the Tibetan Question translation published by Tibet Press Watch, December 1993 [written October 1992]
by Wei Jingsheng
Mr. Deng Xiaoping:
The propaganda campaign you have launched shows that you are not only dissatisfied with your hand-picked successor, but also concerned about the affairs of Tibet which is under your personal care. Therefore, your people have hastily worked out a White Paper called "Tibet - Its Ownership and Human Rights" [published by the State Council Information Office in September 1992] to cover up their incompetence and ignorance which is your incompetence and ignorance. They are continuing to use old lies and distortions to deceive you and many other Chinese people in order to maintain their position and power.
The result of this will be that at the time when all these people wake up from their dreams, Tibet will no longer be part of China. The domino phenomenon will go far beyond the 1.2 million square kilometers of Tibet and you will be laughed at and condemned by history. In order to improve the situation and solve the Tibet question, the first thing to do is to understand what the problems are. Merely listening to the soothing lies will not help you to understand the reality and find out the problem, and certainly will not solve the problem.
I personally know only a little about Tibetan history. However, I believe that I am more clear-minded than you and your people. Therefore, I venture to write this letter to you and hope that you would create an academic atmosphere of free expression, so that people of knowledge can express more of their insights on this issue and explore the problems. This is the only way of avoiding losing the last chance to settle the issue and repeating the situation of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. The Tibet issue is a difficult one because of its uniqueness and the vagueness of the issue of sovereignty. As a matter of fact, existing international law provides little help in finding a solution, since many parts of it are mutually contradictory and thus it cannot be invoked in making judgments on the more complicated matters in today's world. Over-emphasis on out-dated and non-binding international law will not in any way help to find the solution to the problem we face today. For instance, in reality, Canada and Australia enjoy total independence and sovereignty. It would be ridiculous if we defined them as Britain's colonies or even Britain's territories by arguing that the head of state of these two countries is the Queen of the United Kingdom and top government officials must be approved by the Queen. In solving problems, people should face reality and should not try to find "evidence and facts" only from history books. The Tibet issue is more special and more complicated than the above-mentioned cases. The "unity" between Tibet and China (Qing Dynasty and Republic of China) has taken such a unique form that it is not understood by many scholars. The authors of the "White Paper" are even worse than other scholars and their arguments have failed to clarify the facts.
[Wei Jingsheng refutes several of the historical arguments supporting the contention that"Tibet has always been part of China put forward in the "White Paper,"] Tibet's special status was that although Tibet did not lose its sovereignty it was not a completely independent country. It was not independent, but it was not a colony either. It was not taking care of all its affairs as an independent sovereign country while at the same it was not ruled as a province of China by the Amban [Ambassador] appointed by the [Qing] Court. The fact is that Tibet had total autonomy over its domestic affairs while being part of the Qing Court with regard to foreign affairs. It is because of such arrangements that many Chinese and foreigners who don't know all the facts consider Tibet a province of the Chinese Empire. Hardly any similar cases exist which demonstrate a unity of this kind.
From the legal point of view, it is like the Commonwealth and the future European Community. What is common is that the people identify themselves with the same country (United Kingdom, Europe and China) while at the same time they identify themselves with their respective independent countries. The unity is voluntary and the countries concerned reserve the right to break away from the unity. The difference is that in the case the Commonwealth, the unity of kingdoms lead to the unity of sovereignty. In the case of Europe, democratic unity on equal basis has led to a unity of sovereign countries. And, in the case of Tibet and China, the actual unity of sovereignty was caused by the mutual participation of the supreme authorities.
The unity of Europe and China are not the same unity from a legal point of view. Therefore, in accordance with agreement and customary practice, the Qing Court and its successor sent troops to Tibet only at the request of Dalai Lama and would return to Sichuan and Qinghai immediately after finishing their tasks as requested by the Dalai Lama. There was no permanent army in Tibet sent by the Qing Court. There were only some forces under the Amban to Tibet which were stationed in designated barracks. The Qing Court was partly responsible for the external and military affairs of Tibet and was in charge on an irregular basis of the security of Tibet and the suppression of rebellions.
The religious forces led by the Dalai Lama were trusted with the major task of maintaining the national unity of the Qing Court. The Dalai Lama performed the role of the supreme spiritual leader of the national religion of the Qing Dynasty. He was not like the "imperial teachers" of ancient times, but was the supreme spiritual leader of the national religion and enjoyed a popularity even surpassing that of the emperor in three quarters of the Qing territory (Tibet, Xinjiang, Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, Yunnan, part of Burma, Inner and Outer Mongolia, provinces in the Northeast and part of Russian Far East). The main reason that the first emperor of the Qing Dynasty made Lamaism the national religion was that "in order to rule the various areas of Mongolia, it is necessary to unite Lamaism."
Lamaism became the main force maintaining the unity of the nation when China had the largest territory in history. The Qing Court, in turn, with its military force and huge amount of financial support, helped the Dalai Lama to maintain his supreme position and power as well as sovereignty over much more territory. In such a unity, each side became the main condition of the existence of the other side and the word "tremendous" could hardly describe the benefit each side obtained from this unity. The unity was therefore stable and long-lasting. In this unity, the legal status of the two sides was equal though the real power of the two sides was not the same. To appoint a Minister to Tibet and to send a large amount of supplies to Tibet were methods to maintain the equilibrium of relations between the two sides. Otherwise, the influence of the religious leader would surpass that of the emperor at the expense of the equilibrium and equality of the two sides.
It is true that relations between the Qing Court and Tibet underwent a lot of changes over the years, but this basic pattern was maintained until the late years of the Qing Dynasty and relations between the two sides remained stable. It was because of this that Tibet did not break away from China like Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Burma and Mongolia. Tibet stood firmly on the Chinese side even when British troops occupied Lhasa,. The main reason for all this was that voluntary unity based on common interest accords with the law of humanity, namely the principle that "the people's interest is the supreme interest".
Nothing can explain the stability of this unity but this principle. What has happened in the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia shows this. Even people speaking the same language can form several different countries. Do we have disagreements over the fact that United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and Canada are different sovereign countries? The will and aspiration of the people are the main constituting factor of sovereignty. Part of sovereignty is lost with the loss of the aspiration for self-rule of a certain portion of the people. Other conditions as defined by the so-called "law of sovereignty" must be based on people's aspiration for self-rule and national self-determination. Without this most important basis, other forms of sovereignty will eventually lose validity. This principle could not be altered by military occupation and administrative control, especially in modem times. Relations between Tibet and China were established on the basis of this unity which did not rely on military occupation and administrative rule but entirely on the aspiration for self-rule and national self-determination. Relations were therefore stable.
In over a hundred years from the late Qing Dynasty to the RepubIic of China, China failed to fulfill its commitment to security in Tibet because of the weakness of China itself, but the government of the Dalai Lama respected the treaties between the two sides and did not do anything to jeopardize the sovereign unity. Should Tibet attempt to 'split', it could have easily done so like outer Mongolia, given the internal turmoil in China and the fact that foreign powers encouraged Tibet to claim independence. The 'White Paper" says that nobody ever recognized Tibet as an independent country. This is not true. During the period when Britain ruled India, especially at the time of the Simla Convention, a seat was reserved for Tibet as an independent country. The attempt to make the independence of Tibet a fait accompli was not successful only because the government of the Dalai Lama declined to do so. The protest lodged by the representative of the weak Chinese government did not carry as much weight as it was later said to have done.
At a time when the then Chinese government had failed to fulfill its obligations for a long period of time and large areas of Tibet were occupied by or affiliated to foreign countries, the position of the Dalai Lama's government was even more estimable. It was during this period that relations between China and Tibet became estranged. On the one hand, China was becoming a modem society where the influence of religion was declining. Religion was no longer as important as it had been during the Yuan, Ming and early Qing Dynasties but its influence should not be underestimated. On the other hand, China had become so weak that it could hardly afford to take care of its western neighbor and Tibet had already learned to defend itself. The military assistance from China was no longer a necessity and could no longer be relied upon. Thirdly, the close trade relations between Tibet and China were gradually being undermined by commodities from Britain and India. Fourthly, the Han culture had lost its appeal to the cultures of the neighboring countries and regions and its attraction to the neighboring peoples had weakened.
In this process, the extent of estrangement between the two peoples was larger than that between the governments and estrangement of mind was greater than that in other respects. In the minds of the Tibetans, deceitfulness (mostly of people in Sichuan Province and Muslims in northwest China) had replaced the image of allies and defenders. In the minds of Chinese who considered themselves as being enlightened, Tibetans became backward and ignorant, "half human, half beast," rather than subjects of the living Buddha. Although this mutual discrimination and distrust did not cause an immediate split, it laid the foundations for retaliatory idlings by both sides later on and a possible split in the future. The director of this tragedy is no other than you, Deng Xiaoping.
As early as the 1940s, the rulers of Tibet started the discussion of social reform in Tibet. What they wanted was a social system like that in Britain or India and moderate reforms based on religious values. In accordance with the custom over several thousand years, they wanted to carry out the reform by themselves. They did not like the idea of being reformed by foreigners or foreigner-like Han people (the Kuomintang (KMT) managed to respect this tradition so that relations between KMT and Tibet were more harmonious), nor did they like the revolution to fight landlords, distribute land and kill class enemies. This represented not only the will of the ruling class, but the will of the entire society. The chanting that "liberated serfs look forward to the coming of the Communist Party" is but a slogan in your propaganda. It in no way represents the true feeling of the serfs at that time. You may as well go and ask your old subordinates Ya Hanzhang and Phuntsog Wanggyal for the real "great achievements" of the Communists in inciting the Tibetan serfs. You will understand then that I am not biased.
In fact, in most countries, such as Germany and Russia, the toughest obstacle to the liberation of serfs came from the serfs themselves. It was because of this shared will and the practice of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that the Tibetan government did not oppose unity with the KMT but firmly refused to let the Communists enter Tibet and expelled the Tibetan Communist Party led by Phuntsog Wanggyal using the excuse of expelling the Chinese. These diplomatic methods gave expression to the fact that Tibet at that time exercised total sovereignty (in both foreign affairs and national defense). The arrangement of the return of the Sichuan army and the Tibetan Communist Party from India was made through diplomatic channels.
During that period, the CCP was at its height. Like all other communist parties, it had little respect for sovereignty and national self-determination. Meanwhile, India, which just gained independence from British rule, could hardly afford to help Tibet in its struggle against the CCP. Therefore, the effort to refuse entry of the communists into Tibet ended in failure. Moreover, the ignorance of the young Dalai Lama and the corruption of the Tibetan bureaucracy were the major factors aiding the smooth occupation of Lhasa by communist troops. Deng Xiaoping, the decision to peacefully liberate Tibet you and Mao Zedong made should be deemed a correct policy, although it was an agreement reached under the pressure of a heavy military presence which, according to international law, should therefore be rendered invalid. However, should this policy be implemented seriously, the government of the Dalai Lama may have accepted it and the sovereign unity of China and Tibet may have continued and the international community would have to accept the fait accompli.
If this had been the case, Tibet would not have become such a headache for China. The Tibetans are a trustworthy people and are not good at playing tricks. Unfortunately, the leaders of the CCP, Mao Zedong and yourself included, became big-headed with the "victory" in the Korean War and the recovery of the economy. At the same time when you carried out the Great Leap Forward [1958-91 and ultra-leftist Policies in the mainland, you began to implement leftist policies in Tibet by deciding to accelerate democratic reform in Tibet. In doing so, you had in fact tom up the "Agreement on the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet". This caused anger among Tibetans of all walks of life. A people's war broke out to fight against the leftist policies of the CCP under the banner of fighting against outsiders and foreign religion. This was considered a rebellion by the Chinese Government.
During the war and for a long period afterward, the mutual discrimination and contempt between the Tibetans and the Chinese added to the hatred which caused the idling of innocent people by the army and the torture of people by officials. The estrangement between peoples deepened and the national struggle for independence escalated. To talk about sovereignty under these circumstance would only make people believe that the CCP planned to continue such practices. The situation and pattern of confrontation between the two sides was just like that between the colonial powers and the colonies in the old days. It was also like the situation in today's Yugoslavia.
Let's now have a look at two recent examples in the world, one positive, the other negative. One is Yugoslavia. Like you in China, Yugoslavia would not recognize other peoples' right to national self-determination and even resorted to armed force to prevent other peoples from gaining such rights. As a result, it has not achieved its goal, but planted tremendous hatred and will have to pay for it for a long period of time. The other example is Russia. It has respected the right to self-determination and autonomy of other nationalities and managed to keep together the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and leave some room for the possible unity in the future. What's more, the traditional trust and good feelings have remained. The difference between the two will become more evident. Serbia was in a much better position than Russia. In the past, Russia had done a lot more than Serbia in causing grievances among other nationalities. However, difference in how such questions have been handled have resulted in different consequences. Other conditions remaining the same, the largest difference is that Russia has abided by the law governing human society and respected the right of other nations to self-determination and autonomy. Therefore, factors in favor of unity have been able to play a role.
In modem human society, the trend to unity is stronger than the trend to division. Overemphasizing sovereignty and the administrative authority of one nationality over the other will be detrimental to unity. The societies that have already divided or are in the process of division are those that place undue stress on the limitless administrative power of one nation over other nations. The toughest obstacle facing the societies that have already achieved unity or are in the process of achieving it is also the overemphasis on sovereignty. The advantage of unity is obvious and the arguments against unity are also strong. Why should people put emphasis only on the arguments against unity? Can you find a case which shows that unity can be maintained only by the use of high pressure tactics? Even if you can find one, it must be because the time for division has not come yet.
You have consistently advocated anti-colonialism and national independence. In fact, you do not understand what anti colonialism and national independence are. You have only employed them as a convenient tool and do not really want to understand them or genuinely believe in them. This is precisely the root cause of your leftism. The relationship between China and Tibet could be much better than those within the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Up until 1949, China had never oppressed Tibet nor had it forced Tibet to be a vassal state. The two sides achieved sovereign unity voluntarily.
Even today, the chances of unity between China and Tibet are much better than within CIS or the European Community. In the early days of his forced exile, the Dalai Lama did not demand independence; nor is he demanding it today. This shows that a very good chance of unity still exists. However, you have adhered to the old ideas and policies and continued to trust old bureaucracy. What you are doing is to push Tibet toward division. China has already lost nearly half of the territory it had during the Qing Dynasty. Should this continue, later generations will have to make a living by exporting labor and revitalizing the Chinese nation would be impossible.
There is much to be done to eliminate the evil consequences of the suppression and killings of the last 40 years and to return the China-Tibet relationship to the traditional track of normal development. The three pressing tasks are as follows: First, mutual hatred and discrimination between the Han people and the Tibetans must be rooted out, especially erroneous ideas in the minds of Han people about the Tibetans. Due to the propaganda of the last 40 years, cadres in Tibet (and in other areas, too) have developed deep-rooted prejudice against Tibetans which, in turn, has deepened the have among the Tibetans against the Han. The real situation in this regard is beyond your imagination and it is not at all as your people have told you. Let me give you a few examples to help you understand the seriousness of the situation. My parents do not know any Tibetans and have not done any study of Tibet. Whatever they knew about Tibet was what the CCP had told them. In their mind, Tibetans were half-human and half-beast. So it was only natural that when I planned to marry a Tibetan girl, they expressed the strongest opposition and they even threatened to sever all ties with me. Later on when they got to know the Tibetan girl, they changed their thinking. However, the girl's parents would not tolerate in-laws like my parents and I did not become the son-in-law of this Tibetan family.
Now the second example. When I was imprisoned in Tibetan areas [in Qinghai Province], I overheard a lot of conversations which helped me to learn the contempt the Han cadres have towards Tibetans. They look down on everything that has something to do with Tibet. For instance, although Tibetan dogs are famous, Han cadre-s would rather raise dogs brought from the heartland. They laughed at me when I told them how good Tibetan dogs were. They were only convinced of what I said when a TV program said that foreigners would pay a lot of money for a Tibetan dog. In another instance, they would not believe that Tibetan butter was the same as butter in a western restaurant. How could it be possible that old Tibetans eat the same thing as foreigners? Yet another example: though yak meat is delicious to eat, the Han cadres in Tibet say things like, "As there is nothing else to eat, we'll have to buy some yak meat." When a Tibetan doctor learned that I enjoyed yak meat and wanted him to buy some Tibetan butter for me, he was so surprised first and very soon took me as one of their own people.
These examples help to prove how the Communist cadres think of and treat the Tibetans. It is even worse than the way white people have discriminated against the Indians. Frankly speaking, you yourselves hold such discriminatory attitudes against the Tibetans, and this is expressed in all the relevant documents, statements and other propaganda materials. This has deepened the estrangement between the Han people and the Tibetans and could eventually lead to division.
It will be extremely difficult to heal the wounds caused by 40 years of grievances. However, efforts should be made every day to this end. Cadres at various levels who do not respect national minorities should be replaced. At the same time, all nationalities should be treated equally without special preferences, because special preferences indicate that certain people are being treated as outsiders. Han chauvinism should be eliminated from all the publications. Over the last 40 years, people have tended to view narrow nationalism and national chauvinism as patriotism. People always think of Princess Wencheng [a Tang princess who married a Tibetan king] as the Chinese "savior" who civilized Tibet. This is too much and it is not in accord with history. The labor camp I was sent to in Qinghai was in the place where the Tibetan army defeated the 100,000 Chinese troops led by General Xue Rengui. As a result of this battle, Princess Wencheng was married to Tibet to make peace, However, none of the cadres in that region knew this story. They all believed that the Tibetans were "enlightened" by the Chinese princess.
Also, they thought they were sent to Tibet to help reclaim the barren land where Tibetans had lived for generations. They acted and talked just like colonialists. It was your one-sided propaganda that has resulted in this national discrimination against the Tibetans. This kind of mentality must be changed, while at the same time the kind of exaggeration and deceit demonstrated by the authors of the "White Paper" must be eliminated. Secondly, the government should speed up the development of the market economy in Tibet and establish closer economic relations between the heartland areas and the Tibetan market. In the last century, British and Indian commodities were increasingly available on the Tibetan market. In the last 40 years or so, the Tibetan market has suffered great damage. The so-called 'socialist planned prices" fixed for Tibet's mineral resources and livestock, which resemble nothing more than colonialist exploitation, caused tremendous losses to the Tibetan economy. Your aid could in no way make up for this loss. Furthermore, most of the aid you have given has been used to support the apparatus of suppression or the scientific research Han people are conducting. This includes funds for government offices of various levels, hospitals and hotels for the Hans, military facilities, observatories and geothermal power plants which are not what the Tibetan economy really needs.
No matter what excuses you give the Tibetan people, they are not as stupid as you think. They know that you are not sincere in helping them so they will not trust you. Decision-makers should consider Tibet as their own homeland and put the financial assistance to proper use so it truly helps the economic development of Tibet in the most efficient way. The various barriers and "managed prices" should be eliminated, Tibetan commodities should have easier access to the heartland market and be given preferential prices. Efforts should be made in other areas, too, to improve economic and trade relations between Tibet and other areas of China. This is most important in consolidating Tibet-Han relationship. Thirdly, the Chinese government should abolish its policy of detaining Tibetan religious leaders as hostages. Both religious and non-religious Tibetans have a strong aversion to this policy; and this is a clear violation of human rights.
The Chinese government should eliminate the mentality of the so-called "great Han empire" and sit down at the negotiating table with the Dali Lama. He is concerned about your sincerity, because you failed to win his trust in the past. Therefore, you should let him choose the place for negotiations, and he should be allowed to return to Lhasa if he wants to do so. All these are reasonable basic conditions; there is nothing here that is not understandable. There is no reason why you should not agree to all this. Now, even the appointment of the Dalai Lama's negotiating aides has to be approved by the Chinese government. Isn't this too much?! To postpone the negotiations with these excuses is an indication that your people have no confidence in themselves. They are afraid that all their nonsense will be fully revealed should negotiations begin in earnest.... The chances of Tibet remaining as part of China will improve if negotiations start, and therefore, negotiations should start with no pre-conditions. It would be desirable to invite the Dali Lama to return to Lhasa. it would be much better than letting him be surrounded by adventurers. In fact, the Dali Lama should know clearly that without alliance with the Han people, he will have to rely on the ambitious Indians who are no better than the Han people. Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal are good examples for a future independent Tibet.
If we can do a better job, why should the Tibetans bring suffering on themselves by breaking away from the unity which has already existed for several centuries? The trend of the modem world is that unity is what will happen sooner or later. The advantages of unity outweigh its disadvantages. From what the Dalai Lama has done in recent years, I believe he understands better than I do about the real issue. The Dalai Lama has his own difficulties. We should not push him too hard.
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