A Letter to Deng Xiaoping
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" to cover up their incompetence and ignorance which is also 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 will be that at the time when the majority 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 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. Only to listen 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 could put forward more insight with regard to this issue and find out the problem. Only by doing so, could we avoid losing the last opportunity of settling the issue and avoid 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 its sovereignty. As a matter of fact, the existing international law is no longer applicable and many parts of it are mutually contradictory so that it can not be provoked in the judgment of the more complicated matters of today's world. Over-emphasis of this 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 will be ridiculous if we defined them as Britain's colonies or even Britain's territory 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 book.
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) is so special that it is not comprehended by many scholars. The authors of the "White Paper" are worse than other scholars and their arguments have failed to clarify the facts. The Golden Urn Lottery System was only a method used by outside forces to settle the power struggle between religious factions. It had nothing to do with administrative control. Should Mr. Liu Bocheng be invited to help solve your family disputes, Mr. Deng, how could people decide therefore that your family is being controlled by Liu Bocheng and the Deng family is affiliated to the Liu family? It is not only ignorance but also a distortion of real facts. Your acquaintances Ya Hanzhang and Phuntsog Wanggyal are well aware of all this. However, you would not listen to them. Otherwise, how could you be led astray by those swindlers?
The Amban (Chinese representative) in Tibet was sent there as a "liaison officer" after the suppression of the rebellion in Nepal which was then affiliated to Tibet and it was for the purpose of putting down similar rebellions in the future. He was not, as put in the "White Paper", the top administrative officer in Tibet appointed after the suppression of the Chunger Mongol rebellion. His position was not as high as the governor in a colony. It was something like the British ambassador to Brunei who could consult and participate in the military and foreign affairs of Tibet. As a matter of fact, he never had any authority over the administrative and military affairs of Tibet and his power was far less than the British ambassador to Brunei. As disclosed by the authors of the "White Paper", the forces of the Qing Dynasty and Sichuan Province led by the Amban in Tibet were financed by the Qing Court and as a "foreign forces" not financed by the Tibetan government. What was kept undisclosed by the authors of the "White Paper" is that this army was called armed escorts of the Amban in Tibet. Should we ever claim that the sovereignty of the European countries was transferred because of the military presence of the United States?
Tibet chose its head of state and set its administrative bodies in its own way and ruled in its own way. It had its own army which was commanded by its own government. This shows that Tibet was a sovereign country. It is not like Croatia or Ukraine which were countries that had lost sovereignty. Even if Tibet lost its sovereignty, it still reserved the right to free itself from the suzerain state. "No one has ever recognized Tibet as an independent country." What kind of a role will such an argument play in solving the problem? It may convince some students in a college. But it is of no use in understanding and solving the problem. The reality is there, no matter whether you admit it or not. So, it is better to respect the rights of the other side. At least you could win some trust this way.
Tibet's special status was that although Tibet did not lose its sovereignty it was not an complete 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 appointed by the 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 arrangement that many Chinese and foreigners who don't know all the facts consider Tibet a province of the Chinese Empire. There is hardly any similar cases to show 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 was 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 repression of rebellions. The religious forces led by 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. It was not like the "imperial teacher" in ancient times, he 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 China when it had the largest territory in history. The Qing Court, in turn, with its military force and huge amount of financial support, helped 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 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 accord with the laws of humanity which is the principle of "people's interest is the supreme interest". Nothing could explain this stable unity other than this principle. What has happened in the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia was a good example. Even people speaking the same language would 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 would be 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. Military occupation and administrative control would not be able to change this principle, especially in modern 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. The relations were therefore stable. In over 100 years from late Qing Dynasty to the Republic of China, China failed to fulfill its commitment to the security in Tibet because of the weakness of China itself, but the government of Dalai Lama had 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 Dalai Lama declined. The protest lodged by the representative of the weak Chinese government did not carry as much weight as it is said in later days. At the 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 or affiliated to foreign countries, the position of the Dalai Lama government was even more estimable.
It was during this period that relations between China and Tibet were estranged. On one hand, China was becoming a modern society where the influence of religion was declining. Religion was no longer as important as it was 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 west 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 the process of this estrangement, the extent of estrangement between peoples was larger than that between the governments and estrangement of mind was more than that in other respects. In the mind of the Tibetans, deceitfulness (mostly of people in Sichuan Province and Muslims in northwest China) had replaced the image of alliance and defenders. In the mind of Chinese who considered themselves as being enlightened, backwardness and ignorance of the "half human - half beast" had replaced the image of subjects of the living Buddha. Although this mutual discrimination and despise did not cause immediate split, it laid the foundation for the retaliatory killings by both sides in the later days and possible split in the future. The director of this tragedy is no other than you, Mr., Deng Xiaoping.
As early as in 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 a moderate reform 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 (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 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 with the excuse of expelling the Chinese. These diplomatic methods gave expression to the fact that Tibet at that time excised total sovereignty (in foreign affairs and national defense as well). 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 Chinese Communist Party was at its height. Like all other communist parties, it 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 Chinese Communist Party. 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 for the communist troops' smooth occupation of Lhasa. Mr. Deng Xiaoping, the decision of peaceful liberation of Tibet you and Mao Zedong made should be deemed a correct policy, though it is pretty much like an agreement reached under pressure of heavy military presence which, according to international law, should be rendered invalid. However, should this policy be implemented seriously, the government of 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 should be the case, Tibet would not have become such a headache for China. Tibetans are a trustworthy people and are not good at playing tricks.
Regretfully, the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao Zedong and yourself included, became big-headed with the "victory" of the Korea War and the recovery of the economy. At the same time when you carried out the "big leap forward" and ultra-leftist policies in the mainland, you began to implement leftist policies in Tibet by deciding to accelerate the democratic reform in Tibet. In doing so, you had in fact torn 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 Communist Party under the banner of fighting against outsiders and foreign religion. This was considered a rebellion by the Chinese Government. During the war and in a long period afterward, the mutual discrimination and contempt between the Tibetans and the Chinese added to the hatred which caused the killing of innocent people by the army, and 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 Communist Party planned to continue this practice. 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 being 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 Commonwealth of the 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 to handle the question 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 modern human society, the trend to unity is stronger than the trend to division. Over-emphasis of 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 over-emphasize a limitless administrative power of one nation over other nations. The toughest obstacle facing the societies that have already achieved unity or in the process of achieving it is also the over-emphasis of 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 to show that unity could be maintained only by high pressure? Even if you could find one, it must be because the time for division has not come yet. You have all along advocated anti-colonialism and national independence. In fact, you do not understand what anti colonialism and national independence are. You have only taken it as a convenient tool and do not really want to understand it or genuinely believe in it. This is exactly the root cause of your leftism.
The relationship between China and Tibet is much better than that within the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Up until 1949, China had never oppressed Tibet nor had it forced Tibet to be a subject to China. The two sides had achieved sovereign unity voluntarily. Even today, chances of unity between China and Tibet are much better than that within CIS and 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 there exists a very good chance of unity. 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 left from the Qing Dynasty. Should this goes on, our later generations would have to make a living by exporting labor and to revitalize the Chinese nation would be out of the question.
There is lot to do to eliminate the evil consequences caused by 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 the wrong concept in the minds of the Han about the Tibetans. Due to the propaganda of the last 40 years, cadres in Tibet (and in other areas, too) have had a deep rooted discrimination against the Tibetans which, in turn, has deepened the hatred among the Tibetans against the Han. The real situation in this regard is beyond your imagination and it is not at all like what 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 research about Tibet. Whatever they knew about Tibet was what the Communist Party 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, what I got from them was the strongest opposition and they even threatened to sever all relationships with me. Later on when they got to know the Tibetan girl, they changed. 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, I overheard a lot of conversations which helped me to learn the discrimination and contempt of the Han cadres against Tibetans. Everything that has something to do with Tibet would be looked down upon. For instance, Tibetan dogs are famous dogs. But Han cadres would rather raise dogs they bought from inland. They would laugh at me when I told them how good Tibetan dogs were. They were only convinced of what I said when it was shown on TV that foreigners would pay a lot of money for a Tibetan dog. For another instance, they would not believe that Tibetan butter was the same thing as butter in a western restaurant. How could it be possible that old Tibetans eat the same thing as foreigners? Yet another example. Yak meat is the most delicious meats. But the Han cadres in Tibet would say something like "As there is nothing else to eat, we have to buy some yak meat." When a Tibetan doctor learned that I enjoyed yak meat and wanted to ask 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 have thought about and treated the Tibetans. It is even worse than discrimination of the white people against the Indians. Frankly speaking, you yourselves have this discrimination against the Tibetans and it has its expressions in all the relevant documents, statements and other propaganda materials. This has deepened the estrangement between the Han people and the Tibetans which would eventually lead to division.
It will be extremely difficult to rid the grievances accumulated over 40 years. However, efforts should be made every day to this end. Cadres at various levels that 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 someone is treated like an outsider. Han chauvinism should be eliminated from all the publications. Over the last 40 years, people tend to take narrow nationalism and national chauvinism as patriotism. Whenever Princess Wencheng is mentioned, people would take her as a savior from China to Tibet. This is too much and it is not in accord with history. The labor camp in Qinghai which I was sent to was in the place where the Tibetan army defeated the 100,000 troops led by General Xue Rengui. Because of this battle, Princess Wencheng was married to Tibet to make peace. However, none of the cadres in that region knew about the story. They all believed that the Tibetans were "enlightened" because of the Chinese princess. And they thought they were sent to Tibet to help the Tibetans to reclaim the barren land where the 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 should be changed together with the elimination of the practice of the authors of the "White Paper" who are used to talking big and telling lies.
Secondly, the government should speed up the development of the market economy in Tibet and establish closer economic relations between the inland areas and the Tibetan market. In the past century, British and Indian commodities have made much headway into Tibetan market. In the last 40 years or so, the Tibetan market has suffered great damage. The so-called "socialist planned price" fixed for the products of Tibet's mineral resources and livestock, which resembles colonialist exploitation, has caused tremendous loss to the Tibetan economy. Your aid could in no way make up their loss. What's more, most of your aid has been used to support apparatus of suppression or scientific research of the Han people. These include government offices of various levels, hospitals and hotels for the Hans, military facilities, observatories, geothermal power plants which are not what most needed in the Tibetan economy. 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 that they would not trust you. The decisions makers should take Tibet as their own homeland and put the financial assistance into good use to help the economic development of Tibet in a most efficient way. The various barriers and "managed prices" should be eliminated, Tibetan commodities should have easier access to the inland 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 do away the traditional policy of detaining Tibetan religious leaders as hostages. Both religious and non-religious Tibetans have a strong aversion to this policy. And this policy could hardly prove your respect of human rights. The Chinese government should eliminate the mentality of the so-called "great Han empire" and sit at the negotiating table with the Dalai 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 negotiation. 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 can not be understood. There is no reason why you should not agree to all this. Even the appointment of the Dalai Lama's negotiating aides has to be approved by the Chinese Government. Isn't it 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 would be exposed under the sun should negotiations begin in real sincerity.
You would be rewarding your people with the national interest by continuing to tolerate them to act in defiance of the law or public opinion. The chances of Tibet remaining as part of China will be getting better with the beginning of negotiations. Therefore, negotiations should start with no pre-conditions. It would be desirable to invite the Dalai Lama to return to Lhasa. It would be much better than letting him be surrounded by some adventurers. In fact, the Dalai Lama should know clearly that without alliance with the Han people, he would face 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 could do a better job, why should the Tibetans invite sufferings for themselves by breaking away from the unity which has already existed for several centuries.
The trend of the modern world is that unity is what will happen sooner or later. The advantage of unity overshadows its disadvantage. From what 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.
Written on October 3, 1992
Delivered on October 5.
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