The Dalai Lama on Tibet's Historical Status

Originally from Justice and Society: a talk to the law students of Wayne State University

From Justice and Society: a talk to the law students of Wayne State University

in The Spirit of Tibet: Vision for Human Liberation

Q: China claims that for many centuries she has enjoyed sovereignty over Tibet. Yet Tibet has never recognized this sovereignty and, in actual fact, lived in seeming independence. How does Your Holiness interpret the historical relationship of the two countries?

A: From the religious point of view, the Tibetans always considered that the relationship was one of guru and patron. For centuries the court of China looked to the high Lamas of Tibet for spiritual leadership, and in return Tibetan Lamas frequently visited China to teach.

Politically, even as early as the time of the Great Kings of Tibet (6th to 8th centuries) the status of the two countries was equal. On one occasion, Tibet even invaded China and the emperor had to flee for his life. However, history always speaks in terms of past tense, whereas what counts is the present reality. If, right now, the Tibetan people are happy under the Chinese occupation and the majority of the Tibetan people are satisfied and agree to remain under Chinese domination, then there is no problem. Whether in the past Tibet was independent or not would be irrelevant. But the actual situation is that Tibetans are not in the least bit content with the Chinese occupation, culturally or materially. Since 1959 the Chinese have had a completely free hand in all activities in Tibet. They could have done anything they wished. By now, they should have at least been able to raise the standard of living of the people, but even this has not happened.

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Last updated 11 February 1999.