As a Chinese student, I spent ten years studying at government schools in China. Since elementary school, our teachers told us that Tibet was, and would always be, part of China. No one ever doubted this statement. It seemed that all of us believed that the 14th Dalai Lama was a betrayer of our country because he tried to divide Tibet from China and dictated the Tibetans. I was furious when I heard from the Chinese news that he provoked a storm of protest in Lhasa in March 2008 which eventually killed some innocent Han Chinese people. It was not until I studied at an international school in Myanmar when I realized that the information I received before might be extremely biased and misleading.
I never thought about why the Tibetan protested. I also had no idea what their living situations were. If the Tibetans lived happily and had freedom of religion, why would they protest? I wondered if there was some misunderstanding between the Han Chinese and the Tibetans. I started to look for reports that could reflect the real Tibet, but it was hard to find a neutral source. Therefore, I hoped to meet some Tibetans in person and to hear what their actual opinion on the Han Chinese and the Chinese government.
With a lot of questions in mind, I took the bus that ran from Palampur to Lower Dharamshala. From Lower Dharamshala, I took another bus to Upper Dharamshala (McLeod Ganj), home to the Tibetan Government in Exile and more than 20,000 Tibetan refugees. McLeod Ganj was a town packed with tourists. I heard people talking in different languages in the street, and more than one person recognized the word “Brandeis” in Hebrew on my t-shirt. I visited the Tsuglag Khang Temple, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s residence, Tal Lake, Norbulingka, and the Tibetan Children Village.
In Tsuglag Khang Temple, I met some monks who recently fled to India. When they knew that I was from Mainland China, they were surprisingly friendly and they even talked to me in fluent Mandarin. Norbulingka was an institute for Tibetan studies which was located near Lower Dharamshala. It had a lovely museum which uses puppets to display Tibetan history, and also had a grand temple and an exquisite shop. Many of the Tibetan refugees worked in the institute. To my surprise, the songs that they played in the working area were all Chinese pop songs, and the DVD stalls outside the institute even sold Chinese TV drama. It seemed that many of the Tibetans did not reject all the Chinese products.
In McLeod Ganj I met Tenzin Dhonyo, a Brandeis alumnus who worked as a planning officer in the Tibetan Government in Exile. He gave me a lot of information on the Tibetans, both inside and outside of Tibet. He told me that many of the Tibetans were not satisfied with the Chinese policy on religion and were irritated by Beijing’s negative propaganda of the 14th Dalai Lama. He also told me that many Tibetans’ jobs were taken by Han Chinese who immigrated from mainland, and much of Tibetan culture was either damaged or abandoned. However, he praised Beijing’s achievement on improving Tibet’s infrastructure, and said there was no hatred between Han Chinese and Tibetans. Most Tibetans only abhorred the Chinese government but not the Chinese people.
There were certainly some mistakes regarding Chinese government’s religious policy on Tibet. The “patriotic re-education,” for example, interrupted the normal order of temples. From Tenzin’s speech, I got to know more about on why these Tibetans fled from China to India. If I was a Tibetan, I would also be frustrated if my spiritual leader was criticized as “betrayer” or “deceiver.” Some of the things I heard were so much different from the information I got from Chinese media. For example, he mentioned that the Dalai Lama did not intend to separate Tibet from China. The Dalai Lama wanted Tibet to be part of China, but he suggests the Tibetans should have more religious freedom and the Tibetan culture should be well protected. However, the Dalai Lama also wanted Tibet to have equal right as Hong Kong SAR and Macao SAR, where special permissions were required for mainlanders to enter, but I did not think that would ever be possible.
I visited McLeod Ganj every weekend. It was a strange town. Although only three kilometers above Lower Dharamshala, it felt like another world. I could see “Free Tibet” labels almost everywhere, but I did not feel that I was being treated differently. When I visited the Tibetan museum near Tsuglag Khang Temple, I saw many visitors leaving their messages on the guestbook. Some of the messages were filled with hatred or simply insulted China, but I wanted to write something more moderate. In my message, I prayed for the peace between Tibetans and Han Chinese. I wished people from both sides could have more understanding of the other side, and I hoped that these Tibetans refugees could return to Tibet some day in the future.