Saturday, February 23, 2013

Tibet, the Dalai Lama, feudalism, slavery, and the Great Game

If you're interested in Tibet and the Dalai Lama—or wonder if you ought to be—here's what seems essential knowledge, mostly edited from blog posts written around 2008, the year of the Tibetan Olympics.

• Why do I care?

I have a ludicrous obsession with truth. I don't mind when my friends joke about it: I know that being nice is more important than knowing the truth, and I’m much fonder of ignorant people who care for others than I am of knowledgeable people who care only about their cleverness. Many people of many faiths manage to be great people while believing things that are contradicted by facts, so when people's beliefs harm no one else, I respect them. For most of my life, I took that approach to Tibetan Buddhism.

I became interested in Buddhism as a child, thanks to Dr. Strange and Green Lama comic books, the Kung Fu TV show, and Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha. When I was seventeen in Washington, D.C., I spent a few months visiting a Theravada monastery once or twice a week. I liked meditation and the monk who taught us, but I was more interested in girls and art, so I drifted away. For decades, my impression of the Dalai Lama was the common one: I thought he was a pacifist vegetarian who had been driven from a land of herders and farmers by war-loving invaders.

Then I met two lovely people who are followers of the Dalai Lama, so I decided to learn more. But what I found contradicted everything I thought I knew. When I first shared what I was learning about Tibet, one of those friends commented:
Your article is the first one I’ve read where any claim has been made that Tibetans kept slaves, by the way. I’ve heard a lot of bad things about the Tibetan aristocratic class, but this is the first I’ve heard of this particular complaint. You don’t read about it in Alexandra David-Neel’s accounts of Tibet, and she didn’t pull any punches at all in criticizing things she saw that she didn’t like. You don’t read it in Heinrich Harrer’s accounts either. 
He had been practicing Tibetan Buddhism for years. I was surprised by his ignorance, so I kept researching.

• Why does it matter?

Patrick French, a former director of Free Tibet, asked in the New York Times' He May Be a God, but He’s No Politician:
The question that Nancy Pelosi and celebrity advocates like Richard Gere ought to answer is this: Have the actions of the Western pro-Tibet lobby over the last 20 years brought a single benefit to the Tibetans who live inside Tibet, and if not, why continue with a failed strategy?
So far as I know, no one has answered him.

Calling the Dalai Lama's group "Pro-Tibet" is odd. The definition includes supporting a violent rebellion by Tibet's feudal lords to preserve slavery. The parallels with the American Civil War are striking. You could argue that Tibet and the Confederacy should have been allowed to end slavery in their own time, but we must play the hand we're dealt, and French has seen that:
...the battle for Tibetan independence was lost 49 years ago when the Dalai Lama escaped into exile. His goal, and that of those who want to help the Tibetan people, should be to negotiate realistically with the Chinese state. The present protests, supported from overseas, will bring only more suffering.
Isolationists say the Dalai Lama should stay outside of Tibet and the US should have stayed out of the 2008 Olympics. Isolationism is a fine tactic for making enemies. But if the Dalai Lama truly wants what's best for Tibetans and Tibetan Buddhism, he should drop his demand for an unrealistic "Greater Tibet", leave his palace in Dharamsala, and go home.

• Should most Tibetans before 1959 be thought of as slaves, serfs, or something else?

Supporters of the Dalai Lama say that thinking of most Tibetans as slaves or serfs is wrong; some claim it's a form of imperialism because it imposes a European model on an Asian culture. But the Serfdom in Tibet controversy notes that the Dalai Lama himself used 'serf' in 1991 when he claimed, "The relationship between landlord and serf was much milder in Tibet than in China and conditions for the poor were much less harsh."

My conclusion is that when talking about people who were born into servitude, could be sold, could be brutally punished at the whim of their masters, and could not leave the lands of their masters without written permission, either "slave" or "serf" is an appropriate term. They're certainly the most common terms.

From Emma Graham-Harrison's Tibet serf debate shadows China's emancipation day:
Lots of salty yak butter tea and an end to harsh beatings marked the start of the 1960s for farmer Kigya, who grew up shackled to the estate of a local nobleman by the inherited ties that once bound most Tibetans.

That world vanished overnight when Chinese troops flooded the Himalayan plateau in 1959 to quell an uprising, took direct control of government in Lhasa and rolled out radical changes.
... "The serfs and slaves, making up over 95 percent of the total population, suffered destitution, cruel oppression and exploitation and possessed no means of production or personal freedom whatsoever," a recent government white paper declared.

Few serious scholars contest that most Tibetans were bound by birth to estates held by nobles, monasteries or officials.

"The key characteristic of the system was that individuals did not have the right to opt out. They could not give back their land to the estate and live as free peasants," said Melvyn Goldstein, at Ohio University's Center for Research on Tibet.
... Peasants who ran away often were not brought back, and although trading of serfs happened, it was not widespread. Others rented their freedom on a yearly basis with a "human lease."

Some "serfs" were also wealthy landowners in their own right, with serf-servants of their own, making a more complex social picture than is reflected in Beijing's official line.

Managers could be brutal, and whips were still used in 1959.

"The owners always wanted more and one way of getting more is doing hard physical punishment and setting an example for the others, and that was common," said Dawa Tsering, from the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences in Lhasa, who studied under Goldstein.

"The extreme was that they may beat you to death."
From John Pomfret's In Tibet, a Struggle of the Soul:
While love for the Dalai Lama overflows in Tibet, few Tibetans would welcome a return of the corrupt aristocratic clans that fled with him in 1959 and that comprise the bulk of the Dalai’s advisers. Many Tibetan farmers, for example, have no interest in surrendering the land they gained during China’s land reform to the aristocratic clans. Tibet’s former slaves say they, too, don’t want their former masters to return to power. 
”I’ve already lived that life once before,” said Wangchuk, a 67-year-old former slave who was wearing his best clothes for his yearly pilgrimage to Shigatse, one of the holiest sites of Tibetan Buddhism. He said he worshiped the Dalai Lama, but added, “I may not be free under Chinese Communism, but I am better off than when I was a slave.”
• The odd dating of "Tibetan Democracy Day"

The "Democracy Day" celebrated by the Dalai Lama's group is so obscure that Wikipedia doesn't currently have an article about it. I want to cheer any "Democracy Day," but this one's odd. According to Tibetan exiles, their "Tibetan Democracy Day" was introduced in 1960 after the Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet.

But throughout the 1960s, the CIA funded Tibetan rebels who hoped to restore feudalism. The Dalai Lama didn't call for an end to the fighting until 1974, after the CIA money stopped coming in. The actual beginning of "Democracy Day" came the next year, as acknowledged at Tibetan Review:
Sep 2, 1960: The first Tibetan parliament-in-exile was established in Dharamsala. A decision to observe this as Tibetan Democracy Day was made at the 6th exile Tibetan government's annual general body meeting in 1975.
• The Free Tibet movement is smaller than its influence suggests

Tibetans Look to Future, Without Dalai Lama says there are 5.5 million Tibetans in Tibet, but only 130,000 in the "global diaspora."

• Tibetans in China enjoy some privileges

In China, Tibetans are taught Tibetan in school, and, like all Chinese ethnic groups of fewer than 10 million members, they're exempt from the one child policy.

• A FAQ from sources that rightwingers should respect

From Peter Hessler’s Tibet Through Chinese Eyes:
From the Chinese perspective, Tibet has always been a part of China. ... An unbiased arbiter would find Tibetan arguments for independence more compelling than the Chinese version of history — but also, perhaps, would find that the Chinese have a stronger historical claim to Tibet than the United States does to much of the American West.
When the Chinese speak of pre-1951 Tibet, they emphasize the shortcomings of the region’s feudal-theocratic government: life expectancy was thirty-six years; 95 percent of Tibetans were illiterate; 95 percent of the population was hereditary serfs and slaves owned by monasteries and nobles. ... The statistics about Tibetan illiteracy and life expectancy are accurate.
One common misperception in Western reports is that these people are sent by the government: the image is of a tremendous Han civilian army arriving to overwhelm Tibetan culture. The truth is that the government has little control over the situation. “How do you cut off the people moving out there?” asked one American who had spent much time in Tibet. “What mechanism are you going to have to prevent that? They don’t have any restrictions on internal travel — and we always beat them over the head about not having those, because to institute them would be a human-rights issue.”
As for the claim that the Chinese killed millions of Tibetans, Patrick French admits in the New York Times, He May Be a God, but He’s No Politician :
…the Free Tibet Campaign in London (of which I am a former director) and other groups have long claimed that 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed by the Chinese since they invaded in 1950. However, after scouring the archives in Dharamsala while researching my book on Tibet, I found that there was no evidence to support that figure.
From When Heaven Shed Blood: Details Of The Cia's Secret War In Tibet Are Only Now Leaking Out, A Tale Of Daring Espionage, Violence And Finally Betrayal:

The Dalai Lama and Tibetan rebels were secretly funded by the CIA. The rebels included monks like Athar Norbu; the Dalai Lama's elder brother, Gyalo Thondup, was the CIA liaison. After the Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959, the CIA's secret funding cost "more than $1.7 million a year, according to intelligence documents. That included $500,000 to support 2,100 Tibetan guerrillas (800 of them armed) based in Nepal and $180,000 worth of "subsidy to the Dalai Lama."

The Dalai Lama's support for the fighters continued until the CIA money stopped flowing: "In July 1974 the Dalai Lama himself sent a 20-minute tape-recorded message asking the resistance fighters, now led by a CIA-trained Khampa named Wangdu, to surrender."

Remember that these rebels were fighting to restore feudalism in Tibet, and they were being helped by people who had overthrown democratic governments (Mossadegh in Iran and Arbenz in Guatemala) to install dictators. It’s understandable why the Dalai Lama hid that for decades.

The result?
In the end, the CIA adventure left much blood in its wake. By Beijing's own reckoning, some 87,000 Tibetans were "eliminated" during the Lhasa uprising and its aftermath. The CIA involvement gave Beijing an easy excuse to depict Tibet as a "pawn on the chessboard of imperialist cold-war policy." The CIA's proteges, however, were left with nothing. "The Tibetans were abandoned," says CIA veteran Lilley, evoking the Bay of Pigs fiasco. "It was Cuba all over again."
Regarding the notion that the Dalai Lama is a vegetarian: From Nancy Stohs’ Dalai Lama digs into veal, pheasant:
Despite expectations that a vegetarian feast would be in order, the team of chefs assembled to cook for His Holiness on his recent visit to Madison was given no such instruction, said Catherine McKiernan, executive chef at the Madison Club, where the elaborate luncheon was held. 
The Dalai Lama is, it turns out, a meat lover.
Some of the Dalai Lama's supporters say he must eat meat because of a liver condition, an idea that's not supported by modern medicine.

• A FAQ from sources that leftwingers should respect

Michael Parenti's Friendly Fuedalism - The Tibet Myth may be the best online source for critical facts about Tibet and the Dalai Lama. Two essential bits:
The Dalai Lama himself stated that “the pervasive influence of Buddhism” in Tibet, “amid the wide open spaces of an unspoiled environment resulted in a society dedicated to peace and harmony. We enjoyed freedom and contentment.” 4 
A reading of Tibet’s history suggests a somewhat different picture. “Religious conflict was commonplace in old Tibet,” writes one western Buddhist practitioner. “History belies the Shangri-La image of Tibetan lamas and their followers living together in mutual tolerance and nonviolent goodwill. Indeed, the situation was quite different. Old Tibet was much more like Europe during the religious wars of the Counterreformation.” 5 In the thirteenth century, Emperor Kublai Khan created the first Grand Lama, who was to preside over all the other lamas as might a pope over his bishops. Several centuries later, the Emperor of China sent an army into Tibet to support the Grand Lama, an ambitious 25-year-old man, who then gave himself the title of Dalai (Ocean) Lama, ruler of all Tibet.
Until 1959, when the Dalai Lama last presided over Tibet, most of the arable land was still organized into manorial estates worked by serfs. These estates were owned by two social groups: the rich secular landlords and the rich theocratic lamas. Even a writer sympathetic to the old order allows that “a great deal of real estate belonged to the monasteries, and most of them amassed great riches.” Much of the wealth was accumulated “through active participation in trade, commerce, and money lending.”10 
Drepung monastery was one of the biggest landowners in the world, with its 185 manors, 25,000 serfs, 300 great pastures, and 16,000 herdsmen. The wealth of the monasteries rested in the hands of small numbers of high-ranking lamas. Most ordinary monks lived modestly and had no direct access to great wealth. The Dalai Lama himself “lived richly in the 1000-room, 14-story Potala Palace.” 11
Anna Louise Strong, author of When Serfs Stood Up in Tibet and Tibetan Interviews, should be admired by anyone who likes stories of women-adventurers. From Writer's account of transformation in Tibet:
Strong also pointed out that a "greater Tibet" advocated by the Dalai Lama never existed. "The boundaries of Tibet have changed greatly through the centuries. Tibet, as the Chinese use the term, is Tibet as it stood in 1911, at the fall of the Chinese empire, and as shown on most maps of this century, whether published in London or Shanghai. This Tibet includes territory where the Dalai Lama directly ruled, and the territory of Houtsang, where the Panchen Erdeni ruled." 
If the Dalai Lama's claim of "greater Tibet" held water, the "Pope of Rome might with equal reason ask for all of Europe that once paid tribute through the monasteries to the Holy Roman Empire," she wrote.
• Five impossible points in the Dalai Lama's Peace Plan

If you skim the Dalai Lama's call for an autonomous Tibet quickly, it seems lovely. From the Dalai Lama's site, Five point Peace Plan:
This peace plan contains five basic components:
  • Transformation of the whole of Tibet into a zone of peace;
  • Abandonment of China's population transfer policy which threatens the very existence of the Tibetans as a people;
  • Respect for the Tibetan people's fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms;
  • Restoration and protection of Tibet's natural environment and the abandonment of China's use of Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and dumping of nuclear waste;
  • Commencement of earnest negotiations on the future status of Tibet and of relations between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples.
But what does that mean?
1. I propose that the whole of Tibet, including the eastern provinces of Kham and Amdo, be transformed into a zone of "Ahimsa", a Hindi term used to mean a state of peace and non-violence. The establishment of such a peace zone would be in keeping with Tibet's historical role as a peaceful and neutral Buddhist nation and buffer state separating the continent's great powers.
This definition of "the whole of Tibet" is like the claim of Eretz Yisrael: history doesn't support it. Historically, Tibet was an aggregate of competing slave-holding monasteries and fiefdoms that were part of the Chinese empire. In theory, the Dalai Lama was the head of Tibet, as the title given by his Mongol ruler indicates, but the other sects of Tibetan Buddhism were independent. So it would be quite a coup for the Dalai Lama to be given all this land.

2. The population transfer of Chinese into Tibet... must be stopped.

That demand conflicts with Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
If you don't see the problem there, imagine a descendant of Old Mexico's governors demanding that the US only let people of Mexican heritage move into California, Arizona, and New Mexico.

3. Fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms must be respected in Tibet. The Tibetan people must once again be free to develop culturally, intellectually, economically and spiritually and to exercise basic democratic freedoms.

The "once again" is dishonest, since there were no democratic freedoms in Tibet under the Dalai Lamas. More importantly, what he's proposing isn't a democracy—it's a constitutional theocracy that's independent from China in every way but name. As for the lack of freedoms, by Chinese standards, Tibetans are treated well; see Tibet Today for China's side of the story.
4. Serious efforts must be made to restore the natural environment in Tibet. Tibet should not be used for the production of nuclear weapons and the dumping of nuclear waste.

China is working to improve its environmental record, and it would be nice if all countries stopped producing nuclear weapons.

5. Negotiations on the future status of Tibet and the relationship between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples should be started in earnest.

This may be an example of the Dalai Lama's famous sense of humor: if you want earnest negotiations, you need to begin with a viable plan. Instead, he asks for an ethnically-cleansed Tibet consisting of 25% of China's territory with himself as the constitutional head of church and state. If I was China, I wouldn't be in a hurry to waste my diplomats' time.

• Selling the Dalai Lama

Selling Tibet to the world is not just about marketing:
Tickets for the event can be bought online even from The Age's own Box Office website along with tickets for Bjorn Again and The Pink Floyd Experience. But few are as expensive as the Dalai Lama experience, with tickets ranging from $800 for front seats to $450 for seats at the back. Tickets for good seats for the Sunday session alone are $248. Lunch is extra - between $18 and $27 for a pre-ordered lunch box. A clothing range has even been created. There are polo shirts, baseball caps - even men's muscle tees emblazoned with the endless Buddhist knot. From street chic to urban cool, baby, this monk has funk.
It's also about Tibetan Buddhism's internal politics:
Shugden supporters claim that the Dalai Lama took advantage of the worldwide groundswell of support that accompanied the Olympic torch protests earlier this year to move against them. They claim that on his orders hundreds of pro-Shugden monks were expelled from Tibetan Buddhist monasteries, mostly in India, leaving them without financial support and shelter. They now argue it is the Dalai Lama who is breaching human rights when it comes to freedom of worship. ...Why is the Dalai Lama so hell-bent on moving against Shugden supporters? A reason might be that he genuinely believes Shugden worship is wrong. Another seems to derive from his desire to unite the four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism - the Nyngma, Sakya, Kagyu and Gelugpa. This has always been one of the Dalai Lama's problems. He is not the head of Buddhism; he is not even the head of Tibetan Buddhism. Traditionally, the Dalai Lamas are from the Gelugpa sect. But since leaving Tibet, the current Dalai Lama has sought to speak for all Tibetans and particularly all overseas Tibetans.
• Who was Heinrich Harrer?

Heinrich Harrer was the Dalai Lama's friend and tutor. My Life in Forbidden Lhasa tells a great story, but it leaves out an ugly truth. From Heinrich Harrer, 93, Explorer of Tibet, Dies:
In 1997, a film titled "Seven Years in Tibet," starring Brad Pitt, dramatized his book of the same name, a best seller in the United States in 1954. 
Just months before the movie's release, the German magazine Stern added a startling and disagreeable new dimension to Mr. Harrer's life story; it reported that he enlisted in Hitler's storm troopers in 1933, when they were still illegal in Austria. 
Five years later, he enlisted in the SS, the Nazi organization responsible for countless atrocities, and rose to sergeant. He asked the SS leader, Heinrich Himmler, for permission to marry in 1938, giving proof that he and his fiancée were Aryans. He later said he wore his SS uniform only once, the day of that marriage to Charlotte Wegener. In a ceremony celebrating the Eiger triumph in 1938, Mr. Harrer shook hands with Hitler and had his picture taken with him. 
Mr. Harrer reacted to the disclosure of a Nazi past by saying that he had committed no crimes or atrocities. He said he understood and regretted his mistakes. He explained that he joined the SS only in order to coach skiing, and never coached an SS member. 
Orville Schell, in his 2000 book "Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri-La from the Himalayas to Hollywood," commented: "There are not that many moments in life when to claim to be a craven careerist of the most calculating sort is a step up from ignominy."
Harrer may have been a craven careerist, but he's still a useful source of information. Though the Dalai Lama's group claims the whole Tibetan people opposed the Chinese, Harrer reveals in Return to Tibet that the rebels “were predominantly nobles, semi-nobles and lamas; they were punished by being made to perform the lowliest tasks, such as laboring on roads and bridges. They were further humiliated by being made to clean up the city before the tourists arrived.”

• Tibet's female living Buddha on the Dalai Lama

Female living Buddha condemns Dalai Lama:
"Old Tibet was dark and cruel, the serfs lived worse than horses and cattle," she told the official Xinhua agency in an interview published on Tuesday. 
Born in 1942, she was chosen as the incarnation of the deity Vajravarahi aged five. Now head of the Samding monastery, she is also vice-chairwoman of the standing committee of the Tibetan Autonomous Regional People's Congress, or regional parliament. 
... "The sins of the Dalai Lama and his followers seriously violate the basic teachings and precepts of Buddhism and seriously damage traditional Tibetan Buddhism's normal order and good reputation," the Samding Dorje Phagmo was quoted as saying -- though she did not detail what his transgressions were.
The current Dalai Lama approved her as a tulku. From Dorje Pakmo: "she was recognised by the present 14th Dalai Lama as a true incarnation and served as a vice president of the Buddhist Association in 1956 while he was president, and the 10th Panchen Lama also a vice president. She went to Lhasa in 1958 and received the empowerment of Yamantaka from the Dalai Lama and the empowerment of Vajrayogini from the Dalai Lama's tutor, Trijang Rinpoche."

• Chinese documents from Tibet

Documents present picture of brutal past includes details like this:
A certificate, written in the old form of the Tibetan language, used before 1959 and kept as No MC 1015 File at the Archives of the Nationalities Cultural Palace, reads: "Being unable to pay back the money and grain we owe Nedong Dekhang, we, Tsewang Rabten and my wife, serfs of the Dusong Manor, must give up our daughter Gensong Tonten and younger son Padma Tenzin to Dekhang to repay the debts. The descendents of their son and daughter will be Dekhang's serfs." 
Part of another contract, also kept at the Archives of the Nationalities Cultural Palace, as No MC 10144 File, was signed in 1947 by Drashi Choda to pay off his debt by letting his sister Tsering Lhamo work for Lharang without pay for 10 years. 
It reads: "I, Drashi Choda, belong to the Nari Monastery of the Nari Manor. I borrowed 34 khal (about 1,047 pounds) and 3 sheng (0.085 bushels) of grain from the Lharang granary in the Wood-Monkey year, the interests of which amount to 6 khal (184 pounds) and 14.5 sheng (0.41 bushels). The principal and the interest total 40 khal (1,232 pounds) and 19.3 sheng (0.49 bushels) of grain. 
"As I am unable to pay back the sum annually, I ask my younger sister Tsering Lhamo, who shares weal and woe with me, to pay off my debts by doing 10 years' unpaid service for the Lharang beginning at the first day of the 12 month of this Fire-Dog year." 
The contract also stipulates: "In case of violation of the contract, Drashi Choda shall be punished according to the local law."
• The 1911 view of Tibet's relationship to China From the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica entry on Tibet:
Government.—Though the whole of Tibet is under the suzerainty of China, the government of the country is divided into two distinct administrations, the one under the rule of the Dalai lama of Lhasa, the other under local kings or chiefs, and comprising a number of ecclesiastical fiefs. Both are directed and controlled by the high Chinese officials residing at Lhasa, Sining Fu; and the capital of the Chinese province of Szechuen. Northeastern Tibet or Amdo, and also a portion of Khamdo, are under the supervision of a high official (Manchu) residing at Sining Fu in Kansuh, whose title is Imperial Controller-General of Koko Nor... 
The region under the supervision of the imperial controller includes all the countries north of the upper course of the Dre chu (Yangtsze-kiang). The people pay a small poll-tax to China, and are exempted from any other impost; they also pay a small tax in kind, sheep, butter, & c., to their chiefs. The province of Khamdo, including all eastern Tibet, is governed by local chiefs... 
The only tax paid to China is a so-called " horse-tax " of about 5d. for each family. Once in every five years the chiefs send a tribute mission to the capital of Szechuen, and once every ten years to Peking, but the tribute sent is purely nominal. The Chinese maintain a few small military posts with from six or eight to twenty men stationed in them; they are under the orders of a colonel residing at Tachienlu.... 
The part of Tibet under the rule of Lhasa, by far the largest and wealthiest, includes the central province of U, Tsang, Nari, and a number of large outlying districts in southern and even in eastern Tibet. The central government of this part of the country is at Lhasa; the nominal head is the Dalai lama or grand lama. The Tashi lama or head of the monastery of Tashilhunpo near Shigatse is inferior to the Dalai lama in secular authority, of which, indeed, he has little—much less than formerly— but he is considered by some of his worshippers actually superior to him in religious rank. The person next in consideration to the two great lamas is the regent, who is an ecclesiastic appointed during the minority of each Dalai lama. Under him are four ministers of state ... who divide among themselves, under the immediate supervision of the two imperial Chinese residents (or amban), the management of all secular affairs of the country. ... 
The army is under the command of the senior Chinese amban. ... All high Tibetan officials, whether ecclesiastics or laymen, are appointed subject to confirmation by the Chinese government.
From the entry on “Lamaism”:
Jenghiz Khan had founded the Mongol empire, and his grandson Kublai Khan became a convert to the Buddhism of the Tibetan Lamas. He granted to the abbot of the Sakya monastery in southern Tibet the title of tributary sovereign of the country, head of the Buddhist church, and overlord over the numerous barons and abbots, and in return was officially crowned by the abbot as ruler over the extensive domain of the Mongol empire. Thus was the foundation laid at one and the same time of the temporal sovereignty of the Lamas of Tibet, and of the suzerainty over Tibet of the emperors of China.
A great Tibet interview

Dissident Voice : Q&A on Tibet: Elisabeth Martens, interviewed in "Le Courrier", has spent years in China and Tibet. Her whole Q&A is worth reading. Some of the most interesting bits:
The violence which went down in Lhasa on 14 March 2008 was perpetrated by groups of Tibetan demonstrators. The testimony of foreigners present at the time was in agreement on this point: the aggression targeted the Chinese (the Han) and the Hui, a majority of whom are Muslims. Some people were burned alive, others were beaten, stabbed or stoned to death. The weapons used were Molotov cocktails, stones, iron bars, shanks and butcher knives. There were 22 dead and more than 300 wounded, nearly all were Hui and Han. These were criminal acts of a racist character. Serge Lachapelle, a tourist from Montreal, said: “The Muslim quarter was completely destroyed, not a single store was left standing.” 
... Imagine the havoc that would ensue in France if Corsican separatists set fire to French civilians in the middle of Ajacio! 
... When we speak of the “colonization” of one country by another, there should be, at least, two countries. In this particular case, we should remember that Tibet has never been recognized as an “independent country”. ... A second answer is that when we use the term “colonization”, it implies that the invading country profits from the assets of the invaded country. But, if we consider the last fifty years in Tibet, we notice the opposite phenomenon. The Tibetan population has tripled thanks to the health care system and the rapid improvement of living standards. Which was, in fact, not difficult to achieve given the disastrous conditions under which 90% of the Tibetans lived under the theocratic regime of the Dalai Lamas. 
... In 1956, an armed rebellion was organized in several Tibetan monasteries (e.g., Litang and Drepung): the Peoples Republic of China targeted the Tibetan dignitaries, those of the clergy in particular. And so it was this part of the population that began to flee into India and which would make up the Tibetan community in exile (just as the exodus for Taiwan was made up mainly of the larger Chinese families).
This armed rebellion was from its beginnings financially and logistically supported by the CIA. For what reason? All you have to do to understand this is read a report by the US State Dept from April 1949: “Tibet has become strategically and ideologically important. Since the independence of Tibet could serve the struggle against communism, it is in our interests to recognize Tibet as independent. (…) However, it is not Tibet that interests us, it is the attitude we must adopt toward China.” It doesn’t get much clearer than that!
• Possibly of interest:

The Dalai Lama's demons

FACTBOX-Historical ties between China and Tibet

Why Dalai Lama can't represent all Tibetans.

Tibetan Social System

Shambhala Sun - "According to Buddhist Tradition" Gays, Lesbians and the Definition of Sexual Misconduct

Himmler's Crusade: The True Story of the 1938 Nazi Expedition to Tibet -

"Dalai Lama and his links to Nazis":
 News: Tibet: The Other Side of the Story Documents present picture of brutal past When the Dalai Lamas Ruled: Hell on Earth Nazi Authors Seven Years in Tibet The tawdry politics of Tibetan Buddhism: The flight of the Karmapa Lama from Tibet The Dalai Lama’s hidden past “What about Tibet?” The Reincarnation of the Living Buddhas Tibetan Temples NED Grants Program - China (Tibet) "Democratic Imperialism": Tibet, China, and the National Endowment for Democracy China and America: The Tibet Human Rights PsyOp A Message For Western Leaders Dalai Lama’s Five Point Peace Plan is Not Fooling Anyone An essay by a Tibetan from Eastern Tibet China’s view of Tibet FRUS 1964-68, Vol. XXX, China: documents 330-339. CIA’s Secret War in Tibet Tibet, the 'great game' and the CIA