In what has been called by some the worst single human catastrophe since the Jewish genocide during World War II, Tibet has been under Chinese occupation for nearly 50 years. Tibet has often been erroneously portrayed as a mysterious "Shangri-La"; unfortunately, the harsh reality is that this remote Himalayan country has been the victim of the worst of Chinas well-documented human rights atrocities, having faced over four decades worth of Tiananmen-like agony since the Chinese invasion in 1949. Chinas human rights violations were brought to light to the majority of the world in 1989 due to the infamous shooting of the unarmed student protesters in Tiananmen Square. The following is a small list of some of the documented atrocities that have befallen Tibet and its people:
What was Tibet like before the Chinese invasion?
Just prior to the Chinese invasion in 1949, Tibet was an independent nation, largely isolated by the Himalayas. The people had developed a unique and peaceful culture based on the Mahayana and Vajrayana teachings of Buddhism, interwoven into their language, literature, art, and philosophy. Tibet has never been a mythical "Shangri-La" fantasyland, contrary to how it is often depicted in the movies. Tibet had its own internal problems, just like any other country, and was a feudal theocracy. However, Tibet did exist as a peaceful community, with a quarter of its male population entering the monastery, and did live in harmony and respect with its often harsh Himalayan environment.
The Dalai Lama and China:
The Communist Chinese invaded Tibet in 1949, resulting in a decade of turmoil and uneasiness. The current spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, was forced to flee in 1959 with 100,000 Tibetans during an uprising that resulted in a bloody massacre of 87,000 Tibetans. The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile now reside in Dharamsala, India, although the Dalai Lama travels tirelessly in an effort to increase world awareness of the Tibetan plight. For his continuing efforts at a nonviolent resolution with the Chinese, as well as for his peaceful teachings in Buddhism, the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.
What is MFN/NTR?
Most Favored Nation status allows a country to export its goods to the United States with the lowest possible tariffs. Countries with non-market economies are prohibited from receiving MFN privileges; however, the President of the United States can waive these restrictions for one year if he certifies that a country is not denying its citizens the right or opportunity to emigrate.
Since 1980, each U.S. President has renewed China's MFN status despite evidence that there was not freedom of emigration in China. Since China's Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, Congress has introduced legislation to condition MFN based on improvement of human rights, unfair trade practices, and weapons proliferation. In 1993, President Clinton granted MFN status to China, but with several conditions that must be met in order for China to receive renewal of its MFN status for the following year. One of these conditions is that China must make significant progress in protecting Tibet's religious and cultural heritage. Another is that China's human rights violations must be improved.
China has made no progress in either of these conditions. However, the MFN status continues to be granted to China.
MFN is now referred to as Normal Trade Relations, or NTR.
How can I help?
With 1.2 billion people, China represents a great potential source of income for business interests. Business lobbyists in this country are quite powerful and affect political policy. Despite these lobbyists, however, it is possible to affect governmental policy by increasing public awareness of the terror that Tibet and its people face, by writing to public officials, and by participating in letter-writing campaigns. Writing to newspapers and magazines, lobbying for revocation of Most Favored Nation (MFN) status towards China, and refusing to purchase goods made in China can make an impact. Offering financial support to Tibetan support groups such as Los Angeles Friends of Tibet (see below) and other non-profit organizations is another method. Public awareness of Chinas heinous human rights violations has increased since the Tiananmen Square incident, but it is important for all of us to continue to try and save what is left of the Tibetan people and culture before it is too late.
Seven things you can do to help Tibet
See Contact section to get in touch with the organizations mentioned below
1. Give a prisoner hope
A Chinese prison official in Lhasa said that he had received many letters of concern for Tibetan prisoners. Your letters get through. We know that this has made a tremendous difference in improving conditions, preventing or lessening torture, and leading to an early release of some prisoners. Gendun Rinchen, a tour guide who was released after eight months without being tortured, is living proof. Chinese officials received thousands of letters in his support. Watch for urgent prisoner appeals in Tibetan support group newsletters, NPR stations such as KCRW-FM 89.9 FM, or contact Amnesty International.
2. Build a school
Most children in rural Tibet have no schools. Forty-four percent of Tibetans are illiterate in any language, and the majority of Tibetans cannot read and write Tibetan today. Under Chinese rule, much of Tibet's educational funding is spent in China, leaving little for Tibetans. Groups like U.S. Tibetan Society for School and Culture and the Kawachen Project are making a huge difference for hundreds of children, funding the building of schools where there were none, expanding existing schools, and providing funds for textbooks and basic health care.
3. Support a nun in exile
Tibetan nuns are at the forefront of the demonstrations for Tibetan independence in Lhasa despite the fact that they face brutal torture in prison. Once released, they are often forbidden to return to their nunneries, and many end up fleeing to India for refuge. In India, the nunneries are overcrowded and desperately need funds for books, clothes, and general support. The Tibetan Nuns Project is actively working to bring in much-needed contributions.
4. Boycott Chinese goods
Boycotting Chinese goods is a simple and direct way for anyone to make their support of Tibet count. A growing boycott campaign is being led by Students for a Free Tibet, the U.S. Tibet Committee, Milarepa Fund, and other Tibet support groups. For more information, contact Milarepa.
5. Travel wisely
China tries to use tourism in Tibet to legitimize its rule there, showcasing selected sites to imply that Tibetans are content. Most tourist dollars, particularly on group tours, go to Chinese pockets and do little to help poor Tibetan communities. If you travel in a group, be sure the company uses Tibetan guides and patronizes Tibetan businesses. Educate yourself about Tibet before you go (see the recommended reading list at the bottom of the page, or read Victor Chan's "Tibet Handbook: A Pilgrimmage". To learn more about how you can make your trip help Tibetans, and for a map and guide of Lhasa that explains what Chinese tour guides will try to hide, contact the International Campaign for Tibet.
6. Tell Congress or the President what you think
Congress funds a Tibetan-language Voice of America broadcast that is now the most popular news source in Tibet; they provide annual assistance for Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal; they also maintain a policy that Tibet is an occupied nation under foreign rule and recognize the Dalai Lama as the rightful head of the country. Urge your Congressional representatives to continue their efforts to find a solution to the Tibetan crisis. For more information about congressional initiatives, contact the International Campaign for Tibet at (202) 785-1515 or visit their website at http://www.igc.apc.org/ict. Write your elected officials about Tibet: Call (202) 724-3121 for a list of your Congressional representatives or visit their website at: http://ast1.spa.umn.edu/juan/congress.html. Write to President Clinton using our email form further below on this page!
7. Join Tibetan support groups
Los Angeles Friends of Tibet hosts cultural and educational events. Currently, LAFOT is sponsoring several projects to aid Tibetans in exile in India: a vocational training center for physically disabled children, and a computer education center that will teach Tibetan students throughout India computer skills that will help them find jobs.
Los Angeles Friends of Tibet
Los Angeles Friends of Tibet is a non-profit organization devoted to promoting awareness of Tibet's endangered culture and the anguish of the Tibetan people under Communist Chinese occupation. As a non-profit organization, LAFOT is dedicated to presenting to the public Tibet's ancient traditions of philosophy, art, and science; informing the public of the human rights and environmental conditions of Tibet, and sharing Tibet's unique spiritual contributions to universal peace. LAFOT has organized several Festivals of Tibet, assisted with the Dalai Lama's visit to Los Angeles, and rallies for the Panchen Lama, and at visits by Kofi Annan and visiting Chinese government leaders.
Meetings take place in the Westchester office and auditorium. Anyone interested in simply attending the meetings or helping to plan new events is encouraged to attend! New members and volunteers are encouraged! Call the phone number listed below for further details.
Los Angeles Friends of Tibet
PO Box 641066
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 289-4654 (voicemail that also gives information on meetings and upcoming events)
Email the President -- let him know where you stand on the issue of China's human rights violations!
You may use our sample letter. However, we encourage you to use your own words and adjust the letter to suit your personal opinions and feelings about Tibet and China. Email the President at firstname.lastname@example.org. The form below doesn't appear to work anymore -- sorry! Feel free to copy the message and paste it in your email, modifying as you see fit. Thanks for your flexibility!
U.S. Tibetan Society for School and Culture
4707 Connecticut Ave., NQ #201
Washington D.C., 20008
The Kawachen Project - Tibet Fund
241 E. 32nd St.
New York, NY 10016
9000 W. Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90230
(310) 815-0450 email@example.com
Tibetan Nuns Project
P.O. Box 374
San Geromino, CA 94963
2350 Taylor St.
San Francisco, CA 94133
International Campaign for Tibet
1825 K St., NW, Suite 520
Washington, C.D. 20006
(202) 785-1515 firstname.lastname@example.org
Los Angeles Friends of Tibet
P.O. Box 641066
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 289-4654 email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
Students for a Free Tibet
241 E 32nd Street
New York, NY 10016
(888) SFTIBET firstname.lastname@example.org
Many of these books are available from Snow Lion Publications at 1-800-950-0313
A beautiful CD release by Eleven Shadows, this music features the beautiful vocals of Esther Tessel, textures and atmospheres that sound rich and detailed and alive, Tibetan bells and bowls, bowed double-bass, and ghostly, ethereal musical passages. If Brian Eno produced beautiful Italian arias in a Tibetan monastery, it might sound something like Sangsara. "To realise these beautiful textures and tunes, Ken Lee has enlisted the help of Esther and Connie (the vocalist and double-bass player, respectively) to make this one of the most organic and haunting collection of songs we've had the pleasure of reviewing." --Future Music Magazine (U.K.).
"I've had quite an interest in Tibet and its people since I was a small child. However, it was not until my trip to Northern India that I met some Tibetan refugees during my stay in Mussoorie. The stories that they told me moved me deeply, and those feelings stayed with me while I was writing these songs." -Ken of Eleven Shadows.
Sangsara lyrics and some very interesting liner notes about the songs and Tibet