The Collegian
Sunday, January 23, 2022

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Tibetan protests close to home for one student

Halfway across the world, Tibetan protests have turned violent and resulted in a bloody clash with Chinese security forces and the imposition of martial law. And for one University of Richmond student, the situation has hit close to home.

Tibetan freshman Tenzin Tsayang has actively participated in protests of Chinese military rule and martial law in Tibet, posted YouTube videos of the protests around the world that have been viewed by over 60,000 people and networked with hundreds of Tibetans and Tibetan independence supporters around the world

According to The New York Times, the unrest in Tibet began with a March 14 riot in Lhasa, where Tibetans looted Chinese shops and clashed with riot police. The Tibetans are protesting for cultural autonomy and independence from China, a cause that Tsayang feels very strongly about.

The disturbances are a threat to China as it prepares to host the Olympic Games in August. All foreign journalists have been forced out of the region except during a three-day government-supervised trip to Lhasa, to which the Chinese government invited 26 foreign journalists.

Dr. Vincent Wang, a professor of political science who teaches a class on politics in Asia, said that violence was non-characteristic of Tibetans. The country's former ruler and spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has led the government while in exile and only advocated non-violent resistance to regain cultural autonomy, Wang said.

"It should be pointed out that some of the younger Tibetans, who want complete independence from China, are not convinced that a non-violent route will get them anywhere," Wang said.

The Dalai Lama enjoys a tremendous amount of respect in Tibet and a majority of Tibetans do not believe that violent resistance is the solution, Wang said.

The Chinese and Tibetan cultures are distinguishably different. The groups speak different languages and have different customs and traditions. According to Tsayang, the most important cultural difference is religion. The People's Republic of China is officially atheist and had banned religious belief and practice until recent decades. The government has become more tolerant of different religions, but Tibetan Buddhism is still restricted because it is believed to have a political agenda.

"Tibetans cannot even have a picture of the Dalai Lama in their house," Tsayang said. "We worship the Dalai Lama the way Westerners worship Jesus. It would be like asking you to remove Jesus from your life."

The Chinese have injected billions of dollars into Tibet in an attempt at integration, Wang said. Tsayang said he believed that this was one of the fundamental disagreements between Chinese natives and Tibetans. "Chinese think of development economically and militarily," Tsayang said. "The majority of Tibetans do not value money, but religion and freedom of expression. The Chinese just don't understand that Tibetans need religious freedom."

When Wang visited Tibet in 2007 on a faculty seminar abroad, the capital city of Lhasa looked increasingly like a Chinese provincial city, he said. The Chinese quarters were growing and the Tibetan quarters shrinking.

"There is a deep seeded resentment on the part of the Tibetans because of this," Wang said.

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The Chinese political and military presence was obvious, he said. The tourist map he received of Lhasa did not indicate popular tourist destinations, but the location of all Chinese military and party organizations.

"The Chinese want everybody to know that they are in charge, but this map was also an indication of how tenuous their rule is," Wang said.

In order to subordinate and maintain their rule, the Chinese government has oppressed and ignored Tibetans' rights. International non-governmental organization Amnesty International has drawn attention to human rights abuses and campaigned for China's compliance with international standards.

Senior Jordan Wade, president of the University of Richmond chapter of Amnesty International, said that the organization has issued statements requesting a United Nations Peacekeeping force in the region, called on the Human Rights Council and asked for the complete and unconditional release of the 400 protestors arrested by the Nepalese government, many of whom are Amnesty employees.

Wade urged Richmond students to take a stand against China's human rights violations and get involved with Amnesty or other letter writing campaigns, contact their elected officials and research the deep history behind the recent events.

"I think students everywhere should be speaking out about things that are not fair in the world," Wade said. "We are only separated by geography, so we should do what we can and remain informed."

Some human rights activists are calling for a U.S. boycott of the Olympic Games that are scheduled to be held in Beijing in August. Wade believes that an official boycott is unfair to the athletes, but thinks that the United States should take a stronger stance.

"We take for granted the freedom that we have even though we talk a lot about the word 'freedom,'" Wade said.

Tsayang said he believed that it was a mistake to allow China to host the Olympic Games in the first place, and suggested a U.S. boycott of the opening ceremony.

"Boycotting the Olympics is not fair to the 12,000 athletes who have practiced for many years, but boycotting the initial ceremony will show that we do not feel that it is right to oppress the Tibetan people," Tsayang said.

Tsayang said that the reason he was so active in the Tibetan independence movement is that he would have liked to spend the rest of his life in Tibet, but cannot return unless he denounces the Dalai Lama. Only when changes are made and the basic human rights of Tibetans are respected will it be a possibility for him to return to Tibet, he said.

"Every human being on earth should speak out against human rights violations whether it be in Sudan, Burma or anywhere else," Tsayang said. "It is the duty of every human being"

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