China and Tibet, 1950-1991

Some people believe that ruthlessness and expansionism are temporary features of totalitarianism. Past Soviet foreign policies, they say, sprang from legitimate security needs, especially the Soviets' determination to prevent, once and for all, future invasions of their homeland. Although this view cannot be readily dismissed (because it deals with motives, not with observable actions), I believe that expansionism and ruthlessness are not incidental features of totalitarianism. Theoretical considerations which lead me to this belief will be reviewed later. Here I should like to lend this belief empirical support by briefly considering two other case histories of totalitarian foreign policies. I shall take up contemporary China first, then move on to ancient Sparta.

In 1950, a year after the communists had assumed power in China, they invaded Tibet, their smaller and weaker neighbor. Since then, Tibet has ceased to exist as an independent nation. This was a flagrant violation of Tibet's rights for self-determination. However, with an international order governed by anarchy and brute force and with a backward theocracy ruling Tibet, it may be unfair to blame China for trying to build an empire of her own, improve her national security, or modernize and improve the lot of the Tibetan people. So I shall confine my remarks to Chinese occupation policies after organized and armed resistance to the invasion ceased.

Once they took charge, the communists ironfistedly imposed a Maoist brand of totalitarian hell on the deeply religious Tibetans. A few dry statistics speak for themselves.

"In Tibet, 100,000 political prisoners toil in Chinese labor camps . . . more than 50 anti-Chinese uprisings have flared in 25 years. A half-million Chinese occupation troops-one soldier for every 12 Tibetans-keep order. . . . [By November 1983], at least 35 leading dissidents were executed in public, 3500 more were arrested."44 In 1959, nine years after the Chinese takeover, a nationwide uprising was followed by an escape to India of some 100,000 refugees, including Tibet's political and spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. The Chinese occupation led to "an estimated one million Tibetans dead from imprisonment and starvation. Tibet's 6254 monasteries . . . [are] gutted and in ruins; the Tibetan people themselves vehemently anti-Chinese." "A flood of Chinese immigrants has moved into Tibet, taken the best land for destructive, collectivized agriculture, decimated the already scarce forests, and wantonly slaughtered Tibet's once abundant wildlife."45 As usual, the mass killings can be gleaned from population statistics, which "reveal a disproportionate dearth of males in Tibet."46 The Dalai Lama summed up the situation: "The Chinese claimed that they came to Tibet to 'liberate' us from the past and modernize the country. In fact they have brought the greatest suffering to our nation in its 2100 years of history."44

Source: Nissani, M. 1992. Lives in the Balance.

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