Tibetan 'Independence Day' Marked

Tibetan activists celebrate a hundred-year-old declaration of independence from China.

tibet-1th-image.jpg The 13th Dalai Lama photographed in Calcutta, India in 1910.
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Tibetan activists and support groups around the world are set to mark the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Tibetan Proclamation of Independence from China on Wednesday, with Beijing denouncing the celebrations as a “farce.”

Tibet’s 13th Dalai Lama proclaimed Tibetan independence on Feb. 13, 1913 following a period of domination by China’s Qing (Manchu) dynasty and initiated a period of almost four decades of self-rule that ended when Chinese troops marched into the Himalayan region in 1949.

To mark the anniversary, Students for a Free Tibet (SFT), the Tibetan Youth Congress, the U.S. Tibetan Committee, Tibet House, and Chushi Gangdruk will hold protests on Wednesday in front of the Chinese Mission to the United Nations at St. Vartan’s Park in New York.

Activities will include a performance by a Tibetan community dance troupe, a Tibetan flag-raising ceremony, and the unveiling of a 12-foot long copy of the 1913 Proclamation Scroll

Messages of support from lawmakers of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate from New York will also be read, and participants will march to the United Nations.

Independence day

“Every country has an independence or national day regardless of its current political status and Tibet is no exception,” Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) said in a statement announcing the events planned to mark the proclamation’s anniversary.

“At this time, when nearly 100 Tibetans have self-immolated to protest Chinese rule, a global commemoration of this historic occasion will help to renew our spirits, reaffirm our vision, and strengthen our struggle,” SFT said.

China calls the 1913 declaration a “fabrication” and Tibetan independence a “myth,” according to state media.

“Such fanfare is just a farce,” China’s official Xinhua news agency said this week.

The Dalai Lama declared in his 1913 statement, written after Tibetan forces drove troops of the then-collapsing Qing dynasty out of Tibet, that though not prosperous or technically advanced, “Tibet is an independent nation living in peace and in accordance with religion.”

“To become capable of defending our country, we are currently increasing our efforts both in civilian and military areas,” said the Dalai Lama’s declaration, translated by Berlin, Germany-based Tibetan scholar Tsewang Norbu and published by the web site of the Tibetan Political Review.

“The Chinese intention of colonizing Tibet … has faded like a rainbow in the sky,” according to a separate translation of the same document, prepared for Students for a Free Tibet.

Chinese claims

But Xinhua noted that all Chinese governments following the Qing collapse have asserted their claim to Tibet, which China considers a part of its national territory.

At the time that the Dalai Lama declared Tibet was independent of China, “there was indeed no Qing or Chinese authority in Tibet,” said Indiana University Tibet scholar Elliot Sperling.

The declaration and a treaty signed afterward between Tibet and Mongolia, also formerly under Qing control, "were valid reflections and valid responses to that fact.”

China’s Qing rulers had exercised political control over Tibet, but “this ended with the collapse of the Qing,” Sperling said.

In a "Middle Way" policy approach to the problems of Tibet, Tibet’s present 14th Dalai Lama and Tibet’s government in exile, based in India, have accepted Tibet’s present status as a part of China while regularly urging greater cultural, religious, and political freedoms for the Tibetan people.

“Tibetans need to have a broader perspective in the current struggle for Tibetan freedom, and not be bogged down by Tibet-centric perspectives alone,” noted Bhuchung Tsering, vice president of the Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet.

A broader challenge

Tibet’s status as a part of China “is not unchallenged,” though, Sperling said.

“The broader challenge has a strong historical legacy behind it, going back to the 13th Dalai Lama.”

Speaking in an interview, SFT executive director Tenzin Dorjee called the Dalai Lama’s 1913 declaration “a reminder of Tibet’s historical past as an independent nation, which China tries to negate and distort.”

“After the Manchu dynasty collapsed, Tibetans expelled [China's] remaining troops and reestablished sovereignty over their country in 1913.”

“Since then, Tibet resumed its status as an independent country—running its own administration, army, taxation, currency, and legal and postal systems—until China’s invasion in 1949,” Dorjee said.

Negotiations between Beijing and envoys of the current Dalai Lama over issues related to Tibet stalled in January 2010.

Reported by Richard Finney.


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