An Urgent Appeal From Our Anguished Hearts
An Urgent Appeal From Our Anguished Hearts
Tibetan Protest Against Chinese Rule, 1989
By: Friends in the Struggle of the Lhasa Tiger-Leopard Group
Date: September 27, 1989
About the Author: The Lhasa Tiger-Leopard Group was one of the groups of political activists who opposed the Chinese occupation of Tibet. A prominent member of this group was Lhakpa Tsering, whose death while in Chinese custody in 1989 focused international attention on the treatment of the Tibetan people under Chinese rule.
Until 1950, Tibet was a sovereign nation, a remote and rugged land situated in the Himalayan Mountains. Tibet had been a sanctuary for the Buddhist faith since a.d 700. For many centuries, Tibetan political leadership and religious direction were linked to the authority of the Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. The current Dalai Lama is the fourteenth to hold this title. In 1950, Buddhist monks comprised approximately one sixth of the population of the capital city of Lhasa.
In 1950, China invaded Tibet and took control of all government institutions. Chinese rulers claimed Tibet as a part of their empire at various times in the previous five hundred years, and the newly founded People's Republic of China relied upon this historical connection as a basis to occupy the country. Years of unrest first boiled into an armed uprising against the Chinese occupiers in 1959. The Tibetan opposition to the Chinese occupation was brutally suppressed, as numerous Tibetan leaders were summarily executed by the Chinese. The Dalai Lama and other prominent religious leaders fled to India, where they established a government-in-exile.
In the years that followed the 1959 uprising, there were repeated allegations of atrocities committed by the Chinese against the local population. Numerous Buddhist monasteries in Lhasa and throughout Tibet were destroyed and their contents sold. The Chinese government placed significant restrictions on the observance of the Buddhist faith in Tibet. Tibetan nationals were the subject of discrimination by the Chinese. The Dalai Lama petitioned numerous world leaders to come to the aid of the Tibetan people against the Chinese occupation, with little success. Tibet was now ruled by China as the Tibetan Autonomous Region, a component part of the greater People's Republic of China.
Another popular uprising occurred in various parts of Tibet in 1987. This revolt was spearheaded by young political dissidents, and it attracted a vigorous armed response from the Chinese military. Demonstrations continued in Lhasa into 1988, as the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile renewed their efforts to secure international support for the Tibetan nationalist cause. Martial law was imposed by China in March 1989, and a series of prison terms in excess of fifteen years were imposed upon the various leaders of the insurgency.
In 1989, one of the Tibetan dissident leaders, twenty year old Lhakpa Tsering, died in Chinese custody at the notorious Drapchi Prison in Lhasa. Tsering was a member of the Tiger-Leopard Group whose members and supporters authored the letter of September 27, 1989.
The great Protector Deities long ago commanded by Padmasambhava have not lost their power.
Though we have brought this fate upon ourselves, it is not time for the end of the aeon.
Are we not under the domination of misfortune and demonic hindrances?
Look with your eye of wisdom and see if it is time now for the forces of power to rise up.
One deity of this land of snow mountains incarnates the compassion of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
A pure unmistaken line of incarnations has come to Tibet.
Now, when the melodious sound of the wheel of Dharma is spoken, everywhere in foreign lands,
Look with your eye of wisdom on those who have stayed behind, like the corpse of a dead lion.
In the midst of the ruins of the great monasteries, magnificent places of pilgrimage, blades of grass sing a sad song.
The disputations of the monks arguing the five bundles of Sutras are not heard; a foreign song is sung.
Wild animals dwell in the hermitages and caves of practitioners of Tantra and Mantra.
Look with your eye of wisdom, you gods, how have we erred to make this happen?
Although the Buddha's wisdom is always as close to the faithful as a body and its smell,
Because of the two obstructions, I and those like me are deprived of the Buddha's words, and commentaries.
Like the agony of a baby bird whose training is not yet complete,
Look soon with your eye of wisdom upon the suffering of those sentient beings so we may see his face.
Because Tibetans are a people with great compassion and faith in Dharma,
The precious life and warm blood of our heroes and heroines is flowing in the streets of Lhasa.
Look soon with your eye of wisdom upon the torment of our friends in the struggle,
Held in the court of the Lord of Death, brought by inhuman foreign enemies to the land of men.
Unexcelled, most powerful Protectors of Tibet,
Were we not like mother and child, we could not ask this of you.
This is the anguished appeal of a child separated from its mother.
Though unbidden, we are powerless not to speak out, please be patient.
Though the ripening of our sins is relentless, there must be and end.
The Dalai Lama has said the great star of the dawn has already risen.
If we hold fast to the words of truth of the Tibetans,
There is no doubt we will soon be victorious.
From all the friends in the struggle of the Lhasa Tiger-Leopard Group
27 September 1989
Contemporaneous to the mobilization of Tibetan opposition against the Chinese, the national government of China was engaged in the suppression of the dissident movement that instigated the public demonstrations held at Tiananmen Square in Beijing between April 1 and June 4, 1989. Hundreds of protestors were killed or injured when the Chinese troops ended the demonstrations, events that touched off world-wide condemnation of Chinese tactics and attitudes toward apparently peaceful forms of protest.
The letter (in the form of a poem) written by the Friends of the Lhasa Tiger-Leopard Group does not mention China or the occupation of Tibet by name. However, the authors employ a mix of traditional Tibetan images, such as the mountains and the lion, against the context of death, blood, and foreign intervention. It is apparent that the passion for Tibetan nationalism had not faded in the almost forty years between the writing of the poem and the occupation of Tibet by China. The reference in the poem to blood flowing in the streets is with respect to the imposition of martial law by the Chinese in March 1989 and the further repressive steps taken to quell political protests in Lhasa.
At the time of the publication of the letter by the Lhasa Group, the Dalai Lama had advanced his work to engage Western governments to support Tibetan nationalism. The Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1989, in recognition of his efforts to promote a peaceful resolution to the Chinese occupation of Tibet.
The award of the Peace Prize to the Dalai Lama is significant on a number of levels, as it appeared to stimulate a greater international interest in the Tibetan conflict. Between 1990 and 1993, there was a massive exodus of Buddhist monks from Tibet to India. At the same time, a number of nations passed resolutions that condemned the actions of the Chinese government as taken against the Tibetan population to limit their religious practices and cultural traditions. In 1991, the United States Senate passed a resolution declaring that Tibet was an occupied country, and that the Dalai Lama headed a government in exile. A similar resolution was passed by the Australian Senate in the same year.
The weight of international political opinion continued to favor the Tibetan nationalist cause in August of 1991, when the United Nations passed a resolution in support of Tibet as a national entity, as did the European Parliament in 1992. In the United States, President Bill Clinton signed legislation that supported the efforts of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan nationalists to preserve their identity.
It is clear that the various political pronouncements made on behalf of the Tibetan nationalists had a limited impact upon the conduct of the Chinese in Tibet. It is also clear that little or no effort was made by any nations to compel change in Tibet through the direction of economic pressure upon China. Shortly after signing the Tibetan legislation in 1994, the United States re-affirmed China's 'Most Favored Nation' trading status; this designation confirmed China's desirability as an American economic partner. The apparently contradictory signals of the United States in 1994 regarding China, in contrast to the 1991 Senate resolution can only be interpreted as a belief on the part of the United States that the fostering of Chinese trade was of greater national importance than the use of trade sanctions to pursue a resolution in Tibet.
The Chinese actions against Tibetan national symbols continued in 1996 when the public display of photographs of the Dalai Lama was banned.
In recent years, there has been a status quo maintained with respect to the Chinese governance of Tibet and the resolution of the human rights concerns raised by Tibetans. The Dalai Lama has persisted in his world wide efforts to pursue a solution to the dispute with China. It is significant that while the government-in-exile continues to work from its base in northern India, the Dalai Lama has now advanced a desire to negotiate a resolution with China where Tibet would not be an independent nation, but an autonomous area within China where Tibetan religious and cultural practices can be preserved. Current American policy with respect to Tibet mirrors this attitude; In September 2002, the Foreign Relations Authorizations' Act as signed by President George W. Bush affirmed American support for the preservation of Tibetan language and culture.
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Goldstein, Melvyn C. The Snow Lion and the Dragon: China, Tibet, and the Dalai Lama. Berkley; University of California Press, 1997.
Nobel Prize Committee. "Nobel Peace Prize, 1989." April 1, 2005. <http://www.nobelprize.org/peace/laureates/1989/index.html> (accessed May 26, 2006).