Tibet: a history rewritten

Posted on : 2006-09-29 16:04 KST Modified on : 2006-09-29 16:04 KST

In 1994, Potala Palace, the symbol of Tibet, was registered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a World Heritage Site. Standing 3,600 meters above sea level, there is no palace located at a greater elevation. Its uniqueness of design and level of splendor radiate majesty.

In front of Potala Palace are two stone statues of lions, figures associated with the Chinese. These two lions were placed there meticulously by the Chinese Government to Sinicize the cultural heritage of the Tibetan minority. These are similar to the stone lions placed by the Chinese Government in front of the restored castle walls built in ancient times by Goguryeo, a Korean kingdom that occupied land of present China. Both sets of lions reflect a common state of affairs.

The common denominator of these Goguryeo and Tibetan sites does not stop with the stone lions. A ten-minute taxi ride from Potala Palace finds the Tibetan Museum, where Tibetan history is explained as if it were the story of just another Chinese province.

The museum, constructed in 1999, divides Tibetan history into two periods: that preceding the 7th century AD and that stretching from the 7th century AD to the present. In 641 AD, after King Songtsen Gampo established the first Tibetan kingdom, took Weng-Cheng, a member of the extended royal family of the Tang Dynasty, as his second bride. "From this point on," reads the explanation, "an inseparable bond grew between the governments of Tibet and China." Rather than describing the domestic historical changes and sources of developments within Tibetan society, the museum almost exclusively portrays Tibetan history in terms of the formal relations established between Tibet and China. The mode of expression adopted is analogous to one classifying all cuisines of the world as merely being Chinese or non-Chinese.

The museum is divided into nine rooms, classified under such categories as "prehistoric culture," "history," "folk customs," and "natural resources." Displaying the jades and pottery of Ming and Qing China, the various explanations repeat the same phrase: "Tibet is an inseparable part of Chinese territory." Even small articles such as jade stamps imported from China are sloppily interpreted as being another "piece of evidence of China’s rule over Tibet."

The various documents backing the assertion that "Tibet is an inseparable part of Chinese territory" are housed in the archives of the Tibetan local government. More than 3,000 treaties, documents, and other related historical materials dating from the Tang Dynasty exchanged between Tibet and the Chinese imperial families are stored within these annals. Based upon the envoys, letters, and tributes sent by the Tibetans to China, it is asserted that Tibet was ruled by China from the Yuan Dynasty onward without interruption. Discarding the modern rational and academic interpretation that envoys and tributes were a form of foreign relations and commerce at the time within Asia, the Chinese authorities have adopted the old feudalistic claim of the imperial family that "the Chinese Emperor was the unique sovereign, and all surrounding countries were vassal states."

In order to establish historical evidence in regards to their rule over Tibet, Chinese authorities in 1986 established the Chinese Research Center for Tibetan Studies with 64,800,000 yuan. In 1994, the Center published a seven-volume collection of more than 3,200 documents related to Tibet that were written in Chinese, Tibetan, Manchurian, Mongolian and other languages dating from 1240 to 1949. In 1996, the Center published a book about relations between the Tibet and the Chines government since the Yuan Dynasty, thus settling the "official" version of history. The products of the Center’s research until now are currently being compiled for the book about a history of Tibet.

Keeping in mind the Chinese government’s attempt to incorporate Goguryeo history into Chinese history, the lions guarding the Potala Palace as well as the existence of the museum, the archives, and the research center give a hint of the Chinese blueprints for this land. The blatant Chinese attempt to distort the history of their Northeastern province where Goguryeo once ruled fell beneath the radar after North and South Korean protests, but who will step forward to protest the Chinese perversion of Tibetan history? The stone lions standing sentry cast a somber pallor over the ownerless Potala Palace.

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