Beijing is seeking to erase Tibet from the global stage under the guise of academia, using cherry-picked scholars to promote the renaming of Tibet as “Xizang.”
Abstract: The Chinese Communist Party leadership has acquired a new vile passion to wipe off Tibet from the people’s memory and the world map. To this effect, in order not to invite the international community’s ire, it used the Chinese and foreign academicians’ shoulders to shoot the gun.
China organized the 7th Beijing International Seminar on Tibetan Studies in August. The South China Morning Post (SCMP) notes that the official China News Service reports that the “seminar was attended by more than 320 scholars, including over 40 from outside mainland China.”
Whatever the outcome, the fact is that the Chinese academicians’ discussions on how the word “Tibet” is “misleading” and how it should be replaced by “Xizang” are widely circulated in China. Their so-called justifications of the Chinese boarding schools for Tibetan children are also being reported throughout the country.
This paper will examine why the CCP is after this renaming game to eliminate Tibetan identity. It will also explain how continued international silence will embolden China’s wolf warrior diplomacy to jeopardize peace and stability around the world with impunity.
Why ‘Tibet’ to ‘Xizang’?
Even after more than seventy years of brutal occupation and forced indoctrination, Tibetans have remained resilient. The Tibet issue is still alive and robust in international forums.
China recognized the strong Tibetan identity rooted in language and religious culture. It also realized how Tibet’s status as a distinct land serves as a unifying force challenging China’s efforts to gain full control over Tibet through its Sinicization policy.
The past few years, global commotion and instability due to the COVID-19 pandemic followed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine have kept the world preoccupied. China took full advantage of this opportunity and unleashed cultural revolution-like repression in Tibet and other occupied regions.
Trail of Destruction
Beijing has destroyed Tibetan monasteries, religious statues, prayer wheels, and flags. It has closed down Tibetan schools and forced Tibetan children into communist boarding schools. The Chinese authorities have taken DNA samples of Tibetans without their consent. These atrocities have happened and are still happening even now.
China has gained full control over Tibet and the Tibetans physically through its ignominious brutal measures. But the Tibetan spirit of freedom has not been vanquished.
China’s fierce propaganda portrays old Tibet as a cruel feudal polity and His Holiness the Dalai Lama as a demon. However, Beijing has not won the moral authority and trust of the Tibetans, which it needs to rule Tibet. China has now adopted cartographic and nomenclature aggressions to distort and rewrite history to go along with its false narrative and assertions.
Erasing Tibetan Identity and Culture
Wang Junzheng is popularly known as “the butcher of Xinjiang Uyghurs” for his brutality in the region. He is among the party leaders pushing the policy to replace “Tibet” with “Xizang” in all official documents. Wang became the Party Secretary of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region in October 2021. Since then, he has unleashed the policy to eradicate Tibetan identity and culture, even banning the usage of the word “Tibet.”
Wang ordered the government offices and media to use “Xizang” instead of “Tibet” in all official documents and communications. The aim of this is to confound the international community and the younger generation about the existence of Tibet as a nation. Wang is among the top individuals on the list of United States’ sanctions against Chinese authorities responsible for human rights violations in the Chinese-occupied territories.
A Closed Symposium
Judging from the proceeding of the 7th Beijing International Seminar on Tibetan Studies held on August 14-16, it was a closed symposium. The purpose of the symposium was to further the policy to erase Tibet from the world. It was also to extol developments in the region to legitimize the communist occupation of Tibet.
The policy was presented as if the inspiration for it came from the academicians and scholars attending the seminar. Foreign scholars on China’s white list were invited and made accomplices to this heinous conspiracy to virtually abduct Tibet from the world scene. However, Tibetan scholars from India and abroad did not receive any notice or invitations to attend the symposium.
In the 108th issue of his video news, China analyst Mr Kunga Tashi, based in the United States, said that the Beijing International Seminar on Tibet was first
held in September 1991. In the video, he explains that the purpose of the symposium as per its official document was “to expose the true face of the Dalai clique and their dark feudal society and to inform the international community of the CCP’s glorious contribution in liberating Tibet and introducing democracy.”
Therefore, it wasn’t difficult to surmise what the seminar would be about. But how such a purpose or theme is appropriate for an international seminar on Tibetan studies is anyone’s guess. Clearly, it is just another propaganda gimmick aimed to mislead and confuse the international community. No wonder the United Front Work Department (UFWD) is frantically publicizing the seminar’s outcome through its official WeChat account.
This “Beijing International Seminar on Tibetan Studies” should not be confused with the International Association for Tibetan Studies (IATS) which was first held in 1979 in England. The latest 16th conference was held in 2022 in Prague, Czech Republic.
Unlike Beijing’s symposium, the IATS is an independent body where scholars are free to present their papers and express their opinions. In fact, many say that China instituted the Beijing International Seminar on Tibetan Studies only to challenge the International Association of Tibetan Studies and to circulate its propaganda through pretentious academic and scholarly meetings.
What is Tibet?
China’s nomenclature aggression against Tibet is a vile “naming and claiming” scheme that cannot be justified — not historically, linguistically, or otherwise.
We must remember that Tibet is composed of the three traditional provinces of U-Tsang, Amdo, and Kham. In these three provinces live the descendants of miudhung-drug (Tibetan: mi’u gdung drug). They are the first six original clans of Tibet since the dawn of civilization on the Tibetan plateau. The name “Tibet” has evolved over a long period of time from Thibet, Tubbat, Tufan, Tubot, etc. Italian explorer Marco Polo referred to Tibet as “Tebet.”
Second of three parts
After the brutal occupation of Tibet in 1950, China divided the Tibetan provinces in 1965. It combined U-Tsang and some parts of Kham as the Tibet Autonomous Region. It also merged Amdo and a major part of Kham with the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunan.
China adopted this policy of divide and rule to weaken Tibetan unity and distort Tibetan geo history. Now, by removing the name “Tibet” from official documents, the CCP wants to deceive the international community into thinking that there is no such thing as “Tibet” or the Tibet issue. The CCP wants the world to believe that there are only Xizang, Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunan — and that these are all Chinese provinces.
Wiping Out Tibet
This is a despicable colonial policy to wipe out the historical existence of Tibet as a land and nation and Tibetans as a distinct race. Professor Wang Linping of Harbin Engineering University’s College of Marxism says, “The use of Tibet had seriously misled the international community over the geographical scope of the region.”As explained in part one of this series, Beijing organized the “7th Beijing International Seminar on Tibetan Studies” in August. This so-called “seminar” only invited scholars on China’s approved list. The aim of the event was to advance the CCP’s agenda of erasing Tibet’s identity under the guise of academic discourse.Capitalizing on the seminar’s proceedings, China’s United Front Work Department (UFWD) has been fiercely advocating the erasure of “Tibet” from official documents and daily usage. The UFWD stated, “This geographical scope overlaps with the so-called ‘Greater Tibet’ that the Dalai Lama clique has long advocated for.”
The Historical Evolution of Tibet
The UFWD is the primary body with whom the Tibetans have been long negotiating to resolve the Tibet issue. It is a pity that UFWD does not understand what exactly comprises Tibet. In October 2008, Tibetans submitted the Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People to the UFWD. Its content makes it clear that the Tibetans are seeking genuine autonomy for all Tibetans living in the three provinces of traditional Tibet. Moreover, the memorandum does not ask for a Tibet that is greater or less than the traditional three provinces of Tibet: U-Tsang, Amdo, and Kham. The nomenclature “Greater Tibet” comes from the old Chinese name for Tibet “Tufan and Tubod” around the Tang Dynasty in the 7th century. This was how ancient Tang China referred to Tibet in those days. In fact, the name “Xizang” came up only during the Qing dynasty to refer to western Tibet only. Thibet, Tubbat, Tufan, and Tubod are all holonyms of Tibet. On the other hand, “Xizang” is just a meronym created by the Qing regime (1644-1911 AD). So, the nomenclature of Tibet far precedes and predates the Chinese word “Xizang.”
Lian Xiangmin is the Vice Director of the China Tibetology Research Center in Beijing. He claims that the use of “Xizang” would be in line with a proposal approved by the United Nations in 1977 and State Council Guidelines from 1978 to use pinyin for Chinese place names in English. This may be so, as far as the usage of pinyin is concerned. But this does not allow China to go on erasing the colonized territories’ nomenclature and replace it with Chinese pinyin. It is illegal and immoral on the part of the occupying force to change the name of places it forcefully occupied. This is what Russia has done in Ukraine. China renamed 15 places in the Indian territory of Arunachal Pradesh. It continues to create skirmishes from time to time. In response, India has strongly objected to this new form of Chinese aggression.
Senkaku Islands The Japanese Senkaku Islands were reverted to Japan in 1972 under the Okinawa Reversion Agreement between the United States and Japan. China raised no issue about the territory at the time. It only started claiming the Islands later and renamed them “Diaoyu Islands” after the mid-1950s. This is one of CCP’s many devious tactics. It makes claims to neighboring territories by positing a non-issue as a disputed matter. The CCP does this first through nomenclature aggression, followed by fierce verbal claims, and then by military threats and forced incursions.
Scott Harold is a Washington-based senior political scientist with the RAND Corporation research group. In an interview with the Voice of America, he said, “I think the Chinese view is that part of narrative warfare, part of shaping a narrative about what a conflict is about, is wrong-footing or putting your adversary or rival claimant or disputant in a position where they are disadvantaged, and China holds an advantage.”
Remember Tibet and Make China See that Democracy Is Inevitable “China should join … in the pursuit of peace. Democracy is inevitable. The days of dictatorships are numbered and mankind will not be slaves forever.”
China‘s 2019 white paper on defense said, “Since its founding 70 years ago, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has never started any war or conflict […] No matter how it might develop, China will never threaten any other country or seek any sphere of influence […] Peace is a common aspiration of people all around the world.”Had China’s assertion above been true and genuine, the world today would be more peaceful, friendly, and civilized. However, what China has done since the founding of the CCP is an open secret. It has brutally occupied and repressed Tibet, Southern Mongolia, and East Turkistan. Additionally, the Tiananmen massacre, the 1962 war of aggression against India, and the continued border incursions are just some of the heinous crimes China has perpetrated against humanity — at the cost of world peace and stability. What about the ongoing threat of invasion and military buildups around Taiwan and Indo-Pacific regions? Countries around the South China Sea including Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam are being provoked constantly. They are forced to stay alert to push back Beijing’s cranky repeated belligerent moves around the region.
Wolf Warrior Diplomacy Japan recently released the Fukushima plant’s treated water into the ocean. This was done following strict international standards and with the approval of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Japan demonstrated how the water was being treated before the international community.
Furthermore, The New York Times reports that scientists have said that Japan’s water release would have a negligible impact on human health or the environment. These scientists include Chinese experts invited to serve on a task force by the IAEA.
Therefore, China’s intense criticism and backlash against Japan’s discharge of treated water is baseless, unfounded, and unscientific. However, the general citizens of China are not to be blamed because the government’s propaganda is the only source of information they have. And their leadership wants to stoke this anti-Japanese sentiment to divert public attention from more pressing socio-political issues at home.
China must remember how Japan and the Japanese reacted when China earned global backlash for the eruption of COVID-19 from the Chinese city of Wuhan. The international community is owed a sincere apology and compensation from the CCP leadership for the deaths of more than seven million people. The pandemic wreaked havoc and caused great damage around the world. It’s high time that the CCP leadership listened to the true wishes of its citizens and let China live peacefully with the world.
China’s United Front Work Department is attempting to erase, remove, and wipe out the name “Tibet” from the people’s tongues and memories. This dangerous, abhorrent scheme is designed not only to conceal forever the Tibet issue but also to wipe out Tibetan identity, language, and culture in one swipe.
The CCP has forced around one million Tibetan children aged 6-18 to live in Chinese boarding schools in Tibet. By doing this, it has deprived the children of the freedom to learn the Tibetan language and Buddhism.
China should discard this wolf warrior diplomacy, stop threatening neighboring countries, and join the international community in the pursuit of peace — not just for China and Asia but for the world. Democracy is inevitable. The days of dictatorships are numbered and mankind will not be slaves forever. Colonialism is outdated and bound to collapse.
The international community should strongly condemn and oppose the Chinese belligerent moves. It should also be wary of the CCP’s nomenclature aggression. Otherwise, a day may not be far when the world shall find most of the lands, mountains, and seas renamed by the CCP and become disputed regions.
*Dr. Arya Tsewang Gyalpo is the former Secretary of the Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR) and former Director of the Tibet Policy Institute (TPI). He is currently the Representative of the Liaison Office of H.H. the Dalai Lama for Japan and East Asia. Disclaimer: View expressed above are the author’s own.
Note: The article first appeared on the Japan Forward in August 2023 in three parts as follows:
- Erasing Tibet From the World Map: China’s Nomenclature Aggression | JAPAN Forward (japan-forward.com)
- What is Tibet? | JAPAN Forward (japan-forward.com)
- Remember Tibet and Make China See that Democracy Is Inevitable | JAPAN Forward (japan-forward.com)