to acquiesce - or resist?

From The Struggle for Modern Tibet: The Autobiography of Tashi Tseringby  Melvyn Goldstein, William Siebenschuh, and Tashi TseringM.E. Sharpe Inc., Armonk N.Y. 1997{Reprinted with permission of M.E. Sharpe, Inc.}

In this excerpt from his autobiography, Tashi Tsering explains why he decided to stop working with other exiled Tibetan activists in India. He eventually returned to Tibet to help set up schools to teach Tibetan culture. As Tsering saw it, the questions he had to confront and try to reconcile were: To be Chinese or to be Tibetan? To acquiesce in China's sovereignty over Tibet, or to resist? Can Tibet be modernized without sacrificing its culture?

Excerpt from Chapter Five--It is the late 1950s. The Dalai Lama's brother, Gyalola, has asked Tsering to continue working for him and the causes of the Tibetan exile community in India:

It was a tempting offer. I had always liked to think of myself as a good, loyal Tibetan, and I had to admit that my work in the last few months had been exciting. But there were problems as well, because now there were two Tibets--the one forming itself in exile in India and the people still at home living under Chinese rule. The members of the old Tibetan government now in exile were increasingly determined to fight. Though many who fled the country were extremely pessimistic, Gyalola and his friends were by no means convinced that the cause was lost. They were politically aware, busy, doing things all the time. I had enjoyed helping Gyalola in the camps; it made me feel good about myself, especially the thought that in spite of my humble beginnings in a mountain village I was actually working with the Dalai Lama's older brother. But Gyalola was not entirely representative of the attitude of the old-line aristocrats who now constitutedthe government-in-exile. And among them it wasn't at all clear what my role was that in fact my role was all too clear.

I felt that Gyalola was different from most of his colleagues. Although technically a Tibetan aristocrat, in reality he was a commoner whose whole family had been ennobled when his younger brother was selected as Dalai Lama. Thus his life had been very different from that of the old-line Lhasa aristocracy. Moreover, he had gone to China to attend one of Chiang Kai-shek's best Chinese schools and thus was the closest thing I had yet seen to what I would called a "modern" Tibetan. He had surprising democratic impulses, and treated me very graciously. I was honored to help him. The others in his group among the exiled government were different, though. They were aristocrats and monk officials of the old school, and they had little use for me inside their circle. I could run errands and take down narratives, but I wasn't one of "them." From their point of view, I could never be. I remember that after we heard the news about the Lhasa Uprising, a special meeting was called at a private house in Kalimpong. Gyalola and all the other aristocrats and monk officials were invited, and I went, too. But when they went inside to talk, I was told to remain outside. It was the way it was always done. Whether literally or not, there was always a door--the door of class and caste--and I feared I was always going to be on the outside of it.

The incident made me extremely angry--as if I wasn't a Tibetan, with national pride and feelings just like theirs! It hurt my feelings. The impression I still have is that someone didn't quite trust me to do or know certain things, but I really didn't know why. What had I done? At one level, it was a subtle kind of discrimination, very hard to put your finger on or to confront directly. At another level it was very easy to see and understand, because it was nothing more or less than the traditional Tibetan class attitude. I remember one day in the hotel in Delhi when I was helping Gyalola translate seom refugee accounts from Tibetan to English. We were discussing the proper English word to use, and I guess it made Gyalola think of something else, because suddenly he said,

"In Tibetan society, there are only two types of people--the kind who'll eat tsamba, and the kind who'll eat shit."

At the time, I more or less understood him to be making a distinction between good people and bad ones. It would only be later, and in another country, that I would encounter Marxist theories about classes and exploitation. But as I remember the moment now, I see that it was a good indication of the strong class attitudes present in the old Tibetan society and the way they were continuing to affect my life. I was still afraid that because of who I was and where I came from I would only be able to rise so high and no higher--no matter what my wishes and ablities. I wasn't ready to accept such a prescribed role. I had been doing a lot of thinking during these last several years, about what was likely to happen to Tibet after the Chinese invasion, the days of the old unchanging traditional society were over, whether we liked it or not. The appropriate questions now seemed to be, What other sorts of changes lie in store?

When I left Tibet, I remember thinking that if the Chinese began making wholesale changes, I would probably not want to try to go back. Go back to what? I didn't want to see my country radically transformed. But I also remember holding onto the hope that the changes that lay ahead would not be too radical, that they might be for the better and something we could all live with. I had a lot of problems with the old way of doing things and the old attitudes that limited people like me. I wasn't like the mass of aristocrats and the monk officials. I wasn't afraid of change. I was still excited by the schools and hospitals the Chinese had begun to build. I was just dimly beginning to see what a long way Tibet had to go to catch up with a modern world that seemed more and more likely to influence its fate whether we liked it or not. And so though I felt extremely loyal to Tibet, I was beginning to fear that I might eventually have to make a choice between the Tibet at home--meaning the people still living there--and the Tibet in India. I hoped desperately that it would not come to that. This was a choice I did not want to have to make. So I tried to secure loans to continue my education.

I spoke to Lobsang Gyaltsen and also Gyalola, but both of them turned me down. I was extremely angry and frustrated. If I just kept on working for Gyalola and his colleagues, I would live a life of safety and even service to my country on a limited scale. But this wasn't what I wanted. I still felt that the only way I could achieve my dreams for myself was to continue my education. I often discussed the matter with Gyalola, and when he saw how my mind was working he began to put pressure on me to stay and help him. He was a very clever man, and I think he had begun to see that I had reservations about committing to his and his friends' vision of the future of Tibet. Whatever the reason, he wasn't at all sympathetic to my wish to continue my education. He told me point blank that I didn't have to go to school anymore to do the kinds of things that he and his friends would be asking of me. It was one of the few subjects we disagreed about, and we had some angry exchanges. We saw a lot of one another in those days. We would go to the cinema together or to the bars, and everywhere we went the subject would rise up between us. One day it got so bad that some strong words passed between us and he called me a bad Tibetan, by which he meant, I believe, simply that I disagreed with him. But I thought to myself that I was every bit as good a Tibetan as he was!

It was hard for me at that time. Gyalola was a good friend who had done a lot for me. Besides, he was the brother of the Dalai Lama, and I was just a peasant boy from the mountains. But I knew what I thought, and I knew what I wanted. I was even beginning to think that I knew why. In our old society, Tibetans were of two types--upper class and ordinary. The two groups had very different points of view, different ways of handling their affairs, but in the old society the upper classes' point of view was the only one that mattered. I was becoming convinced that all points of view ought to be respected. Gyalola, of course, didn't see it exactly that way. But even though he was the Dalai Lama's brother, I felt that I had the right to disagree with him, because I felt that I represented not only myself but a whole class of voiceless Tibetans. I just didn't feel that I had to give in on this point. It would be wrong, I think, to say that at this time I had what could be called a philosophy of any kind. But I knew what I had seen. I was still disillusioned and angry about what I had seen going on in the treasury office in Lhasa. The ordinary people sent their taxes and tribute in the form of money and goods, and both monk and lay officials just took what they wanted. There were ledgers filled with accounts of tea bricks, butter, cloth, gold, and silver. I saw the records that showed that the more powerful monks, especially those from aristocratic families and the Dalai Lama's household, "borrowed" any of these things they wished and never returned them. There was no overall record, no auditing. The officials and their friends and families could come in and take anything they fancied. I saw them doing it with my own eyes. I felt that going to work for the exiled aristocrats and monks would have meant going to work to restore the same old system. It would have meant that people like me would stay in the same old place--outside the door--while "they" decided how my country was goin to be run. I didn't want to leave Tibet for good, and I didn't want to change everything. But I thought that there was plenty of room for reforms that would make life better for the common people and that there were surely ways to achieve reform without destroying or seriously undermining the religious and ethnic integrity of Tibetan society.

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