Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thoughts On The Chinese Occupation II

The other significant difference between the Nazis and the Chinese communists was/is their attitude to culture. The Nazis were careful not to destroy any great works of art, apparently on the direct orders of Hitler and Goering. Paintings, sculpture, manuscripts, furniture, etc. was looted and carefully carted off to the Reich to adorn Nazi museums and the homes of Nazi big shots. The Chinese communists by contrast, dedicated themselves to smashing, denigrating, tearing up and destroying as much art as they possibly could. It has been suggested that more cultural treasures (Chinese and Tibetan) were destroyed ‘than at any time or place in human history.’ Oh, and don’t give me the, ‘That was then, this is now’ brush off. The party that perpetrated these crimes is the same party that still rules China, and many of the hooligans who committed the vandalism now sit on the regional and central committees of that party. The portrait of the man who authorized all the destruction still hangs in its place of honor on the Gateway of Heavenly Peace. Can you imagine the German government hanging a portrait of Hitler on the Brandenburg Gate! The CPC has never come clean about its atrocious past. Of course scroll paintings, statues and Ming vases are not sentient, they feel no pain. Read Chang’s Mao – The Untold Story on the fate of several million people tortured and beaten to death during the Cultural Revolution and shudder. A visual reminder of this time can be seen at
On my journey through Tibet I saw ample evidence of the destruction to Tibetan culture caused by the Chinese, despite nearly 30 years of cleaning up the mess or trying to hide it. The monasteries, hermitages and stupas that once dotted the landscape have nearly all gone, as have the Om Mani Padme Hum invocations that were once etched into the hillsides. A few larger monasteries that might bring in tourist dollars have been repaired, rebuilt and ‘museumized’. When in Lhasa I asked our guide to take us to the Yuto Sampa (Turquoise Bridge) which I had been unable to find during my trip in 1984. It was one of the ‘six sights’ of Lhasa, but he had never heard of it. I asked him to inquire from some older Tibetans who might know its whereabouts, he did, and we found it. I could hardly see this once beautiful monument being as it is now squeezed between some modern flats and a line of shops, one end walled up and serving as a Chinese medicine shop. A plaque in front proclaims that it has the dubious distinction of now being a ‘State Designated Cultural Relic’.But nowhere was the destruction more obvious than in Tholing. Most of the shrines and temples, built in the 10th century, have been reduced to rubble, their sculptures, paintings, manuscripts, ritual objects and furnishings gone forever. The once magnificent Yeshe O Temple, designed like a huge mandala and famed for its beauty, has been completely gutted. All the murals have been scraped off and all the images smashed to bits. The only evidence of its belated ‘State Designated Cultural Relic’ status is a few $1.99 plastic lamps illuminating the empty interior. Walking around the outside I found this fragment of an ancient sutra in a garbage heap.
A series of temples of enormous cultural and historical significance have been destroyed and hardly any fuss has ever been made about it. Imagine what the world would be thinking now if the Nazis had scrapped all the frescos off the Scrovegni Chapel, smashed all the statues in the Loggia dei Lanzi or dynamited the Sistine Chapel! Every time a Chinese delegation turn up at some UNESCO conference they should be confronted with pictures of all this vandalism and asked to explain it.


Chris Kang said...

Thank you Bhante for highlighting these atrocities in your postings on the Chinese occupation of Tibet.
Chris Kang

Ken and Visakha said...

Tears to the eyes. Thank you. I'm still waiting to meet a Chinese who can admit that Tibet is not an integral part of China.


Aaron said...

Ken and Visakha,

I believe you refer to Chinese as those who are holding P.R.C citizenship, and not people of Chinese descent. I am quite sure that there are many people of Chinese descent who are not P.R.C nationals, myself included, who oppose the kinds of atrocities committed by the Chinese Communist Party.

Actually, I might like to add that the atrocities were not just in Tibet, although most of the atrocities in other parts of China ceased after the Cultural Revolution. Some distant relatives of mine who still lived in China have recollections of how the Communists came to destroy their personal cultural belongings, and they had to risk their lives to keep whatever they had hidden away.

Fundamentally, the problem is not Chinese people. It's the Communist Party and their hunger for power, and perhaps their insecurities about holding onto power.

Supa Naga said...

The China Communists & PRC still have the "face" to critise the National Palace Museum of ROC for stealing the cultural artifacts from the mainland. If the ROC didn't do that, those would have been destroyed.
During the Cultural Revolution, the then PM Chow En-lai ordered a PLA battalion to guard the Forbidden City to prevent the cultural properties from being destroyed by the Red Guard hooligans of Mao Tse-tung.

* PRC - People's Republic of China
ROC - Republic of China
PLA - People's Liberation Army

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Aaron,
Thanks for your comment. I did not provide a note indicating that ‘Chinese’ does not refer to the Chinese people but to the Chinese Communist Party and its supporters, as I’m sure that most people will understand how I am using this term. In 60 years the CPC has never once stood for a free fair election so it is safe to say that they do not represent the Chinese people.

Aaron said...

Dear Bhante,

It would be too troublesome to explain the whole business of Chinese nationality and Chinese descent (which really refers to the Han ethnic group most of the time) in your entry. I just thought that I should make the point that not all people of Chinese descent agree with some of the atrocities committed by the Communists, especially those outside of China. :)

Anonymous said...

Dear Bhante,

I can't speak for Singaporean Chinese, simply because I am a Malaysian Chinese.

Here, the majority of Chinese are pro-China. Probably likeweise, most Indians friends of mine are pro-LTTE.


Supa Naga said...

Hi Bhante & all,

I'm a Chinese Singaporean... but I'm pro-ROC. Just look at the bastion of ROC, Taiwan, it is still better off than the mainland ruled by the Communists.

Most of the Indians in Singapore & Malaysia are Tamils... but that doesn't mean they are pro-LTTE.

If there's ever a general election on the mainland that is fair & transparent, just like on Taiwan, the Communist would have lost miserably.

Supa Naga

Ken and Visakha said...

There's certainly nothing personal in any of this.

Americans celebrate Thanksgiving annually without knowing/caring that it was actually a feast celebrating the slaughter of a tribe of native Americans (the Pequot). Americans around their holiday tables should be asking "Would you like turkey with your genocide?"

The English who established their colony in New England claimed the land through the Doctrine of Discovery.

And it wouldn't do to ignore the aboriginals who lived on Formosa before it became Taiwan let alone ROC.

The recurrent themes enabling denials of genocide are mere rationaliztions and justifications; we were selected by God; we have history on our side; we possess the higher civilization; we are the superior race; we have modern arms, a better religion .... None of which lessens the tragedies being recorded here which few of us could hope to witness.

Anonymous said...

Hi Supa Naga,

Most of the Chinese, and Tamils (in Malaysia) that I have spoken to, are pro-China with regard to Tibet and pro-LTTE.

In fact, I have yet to meet any Chinese or Tamils face-to-face who are not pro-China & pro-LTTE. (here, those who I met during online discussion, or those I read in the newspapers, or official statements made by political or community leaders are not taken into considerations)


Talljoanne said...

Venerable, the sad truth is that China is economically on the ascendant and no country wants to antagonize them over something 'minor' like this. They are also extremely touchy towards any mention of Tibet (say it again and we'll cancel our official meetings with you!). I would like to be more hopeful, but based on what I know, the only reasonable hope is for Tibetan culture or artefacts already outside of China to be preserved.

Anonymous said...

I think there is too much prejudice over China's treatment of Tibet. The cultual revolution wreaked havoc over the whole of China, not just in Tibet. Incidentally, as Buddhist one should know transcience and realise the importance of the moment, intead of clinging to culture and its artefacts. We also need to see the picture in the light of politics, and in the historical perspective of China. The current popular view has much to do view elements hostile to China and intent to set as much stumbling block as possible to China's rise from centuries of degradation and humiliation.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Walter,
Some criticism of China’s behavior in Tibet may well have ulterior motives behind it. But to me the issue is a simple one. The big boys all too often beat up and try to ‘neutralize’ the little boys. The Spanish did it to the Incas, the Americans did it to the Indians, the Australians did it to the Aboriginals, the Boars did it to the Bushmen, etc, and now the Chinese are doing it to the Tibetans. The fact that others have done it before does not make it right, proper or excusable. And yes, everything is impermanent but that is, I must say, a rather strange argument to justify invasions and vandalism. I quote Tolstoy, ‘All that is necessary for evil to prevail is that good men say nothing’.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ven Dhammika,

I do not mean that impermanence can be used to justify invasions and vandalism. But I mean that the clinging to the past and things of the past and not seeing the present and the future. If a Mona Lisa is destroyed, is it not the proper attitude to look at what we have at the present instead of perpetually lamenting its loss? Yes, we should not condone vandalism, but have we not said enough about the cultural revolution and about Tibet? As for invasion, we need to see it in the perspective of political history. Looking at history of political subservience of satelite states to the imperial court in Peking, it might not be wrong to say that the occupation of Tibet is an internal affair of China. Ethical questions of right and wrong can be a "simple one" when exercised in a vacuum, without consideration of the social and political situation. If indeed Tibet is part of greater China, as China maintained, is it not proper for the country to maintain law and order by arresting the trouble makers? However, to liken it to the Nazis is carrying it too far. China has minorities everywhere and those who lived in China know they are fairly treated. But is it proper for the vocal outside of the country to constantly instigate the local residents to rebel? Yes, the good should speak up, but be cautious that there are those who speak with ulterior motives.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Walter,
Whether or not others who comment on this issue have ulterior motives I cannot say. My motive in bringing up this issue is a simple one. I go to Tibet, I see the destruction of cultural treasures and the suppression of Buddhism, I am appalled and I explain why I am. China’s minorities fairly treated! God! Even the Chinese people are not fairly treated. Ask Tibetans, the half a million or so living in exile and those still in Tibet, those shot trying to flee to India, and you may well get a different perspective on that matter. As for interference by outsiders – if I came to know that the man next door is abusing his kids or bashing up his wife I would have no hesitation in bringing it to the attention of the police, none at all. The situation in Tibet is only one of many examples of the strong oppressing the weak going on in the world today. It finds a place on my blog because I went to Tibet recently and observed the situation first-hand, the Tibetans are Buddhists and so am I, I have lived with Tibetans in India and having found them hardy, cheerful, good-natured and homesick for their land, I have a particular sympathy for them. No political motives, no hidden agenda, not in the pay of the CIA, just sympathy for a people who wish to be free. And of course, not living in China, I have the right to express my opinion as have you. It is a freedom we should all hope that everyone can enjoy one day.

Anonymous said...

If the Tibetan are already non-existent, then perhaps Walter's argument is acceptable. The fact that Tibetans still exist means the analogy to Mona Lisa is not proper. It's like somebody already torn the Mona Lisa into two, and going to torn into more pieces. Should we do nothing?

Let me give another analogy, based on a true story. In the past British occupied Malaya, then say for example "Spain" protest the occupation by the British. A British officer then reply that its an internal affair. Afterall, the British, and the Japanese, came to liberate Malaya.

I remeber reading during my schoold days that China sent gifts to a Sultan. And there is a story that the Sultan was superior to the Chinese emperor. So, based on this, does Malaysia has a right to claim China as being part of Malaysia?

Unknown said...

It's heartbreaking to see the Buddha's priceless words just torn up and tossed out like trash, or split into pieces to use for kindling. It's equally heartbreaking to consider the devastation done to the Tibetan people and culture by the Chinese Communists.

Walter, the reason the world won't shut up about the plight of the Tibetan people is not because we're stuck in the past. It's because it's still happening. Take your blinders off, my friend. You're acting as an apologist for genocide.

aah-haa said...

I like this quote and find affinity with it: ‘All that is necessary for evil to prevail is that good men say nothing’. Therefore, even if we can't do anything, say something. I say any form of conquest, invasion, colonisation, occupation, subjugation, hegemony and domination against the will of the people is wrong whatever the justification godly or not. What would the white Australians say if the Aboriginals were to rule Britain? Will it not boomerang?
I condemn the subjugation of a tribe, society, village or country by another, the ethnic and identity cleansing and the annihilation of their property, language, belief, culture, and heritage. All these stem from the desire to dominate and the fear of losing their kinds. Unfortunately, these are very human acts, the much defiled nature of human, not just Chinese, Tamils or Spaniards. Much has to do also with ‘belief’ or ‘ideology’ and in this case, communism.

Rama said...

What happened to those price less Tibetan manuscripts. How many did Rahul Sankrityayan Save ?

There was Hindu Monk by name Swami Pranav ananda of Enugula mahal, who visited Tibet 33 times and salvaged donkeyloads of Manuscripts and deposited them in BHU.
Has anyone done work on such Tibetan Manuscripts salvaged by various means?
Was Buddhism ever Persecuted in India?
Were there any Telugu , Tamil , Simhala Buddhist manuscripts extant anywhere in the world. What is the fate of Dunhuang Manuscripts in Beijing Museum ?