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Book Review: Harnessing the Dragon’s Fume

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Dr. Tsewang Gyalpo Arya`s, Harnessing the Dragon’s Fume: Challenging the Chinese Communist Party’s Distorted Tibet Narratives, Published by CTA’s Department of Information and International Relations. (Illustration/Yuki Goto)

By Jason Morgan

Review of Dr. Tsewang Gyalpo Arya`s, Harnessing the Dragon’s Fume: Challenging the Chinese Communist Party’s Distorted Tibet Narratives, Published by CTA’s Department of Information and International Relations, Narthang Press, Dharamsala, India, 2021.

Many people around the world have come to understand that the much-touted “rise” of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is not as “peaceful” as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) insists. In just the past few years, for instance, the PRC has overrun the formerly free city-state of Hong Kong, provoked border clashes with India, openly and repeatedly threatened violence against the sovereign nation of Taiwan, conducted near-daily incursions into Japan’s sovereign waters around the Senkaku Islands, built environmentally disastrous sandbanks in the South China Sea, and acted with belligerent impunity in territorial disputes which the PRC has instigated with Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia. China is also ensnaring nations such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Cambodia, Laos, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Greece in Belt-Road debt traps, while engaging in what many claim to be neo-colonialist and racist exploitation in Africa. It is obvious to anyone with an uncensored Internet connection that the rise of the People’s Republic of China has been anything but peaceful.

But what about Tibet? With the exception of Hong Kong, the preyed-upon nations mentioned above are not behind the Great Chinese Firewall. It is therefore possible for accurate information about China’s actions in those places to reach the outside world. Tibet, however, is a different story. Tibet is under the same militarized communist dictatorship as the rest of the People’s Republic of China, only the Chinese Communist Party’s rule in Tibet is even harsher and more repressive than in areas where the Han Chinese are an ethnic majority. (The same can be said, of course, about East Turkestan and Southern Mongolia.) Tibet is historically, linguistically, religiously, culturally, and legally complete separate from anything Chinese. But emphasizing these differences, and a fortiori denouncing the moral travesty of the PRC’s unwelcome domination of, and cultural, religious, and ethnic genocide against, an innocent people, are difficult when so much of the “information” which comes out of Tibet is CCP propaganda. How can one know the facts about Tibet so that one can have the confidence to speak out against what China is doing there?

The answer is in a splendid 153-page volume by Dr. Tsewang Gyalpo Arya, director of the Tibet House in Tokyo and longtime public servant with the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) in Dharamsala, India. Harnessing the Dragon’s Fume is an apt title for Dr. Arya’s book, as the work provides the information non-specialists need to understand what is happening in and around Tibet and thereby counter-argue (“harness the dragon’s fume”) the disinformation put out by Beijing. Dr. Arya is also a highly capable guide to the ins-and-outs of Tibet. Holding a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhist Studies from Delhi University, as well as other degrees from Panjab University (B.A.), Annamalai University (M.A. in Economics), Delhi University (M.A. in Japanese Studies), and Chiyoda College of Business in Tokyo (Diploma in International Trade and Economics), and fluent in Tibetan, English, Hindi, and Japanese, Dr. Arya writes with penetrating insight into the history and current affairs of Tibet. I know of few other scholars who can range so widely across so many sources in so many languages and boil information down to essentials for the benefit of English-language readers.

Harnessing the Dragon’s Fume is not only insightful. It is also highly readable. The book comprises mainly a collection of short, journalistic essays on topics such as the reincarnation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama (chapter 2), the made-in-China coronavirus pandemic (chapter 15), the PRC’s outright lies about its defense capabilities (chapter 10), His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Policy (chapter 8), and China’s dismal human rights record in Tibet (chapter 11). There are also slightly longer essays on Tibetan history (chapters 1 and 4), culture (chapter 20), and religion (chapters 21 and 22). Readers can easily choose essays according to interest and work through the volume in any order they wish. Dr. Arya’s words are always straightforward, his information is accurate, and his presentation is clear and rooted in extensive documentation. Harnessing the Dragon’s Fume is excellent both as an introduction for those unfamiliar with Tibet, and for specialists who wish to delve more deeply (through Dr. Arya’s analysis as well as through his many citations) into the details of Tibetan politics, religion, culture, and history.

I profited greatly from Harnessing the Dragon’s Fume. I recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in Tibet, East Asia, human rights, or national identity. (I have the great honor of joining my recommendation to that of Dr. Lobsang Sangay, the former Sikyong (President) of the Central Tibetan Administration, whose foreword graces the opening of Harnessing the Dragon’s Fume.) I recommend Dr. Arya’s book especially, and with great urgency, to those inside the CCP who are responsible for Tibet’s ongoing occupation and for the cultural, religious, and ethnic genocide which China is perpetrating against the Tibetan people. May Dr. Arya’s words of truth be the occasion for a change of heart.

The book is available at the Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR) of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala, India. For pdf version please click here.

For Tibetan pdf please click here.

Jason Morgan is an associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan

One Response

  1. The Chinese communist party has Ram-rotted its will on the Chinese people and brutally occupied Tibet since 1949/50. Tibet was in no position to resist the onslaught of Chinese invasion and was forced to sign on the dotted line an instrument that was ram-rotted into the throat of Tibet. If we look at what it’s doing to Taiwan today, one will get a god understanding of what the CCP did to Tibet in the 1950s. The invasion of Tibet by communist China is no different from Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. It’s aggression against a sovereign nation! Our neighbours like Bhutan, Nepal and Sikkim were too weak to stand up against the Chinese communist forces which was a-flush with confidence after its war with the Kuomintang forces and awash with state of the art ammunition and military hardware supplied by the Soviet Union! India, the country which had the highest security stake caved into Chinese threats, coercion and deception. That’s how Tibet was swallowed up by communist China! It’s an illegal occupation of a sovereign nation pure and simple!
    The Tibetan Government initially demanded reinstitution of the status quo of pre-1959 in a press conference at Tezpur when the Dalai Lama landed in Indian territory after his fight from Chinese occupied Tibet. The exile Government has gone through a raft of policy changes according to the situation in occupied Tibet and the international response. In 1988, the Dalai Lama announced the Strasbourg Declaration in which he announced the so called Middle Way Path which demanded genuine autonomy for Tibet that encompasses all three regions of Tibet known as Kham, Amdo and U-Tsang. However, the Dalai Lama made it clear it was his personnel opinion and the ultimate decision lay with the Tibetan people! This is often deliberately omitted in order to force people to accept it as some kind of a decree from the Dalai Lama! Besides, there was a referendum of sorts among the exile community concerning the Dalai Lama’s declaration and some 60% of the population is believed to have endorsed it and so did the Tibetan exile parliament. We have to remember that such a development happened in another era when communist China was looked upon as a cash cow by western countries and courted by the powerful and influential players on the world stage. The scenario has completely changed and today, it is seen as the most dangerous threat to peace in the world and the potential adversary of the free world! Policies cannot be locked into a cryogenic cylinder for ever but must change according to the changing tide of international developments. The free world is much more receptive to the cries of Tibet’s agony under Chinese occupation now and is prepared to assist in ways that would help Tibet by undermining Chinese strangle hold of Tibet.
    Within China itself, the recent protests in major Chinese cities owing to the draconian lockdowns has demonstrated the flame of democracy has not been snuffed out and that it is in fact incubating to bloom one day when the conditions are ripe. It’s human nature to be free and this applies to all peoples of the world without exception. The people of China are increasingly fatigued with the CCP tyranny and sooner or later, it will explode. No regime no matter how stable can retain its power forever. Tibetans however, must not hope much even if China becomes a democracy. The Chinese have through out history been imperialist and whatever the nature of the ideology, Tibetans will be treated like colonial subjects and will never be treated equal.The notion of autonomy and living peacefully in association with China is a fatal delusion. China never treats others its equal unless it is more powerful than itself. Therefore, to liken Tibetan autonomy with the European Union is stretching the bow too far and it is dangerously lurching towards wishful thinking. Taiwan knows it only too well after what happened to Hong Kong. If the Taiwanese believed and trusted the CCP, they would seek such a arrangement rather than risk invasion. But because they know, the CCP can’t be trusted, it has proclaimed vociferously, there is no compromise on its sovereignty and that they will defend their country!
    Tibetans must insist our independence and also fight for independence. There will come a time, when the CCP loses power and the many disparate regions that are cobbled together by an iron chain of tyranny will crack and break! It has happened in 1911 when the Qing dynasty came to an end after 266 years! The Chinese communists even supported self determination for all so called minorities in order to garner support for their cause!!!
    This is bound to happen and we need to prepare for this occasion. The only way to achieve independence is fight when China is in a grip of chaos just as we saw in the erstwhile Soviet Union when it collapsed in 1992, and Yugoslavia thereafter which splintered into different nations. This is the opportunity we must cease and for this we need to fight with bullets and not with a begging bowl! Throughout history, those who fought the enemy and made them to concede, the fighting nations have achieved their wishes and those who have never fought remained slaves for ever under the tyranny of the occupying forces. The Tibet movement has remained non-violent owing to the Dalai Lama’s insistence since we came into exile but in Tibet, the Tibetans from the east both Khampas and Amdowas have taken to arms. The Chinese themselves admitted that it took ten PLA men to kill a single Tibetan freedom fighter! The Tibetan resistance didn’t get enough weapons and ammunition because it was channeled through Taiwan and Changkai Shek’s Republic of China in Taiwan didn’t want to see a free Tibet. The arms supply was only a means to undermine and weaken communism and not for the freedom of Tibet. Therefore, Tibetans must learn that whatever Government comes in China, we will be only second class subjects and treated with abject scorn just as the CCP has treated us until now.
    The rebellion will happen in occupied Tibet once the Dalai Lama’s influence is absent because the tyranny has been unbearable and they are ready to lay down their lives but they fear incurring the displeasure of the Dalai Lama. The fact that 164 Tibetans have self-immolated clearly shows the utter desperation of the hapless Tibetans in occupied Tibet. In such an event we must be prepared to help and not dither because opportunity comes only once in awhile. There should be a war chest that would prepare us to meet the challenges in such an event.
    The CCP’s game is to take Taiwan to be the icing on the cake for its rule over China since 1949. It sees it as an unfinished business of the Chinese civil war. The US on the other hand is equally determined to defend Taiwan even if it means confrontation with communist China. As it were, there is every likelihood of a war between the US and China in coming years. In such an event, China will be weakened by both economic loss through western sanctions and the mammoth expenses incurred in the war. Politically, it will be isolated and thus will begin the demise of the CCP power. What is happening to Russia today will be repeated with a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The Chinese will be denied victory by the US and its allies including NATO. So, the CCP’s rule has severe challenges both within the country and from the western democracies. In other words, it’s at the receiving end. We therefore must prepare for the overthrow of the regime from within or its slow demise owing to its military misadventure in Taiwan!

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