News and Views on Tibet

Book Review: The Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy

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By Aditya Sharma

“The main reason I have devoted my time and energyto writing this book and in particular, to extensively discussing our relationship with Beijing, is not simply to recite history or explain the parties’ respective actions. It is my fervent hope that this chronicle will motivate the Tibetan leadership and His Holiness to consider restoring relations with Beijing. Building on the foundation we have established, I sincerely believe that there is still an opportunity to resolve our differences.”

Astonishing in heft (almost 800 pages), in scope (lives, culture and tradition of numerous Tibetans) and in articulation (attending as much to tradition as modern culture), Lodi Gyari’s memoir is an ode to the plight of Tibetans.

How did they work? Within the constraints of a new atmosphere what were the obstacles? What opportunities and intersections pulsated and solidified to form Tibetan NGOs in leading nations by which future generations can still marvel and make use of their ideas, talents, achievements, writings and breakthroughs?

Deeply detailed behind the scenes procedures from the lens of a special envoy provide an unambiguous account of the dialogue with the PRC. The dialogue which took almost three decades of cautious negotiations and appeals to commence was nothing but challenging. The Chinese, as it is often said, are very suspicious. However, the author states a diametrically opposite proverb.

 Tibetans are betrayed by suspicion, Chinese are betrayed by hope.

His Holiness has always been welcoming negotiations with the Chinese, the Middle Way Approach being a landmark step towards peaceful coexistence. However, there were differing opinions about the Strasbourg Proposal. Complete eviction of Chinese from the Motherland is a common sentiment amongst the Tibetan diaspora. Those who advocate independence allege that the Middle Way Approach is at best a compromise and at worst a complete selling out of Tibet’s interests.

The author candidly shares the response of his mother: If I had known that the documents that you were so preciously guarding were this Proposal, I would have ripped it apart.

In Strasbourg Proposal, His Holiness sought to allow Tibetans to maintain their cultural identity and practice their own religion while remaining under Chinese rule.

The author was born in Nyarong, in the Tibetan province of Kham. It was in spring of 1957 that in light of the rising tensions of the Chinese Invasion, his family had to relocate to Kalimpong, India. As the author was too old to attend schooling he was given crash courses in English. When he joined Defend Tibet’s Freedom Press, Lodi Gyari had little idea what he was getting into. He had been trained as a translator for the CIA, but at the very last moment, his parents intervened. This changed the future course of his life. Yet, before long, he found that a rewarding experience was in store for him.

Reading through Gyari Rinpoche’s book, it becomes apparent how crucial the dialogue with Beijing was. The dialogue lasted nine rounds and the efforts for establishing this dialogue required almost thirty years of engagement with the PRC. Though it didn’t bring about yearned outcomes, the author believes, they were at minimum able to lay down and successfully discuss their differences regarding the Middle Way Approach.

His Holiness made the historic decision to devolve his political authority, which implied that democratically elected personnel would represent the Tibetan Government. Though for the Chinese, they disregarded the existence of a Tibetan Government, let alone an elected Tibetan President. They would deal with nobody but His Holiness or his representatives.

Lodi Gyari assumed a gracious farewell round to this fragile dialogue could have left a lasting impact on both the nations which would catalyse future relations with PRC. But unfortunately the rounds came to an abrupt end. The disappointment in the breakdown of such a delicate dialogue is expressed in author’s words: I can honestly say that for the first time in my life, I was outraged. Not only did I feel totally unappreciated for all the decades of service I had devoted to the cause of Tibet, I felt used and exploited. The dialogue for which we had worked so hard for so many years, and the relationship we had so carefully nurtured with our counterparts, was being precipitously terminated. The cause that was, and remains, so dear to my heart, and to which I had given my all, was being unceremoniously dismissed.

This book will contribute to bringing about peaceful change in Tibet, where ancient people and their valued religion and culture are struggling to survive. His Holiness has a message for us in this book and I must admit that what he has to say will be of great interest to the many people in the world who have the compassion to find common cause with fellow humans like the peoples of Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and East Turkestan who are currently living under such critical circumstances.

This is a book to read, to study, to share, and to take to heart in our current moment and the months to come—months sure to be dominated by a flurry of placating and distracting rhetoric, from all points of the political spectrum, promising to topple certain megaphones and change certain tones of public discourse. Lodi Gyari reminds us to think historically, situating the current moment within a deeper trajectory and always keeping in mind how today’s taken for granted categories and inequalities came to be produced.

(Views expressed are his own)

The author, 19, lives in New Delhi and has been an active reader of biographies and memoirs about Tibet. In his spare time, he reviews books. He’s currently a university student.

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