Cultural genocide: In Tibet or New Orleans?
Apr 3, 2008
The Dalai Lama claims that China is committing "cultural genocide"
against the Tibetan people, and his claims and news of the events unfolding in
the regional capital of Lhasa have captured a great deal of attention in the
major media outlets in the U.S.
The “cause” of Tibet and the accusation of “cultural
genocide” are not new. “Free Tibet” bumper stickers can often
be seen at peace rallies, and it would seem that the case of Tibet is a real
national liberation struggle of an oppressed people struggling for independence
from an imperialist or colonial master.
However, the issue of Tibet has been foisted upon some sectors of the
movement in the U.S. in order to weaken China. The relationship between the
U.S., with its aim to undermine the gains of the Chinese revolution, and the
Dalai Lama and his clique is an old one and goes all the way back to the CIA
manufactured “uprising” of 1959.
It is greatly ironic that the corporate media in the U.S., which operate as
mouthpieces for the owners and rulers of U.S. society, can use the Dalai
Lama’s claim of “cultural genocide,” especially considering
that the U.S. has committed genocide against Indigenous people and cut the
ethnic/tribal ties to Africa of 40 million Black people.
At a 2002 talk sponsored by the Center for Chinese Studies at the University
of California, Los Angeles, Barry Sautman pointed out, “The problems of
Tibetans are typical of minorities in the era of large modern states.”
Sautman is an associate professor of Social Science at the Hong Kong University
of Science and Technology. (www.international.ucla.edu)
Sautman argues that, though Chinese culture has naturally influenced Tibetan
culture, “By not defining cultural genocide the Tibetan exiles can label
any changes from 1959 as cultural genocide, although many of these changes
could be expected to have occurred without the issue of cultural genocide
Sautman refutes the claim that Tibet has been flooded by Chinese migration
by showing data that are not denied even by the U.S., which show that most
Chinese that go to Tibet usually stay for only a few years and that many who
claim to live in Tibet only claim to do so in order to receive higher
Western culture has infiltrated Tibet as well, as it has many other
societies around the world, but this is rarely looked upon as “cultural
genocide,” or even as cultural imperialism.
The Dalai Lama is a separatist, connected to the old feudal relations that
existed in Tibet before 1959, and his claims that Tibetan society was a free
and open society where people lived harmoniously is a misrepresentation of
Historian Michael Parenti, in a piece titled “Friendly Feudalism: The
Tibet Myth,” states: “Until 1959, when the Dalai Lama last presided
over Tibet, most of the arable land was still organized into manorial estates
worked by serfs. These estates were owned by two social groups: the rich
secular landlords and the rich theocratic lamas. ...
“Old Tibet has been misrepresented by some Western admirers as
‘a nation that required no police force because its people voluntarily
observed the laws of karma.’ In fact, it had a professional army, albeit
a small one, that served mainly as a gendarmerie for the landlords to keep
order, protect their property, and hunt down runaway serfs.”
It is the destruction of the old mode of production and property relations
that angers the separatist movement that surrounds the Dalai Lama. The U.S.
cares nothing about Buddhism, Tibetan monks or Tibetan culture, so it never
mentions how the culture has been preserved, or that Tibet has been a part of
China for centuries.
Jin Zhigou, chief editor of the magazine China’s Tibet, says that the
Dalai Lama and those that surround him use the fact that people are
increasingly interested in Tibetan culture to influence attitudes by crying
“cultural genocide.” But what culture would there be to spark
anyone’s interest if it were being wiped out and the process of
“cultural genocide” was nearing its fifth decade?
Jin says, “With the continuous social progress and the advancement of
productive forces, it’s a natural thing for some cultural phenomena that
are attached to relatively backward means of production to fade out of history.
... But the cultural activities closely connected with the salt-transporting,
such as singing and dancing, rituals and taboos, have been
“We needn’t have to keep black slavery in the United States just
in order to enjoy the Blues,” he said. “The disappearance of
salt-transporting by yaks won’t lead to the vanishing of the cultural
elements it gave birth to.” He points out the millions of yuan, Chinese
currency, that have been and are being spent to maintain both the intangible
and structural parts of Tibetan culture.
This attempt at cultural preservation is greatly different than what happens
in the U.S. The Hurricane Katrina tragedy and aftermath provide a clear
“The roots run deep in New Orleans” is a popular saying amongst
Black New Orleanians. New Orleans is sacred ground, but this has not stopped
local, state and federal officials from denying the right to return for
evacuees, destroying public housing and entire neighborhoods, denying the right
to jobs and re-imagining and attempting to rebuild the entire city for wealthy
whites. Is this not cultural genocide?
The capitalist system cares nothing about culture. Capitalism sees culture
as a commodity or subterfuge, something to use for profit or to undermine a
people. Is this not what has happened to Black culture?
Take hip-hop culture, the musical aspect alone, and look at its history and
its current state. Where hip-hop music is now from where it was is the
difference between self-determination and a people determining their culture,
and a system that is perpetuated by exploitation.
Anyone with a scant knowledge of the history of the U.S. can see its
hypocrisy when it comes to supporting the Dalai Lama’s claim of
“cultural genocide,” and can see the real motive is to undermine
the People’s Republic of China.