Bearing Witness to Tibet: A Memoir and Protest

January 7, 2015 Updated: January 1, 2016

From Delhi to Peking

I was 15 years old in January of 1973 when my father was appointed U.S. Ambassador to India. I had been a 10th grade student in the American International School for about 2 weeks when I was invited on a class trip to Manali, near the Tibet border.

As we drove through Himachal Pradesh, we passed thousands of Tibetans breaking rocks along the Kangra Highway. I asked, why are these people here? I was told China invaded their country, they are refugees in India.

When we reached Manali we walked to a mountain pass that once linked India and Tibet, sealed by barbed wire, guarded by Chinese soldiers, wearing green Mao caps with the Red Star, clutching rifles. Our Tibetan guide was frightened and told us we had to leave at once. I had never heard of this story, no one seemed to have heard of it. I wondered why.

Maura Moynihan with George H.W. Bush and Amb. Moynihan, on Tiananmen Square in 1975. (Courtesy of Maura Moynihan)
Maura Moynihan with George H.W. Bush and Amb. Moynihan, on Tiananmen Square in 1975. (Courtesy of Maura Moynihan)

When we left India in 1975, we were granted permission to visit China. Chairman Mao was alive and the Cultural Revolution was still underway. I had a rare glimpse into China’s totalitarian dictatorship that few outsiders had ever seen. Our hosts, the Chinese Communist elite, wore silk Mao jackets, Swiss watches, fine jewels, and every night we were treated to banquets fit for a Roman emperor.

But in the grim and forlorn streets of Peking (as it was called in 1975) the “proletariat masses” were frightened and desperately poor. There were no stores, no restaurants, no newspapers, no places of worship; every transaction of commerce and culture was controlled by the Communist Party. Worlds apart from the freedom I had seen in the Republic of India and the Kingdom of Nepal, the nations that gave Tibetans sanctuary, where so many of us discovered Tibetan culture.

In his 1975 book “A Dangerous Place” Ambassador Moynihan wrote of our trip to Peking: “The vast portraits of Marx and Engels, along with Stalin and Mao, in Tiananmen Square somehow confirmed the conviction that it was absurd to let these people, or their like, seize the political initiative from us. When Americans take to sandals and to pasting up posters of Hindu divines, it is understood that adolescence is a difficult phase. But what in the name of God were these half-acre portraits of hirsute German bourgeoisie doing in the main square of a Mongol capital? Were there grown-ups here? The three-year olds in the nursery school sang songs about how they were going to smash Confucius and the Western regions. They behaved, alas, as adults. Why not explain to their parents that Marx was a correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune, and is someone rather intimately known to us. To us. Not them. Instead, the Americans at the liaison office behaved as if in the presence of a higher civilization than any known at home: ancient. Inscrutable, perhaps in the end inaccessible to the one-dimensional Occidental mind.”

In 1975 I was a freshman at Harvard University, and was puzzled that there was no discussion, no examination, of the trauma of Mao’s Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution. I was presented with a copy of the seminal Chinese propaganda booklet “Tibet Today,” filled with airbrushed photos of smiling nomads posing before tractors on communal farms, as “proof” that Tibet was “much better off now than it ever was.”

I had actually SEEN Mao’s empire, but my Asian studies teacher—a tall, blond Maoist apologist—derided me for stating that Mao’s China was a dictatorship, which had occupied Tibet and led its people into bondage. Harvard Sinologists coveted permission to visit the mainland, so the ugly truth of Mao’s atrocities was willfully suppressed. (That hasn’t changed; a friend at Harvard told me the faculty is under orders to “not talk about Tibet” for fear of offending the China cash cow).

The Bamboo Curtain Parts

In 1976 Chairman Mao died peacefully in his bed. Deng Xiaoping rose to power and launched the era of “Reform and Opening Up.” In the 1980’s, Western investors rushed in, intoning the China market mantra: “One billion consumers!” Wall Street analysts insisted that China’s Maoists were different from Stalin’s Bolsheviks, and that Coca Cola would engender democracy. Over time China’s Maoists indeed proved that they were different: they modernized their economy and drank Coca Cola without dismantling the police state.

In 1982 I met an Englishman in New Delhi, who had just returned from Tibet. I asked what he had seen, he replied “Ruination in the cities, but you can still find the old Tibet in the countryside. Go and it see it before it’s too late.” The backpacker trail now rose beyond Kathmandu, all the way to Lhasa. It seemed a miracle; after so many years sealed behind the Bamboo Curtain, Tibet was opening.

When anti-Chinese protests erupted in 1987, ’88 and ’89, there were tourists in the streets who brought back photographs—and gunshots wounds—from the crackdowns. The tourism window would henceforth open and close as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) decreed. I have met many a disappointed traveler in Kathmandu whose Tibet trip was abruptly cancelled, with no refund, due to “public security.”

In May of 1989, soon after the Berlin Wall fell, tens of thousands of students filled Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to mourn the death of Hu Yaobang, a reformer who had been deposed by hardliners, also the author of a famous White Paper that criticized Mao’s oppressive rule in Tibet. The students then appealed for reform of the Communist Party and built a Goddess of Democracy. On June 3rd, 1989, Deng Xiaoping ordered the Peoples’ Liberation Army to slaughter the students, and publically labeled the non-violent protests a “counter-revolutionary rebellion.”

Over one million people murdered, over 6,000 monasteries looted and razed, the rape and pillage of a great civilization, a story buried in the dysfunction of the Cold War.

In response to the carnage, the Nobel Committee awarded His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the Nobel Peace Prize. The grim statistics of the Chinese Communist occupation of Tibet at last came forth; over one million people murdered, over 6,000 monasteries looted and razed, the rape and pillage of a great civilization, a story buried in the dysfunction of the Cold War.

In the 1990’s the Tibet movement reached its zenith, with concerts, films, and legislative support. Senator Moynihan was principally responsible for Section 355 of Public Law 102-22 that states, “Tibet, including those areas incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu and Qinghai, is an occupied country under the established principles of international law; and Tibet’s true representatives are the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile, as recognized by the Tibetan people.”

U.S. Senators welcome His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Washington, D.C., 1996. (Courtesy of Maura Moynihan)
U.S. Senators welcome His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Washington, D.C., 1996. (Courtesy of Maura Moynihan)

Senator Moynihan spoke on the Senate floor on the occasion of the April 1991 visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the Capitol stating; “The Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1949 was a conquest every bit as clear as the conquest of the Baltic States during World War II or Iraq’s invasion and temporary conquest of Kuwait. It does not become less criminal because it has remained in place over a long period of time.”

But the CCP and the U.S.-China lobby launched a counter-offensive. Beijing retained the services of Hill & Knowlton, a New York-based public relations firm aligned with the Bush family, defense contractors, and multi-national corporations, to discredit Tibet activists and divide Chinese democrats. The China lobby promoted “bi-lateral economic cooperation,” furnishing elite cadres of the CCP with access to American banks, companies and congressional offices, as manufacturing jobs were briskly shipped from the United States to China.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union nullified the rationale for “containment” of the Soviet Bloc and the “special engagement” with the People’s Republic of China, but U.S. China policy failed to adjust to a new world order, and the U.S.-China “special relationship” progressed without impediment or debate.

In 2009, on the 50th anniversary of 1959 March 10 uprising in Lhasa, I was in Dharamshala and met Chin Jin, of the Federation for a Democratic China, who recalled; “I was a teenager in Shanghai in 1972, when Nixon came to China. When we heard the news an elderly friend of my father’s started to cry, he said, ‘now the USA has come to the rescue of the Communist Party, and this will prolong the suffering of the Chinese people for many more years.’ He was right.”

Maura Moynihan arrested at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., 1994. (Courtesy of Maura Moynihan)
Maura Moynihan arrested at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., 1994. (Courtesy of Maura Moynihan)

Journey to Lhasa

In the spring of 1994, I organized a Free Tibet protest in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. Six of us were held in jail for 5 hours and charged $50 for “incommoding.” The next day I went back to the Chinese embassy, obtained a tourist visa, and three months later I flew from Kathmandu to Lhasa.

I wrote in my travel diary: “A surreal scene greets us on the tarmac at Golmud airport; a phalanx of policemen in identical sunglasses and caps, wielding handguns, line the walkway to the fluorescent-white terminal, a Bauhaus monstrosity that looks absurdly out of place. But there is nothing so powerful as standing on the Tibetan Plateau, to feel the power of the land, the sky, the mountains…

“My first night in Tibet I lie in a cold room at the foot of Chakpori Hill, once the medical college, now a ruin and a radio tower. A vicious mistral rattles the window glass, all night. I twist left and right, I feel, acute, unsparing, the stench of invasion. Machines awaken before dusk, hulking and groaning on the graves of temples…

“As in all police states, the simplest procedures are dispatched with sullen disregard; if your travel agent did not arrange transport, you are in trouble; finding a taxi in Lhasa is like finding a disco in Riyadh. They exist, but you need connections to get into one … Lhasa’s streets are lined with vast billboards with puerile Stalinist illustrations of rosy cheeked cadres, their features drawn with a decidedly Caucasian cast. Tourist literature states that Lhasa is to be developed as a ‘modern socialist city with local nationalities characteristics’; the medieval city is being razed to make way for more karaoke bars, shopping centers and housing blocks… I can plainly see plainclothes police everywhere. The square in front of the Jokhang Temple is designed for mass surveillance, where the People’s Armed Police lounge under red and white striped umbrellas with the Marlboro logo…

“Through wreaths of juniper smoke, I see the Jokhang [often considered the most sacred temple in Tibet]. It is Chokhor Duchen, the day of Buddha Sakyamuni’s first sermon, the first turning of the Wheel of Dharma. Four policemen follow me with a camera, stare, where pilgrim stone has been worn to a concave sheen, prayers planting the seed of rebirth in Shambala…”

Journey to Chamdo

In 1995, President Clinton de-linked trade and human rights, granting China “Most Favored Nation Trading Status” and Jiang Zemin swiftly implemented the “Strike Hard” Campaign in Tibet, which labels Buddhism “a disease to be eradicated” and the Dalai Lama “an incestuous murderer.” That summer I travelled overland from Lhasa to Chamdo.

President Clinton de-linked trade and human rights, granting China ‘Most Favored Nation Trading Status’ and Jiang Zemin swiftly implemented the ‘Strike Hard’ Campaign in Tibet.

From my travel diary: “All photographs and images of HH the Dalai Lama were banned as soon as China got MFN trading status with Washington. The air is thick with fear. Police everywhere. It takes a full week to drive from Lhasa to Chamdo. Everywhere we see strip mining, deforestation, army bases, army trucks, radio towers. We reach the great gompa [a place of meditation and study] of Chamdo, twice burned by Chinese, and twice rebuilt by Tibetans in the past century. It rises above the confluence of two rivers, which flow into the Mekong. An aged lama appears, people flock to him. His back is crooked, he walks slowly, with a cane … that night our guide tells us his back was broken from years of torture in a Chinese prison…

“As we return to Lhasa, our guide takes us to a remote village filled with monks, maimed and tortured for refusing to renounce Buddhism and HH the Dalai Lama. We meet young men who have been crippled, blinded, burnt, scarred … My last night in Tibet I am besieged by nightmares. Ghosts plunge into my room, rattle the glass … a child is missing … where is Panchen Rinpoche … but I don’t want to leave … in the morning I gaze in awe upon the Potala Palace, rising above the Lhasa Valley…”

In the mid 90’s I worked at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. I learned so much from many gifted people at the museum who created exhibitions, study programs, and oral histories.

In 1994, Palden Gyasto made his first visit to the USA. Palden survived 33 years in Lhasa’s Drapchi Prison, and had smuggled out torture instruments commonly used in Chinese prisons. At a gathering in my home, we passed around an electric baton Palden had bought from a guard before taking flight to India.

I took Palden through the Holocaust Museum, he studied the exhibitions carefully. He wept and said except for the crematoria, everything else, the beatings, torture, forced labor, the horror and fear, it was exactly like the prisons in China.

Nepal: the Lost Sanctuary

In 1998 I was hired by Radio Free Asia to train reporters and conduct research for the Tibet service in Kathmandu. Nepal was the ancient portal linking India and Tibet, weaving the rich culture of the Himalayan Belt, once a chain of independent kingdoms encircling the southern shelf of the Tibetan plateau. I kept a home for many years in Kathmandu, and traveled to Sikkim, Bhutan, and Ladakh, visiting Tibetan refugee camps, touched by the beauty and fragility of these precious remnants of the great Tibetan civilization that had once reigned from Ladakh to Lake Kokonor.

China’s victory in the ’62 war with India, which locked Tibet behind the Bamboo Curtain, had a deleterious effect on the Himalayan Belt. The old trade routes and pilgrim trails to Tibet were sealed by Red Guards, as I saw at the Manali Pass in 1973. The Kingdom of Nepal was the sole buffer state where Indian and Chinese diplomats agreed to “co-exist.” It maintained an embassy in Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

Nepal had weekly flights to Lhasa, and the Friendship Highway into Tibet. Nepal’s Kings also granted sanctuary and citizenship to Tibetan refugees, and gave permission to UNHCR to operate a transit camp, rescuing refugees from the border and providing them with travel papers and transport to India.

I learned how China used Tibet as a torture laboratory, and how enforcing methods of extreme cruelty was a stepping-stone to a top post in the Politburo.

I spent many years interviewing these “new arrivals” who had escaped into Nepal, and learned how China used Tibet as a torture laboratory, and how enforcing methods of extreme cruelty was a stepping-stone to a top post in the Politburo; 4 of the last 5 premiers of the PRC were governors of Tibet. I also studied the rise of the Maoist insurgency in Nepal, which diplomats in Kathmandu initially dismissed as an aberration, since the Cold War was over and the West had presumably “won.”

A Maoist in Nepal, undated. (Courtesy of Maura Moynihan)
A Maoist in Nepal, undated. (Courtesy of Maura Moynihan)

In January 2000, the Karmapa Lama made a bold escape from Tibet, passing in secret through Nepal on his way to India. The retribution was swift: the new Maoist insurgency launched violent attacks on Tibetan homes, businesses and monasteries.

Diplomats and journalists dismissed a connection between Nepal’s Maobadis and the People’s Republic of China, insisting that it was all coming from India. But where did the Indian Maoists come from? Which empire had an interest in consolidating its military power in the Himalayan Belt, to protect its iron grip on Tibet? Not India. China.

On June 1, 2001, Nepal’s King Birendra, Queen Aishwariya and 12 family members were shot and killed during the Friday night “bhojan” [meal] at Narayanahiti Palace in Kathmandu. Prince Dipendra, allegedly the sole killer, was said to have either shot himself in the head or was shot in the back by palace guards. He lingered in a coma for two days and his body was cremated before an official autopsy was completed and its results made public, thus the cause of Dipendra’s death will never be confirmed.

It is no small matter to assassinate a king, and there is compelling evidence that Prince Dipendra did not act alone. An English doctor who knew Dipendra well visited him in the hospital and said the drug and alcohol levels in his blood were so high that it was unlikely that he could have sharp-shooted 9 people wielding a heavy assault rifle. Some eyewitnesses reported seeing masked gunman during the massacre, and people who lived near the palace, including my Sherpa Didi, saw a large helicopter hovering over Narayanahiti Palace, with commandos climbing a rope ladder during the time of the assassinations.

Many Nepal-based journalists, myself included, questioned the bizarre tale that Dipendra was so enraged by family’s refusal to allow him to marry Princess Deviyani of Gwalior that he killed all of them. This story flooded the international press moments after the murders, while there was a news blackout all over Nepal.

What was not reported was that the United States had just completed a sale of armaments to the Nepali Royal Army and a military assault upon the Maoists was planned for the first week of June 2001. Many sources believe that Maoist spies learned of the plan, which led to the murder of the King and Queen. And in the chaos that followed the regicide it was the Maoists, backed by China, who rose to power.

What is missing from analyses of the alarming rise of Maoist insurgencies in India and Nepal is the legacy of Chairman Mao in Tibet. Without Tibet, China would not have access to the Himalayan Belt, the pathway to South Asia. The assumption that the West “won the Cold War” ignored the ugly truth that Communist tactics were alive and well in China’s Tibet, the source of funding and training for the Nepali Maoists, who launched their “People’s War” in 1995.

Within a decade Nepal was ravaged by psychotic violence as Maoist insurgents slaughtered and tortured thousands and spread the virus across India, whilst embassies and development agencies in Kathmandu stammered in febrile confusion. Chairman Mao had permeated the Himalayas, his unsmiling visage an icon of terror, his power hurtling from the barrel of a gun.

Here is an excerpt from the Maoist Information Bulletin Website; “Long Live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism & Prachanda Path! Royal Mercenaries Get Continued Blow from the PLA! The heroic People’s Liberation Army, Nepal, has been handing severe blows to the royal mercenary RNA day after day and in every possible front all over the country. There are almost daily reports of successful mining, ambushes, commando attacks and selected frontal battles against the genocidal royal armed forces organized in the so-called Unified Command, in which hundreds have been killed and large quantities of arms and ammunitions seized!”

A Maoist rally in Nepal, undated. (Courtesy of Maura Moynihan)
A Maoist rally in Nepal, undated. (Courtesy of Maura Moynihan)

Since the collapse of the monarchy, China is the new face of money and power in Nepal. Chinese roads, businesses, bookstores, and consumer goods are ubiquitous. The large and influential Tibetan community, given sanctuary and citizenship by Nepal’s kings, has been driven out of Nepal by the Maoists, and the number of new refugees from Tibet has dropped from 10 to 15,000 a year to less that 400.

Nepal, anchor of the Himalayan Belt, abode of Shiva and Buddha, the lone buffer state affixed between the twin Asian giants, China and India, lurches towards an uncertain future, the age of kings eclipsed by the Communist Manifesto.

War on the Roof of the World

The Tibet question is generally perceived as a human rights issue, but Tibet is principally a strategic and economic concern for China.

The capture of Tibet and East Turkestan doubled China’s landmass: never before has the Middle Kingdom ruled an empire that spans Hong Kong, Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, and Xinjiang. In 2000 China launched a multibillion-dollar development campaign “xi bu dai fa,” the “Opening and Development of the Western Regions.”

The Standing Committee of the Tibet Regional Party Committee stated its goals; “We now have the chance of a lifetime in the great development of the Western regions. The task of safeguarding social and political stability is very important … we must firmly grasp the anti-separatist struggle.” That’s Chi Com speak for suppression of ethnic minorities, Tibetans, and Uyghurs, who resist the pillage of their ancestral lands by Chinese colonialists.

I was in Kathmandu, Nepal in March 2001, when the Taliban dynamited the ancient standing Buddha of Bamiyan. Lamas at Boudhanath [a large, ancient stupa—a place for Buddhist meditation and often a repository for the ashes of Buddhist monks] had visions of disaster. On June 1, 2001, the Nepali royal family was slaughtered. On Sept. 11, 2001, the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington were attacked.

In Buddhist scripture it is written that the destruction of a Buddha image, especially an old and greatly venerated image, sends waves of black karma into the universe. Can a slab of sculpted stone contain the power to heal? Can its loss rupture the affairs of men? Who can say. When the Standing Buddha of Bamiyan was pulverized into dust, the global order was catapulted into crisis and the lama’s calamitous predictions came to pass.

After 9/11 the United States launched the War on Terror and China faded from international scrutiny. In 2006 the Qinghai–Xizang railway opened in Lhasa, bringing over 250,000 Chinese engineers into Tibet and facilitating the transportation of minerals, stone, and lumber from Tibet to the mainland. Chinese engineers launched massive development projects, mines, and hydro dams on Tibet’s rivers, which flow into South and Southeast Asia.

India and Bhutan must now contend with relentless Chinese military incursions, as China lays claim to large swaths of territory in India, Nepal, and the Bhutan.

India and Bhutan must now contend with relentless Chinese military incursions, as China lays claim to large swaths of territory in India, Nepal, and Bhutan, which they call “Southern Tibet.” In 2010 China announced the completion of six military airfields in Utsang, Tibet, filled with a new fleet of manned and drone aircraft, bearing down upon South Asia from the high plateau. In the coming water wars, China has a firm grip on the “Water Tower of Asia: Tibet.”

The true story, the elemental facts about Tibet’s size, its minerals, lumber and water, and the strategic advantage gained by its capture, is lost.

But this is not deemed newsworthy or deserving of serious analysis by the global media. The Tibet story is hobbled by the “Shangrila Syndrome,” a fantasy of magic and mystery, with comforting stereotypes of cheerful but needy Tibetan refugees. China only grants journalists permission to report from Tibet with a stifling military escort, which controls what can be seen and heard. The true story, the elemental facts about Tibet’s size, its minerals, lumber, and water, and the strategic advantage gained by its capture, is lost. China’s seizure of Tibet is a seismic event in world history: Ghengis Khan is said to have uttered: “He who controls Tibet controls the world.”

The Beijing Olympics: Tibet Drowns the Blood Torch

On March 14, 2008, I was in New York, finishing my master’s thesis about the Nepali Maoists, when I opened my laptop and read on the Radio Free Asia website of a citizen’s insurrection in Tibet, equal to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. The Tibetan people had tossed blood upon the face of Mao and spoilt his big Olympic moment, and the world had seen it. I closed my laptop and wept, for I knew that Beijing’s Politburo would exact cruel vengeance on the people of Tibet for ruining their global coming out party.

I passed the summer of 2008 in Kathmandu, interviewing escapees from Tibet, who described mobile killing squads, raids on homes and monasteries, drownings, beatings, fathers and sons hauled into police trucks and never seen again. I watched in disgust as the Olympic Committee and its corporate sponsors allowed Beijing to break every pledge to improve human rights, duly sworn when they lobbied for the games.

The heroes of the Beijing Olympics were Students for a Free Tibet—who organized massive protests in London, Paris, and San Francisco, and thereby extinguished Beijing’s “Blood Torch” relay—and invaded Beijing with banner hangs and “die-ins” to remind the world of the uncomfortable truth about the host nation’s “Harmonious Society.”

In September 2008, journalists met in Honolulu for a conference on China after the Olympics. There was unanimous agreement that Beijing was pleased with the outcome. Those irksome Tibet activists were gone, but the extensive security apparatus installed for the games stayed, and in a world order where might makes right the persecution of Tibetans, Uyghurs, Falun Gong practitioners, and Chinese intellectuals intensified without impediment or penalty.

‘Constructive Engagement’

Communist China has been wholly legitimized and integrated into the world community, with a seat on the U.N. Security Council, a privilege democratic India is denied. The West has slapped sanctions on Russia for the assault on Ukraine, but China never feels such pain; it would be bad for business.

It is now painfully apparent that the policy of “constructive engagement” with the Chinese Communist Party has not produced the desired outcome of political reform. Our relationship with China is deemed “vital” to preserving global economic order, but it has entangled the West in an appeasement policy that is morally repugnant and politically dangerous.

A report from the European Council on Foreign Relations states: “The EU’s China strategy is based on an anachronistic belief that China, under the influence of European engagement, will liberalize its economy, improve the rule of law and democratize its politics. Yet China’s foreign and domestic policy has evolved in a way that has paid little heed to European values, and today Beijing regularly contravenes or even undermines them.”

As the West and China have become close friends and trading partners in recent years, democratic institutions have been dangerously attacked. We have witnessed in the West a shocking erosion of civil liberties and press freedom and a vigorous effort to legalize torture. Is it merely coincidence?

Those Wall Street analysts whose passion for deregulation caused the global economic crisis are the same fellows who for years predicted that market capitalism would magically give rise to democracy in China. Now the global economy is collapsing, China is playing tough with every neighbor and trading partner, and getting its way. Where’s the free press and independent judiciary that McDonald’s was supposed to conjure?

I have watched in sorrow and disgust as the Western bloc continues to bend low and kiss the bloodstained hands of China’s dictators. In 2012 British PM David Cameron stated that he would never receive His Holiness the Dalai Lama again. Nor would officials from the Norwegian government receive him, when His Holiness traveled to Oslo last year, the city where he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989. Money Matters Most.

The Indian Exile Fractures

For as long as the Dalai Lama lives in Himachal Pradesh, Tibetans in India have a measure of protection. But the Tibetan settlements managed by the Indian government since the 1960’s are disintegrating, filled with poor, often broken families, consigned to isolation and exclusion by the unsettled legal status of Tibetans into a sixth decade.

By neglecting the crisis of statelessness the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) leaves tens of thousands of its constituents vulnerable to the most corrupt elements of society. The CTA’s leader Lobsang Sangay has a green card and a mortgage-free house in Boston. His Cabinet officials all have Canadian, U.S., and Indian citizenship, so clearly they are not tying their fortunes to their impoverished kinsmen, stranded in decaying refugee camps in India.

Conditions for stateless Tibetans in India are typical of what UNHCR describes as Protracted Refugee Syndrome; obtaining false ID cards from the black market, trapped in a poverty cycle, succumbing to drugs, alcohol, crime. Indian intelligence officials are well aware that the Tibetan exile world is now dangerously penetrated with Chinese spies and provocateurs, especially the Shugden operatives, who distribute literature claiming that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a greater mass murderer than Hitler.

I was in Dharamshala in February 1997 when Shugden assassins murdered Geshe Lobsang Gyatso and two of his students, a short distance from the Dalai Lama’s home. It was Losar eve (New Year’s Eve). A chill wind howled through the lanes of McLeod Ganj, and all festivities were canceled.

The Times of India reported: “The two men suspected of stabbing their victims are believed to have fled India. Five others, all linked to the Dorje Shugden Society in New Delhi, were questioned for months about a possible conspiracy.”

Tibet is a war zone. The Nepal sanctuary is gone. Tibetans in India cannot wait for the CTA to take action. I am certain that a great many would gladly accept Indian citizenship and the attendant financial and political rights, which Tibetan refugees sorely need. India is Tibet’s loyal and last protector, and Tibetans will be productive and patriotic citizens of Gandhi’s homeland.

If the structural crisis of statelessness is perpetuated and ignored, the Indian exile base will be further weakened by a festering criminal underworld of human traffickers and Chinese agents.

And if that foundation collapses, who will speak for Tibet? One winter afternoon, sharing tea and samosas in a Dharamshala garden, the poet and freedom fighter Lhasang Tsering stared into the golden light above the Kangra Valley and spoke; “We did not come into exile to become the world’s most successful refugees. We came to fight for our brothers and sisters in Tibet. We can never forget—that is what matters most.”


Tibet Today: Dams, Mines, and War Games

In January 2014 my friend Paul Berkowitz asked me to testify before the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee (of which Berkowitz is staff director) about the thousands of massive Chinese hydro dams on Tibet’s rivers, and the environmental catastrophe looming over the many nations of South and Southeast Asia. Afterward members of Congress, scientists, military officials, approached me in evident shock, to ask; “How come we never heard any of this before?”

That evening I sat in a shabby bar on Capitol Hill, wondering how it was possible that no one in the Rayburn Building that morning had seen any maps or satellite photographs of Tibet—maps and photographs that settle the question of why Tibet matters and explains why Chinese officials shriek with Stalinoid dementia at the mere mention of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The International Campaign for Tibet failed to get this information on the desks of Congress and the Pentagon, leaving the field to the China lobby. Beijing’s obsessive demonization of the Dalai Lama has succeeded in subverting all rational discussion of the impact of China’s exploitation of Tibet and the ecological future of Asia, the world’s most populous continent.

When Russia was a communist state, the West deemed it a threat so terrifying it justified a perilous arms race. China remains a communist state, and the United States has shipped nearly 80 percent of its jobs and manufacturing into the hands of the Chinese officials. And what does America get in return?

Larry M. Wortzel, the author of the U.S. Army War College report on China’s cyberespionage writes: “The thing that should give us pause is that in many Chinese military manuals they identify the U.S. as the country they are most likely to go to war with.”

The U.S. Commission on the Theft of Intellectual Property reports that Chinese espionage costs the United States over $300 billion and 1.2 million jobs each year, but the U.S. Department of State just announced plans to issue more visas for China, and the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, where the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations resides, where the president stays when he is in New York, was just sold to Anbang Insurance Group of China for $1.95 billion.

The Ghosts of Dachau

In July 2012, I traveled to Munich to visit Joe and Andi Hamilton. They took me to Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp, now a museum. Dachau was the model for the vast Nazi camp system, where the medical experiments and gas chambers were developed. The first prisoners of Dachau were Germans who opposed the Nazi party.

My friend Bob Van Grevenbrock, a longtime Kathmandu expat, often spoke of how his father was imprisoned in Dachau for a year, then fled with his family to the West Indies because his wife was Jewish. Bob was a “mischling”—half Jewish—and would have been killed by the Nazis.

It was a profoundly disturbing and upsetting experience, walking through the barracks, seeing the crematoria. I was sickened to think that the Chinese Communist Party, America’s No. 1 trading partner, to this day uses slave labor in an enormous concentration camp system that imprisons millions of people, even though officially the labor camps have been closed.

No one would think of walking into a party in New York, Paris or London with a tee shirt of Hitler or Stalin, but it is chic to wear an image of Mao Zedong.

No one would think of walking into a party in New York, Paris, or London with a T-shirt of Hitler or Stalin, but it is chic to wear an image of Mao Zedong. Mao, an unrepentant Sphinx, his hands stained with the blood of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, a Warholian icon, smiling on a banknote, sparkling in a Shanghai nightclub. Mao got away with it.

In March 2014, I sat down for breakfast, opened the New York Times, and read, on the front page of the Business section, that Steven Spielberg, director of “Schindler’s List” and of the Shoah Foundation, whose mission statement reads: “Shoah is dedicated to making audio-visual interviews with survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust and other genocides a compelling voice for education and action”—is shifting his film production to a spanking new 2.5 billion dollar facility in Shanghai. Apparently Spielberg is untroubled by Mao’s genocide, the slaughter of 60 million people, and millions still imprisoned in China.

Meanwhile, at least 135 Tibetans have lit their bodies on fire to protest China’s rape and pillage of their ancestral lands and the desecration of the Buddhist faith. Last year a friend at the Shanghai bureau of the Washington Post wanted to cover the self-immolations but his editor told him; “Who gives a [profanity deleted] about a few dead Tibetans? We have bigger fish to fry with China.”

Tibet at Midnight

I look at the Tibet movement today with terrible sadness. There is virtually no political or financial support for an issue of such magnitude. But I cannot regret the decades I gave to this cause. I have met individuals of unassailable virtue, who have not forgotten the millions murdered by Mao, the millions still trapped in poverty, and the labor camps.

I don’t like having editors reject my articles about Tibet because they are “depressing” and being told by directors of human rights and refugee advocacy organizations that they will not hire me because “you’re too publically associated with the Dalai Lama and we have board members with interests in China.” These are the precise words of the Harvard-educated director of one of America’s leading human rights organizations.

Western appeasement has sustained the totalitarian order, and those who challenge that order are shackled, whipped, beaten, starved, and killed for waving the Tibetan flag, practicing Falun Gong, reading the Koran, defending the poor, seeking to reform the Chinese Communist Party.

Western think tanks are filled with books proclaiming China the leader of the 21st century. Which China? The China of Hong Kong’s democrats? Or the China of Mao, whose police state seethes beneath the glittering cityscapes of Shanghai and Beijing, the police state that I saw in 1975, when the Great Helmsman was still alive?

The Tibet movement hovers at a precipice, penniless and abandoned. Time is running out. Tibet only wins moral victories, which are not enough. The truth is all that is left to us, in this primordial clash of civilizations, the rectitude of the Dalai Lama pitted against the repugnant brawn of a huge military dictatorship.

Western appeasement has sustained the totalitarian order, and those who challenge that order are shackled, whipped, beaten, starved and killed.

If the totalitarian order prevails and China continues to yoke and choke Tibet’s rivers, what will happen to India, Thailand, Nepal? Will the United States and other NATO powers sit on their hands and blush if China strikes Taiwan or Japan? What cards will the Western powers have to play, when they willingly handed the Chinese Communist Party their computer codes and factories in the quest for profit?

All we can do now is wait and watch. For it seems no one wants to listen to us. Our voices have been drowned, our noble leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama shunned and insulted. But I would rather be penniless in India with the Dalai Lama than rich in Beijing, clinking glasses with well-fed brutes from the Chinese Communist Party, like so many of my Harvard colleagues.

So I would like to ask the many Americans and Europeans who are beneficiaries of the open societies in which they live in comfort and freedom, who have moved their factories to China leaving millions of their countrymen without work and dignity, empowering the communist masters who treat their own people like slaves, and contributing greatly to the climate crisis with their wasteful, profoundly un-democratic model of growth and power, I would like to ask them just one thing: do you support democracy in Hong Kong and for the rest of China’s people, or do you support one-party dictatorship in China, the world’s most populous nation?

Maura Moynihan is a journalist and researcher who has worked for many years with Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal. Her works of fiction include “Yoga Hotel” and “Kaliyuga.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.