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orville schell

q:  Did you sense when you were in Tibet in 1994 that the Tibetan culture could just quickly evaporate?

a:  Well I think there are two kinds of culture. There's sort of high culture in the monasteries, the religious traditions, the enormous amount of learning that goes into creating doctors of theology in Tibetan Buddhism. And then there's low culture of the nomads and their folk traditions and what not. I mean obviously a society will keep a certain amount of the latter. The question is what about the former. It was a little like the way the Catholic Church used to rule in Europe, United Christendom. And it took hundreds of years for that to diminish . But in Tibetan Buddhism sort of hit the fall in a decade or so because of the Chinese occupation.

q:  What was America's stance toward China in '94 when you took your trip? It was a -- it was an important moment in America's view toward China. Tell me about that.

a:  Well in 1994, I think many people hoped that the issue of Tibet would somehow be brought to the floor particularly with Clinton meeting Jiang Zeminin Seattle. And there was much talk about discussion with the Dalai Lama, some sort of a negotiated settlement. But really nothing happened. It all came to naught and in fact I think if you asked people now in Washington -- what should we do about Tibet? -- basically nobody's got a clue.

q:  At the time of your 1994 trip, what was the debate going on in terms of questions of trade and human rights?

a:  In 1994, Clinton was relatively new in office, he had campaigned strenuously against Bush for being too soft on China, speaking of the butchers from Beijing to Baghdad. Then he came into office and he began to realize that the imperatives of doing trade with China were more difficult to evade than I think he'd imagined. And because of enormous pressure from the business community he began to soften his position in terms of pressuring China and Tibet really fell along the wayside in that process because Tibet is perhaps the most sensitive issue for China. It's an issue which they feel extraordinarily put upon--because they see the Dalai Lama as being in collusion with foreign powers to split the motherland in half and to pull Tibet into an independent status and violate Chinese sovereignty.

q:  Since '94 how has the situation changed?

a:  Well, since 1994 we're farther away from a solution rather than closer. And there are a number of sort of highly symbolic important incidents that have helped maintain that separation.

One of them of course was the search for the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama where the Dalai Lama gave his sanction to one child and because he had sort of jumped the gun a little bit, the Chinese government canceled that child as being the designated candidate and chose another child. And then put the original child sanctioned by the Dalai Lama under house arrest. So we now have the communist party determining who wins this very sort of mystical practice of divinations and all sorts of dreams and oracles who becomes a reincarnated high Lama. And of course we have the great tragedy now of this important religious figure having two heads.

q:  Can you describe the background - who is the Panchen Lama?

a:  Each monastery in Tibet is centered around a high Lama who is a reincarnation of the spiritual essence of an earlier Lama. Tashilhunpo Monastery is centered around the Panchen Lama, the second most important reincarnated Lama in Tibet. He died in 1987. His search was conducted recently by the abbot and a search committee at the monastery. They chose some candidates, then they notified the Dalai Lama who they had finally chosen through back channels and the Dalai Lama said good, has my sanction. Beijing became extremely exercised because they didn't want the Dalai Lama to appear to have the authority to anoint the successor to the Panchen Lama and they chose a second child. Put the first child under house arrest and that's where things now stand. And it was a terrible sort of invasion of religious practices by the communist party in a rather unseemly intrusion and very much divided the world. And Beijing received enormous censure.

q:  What has happened with the Panchen Lama?

a:  When the last Panchen Lama who is the second most important reincarnated Lama in Tibet after the Dalai Lama, when he died, his successor had to be chosen. A committee from his monastery chose some candidates, they told the Dalai Lama who they had finally decide was the proper incarnation. The Dalai Lama sanctioned it. Beijing became very exercised at the notion that the Dalai Lama appeared to have had a role in the decision. They in effect canceled that child. Not only that they grabbed him, took him to Beijing, locked him up, under house arrest, making him the youngest political prisoner in the world and then they chose a child of their own in effect.

So we now have a spiritual leader, the second most important spiritual leader in Tibet chosen by the Communist Party -- great anomaly for a Communist Party which views religion as the opium of the masses and as Mao Tse Tung said, poison.

q:  What else has Beijing done regarding the Dalai Lama?

A: Well, Beijing is extremely disturbed at the Dalai Lama's popularity. Not only outside Tibet where he has become a one-man public relations success--unequaled. But, of course, within Tibet where Tibetans continue to have the deepest reverence for him. And one way they manifest that reference is to have pictures of him, photos and monasteries love to hang them within their confines.

Recently the party has banned images of the Dalai Lama which is a tremendously provocative act because it would be like banning images of the Pope in Catholic communities and has done much to create even higher levels of animosity towards Chinese governance and towards China's whole posture towards Tibetan Buddhism.

.....[But] they're frustrated, they don't know how to equal the Dalai Lama. And of course it would be very difficult to equal him and all they can think of is to control. I mean this is a basic Chinese impulse, a good Leninist impulse, a good Confucian impulse, control.

q:  Isn't China stepping up both the arrests of monks and the "re-education" of monks?

A: Well, what's going on is China is managing quote, monasteries with ever greater care and more controls. And they're also trying to initiate political education that will make monks quote, more patriotic, make them love the motherland which is China and Tibet in one entity.


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