Monday 20 April 2015

Hong Kong historian deviates from official China line on sovereignty over Tibet

HONG KONG: A leading Chinese historian and a veteran of the committee that advises on official Chinese history textbooks has broken step with the official Chinese line on historical sovereignty over Tibet and said that to claim that the ancient Buddhist kingdom “has always been a part of China” would be a “defiance of history”.

In an article in the China Review magazine, Professor Ge Jianxiong, 62, director of the Institute of Chinese Historical Geography and the Research Centre for Historical Geographic Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, states that while considering how big China was during the Tang Dynasty (7th to 10th century), “we cannot include the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, which was ruled by Tubo/Tufan…”

Tubo/Tufan, notes Ge, “was a sovereignty independent of the Tang Dynasty. At least it was not administered by the Tang Dynasty.” If it were not, he argues, there would have been no need for the Tang emperor of the day to offer Princess Wen Cheng in a “marriage of state” to the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo.

“It would be a defiance of history,” asserts Ge, “to claim that Tibet has always been a part of China since the Tang Dynasty; the fact that the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau subsequently became a part of the Chinese dynasties does not substantiate such a claim.”

Ge’s article is an exploration of a larger theme of Chinese identity in history — and precisely when it evolved. And his comments on Tibet conform to scholarly accounts that acknowledge that the takeover of Tibet during the Qing Dynasty (17th to early 20th century) was the starting point for  “Chinese sovereignty” over the region.

Yet, Ge’s comments are controversial insofar as they deviate from the official Communist Party line that Tibet has always been an inalienable part of China; in the past China has regarded as any weakening of that theory as “anti-national” and “split-ist”. It will be interesting to see how the authorities respond to Ge’s scholarly article.

Ge’s major research fields include historical population geography, population and migration history, and cultural history. He has written and edited numerous books, and over 100 articles on historical population geography, population and migration history, and cultural history.

In his latest article, Ge notes that prior to 1912, when the Republic of China was officially founded, the idea of China (in Chinese, Zhongguo) wasn’t clearly conceptualised. Even during the late Qing period, he writes, the term ‘China’ would on occasion be used to refer to the “Qing State, including all the territory that fell within the boundaries of the Qing empire”; but at other times, it would be taken to refer only to the “18 interior provinces”, excluding Manchuria, Inner Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang.

Therefore, he argues, “if we want to understand the extent of ancient China’s territory, we can only speak of how large the actual territory controlled by a particular dynasty was at a particular moment.” Noting that notions of a ‘Greater China’ were based entirely on the “one-sided views of Qing court records that were… written for the court’s self-aggrandisement”, Ge criticises those who feel that “the more they exaggerate the territory of historical ‘China’ or China’s successive dynasties and kingdoms, the more patriotic they are.”

In fact, he says, the opposite is true. “If China really wishes to rise peacefully and be on a solid footing to face the future, we must understand the sum of our history and learn from our experiences.”

Schoolboy sends fan letter to Dalai Lama

From the Birmingham Mail
Edgbaston 13-year-old George Morris and dad stunned when Tibetan guru jets them out to meet him
George Morris who got to meet the Dalai Lama

It's a story so fantastic, heart-warming and brimful of hope it could have been scripted by Disney.

The schoolboy who sent fan mail to the Dalai Lama and received an invitation to meet Tibet’s spiritual leader.

Incredibly, 13-year-old George Morris was granted a private audience with the exiled Holy Man in a monastery in Dharamsala, India.

After talking about faith, he left the “life-changing” meeting with 18 books and a blessed statue, presented by the Dalai Lama.

“Buddhists do not believe in one god,” says the Edgbaston teenager who made the religious journey with dad Andrew.

“But it did seem God himself had dropped the words into the Dalai Lama’s mouth.”

Andrew, a teacher, was equally moved by the meeting.

George Morris and his dad Andrew meet the Dalai LamaGeorge Morris and his dad Andrew meet the Dalai Lama
“I was stunned,” admits the 53-year-old. “It was one of those moments when you really don’t know what to say, when your brain goes blank. It had a massive effect on me.”

George, a pupil at King Edward VI Five Ways School, is no ordinary youngster.

Sharp, perceptive and with an intellect way beyond his years, he searches for spiritual answers and rails against global injustices. He has strong views on poverty when many his age are simply worried about the Premier League title race.

Of China’s brutal crackdown on Tibet’s campaign for independence, he says: “There has been a genocide since 1959. Some 1.2 million people have effectively been slaughtered, and 200,000 forced out of Tibet.

“Yet this is a country we are striving to strike trade deals with.”

He converted to Buddhism 18 months ago – “Granny thinks it’s a fad, she thinks I’m a hippy,” he laughs – and wrote a speculative letter to the Dalai Lama last September.

“I expressed my sympathies and views on the situation in Tibet,” he recalls. “I expressed how I thought he is doing good work in trying to end that in a peaceful way.”

To George and his family’s shock, the Dalai Lama replied, inviting him to Dharamsala.

George and Andrew began a long journey, punctuated by a three day stop-off in Dubai, the unbridled luxury providing a stark contrast to the poverty they encountered on the Indian sub-continent.

They were among 1,500 devotees from 56 nations who gathered at the monastery gates, but George and Andrew were among just a handful to be granted a one-to-one meeting.

George Morris who got to meet the Dalai LamaGeorge Morris who got to meet the Dalai Lama
“I was paranoid about doing something stupid, like not turning my phone off,” says George.

“Imagine if it rang in the middle of our conversation. Now that would be embarrassing!”

During the 10-minute meeting, the Dalai Lama described the boy’s conversion to Buddhism as an inspiration, but warned: “Do not follow a faith blindly.”

“He told me not to look on Buddhism as just a philosophy, but as a revolutionary science,” says George. “I thanked him for everything he has done for the Tibetan people.”

“He was everything I thought he would be and much, much more. He had a God-like aura.”

And it may not be the last conversation between the unlikely pair.

“He said I could call him and ask him anything,” reveals George.

Andrew admits to dwelling on more earthly thoughts.

“He came in so normally. I remember thinking he had soft hands,” he chuckles, “and wondering if he uses moisturiser.”

“It was a life-changing moment,” he adds on a more serious note. “And I thought his message not to follow a faith without question was phenomenal. He wasn’t pushing his religion. He was saying, ‘Don’t just be a Buddhist, look into it first’.”

Since their return from the two-week trek, George has struggled to find people who believe a tale that seems too tall to be true.

Thankfully, he has the photographic evidence.

“The usual response is ‘That’s amazing, but did it really happen?’ shrugs George. The meeting has strengthened his faith, and his parents support the path their son has taken.

“I thought Buddhism made the most sense,” he explains. “It impacts on my decisions, but it does not impact on my routines. The way that I think about what I do is impacted.

“Granny thinks I’ll grow out of it – but she thought the same when I became a vegetarian.”

The stark contrast between life in oil-rich Dubai and India has only hardened George’s resolve to pursue a legal career centred on civil rights.

“I loved India, but hated Dubai,” he admits. “Dubai is a capitalist venture, built solely to get money out of people. It is a hideous place.

“In India, at times I felt guilty because I was in a nice, air-conditioned car and I was seeing people begging for water.

“But they love their country, they are very patriotic. I loved the people and I loved the culture.”

George publicly thanks King Edward VI Five Ways head teacher, Mrs Y Wilkinson, for allowing him time off to make the incredible journey. She has asked for only one thing in return – the prize pupil has to give an assembly on his meeting with the Dalai Lama.

He is bracing himself for the inevitable whispers from classmates: “C’mon, it’s a wind-up.”

It’s not.

George Morris has the statue and books to prove it.