Canadian writer Lisa Carducci wrote an article entitled "What's the matter with Tibet?" for China Daily, a Beijing-based English newspaper, explaining why people outside China usually have a prejudice against Tibet. Here is the full text of the article, which was published on April 22:
It is one thing to be interested in Tibet, as most of my acquaintances are. It is another to have totally prejudiced views, which unfortunately is the case with most of them.
Only a handful are honest enough to hold their opinions until they visit Tibet and see things with their own eyes. Some others hear only what they want to hear and what doesn't disturb their "Tibetan imagination".
Here is an example. A Canadian friend of mine, a university professor, went to Tibet in May 1997. He later told me that his group had been sent away from a Tibetan restaurant by the police and directed to a Han establishment.
The reason, according to him, was racism, an attempt to "break" the "Tibetan nation". His immediate analysis - before he understood a word of what was going on - was obviously based on prejudice.
I was not there and didn't see what happened. But after discussing the fact with Han and Tibetan people who knew better, we all concluded that the real cause might have been one or more of the following: the owner of the Tibetan restaurant had no permit; he had not paid his taxes; the place was not hygienic enough for foreigners; the owner and the policeman had a personal dispute; or the owner was trafficking ancient tangka, a kind of Tibetan painting.
We also tend to assume that all Tibetans are the same and feel and act the same way. Far from it. Those I met in Tibet or in Xiahe county of Gansu province seem not interested in politics. They live happily and quietly, and have no complaints about the central government as long as their lives continue to prosper year after year.
At the village of Tashiling in Nepal, instead, the Tibetan women I chatted with for two hours at the market had different stories to tell.
The major difference between them and the Tibetans living in China is that the Tibetans in Nepal think that "the Hans invaded Tibet and forced them to flee the country".
The woman who spoke better Chinese and served as an interpreter for the group said: "When our country is free, we'll go back immediately and get good jobs! Do you think this is a life, what we do here? Commerce!"
I took pity on her because she seemed to have been completely swayed by anti-China propaganda. I told her that all the Tibetans I had met earlier knew very well what the central government of China had done for them and appreciated it.
"I'm sorry to tell you," I said, "that you fool yourself if you think that your Tibetan fellows inside the country think the same way you do and support your efforts for independence."
She stared at me, her eyes wide open. "Have you ever been to Tibet?"
"Of course! If not, how could I speak like this?" She remained silent a moment, then said: "Every year on March 10, the Tibetans of the world march for independence. If you go to Tibet on that day, you'll see the Chinese army killing so many people in the streets."
If there was any truth in her words, I thought, I must have been transported to another planet.
"We have seen photos, and videos," she continued. "Every year we see them."
"Who took these photos?"
"Foreigners. From other places."
I calmed down, before asking: "Are you sure these photos and films were taken recently? They may be from the 'cultural revolution' period when Tibetans just as other Chinese suffered and were treated badly. Or during the civil rebellion in 1959? Might you not have been deceived? Maybe they show you the same pictures year after year? Maybe the photos were altered?"
As a spokesperson of her group, she turned around, and said: "It's possible, but we have no means of checking."
"Might these activist friends of the Dalai Lama," I continued, "be the authors of the photocopied letters on the board at the village entrance, issued by 'His Holiness Dalai Lama's office'? And the inscription 'Chinese, leave', who do you think wrote it?"
I explained to them all the changes that had happened in Tibet and talked about all the money invested by the central government into reconstruction and development, the progress in education, the religious freedom, the improvement of health, society, life, and they were astonished. Apparently, no one had ever spoken to them like this.
"Do you believe me?" I asked.
"I believe you because you are a foreigner," said the woman, "not a member of the communist party. Are you?"
"You can trust me. I tell you only what I have seen. Tibet is a beautiful and peaceful place where people sing while they work, where people smile and enjoy life."
The younger ones among them were born in Nepal; others had fled Tibet to go to Nepal in the 1950s and never returned to Tibet. They have no passports; of course they cannot enter China.
I then visited a temple where a young 17-year-old monk said that his greatest aspiration was to see Tibet. He thought monks were arrested, jailed or even killed in China, his thought based on the fact that his friend went there and never returned.
"I'll tell you something, young man. Your friend may have been arrested because he entered a country illegally. But if you never heard from him after that, don't you think he might have accomplished his great desire: to see Tibet. He may be living in a monastery there!"
He bowed his head and said, "I wish I had such a chance!"
Finally, I realized that the Tibetans outside Tibet are the victims not only of ignorance but of a well-organized campaign of misinformation. And it struck me that it may be the same for the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama, who left the country when he was still very young and under the influence of a group, and never saw Tibet with his own eyes later in life to be able to judge things for himself, is also a poor victim - much like the woman at the village market.