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German scholar refutes Dalai's claim of "cultural genocide" in Tibet
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21:15, April 24, 2008

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A German sinologist and ethnologist on Wednesday refuted the Dalai Lama's claim that the Chinese government has conducted "cultural genocide" in Tibet and criticized some Western media for not letting the voices of ordinary Tibetans be heard.


"The concept of 'cultural genocide' is completely wrong," said Ingo Nentwig, who chairs the research department of the Museum of Ethnology in Leipzig, in a written interview with Xinhua.

"The Tibetan culture flourishes and prospers in China," including "language, literature, study of oral literature, everyday life and traditional architecture," he said.

Nentwig said that China has published a vast collection of books, newspapers and magazines in Tibetan language, and "there are a lot of Tibetan publishing houses, not only in Tibet but also in the neighboring provinces and even in Beijing."

Tibetan authors write in the Tibetan language and Chinese, Tibetan translation of foreign books are also available in China, and "there is an academy for traditional Tibetan medicine in Lhasa," he cited the example to illustrate his point.

The scholar said that unlike "some representatives of the clerical elite demanding independence for Tibet or just wanting to exert political power" who describe the modernization of the Tibetan society as "cultural genocide," "most Tibetans recognize the opportunities in a modern Tibet, which is part of China and open to the modern world."


Nentwig said a systematic immigration and assimilation of Tibet "through a Han-Chinese (China's majority ethnic group) settlement invasion is just out of the question."

"If you come to Lhasa, you actually have the impression that there are many Han-Chinese who account for more than 50 percent of the population in Lhasa for sure," he said, but noting the bulk of them, however, stay there only temporarily.

Soldiers, for example, are to leave after demobilization, many construction workers are just there for road or railway projects, some officials are assigned to work in Tibet on a rotation basis and then leave. While some business people operate stores or restaurants there, but they seldom intend for a long-term stay, he said.

"But once you leave Lhasa, you hardly meet any Han-Chinese," said Nentwig, who spent a month in Tibet for a field research on yak shepherds in the summer of 2002.

"I did my field research in a county where just 20 or 30 Han-Chinese live among 50,000 to 60,000 Tibetans," he said.

The scholar said the overall proportion of long-term Han residents in Tibet is about just 7 percent, while ethnic Tibetans account for over 90 percent.

Even taking the short-term residents into account, the Han people account for an estimated 20 to 25 percent of entire population in Tibet, while ethnic Tibetans are still the "overwhelming majority of about 75 to 80 percent," he said.

Areas inhabited by ethnic Tibetans in the neighboring provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan, however, are ethically and culturally more diversified, where Tibetans have coexisted peacefully with Han and other ethnic groups such as Hui, Mongolian, Qiang, Tu and Salar for many centuries, Nentwig said.

If exiled Tibetans, under the "anti-assimilation" or "anti-sinicization" slogans, want to fight for Tibetans' cultural or political dominance, this would go against the historical truth and would be unfair for all other residents there, he said.


The scholar listed some historical and geographical reasons for Tibet's relatively slow development compared with other Chinese regions.

Tibet is "unsuitable for a comprehensive industrialization and its agriculture is also handicapped by natural conditions" as large grazing areas there have "such thin topsoil that virtually nothing can be cultivated," he said.

He also called attention to the fact that before 1950, there were no hospitals and no schools except the monastic education.

While acknowledging such huge gap "can not be narrowed overnight," Nentwig noted with delight that the average life expectancy in Tibet has raised from 35 years in the 1950s to the present 67 years.

He hailed the liberation of the vast majority of the Tibetan people from the bondage of serfdom as a "great progress," adding most Tibetans are in much better conditions now than 50 years ago.

He said the Chinese government's ethnic policy is "enormously generous" and there are many examples to illustrate that China's ethnic minorities are given preferential treatments.

"The Tibetans, for example, may basically have two children ... (and) Tibetans in the countryside may have three or even more children" while the one-child policy is applied to the Han.

"The latest census showed that in the past 20 to 30 years, the population growth rate of Tibetans was much higher than that of the Han," he said.

Nentwig criticized some Western media for only reporting the voices of the former ruling class, namely, representatives of the old theocracy, the clerical and feudal aristocrats, who lost their power and can "no longer exploit the people at will," while ignoring the voices of the ordinary Tibetan people who "have a totally different story to tell."

Admitting that China's approach to ethnic minorities still has much room for improvement, he said if anyone wants to criticize China, such criticism should be concrete, constructive and based on expertise.

"It helps nobody if unqualified nonsense is disseminated as many Western media unfortunately have done and are still doing," he said.


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