China's Use of Tibetan Institutions for Their Political Ends

Copyright 1999, by Bhuchung Tsering

Paper presented at "Exposing Communist Chinese Government Influence in America" Conference, Orlando, Florida May 15, 1999

The Chinese authorities have in the last several decades attempted to use Tibetan personalities, institutions and history to justify, legetimise and exercise their control over Tibet. Historically, they have used Tibetan institutions like that of the Panchen Lama to create dissents within the Tibetan community and to legitimize their rule over the Tibetan people.

There is a distinct pattern in which Beijing is implementing its policy of misusing distinct Tibetan institutions to serve its political ends. The presence of an exhibit of the Potala Palace in the Splendid China Theme Park in Orlando, Florida, is an example of this.

First, through the exhibit like that of the Potala, there is an attempt at psychological campaign to connect these distinctly Tibetan institutions to China. By including the exhibit in a Chinese theme park, there is a subtle attempt to make the general public think of China, not Tibet, when they see the Potala.

Secondly, the exhibits are used to distort Tibetan history. The sign in front of the Potala exhibit has reference to only its connection to a Chinese princess for whom it was built. There is no mention of the Potala as being the heart of independent Tibet's administration and the center of Tibetan political life.

In fact, the Potala is a combination of the White House and the Capitol Building together. In 1994, UNESCO inscribed the Potala in its World Heritage List . The inscription statement reads,

"The Potala Palace, an administrative, religious and political complex, is built on the Red Mountain in the centre of the Lhasa valley, at an altitude of 3700 metres. The complex comprises the White Palace and the Red Palace, with their ancillary buildings. The Potala, winter palace of the Dalai Lama since the 7th century A.D., symbolises Tibetan Buddhism and its central role in the traditional administration in Tibet. The beauty and originality of its architecture, its ornate decoration and its harmonious integration in a striking landscape add to its historic and religious interest."

There is no such reference to the Potala in the Splendid China Park. This shows that there is a clear lack of understanding of the significance of the Potala by the Chinese authorities.

Thirdly, through exhibits like this the Chinese authorities are creating a false sense of the situation. Placing Potala in "Splendid China" is to give an impression that there is respect for Tibetan identity and culture. The Potala is being used to symbolize past tyranny and present liberation of the Tibetan people under Chinese rule. This contradicts with independent reports coming out of Tibet on Chinese attitude towards Tibetan religion, culture and identity. There is a renewed campaign to suppress Tibetan religion. The ban on the photo of the Dalai Lama in public places in Tibet is just a clear indication of how the Chinese really feel about Tibetans. The Potala is the residence of the Dalai Lamas.

The Potala is not only the political seat of the independent Tibetan Government, but is also one of the sacred Buddhist sites and a place of pilgrimage. However, the Chinese authorities are undertaking different irreligious activities within the Potala. Recent reports from Tibet indicate that the Chinese authorities are sending prostitutes into the sacred complex to entice the monks living there.

Without doubt the Potala exhibit in Splendid China Theme Park is a political tool masquerading as an entertainment center.

Bhuchung Tsering can be reached by email at:

Third Panel:"Exposing Chinese Government Propaganda: Examing the propaganda exhibits at Florida Splendid China"

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