Tibet scholars and China: a letter

openDemocracy Opendemocracy
22 April 2008

Dear Mr President,

The world has witnessed an outbreak of protests across the Tibetan plateau, followed in most instances by a harsh, violent repression. In the majority of cases these protests have been peaceful. The result has been an unknown number of arrests and the loss of numerous lives, which have been overwhelmingly Tibetan. This has understandably triggered widespread concern and anguish across the globe. As scholars engaged in Tibetan studies, we are especially disturbed by what has been happening. The civilisation we study is not simply a subject of academic enquiry: it is the heritage and fabric of a living people and one of the world's great cultural legacies.

This article contains a statement by seventy-five concerned Tibetan-studies scholars on the crisis in Tibet, addressed to China's president, Hu Jintao, and the government of the People's Republic of China.
The document, released on 27 March 2008, has since been signed by hundreds more scholars

We express our deep sorrow at the horrible deaths of the innocent, including Chinese as well as Tibetans. Life has been altered for the worse in places with which we are well acquainted; tragedy has entered the lives of a people we know well. At the time this statement is being written, continued arrests and shootings are being reported even of those involved in peaceful protest, the accused are being subjected to summary justice without due process and basic rights, and countless others are being forced to repeat political slogans and denunciations of their religious leader.

Silence in the face of what is happening in Tibet is no longer an option. At this moment the suppression of political dissent appears to be the primary goal of authorities across all the Tibetan areas within China, which have been isolated from the rest of China and the outside world. But such actions will not eliminate the underlying sense of grievance to which Tibetans are giving voice. As scholars we have a vested interest in freedom of expression. The violation of that basic freedom and the criminalisation of those sentiments that the Chinese government finds difficult to hear are counterproductive. They will contribute to instability and tension, not lessen them.

It cannot be that the problem lies in the refusal of Tibetans to live within restrictions on speech and expression that none of us would accept in our own lives. It is not a question of what Tibetans are saying: it is a question of how they are being heard and answered. The attribution of the current unrest to the Dalai Lama represents a reluctance on the part of the Chinese government to acknowledge and engage with policy failures that are surely the true cause of popular discontent. The government's continuing demonisation of the Dalai Lama, which falls far below any standard of discourse accepted by the international community, serves only to fuel Tibetan anger and alienation.

A situation has been created which can only meet with the strongest protest from those of us who have dedicated our professional lives to understanding Tibet's past and its present; its culture and its society. Indeed, the situation has generated widespread shock among peoples inside and outside China as well, and we write in full sympathy with the twelve-point petition submitted by a group of Chinese writers and intellectuals on 22 March (see "Chinese intellectuals and Tibet: a letter" [15 April 2008]).

Also in openDemocracy on Tibetan protests and China's response:
Ugen, "Tibet's postal protest" (4 November 2005)

Jamyang Norbu, "Tibetan tales: old myths, new realities" (13 June 2005)

/ Tenzin Tzundue, "Tibet vs China: a human-rights showdown" (15 August 2006)

Gabriel Lafitte, "Tibet: revolt with memories" (18 March 2008)

Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "The perils of forced modernity: China-Tibet, America-Iraq" (27 March 2008)

Donald S Lopez, "How to think about Tibet" (28 March 2008)

George Fitzherbert, "Tibet's history, China's power" (28 March 2008)

Dibyesh Anand, "Tibet, China, and the west: empires of the mind" (1 April 2008)

Robert Barnett, "Tibet: questions of revolt" (4 April 2008)

Wenran Jiang, "Tibetan unrest, Chinese lens" (7 April 2008)

Ivy Wang, "China's netizens and Tibet: a Guangzhou report" (8 April 2008)

Wang Lixiong, "China and Tibet: the true path" (15 April 2008)

, "Chinese intellectuals and Tibet: a letter" (15 April 2008)

James A Millward, "China's story: putting the PR into the PRC" (18 April 2008Therefore, we call for an immediate end to the use of force against Tibetans within China. We call for an end to the suppression of Tibetan opinion, whatever form that suppression takes. And we call for the clear recognition that Tibetans, together with all citizens of China, are entitled to the full rights to free speech and expression guaranteed by international agreements and accepted human-rights norms.


Jean-Luc Achard (Centre National de La Recherche Scientifique, Paris)

Agata Bareja-Starzyńska (Warsaw University)

Robert Barnett (Columbia University)

Christopher Beckwith (Indiana University)

Yael Bentor (Hebrew University, Jerusalem)

Henk Blezer (Leiden University)

Anne-Marie Blondeau (École pratique des Hautes Études, Paris)

Benjamin Bogin (Georgetown University)

Jens Braarvig (University of Oslo)

Katia Buffetrille (École pratique des Hautes Études, Paris)

José Ignacio Cabezón (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Cathy Cantwell (University of Oxford)

Bryan J Cuevas (Florida State University)

Jacob Dalton (Yale University)

Ronald Davidson (Fairfield University)

Karl Debreczeny (independent scholar)

Andreas Doctor (Kathmandu University)

Thierry Dodin (Bonn University)

Brandon Dotson (School of Oriental and African Studies, London)

Georges Dreyfus (Williams College)

Douglas S Duckworth (University of North Carolina)

John Dunne (Emory University)

Johan Elverskog (Southern Methodist University)

Elena De Rossi Filibeck (University of Rome)

Carla Gianotti (independent scholar)

Maria Gruber (University of Applied Arts, Vienna)

Janet Gyatso (Harvard University)

Paul Harrison (Stanford University)

Lauran Hartley (Columbia University)

Mireille Helffer (Centre National de La Recherche Scientifique, Paris)

Isabelle Henrion-Dourcy (Université Laval, Québec)

Toni Huber (Humboldt University , Berlin)

Ishihama Yumiko (Waseda University)

David Jackson (Rubin Museum of Art, New York)

Sarah Jacoby (Columbia University)

Marc des Jardins (Concordia University)

Matthew T. Kapstein (University of Chicago; École pratique des Hautes Études, Paris)

György Kara (Indiana University)

Samten Karmay (Centre National de La Recherche Scientifique, Paris)

P Christiaan Klieger (Oakland Museum, California)

Deborah Klimburg-Salter (University of Vienna)

Leonard van der Kuijp (Harvard University)

Per Kvaerne (University of Oslo)

Erberto Lo Bue (University of Bologna)

Donald S Lopez (University of Michigan)

Christian Luczanits (University of Vienna)

Sara McClintock (Emory University)

Carole McGranahan (University of Colorado)

Ariane Macdonald-Spanien (École pratique des Hautes Études, Paris)

William Magee (Dharma Drum Buddhist College, Taiwan)

Lara Maconi (Institut Nationale des Langues et Civilizations Orientales, Paris)

Dan Martin (Hebrew University, Jerusalem)

Rob Mayer (University of Oxford)

Fernand Meyer (École pratique des Hautes Études, Paris)

Eric D Mortensen (Guilford College)

Paul Nietupski (John Carroll University)

Giacomella Orofino (Università degli Studi di Napoli, L'Orientale)

Ulrich Pagel (School of Oriental and African Studies, London)

Andrew Quintman (Princeton University)

Françoise Robin (Institut Nationale des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, Paris)

Ulrike Roesler (University of Freiburg)

Geoffrey Samuel (Cardiff University)

Kurtis Schaeffer (University of Virginia)

Cristina Scherrer-Schaub (University of Lausanne)

Peter Schwieger (Bonn University)

Tsering Shakya (University of British Columbia)

Nicolas Sihle (University of Virginia)

Elliot Sperling (Indiana University)

Heather Stoddard (Institut Nationale des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, Paris)

Robert Thurman (Columbia University)

Takeuchi Tsuguhito (Kobe City University of Foreign Studies)

Gray Tuttle (Columbia University)

Emily Yeh (University of Colorado)

Ronit Yoeli-Tlalim (University College, London)

Michael Zimmermann (University of Hamburg)

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