September 23, 2017

Johnson’s Tragedy in Crimson~The Dalai Lama, China and the Free Tibet Movement

Looking for credible investigative insight on the Dalai Lama, my eye caught sight of a line in a book summary of award winning journalist Tim Johnson’s Tragedy in Crimson-How China is using its economic power around the globe to assail the Free Tibet Movement which read, “He also takes a sympathetic but unsentimental look at the Dalai Llama (spinc), a trendy figure in the West who is regarded as a failure to his own people.”  Unfortunately, the talk was pretty much in sinque with the XIV Dalai Lama’s seemingly impervious and teflon reputation.

Upon my arrival at the University of Southern California’s US-China Institute talk, I spent a few minutes ransacking his book. To be fair,  I wasn’t able to give it a thorough read.  I did however want to get an idea of where he was coming from prior to his talk.    For the last twenty-two years I’ve read more than my fair share of articles on the XIV Dalai Lama and have seen that far too many “journalists”  simply rely on standardized boilerplate to meet their deadlines, with notable exceptions like  Pico Iyer http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/22/the-doctor-is-within/ and Orville Schell http://asiasociety.org/policy-politics/center-us-china-relations/china-planning-necessary’.

When I read that Tim Johnson had trekked to nomadic settlements seeking their perspective on a changing Tibet and that he’d accompanied the XIV Dalai Lama on his tour of the United States, I expected less travelogue and a bit more exotic dish.

He started with the simple rendition of pop cultural mentions of the Dalai Lama in the Sunday LA Times crossword puzzle, or on the new film “Social Network” recently nominated for an Academy Award, or when his face appeared on the larger than life Apple billboards alongside LA Freeways, or in the classic comedy  “Caddyshack.”  Johnson mentioned in his credentials that he was not a Buddhist, nor was he a follower of the Dalai Lama. I gleaned from Tragedy in Crimson that he served as McClutchy’s Beijing Bureau Chief and that his grandfather had been a missionary in China.

One of the things that struck him during his sit down interview with the Dalai Lama was the Dalai Lama’s statement, “I sort of assume that as the XIV Dalai Lama that I’m going to live longer than the Totalitarian system maybe by 5-10 years. The one party totalitarian system has an expiration date.”

Johnson believes that “the Dalai Lama’s opinion matters. He is a universal moral figure like Martin Luther King or Gandhi in India.”

“Why is he important to us,” he mused.  “The way Tibet as an issue is addressed by China is very telling. China’s “give no inch style” with the Tibetans today, maybe Vietnam or Japan tommorrow.  In twenty years it could even be you or I in the US.”

He sketched out Tibet’s importance to China in terms of its size, including areas influenced by Tibetan Buddhism, such as Inner Mongolia to encompass upwards of 42 per cent of China’s landmass and valuable repository of copper, zinc and iron ore, not to speak of the fact that as the world’s “third pole” her glaciers and peaks serve  as the headwaters of seven great rivers.

He mentioned that in China’s hot-cold relationship with India, Tibet serves as a buffer zone between the two nations. In many ways, Tibet as manifest in the Dalai Lama, finds itself in a sense in the position of a historical linchpin between the two great emerging nation’s.  But, Tibet has adeptly played this role for hundreds of years.

Tim Johnson momentarily lapsed into a travelogue mode with one major distinction, rarely seen footage of the three hundred fires in the Lhasa riots.  Obviously, he’s seen much in his time in China. He seemed awestruck by the pace of change he witnessed in China from the window of his office in Beijing where he said, within three blocks of his office, thirteen hi-rises were constructed nonstop, by three shifts of workers numbering over 50,000 working around the clock, displacing more than nine villages and 9,000 residents in less than two years.

One of the audience asked about the destruction in Tibet resulting from the Cultural Revolution. His take on it was that it was no worse than in any other part of China.  Others asked about the contemporary situation based upon his field observations. He said that as Tibetan nomads have been forced to resettle in small villages, they are obviously no longer are able to function as their economy has historically been based upon their utilization of yak’s for everything from fuel,  milk, meat to their valuable hides for yurts,  their ancient mobile home. (to be continued)…