The Struggle for Tibet; Tibet's Last Stand? The Tibetan Uprising of 2008 and China's Response

In This Review

The Struggle for Tibet
By Wang Lixiong and Tsering Shakya
Verso, 2009
288 pp. $17.95
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Tibet's Last Stand? The Tibetan Uprising of 2008 and China's Response
By Warren W. Smith, Jr.
Rowman & Littlefield, 2009
320 pp. $39.95
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What first catches one's attention in The Struggle for Tibet, a collection of back-and-forth articles by Wang (an independent Chinese intellectual) and Shakya (a Tibetan academic living in exile), is Shakya's blistering response to Wang's initial effort to understand the Tibetan frame of mind. Since Wang is the most sympathetic Han scholar writing on the issue, the exchange testifies to the gap between the two ethnic groups. The issues at stake (summarized in an introduction by Robert Barnett) are fundamental -- such as what geographic unit constitutes Tibet, whether modernization is good or bad for the Tibetans, whether resistance is self-generated or incited from abroad, and whether the Dalai Lama is a religious or a political figure. As the dialogue proceeds, both authors converge on the view that Han Chinese rule in Tibet is infused with old-fashioned colonialist attitudes of racial and cultural superiority, including contempt for the Tibetans' religion. It is not so much the struggle for sovereignty as the struggle for respect that drives Tibetan resistance, which persists despite improvements in Tibet's economic conditions. Unfortunately, the March 2008 demonstrations in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and other Tibetan-populated areas of China and the vitriolic popular Han response have further polarized ethnic antagonisms.

These protests are the subject of Tibet's Last Stand? by Smith, a Radio Free Asia researcher. He sides with those who believe in full independence for Tibet, a position supported by neither the U.S. government nor the Dalai Lama. Nonetheless, the book is a useful, detailed account of the 2008 demonstrations, the official response, and surrounding events, based heavily on Chinese newspaper reports. Readers will gain a clear idea of the Chinese position on Tibet and of Beijing's strategy in the region: a combination of Han immigration, economic development, assimilation, repression, and waiting for the Dalai Lama to die.