Tibet: Genocide and Ecocide

by Dave Kopel

Relix magazine. More by Kopel on Tibet.

Sometimes environmentalists are accused of caring too much about trees and animals, and not enough about humans. The accusation misses the mark, however, because human rights and ecological consciousness are inseparable. The nations with the worst human rights abuses usually perpetrate the worst ecological abuses. The synergy of human and environmental oppression is particularly clear in Tibet, a formerly independent nation that was conquered in 1949 by Mao Zedong's "People's Liberation Army."

Among the worst atrocities inflicted on Tibet's ecology by the Chinese conquerors is deforestation. You can travel for days on the road along the Min Valley (a tributary of the Yangtse River), and see nothing but log jams in the river. On some roads into Lhasa from eastern provinces like Kham, 50 timber trucks may pass by in an hour. The Communist government makes virtually no effort at reforestation.

The Chinese dictatorship maintains a monopoly on timber-cutting, and reserves all profits for itself.

Visitors to Tibet in the late 1940s considered Tibet to have the most abundant big game population in the world.

But that population is being destroyed by Chinese government soldiers who hunt endangered species with machine guns. Przewalski gazelle, boars, wolves, mountain cats, musk deer, and many other species are being hunted to extinction.

The Tibetan Wild Yak, once as plentiful as the American Bison was on the Great Plains, had been reduced to a few hundred survivors. The Wild Ass used to roam Tibet in giant herds. Unafraid of humans, the herds would gallop alongside human riders for hours. The animals did not know to run from Chinese army, which hunts them with machine guns. After killing 50 or 60 animals, the "hunters" will harvest the meat of 2 or 3.

And as the forests fall to the Chinese chainsaws, wild animals become ever-easier prey for the hunters.

Lodi Gyari, President of a human rights group called the International Campaign for Tibet, says that the Tibetan province of U-Tsang is secretly used for testing of nuclear weapons. Births of deformed animals and humans in the region provide some evidence of the testing.

According to Gyari, China also imports nuclear waste from the West, and dumps it in Tibet.

Several months ago, the Chinese government announced that it was setting aside a large portion of northwest Tibet as a wilderness area. Gyari argues that the announcement was a cynical effort to distract attention from the proposal of the Dalai Lama (the leader of the Tibetan government in exile) to make all of Tibet a zone of non-violence, ending human violence against nature.

Gyari noted that the Chinese government has used seemingly benign ecological projects to harm the environment. For example, the Chinese raised large sums from the west for a panda preservation project, but employed much of the money to build a large infrastructure in wilderness regions, supposedly to observe the panda. Gyari feared the new wilderness designation of part of Tibet might provide a pretext for similar intrusions.

Lastly, said Gyari, Tibet for all of its years of independence had been a natural wilderness park. All the Chinese would have to do to preserve Tibetan wilderness would be to leave Tibet, he said.

As in other parts of the world, the dictatorship's crimes against nature are paralleled by crimes against humanity. Alexsander Solzhenitsyn calls the Chinese rule in Tibet "more brutal and inhumane than any other communist regime in the world."

One-sixth of the Tibetan population has been exterminated in prison camps or by starvation. Six thousand Buddhist monasteries, temples, and other cultural structures have been destroyed.

Chinese soldiers garrison every major town in Tibet to prevent rebellion. Elite soldiers watch the regular troops, to keep them from revolting.

Life in Tibet before the Chinese Communist invasion was pastoral, primitive, and peaceful. Now the majority of the population in much of Tibet is Chinese immigrants living in concrete apartment blocks.

President Bush led the United States into war against Saddam Hussein and his Hitlerian practices of genocide and ecocide. Yet the President has refused to take any action against the Chinese government, whose pillage of Kuwait is at least as destructive of human rights and the environment as was Saddam's pillage of Kuwait. Instead, President Bush has urged Congress to give "Most Favored Nation" trading status to China.

Granting China easy access to U.S. export markets exacerbates Chinese demand for Tibetan natural resources.

The American government has not always been so callous about Tibet. Until the early 1970s, the U.S. government provided a training camp for Tibetan freedom fighters near the Colorado mountain town of Leadville.

Tibet is far away, and we know little about its people. Yet the Chinese ecocide in Tibet threatens every one of us, as it destroys vast forests and promotes global warming. Almost all of the major rivers of Asia originate in Tibet. The ecocide of Tibet directly endangers the entire Asian continent.

One person working to inform the world about Tibet has been Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. He has produced an album by, and organized a U.S. tour of the Tibetan Gyuto Monks. These Buddhist Monks, playing bells and other traditional Tibetan instruments, have brought to American audiences a taste of Tibetan sacred music -- music that is ruthlessly suppressed in Tibet itself.

Gyari called Hart's work in producing the Gyuto Monks tour "A very positive and very beautiful way" of raising consciousness. The music, Gyari said, "goes very well with the whole issue of Tibet, because we trying to bring a message of peace, understanding, and tolerance. There is no better way to express that than through the universal language of music. ...We need to reach the pocket sometimes, but more than that, we need to reach the heart."

Gyari asked Americans to learn more about Tibet, and to educate their fellow Americans. He said that while most Americans do not know much about Tibet, Americans who find out are always sympathetic.

The main organization promoting Tibetan freedom in the United States is the Gyari's group, The International Campaign for Tibet. You can become a member by sending $25 to 1511 K St., NW; Wash. DC, 20005 (202) 628-4123.

Another group is Bay Area Friends of Tibet. Contact them at 347 Dolores St., Suite 206, San Francisco, CA 94110. (415) 241-9197. Their latest project, "Eco-Tibet California," aims to raise consciousness about Tibetan ecological issues.

Finally, listen to the Tibetan Gyuto Monks album produced by Mickey Hart. And then imagine the non-violent culture that created this music being deliberately exterminated.

More by Kopel on Tibet:

The Dalai Lama's Army. A right to self-defense is recognized by the Dalai Lama -- indeed, his predecessor tried to recruit an army. National Review Online, April 5, 2007.

Taiwan's Presidential Elections: An Analysis of What Happened, and What May Happen Next. Independence Institute Issue Paper. April 2008. PDF. This Issue Paper includes a discussion of the effect that the March 2008 atrocities in Tibet had on the presidential election in Taiwan.

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