By Zihui Ni, Franklin & Marshall College
“What would it be like if Muslim or Jewish people were invited to a feast full of pork? It is not hard to image how offended and angry they would be. Similarly, that is how I felt when the University of California San Diego announced that the 14th Dalai Lama was invited to give a speech at the Commencement on June 16, 2017.”
These kinds of comments were all over Chinese social media over the last few days after the announcement was first released on the official website of UCSD. The news was later announced on the university’s official Facebook page, which attracted lots of Chinese students who expressed their anger, blamed the school for the decision, and even argued with people who shared the opposite views.
So who is the 14th Dalai Lama? Why did this man cause so many arguments?
According to the words of a Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, “The 14th Dalai Lama is a political exile who has long been engaged in anti-China separatist activities under the cloak of religion with the aim of breaking Tibet away from China”. On the other hand, the popular statements supported by medias of many Western countries are consistent with the Dalai Lama’s claim that he appeals for the autonomy of Tibet within China, and the protection and preservation of Tibet culture and religion. There is no easy answer for this debate. A fact we do know is that when the 14th Dalai Lama was in charge of Tibet before 1959, Tibetans lived in feudal serfdom, and abuse and cruelty were not unusual in the traditional Tibetan system. However, it was also undeniable that the culture and religion of Tibet were damaged on many levels during different time periods after the Chinese government came to power in Tibet. Besides, calling for a “high degree of autonomy“ for Tibet, the Dalai intends to restore his supreme rule over Tibet with both political and religious power. In this case “autonomy” is a quite ambiguous and suspicious term. More importantly, as the debate about Tibet continues to this day, it is not only a Chinese problem since many other countries have now intervened. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the 14th Dalai Lama is more like a political symbol of a highly sensitive historical problem.
Though the Dalai Lama would probably not speak about topics that are politically sensitive and just share his opinions and interpretations about religion, it is disrespectful for University of California San Diego to invite a political figure to deliver a speech while taking no notice of the controversy behind him. Also, this event is a milestone event for students and parents who travel thousands of miles to attend their children’s Commencement. Asking them to listen to the speech of someone who symbolizes the attitude of splitting Tibet from China is humiliating. Imagine how Jewish people would feel if a Nazi supporter were invited to give the Commencement speech.
However, growing up in a culture that is dramatically differently from western norms, many Chinese people do not know an efficient and effective way to deal with this kind of situation. Thus, as a minority in America, it is essential for all Chinese people to learn how to voice thoughts and opinions and how to fight for right in an appropriate way.
As a Chinese student who is currently studying in the U.S, I believe that the very first thing we, Chinese students now studying aboard in America, should do is to research more facts about the 14th Dalai Lama. Blind patriotism is irrational. It is meaningless to argue with dissenters online about who is right and who is wrong. Let the facts speak for themselves. The reason why many foreigners do not understand our feeling is that they are not aware of the history of Tibet and the 14th Dalai Lama. Additionally, we should always be skeptical about articles or comments spread on social media. Because of conflicting interests among countries, propaganda is used by different authorities to achieve their political goals. The last thing we want to see is innocent students becoming the weapon and victim of politics. Also, we are supposed to respect the reality and face the problem without bias. Of course, it is our responsibility to defend our country. Yet, it is also important to face the mistakes our country has made and learn from them.