Tibet Crackdown Riles Passions

Students and professors weigh in on the ongoing violence in Tibet

Since violence erupted in the Tibetan traditional capital of Lhasa last Monday, Harvard Square has played host to daily pro-independence demonstrations and candle-light vigils.

The protests—which have at times drawn as many as 150 people—aim to “tell the world that Tibet is an independent country,” according to participant Tenzin Yangchen.

“People are getting shot for holding a Tibetan flag,” she said.

“It’s a shame on the Chinese government.”

Tensions in Tibet between protesters and government troops have escalated over the last week, resulting in at least 16 deaths, according to Chinese government statistics cited by the Associated Press. Tibet’s self-declared government-in-exile claims as many as 80 demonstrators have been killed.

China has widely mobilized troops to curb the violence.

The Chinese asked protesters to turn themselves in by last night, but as the deadline passed, police officers continued to patrol Lhasa, according to the Associated Press.

“The basic cause of the conflict is the difference between the promise of autonomy and the reality,” said William C. Kirby, director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies.

Kirby, who traveled to Tibet last October, said that the presence of Chinese military forces is extremely visible—even in time of peace.

Kirby said that the outcome is contingent on the will of the factions’ leaders.

“The long term resolution of how Tibetans will thrive culturally within the framework of the Chinese state [...] is an issue that only creative leaders and creative statesman in Beijing, in Lhasa, and in Dharamsala can resolve.”

President of the Harvard-Radcliffe Chinese Students Association (CSA) R. Lin Gao ’10 expressed concern over the growing conflict.

“Violence is spreading to other places,” she said. “My family is in Sichuan province, one of the places that the violence is spreading to.”

The CSA, which does not have an official position on Tibet, is exploring the possibility of having an open forum to address this issue in the upcoming weeks.

The clashes comes amidst preparations for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Jacqueline Bhabha, executive director of the University Committee on Human Rights Studies, hopes that the conflict will draw attention to the country’s human rights situation.

“The opportunity of having the August Olympics should be used to raise attention of the human rights issues in China,” she said.