The Tibetan Nonviolent Struggle
November 29, 2016

Tenzin Dorjee

Washington DC: International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, 2015
This is a remarkable book that will be of use to all people concerned about the Tibetan struggle for self-determination

Tibet is about four times the size of continental France. It has a population of six million and has the world’s two most populous states (China and India) on either side. The book explains the long and proud Tibetan history.

The bulk of the book deals with the three Tibetan Uprisings: 1956-9, 1987-9 and 2008. Each Uprising took a different form. The trend has been towards nonviolence based on a cultural transformation. It is a grassroots resistance to Chinese control.

Tibetans have therefore not accepted Chinese rule and it is this continued desire for self-determination that blocks the nation’s absorption into China.

The book is honest about the mistakes by Tibetan leaders in the struggle for self-determination. It is a challenging read, not least for people who have supported Tibetan self-determination.

The book is not only of interest to people concerned about Tibetan self-determination but also for people concerned more generally about struggles for social justice and national liberation. There are some general lessons here.

How are such struggles to be carried out? The Tibet-China struggle is one of the most eye-catching in that it pits six million people against 1.3 billion, with China having the world’s second largest economy and one of the world’s largest defense forces.

The struggle is even more complicated by China’s growing international presence. Countries are now anxious to improve relations with China and so now tend to have less concern about Tibetan issues.

On the other hand, some international developments are assisting the struggle for Tibetan self-determination: improved computer technology communication, greater knowledge of nonviolent struggles elsewhere (including the pioneering writing of Gene Sharp), and the support of many international organizations and figures.
The book ends with recommendations for action including the need to help Tibetan refugees, recognizing the Tibetan government in exile, and shifting the discourse from “human rights” to “self-determination”.

The book is full of new ideas and hope.

Looking at other eventually successful nonviolent struggles around the world, it is worth remembering that leaders are not always as strong as they think they are and the people are not as weak as they fear they are.

Keith Suter