Tibetans get a raw deal from the 1959 Chinese invasion and subsequent repression. This article is about how Tibetans around the world are using the Internet to unite.

With the advent of the Internet, the Chinese government is caught between bringing China to the technological forefront and an instinctive paranoia of losing grip of government-controlled information.

Since the official declaration of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the Party has carefully prepared everything the people see, hear and read.

The Internet is just another tool in which the authorities have extended their propaganda, exemplified by the Chinese Government’s official Web site on Tibet.

At China’s Tibet Web site the Party details Tibet’s history, culture, education, tourism, environment, and foreign investment. China’s Tibet puts the Chinese Han population in Tibet at 2.8 percent, yet ignores the fact that Tibetans are a minority in their own capital.

It portrays an apparently accepted political situation: “The Dalai and Panchen lamas continued to accept its (the Chinese Communist Party’s) official recognition of their positions.” That’s despite the Dalai Lama’s escape to India in 1959 and refusing to return to the current political climate.

Yet, for security-conscious China, the Net is a major concern. Unlike traditional media, it’s impossible for China to claim a monopoly. In recent years illegal Internet activities have increased annually by 30 percent. Local and foreign hackers have attacked up to 95 percent of China’s management centres with Net access.

In early 1999 a Shanghai man was the first jailed for Internet dissent. Businessman Lin Hai claims he passed on e-mail addresses in order to develop business contacts. The addresses were sent to “VIP Reference”, a pro-democracy on-line magazine, described by court documents as a “hostile foreign organisation”. Lin Hai was imprisoned for two years.

The official Chinese line is: “No unit or individual, who subscribes to the Internet, may engage in criminal activities endangering national security through its use.” These provisions mirror the paranoia governing the Chinese Communist Party.

While Chinese government has a stranglehold on traditional forms of media, the Internet allows users to access dozens of international Web sites on Tibet and their spiritual leader, the 14th Dalai Lama. Tibetans and sympathisers in exile in Australia, India, Canada, US, UK, and Europe, have developed Web sites to tell the world of China’s treatment of Tibet since Chinese occupation.

The Internet has proved an important tool to document the goings-on in Tibet which the Chinese are unwilling to discuss. It helps Tibetans keep up with events in their “homeland” like mass Chinese migration which could ultimately make Tibetans a minority in their own country that otherwise would be difficult to access.

We get an idea of how the Chinese government wants to be “seen” to encourage Tibetan culture, which is evident in the restoration of monasteries destroyed during Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

But according to the Tibetan Government in Exile, the escape by the 14-year-old head of the Kagyu Sect to India, was a result among other things of China’s reneging of religious freedoms.

Tibetans now find themselves without 3 of their top Buddhist leaders. The Karmapa Lama has now joined the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, and the Chinese-picked incarnation of the Panchen Lama is held under close watch in Beijing.

The irony is that we may well see a stronger cultural awareness among exiles who have embraced the Internet, than among leaderless Tibetans in their homeland who are being swamped by Chinese settlers who dominate business and government

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Peter Fray
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