As China recently celebrated its seventy years of occupation of Tibet, the CCP was busy scripting propaganda justifying such occupation. Newspapers like XinhuaNet, China Daily and Global Times portray pre-CCP Tibet as backward and Tibet’s progress under the occupation as a result of the CCP. The CCP also portrays its takeover of Tibet as a “peaceful liberation” while trumpeting a mirage of religious and cultural freedoms that in actuality exist to serve the state.
Claim #1: Old, Independent Tibet Was Backward
Chinese media portrays the Tibet that existed before the 1951 takeover by China as backward. One XinhuaNet article portrays the old Tibet as “regressive, autocratic, and isolated.” A second XinhuaNet article describes independent Tibet as practicing “reactionary and barbarous feudal serfdom.” In the old Tibet, another XinhuaNet article cites a Tibetan recalling that “children were taken as serfs at a very young age when their baby teeth had just fallen out, and they had to work for their masters from dawn to dusk.”
Claim #2: Tibet’s Progress Was Due to Obedience to the CCP
CCP media stresses that Tibet’s immense growth in the last seventy years is tied to the wisdom, and at times coercion, of the CCP. In his recent visit to Tibet, President Xi Jinping stated that “[i]t has been proven that without the [CCP], there would have been neither new China nor new Tibet…[t]he [CCP] Central Committee’s guidelines and policies concerning Tibet work are completely correct,” according to China Daily.
A XinhuaNet article stated that “[u]nder the leadership of the Communist Party of China, people in Tibet now live moderately prosperous lives, which would have been unimaginable before the region’s peaceful liberation. They are sure to create an even brighter future through unity, modernization drive and continued support from the central authorities.”
Global Times reported that Tibet’s “rapid economic development,” including Lhasa, Tibet’s capital’s “numerous modern residential buildings, shopping malls, trendy bars, Tibetan-style night clubs, restaurants of specialties, theaters, museums, and art galleries,” is a product of “well-targeted and far-sighted governance.” That same article cites “a local official in Lhasa” as claiming that “the fast economic development could be attributed to successful governance and an emphasis on public order and security, including a crackdown on violent activities orchestrated by overseas separatists and other foreign forces.”
Chinese state-run media at times reveals the coercion that the CCP places on Tibet in order to secure Tibet’s growth. Wang Yang, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and chairman of the CPPCC National Committee, stated that “[o]nly by following the CPC leadership and pursuing the path of socialism, can Tibet achieve development and prosperity,” according to XinhuaNet. Chinese President Xi also stated that, while recognizing Tibet’s “new historical starting point of its development […] the Party’s leadership must be upheld and the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics must be followed,” according to another XinhuaNet article.
Claim #3: CCP’s Takeover of Tibet Was Peaceful and Tolerant
Chinese media portrays the initial 1951 CCP takeover of Tibet as being peaceful. XinhuaNet refers to it as a “peaceful liberation.” That same article cites Wang Yang as stating that the 1951 conquering of Tibet “mark[s] a historic transition with epoch-making significance for Tibet,” while Global Times cites Wang as stating that the conquest of Tibet was “a major victory in the cause of liberation of the Chinese people and China’s reunification.”
Claim #4: China Tolerates Religion in Tibet, as Long as it Serves the State
According to state-run media, the CCP fully respects Tibet’s religious and cultural traditions. According to XinhuaNet, “Religious beliefs of all ethnic groups are fully respected,” and “[t]he Potala Palace, the Jokhang Temple and other temples and sites have been renovated and are under protection.”
But the “respect” the CCP grants to Tibet of course comes at the price of fealty. Wang Yang later “called for efforts to ensure that religions in China are Chinese in orientation and guide Tibetan Buddhism in adapting itself to socialist society,” according to the same XinhuaNet article.
CCP state media reveal that religious freedom in Tibet is of course an illusion, as religious institutions must conform to the CCP. According to another XinhuaNet article, during a visit to a Tibetan monastery, Xi Jinping:
acknowledged the contributions the monastery has made in upholding the leadership of the [CCP], supporting the socialist system and safeguarding national unity.
Xi stressed fully implementing the Party’s fundamental guidelines governing religious work, respecting the religious beliefs of the people, adhering to the principle of independence and self-governance in religious affairs.
He also stressed governing religious affairs in accordance with the law and guiding Tibetan Buddhism to adapt to a socialist society.
Chinese state-run media uses the 70th anniversary of China’s invasion of Tibet as an opportunity to further a narrative of a benevolent China. In actuality, the CCP media reveals that any progress and religious tolerance granted to Tibet comes at a price of complete obedience to the CCP.