Tibetan cadres today: Collaborators or patriots?

I believe that when speaking of cadres in Tibet, the word 'collaborator' is not appropriate. Do you know this word? It was used in France to describe French people who cooperated with the Nazis in the war. But it generally means anyone who works with the occupiers of a country – and implies that they should be punished. But I believe that many of the Tibetan cadres are actually the best source of support for Tibetan culture and the best hope for the future. Some Tibetan exiles think that collaborators should be condemned. This is a complicated issue so let us look at the different types of Tibetans in Tibet today.

Liberal ethicists

A majority of the Tibetan population can be called 'liberal ethicists'. They are liberal because they believe that the culture, values and politics of Tibetans should change according to the time and political environment, and they are willing to adopt new measures to secure human needs. They are also ethicists because even as they are willing to adopt new ideas and new measures to change, they emphasise the ethical and moral value of every measure they are taking.

Although the liberal ethicists in Tibet are not against technological and scientific modernisation in general, they are not happy about the application of Chinese modernisation, which they see as the major source of the two cultures clashing. Any change in Tibet should satisfy these liberal ethicists, because they understand the needs of the majority of the population. As China's institutions and political system are becoming less favourable in Tibet, the Tibetan liberation ethicists' ideas, morals, values and institutions are becoming more popular and favourable.

The Tibetan masses are more trusting of, more comfortable with and have much more in common with these liberal ethicists than with the Chinese governments in Tibet. But the Chinese see the momentum of this development as a threat to Chinese unity. After seeing pro-independence demonstrations in 1987 and 1989, the Chinese are trying to control these developments. So, the Chinese put pressure on the liberal ethicists, stopped many freedoms, which the Tibetans enjoyed for a short period of time. From 1989 to now, the Chinese policy on Tibet has shifted from 'equality' to 'unity' and from a 'reconstructive approach' to 'market economy'. As China becomes a more open and liberal nation, the liberal ethicist approach towards politics, moral and social views are becoming very popular among ordinary Tibetans. Under current conditions, Tibetans are increasingly alienated by powerful Chinese economic, political and social domination. The liberal ethicists are becoming a powerful force to struggle with the Chinese.

New loyalists

New loyalists believe that Tibet should depend on China. They come to the conclusion that Tibet is small and economically and culturally backward. To change the fundamental backwardness of Tibet, Tibet must depend on this vast nation China, its technology, and even its culture. Although they are aware of some brutal Chinese policies in Tibet, they want to believe that some aggressive measures are necessary to transform Tibet from a dark, brutal and backward nation. Of course, this group of people receives a lot of support from the Chinese. The Chinese want to use these people to control Tibet. The Chinese government spends large sums of money to create a new identity, that of being part of China, with a new culture and new values. Even if they are vocal on the Tibetan political stage, this group of people has never been part of the Tibetan mainstream. Most of these people were born between the 1940s and the 1960s, and some grew up in China. Most of them were trained at schools in China from an early age so they had virtually no contact with Tibetan culture.


The opportunists have no special agendas and goals. They use any ideas, identities and beliefs to support their personal benefit, social promotion and for securing their positions in society. Many of them have come out of Chinese schools from the late 1970s to the present day. Their basic education is Chinese, but they have little Tibetan knowledge. Their philosophy of life, political belief and values developed during China's massive self-transformation. They see the weaknesses of Chinese culture, political system and values. They witness the weakness of the Tibetans under Chinese domination. The opportunists also hold the view that Tibetan culture could not save Tibet and neither can Chinese culture and values, so personal success is more important than anything else. Their education of China and Tibet serves as a tool of personal opportunity. Because of their education and articulate skills, these opportunists get some attention from some western humanitarian organisations and individuals. They are also attractive to Christian missionaries, who give financial aid to the opportunists to convert them.

Radical traditionalists

Radical traditionalists are nothing new to Tibetan history. In the 1930s, when the 13th Dalai Lama introduced political reform and set up British style schools in Tibet, radical traditionalists opposed these ideas, so political reforms were postponed and modernised schools were closed down. People who had new visions and new attitudes were put in prison. The Tibetan scholar Genden Chopel was a perfect example of this. He was jailed for four years for spying for an unnamed country. In reality, he was put in jail because of his revolutionary ideas and arguments. He predicted that if Tibet did not reform or find a new way to deal with new things, Tibetan culture and Tibet would be jeopardised.

Radical traditionalists believe that Tibetan ideas, beliefs and values should not be changed due to political aggressions. The Tibetan world runs according to Tibetan traditional culture. There are no reasons to change at all. China is the enemy, but China will lose or disappear in Tibet as the karmic wheel will turn against it. For this group of people, politics and the economy are not issues in Tibet.

Cultural revisionists

There are also some cultural revisionists. This sentiment and ideology was developed after the Tibetan writer Dondrup Gyal wrote some modern novels and poems in a modern style. Politically, they are pro-Tibet and they believe Tibet should have some independence, or at the very least Tibet should control her own affairs. Although they are titled 'new Tibetan youth' who love their people and nation, culturally they are pro-China or they are blaming everything, from Chinese domination to economic backwardness, on Tibetan culture. They are valuing Tibetan culture through Chinese eyes, so their conclusions and beliefs are not too different from the Chinese. They see Tibetan culture and belief as obstacles to modernisation, science and political independence. Their arguments and logic are sometimes identical to those of the young Red Guards in China during the Cultural Revolution. They simply believe that Tibetan culture is old-fashioned and old for a modern society.

(Originally carried by Tibet Press Watch, July 2002. The author remains anonymous for obvious reasons.)

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