Many leftists seem to have a problem with religion and the power of religious figures and therefore tend towards to have a problem with Tibet and the Dalai Lama too.
Though there is a lot one can criticise in Old Tibet (like in every country), the ideological delusions of some (rather extreme) leftists tend towards not to see all of the facts, and they miss very often to put into context what they actual criticise.
Nowadays China’s propaganda machine, together with ideologically biased journalists (like Michael Backman, Michael Parenti, John Goetz, Gerald Lehner etc.) – and of course the NKT’s political arm, the Western Shugden Society – seem a bit to dominate the critical voices of the history and presentations of Tibet – in the internet as well as sometimes also in the press/media.* Often they follow a line of arguments that are rather based on conspiracy theories – like those Victor and Victoria Trimondi have established with their “The Shadow of the Dalai Lama” (1999) – than unbiased and thoughtful investigation.
Putting events into context
If one looks back from today’s points of view it is easy to criticise other societies of the past, especially if they are somewhat alien to oneself like Tibet. But I would like to remind Westerners that the liberties we enjoy in the West today are rather very new, and one has to look on societies according to the standards of their time. For instance the right to elect for women was formally established in Swiss at 7. February 1971. An it was only on 27. November 1990 that the last Swiss Kanton, Appenzell Innerrhoden, was forced by law to allow women to participate elections. In 1959 Mildred and Richard Loving were sentenced one year to prison because it was forbidden in the USA that people of different ethnic “races” marry. It was only in 1967 that the Supreme Court of the USA abolished the “Anti-Miscegenation Laws” that forbade the mixing of two different “races”.**
Tibet had also a progressive stance
As Jamyang Norbu writes in his essay Independent Tibet – The Facts:
Tibet was a fully functioning and independent state before the Chinese invasion. It threatened none of its neighbours, fed its population unfailingly, year after year, with no help from the outside world, and owed nothing to any country or international institution. Although insular, theocratic and not a modern democracy, Tibet maintained law and order within its borders and conscientiously observed treaties and conventions entered into with other nations. It was one of the earliest countries to enact laws to protect wildlife and the environment – recurrently cited in the “Mountain Valley Edicts” issued since 1642 , and possibly earlier. 
Tibet abolished capital punishment in 1913 (noted by many foreign travellers ) and was one of the first nations in the world to do so. There is no record of it persecuting minorities (e.g. Muslims ) or massacring sections of its population from time to time as China (remember Tiananmen) still does. Although Tibet’s frontiers with India, Nepal and Bhutan were completely unguarded and Tibetans were “great travellers”  , very few Tibetans fled their country as economic or political refugees. There was not a single Tibetan immigrant in the USA or Europe before the Communist invasion.
The connection between Tibet’s Independence and Tibet as a Feudal Hell
Very often the distorted portrays of Tibet as a hell on earth and China’s distorted claims of having freed Tibet from “feudal serfdom” (when China occupied Tibet their proclaimed aim was btw to free Tibet from the evil (British) imperialists) are nothing more than justifications of the violent and unrightful occupation of Tibet by the PR China, bringing Tibet under aggressive, colonialist rule.
No matter whose propaganda – the PRC’s or the TGIE’s – is more distorted, the Tibetans’ right to decide themselves how they want to live, is a basic human right which no authority can question. And it is very clear that the majority of Tibetans don’t want to live in an Old Tibet nor under China’s violent rule.
For a balanced account about Tibet, Tibet as a Hell on Earth, Tibet’s independence, and Tibet propaganda see:
- Imagining Tibet: Between Shangri-la and Feudal Oppression – Attempting a Synthesis by Thierry Dodin and Heinz Räther
- Tibet as ›Hell on Earth‹ by Prof. Elliot Sperling
- Tibet’s Status Under International Law by Prof. Eckart Klein
- The Tibet-China Conflict: History and Polemics (PDF) by Prof. Elliot Sperling
- and Prof. John Powers’ History As Propaganda: Tibetan Exiles versus the People’s Republic of China
* This might be also the case because persons with sympathy for the Tibetan’s plight have missed to express also criticism, and portrayed Tibet often too much in a (distorted) “positive” light.
** passage taken from Stephen Schettini about Tibetan Buddhism – When Buddhism is a Cult
Footnotes of JN’s essay
1. In 1642, the Fifth Dalai Lama issued the Rilung Tsatsik (རི་ཀླུང་རྩ་ཚིག་ri klung rtsa tshig) generally translated as the Mountain Valley Edict. Another source describes it as a Decree for the Protection of Animals and the Environment. Since then, this edict was re-issued annually till 1958. Following the New Year Festivities, copies of the edict were distributed nationwide, and were displayed and read out to the assembled public by district officials. In order that its message suitably awe and instruct the document itself was physically impressive: about 3 feet wide and 6 or 7 feet in length, richly decorated with auspicious symbols and artwork around the border, and with the seal of the Dalai Lama at the bottom. French, Rebecca Redwood. The Golden Yoke, p 208, 209 & 213.
2. According to the scholar, Tashi Tsering (director of the Amnye Machen Institute) there are references to “Mountain Valley” edicts being issued during the Rimpung dynasty and the Tsangpa kings.
3. Bell, Charles. Tibet Past and Present. London: Oxford University Press, 1924. See index: “Capital punishment abolished in Tibet, 142, 143, 236.”
Byron, Robert. First Russia then Tibet. London: Macmillan & Co., 1933. pg 204: “Capital punishment was now abolished.”
McGovern, William. To Lhasa in Disguise. New York: Century Co., 1924. pg 388-389.
Kingdon-Ward, Frank. In the Land of The Blue Poppies. New York: Modern Library, 2003. pg 22.
Winnington, Alan. Tibet: The Record of a Journey. London: Lawrence & Wishart Ltd., 1957. pg 99.
Brauen, Martin. Peter Aufschnaiter’s Eight Years in Tibet. Bangkok: Orchid Press, 2002. Pg 77: “There was no death penalty…”
4. The few books available on Muslims in Tibet clearly reveal the tolerance of Tibetan government, church and society for this minority group:
Henry, Gray. Islam in Tibet. Louisville, Kentucky: Fons Vitae, 1997.
Nadwi, Dr. Abu Bakr Amir-uddin. Tibet and Tibetan Muslims, Dharamsala: Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, 2004.
5. The plant hunter Kingdon-Ward writing of Khampas mentions that “the men are great travellers and leave their wives behind for months at a time, and these good folk solace themselves as best they can with other travellers.” Kingdon Ward sees this contributing to the Tibetan custom of polyandry. He sees supporting evidence for his conjecture in the Lutzu who though in contact with Tibetans “…as far as I am aware, are monogamous, which adds weight of negative evidence in favour of the above theory, since the tribes are notorious stay-at-homes.”
Kingdon-Ward, Frank. (ed. Tom Christopher) In the Land of The Blue Poppies. New York: Modern Library, 2003. P175
Last edited by tenpel on January 1, 2013 at 1:26 pm