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TIBET: The History of Its Elders

The age old isolation of Tibet, high in the Himalayas, came to a tragic end over 50 years ago when the Chinese invaded and occupied this remote but self-sufficient country. About the size of western Europe, Tibet, a Buddhist country, had no way to defend itself. Initially, during the late 1940s the Chinese presented themselves as neighbors come to help with harvesting and community development. Soon, the real motive became apparent and Tibet was under the control of the Chinese military.

The elders give accounts of how their young lives as farmers and yak herders were disrupted forever by infiltration and invasion. Those who were monks and nuns saw over 6,000 monasteries destroyed and their spiritual masters subjected to abuse, imprisonment and execution. Older adults can still recall nightmarish memories of frantic flights from villages, capture, imprisonment, forced labor and torture. Former resistance fighters give eyewitness descriptions of trying to stop the killing of fellow villagers, monks, and the destruction of monasteries and sacred texts. When the Dalai Lama was forced to flee Tibet in 1959, around 80,000 Tibetans followed their beloved spiritual leader into exile enduring great hardships crossing the Himalayas on foot.

Of those who survived many found their way to refugee settlements in India. Now in their 70's 80's and 90's, they are the last generation who will be able to provide first hand accounts of what it was like to grow up in a free Tibet. They are also the witnesses of what happened to their country during the Chinese invasion and occupation. Most importantly, they carry the wisdom, traditions and treasured Buddhist beliefs of the Tibetan people in their hearts.

"I am one of the older persons of the Tibetan community. If I had education, I should put my story in writing. However I can neither write nor speak well, so it could not be done. Today you have given me a great opportunity to tell my life experiences and I am very grateful to you. I feel I have received a golden opportunity." – Thupten Chonphel, age 72

HOPE: The Future of Tibet

"There is something called the truth—that Tibet was an independent country earlier. Now-a-days His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been advocating non-violent ways, but the Chinese do not listen. That is like the example of a big insect eating a smaller insect." –Kunchok Jungnay

"I wish we could get our independence through the grace of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I am angry at the Chinese, but His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, 'If you curse them [the Chinese], that [independence] will not come into being.' Otherwise, I would swear at them to die! That's what I think in my mind. They occupied our country, they seized our wealth and they caused suffering on the people and killed them." –Dickey

"Tibetans have great difficulties and help can come in many ways. The present situation of the Tibetans is extremely urgent and difficult. Though Tibetans do not face economic problems, the political situation is very difficult because it is a question of whether the Tibetan people and culture would survive." –Thupten Chonphel

"I think what one could [do to] help the Tibetans is to support our cause. The Tibetan cause is not just a passionate claim for independence. Tibet was independent for 6,000 years. China is not going to walk out of Tibet very soon. Therefore, I think if one is interested in helping Tibet, they need to help Tibet preserve our cultural identity. Tibet may stay under China for another 200 years, but if we can maintain our cultural identity, keep that even in exile, even in America, even in Europe, in Africa where Tibetans live today or India, Nepal, anywhere. If we can maintain our cultural identity, a day will come when Tibetans can go back to Tibet and be Tibetans again." –Tsewang Khangsar

"The people of the world are the same as the people of Tibet. They like to live in peace, like to share with each other. . . . The world should help the Tibetans and all the other forgotten human beings. There are lots of countries, not only Tibet, but there are lots of forgotten people. The world should pay attention and help each other because, after all, we have only one planet earth here. So we live here and this is our house, so live together prosperously and happily." –Lama Kunga Thartse


EDUCATION: Advice to Young Tibetans

"The main advice that our generation have for the children at anytime is that they should study well. Without education, look at Tibet. The Chinese used to say that Tibet was a backward country and that is true that we were backward. In that way we lost our country. What the children and younger generation need these days is education. So, in the future if China gradually frees Tibet and we have to make our own decisions—if people have education we can manage it without education it would be difficult." –Tsering Palden

"If they would listen, my advice would be that they must know how Tibet came into being, what the country is like, what the religion is like, what the traditions are, how the costumes are worn. These things they must keep in mind and practice. That is the most important thing, if they would listen. There are those who have never seen [Tibet] and are in their mid-forties." –Dhondup

"Before we are gone, the younger generation must study hard and learn to stand on their feet. They have the chance to study hard and the chance to dwell on our cause. Those with education and knowledge, over the age of 18, should definitely think along these lines. Our cause should not be left for His Holiness the Dalai Lama alone, they [the younger generation] should support him. The older people just talk and their times are over." –Choekyi