Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s forced exile to India and to discuss the event, NPR interviewed Robert Barnett, director modern Tibetian studies at Columbia University and author of Lhasa: Streets with Memories.
Barnett, who was in touch with Tibetians until the government shut down text messaging for “maintenance,” argues that China has never managed to win the hearts and minds of the Tibetan people, and committed a rather egregious mistake by banning the worship of the Dalai Lama fifty years ago. Though Chinese government officials have in principle agreed to meet with the Dalai Lama, they don’t really know how to talk to him.
Barnett also discussed the effect of news on the radio from afar. Interestingly, Tibetans who live in the countryside have access to the Voice of America and are very well informed on world events but the Chinese jam the radio waves in the city and as a result urban dwellers are dismally informed.
There have been multiple tiny protests in various towns in Tibet recently consisting of one or two people standing up in the town square voicing discontent and slogans. The Chinese, Barnett argues, have to be very careful about how they deal with these since if they crack down too hard they will have a full-scale protest on their hands rather quickly.