In solidarity with the people of Tibet

By Pierre Rousset

March 18, 2008 -- The demonstrations which began on March 10, 2008, in Tibet, and which turned into riots since March 14, are remarkable both for their breadth and their radicalism. Far from being confined to the capital, Lhasa, they have spread to the bordering provinces of China, where communities of Tibetans reside: witnesses report important mobilisations in Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan.

These riots sometimes have taken an quasi-insurrectionary turn. They testify to the despair of a population, of their feeling of oppression and dispossession. Indeed, Beijing continues in this ``autonomous area'' a systematic policy of colonisation by settlement: the development of infrastructure (such as the creation of a fast-rail link) is used for this purpose. Thus, the Han ethnic group (the dominant Chinese ethnic group) have become a majority in Tibet; it is they who, moreover, profit most from ``development'' in Tibet. This is the source of the revolt of the Tibetans, threatened by forced acculturation and assimilation. It also explains violence expressed by some ``rioters'' against Han passers-by and shopkeepers.

The reaction to events in Tibet are particularly sharp in South Asia. But in Nepal, and in India -- where Dharamsala is the seat of the ``government in exile'' and where the Dalai Lama resides -- demonstrations of the Tibetan community have been repressed by the police force. Gatherings denouncing the Beijing's policy have also been held in various countries, including France, Belgium, Netherlands and Switzerland. Many human rights associations have mobilised.

It is the time for solidarity. It is past the time when Tibetan nationalism can be used by the West against the Chinese Revolution. The survival of Tibetan people is the issue. The Chinese army has entered the action. According to sources, repression could have already caused scores or a few hundred deaths.

Beijing does all that it can to censor information. The truth of the situation in Tibet must be established by an independent commission. The right to self-determination of the people of Tibet must be recognised - including by governments and the United Nations.

[Pierre Rousset is editor of the Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières (ESSF) website and a member of the Revolutionary Communist League of France (LCR). The original French version of the above article is at .]


From Liam MacUaid's excellent blog:

Tibet, Engels, Hegel and Andy

Posted on March 22, 2008 by Liam

Tibet <> Andy posted a piece on Socialist Unity <> a couple of days ago called /China and the riddle of Tibet/. Madam Miaow <> takes a more scenic route but gets to the same destination.

Here is a quote from from Andy’s piece:

   Tibet is too marginal to the world economy and too poor to be
   genuinely independent and develop a national economy and high
   culture of its own. In reality it can only exist as either part of
   China or as a bankrupt client state of Western imperialism – the
   fact that the figurehead for the Free Tibet campaign is the Dalai
   Lama, the feudal figurehead of the old slavery and barbarism is
   illustrative of the fact that no progressive national-popular and
   democratic campaign exists among the mass of the Tibetan Chinese,
   rather the movement is the expression of declassed intellectuals and
   dispossessed exiles. In the absence of a popular national dynamic to
   create a viable independent state, there is no prospect of self

Here is a quote from Engels which is fairly similar.

   Peoples which have never had a history of their own, which come
   under foreign domination the moment they have achieved the first,
   crudest level of civilisation… have no capacity for survival and
   will never be able to attain any kind of independence. And that has
   been the fate of the Austrian Slavs. (`Democratic PanSlavism’,
   February 1849)

The Engels quote is cited in a review by Andy Clarkson of an out of print book by Roman Rosdolsky*,* /Engels and the/ `Nonhistoric’ /Peoples: the National Question in the Revolution of 1848. /The review is on Revolutionary History’s <> site and I’m grateful to Marxsite’s <> Phil for drawing it to my attention. The Austrian Slavs are what we now call Czechs.

Rosdolsky attributes Engels’ concept of the “nonhistoric peoples” to Hegel and Andy Clarkson provides an illustration from the philosopher to show just how reactionary the concept is:

   Anyone who wishes to study the most terrible manifestations of human
   nature will find them in Africa…it is an unhistorical continent,
   with no movement or development of its own.

It is best for socialists to err on the side on the side of supporting national liberation struggles. Rosa Luxemburg thought that the reunification of Poland was reactionary utopianism too so even though Andy is wrong he’s in some pretty good company. His judgement on the role of the Chinese state is comparable to Engels’ enthusiasm for German industry as a civilizing and unifying factor in Central Europe and he provides examples of progress under Chinese rule such as big leaps in life expectancy and literacy as well as the elimination of serfdom. This is true. The Chinese bureaucracy has pulled Tibet out of the 12th century. A consequence of this is that it has also created an indigenous intelligentsia separate from the clergy and, more importantly, a working class population which is rebellion both against its relative poverty and national oppression.

There is a big debate to be had about whether or not you can categorise China as any sort of workers’ state. The bureaucracy is attacking the social gains of the revolution with vigour and much of the economy is now capitalist. We are in the final stages of a bureaucratic counter-revolution. What is beyond dispute is that the Chinese government’s policy towards Tibet is oppressive and reactionary and if one were a hypothetical socialist in China one would have to support the Tibetan demands for national liberation.

The Tibetans manifestly now have a national self-identity which makes Stalin’s <> checklist of nationality redundant. As Michael Lowy (one of the editors of the new Socialist Resistance magazine - £10 for 5 issues) remarked in his book Fatherland or Mother Earth “the consciousness of a national identity and a national political movement, is no less important.”

Andy makes the point that “breaking the unity of the historical Chinese state and nation will not strengthen the Chinese people in their struggle for economic and democratic progress, but only carve China up at the mercy of the imperialists.” You could flip that proposition. By denying the Tibetans their right to self determination the Chinese bureaucracy is creating an opportunity for the imperialists to actively engage in Chinese politics. Nancy Pelosi’s meeting with the Dalai Lama yesterday was just such an intervention. The irony is that the the rioters on the streets no longer seem to be taking a political lead from a religious leader whom they see as too willing to accommodate to the bureaucracy and they certainly were not demanding a confessional state.

At least since the League of Nations the imperialists have been using rhetoric about democracy, freedom and civil rights in the wars of ideology, often with a great deal of success. A socialist response to this has to include an assertion that we are the strongest defenders of these things. We don’t do this by accepting the Chinese government’s line <> that its state is eternally indivisible but rather by supporting the rights of oppressed nationalities when they say they want to rule themselves. 

Free Tibet!

25 September 1996

By Norm Dixon

The visit of Tibet's exiled ruler Tenzin Gyatso, better known as the 14th Dalai Lama, has focused attention on the Chinese government's continued denial of the Tibetan people's right to national self-determination, the absence of democratic rights and the widespread repression of dissent.

Tibetans are entitled to claim their right to national self-determination. They have a common language, territory and culture. A distinct, continuous Tibetan history can be traced back 2500 years. Whatever the arguments about the independence or otherwise of Tibet during this long period, when China's last dynasty was overthrown in 1911, all Chinese officials were expelled and the 13th Dalai Lama issued a proclamation that many Tibetans consider a declaration of independence.

While no country formally recognised this independence, Tibetan officials conducted all governmental functions without reference to, or interference from, Beijing. Lhasa conducted government-to-government relations with many countries, signing trade pacts and other deals. Until 1950, Tibet operated as a de facto independent state.

The Chinese Communist Party once adhered to the traditional Leninist position on the right of nations to self-determination. The 1931 constitution of the soviet government of China stated: "All Mongolians, Tibetans, Miao, Yao, Koreans and others living in the territory of China shall enjoy the full rights to self-determination, i.e., they may either join the Union of Chinese Soviets or secede from it and form their own state as they may prefer".

By 1949, the CCP's commitment to the right of self-determination had been quietly dropped. In that year, the new government announced that the liberation of Tibet was a major goal of the People's Liberation Army. Mao Zedong -- aware that Tibet's de facto independence made a negotiated integration into China preferable to an immediate military attack, which might have brought international repercussions -- proposed "peaceful liberation".

When the Tibetan government failed to meet a deadline for "peaceful liberation", PLA forces in October 1950 invaded Tibet's eastern province of Kham and quickly overran Tibet's poorly armed and led army of 10,000 troops. The PLA stopped its advance, and Beijing again urged Lhasa to begin negotiations.

Tenzin Gyatso, now the Dalai Lama, sent a negotiating team to Beijing which, with little choice, signed an agreement on May 23, 1951, known as the Seventeen Point Agreement. For the first time in recorded history, Tibet's rulers formally acknowledged in writing China's sovereignty over Tibet.

The Dalai Lama did not attempt to rally the Tibetan people to defend their former independence. He and the majority of his regime were satisfied, if uncomfortable, since China agreed to maintain Tibet's oppressive theocratic political system and keep the exploitative semi-feudal economic system intact, with the Dalai Lama at its head. Some of Tibet's more recalcitrant aristocrats, though, were perturbed by the caveat that this would last until such time as Tibetans wanted reforms. Under this agreement, Chinese troops moved peacefully into Lhasa in the autumn of 1951.

CCP policy in this period recognised that the religious, political and economic hold of the landowners was strong and that the class struggle in Tibet had not developed sufficiently for the peasantry to rebel against their appalling conditions and absolute lack of human rights. Beijing strove instead to work closely with the Tibetan landowning elite and allay their fears.

According to Tibet scholar Melvyn Goldstein, between 1951 and 1959 there was no significant expropriation of property of the aristocratic and religious landlords. Mao was committed to the continued reign of the Dalai Lama because this would reassure the feudal and religious elites of their place in China's new multi-ethnic state.

The CCP did virtually nothing to encourage the Tibetan masses to challenge the rule of the landlords. In the eyes of both Mao and the Tibetan elite, the peasants were mere appendages of the landowners. The PLA was at first careful to show respect for Tibetan culture and religion, giving alms to all 20,000 monks in the Lhasa area.

But the damage had been done with the taking of Kham by force and the entry of Chinese troops, no matter how well behaved, into Lhasa. The Tibetan people felt humiliated at the loss of their independence and feared for their future. The sudden presence of Chinese troops was disturbing after 40 years in which there had been virtually no Chinese in Tibet. When the disgruntled landlords felt their economic and political monopoly was threatened, they were able to clothe their reactionary rebellion in a nationalist garb and win many poor Tibetans to their side.

A section of the landholders, convinced that the CCP would eventually introduce land reform and fearing the impact on their power of the development of Tibet's infrastructure, began to organise an armed rebellion. There were landlord-inspired disturbances in eastern Tibet triggered when the Chinese authorities levied taxes on traders returning from India and demanded that monasteries supply lists of property for tax assessment. By 1957, the US had altered its ambivalent position on Tibet, and the CIA was arming and training Tibetan rebels.

In 1957, Mao made a last-ditch attempt to placate the landlords. The numbers of Chinese CCP cadre and troops in Tibet were reduced, and the Dalai Lama was promised in writing that China would not implement land reform for another six years. If conditions were not "ripe" then, reforms would be postponed again.

The landlords were not convinced. The Dalai Lama, with 80,000 supporters, fled to India at the height of several days of massive demonstrations that began on March 10, 1959. Soon after the Dalai Lama's retreat, fighting broke out. Chinese troops put down the uprising, which involved tens of thousands of Tibetans. Beijing says 87,000 people were killed.

The CCP concluded that the cause of the rebellion was its policy of "moderation" toward minorities. Beijing tore up the Seventeen Point Agreement and abolished the traditional government, confiscated the estates of the religious and aristocratic elites and closed thousands of monasteries. Policy toward Tibet has been marked ever since by varying degrees of brute force and terror, with systematic discrimination, reaching its worst extremes during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

While land reform and other measures undoubtedly benefited Tibet's poor peasants, its arbitrary implementation and the brutal suppression of Tibetan culture and religion sowed hatred and fuelled Tibetan nationalism. The brutality and colonisation imposed by the Chinese government became the overriding issue for Tibetans, giving new life to the illusion that all sections of Tibetan society have fundamental common interests.

Since the late 1980s, there has been an upsurge of protest. Following significant protests in 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1990, extreme police repression has prevented further outbreaks. Recent visitors report a heavy police presence in Lhasa, with surveillance cameras mounted in the streets. Gatherings of three ot more Tibetans are broken up by police.

According to Amnesty International's most recent annual report, hundreds of people were detained in 1995 for peaceful pro-independence activities. Police and troops continue to raid monasteries and convents. AI says there are more than 650 Tibetan political prisoners.

Reflecting both the original backwardness of landlord-dominated Tibet and Beijing's anti-Tibet policies, official Chinese figures show Tibet to be languishing. In 1990, literacy was 56% compared to China's 74%; Tibet has the lowest life expectancy at 45 years, compared to China's 75; Tibet's per capita GDP for 1993 was US$242, compared to China's $462.

Tibet's problems have intensified with the Chinese bureaucracy's rush to restore capitalism. In 1992, Lhasa was declared a special economic zone. Waves of state-subsidised Chinese settlers took over new business opportunities, and Chinese skilled workers dominate jobs created by demand for new housing and services. Tibetans are being increasingly marginalised in their own homeland. The non-Tibetan population of Lhasa is now estimated at 50%. Racism towards Tibetans is reportedly rife.

After more than four decades of Chinese rule, Tibetans are seething with resentment at what they see as a systematic campaign to destroy and uproot their culture. This is the product of more than four decades of heavy handed, ill-directed and insensitive attempts by the Stalinist Chinese bureaucracy to suppress the influence of Tibet's former landlord class, now in exile in India.

But the harsh reality is that Beijing's indiscriminate and apolitical assaults -- arbitrarily softened or hardened depending on the bureaucratic wind blowing from the capital -- have served only to drive most Tibetans into the arms of their former oppressors, now able to wear the mantle of "freedom fighters".


The Dalai Lama's hidden past

25 September 1996

Comment by Norm Dixon

Most solidarity and environmental groups supporting the Tibetan people's cause have not questioned the Dalai Lama's role in Tibetan history or addressed what it would mean for the Tibetan people if the Dalai Lama and his coterie returned to power.

A 1995 document distributed by the Dalai Lama's Office of Tibet aggressively states that ``China tries to justify its occupation and repressive rule of Tibet by pretending that it `liberated' Tibetan society from `medieval feudal serfdom' and `slavery'. Beijing trots out this myth to counter every international pressure to review its repressive policies in Tibet.'' It then coyly concedes: ``Traditional Tibetan society was by no means perfect ... However, it was not as bad as China would have us believe.''

Was this a myth? Tibet's Buddhist monastic nobility controlled all land on behalf of the ``gods''. They monopolised the country's wealth by exacting tribute and labour services from peasants and herders. This system was similar to how the medieval Catholic Church exploited peasants in feudal Europe.

Tibetan peasants and herders had little personal freedom. Without the permission of the priests, or lamas, they could not do anything. They were considered appendages to the monastery. The peasantry lived in dire poverty while enormous wealth accumulated in the monasteries and in the Dalai Lama's palace in Lhasa.

In 1956 the Dalai Lama, fearing that the Chinese government would soon move on Lhasa, issued an appeal for gold and jewels to construct another throne for himself. This, he argued, would help rid Tibet of ``bad omens''. One hundred and twenty tons were collected. When the Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959, he was preceded by more than 60 tons of treasure.

Romantic notions about the ``peaceful'' and ``harmonious'' nature of Tibetan Buddhist monastic life should be tested against reality. The Lithang Monastery in eastern Tibet was where a major rebellion against Chinese rule erupted in 1956. Beijing tried to levy taxes on its trade and wealth. The monastery housed 5000 monks and operated 113 ``satellite'' monasteries, all supported by the labour of the peasants.

Chris Mullin, writing in the Far Eastern Economic Review in 1975, described Lithang's monks as ``not monks in the Western sense ... many were involved in private trade; some carried guns and spent much of their time violently feuding with rival monasteries. One former citizen describes Lithang as `like the Wild West'.''

The Tibetan ``government'' in Lhasa was composed of lamas selected for their religious piety. At the head of this theocracy was the Dalai Lama. The concepts democracy, human rights or universal education were unknown.

The Dalai Lama and the majority of the elite agreed to give away Tibet's de facto independence in 1950 once they were assured by Beijing their exploitative system would be maintained. Nine years later, only when they felt their privileges were threatened, did they revolt. Suddenly the words ``democracy'' and ``human rights'' entered the vocabulary of the government-in-exile, operating out of Dharamsala in India ever since.

Dharamsala and the Dalai Lama's commitment to democracy seems weak. An Office of Tibet document claims ``soon after His Holiness the Dalai Lama's arrival in India, he re-established the Tibetan Government in exile, based on modern democratic principles''. Yet it took more than 30 years for an Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies to be directly elected from among the 130,000 exiles. Of 46 assembly members, only 30 are elected. The other 16 are appointed by religious authorities or directly by the Dalai Lama.

All assembly decisions must be approved by the Dalai Lama, whose sole claim to the status of head of state is that he has been selected by the gods. The separation of church and state is yet to be recognised by the Dalai Lama as a ``modern democratic principle''.

The right-wing nature of the Dalai Lama and the government-in-exile was further exposed by its relationship with the US CIA. The Dalai Lama concealed the CIA's role in the 1959 uprising until 1975.

Between 1956 and 1972 the CIA armed and trained Tibetan guerillas. The Dalai Lama's brothers acted as intermediaries. Before the 1959 uprising, the CIA parachuted arms and trained guerillas into eastern Tibet. The Dalai Lama maintained radio contact with the CIA during his 1959 escape to India.

Even the Dalai Lama's commitment to allowing the Tibetan people a genuine act of self-determination is debatable. Without consultation with the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama openly abandoned his movement's demand for independence in 1987. This shift was first communicated to Beijing secretly in 1984. The Dalai Lama's proposals now amount to calling for negotiations with Beijing to allow him and his exiled government to resume administrative power in an ``autonomous'', albeit larger, Tibet. The Dalai Lama's call for international pressure on Beijing seeks only to achieve this.

There are indications that a younger generation of exiled Tibetans is now questioning the traditional leadership. In Dharamsala, the New Internationalist reported recently, young Tibetans have criticised the abandonment of the demand for independence and the Dalai Lama's rejection of armed struggle. They openly question the influence of religion, saying it holds back the struggle. Some have received death threats for challenging the old guard. Several recently-arrived refugees were elected to the Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies.

The Tibetan people deserve the right to national self-determination. However, supporting their struggle should not mean that we uncritically support the self-proclaimed leadership of the Dalai Lama and his compromised ``government-in-exile''. Their commitment to human rights, democracy and support for genuine self-determination can only be judged from their actions and their willingness to tell the truth.

Vote at

Tibet - what do you think?
* I wish we could all learn to get along.
* I don’t know enough to make an informed judgement.
* I support the Tibetan people’s right to self determination.
*I would support the Tibetan people’s right to self determination but they aren’t yet a nation.
*Tricky one. They might be right but they are being manipulated by the imperialists.
*Defend the integrity of the Chinese workers’ state. Smash the Dalai clique.


CRACKDOWN: China's Brutal Olympic Echo

China's crackdown against Tibetan protesters ahead of the Summer Olympics in Beijing carries with it a brutal echo from the past. Scores of people, including school children are reported dead and more repression has been promised. The People's Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), said "[We must] resolutely crush the 'Tibet independence' forces' conspiracy and sabotaging activities."

Even after decades of occupation, the ruthlessness of the crackdown has shocked much of the world. It happens the week after the US State Department removed China from its list of the world's worst human rights offenders.

Yet the concern expressed by world leaders has seemed less for the people of Tibet than the fate of the Summer Games, with Olympic cash deemed more precious than Tibetan blood. The Olympics were supposed to be China's multibillion-dollar, super sweet sixteen. Britain's Minister for Africa, Asia and the United Nations, Mark Malloch-Brown told the BBC, "This is China's coming-out party, and they should take great care to do nothing that will wreck that."

Other countries hankering after a piece of China's thriving economy have rushed to put daylight between the crackdown in Tibet and the Olympics. No surprise, the Bush's White House, underwriting their war in Iraq on loans from Beijing, headed off any talk that President Bush would cancel his appearance at the Olympic Games when spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush believed that the Olympics "should be about the athletes and not necessarily about politics." Earlier, the European Union said a "boycott would not be the appropriate way to address the work for respect of human rights, which means the ethnic and religious rights of the Tibetans."

While the nations of the West have ruled out the idea of boycotting the games, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Tuesday that the EU should at least consider boycotting the opening ceremony if violence continues. Later Kouchner backtracked, saying "We're not in favor of it. When you're dealing in international relations with countries as important as China, obviously when you make economic decisions it's sometimes at the expense of human rights. That's elementary realism.''

Whatever happens next, China's crackdown is not happening in spite of the Beijing Olympics, but because of them. It is a bold play by China to set a tone for the remainder of the year. Since its occupation of the country in 1951, China has suppressed its Buddhist faith and made Tibetans a persecuted minority in their own country via the mass migration of millions of Han Chinese. As monks and young Tibetans took their grievances to the streets over the weekend, the government made clear it would brook no protest and tolerate no dissent.

But it's helpful to remember that in many countries, including our own, pre-Olympic repression is as much of a tradition as lighting the torch.

In 1984, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates oversaw the jailing of thousands of young black men in the infamous Olympic Gang Sweeps. Gates also sent the LA Swat Team to Israel and West Berlin for special training.

The 1996 Atlanta games were supposed to demonstrate the gains of the New South, but the New South ended up looking much like the old one, as public housing was razed to make way for Olympic venues, homeless people were chased off the streets and perceived trouble-makers were arrested. As Wendy Pedersen of the Carnegie Community Action Project recently recalled in Vancouver, BC, another city poised to crack down on crime, drugs and homelessness in preparation for the Winter Olympics in 2010, Atlanta officials "had six ordinances that made all kinds of things illegal, including lying down. Lots of people were shipped out, and lots of people were put in jail. [The Olympic Planning Committee] actually built the city jail. Activists there called it the first Olympic project completed on time."

Repression followed the Olympic Rings to Greece in 2004. As the radio program "Democracy Now," reported at the time, authorities in Athens "round[ed] up homeless people, drug addicts and the mentally ill, requiring that psychiatric hospitals lock them up." The pre-Olympics "cleanup" included detaining or deporting refugees and asylum-seekers. Being the first Olympics after 9/11, police surveillance of immigrant Muslims and makeshift mosques in Athens greatly increased.

But the worst example of Olympic repression--and the most resonantto the current moment--came in 1968 in Mexico City, where hundreds of Mexican students and workers occupying the National University were slaughtered in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas on October 2, 1968, ten days before the start of the games. Recently declassified documents paint a picture of a massacre as cold and methodical as President Luis Echeverría's instructions.

Echeverría's aim was the same as China's: a pre-emptive strike to make sure that using the Olympic games as a platform for protest would not be on the itinerary. The irony, of course, is that while Echeverría succeeded in crushing the protest movement outside the games, on the inside US athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their black-gloved fists in an expression of Black Power, cementing the 1968 games as a place defined by discontent. It's a lesson the 2008 athletes might remember. Officials may try to smother dissent on the streets of Lhasa and elsewhere in China, but in the games themselves--from the path of the Olympic torch up Mount Everest to the opulent venues constructed in Beijing--the risk for protest, and the opportunity, is real.

[Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to Contact him at]

The right of self-determination has to be exerced by the whole citizenship of a country. In Tibet, it includes as the tibetan as the Han people in Tibet.

We have to distinguish the political right of self-determination, which owns to citizenship, and the cultural right to keep its language and culture, which corresponds to the nacionality (in this case, to the tibetan people).


Tibet's new resistance to Chinese repression

By David Whitehouse | March 28, 2008 | 

TIBETAN PROTESTS against Chinese repression have escalated into a series of riots and confrontations in Tibet and three neighboring provinces.

The protests began March 10 when Buddhist monks gathered near a monastery in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa to commemorate a 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. Security forces arrested several monks and forcibly broke up the gathering.

In the following days, the city's old Tibetan Quarter erupted in riots in response to the news about confrontations between robed monks and armored riot police. By March 16, Tibetans throughout the region, including Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai provinces, took to the streets in crowds numbering from 100 to 3,000, according to reports gathered by TibetInfoNet.

The Chinese central government has sent in tens of thousands of security forces to shut down the protests. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao blamed the agitation on the "Dalai clique" of the exiled Dalai Lama, who leads a Tibetan "government in exile" from Dharamsala, India.

The protests threaten to tarnish China's image in the lead-up to the Beijing Olympics in August, so the government has avoided an overt declaration of martial law. President Hu Jintao rose to prominence in the Communist Party for leading a crackdown in Tibet in 1989.

The Dalai Lama denied organizing the movement, and distanced himself from its violence. The Beijing government claims that 13 ethnic Chinese died in the Lhasa riots, but the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile claims the victims, numbering nearly 100 so far, are Tibetans killed by Chinese armed forces.

The Dalai Lama is probably correct to say that he hasn't controlled the direction the protests have taken, but his close followers clearly promoted the initial phases of the movement. The monks' March 10 action in Lhasa was coordinated with a demonstration in Nepal and an attempt of exiled Tibetans to march from India to Tibet.

Mirroring the Chinese repression, Indian and Nepalese officials shut down the local protests out of fear of antagonizing their important neighbor, China--and to avoid encouraging ethnic insurgencies in their own countries.

Criticism of the Chinese crackdown was likewise muted from U.S. and European officials, apparently in light of China's importance to their own economic future. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, for example, merely urged the Chinese to "show restraint" toward protesters.

On the other hand, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared with the Dalai Lama during a previously planned visit to Dharamsala. She called on the world to take note of the Tibetans' plight--but like the Dalai Lama himself, she stopped short of a call for countries to boycott the Olympics.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THE TARGETS of the protests reflect the grievances of Tibetans. Religious and cultural freedoms are at the center of their demands. Tibetan students and governmental employees, for example, are banned from Buddhist religious observance, and images of the Dalai Lama--Tibet's chief religious figure--are illegal.

But Tibet is also the poorest region in China, and the country's rapid economic growth of recent years has left most Tibetans behind. One-third still live below the official poverty line of $150 yearly income.

The class divide in China has a strong ethnic character. Han (or ethnic) Chinese dominate business, including the growth sectors--tourism and real estate--along with a small elite of Mandarin-speaking Tibetans. Han Chinese individuals and businesses were the main targets of the Lhasa riots.

Outside Lhasa, however, "the protesters' anger was largely focused on symbols of state power and government-owned properties," according to TibetInfoNet.

Prosperity was supposed to follow when the first railroad link to the rest of China was completed two years ago, but many Tibetans say the railroad only brought more Han Chinese, who have bought up prime properties in Tibetan neighborhoods.

In addition, a program of forced relocation of Tibetan herders--affecting 10 percent of the population since 2006--has bred widespread resentment. The program requires the Tibetans to pay most of the cost and do most of the construction, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Chinese officials say that the new housing is necessary for hygenic reasons--to separate the herders from the diseases of their livestock. But many are now separated completely from their animals, their main source of income. Without job skills or Mandarin education, these displaced herders face unemployment, according to HRW.

Economic grievances like these, which mirror the experience of Han Chinese workers and peasants elsewhere, have fueled the protests as they have spread beyond the monks. Wang Lixiong, a Beijing-based Tibet specialist, noted the expanded scope of the protests in an interview with Inter Press Service.

"The last major unrest in Tibet in 1987 and the riots of 1989...were limited to...Lhasa and involved only monks, intellectuals and students," Wang said. "But today's unrest has spread over all Tibetan areas, and there are people from all walks, including peasants and workers."

In fact, the Tibetan movement takes place six years into a rising movement of strikes, riots and demonstrations that have involved millions of Chinese peasants and workers since 2002.

The Chinese leadership, including Hu Jintao, the engineer of the last Tibetan crackdown, is well aware that Tibetan protests and price inflation were precursors to the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. But this time, incomparably larger social forces have already moved into action.

It could turn into a long Olympic year for Chinese officials. It could also be a breakthrough year for the social movements--if they can find political common ground that allows them to reach beyond the sectional and regional limits that have kept them isolated from each other so far.