Beijing’s Tibetan studies seminar serves as ‘propaganda tool,’ critics say


Event amplifies China’s ‘false narratives,’ Tibetan government-in-exile official says.

Beijing’s Tibetan studies seminar serves as ‘propaganda tool,’ critics say

Paramilitary police officers swap positions during a change of guard in front of Potala Palace in Lhasa, capital of western China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, Oct. 15, 2020.

China is hosting a three-day international symposium on Tibetan studies in Beijing by bringing together more than 300 scholars from around the world. 

But critics say the seminar – titled “Prosperity of Tibetan Studies and the Opening of Tibet” – is nothing more than a propaganda tool meant to whitewash its efforts to erode Tibetan culture and identity.

“The Chinese government’s claim of protecting Tibetan culture, language and religion is completely untrue,” said Tenzin Lekshey, spokesman for the Central Tibetan Administration, the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India.

“Instead, they are using such platforms and seminars to amplify their false narratives to the international community,” he said. 

If the Chinese government wants to hold genuine seminars on Tibetan studies, then it must allow Tibetologists from Tibet and around China to freely participate and convey the true state of Tibetan studies, Lekshey said.

Many Tibetans face difficulties traveling to Beijing from the far western region, sources said.

The China Association for Preservation and Development of Tibetan Culture, the China Tibetology Research Center and the Xizang Academy of Social Sciences organized the three-day event, which began on Aug. 14.

The seminars “are just a show and a propaganda tool” to try to demonstrate that the Chinese government is protecting Tibetan culture and language,  said Jampa Samten, an associate professor of Tibetan history at the Central University for Tibetan Studies in Varanasi, India.

China holds its own Tibetan studies seminars to undermine information discussed in other symposiums that focus on Tibet, sources said.

In July 2022, more than 600 scholars and researchers from all over the world attended the 16th Seminar of the International Association for Tibetan Studies in Prague, wherehundreds of Tibetologists gathered to discuss Tibetan studies and Buddhism.

The association was founded in 1979 in Oxford, England, by Michael Aris, a leading scholar in Tibetan and Himalayan studies and the late husband of Burmese democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. 

Few Tibetologists from Tibet participate in these international seminars, because they can’t obtain permission from Chinese authorities to travel, sources said.None of them attended the 2022 seminar in Prague. 

The international community has criticized the Chinese government’s colonial-style boarding schools for ethnic Tibetan students in Tibet and its assimilationist policies concerning Tibetan religion, cultural and identity, notedTibetan rights analyst Sangay Kyap, who lives in Spain. 

China hosts its own Tibetan seminars “in part to challenge the criticism that the Chinese communist government has been receiving over the years,” he said. “It is a deliberate move.” 

Many Tibetologists who are not Tibetan have established good relations with exiled Tibetan communities over the years and have conducted their own seminars, he said.

“So, this effort by the Chinese government is intended towards subverting these relations and an attempt to undermine these outside seminars,” Kyap said. 

Translated by Tenzin Dickyi. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Malcolm Foster. 

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