Sunday, May 13, 2012

Is Carrying Chinese National Flag a Blotch in Exile History?

The Tibetan family – Dongpo Kyi, Tsetan Dorjee, and Lhamo Kyi – started their journey back home to Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet, on this year’s Tibetan uprising day, March 10[i].  With cheers and appreciations, they started the march to home from Dharamsala - the hometown of Central Tibetan Administration and His Holiness the Dalai Lama - with support from the largest Tibetan youth organization in exile, Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC). 

When they started the peaceful walking movement, they carried only Tibetan national flags but as the march progresses, they were seen carrying national flags of India, Nepal, China, and Tibet, fluttering in unison on a long wooden pole (see the picture on the right).  Dorjee, the son, shared the primary reason for carrying Chinese flag to the Phayul, “parading the red flag was symbolic of his (their) fight for the official Middle-Way policy and his (their) willingness to stay under Beijing if granted genuine autonomy[ii]”. 

However, carrying the Chinese flag did not go well with the marching Tibetan family.  On May 4, 2012, the TYC issued a statement strongly condemning them for carrying Chinese national flag.  Though the TYC has no objection whether the family supports middle way policy or complete independence, it explicitly noted that the act of parading Chinese flag is unimaginable and unwarranted.  The TYC further asserted that the organization and its regional units would refrain from recognizing and supporting this March-to-Tibet movement[iii].  

The TYC’s decision to withdraw support was generally based on two underlying reasons: first, to express rejection of the Chinese flag until Tibet’s independence is restored; and second, to classify carrying the Chinese flag as contradicting the moral responsibilities of a Tibetan towards the struggle and legacy of Tibet.  The TYC further emphasized, “(it) not only oppose this act by the marchers but also would like to reiterate that in future it will continue to resist any individual or organization that will engage in such similar acts”. 

However, the most discussion (at least in the social media) was generated by a single line in the statement i.e., for the first time in 53 years of exile history, parading of the Chinese flag by Tsetan Dorjee and his family members marks a blotch in the exile history of Tibet.  Let me review some critical posts and comments in the social media on this “blotch” in particular and the statement in general.

On his Facebook wall post of May 5, Dibyesh Anand, Associate Professor in International Relations at University of Westminster, UK, shares, “Is TYC indeed becoming an extremist organization with limited tolerance of dissent from its set views? I always pooh pooh this idea (of TYC as extremist) but such news make me question my own judgment. I hope TYC members set this straight and not let their leaders forget that there are many roads to freedom. The brave marchers are showing themselves to be true to the leader of Tibet (the Dalai Lama and his middle way) and actually creative in their symbolism. It is one thing to say - we do not agree with their carrying Chinese flag but understand why they are doing it but cannot support it - and completely another to denounce it as a 'blotch in exile history'. The Chinese must be laughing!

This posting not only questions the need of such statement from the TYC but also the freedom of individuals to share and act what they believe in. Moreover, a Facebook user comments, “They (the marching family) are not displaying Chinese flag that highlights Tibet as a part of China. Way the Chinese, Indian, and Nepalese flags are displayed; it could be read as speaking or appealing to these countries. TYC could have chosen to read the symbolism different ways”.

While another user adds human element to the entire episode, “we have a family who has given up everything and is devoting their lives to a homecoming against all odds…. One of the most politically dominant and influential Tibetan organizations had the disgrace to publicly denounce this family just because they disagree with one element of their journey”. This user also attacks the TYC’s call for all Tibetans to unite by commenting, “what fun it must be for Beijing to sit back and watch exile Tibetans attacking and undermining each other”.

Among several commentaries, one that stood out from the rest is from a user who writes, “if carrying Red Flag is a blotch in exile history, then what would you (TYC) call at Five Point Peace Plan (1987), Strasburg Proposal (1988), ATPD Unanimous Resolution (1996), 2002-2008 Sino-Tibetan Negotiation, etc.” (FYI - ATPD stands for Tibetan Parliament in Exile, erstwhile known as Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies).  This comment could be interpreted in a more candid way i.e., if carrying Chinese flag is a blotch in the exile history, then, the Central Tibetan Administration and His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s ongoing emphasis on dialogue under the middle way policy may also be impugned as a “huge blotch” in the exile history.  Though the middle way policy does not explicitly verbalize the disowning of Tibetan national flag, it does however seek genuine autonomy under the constitutional/legal framework of the People’s Republic of China.

In addition to social media discussions, a comment on the Phayul gained my attention.  This individual writes, “From my point of view, the current TYC Centrex has no authority to condemn the family marching towards Tibet”.  Do you agree that the TYC has no moral as well as legal authority to condemn a Tibetan for his act of free speech or expression?  Or as Dibyesh Anand highlighted earlier, “Is TYC indeed becoming an extremist organization with limited tolerance of dissent from its set views?”.  These questions may be raising eyebrows on the limits and delimits of "authority" as well as "responsibility" of the largest Tibetan youth and political organization in exile.  

Further, in recent times, the TYC is seemingly representing itself as a parallel organization to the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), Dharamsala.  For instance, the TYC officially challenged the name change of Tibetan Government in Exile (TGiE) such as selling a T-shirt with TGiE name during last year’s Kalachakra initiation at Washington D.C.  Also, the TYC is seen as more vocal on criticizing the middle way policy and its advocate, the CTA.  With the devolution of political power by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, there is bound to have more discussion but the fundamental question is on the health of Tibetan struggle movement if TYC (becomes or) acts as a parallel political organization to the CTA?  Let me share my perspective briefly below.

For nascent Tibetan democracy to thrive, it is necessary to have a robust civil society[iv].  For a robust civil society, it is important to have Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in the social, economic, as well as political spectrum of the society.  However, there are some restrictions on the freedoms of expression and association of NGOs under the law of a country such as U.S. law and Indian law.

Since Tibetans are in diaspora, Tibetan NGOs are registered under the law of its host countries.  Nonetheless, the Central Tibetan Administration (representing the people of Tibet) must have some say in these Tibetan NGOs when it comes to the core principles and values that help solidifies the “national interest” of Tibetan people.  For instance, there could be a Committee - comprising Tibetan member of parliaments - that has moral as well as constitutional authority to summon and question Tibetans NGOs, especially those who are politically active.  This committee could be seen not as a regulating body of Tibetan NGOs.  It could rather be seen as a body that puts these Tibetan NGOs into the “accountability box” of the Tibetan people’s representative.

At first look, this proposal may seem to work in favor of the Tibetan administration and people only.  However, if you take a deeper second look, this "checks and balances" may also benefit the Tibetan political NGOs to strengthen its legitimacy in both Tibetan and international communities as well as to reaffirm its assertion to the non-violence principle of Tibetan freedom movement.

To conclude, in the midst of organizational political indifferences in exile, the marching Tibetan family was left alone in their effort to march against the Chinese repressive policies in Tibet.  When they were stopped marching by the Nepali Police, Tibetan People’s Movement for Middle Way (TPMMW) and a member of the Tibetan parliament joined in support[v].  However, there was no one from the regional TYC to support the marching family.  Is carrying a Chinese flag too big a sin that deserves complete denunciation and avoidance from regional TYCs and other Tibetan political organizations?

As a final note, it’s important for Tibetan people and organizations to understand the significance of diversity in a truly free democratic institution of Tibetan people in exile.  If there is no unity in diversity, then, the nascent Tibetan democracy may be heading towards a disaster – a disaster that may leave the Tibetan freedom movement in disarray.

[i] Retrieved May 9, 2012 from
[ii] Retrieved May 9, 2012 from
[iii] Tibetan Youth Congress.  Retrieved May 9, 2012 from
[iv] IIP Digital Retrieved May 9, 2012 from
[v] Retrieved May 13 from's+March+to+Tibet+stopped+pin+Nepal%2c+Marchers+detained

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Chinese Immigrants in the United States

The first large group of Asian immigrants to the United States were the Chinese; they came under a contract labor system to work in farms, mines, railroads, and other dirty, dangerous, and demeaning work (Martin, 2011).  Between 1848 and 1882, an estimated 300,000 Chinese came to the United States, many borrowing large sums of money from others for their transport.  A Chinese immigrant’s decision to leave home was often based more on economics than on attraction toward religious or political freedoms offered by the United States (ThinkQuest, 2011).  They migrated to the United States to get away from natural disasters, crop failures, rapid population growth and conflicts, and competition from imported textiles from the Western countries in China (Martin, 2011).  However, these Chinese immigrants were generally denied the right of citizenship and many of them could not return to their home country due to the high cost of return transportation.  Unlike European immigrants, most Asian immigrants, including Chinese, settled initially on the West coast.

As noted earlier, the Chinese were the first group of Asian immigrants in the United States though they were denied the prospect of naturalization (See earlier discussion of the Naturalization Act of 1870).  In 1882, for the first time in the history of the United States, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed barring a whole nationality from immigration to the United States (Martin, 2011; ThinkQuest, 2011).  However, the immigration door for Asian immigrants including Chinese opened again with the passage of the 1965 Immigration Reform Act where everyone was generally viewed as equal in the eyes of the U.S. law.

Due to the 1965 Immigration Reform Act, more than half of the new immigrants to the United States were from Latin America, and 25% from Asia (Nieto & Bode, 2010).   Moreover, the influx of Asian immigrants over the last three decades expanded the Asian American population in the United States from less than 1.5 million in 1970 to about 11 million in 2000 (Min, 1995; U.S. Census Bureau, 2009).  Many Asian immigrants continue to fall under the category of “voluntary” immigrants.  Ogbu (1991) theorized that regardless of race, voluntary minorities (those who willingly migrate to a country) are often more optimistic about the connection between hard work and success.  According to Ogbu, voluntary immigrants are motivated to succeed economically because of their faith in the American dream (Nieto & Bode, 2010).

According to Suarez-­Orozco (2001) and Min (2004), many Asian immigrants earned some level of education from their home country prior to their immigration in the United States.  They further noted immigrants now, especially those from Asia, were among the best-educated and most skilled individuals in the United States.  This may be true since Asian Americans were generally confident about financial returns for their investment in education in the United States (Goyette & Xie, 1999).  Moreover, because of their marginal status in the U.S. society, Asian Americans of all ethnic groups may view education as the best means to overcome discrimination and other barriers to achieving high social status (Xie & Goyette, 1998).  This view was supported by Barringer, Takeuchi, and Xenos (1990) and Hirschman and Wong (1986); they suggest Asian American adults as a group attained more education than other minorities or native-­born Americans.

Though many college educated Asian immigrants have high earnings from professional and managerial occupations, many others struggle, trapped in low-­level service­‐related jobs (Min, 2004).  In other words, to claim that all Asian immigrants are doing well, socially and economically, in the United States is untrue.  As Suarez-­Orozco (2001) indicated, today’s immigrants in the United States are a highly heterogeneous group of peoples that defy easy generalizations.  This seems also true within and between Asian American groups.

Nonetheless, although there are significant differences within each major type of immigration, there is reason to believe that manual labor migrants, foreign professionals, entrepreneurial groups, and refugees share a number of characteristics with other immigrants.  In other words, immigrants from different nations, entering the United States as professionals and finding positions in their fields, tend to have more similar adaptation experiences than those typical of immigrant laborers from their respective countries (Portes & Rumbaut, 1996).  Therefore, immigrant groups generally share many similarities of their immigration experiences in the United States and these similarities may be more so within and between the Asian immigrant groups.  Within the Asian immigrant groups, there is a growing number of new immigrants who identify themselves as Tibetan immigrants. 

*This is an excerpt from my dissertation on, "Skills education for adult Tibetan immigrants in the United States: Identification, prioritization, resources, and challenges"