by Mekalyn Rose
Editor in Chief

This is the second article of a two part series discussing drug decriminalization and its implications for Portugal, the United States and Mexico. Part One can be found here.

Portugal’s [decriminalization] methods are drastically different from the increasingly strengthened War on Drugs in the United States, where over half a million people die from prescribed, legal and illicit drugs combined every year. The question is, if Portugal has been so successful in combating their own drug epidemic with these methods, why has the United States been so slow––even resistant––to follow suit?

It’s a simple question with a complex answer. Understanding current U.S. motivations behind domestic drug policy warrants taking a look at why it all started.

On the surface, draconian style laws in the United States in regards to the War on Drugs seem to boast a noble mission of promoting widespread health and eliminating crime. However, the historical underbelly of drug policy reveals highly political and racial motivations for the enactment of laws. Today, the United States faces a raging opioid epidemic with an unsustainable influx of incarceration, which points to one key point: something isn’t working. In order to move forward in molding policies that do work, it’s important to recognize how we got here and what went wrong.

The Road to Radicalization: Origins of Drug Policies

The first push against drugs in the United States came in 1875. Shortly after the arrival of male Chinese workers during the mid-nineteenth century, San Francisco passed a law against smoking opium. In 1909, the Anti-Opium Act made it a federal offense. These laws did not apply to the alternative method of injecting opiates, more commonly practiced by Whites; rather, they targeted a particularly Chinese practice. This was fueled by both the perceived threat to white male workers” during a work shortage, as well as stories published as part of a fear campaign emphasizing the “Yellow Peril” led by William Randolph Hearst which “[claimed] white women were being seduced by Chinese men in the opium dens.”

Laws pertaining to cocaine use took a similar route of reasoning. In the late 1800s, cocaine was introduced to Black communities as dockworkers first used it to withstand up to seventy hour stretches of work before this method of coping was also adopted on the plantations. Many of the crimes committed by Black people in the South were subsequently blamed on cocaine addiction. In 1914, The New York Times published an article titled “Negro Cocaine ‘Fiends’ Are a New Southern Menace.” This article included the idea that heavier artillery was needed to take down a “cocaine-crazed negro,” further inciting racialized fear.

Twenty years later, new drug policies were directed towards Mexicans. Similarly to perceptions of cocaine effects, marijuana was claimed to give Mexicans “enormous strength” and that it would “take several men to handle one man,” statements left unsupported by any noteworthy evidence. Nevertheless, The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 prohibited its use or sale as a method of controlling the surge of immigrants following the Mexican Revolution, who were accustomed to using it as a medicinal plant.

Fast forward to the 1970s and marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, but for an entirely different reason. In 1994, John Ehrlichman––the former domestic policy advisor under President Nixon––admitted in an interview that the War on Drugs, which was speed-rolled during Nixon’s presidency in the ‘70s, was politically motivated against Nixon’s antiwar and Black opponents.

We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.

It would seem that the debate of whether or not to reexamine our drug laws would end there, as history has reflected “how deeply embedded drugs are in our cultural frame of reference, the background ‘unconscious’ of our society where reactions are formed prior to conscious reflection.” However, both the cultural stigma against illicit drugs and political motivations continue to release a message of drug demonization and prohibition that constitutes an ideology the United States attempts to force onto its citizens and allies.

The Costs of Suppression and Regulation

Mexican President Vicente Fox has discussed the failed War on Drugs and U.S. denial of its own mistakes within a prohibitionist past, calling for a new paradigm. Ironically enough, the effort to curb illegal drug use turned out to be the very catalyst to create a breeding ground for drug trafficking. It wasn’t until after opiates, cocaine and marijuana were criminalized within the United States that the lucrative drug trade “materialized south of the U.S.-Mexico border.” Today, the United States faces a daunting realization. Almost half a century since Richard Nixon declared a War on Drugs and nearly one trillion government dollars have been spent, efforts have adversely culminated into the antithesis of the “Land of the Free” with an estimated 450,000 people incarcerated for drug related offenses in 2016, compared to around 40,900 prisoners in 1980.

Notably, when it comes to marijuana, public opinion has begun to shift. Nine states and Washington D.C. have legalized both recreational and medical cannabis use and research on health benefits have produced many positive results. Despite this progress, the conversation of legalization, let alone decriminalization, usually doesn’t apply to other drugs and the legalization of cannabis––especially in California––has had an unintended consequence for the drug trade coming out of Mexico. Illegal substances create a market and cannabis is no longer profitable, at least not for the cartels. Now, heroin is the new market and U.S. pharmaceutical companies are partly to blame.

The current opioid epidemic can be traced back to a public health system saturated with the very substance that incited the original drug laws: opioids. The United States has a “pain” problem. In 2015, it was reported that around 92 million people, or 38% of the U.S. population, took a prescribed opioid painkiller. Despite a lack of pain reported in the last couple of decades, “sales of prescription opioids in the United States nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014.” While painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin have proven highly effective in treating pain, their abuse potential is significant. Around 4-6% of people who misuse their prescriptions turn to heroin, which happens to be a “cheaper and more powerful” alternative.

Questioning Current Approaches to Drug Policy

So, what do these changes reveal about current approaches? Will there always be another drug exploited to profit off the masses? History will indicate yes, unless society forgoes the fear and taboo of illicit drugs long enough to discuss honestly the realities of human culture and address the issue of drugs as a whole. Drugs have always been incorporated into human society and it is unrealistic to push a goal of complete eradication, nor is it always straightforward to define the line between safe drugs and dangerous ones. Anything used beyond the scope of necessity increases risk, as the abuse of opioid prescriptions indicates.

There is also no proof that the decriminalization policies used in Portugal will provide the United States with the same positive results. Some counter arguments cite the massive size difference in population and the cyclical nature of drug epidemics that cannot be helped by policy. However, it is maintained that “much of the American approach to drug policy is based on speculation, fear-mongering, and outdated methodologies and ideologies, instead of the empirical evidence that allowed the Portuguese task force to focus on specifics of poverty.” Today, there is growing support for decriminalization, backed by both the United Nations and World Health Organization.

Finally, the question remains why the United States has appeared resistant to change. Among several possible reasons, propagandist belief systems have shaped our perspective and knowledge of drugs, private prisons profit off drug crime, pharmaceutical companies benefit from addiction and language such as “druggie” and “junkie” continue to promote the dehumanization of people seeking help. A culture of shame replaced by a society of well-being would alter the label of “criminal” to “ill,” provide greater avenues for seeking help, allow for valuable medical testing and free up law enforcement to focus on bigger issues and improve their relationship with communities. Like Portugal in the 1980s, the United States is reaching a point of desperation. The rate of change is dependent upon our willingness to question the foundation of our current viewpoints and how to implement laws or strategies founded on principles of health and public good instead of racial or political underpinnings. Perhaps then the focus will be less on the thickness of physical chains and more on the alleviation of psychological ones on the road to healing.

Image by Anne Worner



By Liliana Torpey
Editor in Chief

This article was written after I attended a study abroad trip to Rio de Janeiro through UCLA’s Summer Travel Study Program. The World Arts and Culture/Dance: Theater of the Oppressed program in particular was created and taught by Marina Magalhães and Bobby Gordon. Some of the information below draws from my own experiences working with local Theater of the Oppressed groups and attending intensive training at the Center for Theater of the Oppressed.

In 1971, Brazilian theater director Augusto Boal was arrested and tortured by the Brazilian dictatorship for experimenting with subversive, activist theater. Years later, in exile in Argentina, Boal consolidated his experimental developments into a synthesized, liberatory methodology published under the name “Theater of the Oppressed.” While the book was first published in 1973, Boal continued to practice and develop his work throughout Europe, Latin America, and eventually back in Brazil. He believed that theater could lend itself to social transformation and be a precursor to direct social action. He called it “rehearsal for the revolution.”

Augusto Boal speaking at the opening ceremony of Teia 2007

Theater of the Oppressed (TO) includes several different types of theater, including (but not limited to) invisible theater, where actors stage scenes disguised as real life in public spaces; newspaper theater, where mainstream news sources are critiqued and overlaid with alternative perspectives; and forum theater, which is most widely utilized. Forum theater was born in Boal’s mind when he discovered, suddenly, that a creative force in theater productions remained untapped: that of the spectator. The story goes that Boal staged a play based off of a woman’s anecdote about her cheating husband. Using a method called “simultaneous dramaturgy,” Boal’s actors acted out the scene and then changed their actions depending on spectators’ suggestions. After one woman became increasingly frustrated that her suggestion was not being implemented correctly, Boal, equally frustrated, invited her on stage to act the scene out herself. Thus, the spectator became the “spect-actor.”

TO has grown since then, but its basic principles have remained and gone on to inform TO groups all over the world. The following explains these principles.

Firstly, theater is for the people, and everybody is an actor. TO is participatory; it invites the spectator into the action, turning them into a spect-actor. There are various techniques used to facilitate this. Games are used in workshops to de-mechanize the body from the effects of oppressive routines, so that the participants may listen, feel and look more intentionally. Exercises are used in workshops to address oppression by using sound and movement rather than just words. In this way, people learn how oppression is held in their bodies and how their bodies may be used for liberation. In forum theater, a play is staged that portrays an oppression of some kind. In the first round of the play, the oppressed person must fight against the oppression and fail. In the subsequent rounds, members of the audience can propose an “intervention,” meaning they are invited on stage to do something differently, either as the oppressed person or an ally of the oppressed. The different techniques of TO wake up the spectator and urge them to take action, both on the stage and out in the world.

International participants and UCLA Travel Study group playing games at Center for Theater of the Oppressed during TO training.

Secondly, TO is not neutral. When using TO, one always takes the side of the oppressed. Necessarily, TO is a methodology that can’t function in a vacuum. It’s utility comes from the fact that it addresses real-life oppressions as expressed by people who have actually experienced them. It isn’t meant to be adapted to any purpose besides healing and inspiring direct action in a given community. TO groups arise from the community and see it as an effective tool for social transformation. I had the honor of meeting and spect-acting with some of these groups in Rio de Janeiro in the summer of 2017.

The Center for Theater of the Oppressed in Rio partners with different organizations to train others in their methodology so that it may be “multiplied” across different communities and situations. They also assist local TO groups with their projects, and many of the Jokers (facilitators/difficultators of TO methodology) were themselves introduced to TO through these groups.

Some of these groups include Cor do Brasil , based in Rio de Janeiro, which focuses on tackling anti-Black racism in Brazil and worldwide. While in Brazil, I saw them perform a forum theater piece called “Suspect” which addresses the way Afro-Brazilians are racially profiled in various situations. Another group, Marémoto, is made up of youth from Maré, a favela in Rio. They explore themes of gender, race, young adulthood, and the stigma associated with living in a favela. Madalenas Rio is an all-women group focusing on feminism and women’s issues. I got to participate in their “Madalenas Laboratorio,” a workshop of TO games and exercises geared towards feminist topics. The group Coletivo Madalena-Anastácia addresses issues that specifically affect Black women in Brazil. Ma(g)dalenas has become an international organization with groups all over the world, including groups from Guatemala, Mosambique, and Berlin, Germany, where the most recent Festival of Ma(g)dalena International Network was held.

Here in Southern California, Hector Aristizabal directs ImaginAction, a non-profit that uses Theater of the Oppressed alongside other theater methods “for community building and reconciliation, strategizing, and individual healing and liberation.” Aristizabal himself grew up in Medellin, Colombia during a time of violence and discord brought on by armed conflict and the Drug War. Aristizabal fled Colombia in 1989 after being tortured by the U.S. funded Colombian military under false allegations of being affiliated with communist guerrilla groups. Since then, he has worked with groups in Los Angeles, Northern Ireland, Palestine and Colombia, among other places, to use theater as a tool for reconciliation and liberation.

Hector Aristizabal performing “Nightwind,” which chronicles his experience being tortured by the Colombian military and his subsequent move to the U.S.

In the past year, Aristizabal has brought theater to Colombians affected by the 52 year long armed conflict between the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), the Colombian government, and paramilitary groups. While the conflict has officially ended as a result of the peace deal passed through Colombia’s congress by President Juan Manuel Santos last year, implementation is still underway. Reintegration of guerrilla soldiers as well as reconciliation between different factions of Colombian society will be difficult to achieve. To these ends, Aristizabal has travelled to areas most affected by the conflict, bringing theater as a means to heal profound wounds. One project included “five civilians, five ex-paramilitaries, five guerrillas, and five military people,” groups whose disdain for each other runs deep and who in the past have committed extreme violence against one another. “We asked them, ‘What will it take to reconcile?’ It’s going to become a play,” Aristizabal says. He goes on to explain, “This is the kind of healing we need we need to engage in. The peace process cannot really be signed on a piece of paper in Havana between the guerrilla and the government. It has to be signed in the hearts of people.”

We may not typically imagine a war zone when we think of where theater happens, and we may not think of ex-combatants when we think of the actors who star in them. But Theater of the Oppressed seeks to democratize theater and convert it into a liberatory tool for exactly those whom the term “theater” usually excludes. When art is used in complicated real-life situations, it is delicate but not frivolous, idealistic but not etherial. Art is the dirty, painful work of growing real change by requiring us to look at ourselves and our relationship sincerely, with the intent to heal.

One of the post-trip reflection questions we had to respond to about working with activist groups in Brazil draws from the wise words of Indigenous artivist Lilla Watson. It asks, “How is their liberation tied up in our own?” The question is a difficult one for those of us who benefit from different kinds of oppression. As a citizen of a country that has benefited from the poverty and repression of Brazil and the rest of Latin America, it would be easy for me to believe my liberation is not bound with theirs, that it functions independently. But that would not be true. I could argue that my material wealth or sense of security are marks of my liberation. But that would not be true. As long as I am manipulated into accepting that it is necessary to oppress others so that I can be free, I am not free. As long as I am caught up in a system of power based on false concepts of entitlement, I am not free. As long as I am made to believe I am disconnected from the rest of humanity and nature, I am not free. And how do we become free? Perhaps arriving at the question is a step.


Images by:

Gabrielle Bonder (photos of UCLA group at CTO training)
Teia 2007
Alanna Lockward


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by Omkar Mahajan
Editor in Chief

Several weeks ago, it was announced that Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, would be the commencement speaker for UCSD’s graduation. Many celebrated this news and applauded such a decision since the Dalai Lama is seen as a beacon of hope and nonviolent struggle in addition to being a champion and defender of human rights. Gyatso even received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts against China in 1989. However, a large number of international students from China were angered by this decision and voiced their disapproval on Facebook and other forms of social media and claimed that it was disrespectful and culturally insensitive to select such a person. Some of these students even labeled the Dalai Lama as a rapist, a terrorist, and a separatist among other labels. Others claimed that slavery and tyranny were rampant in Tibet prior to the arrival of the Chinese. Regardless of how one looks at these claims, it is important to examine them in order to discover if there is any semblance of truth to these claims. In this essay, I will disprove all of these claims and show how China is unjustifiably occupying Tibet and is in violation of numerous human rights.

Who is the Dalai Lama?
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is the spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people and has been living in exile for more than 50 years in Dharmsala, India. His branch of Buddhism that he practices is Yellow Hat Buddhism, a branch of Tibetan Buddhism that combines elements of Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. In the 1950s, China delivered military troops to occupy Tibet forcing the Dalai Lama to flee to India. Since then, the Dalai Lama resisted Chinese occupation through nonviolent struggles and continued to advocate for awareness about the ongoing situation. In the 1960s, Robert Thurman, the first American to be ordained as a Buddhist monk in Tibet and currently a professor at Columbia with a degree in Buddhist Studies from Harvard University, introduced the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism to the west. Following this debut, Hollywood, politicians, the media and plentiful celebrities lionized the Dalai Lama bestowing upon him a cult-like following that only a few have. Despite the popular appeal and the positive connotation the Dalai Lama brings, there are many who do not have a sympathetic sentiment regarding him. The Chinese government views the Dalai Lama as a controversial figure.

Is the Dalai Lama a separatist?
First, a large number of the Chinese population view the Dalai Lama as a separatist. Chinese media sources claim that the spiritual leader intends to balkanize and fragment China into several smaller disunited regions. Most of these claims rest on the actions of Gyatso seeking Tibetan independence and demilitarization of Chinese occupation of Tibet, and the revisionist historical notion that Tibet was never demarcated from China. However, a brief glance at past events and an analysis of the Dalai Lama’s stance on Chinese militarization of the region reveal otherwise.

In 1950, at the age of 15, Gyatso assumed power and became the political head of Tibet after succeeding the regents before him. Prior to this, Mao Zedong and the Communist Party gained control of the government in China and proceeded to absorb Tibet into China. Chinese propaganda governmental sources claim that Tibet is an integral part of China and falls within its borders. Yet, for thousands of years, Tibet was an independent state. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, Tibet was incorporated into the empire but was largely autonomous and de jure independent. In other words, China claimed Tibet was within its boundaries but in reality, Tibet was essentially autonomous and practically followed its own laws. During the early years of the People’s Republic of China, Tibet sought to maintain its autonomy and culture and continue its practices and laws. Gyatso himself was initially supportive of the idea of Tibet being a part of the new China but immediately balked out of the concession once he learned that his people might not have full rights and their practices and cultures might be encroached. Furthermore, Tibetan nationalists opposed the idea of Tibet incorporated in China and rebelled at this notion. The Dalai Lama’s refusal to hand over Tibet to China and the actions of zealous Tibetans led China to launch a full scale military invasion into Tibet.

The Chinese government claims that the Dalai Lama is a separatist because of his efforts to secure an independent Tibet. Since Gyatso is only resolving to return Tibet’s original autonomy rather than break apart China, it does not make much sense to call him a separatist. To further disprove the claim, Gyatso has changed his rhetoric since the 1990s from one of advocating complete independence for Tibet to a stance of just simply preaching the demilitarization of Chinese occupation of Tibet.

Possible links to terrorism?
Next, CCTV and other Chinese media outlets indoctrinate their citizens that the Dalai Lama is a terrorist. Many scholars postulate that the perception of how Americans view Osama bin Laden is comparable to how the Chinese view the Dalai Lama. While bin Laden is seen as the face of evil and did great harm to the United States, perhaps a better comparison would be how Americans view Saddam Hussein, the former dictator of Iraq. Indeed, many Americans hold a negative opinion of Hussein erroneously believing that he harbored weapons of mass destruction. Yet, many are ignorant that Hussein also protected religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and led a secular governmental administration in addition to killing terrorists who were against the United States. Of course, I am not endorsing nor praising Hussein. He was a dictator after all.

The Chinese government claims that the Dalai Lama sponsored a series of terrorist attacks on the Chinese causing mass disarray and ataxia. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In the 1950s, Gyatso accepted help from the CIA to combat the Chinese. The program the CIA was implementing in Tibet was similar to other later CIA-funded missions that helped the Contras in Nicaragua and the Taliban in Afghanistan which complemented US efforts to fight the Soviets in a quest against Communism. The Tibetans accepted millions of dollars from the CIA and created CIA-trained guerrilla groups which the CIA continued to fund until 1970 when the Nixon administration decided to formally establish relations with China and therefore canceled the program in Tibet. Thus, China claims that these donations from the CIA led to the Tibetan rebels committing terrorist attacks on the Chinese. However, the activities these guerrilla groups committed were simply attacks on Chinese soldiers who already were part of the military occupying Tibet. Moreover, the Tibetan rebel groups also demolished telegraph and power lines in order to disrupt Chinese communications. Thus, claims that the Dalai Lama is a sponsor of terrorism and a murderer are unfounded.

Dictatorial Rule and Oppression in Tibet before Chinese involvement
Moreover, the Chinese government presents a narrative that the Dalai Lama was a dictator who ruled Tibet as a tyrant and that 95 percent of the Tibetans were slaves. China then elaborates that the people were beaten and that many young children were forcibly removed from their homes and tortured to serve monks and that some were even raped and sexually abused. The narrative that China presents includes notions that the people were oppressed and were tied to the land and that mutilations were common forms of punishment. Indeed, several scholars on Tibet classified the society in Tibet as a feudalistic serfdom. Thus, China presents a narrative of liberating the Tibetan people from the Dalai Lama. However, this narrative is false for several reasons.

First, the idea of Tibet as a literal oppressive state that China liberated is a viewpoint from China that is based on no legitimate evidence. In fact, as Robert Barnett, a professor at Columbia University and the founder of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia states, “China made no claims at the time of its invasion or liberation of Tibet to be freeing Tibetans from social injustice…the issue of freeing Tibetans from feudalism appeared in Chinese rhetoric only after around 1954 in eastern Tibet and 1959 in Central Tibet.” This begs the question of why the Chinese government explained their reasons for occupying Tibet after they invaded it.

Second, a quick search into sexual abuse allegations and rape from Tibetan monks leads one to this video discussion from Stephen Molyneux, an Irish-Canadian Conservative social critic who elaborates on numerous cases of maltreatment of young children in the monasteries. Despite sounding so glib and professional, it is shocking to realize that Molyneux is a leading individual in the alt-right movement and has stated such bold claims that Islam is against the west and that women should stay in the home rather than have careers. Molyneux also happens to espouse views that are considered white supremacist. But even if we were to discount Molyneux’s background and listen to the points he articulates, we realize that his arguments fall apart. For instance, he cites one particular example of Tenzin Osel Hita, the boy born to Spanish disciples of Tibetan Buddhism in Dharmsala who was later discovered to be the reincarnation of a lama, Thubten Yeshe, and raised in the monasteries. He lists Hita’s act of leaving the monastery and complaints of the lifestyle and distress as evidence of abuse taking place within the monasteries.

However, Hita elaborated in a later interview that his quotes had been taken out of context and that he is still supportive of Tibetan Buddhism. “That experience was really good and I so appreciate it. However, certain media find ways to sensationalize and exaggerate an unusual story. So I hope that what appears in news print is not read and taken too literally. Don’t believe everything that is written! Experience shows that however hard one tries in interviews to sincerely and honestly convey key information, the printed result can tend towards sensationalism to get the most attention. FPMT is doing a great job and Lama Zopa is an immensely special person – very inspiring and a great yogi. […] There is no separation between myself and FPMT,” Hita said. FPMT is a Buddhist Organization that is the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition.

Melvyn Goldstein
Molyneux does frequently cite Melvyn Goldstein throughout his video, which leads to a discussion of whether Tibet was a feudalistic serfdom society. Goldstein was one of the first Tibetan scholars to classify pre-Chinese occupation of Tibet as a feudalistic serfdom society with the majority of people having little rights and being forced to work for lords and landowners. He also argues that the people were tied to the land and unable to move and that the rich took advantage of the poor. His claim that Tibet was a serfdom society first appeared in his writings as early as 1968. However, since then, many academic scholars have now disputed his views stating that terms like serfdom and feudalism carry a Eurocentric bias and do not accurately describe the society in Tibet. Scandinavian anthropologist from the University of Oslo, Heidi Fjeld, argued against Goldstein’s views in the early 2000’s and claimed that instead of a feudalistic serfdom, a more accurate depiction of the society in Tibet would be a caste-like hierarchy similar to the one in Ancient India. Furthermore, numerous scholars and academics have discredited Goldstein’s views and have stated that it is an inaccurate reflection of the society of Tibet. The leading Buddhist scholar in the west and a professor at Columbia University, Thurman, pictured Tibet as “a mandala of the peaceful, perfected universe.” Additionally, Hugh Edward Richardson, the British Trade Envoy to Tibet and one of the last Europeans to know Tibet before the Chinese invasion, characterized Tibet as extremely poor and that differences between the rich and poor were largely nonexistent (Powers 22). Also, in a 1998 article, journalist Barbara Crossette articulated that “scholars of Tibet mostly agree that there has been no systematic serfdom in Tibet in centuries.” Thus, the number of scholars who argue against Goldstein casts doubt on his views.

From an academic viewpoint, many of Goldstein’s contentions fall apart when scrutinized. In a series of academic debates between anthropologist Beatrice Miller and Goldstein in the 1980s, Miller pointed out that Goldstein uses economic historian Stanley L. Engerman’s definition of serfdom which is that serfs lacked property rights and were bound to the land unable to move yet Goldstein admits that people were able to move and were not entirely tied to the land. Although Goldstein is quick to distance himself from Chinese narratives and doesn’t agree with the Chinese occupation of Tibet, his viewpoints and arguments fit the Chinese narrative.

Alleged mutilation and torture
Next, there is also the idea of Tibetan mutilation, torture and abuse. Liberal political scholar Michael Parenti elaborates on this issue in his book Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth where he describes torture and mutilation as commonplace prior to Chinese arrival. Parenti also describes Tibet as a feudalistic society with serfs who had little to no rights and were bound to their land lords. This argument is illogical. First, the predecessor to the 14th Dalai Lama, the 13th Dalai Lama Thubten Gyatso, outlawed mutilation in the early 1900s and Tibet was one of the first countries to outlaw the death penalty. In 1925, there was a case of mutilation and the officials who carried out the punishment were quickly admonished (Barnett 83). In 1934, there was a case of eye gouging which is exceptional for its time since no one would know how to administrate it (Barnett 83). It is important to remember that these are anecdotal examples that happened before the current Dalai Lama was born. But, even if mutilation occurred in large numbers as Parenti claims, it contradicts the idea that people were bound to the land as forced laborers serving their lords. This would be against the interests of the serfs since if the people were tortured and mutilated, then their ability to produce goods for their lord would be either reduced or removed. Goldstein even states that “extreme maltreatment [of serfs] was unlikely since it would have been against the interests of landowners, who needed peasants to provide labor” (Barnett 83).

Human Rights Abuses Committed by China
Finally, the idea of Tibet under a feudalistic serfdom society with people living in slave-like conditions pales in comparison to the current human rights abuses enacted by China on Tibet. For instance, there are over hundreds of reports of Tibetans being tortured and held as prisoners by the Chinese government as well as over 90 suspicious deaths of Tibetan political activists at the hands of the government since the 1990s that have yet to be investigated (Barnett 83). There is also the significant number of Tibetans who were murdered by the Chinese government since the 1950s. The Committee to Support Tibet, a Madrid-based group fighting for the Tibetan independence, claims that over 1.2 million Tibetan people have been murdered by China in an act of genocide. However, British historian Patrick French disputes these numbers and claims that it is actually around 500,000 Tibetan people that perished from Chinese occupation since the 1950s, which is still a large number. Finally, John Oliver, a political talk show host, claimed that the number of Tibetans who have died from Chinese occupying forces is closer to around 100,000. Regardless of what the actual number is, one cannot deny that a large number of Tibetans were massacred by the Chinese government. While many Tibetan groups claim that China’s actions constitute genocide, the International Commission of Jurists argued in 1960 that there is no “sufficient proof of the destruction of Tibetans as a race, nation or ethnic group as such by methods that can be regarded as genocide in international law.” However, the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide found sufficient evidence to claim that China was committing genocide in Tibet.

In addition to the large number of Tibetans being killed, there are a variety of human rights abuses committed in Tibet ranging from arbitrary arrest, denial of freedom of speech, censorship, disappearances, torture, denial of a fair trial, poor prison conditions, religious repression, sterilization, infanticide, and even deprivation of life. A leaked document from the People’s Liberation Army of China revealed that there were around 87,000 deaths of Tibetans in Lhasa from 1959 to 1960. Choekyi Gyaltsen, the 10th Panchen Lama, even voiced his outrage at the Chinese atrocities being committed in Tibet and stated that “[i]f there was a film made on all the atrocities perpetrated in Qinghai Province, it would shock the viewers. In Golok area, many people were killed and their dead bodies rolled down the hill into a big ditch. The soldiers told the family members and relatives of the dead people that they should celebrate since the rebels have been wiped out. They were forced to dance on the dead bodies. Soon after, they were also massacred with machine guns…In Amdo and Kham, people were subjected to unspeakable atrocities. People were shot in groups of ten or twenty… Such actions have left deep wounds in the minds of the people.” There are also documented cases of extreme torture and brutality involving electric shock and cattle prodding on Tibetans. Several thousand Tibetans have already disappeared in the past few years. Moreover, there are even infringements on the religion of Tibetan Buddhism itself with bans on public prayers for the Dalai Lama. The Chinese state authorities later promoted active efforts to not only suppress the religion, but also coerce Tibetan Buddhists into adopting a religious doctrine that fits government policies and positions. Finally, Chinese government officials kidnapped the 11th Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, in 1995 when he was only 6 years old and he hasn’t been seen since. In a further bizarre twist of events, China appointed their own person as the Panchen Lama to fit their version of events and propaganda.

After a careful review of these factors, it is clear that the Chinese occupation of Tibet is unjustified. Tibet was always de jure independent being largely autonomous. China wrongfully invaded Tibet in the 1950s with the intent to incorporate it into its own territory. It was only after this series of events that the Chinese media illustrated a narrative of oppression and torture being commonplace in Tibet and painting the Dalai Lama as a terrorist and separatist to justify their own invasion. Moreover, portraying the Dalai Lama as a figure of notoriety and Tibet as a literal netherworld serves another agenda: it distracts viewers from the ongoing human rights abuses that China currently practices in Tibet that have happened since the 1950s. Not only are there contradictions in this false narrative of serfdom and oppression that China portrays, but most scholars have soundly rejected it and are moving away from this idea. It is only a matter of time until China will have to reevaluate its role as a geopolitical spoiler and regional hegemon in Tibet. After all, the growing attention surrounding these events only smears the Chinese government with a greater negative image.

Works Cited
Barnett, Robert. “Human Rights in Tibet before 1959.” Authenticating Tibet: Answers to China’s 100 Questions. Ed. Anne-Marie Blondeau, Katia Buffetrille, and Donald S. Lopez. Berkeley: U of California, 2008. N. pag. 81-84 Print.

Powers, John. History as Propaganda: Tibetan Exiles versus the People’s Republic of China. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. Print.

Photo by দেবর্ষি রায়