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Remarks at the Series of Events on Western China at the Confucius Institute at the University of Maryland(04/10/09)

Real Pictures of Tibet and Qinghai

Remarks at the Series of Events on Western China at the Confucius Institute at the University of Maryland

9 April 2009

Minister Xie Feng, Chinese Embassy in the US

Associate Provost Mrs. Hamilton,

Director Liu Quansheng,

Distinguished Guests,

Good evening!

My colleagues and I are very pleased to come to the Confucius Institute at Maryland (CIM) for the opening ceremony of this photo exhibition of Tibet and Qinghai, the second of the series of events to learn about China's western development program. Let me first of all express on behalf of His Excellency Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong and the Chinese Embassy in the United States our warm congratulations on the opening of this exhibition.

Like everyone else, I just took a close look at all the photos on display. Three words associated with Tibet have come to my mind:

The first one is "beautiful". The Tibet Autonomous Region is in China's southwest. It sits on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, known as the Roof of the World. It is vast in size and rich in resources. It fascinates people with its fairyland-like natural landscape. There, you can see mountains and lakes at the highest altitude, glaciers of the largest scale and valley of the greatest depth. The Tibetan people, an important ethnic group in the family of Chinese nation, live there and have created the unique Tibetan culture which is an integral part of the Chinese culture. So today's Tibet is really a fascinating place where the past tradition and the present innovation meet and integrate. Tibet has been the top destination for more and more Chinese and foreign tourists.

The second word is "changing". I wish to share with you some figures and facts about the changes Tibet has undergone since democratic reform began in Tibet fifty years ago.

--Population. In 1951, Tibet had a population of about 1.14 million, with an average life expectancy of 35.5 years. In 2008, its population exceeded 2.87 million, and the life expectancy increased to 67 on average. Of them, over 95% are Tibetans or people of other minority ethnic groups. The Han people has never accounted for more than 6% of its total population. The allegation of so-called "genocide by the Chinese government in Tibet" is sheer nonsense.

--Education and culture. Over 50 years ago, 95% of people in Tibet couldn't read or write, and only 2% of school-age children were enrolled in school. In 2007, only less than 5% of adults in Tibet were illiterate and 98% of school-age children went to school. The Tibetan and Han Chinese languages are equally important in education, with most of instruction given in Tibetan language. The Tibetan language is used in all schools. Moreover, computer software operating systems in Tibetan language was developed in 1984 and it is compatible with software in Chinese and English.

In old Tibet, the Tibetan culture was in decline as it was the monopoly of a tiny number of serf-owners. Today, people of various ethnic groups are playing a major role in preserving and promoting the Tibetan culture. The fine Tibetan culture has been extensively shared and carried forward. Not so long ago, I read an article entitled "With Explosions of Color, Tibetan Art Flourishes" in the New York Times. It talks about how the unique Tibetan art tradition of thangka painting has been handed down and flourished. All these show that the so-called "extinction of Tibetan language and culture" is nothing but a lie.

--Religion. The freedom of religious belief and normal religious activities of the Tibetan people are protected. Today, there are more than 1,700 religious venues of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet, with more than 46,000 resident monks and nuns and more than 280 living Buddhas. Nowhere else in the world can one see so many religious sites and monks and nuns. In addition, Tibet has 4 mosques and over 3,000 muslims, one Catholic Church and over 700 believers. Normal religious activities can proceed as they should in Tibet to fully meet the need of religious believers in Tibet. The so-called "destruction of religion in Tibet by the Chinese government" is groundless accusation.

--Ethnic regional autonomy. The right of Tibetan people to independently administrate their ethnic and local affairs is guaranteed. Since 1965, the posts of chairman of the Standing Committee of the People's Congress and chairman of the People's Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region at various levels, or in other words, the posts of local top legislative and administrative officials are all held by Tibetans. So are the posts of principal officials of local courts and procuratorates at all levels. Tibetans and other ethnic-minority people make up nearly 80% of the staff of official organizations at the autonomous regional, prefectural (municipal) and county levels. The claim that "Tibet has been Hanized" is completely a political lie.

--Society. Before 1959, Tibet practiced feudal serfdom under theocracy, a system more miserable and backward than the one in Medieval Europe. The serf owners who made up of less than 5% of the total populations monopolized the material and spiritual wealth in Tibet whereas the serfs and slaves, accounting for more than 95% of the population, had no means of production or personal freedom. With the introduction of democratic reform, Tibet has made leapfrog progress in its social system. Great achievements have been made in its modernization efforts. The society has undergone historic changes and human rights have seen remarkable progress. Michael Walsh is an assistant professor of Asian Studies and Religion at Vassar College. After visiting Tibet, he said that the changes in Tibet today are enormous. The roads are in good shape, the power grid is extensive, the hotels have sound facilities. The real Tibet is much better than the one I got to know from the books. This tells us that the allegation that "Tibet is hell on earth" was only true when it was used to describe the old Tibet. Today's new Tibet is showing tremendous vigor and vitality.

The third word is "real". Capturing true stories, the photos have vividly told us that Tibet has been a part of China since ancient times. They have exposed the darkness and cruelty of feudal serfdom under theocracy. They have reflected the remarkable social changes and improvement in people's life since democratic reform. I am sure they have thus opened a window for us to further appreciate the Tibetan culture and understand the real Tibet. Recently, French Ambassador to China Herve Ladsous said in Beijing to the Chinese press that many western people "do not know enough about the reality of Tibet". He noted that "they have a sort of idealistic view of high mountains, blue skies, people immersed in a sort of spiritual dreamland," but "nobody knows it was a slave society over 60 years ago." He believed that westerners need to know more about "the reality of Tibet". The comments of Ambassador Ladsous are very relevant and thought-provoking.

Distinguished Guests,

On April 1st, Chinese President Hu Jintao and US President Obama met for the first time on the eve of the G20 Financial Summit in London. The two presidents agreed to work together to build a positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship between China and the US in the 21st century. This has charted the course for the continued healthy and steady growth of our relationship. The two sides have also decided to put in place the China-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue Mechanism to jointly meet the international financial crisis, respect each other's core interests and properly handle differences. Regarding Tibet, President Hu pointed out that China practices ethnic regional autonomy in Tibet, protects the human rights and freedom of religious belief in accordance with law and is committed to preserving the fine traditional culture of Tibet. China hopes that the US side will adhere to its commitment that Tibet is an inalienable part of Chinese territory and that the US is opposed to "Tibet independence", and that the US side will fully understand and respect the position of the Chinese side. President Obama said that the US side recognizes that Tibet is part of Chinese territory and that the US does not support "Tibet independence".

Distinguished Guests,

Tremendous changes have taken place in Tibet over the past 50 years. Tibet has progressed from darkness to brightness, from poverty to prosperity, from autocracy to democracy, and from self-seclusion to opening up. The problem between us and Dalai Group is not over ethnic, religious or human rights issues, nor is it over whether autonomy is needed. Rather, it has always been a struggle between progress and retrogression and between unity and separation. The attempt by Dalai Group to seek "Tibet independence" will get nowhere, and the same is true of their attempt to seek semi-independence or covert independence in the name of "a high degree of autonomy". The central government of China has always kept the door open for the 14th Dalai Lama to return to a patriotic stand. He must thoroughly reflect upon and fundamentally correct his political views and behaviour.

At present, things are better than ever in Tibet and Qinghai, with economic development, social progress, cultural prosperity, improved living standards, ethnic unity, efficient government and people enjoying harmony. Actively involved in the implementation of the western region development strategy of the central government, the Tibet Autonomous Region and Qinghai Province are embracing a more beautiful future.

Distinguished Guests,

At a time when we celebrate the 30th anniversary of China's reform and opening up and the establishment of China-US diplomatic ties, it is very meaningful that the CIM organizes the Series of Events on Western China. I am sure the events will help people to understand a real China in all aspects. The Chinese Embassy will continue to do its best to provide assistance.

As one old Chinese saying goes, a year's plan starts with spring. In this beautiful spring time when flowers bloom and herald a better future, we are ready to redouble our efforts together with the US side to push for even greater progress in the China-US relations which will bring benefits to the Chinese and American people and to the people the world over.

To conclude, I wish the Serial Events on Western China, and especially this one on Tibet and Qinghai, a great success.

Thank you.


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