THE POTOMAC CONFERENCE, October 5 - 6, 1992
SINO-TIBETAN RELATIONS: PROSPECTS FOR THE FUTURE
October 5, Afternoon Session II.
CULTURAL, ETHNIC & CHANGING PERCEPTIONS
Tibetan Culture and Modernization
The Chinese Tradition of "Great Unification" and
the Tibetan Issue
The Ethics of Religion
Robert A. F. Thurman, Moderator
+ + + + + + +
ROBERT A. F. THURMAN
We'll move along, probably now to Professor Chen Kuide, who is a
professor graduated in philosophy from Fudan University, where he also
taught until 1988. Presently he is with the Princeton China Initiative,
and also the Center for Modern China. He published a work called _The
New Liberalism_ in 1988 and he himself, his original field, is the
philosophy of [Alfred North] Whitehead. So - Professor Chen.
[in Chinese] Thank you. I am very glad to be here today. First of
all, I am very honored to be able to participate in this meeting. Like
the Dalai Lama said the important thing is for the Tibetans and Chinese
to have personal contact and this meeting is an historic starting point.
I think that, as time passes, the significance of this meeting will be
stated. This meeting is a good start in resolving Sino-Tibetan issues.
I would like to talk about the topic as designated by the coordinators,
namely, the "Great Unification" and historical opportunity and the
concept of "Great Unification," what scenarios we have for the future,
how all this is related to Tibet and China.
But first, I would like to clarify that every culture has the same
status. By this, I mean that there is no superior or inferior culture.
Every culture has its own unique characteristics which contributes to the
richness of the world culture as a whole and therefore every culture is
worthy of our respect. The dignity of the Tibetan culture is and Tibetan
people should be respected. I felt that the panelist this morning was
very interesting and I learned a lot. For years, however, the Chinese
Government has done great damage to the Tibetan people and Tibetan
culture. This is a very miserable thing.
Second, on the other hand, politics is very realistic, it is not
romantic and not idealistic, but realistic. Some common problems under
the communist rules, like the relationship between economic development
and environmental protection - this problem also exists in other parts of
China and it is also very serious. However, the deprivation of human
rights in other parts of China and the damage done to the Tibetan culture
and the abuse of human rights in Tibet should be differentiated. If you
have all this mixed up, it would be very difficult to elucidate, to
In the following talk, I would like to address several issues: one, the
issue of historical opportunity; second, the view of unification; and
third, our expectation of the future of Tibet.
It is like what Chris Wu [Wu Fan] said, Now we have a problem in front
of us, how can it be solved? We all say that we should sit down and talk
about this but I think, even if we sit down and talk some of the problems
cannot be solved in a certain historical period. I am Chinese and I
believe in Chinese wisdom. In China, we have an old saying, "Sha huan
zhi yuan" [??]. This means that is something is done with no rush, the
result will turn out to be perfect. This saying reflects one of the
essences of Chinese wisdom, that is, the wisdom of waiting.. If we do
not have this kind of wisdom, we will experience major disaster. This is
true in resolving certain historical problems, which do not seem to be
resolvable right now, but this is only temporary, not permanent. In a
specific setting, an historical period of time, difficult problems simply
cannot be solved at that time. If you try to force a settlement to those
problems, probably that will give rise to an even worse situation and
violence and bloodshed will occur. Therefore, we should have a clear
understanding of the problem. Without this understanding, it is
impossible for people of our generation, including people present here to
probably contribute to an even greater disaster for China. If we have
this understanding, perhaps we will pay a less expensive cost.
This reminds me of a very famous historian in the West. He reached the
point where he saw that in the newly developed physics, theories like
quantum physics and relativity, that success was not in persuading the
old physicists to accept the new laws of physics. The only reason that
the new theories take hold, according to him, is because the old
physicists died out. The new physicists are then free to grow up in the
new environment of physics, and they establish their own new theories in
their own time. [Max Planck: "Science advances one funeral at a time."]
This for the present, applies to problems in China now. I think we have
to wait and see. This indicates a new historical opportunity. I think
the changes taking place in China and the other changes around the world
have shown that a major historical opportunity is imminent. But not just
yet. As far as the Chinese are concerned, in the next five to ten years,
probably, a major readjustment, a restructuring of the economic and
political structure in China will take place. As a matter of fact, the
whole process has already started. However, only with the advent of the
major restructuring, can we say that it will be the opportunity to
rebuild the Sino-Tibetan relationship. Then, if we sit down and talk, it
will be possible to design a structure that will promise a permanent
Sino-Tibetan relationship. So efforts and endeavors that would be made
at that time would be more effective, much more effective than if we try
to solve it when the conditions are not ripe. So this is my first point
of view concerning the historical opportunity. As the Chinese saying
says, we need to wait.
The second issue I want to address, at the suggestion of the organizers,
is the thought of "great unification." Most people think that Han people
have had a view of centralized unification since ancient times.
Actually, if we look back at Chinese history, the period during which
China was divided is not shorter than the period during which China was
unified. Therefore the Chinese concept is not always of unity, but it
also concerns the historical cycles of a "long unity leads to
disintegration, and a long disintegration leads to reunification."
And this probably, will help the settlement of certain political
problems. Take the case of Outer Mongolia . In the past, this has
always been viewed as part of Chinese territory and this has always been
taken for granted by the Chinese government and the Chinese people. But
Chinese people are realistic. Today, if you ask the government and the
people of China, they will tell you that Mongolia is an independent
country. Therefore, the thought of unification is not unchangeable. As
a matter a fact, this kind of thought is getting weaker. Chinese
people's view about the status of Hong Kong and Taiwan is an example.
The claim held by most Chinese people is that if, in 1949, the Chinese
Government had conquered Hong Kong and Taiwan and had accomplished the
dream of unification, the fate of most Chinese people would be much more
miserable. The status that Hong Kong and Taiwan have been separated from
mainland China at least protected some Chinese (who live in Hong Kong and
Taiwan) from being poor and fearful. Therefore, not being united is good
for the Chinese people. This view is getting more and more popular. The
fear of the people of Hong Kong about 1997 and the Taiwanese people's
steadfast refusal to be unified under current conditions in mainland
China is evidence of this view.
There have been many discussions in the academic arena about Tibetan
issues: does Tibet belongs to China, or it is an independent country?
This kind of discussion is very good and helpful. However, I would like
to point out that politics has its own way, and it does not follow
exactly the way that scholars expect. Politics is practical and
The third point of my lecture is about our expectations for the future
of Tibet. China and Tibet must face problems that were caused by
history. Towards Sino-Tibetan issues, Chinese people and Tibetan people
have, understandably, a very different view. The differences between
these two views cannot possibly be diminished for a long time. A
question is raised from this point: what kind of view should we envision
for the future of Tibet? We should not take action based only on a
unilateral view, either on the Tibetan or Chinese side of the issue.
This does not mean that either side is wrong. It is possible that both
sides are correct. Nevertheless, from an historical point of view, the
view from any one side is always partial and not complete. In all of
human history, there have been many terrible crimes committed based on
one side's seemingly correct and civilized view.
Therefore, we need communication. Compromise is the only way to solve
problems. The results of compromise may not completely satisfy both
sides, but the result can maximize the sum of the benefit to both sides,
and can minimize the sum of the hurt to both sides.
The greatest impediment to human communication is the expectation of all
or nothing. That is, when people try to communicate and negotiate, they
expect that either they will win completely or they will lose completely.
Communication based on this model of expectation will hardly be
successful, and can actually be harmful. Only when both sides give up
the all or nothing expectation, can communication be successful.
The Sino-Tibetan issues will, in the end, finally be resolved. During
this process we need to invoke the wisdom of waiting and the wisdom of
Thank you very much!