Controversy is brewing on an American college campus. The Dalai Lama, the world-renowned Tibetan spiritual leader, has been invited to speak at the University of California San Diego’s June commencement ceremony. Unfortunately, not everyone is enthusiastic about the University’s selection. Following the lead of activists on many an American campus, a student group is gunning to have the speaker taken off the program on the grounds that he is politically incorrect.
This time, the identity of the campus radicals is a bit unexpected. It turns out that the Dalai Lama’s visit is being protested by the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), along with Chinese-American and Chinese foreign exchange students. Weirdly enough, they’re protesting in the name of diversity and political correctness.
Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. His lifelong messages of peace and harmony have won him immense popularity and respect across the globe. He has been recognized and honored over one-hundred and fifty times for his activism with awards including the Nobel Peace Prize, which he won in 1989 for his advocacy of nonviolent opposition to China’s occupation of Tibet, and the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by American lawmakers.
Facebook comments gathered by Quartz show USCD students decrying the invitation of this Nobel laureate for being an affront to “equality,” “cultural diversity,” and “human rights.” No kidding. Another student published an editorial in the school newspaper complaining that the Dalai Lama’s presence “will ruin our joy” on graduation day and accusing the university of showing “little to no cultural respect” for Chinese students by inviting him. In a lengthier statement, the CSSA explains that “The Dalai Lama is not only a religious personality but also a political exile who has long been carrying out actions to divide the motherland and to destroy national unity.” Consequently the CSSA will be “firm in boycotting any action[s]… that denigrate and belittle Chinese history, that recklessly disseminate provocative and extremely politically hostile discourse… in turn affecting the international image of China.” The Chinese Students Association and Chinese Business Society echoed the sentiment.
Per their own website, the Chinese Students and Scholars Association is “a public good organization attached to the Los Angeles-based Chinese Consulate General.” Quartz reports that the “CSSA wrote that it had ‘been in contact with the People’s Republic of China Consulate General in Los Angeles at the earliest opportunity since the matter arose,’ and ‘was waiting for the advice of the Consulate General.’”
This isn’t the first time the PRC’s diplomatic corps has tried to block activists from visiting college campuses and voicing their opinions about China. When Anastasia Lin, the actress, beauty queen, and human rights advocate, was recently invited to speak at the University of Durham’s student debating society, the Chinese embassy in London said that the invitation was a “violation of the belief and feelings of Chinese students” and warned the school to “take a second and think [about] this debating and the more grand background of UK–China relations.”
Meanwhile, China’s state-run tabloid Global Times even linked USCD’s invitation to the Dalai Lama to UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla’s Indian heritage (the Dalai Lama lives in Dharamsala, India) and repeatedly accused “these Indians” of trying to sow chaos in Tibet and blacken China’s international image. “This shows how some Indian-Americans agitate China-India and China-US relations,” the vehemently nationalist outlet said. So much for “cultural respect.”
Elsewhere the Global Times held forth that “the storyline of historical events in Tibet in Western textbooks differs greatly from the truth of Tibet… it is not easy to correct Western misconceptions about the region.” Indeed, misconceptions about Tibet abound, but many are propagated by the Chinese communist regime. Scholar Jianglin Li’s Tibet in Agony, published this year by Harvard University Press, documents the People’s Liberation Army’s savage assault on the Tibetan capital of Lhasa in 1959 and China’s nearly six-decade-long mission to obfuscate the truth of those terrible events. Even today, Tibetan activists and demonstrators are brutally handled by Chinese security forces, and Buddhist monks routinely immolate themselves to protest the calculated suppression of their culture and religion. Some international organizations even call China’s Tibet policies cultural genocide.
The regime, on the other hand, considers the Lama a nefarious separatist because he advocates for the Chinese Communist Party to confer actual autonomy on what they call the “Tibetan Autonomous Region.” The communist regime and its mouthpieces have never been subtle in their denunciation of the Dalai Lama, either. He has been called a separatist, a “treasonous splittist,” “a wolf in monk’s clothing,” and, most recently, an ISIS sympathizer. The regime has taken punitive measures against the Dalai Lama’s hosts whenever he is invited to speak publicly or meet with world leaders. The Dalai Lama has even alleged that the Chinese government hatched a plot to kill him with poison-infused prayer scarves.
What do we learn from this saga? For one, that the Chinese Communist Party’s diplomatic organs are actively working to suppress free speech on a publicly-funded US university campus. To its great credit, UCSD has so far refused to budge. By standing by their commencement speaker, they’ve shown a commendable commitment to free speech and academic freedom. For the sake of truth and clarity about the past, we commend them and encourage them to keep it up.