UCSD Chinese students protest Dalai Lama

Chinese students at the University of California, San Diego are protesting the Dalai Lama, who is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the UCSD commencement ceremony in June. According to Joel Gruber, University of San Diego Theology and Religious studies professor,  the students are protesting the speaker because they believe the Dalai Lama represents anti-Chinese sentiment. They believe he is asking for Tibet to be an independent country, although he is not.

A Chinese student at UCSD, Ruixuan Wang, wrote an opinion article for the UCSD student paper, The Guardian. Wang stated that the university was insensitive in choosing the Dalai Lama as their commencement speaker because he is a politically polarizing person in China.

“Our family members are coming all the way from China, flying for more than 10 hours to celebrate with us,” Wang wrote. “The Dalai Lama, as a political icon, is viewed differently in our country.”

Wang wrote that the Dalai Lama has spent his life working to separate Tibet from China, which has caused problems in China.

“His conflict with the Chinese government caused property loss, deaths of innocent people, and panic among the general public, even though he claims that he advocates for a non-violent revolution,” Wang wrote.

Photo courtesy of Christopher/Wikimedia Commons

Xiaoye Yang is a senior Chinese student at USD. Yang has lived in the U.S. for six years and claimed that she has been influenced by views of both Chinese and American societies.

Yang said that the UCSD protests of the Dalai Lama is necessary, and she was surprised because she had never seen a Chinese group speak out against their school in this fashion.

“I feel that in American society people only know one side [of the Dalai Lama] which is from the media and controlled by the mainstream,” Yang said.

In regard to the UCSD protest, Yang said that the university did not take its Chinese student population into consideration.

“I think the university doesn’t care about its Chinese students enough,” Yang said. “Chinese students are shy and don’t speak up.”

Yang continued to say that universities pay more attention to other minority groups than Chinese groups.

“A school would not invite someone who is against the gay community [to their graduation], even though not everyone is gay,” Yang said.

Though she did not hear much about the Dalai Lama growing up in China, Yang said that China sees the only the evil side of the Dalai Lama who wants to separate Tibet from China. Conversely, Yang said the U.S. sees the Dalai Lama fighting for freedom of his country.

“Both sides are incomplete,” Yang said. “Based on my own research, I found that he is trying to separate Tibet from China. He’s not as simple as people describe him. The situation is way more complicated. He’s not perfect.”

Yang emphasized that students should do their own research on the Dalai Lama and see why the issue is complicated for Chinese students.

“Chinese students are not brainwashed,” Yang said. “There’s far more to the story.”

Gruber teaches courses on Buddhism and said he is very familiar with Tibetan culture. Gruber gave more insight why students raised in China would protest the Dalai Lama.

“This is common,” Gruber said. “When I was getting my PhD at UCSB, the Dalai Lama came to visit [in 2012], and there were the same protests. The situation is really complex and sensitive. Rarely do people actually think of the historical context.”

Gruber explained that there is a complicated history between Tibet and China which dates back many centuries.

“In order to understand why Chinese protests are strong, you must understand that they have this view of the Dalai Lama that is repeated over and over again,” Gruber said. “[The Chinese people are told] he’s a wolf in sheep’s in clothing. He pretends to be nice, but he’s a troublemaker.”

In regard to Chinese beliefs that the Dalai Lama wants Tibet to be an independent country, Gruber explained the Dalai Lama’s stance.

“He is asking that [Tibet] can preserve their culture, religion, and run their own affairs, just as a state within the U.S. might, and this is important, that they be able to do so as a part of China,” Gruber said.

Gruber said this concept may be strange for some USD students who were not raised in China to understand. He also said that Chinese propaganda in China blames the  Dalai Lama for the country’s problems. For example, the Chinese propaganda portrays the Dalai Lama as a divider of the Chinese government.

“That is why they’re protesting,” Gruber said. “They’ve learned their whole life that the Dalai Lama is manipulative and that he wants to break apart the motherland.”   

According to Gruber, much of the frustration in those students raised in China comes from the frustration that the West’s support for the Dalai Lama goes against everything they have been taught. Gruber explained that Chinese people see the West as blindly promoting the Dalai Lama because they are tricked by his philosophies, and therefore the West is anti-Chinese because the Dalai Lama is anti-Chinese. Therefore, the teachings of the Chinese government can explain the Chinese-born UCSD students’ frustrations with their commencement speaker.

Elisabeth Smith | News Editor