As the 14th Dalai Lama again talked about bringing all Tibetans under "a single autonomous administration" in his March 10 speech, Tibetologists questioned the legitimacy and feasibility of his plan.
"Greater Tibet", long advocated by the Dalai Lama and his followers, was not a historical fact nor fitted in the reality, said Prof. An Caidan with the China Tibetology Research Center.
The "single" administration, as the Dalai Lama proposed, would cover today's Tibet Autonomous Region, the whole Qinghai Province,parts of Sichuan, Yunnan and Gansu provinces.
As Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said at a press conference on March 7, the Dalai Lama wants to establish "Greater Tibet" in one fourth of China's territory.
No regime in Lhasa has ruled this whole area since the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), An said.
In the 13th century as the Mogul united several kingdoms in China, Tibetans joined in the empire whose capital was Dadu, Today's Beijing.
The central government then divided the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau into three administrative regions. All of them were ruled directly from Dadu, instead of Lhasa, An said. "The central government registered residents, collected tax, deployed armies and implemented national laws in the three regions."
"I think, the three administrative regions were set up based on different tribes and subcultures among Tibetans. This is the real origin of the three Tibetan dialect areas, U-Tsang, Kham and Ando."
The Han emperors of Ming Dynasty, who replaced the Mogul emperors to rule China between the 14th and 17th century, followed the Yuan's old way to administrate the plateau.
After the Manchu Emperors of Qing Dynasty, who originated in northeast China, took over the Chinese empire in the 17th century, the plateau's administrative divisions developed much like today's, An said.
"The boundaries of Tibet, Sichuan, Qinghai and Yunnan were drawn in 1726 and 1731. They were very close to today's."
Under the Qing Dynasty, the area of today's Tibet Autonomous Region was divided into even smaller regions: the Dalai Lama's administrative region, the Panchen Lama's administrative region, the region of the central government's representative official and several small manors granted by the Emperor to local lords.
"It was after 1912 when republicans overthrew the empire, that the Dalai Lama's army seized most of what is today's Tibet Autonomous Region but Lhasa's rule was still much smaller than the14th Dalai Lama wants now," An said.
"The country of Tibet" made up of U-Tsang, Kham and Ando, as the secessionists' claimed, never existed, he said.
The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau has been an area of ethnic convergence for centuries. The birth place of the 14th Dalai Lama in eastern Qinghai was home to several ethnic groups including Tibetans in the first century. When he was born, Tibetan, Hui and Han families lived side by side in the village, he said.
"If the 14th Dalai Lama was a real wise man, he would understand the close and interlaced connections among different ethnic groups that formed in the plateau's long history," An said." He should not call other ethnic groups 'invaders' and undermine the ethnic harmony for the sake of politics."
Under the existing ethnic autonomous system in China, besides the provincial Tibet Autonomous Region, Tibetans had autonomous regions of city, county and township levels in neighboring provinces. They co-exist with autonomous regions of other ethnic groups and non-autonomous divisions, a flexible solution to the multi-ethnic regions.
"It is not practical to bring all Tibetans into a single administrative region," said Sun Hongnian, a researcher with Center of China's Borderland History and Geography Research under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. "What about people of Han and other ethnic groups that lived on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau for generations? What about Tibetans who live in the habitats of Han and other ethnic groups?"
According to his research, Sun said the idea of "Greater Tibet" emerged after 1912. The regional government of Tibet argued with the central government for more land, backed by Britain who then governed India and wanted Tibet to be split from China.
At a meeting at Simla (Now Shimla) in then British India between 1913 and 1914, British officials reached a deal with Tibet's regional government representatives: the British side would force China's central government to agree Tibet's "independence" and give about 1 million square kilometers of land in neighboring provinces to Tibet. In return, Tibet would give 90,000 square kilometers of border land to British India, according to Sun.
The deal failed because the central government representative refused to sign the agreement at the meeting, he added.
The 14th Dalai Lama, labelled by some as "one of our few true moral authorities", has stuck to the same scheme for decades.
"I think, the Dalai Lama and 'Tibetan government-in-exile' inherited the same concept," Sun said. "This concept also helped them unite and ease conflicts among different interest groups of Tibetans in exile as they came from different parts of the plateau."
At the March 7 press conference, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said the difference between China and the Dalai Lama has nothing to do with religion, human rights, ethnic relations and culture.
"It is an issue of whether to defend China's unity against attempts to separate Tibet from China," he said.
(Xinhua News Agency March 15, 2009)