After Qin Shi Huangdi unified China, he decreed that there would be one language. If he hadn’t done that, the chances are that China would eventually have fractured and stayed many countries similar to Europe, South America and Africa.
After all, China has fifty-six minorities and the Han Chinese are divided between the Cantonese in the south and the Chinese north of the Yangtze river. Even Shanghai speaks a different dialect from Beijing.
Having one written language instead of many helped unify China and kept it that way leading to the most innovative civilization in history.
The Associated Press published China defends language policies in Tibetan areas where we learn that Tibetans are once again protesting that, “Chinese policies are wrecking their unique Buddhist culture.”
Anyone who reads iLook China regularly knows how “unique” that Buddhist culture was.
I use past tense hoping that “unique” Buddhist culture never returns to a feudal society ruled by a few landowners and lamas making up one percent of the population.
Before 1950, the other ninety-nine percent were either serfs or mandatory Buddhist monks, who did not know any other way of life.
To understand what life must have been like in Tibet for the majority, here are a few definitions for “serf”.
1. a member of the lowest feudal class, attached to the land owned by a lord and required to perform labor in return for certain legal or customary rights.
2. a person in bondage or servitude.
3. an unfree person, esp one bound to the land. If his lord sold the land, the serf was passed on to the new landlord.
4. a person who is bound to the land and owned by the feudal lord
With a “unique” culture such as that, who needs the old ways?
Besides, it has been sixty years since Mao occupied Tibet for China. If you doubt that China ruled over Tibet before 1950, read the October 1912 issue of National Geographic.
Mao was fourteen when Dr. Shaoching H. Chuan, who wrote the piece in National Geographic, went to Tibet in 1907 with a medical team ordered there by the Qing Emperor to deal with a cholera epidemic in one of China’s vassal states governed by two Chinese political governors assigned by the emperor.
Since the average life expectancy for Tibetans was 35.5 in the 1950s, it should be safe to say that most Tibetans who lived there at the time are as dead as China’s first emperor and Mao.
Today, thanks to a modern lifestyle and better medical care provided by China, life expectancy in Tibet has improved to 67.
In fact, only 10% of the region’s population is over 60.
In the last five decades, Tibet’s population has grown about 140 percent. The reason for that growth is that Tibetan families are not subject to the nation’s one-child policy, which is so unpopular in the West.
Why don’t we ever hear these facts from China’s Western critics?
Last year, Tibet had 2.9 million permanent residents. That means 2.7 million Tibetans never lived in the feudal Buddhist society that existed up to 1950.
When a few hundred ethnic minority university students in Beijing recently protested learning Mandarin, I’m sure they had no idea what life would have been like if Tibet had remained free of China.
These same misguided youths are also lucky that Mao and Qin Shi Huangdi are dead.
The first emperor had the scholars that protested one written language dig their own grave then had his troops set fire to them before burying the charred bodies.
Mao would have just had the students executed with one shot to the back of the head.
However, now Tibetan university students protest in Beijing and nothing happens. That’s progress.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.
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