Chinese student organizations denounce Dalai Lama as commencement speaker

Photo courtesy of UC San Diego Publications

On Thursday morning, students and faculty received an email from Chancellor Pradeep Khosla announcing the 14th Dalai Lama as this year’s all-campus commencement speaker. As part of his first stop in his U.S. tour, the Dalai Lama will speak at a public event on June 16 then the commencement on the 17th.

Almost immediately, the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) on campus made a statement against the University’s decision on both its Facebook page and official account on WeChat, a popular messaging app used among Chinese students. Other campus groups, Chinese Student Association (CSA) and Chinese Business Society (CBS), made joint statements with CSSA within hours.

Translated from the original, CSSA posted that the group “strongly objects any behavior of spreading inflammatory, politically offensive speech which slanders and belittles Chinese history, proceed to influence China’s international image with unknown motivation.” It asserted that “all behaviors which disgrace politics and history under the flag of spreading religious freedom are carried with intricate motivation and cannot be tolerated, no matter what background they are put into.”

CSSA reached out to the Consulate General in Los Angeles yesterday, according to its WeChat announcement.

The relationship between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama is strained due to its history with Tibet. The Dalai Lama fled from Tibet to India in 1959 during the Tibetan Rebellion, which preceded the annexation of the Tibetan province by China. While the People’s Republic of China (PRC) claims that the annexation of Tibet brought an end to imperialism for the “deeply distressed Tibetan people,” the Tibetan government in exile (headed by the Dalai Lama) claims that “the PRC is responsible for bringing more suffering in the name of liberation.

As of 10 a.m. this morning, UCSD’s post announcing the Dalai Lama as the commencement speaker on its official Facebook page had over 2,000 comments conveying mixed reactions.

Chris, a second year student from Warren who chose only to use his first name, believes that hosting the Dalai Lama is insensitive to UCSD’s Chinese students.

“I feel it’s inappropriate for school to do this, totally ignoring Chinese students’ thoughts,” he said. “After all, Dalai Lama is a political sensitive figure.”

Jori Enfield, a Sixth student, was excited to hear of the commencement speaker and was shocked by comments he read opposing the Dalai Lama. Enfield disclosed, however, that he would not understand the situation for sure without visiting Tibet and China to speak to those affected.

“I had no idea there was a controversy!” Enfield said over a Facebook message. “How could a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Tibetan Buddhist leader (which I keenly study), a man welcomed by President Obama and well respected for his peaceful and compassionate teachings worldwide be so hated? Compared to individuals like Osama Bin Laden and Nazis?”

A third year female student from mainland China, who chose to be anonymous, offered an explanation for the strong opposition.

“During [the] Beijing Olympic Games in 2008, all the media in China reported that Dalai Lama caused riot in Tibet, [to] kill, loot, meet with leaders of foreign countries and wanted to split the country,” she said in an interview. “I was in elementary school at that time and of course I believed my teacher and CCTV (China Central Television). But when I grew up and heard different voices in Hong Kong, in Taiwan, in other countries and even inside China, I began to think.”

She referred to the Communist Party’s previous actions against religious groups in history. “I began to search for the true history of this country, from all sources, inside and outside China. I began to know how Communist Party have persecuted religions and beliefs since the foundation of its authority. In the Cultural Revolution they demolished temples, Taoist temples, even Confucian temples! They persecute Christians of House churches, they persecute Tibetan Buddhism and in 1999 they persecuted Falun Gong.”

A first year Chinese student in Muir, who requested anonymity, expressed her lack of trust for the Communist Party.

“Chinese of my generation all grew up with these propaganda, so I completely understand [their reactions]. I’m not saying that I know a lot about Dalai Lama, but I don’t trust the Communist Party of China,” she said. “For all its news you need to keep [being] skeptical. I come from China and I love the nation, so much! But I don’t love the Party. I think it’s important to distinguish between loving the country and loving a Party. Nowadays lots of Chinese can’t distinguish.”

When reached for comment this morning, the University Communications and Public Affairs office responded with this statement:

“The University of California San Diego has always served as a forum for discussion and interaction on important public policy issues and respects the rights of individuals to agree or disagree as we consider issues of our complex world.  Our 2017 speaker, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, carries a message that promotes global responsibility and service to humanity that is of great interest to the UC San Diego community and to our students as they enter their professional lives. As a public university dedicated to the civil exchange of views, the university believes commencement is one of many events that provide an appropriate opportunity to present to graduates and their families a message of reflection and compassion.”

The story was updated at 12:57 p.m. on Feb. 3 to include the University’s statement.