Not everyone who is critical of China is an unqualified supporter of the Dalai Lama. Some say that he represents a feudal tradition that has seen its day.
Tibet started to work out of its own feudalism in the 17th century. But then, so did a lot of other countries. Russia, after all, did not get rid of its serfs until the 19th century. Feudalism, as understood by Marx and as used in leftist propaganda, is highly inappropriate relating to Tibet. The fundamental reason being that your Tibetan peasant was a freeholder with a land title. His obligation on his land was a tax obligation. It is very similar to the mortgage I pay to my bank and the taxes I pay to my town.
The presence of monasteries and small regional royalty sometimes confuses the situation. But the big thing is that Tibet did not have an industrial revolution or modernize its infrastructure. It didn’t grow the European way, or do what the Japanese did in the 19th century to catch up. Therefore, people can get away, as the Chinese propagandists do, with saying that Tibet is feudal. That is misplaced Marxist propaganda. The Chinese use it, and pro-Chinese people around the world use it, without understanding the true nature of Tibetan society. China has tried to colonize Tibet, as any old-fashioned imperialist would do, and mask its actions under the guise of liberation. And Western sympathizers more interested in getting their visas to China renewed, or their careers as Sinologists going, tend to play along.
Is it wrong to assume that Tibet must industrialize and modernize?
Absolutely. When the British went up to Tibet, they got all uptight because the Tibetans, they thought, didn’t have the wheel. Meanwhile, every Tibetan was sitting there doing their prayer wheel by hand. Tibetans had a unique invention called a prayer wheel where you spin prayers clockwise and they have the fantasy that these mantras then stream out into the world and you get millions of mantra credits on your karmic evolutionary merit badge. They also had mill wheels and so forth. But they didn’t use the wheel in transportation because of the very difficult Tibetan terrain. Sure-footed Yaks work better than trucks. Yaks could carry large burdens over long distances and they didn’t need petroleum. Yaks also keep the tax burden off of peasants because they obviate the need to build mountain roads. So it was actually an intermediate technology decision made in Tibet three or four centuries ago not to go into roads and carts and wheeled vehicles because of the high altitude and up-and-down terrain. The Chinese have been there 60 years using the Tibetans very often as slave labor to build roads. All of the Chinese roads fall down in places every year because of those slides and the very unstable Tibetan mountains. Tibet is very mountainous, you know.
Now, of course, there are roads and there are cars. And the Tibetans will go in for a certain degree of industry. But in [the neighboring, independent nation of] Bhutan, actually, they have a concept called Gross National Happiness, which is a concept meant to be critical of the Western idea of Gross Domestic Product. GDP is sacrificing everything just to produce things and create pollution and tremendous unhappiness. In Bhutan, when they make a development decision, they think about what is being lost along with what is being gained. The idea is to balance their decisions in a very careful way, to slowly adopt select technologies. They don’t allow themselves to be enslaved to the machine the way the Chinese have.