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Parading the Red Flag and Its Dangers

posted Mar 12, 2013, 8:43 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Mar 14, 2013, 7:38 PM ]
By the Editorial Board of Tibetan Political Review, March 12, 2013


At a press conference in Dharamsala, India, on 17 February 2013, Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee said that he would carry the flag of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and start his second peaceful walk on 10 March.  ‘I will finish what I have started.  I am not taking the Chinese flag to say that historically Tibet was part of China.  I am taking the flag to say that from today onwards I agree with the Middle Way Approach, which in future seeks genuine autonomy within the Chinese family.’  Dorjee further said that ‘those who do not agree with me may have their reasons or principles.  Or they do not like me as a person.’­

Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee and his family started a peaceful march on 10 March 2012 from Dharamsala to Lhasa amidst great show of support by some people in Dharamsala.  Tibetans and many of their supporters donated money and cried as Tseten Dorjee, his elderly mother and younger sister began their long walk, carrying the Tibetan flag.  Just before their reached Delhi, they raised a Chinese flag alongside the Tibetan national flag. This caused a furore and some organizations publicly opposed the family’s action, including the Tibetan Youth Congress, which issued a press release to this effect.

In a press statement issued on 5 March 2013 by Dharamsala-based five NGOs, including Tibetan Women’s Association, Gu-Chu-Sum Movement of Tibet, National Democratic Party of Tibet, Students for a Free Tibet-India, and Tibetan Youth Congress, they said that when Tibetans are risking their lives to bring down Chinese flag in Tibet no individual or organization should parade Chinese flag during protests on the 54th National Uprising Day.

A press release by the Tibetan government-in-Exile (TGIE) issued on 14 May 2012 said that “the Kashag does not endorse either the burning of nor those carrying the Chinese flag.  This is the position of the Kashag.” 

At the press conference on 17 February this year, Tseten Dorjee said that he will start his second peace walk carrying the Chinese flag.  ‘This is my personal decision.  In future six million Tibetans will wake up. Today they are at the point of waking up.’


One day after Tseten Dorjee made his remarks about carrying the PRC flag, Lobsang Choejor (a.k.a. Sharchok Khugta), who works for a Dharamsala-based NGO grandly named the Tibetan People's Movement for the Middle Way Approach , which propagates the Middle Way Policy, wrote an article titled Twelve Big Reasons for Me to Support Carrying the Chinese Flag on Tibetan website khabdha.

Among the reasons that Lobsang Choejor states are that: (i)  parading Chinese flag is in tune with Middle Way Policy; (ii) this action helps win support of Chinese people; and (iii) this action permanently stops or fights back against those who only wish/demand for a “small independence” (rang.zen chung.chung zhig jung.na drig.pai ‘dod.tshul rnam ten.gog).

On 10 March 2013, Tseten Dorjee started his peace march from Dharamsala.  This time he did not carry the Red flag. When asked about it he said that his carrying the flag is causing ‘discord among the Tibetans’ and hence he decided not to carry it.

However, Lobsang Choejor staged a lone protest in New Delhi on 10 March 2013 carrying the Chinese flag. According to Tibetan news media Tibet Times Choejor staged his protest in both at Jantar Mantar and India Gate. 

Parading the PRC Flag and the Middle Way Policy

Parading the PRC flag in a peace walk for Tibet was an unprecedented and previously unthinkable act until Tseten Dorjee and his family did so in 2012.  Moreover, for another Tibetan to use the Middle Way Policy to defend such an action warrants further questioning.

First, it is undisputed that every Tibetan, indeed every person, has the right to raise or display any flag of their choice, including the PRC flag.  This is part of an individual’s right of free expression.  As the newly-appointed U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, recently noted, freedom includes the “right to be stupid.” 

We also do not doubt that Tseten Dorjee and his family carried out this peace march with the best of intentions, and we recognize the sacrifices that his and his family have made.  However, we are concerned about the implications and consequences that can arise from such an act, and the toxic message it may send.

According to the Middle Way Policy and All Recent Related Documents (2010), published by the TGIE’s Department of Information and International Relations, the Middle Way Policy seeks “genuine autonomy” including “the right of the Tibetans to create their own regional government and government institutions and processes that are best suited to their needs and characteristics.”  This assumes that the Chinese government would consent to such a devolution of power; not a given, based on the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) rejection over the past quarter-century of the Middle Way, of any challenge to its centralized power, or of any change in the political status quo in Tibet (or even in China).  In fact, the TGIE also admits that “the Chinese side have misinterpreted and distorted the contents of the memorandum” and “that an increasing number of who have doubts in the minds about the Middle-Way policy suggest that it is better to explore alternative means to resolve the issue of Tibet.’

Regardless, there is one feature of the Middle Way that is inescapable: Tibet would become undisputedly part of China, and Tibetans would become undisputedly Chinese citizens.  Thus, Tseten Dorjee’s act of raising the Chinese flag on a purported march for Tibetan freedom illustrates a core issue in the Middle Way’s approach, taken to its logical conclusion, but one that is often unstated by proponents of the Middle Way.

Policies change, and so do administrations, but the national goal does not.  Tibet’s struggle for freedom has always been a struggle for the Tibetan people’s right to determine their own destiny.  As long as this objective is not achieved, the struggle will continue.

So far, more than a quarter-century of sincere efforts on the part of the Tibetan administration in pursuing the Middle Way has not brought positive results.  In fact, by all accounts the situation in Tibet has grown worse since 2008.  The self-immolations of 107 brave Tibetans and the imposition of a police state on the Tibetan Plateau testify to this fact.

Symbolism of the Red Chinese Flag

During the 2008 Tibet-wide peaceful uprising against Chinese rule, a group of horse-riding nomads in Bora, a small nomadic community in Northeastern Tibet, tore down the Chinese flag and proudly raised the Tibetan national flag in its place.  For these brave nomads, clearly, the Red Chinese flag is a symbol of oppression and foreign occupation.

Since the Chinese invasion of Tibet, hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have died as a direct result; His Holiness the Dalai Lama was forced into exile along with thousands of Tibetans; over ninety percent of Tibet’s ancient monasteries and monastic universities were destroyed; hundreds of thousands of Tibetans were sent into hard labour camps; Tibet’s rich natural resources are excessively mined to feed China’s growing demands for industrial raw materials; more than 1.5 lakh (150,000) exile Tibetans cannot return home because of Beijing’s occupation of their homeland; and since April 2009, over one hundred Tibetans in Tibet set themselves on fire to protest against the Chinese occupation and called for the return of His Holiness.

For Tibetans living on both sides of the Himalayas, the Red Chinese flag symbolizes occupation, repression, and suffering of the highest order.

For the CCP, the this flag represents its control over the Chinese state and the dominance of the Han Chinese.  According to China Yearbook 2004 the red color symbolizes revolution and the four smaller stars surrounding a bigger one signifies “the unity of the Chinese people under the leadership of the Communist Party of China.”  The very flag itself is racist: the large star represents the Han Chinese people, with the smaller stars representing Tibetan, Manchu, Mongol, and Uyghur “minorities” arrayed around the majority Han Chinese.

When the so-called People’s Liberation Army marched into Lhasa in 1951, they demanded that the Tibetan army regiments also carry the Chinese national flag, which the two then-Prime Ministers, Lukhangwa and Lobsang Tashi, flatly refused.

Like the Tibetan prime ministers, the nomads of Bora who raised the Snow Lion flag in place of the Red flag knew the importance of the national flag, its symbolism and the historical significance.  The flag of a nation represents its past, its enduring present, and its future as a proud and equal member of the human family of nations.  For Tibetans who raise the Snow Lion flag, it does not just represent Tibetan culture or Tibetan ethnic identity; it also represents the Tibetan nation.  It is not just a symbolism of Tibet’s past independence, but also a demand for Tibetan statehood today and an end to Chinese colonialism and occupation.


Every Tibetan has the right to raise any flag of their choice, just as every Tibetan has the right to say what they think about that choice.  Lingtsa Tseten Dorjee has made it clear that, for him, support for the Middle Way requires accepting the symbols of becoming part of China, including embracing the PRC flag.  Our own views as members of the Tibetan community should be clear from this editorial:  we encourage our readers to send in articles or letters expressing their own thoughts on this issue. 

Editors' Note:

Lobsang Choejor, while still working for the Tibetan People's Movement for the Middle Way Approach, also organized a meeting of young Tibetans in November 2012 ostensibly to discuss self-immolations in Tibet. The meeting was attended by less than twenty Tibetans and was followed up by a petition on 10 December 2012 addressed to Xi Jinping.  The appeal letter was issued in the name of “Tibetan Educated Youth Group” but was signed only by Lobsang Choejor, who is cited as a Chief Organizer.

The appeal, while raising some genuine issues, refers to the People’s Republic of China as the “Central Government” and Tibet simply as a “region”.  How many ‘educated’ Tibetan youths are in this group?  Were all of them aware about the content of the appeal?  Why is there only one signature and no other names?  Is there a concerted effort by one particular group or another to seemingly represent ‘educated Tibetan youth’ to accept PRC rule over Tibet in a way that seems legitimate and consensual?  These are unanswered questions.

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