Feb. 7. 2017 -- The University of California San Diego (UCSD) announced Thursday that the 14th Dalai Lama has been invited to address graduating students at commencement in June and speak at a second event on campus that will be open to the public. The announcement has triggered strong opposition from students from the Chinese mainland at the university.
The Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in India in 1959, is a separatist who intends to split Tibet from China under the guise of religion. But to the dismay of Chinese students who make up a rapidly growing number of overseas students in the campus, the UCSD called the Dalai Lama "the exiled spiritual head and leader of the Tibetan people" and "a man of peace."
On Facebook, Chinese students expressed anger against the university's decision. "I am disappointed with the fact that our school invites a political figure while ignoring the controversy behind him," one posted.
The West has long mystified and romanticized Tibet, and has made the Dalai Lama into a Nelson Mandela-like figure. But behind such appreciation is the containment strategy against China by the West which plays "Tibet Roulette" with China from time to time. Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama uses Western endorsement to facilitate his intention to split from China.
The storyline of historical events in Tibet in Western textbooks differs greatly from the truth of Tibet. Nonetheless, it is not easy to correct Western misconceptions about the region.
For top Western academic institutions like the UCSD, which sees itself as one of the top 15 research universities in the world and is recognized for its contributions to the public good, whether they offer students the true version of history and, in the case of China, help them form a correct understanding of China, is particularly important, given the massive exchanges among Chinese and American students nowadays.
Dealing with a rising China will be the most critical task of the U.S.. An inappropriate or limited knowledge of China and Chinese history will make it difficult for the U.S. to ascertain its ties with China going forward.
The Chinese Students and Scholars Association at UCSD has filed a complaint to the university and reached out to the Chinese consulate general in Los Angeles. The university needs to bear any negative consequences which may be brought by the Dalai Lama furor in its future cooperation with China. It is hoped that the U.S. and its institutions will not pointedly work at odds with China's concerns but should learn about Chinese history to better bilateral relations.