Chinese UCSD students protest 'unreasonable' Dalai Lama invite

Chinese students at the University of California, San Diego are preparing to “resist” the school’s decision to host the Dalai Lama, allegedly at the behest of the Chinese government.

Earlier this month, UCSD announced on its website that Lhamo Dondrub, better known as the fourteenth Dalai Lama, had agreed to deliver the keynote address at the both the invitation-only 2017 All Campus Commencement ceremony on June 17, as well as to deliver a separate address one day earlier at a public event.

“A man of peace, the Dalai Lama promotes global responsibility and service to humanity,” asserted UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla. “These are the ideals we aim to convey and instill in our students and graduates at UC San Diego.”

The news release goes on to note that “His Holiness was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent struggle for the liberation of Tibet” in 1989, and has received scores of other awards, honorary doctorates, and other forms of recognition from countries around the world.

Not everyone at UCSD welcomed the news, however, according to the Atlantic Media publication Quartz, which reports that the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) issued a lengthy statement via social media claiming that it had consulted with the Chinese consulate about the Dalai Lama’s appearance and would be taking steps to “resist” the “unreasonable” invitation.

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“Currently, the various actions undertaken by the university have contravened the spirit of respect, tolerance, equality, and earnestness—the ethos upon which the university is built. These actions have also dampened the academic enthusiasm of Chinese students and scholars,” the statement declares. “If the university insists on acting unilaterally and inviting the Dalai Lama to give a speech at the graduation ceremony, our association vows to take further measures to firmly resist the university’s unreasonable behavior.”

The CSSA also released a second statement on Facebook blasting the invitation as “slander and neglect of China's history,” as well as “wanton dissemination of inflammatory and serious political attacks,” which the group frets could end up “affecting the international image of China.”

The post goes on to declare the group’s support for “any organization or individual to be protected by law,” but insists that “propaganda of religious beliefs” and “political and historical acts of smear” should not be tolerated.

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The UCSD Shanghai Alumni Group reportedly weighed in, as well, sending a letter to Chancellor Khosla arguing that UCSD’s commitment to diversity and inclusiveness creates “a greater responsibility to spread a message that brings people together, rather than split[s] them apart,” and warning that the Dalai Lama’s speech would offend the school’s large Chinese community.

“During the campus commencement, there will be over a thousand Chinese students, families, and friends celebrating this precious moment with their loved ones,” the letter points out. “If Tenzin Gyatso [the Dalai Lama’s religious name] expresses his political views under the guise of ‘spirituality and compassion,’ the Chinese segment of this community will feel extremely offended and disrespected during this special occasion.”

UCSD student Rulxuan Wang echoed the sense of outrage in an op-ed for The (UCSD) Guardian, claiming that family members are planning to fly all the way from China for the ceremony, and that the Dalai Lama’s presence would “ruin our joy” despite her professed admiration for the Dalai Lama’s achievements.

“What we want to say is that objectively, he will be an excellent speaker for the commencement,” Wang writes. “Nonetheless, culturally speaking, his selection to be a presenter is inappropriate in such a situation, considering how many Chinese students and their families are going to attend this commencement.”

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“Our nation values unity just as you value democracy in the United States,” Wang explains. “However, the Dalai Lama spent his whole life trying to separate Tibet from the mainland of China, regardless of how much privilege and freedom the government offered the people of Tibet.”

Despite the outrage among UCSD’s Chinese students, The Triton reports that many others were enthusiastic about the Dalai Lama’s speech and confused by the hostile reaction to it.

“I had no idea there was a controversy!” student Jori Enfield exclaimed in a Facebook post quoted by The Triton. “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 Chinese student who wished to remain anonymous offered a possible insight into the outrage, explaining that Chinese media routinely disparaged the Dalai Lama during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, accusing him of causing riots, murder, and looting in an effort to divide the country.

“I was in elementary school at that time and of course I believed my teacher and CCTV (China Central Television),” the student recounted. “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.”

In response to the controversy, the UCSD Communications and Public Affairs Office provided a statement to The Triton flatly refusing to reconsider the Dalai Lama’s invitation, saying it would be inappropriate to cancel any speech based solely on the objections of some students to the speaker’s policy positions.

“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,” the statement asserts. “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.”

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