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President Xi’s Tibet Sinicization move inspired by Qing dynasty’s assimilation policy?

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(TibetanReview.net, Dec23’22) – In addition to the top party positions wherein lie the real power in occupied Tibet being always an exclusive reserve of ethnic Chinese leaders from the Communist Party of China (CPC), even the titular government posts hitherto reserved for Tibetan collaborators are now being filled with Chinese cadres in President Xi Jinping’s current total assimilation move. And the inspiration for this move appears to be the Qing dynasty’s 18th century policy called “gaitu guiliu” which was sought to be implemented in Tibet in the waning last one decade or so of its power in the beginning of the 20th century.

“Gaitu guiliu” (translated as “reforming the land and returning to the stream,” or simply “reform”) was a Qing dynasty policy that produced crimes against humanity wherever it was implemented, and Zhao Erfeng who did it in Tibet is remembered as a criminal and a butcher, said the bitterwinter.org in a Dec 22 report.

The report said that at the beginning of this month, it was revealed, and even discussed in the social media, that party cadres in Tibet were told to study the policy of “gaitu guiliu” implemented by Zhao Erfeng in the first decade of the 20th century. The report cited CPC documents as saying Zhao’s policy had “maintained the stability and development of Tibet,” “is a valuable reference”, and has a rich significance” for governing Tibet in the 21st century.

Apart from Party documents, Tibetans have read such claims in the works of revisionist CPC historians, the report said.

* * *

Zhao Erfeng was a Chinese general of the late imperial era who led military campaigns throughout the eastern Tibetan province of Kham, earning himself the nickname “the Butcher of Kham” and “Zhao the Butcher”. He was based in Kham’s effective capital Chamdo as China’s Assistant Amban (resident high commissioner) for Tibet.

The report said “Gaitu guiliu” was created by the Qing dynasty in the 18th century to put an end to the system of governance of ethnic minorities within the Chinese empire. Before that, the policy, dating back to the Middle Ages during the Ming dynasty, was “tusi zhidu”, which envisaged “ruling the native people through native officers”, based on the idea that ethnic minorities would more easily obey imperial bureaucrats selected from their own folds.

Although the Ming rulers had already substituted the local chieftains with Chinese Han officers in some areas, the Qing rulers abolished the “tusi zhidu” system almost everywhere, provoking rebellions from the local chieftains and the ethnic minorities, which were crushed with the killing of tens of thousands of people, the report said.

Zhao Erfeng was stated to have sought to fully implemented “gaitu guiliu” first in the Kham areas that were part of historical Tibet but not of what is currently demarcated by China as Tibet Autonomous Region, and then in Lhasa, as assistant amban and then amban (Qing high commissioner).

Zhao was stated to have believed that the “chieftains” to get rid of in Tibet included the Buddhist monks, and killed hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of them, putting non-Tibetan officers in charge of local administrations. In 1910, Zhao asked Chinese troops to occupy Lhasa, and the 13th Dalai Lama had to escape to India.

“Butcher Feng,” was rewarded by the Qing ruler and promoted as the Viceroy of Sichuan where, however, he was captured and beheaded by rebels later on in the republican uprising in 1911.


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