The Long Riders' Guild

A Passionate Appeal for Tibet by Long Rider Legend, George Patterson FRGS

Some of the world’s greatest explorers have the most unlikely beginnings. Take George Patterson for example. There was nothing in his early life to indicate that this son of a Scottish minister would go on to lead a life of adventure, travel and intrigue. Yet George turned his back on all that he knew and journeyed into remote Tibet at the conclusion of the Second World War. He not only underwent a great spiritual awakening there, George also became involved with the Tibetan resistance to the invading Chinese Communist army. George’s subsequent equestrian journey, across the Himalayas in the winter of 1949, to deliver a plea for help from Tibet to the outside world is now the stuff of legend. Hailed as “Patterson of Tibet,” George is still defending the Tibetan people. He has published a number of best-selling books on the subject, risked his life to make an award-winning BBC documentary under fire in that occupied country and recently lectured at Cambridge University about this on-going political conflict. Having witnessed half a century of Chinese oppression in Tibet, the famous Long Rider has now issued a call for his fellow explorers to join him, and Norwegian adventurer Inge Solheim, in denouncing the Chinese exploitation of the upcoming Olympics.

It is a "given" in Tibetan history – or, at least, common belief – vis-à-vis China that every fifty years China has invaded Tibet, and after every fifty years of occupation the Tibetans have driven them out again. It now looks as if that cycle is being repeated. It was in 1952 that China invaded Tibet and now, fifty years and over a million Tibetan deaths later, the Tibetans have served notice to China to get out.

As a medical missionary working among the sixty-six Khamba warrior tribes of East Tibet from 1947-1950, I was asked by the tribal leaders to travel to India as their emissary to seek help in their planned resistance against the imminent Chinese invaders. Their problem – and mine – was the Chinese invasion was expected to take place in six months.  This meant that I had to travel over a thousand miles of unexplored Tibet in mid-winter in less than three months for any help from outside the country to be useful. After a horrendous journey I made it to India inside the three months. I even managed to interest the officials of India Britain and the USA – but without a successful outcome for the Tibetans.

For the following ten years on the Indian-Tibetan border I was the leading journalist writing about the ensuing 1956-59 Tibetan revolt, including secretly planning  with the USA for the Dalai Lama to escape, which eventually resulted in the Dalai Lama fleeing to India. The Khamba tribal leaders were adamantly opposed to the Dalai Lama leaving Tibet at that time, claiming it was in Tibet's interests for him to remain in the Tibetan mountains, which they controlled, as a continuing focus of their revolt which would attract necessary weapons as well as political support from foreign sources unlikely to be forthcoming from an exile in pro-China India.

The recent "secret" talks between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese failed over the issue of the Dalai Lama's non-negotiable demand for the return of the two eastern provinces of Tibet, Amdo and Kham, illegally annexed by the Chinese. These two provinces form two-thirds of the ethnic region of Tibet, consisting of sixty-six tribes, and two-thirds of the Tibetan people. In their illegal occupation of Tibet the Chinese authorities have arbitrarily included this region and these Tibetan people within their Han territory of Szechuan and Sinkiang. It is this illegal absorption into Han China that caused the International Commission of Jurists, in their Report to the United Nations in 1961, to designate it as "cultural genocide". These sixty-six tribes of warriors are loyal to the Dalai Lama, but not to the extent of becoming enforced citizens of China, which is the true explanation for the breakdown in the recent "secret" talks between the Dalai Lama and Chinese government as both sides know that the Khambas will never agree to absorption in China.

I returned to Tibet twenty years ago as adviser to the Hollywood film producers of  Seven Years in Tibet. I used that occasion to meet with and film the "underground" Tibetan youth radical leaders in Dharamsalla, as well as the Dalai Lama and several of his advisers. At that time the young radicals agreed with the Dalai Lama to hold off their protest activities to give him time to persuade the Chinese authorities to come to an agreement over Tibet.

After fifty years of submission to the Dalai Lama's worthy but failed non-violence policies the now western-educated young Tibetan radicals – many of Kham tribal origin who have been educated in the West – have organized world-wide support both inside and outside Tibet. While respecting the Dalai Lama's principled but unsuccessful wish for a lack of aggression, they have decided to use the upcoming Chinese Olympics to launch their historical resistance to Chinese invasion of their country. 

The breakdown in the Dalai Lama discussions has released the young radicals from their self-imposed public restraint and, combined with the looming Chinese Olympics, have precipitated the series of recent public demonstrations against the Chinese occupation – not only in Lhasa but also, significantly, in the tribal areas of East Tibet.

The frustration of the young radicals is also due to the political intransigence of the Indian government which has imposed a ban on the Dalai Lama's political activities, restricting him to religious talks only, and demanding that the "Tibet Offices" are restricted to non-political representation only.  With neighboring China and India in their immoral collusion, supported by a pusillanimous Britain and United States, there is little the Tibetans can do officially to represent their interests to the world.

This political hypocrisy is further evident in the context of the international outrage, and even wars on two Continents of Asia and Africa, because of hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq and Darfur, but total silence in the case of over a million deaths and officially declared "cultural genocide" in Tibet. The blatant declaration by China to close all mountaineering in the Himalayas to safeguard their propaganda exercise by planting the Olympic Torch on the top of Mount Everest is their final contemptuous gesture to the world that they have no intention of withdrawing from their genocidal conquest of Tibet.

The courageous gesture of the Norwegian explorer recently planting a "Free Tibet"  flag at the North Pole has infuriated the Chinese pseudo-Marxist dictators, and has inspired pro-Tibet demonstrations across the world. The "protest walks" of some thousands of Tibetans from India through Nepal to the Tibetan border, and the public display of other pro-Tibetan groups across the world, is the only political weapon available to a desperate and despairing country being sacrificed on the altar of hypocritical international-power politics.

My own final contribution to the people of Tibet, in the absence of any effective action by mealy-mouthed politicians across the globe, as I approach the age of ninety as the oldest living Long Rider and former champion of Tibet, is to call on all living past and present explorers, mountaineers, and lovers of political freedom everywhere, to join in a united protest on behalf of the people of Tibet against this vicious and immoral regime in China.

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