In 2008, Patrick French, former Director of the Free Tibet Campaign in London, has this to say of the 1.2 million figure:

...[T]he Free Tibet Campaign in London (of which I am a former director) and other groups have long claimed that 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed by the Chinese since they invaded in 1950. However, after scouring the archives in Dharmsala while researching my book on Tibet, I found that there was no evidence to support that figure.”

New York Times Op-Ed, March 22, 2008 - “He May be a God, But He’s No Politician”

But, if there is one contention that undergirds the basic perception in the west that the Tibet-China situation is a black and white issue, one of good vs. evil, this is it.

The source of the 1.2 million figure was apparently compiled by the Tibetan Exile in Government’s interviews of fleeing Tibetan refugees and their recounting of family and friends killed by Chinese authorities.

Besides Mr. French’s own conclusion of the unreliability of that figure, two other considerations also raise doubts as to the efficacy of this figure:

1. In other recent known genocides, as in Cambodia (1.7 millIon) and Rwanda (800,000 to 1 million), the evidence is there - barely concealed mass graves and piles of skulls and bones.

2. In the case of the multi-millions slaughtered under the Nazi genocide, where corpses were destroyed or more carefully buried, the evidence lies in the massive industrial infrastructure of genocide required to dispose the bodies of murder on this magnitude. That infrastructure includes railroads to a series of concentration camps, gas chambers, and cremation chambers, careful records of huge numbers of soldiers, guards, and other staff plus the meticulous records of any complex enterprise.

Neither the evidence of mass graves, piles of bones, or of an industrial infrastructure capable of disposing of 1.2 million bodies have ever been brought forth. Tibet is huge and barren, as I personally experienced in 2008 and afterwards.  

One can argue that mass murder can easily be easily be concealed in its many crevasses and valleys. But a nation still needs an industrial infrastructure that could dispose of so many and in the 1950s, China was a poor country whose national infrastructure was still in various stages of destruction.  Tibet was not the priority for infrastructure.

From the 1950s onward, the United States' U-2 spy planes (and later space satellites) could have photographed both mass graves and infrastructure. Since the alleged genocide happened during the height of the Cold War (including the Korean War) - 1950 to 1980s, American would have had every motivation to release this photographic evidence to the world.  This is especially so during the period when our own CIA was training (in Colorado) and arming a Tibetan guerilla force within Tibet. This covert program was not ended until President Nixon visited China in 1972.

Given its barren landscape, any such network of mass graves or genocidal infrastructure can still be detected.

How then did this figure become such an article of faith of those adherents of the Free Tibet position?

Two main reasons:

1. The first is essentially repetition - over and over and so often that it feels like the truth.

2. The second is the outsizeness of the lie: it is so big and so outrageous that certainly, no one would make such an assertion unless it were true. Therefore, it must be true.

Three Other Reasons:

3. The PRC has not done a very good job of presenting its side of the case on this or any other major claim. In fact, if anything, it has inartfully chosen to fling about names like “splittist” and blaming things on a “Dalai Clique” instead of cogently presenting facts. This clunky response lends credence to the claim as it suggests that if Chinese authorities would rather name-call than present facts and logic, they must be hiding something.

4. No major American paper or periodical has assigned an enterprise team to specifically investigate the 1.2 million figure. The New York Times, in particular, covers the PRC and Tibet extensively and regularly. The Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic Monthly, Newsweek, and Time regularly cover China.

Mr. Patrick French’s own one-man efforts indicate an investigative team could have easily verified or debunked the 1.2 million genocide claim.

5. As those who have studied the operation of any successful application of an outsize misrepresentation (the “Big Lie” technique of propaganda theory), the effects of it survive emotinally as feeling "true," even if fully refuted by facts and statistics. The damage is done and stays done.

It seems pretty clear that the claim of 1.2 million genocide is what now is often referred to as "fake news."  It's propaganda and if the hard evidence is there, the Free Tibet movement should present it or, it should do the right thing - repudiate the claim and admit its propagandistic internet.

NOTE: The other population compilation methodology is based on competing extrapolations of Tibetan population figures by comparing the before 1950 official Chinese population figures to later official Chinese population figures.

Was the population of Tibetans 2.5-2.7 million or 6.5 million in the 1950s? If the former - no genocide. If the latter - yes, there was a genocide because that explains why at some point during this period, the population of ethnic Tibetans recently grew back to 6 million post-genocide.

The de facto Tibet government itself, on November 11th, 1950, in an appeal to the United Nations to stop China’s takeover of Tibet, gave this figure - “a weak and peace loving people, hardly exceeding 3 million”. This is closer to the 2.5-2.7 million figure - and thus supports that a genocide of this magnitude is not statistically arguable or supportable. In any event, these statistical arguments tend to come off more as self-serving rhetoric rather than as substantive.  They are not scientific not statistically reliable, but gamed to make a pre-ordained point to credulous supporters.

Some western commentators who have reviewed these competing official figures have pointed out that the 1950 count of 2.5-2.7 million was of ethnic Tibetans only, and that the larger 6.5 million count included ALL ethnicities living there, including Uighur, Han, etc. as well as Tibetans.

Again, I must stress that these types of statistical extrapolations take up needless time, and motivated by the propaganda game - of who is the evil one, who is the liar, etc. - essentially a combination of preaching to the choir and buttressing articles of faith.

I would recommend an approach of focusing on the undisputed facts and fashioning your opinions based on that -- with the goal of charting avenues of peaceful resolutions.

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