I am turning 31 in a few days. To be honest, it's much less exciting than, say, turning 20, or even 30! The number 31 just doesn't have the appearance or the feeling of a milestone. It must be the zero - or the absence of it - that makes a number look epic - or meaningless.
However, not every number owes its significance to the hypocritical and self-important zero. Take 1911 for example - a number with no zero.
1911 was a watershed year for Tibet. The 13th Dalai Lama was in exile in British-ruled India following the Manchu invasion of Tibet, when the Chinese revolution reached its peak and toppled the Manchu dynasty. The Tibetans seized the moment and expelled the Manchu forces from Tibet. Two years later the Dalai Lama returned to an independent Tibet.
2011 will mark a hundred years since the collapse of the Manchu empire and the birth of modern day independent Tibet. It's a year bursting with the potential to become another watershed moment for Tibet.
Today, Tibetans are blazing the way for mass dissent and civil disobedience, setting an example for the millions of disempowered Chinese pining for freedom and democracy. There are countless Tibetan heroes who are leading the movement at the grassroots level, and many who are giving a voice to the silenced multitude by writing essays and books. One such person is Dolma Kyab, a 34-year-old writer and teacher, who is serving a 10-year prison sentence because of his open critique of the Chinese government. Beijing is fast realizing that it can imprison Tibetans but not their ideas and words.
In light of the millions of restless Chinese peasants and migrant workers nursing their growing grievances against corruption, inequality, poverty, and repression, China is showing all the signs of a weak empire and a brittle state. Throw in the mix some wild cards like the internet and environmental devastation, and the Chinese Communist Party seems a hundred times more impermanent than the melting glaciers in the Himalayas.
So what will this mean for Tibet? We need to be ready to seize the moment -- just like the Tibetans of a different generation seized the opportunity in 1911. Which means, we need the Tibetan freedom struggle to be strong, fast, strategic, and resourceful.
Like many Tibetans, nothing is more dear to me than my wish to live in a free Tibet in my own lifetime. I am confident that the Tibetan people will be ready in the coming years - just like we were in 1911 - to seize the moment to restore Tibet's independence and take our rightful place in the global community of nations.