Since I was there, I can set the record straight.
At the press conference, held in a basement-level room in Radio City Music Hall, I was in the middle of the assembled reporters and photographers, holding a small voice recorder in one hand while I scribbled notes with the other. Although the quality of the recording is poor and His Holiness's English is challenged, between the recording and my notes I can relate accurately what His Holiness said.
The "shocking" headline seized upon by the critical bloggers is His Holiness' preference for Marxism over capitalism. This won't be news to many of you. But here's the "scoop."
A Reuters reporter had asked His Holiness if he advocated boycotting the Tibetan pavilion at the World Exposition in Shanghai. His Holiness said he left that up to individuals. Then he launched into a criticism of Chinese officials who were systemically destroying Tibet's cultural heritage. (He has in the past referred to China's "administration" of Tibet as "cultural genocide.") These "narrow-minded Communist officials see Tibetan heritage as a source of separation from mainland China," His Holiness said.
"All the books that carry religious meaning," and books important to Tibetan heritage, "are all banned," he said. Further, he had recently met with some Tibetans who were "working" in the Tibetan University in Lhasa, who told him that the only Tibetan studies that were allowed were from Chinese books.
Then His Holiness said,
When I was in China, 1954 and '55 -- later part of '54 and early part of '55 -- I was in Beijing, and also in many provinces in China. At that time, Communist Party of China -- really wonderful. All those party members, were really dedicated to the service to people, particularly working class people. Relation [or religion] always there. At that time, world wide revolution, [garbled] for working class people, so strong. I was very much impressed.
So at that time, I asked some Chinese officials, I want to join Chinese communist Party. Still, I am Marxist. Some of my friends, you see, they always ask me, don't mention that. [laughs] Because, you know, Marxist economy, I think only economy system where express concern of equal distribution, that's moral ethics. That capitalism, only how to make profit.
So therefore, but now, 1957, what was called let a hundred flowers blossom. Different opinions, accept more open different opinions. Once these intellectual people express their feelings and criticism, then, overnight, all these people, wiped out. So the authoritarian system, any authoritarian system, including Communist authoritarian system, potential eventually made to [eliminate] opposition from their power, they erase.
But, as I mentioned earlier, now I think in China, most intelligent people, don't accept central authoritarian system. They want more freedom. They want independence from China. They want a free Tibet.
Earlier in the press conference, His Holiness also had said, "China has to go along the world trend. World trend means more openness, more transparent, rule of law, democracy, inability to [not clear] -- world trend. ... Democracy as a system not always successful, in Africa and some other countries not always successful, but still, it's the best system."
This was hardly the ringing endorsement of Communism that some right-wing bloggers are making it out to be. However, several prominent bloggers ridiculed His Holiness, thereby revealing their own profound ignorance. For example. Jim Hoft wrote on the Catholic website First Things:
Those "moral ethics" of Marxism have only killed around 94 million people and impoverished millions.
It's moral, if you have no understanding of history.
Anyone who thinks His Holiness needs to be educated about the people killed by Communist China is the one with no understanding of history.
Another blogger who spread this distortion was Doug Powers, writing at Michelle Malkins's blog. The derisive Mr. Powers made a point of the cost of tickets to His Holiness's teachings. As His Holiness said himself during the press conference, he takes no money himself from teachings. Ticket prices are set by the organizers (and renting Radio City Music Hall ain't cheap). The organizers are donating part of the money to a hunger relief project, His Holiness said.
More cluelessness was expelled by Allahpundit, writing at Hot Air, and David Swindle, writing at NewsRealBlog. (I'm linking to these sites mostly because I'm sending them trackbacks in hopes of getting their attention; you don't have to read the posts linked.) [Update: Here's one more, by BigGator5 at RedState.]
Finally, here is a piece of the IndianExpress.com story that is hideously wrong:
However, he credited China's embrace of market economics for breaking communism's grip over the world's most populous country and forcing the ruling Communist Party to "represent all sorts of classes."
Capitalism "brought a lot of positive to China. Millions of people's living standards improved," he said.
However, in this part of the press conference His Holiness was not talking about today's Communist Party in China. He was talking mostly about the economic reforms begun Deng Xiaoping, who became leader of China after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976.
The larger context of this part of the discussion was His Holiness' optimism that China someday will change and allow genuine autonomy for Tibet. China has changed, he said, and then he began quickie review of Chinese history.
His Holiness said he had lived through four eras of the People's Republic of China, the first being the era of Mao Zedong, which was dominated by party ideology.
The second era was that of Deng Xiaoping, who oversaw huge improvement in China's economy. And, it is a matter of historical record that Deng Xiaoping instituted economic reforms that made China's economy far more capitalistic than it had been under Mao. There is no question that the standard of living of the Chinese people improved considerably during Deng Xiaoping's tenure.
China's next leader, Jiang Zemin, took over from Deng after 1980. During Jiang's tenure the economy of China continued to grow quickly. His Holiness suggested that gaps between rich and poor diminished in that time. And, of course, the fourth era is under the leadership of Hu Jintao.
I may try to make my recording publicly available, although as I said the quality is terrible and at points I had to refer to my notes to clarify what is being said. There is also an account of the press conference at His Holiness' website.
The theme of the Dalai Lama's current tour is interreligious harmony, and he spoke to that at some length. I will cover that part of the press conference later.