Tibet: One big, happy family

You have to read Richard Spencer’s blog post on his trip to Tibet. We all know the script whenever the Tibet issue arises, how the good liberators paved the roads and ended theocracy and serfdom, which is not inaccurate (though I might not use the term “good liberators”). But the bottom line question remains, do these liberated people feel they have indeed been liberated and are they grateful for the present-day situation? Do they feel one with China, or is there a sort of apartheid that keeps them separate from the Han Chinese who have settled in? Read Spencer’s post and draw your own conclusions.

For many (most?) Tibetans the tie that binds them together is their religion. When their religious leaders constitute “the main source of opposition” and “hostility” to the PRC, is it possible for their followers to feel none of the same?

Of course, the management committees of the monasteries are now effectively controlled by the Communist Party through their appointees, who don’t have to be religious at all. It seems very unlikely to me that this religious revolution could be allowed to happen, in any case. There is obviously a conflict everywhere in China between the government’s professed desire to preserve and promote thousands of years of Chinese culture and yet also promote atheism, its official creed, since that is a denial of the mainspring of much Chinese culture.

But at least elsewhere religion poses little threat to the established order. In Tibet, the monasteries remain the main source of opposition. How can the authorities promote Tibetan culture without accepting that the religious part of it, at least, is profoundly hostile to Chinese control?

So maybe the family isn’t as happy as most Chinese are taught in school. However, I’ve all but given up arguing with friends and colleagues here about Tibet (and I am no great fan of the Dalai Lama or the “Free Tibet” movements). Like Taiwan and Japan, the mere mention of the topic elicits a robotic response that is uncannily identical from person to person. Just like the Taiwan baby returning to its mother,

It’s good to see that travel restrictions in China are being eased, as Spencer reports, and the fact that he can tell this story is a sign of progress. But the underlying message of the post is a grim one: China’s collective amnesia and willful ignorance of what Tibet went through and what it is today is staggering. It’s fine to hold onto your fantasies of what you’d like to think Tibet is, but be aware that this is a scripted mirage concocted by the same spinsters who bring you China Daily.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 22 Comments

One of the better Chinese movies in the recent years, “A World Without Thieves” has some scenes shot in Tibet. It seems that Andy Lau has quite a large Tibetan fan base, which was kind of surprising.

Just some interesting tidbits.

This topic of Tibet has been debated to death since the Internet became popular in colleges in the late 80s to early 90s. Search some early posts in USENET groups such as soc.culture.china and alt.politics.tibet, you can pretty much get all bases covered. Sometimes I wonder where all those knowledgeable folks have gone.

The world is like a train that is leaving the station. Are you on board or not? China Daily apparently is not, you can stay to keep making fun of it.

February 28, 2007 @ 12:51 pm | Comment

I guess every topic on every blog has been rehashed to death. I only bring it up because of Richard Spencer’s new post. And I admit, it never fails to amaze me how intractable some people are when it comes to this topic.

I myself used to lean toward the “Free Tibet” movement and fell for the myth of the gentle and magnanimous and uncriticizable Dalai Lama. I grew out of this when I did my own research and saw this is a much more complex issue, and that China in many ways truly does see itself as liberator, not entirely without justification. So why can’t those on the opposite side of the fence adopt some nuance in their own arguments instead of the usual vapid, tired slogans? As i said, it’s a source of perpetual fascination to me, as someone who’s always interested in (make that obsessed with) the way people process information and shape their opinions.

February 28, 2007 @ 1:16 pm | Comment

Well, the chinese word for Tibet means “western treasure” and now we know why. Tibet will be torn apart, even if it means coring out Mt. Everest and K-2. What is worse is that the same dirty, filthy, slimy local bosses who made such a mess of out of China’s habitat will destroy Tibet.

And now we know why the Chinese gov’t wants GE to build special heavy freight locomotives for high altitude operations. Apparently these locomotives will have oxygen injection systems so that diesel can be combusted above 17,000 feet.

Tibet is going to be the world’s largest open pit mine and the world’s highest open pit mine and the Tibetans will only get small tips from shining shoes, waiting tables and selling junk to foreign and chinese workers, engineers and execs.

The only ironic justice that might come out of this is that China’s sloppiness will surely poison its last source of fresh water and that the melting permafrost will lead to track warping and many train accidents.

Link

February 28, 2007 @ 1:32 pm | Comment

There’s a mirage on the religious side. The vast majority of Tibetans are religious, and they are dissatisfied whenever politics interfere with their religious practices. The same is probably true for the vast majority of Catholics and Muslims in China as well… but it’s probably exaggerated in Tibet because with no other religion in China is there a single figure as critical to the average worshiper as the Dalai Lama.

Bottom line, no one can deny the existence of the religious/political conflict.

There’s also the flip side of that coin; where’s the ethnic, national, or political conflict? In the blog reference, where were the secret whispered messages from secular Tibetans that they will eventually kick all Chinese out of Tibet? I don’t think it exists. In other words, if/when the religious + political conflict resolves itself, tensions in Tibet will drop.

How will politics and religion detach from each other in Tibet? Well, Beijing could give in and grant true religious freedom. Or, the Dalai Lama could return to Tibet and give up the secular/political aspects of his life. Both seem unlikely… leaving us with the status quo.

February 28, 2007 @ 1:36 pm | Comment

@nanheyangrouchuan,

I see you’re here to repeat the same tired, ignorant accusations.

~Well, the chinese word for Tibet means “western treasure” and now we know why.~

‘Treasure’ also happens to be the Chinese word for Tibetans in general. By your logic, we obviously value our Tibetan comrades greatly! They’re just like treasures to us.

Or, maybe, just maybe… that character is used because the Chinese word is phonetically similar to ‘U-Tsang’, the Tibetan word for the western region/kingdom/province where Lhasa is based.

As far as accusations of mineral exploitation goes… Western resource companies don’t shy away from digging for oil, diamond, and gold in every corner of the world, regardless of politics. And yet their presence in Tibet is minimal. The conclusion there is obvious.

March 1, 2007 @ 1:08 am | Comment

Hey let’s start “Free America” give the land back the the native Americans.

With all kidding aside, I think the Chinese government is doing a decent job in Tibet. With the modern improvement the government bring to the remote areas such as Tibet and Qinghai, the local people’s life will change. Some indigenous traditions will be lost. But their living standard will sure improve. We can not be that selfish to let the people suffer just to make you have a better time or a bigger “wow” when you visit the place.

The more important thing is that China is improving. Slowly but surely.

March 1, 2007 @ 11:48 am | Comment

@CCT

“Western resource companies don’t shy away from digging for oil, diamond, and gold in every corner of the world, …”

Here we go again “Because westerners have done it it must be morally right for Chinese to do it.”

You can be pretty thick but I don’t mind taking the time to teach you. Once again, listen up:

IF THE WEST DOES SOMETHING BAD, THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT WHEN CHINA DOES THE SAME THING, IT IS GOOD. A BAD ACTION IS ALWAYS BAD NO MATTER WHO DOES IT AND WE ALL HAVE THE RIGHT TO CRITISIZE WHOEVER DOES IT.

Read it until you understand it. It’s a simple concept. Very simple. Right up there with “It is bad to hit kittens with hammers.” Why can’t you get this simple idea through that thick nationalist skull of yours?

March 1, 2007 @ 5:15 pm | Comment

As far as accusations of mineral exploitation goes… Western resource companies don’t shy away from digging for oil, diamond, and gold in every corner of the world, regardless of politics. And yet their presence in Tibet is minimal. The conclusion there is obvious.

Yes, the obvious conclusion is that the Chinese government does not allow “Western resource companies” into Tibet, because it wants to exploit Tibet’s natural resources itself.

March 1, 2007 @ 11:58 pm | Comment

@Iron Buddha,
You have a pretty big chip on your shoulder. Seems to be blocking your view. I wasn’t pointing a negative moral finger at Western companies. My point was that if there were resources available, they’d be in there with their superior technology/capital.

This brings up to the comment by Gag Halfrunt. He at least understood the above comment, while it flew quite a few over your head.

@Gag Halfrunt,
That’s one possible interpretation.

But how would you explain Chinese cooperation with multinationals in resource exploitation everywhere else in China and the world? Whether its drilling for natural gas in Xinjiang, oil in the South China Seas, Chinese resource companies have depended heavily on foreign technology/capital.

March 2, 2007 @ 1:08 am | Comment

Yeah, china treasures its captive Tibetan people, they are great for shining shoes, sweeping sidewalks and cooking Han food for their conquerers. They also make great bayonet and clubbing practice for the PAP.

China will suffer dire consequences for strip mining Tibet, then try to blame the West.

March 2, 2007 @ 1:10 am | Comment

@nanheyangrouchuan,

What you’re doing is called “projecting”. Although perhaps a common sight with minorities in some countries, I’ve never seen a Tibetan shining shoes, or “cooking Han food for their conquerers”. (I happen to think Tibetan food tastes horrible. Tibet also happens to be right up against the edge of Sichuan, which has an excellent food culture and over 100 million people. As a result, more often than not, it’s Han and Hui cooking Sichuan food for Tibetans.)

Racial prejudice and conflict certainly exist in China. You should at least learn what form this prejudice takes if you want to talk about race relations in China, instead of importing whatever afflicts your own home country.

“China will suffer dire consequences for strip mining Tibet, then try to blame the West.”

I would find this more convincing if this was the first time you had predicted “dire consequences” for China. I have a feeling it’s not, and I have a feeling you’ve made this prediction plenty of times in the past.

March 2, 2007 @ 3:03 am | Comment

Now we’re getting back into “is China more racist than America and/or does it treat its minorities worse at present” certainly, YES. Anybody with an ounce of brains and experience in both countries knows that. To think otherwise is to live in a the same Chinese fantasyland CCT lives in.

CCT, you can make all the absurd claims about China (and the west) and the commentators here you want. It doesn’t change the truth about what real research (often done in the west or by westerners because they are unfettered by by CCP propaganda and intimidation) reveals especially when our own personal experiences back it up. That goes for racism in China, the treatment of Tibetans and Uighers, and the nature of the Chinese government.

I feel a little sorry for you. To turn the usual fiction that “Westerners can never really understand China, they are not Chinese” on it’s head, I would argue that it actually works the other way. While we all have to overcome biases and predjudices in looking at the world, Chinese are at an extreme disadvantage in trying to understand their own recent history and what’s happening in their country now. Decades of cynical propaganda that pass for education and news, spouted by organs that proudly proclaim their slavish loyalty to whatever the Party wants people to believe. This, in combination with the brutal repression of anything that doesn’t fit into the CCP’s fantasy world, means that beyond personal experience and word of mouth, not that many people in China know what the hell has been and is going on there. And forget about understanding the outside world. It’s the same problem multiplied by the fact that since most people don’t or can’t travel abroad they are deprived of personal experience that might contradict the Party Line. Hate to say it but this is why anybody studying post Communist revolution history or trying to figure out China today has to spend so much time outside China or consulting resources outside China.

While it is certainly not true for all Chinese (people with the willingness and courage to investigate beyond the rubbish the Party has taught them often do just fine), CCT, it is possible to argue that YOU can’t really understand China BECAUSE you grew up and live in China. You can thank your buddies in the Communist Party for that.

March 2, 2007 @ 12:35 pm | Comment

@CCT

Thanks for noticing my chip. You like it? Nice one isn’t it. It’s the latest model. Extra-large, laquered with little dragons. I got it at Wal-Mart, the same place all the Communist Party guys and fengqing nationalists go to get their chips. (C’mon dude, if you can’t have a little fun, what’s the purpose of posting on a blog?)

March 2, 2007 @ 12:41 pm | Comment

@CCT

It’s nothing personal dude. If we sat down to beers you’d probably turn out to be a nice guy. But when I think you’re wrong, I’m going to say so. And I’m going to say how and why.

March 2, 2007 @ 12:57 pm | Comment

Now we’re getting back into “is China more racist than America and/or does it treat its minorities worse at present” certainly, YES. Anybody with an ounce of brains and experience in both countries knows that.

I have maybe a tad more than an ounce of brain, but honestly I am not very sure about the accuracy of your statement, or the reverse.

Have you spent extensive time in predominantly black inner city blocks where even black suburbanites are afraid of, where more than half of the young men are in jail, which perpetuates the cycle of single-mother families, poverty and crimes, where the Nation of Islam and Black Nation advocates have the strongest base, where the loudest applause were from when the seemingly outage speeches were made during the Million Men March, where Marion Barry had most of his mayoral votes from after he was released from the prison?

I have. The system has failed them. The anger among them toward the Establishment, often glossed over by the media, occasionally busts out in events such as the LA Riot, and subsequently shocks most Americans to ask the wrong question, “what went wrong?”, instead, “what has gone wrong all this time?” This is a part of the American legacy, which is entirely up to Americans to work it out through the time. As largely a bystander and a perennial optimist in human nature, I think things are looking up.

On the other hand, though probably more so than most who have made all kind of statements here, I haven’t interacted with the “oppressed” minorities in China enough. Hence, I can’t make an intelligent judgment of the validity of your statement. But somehow I suspect that you rushed into that judgment without fully experiencing both ends of the spectrum.

Take China or the US out of the equation, here is a related tidbit. It’s my personal observation during travels that there are more overt hostilities towards people of darker complexion, in Old European countries with fewer minorities such as Italy and Spain (look at their national sports teams), than some other Old European countries with more minorities such as the UK and France. You would think given the similar income level, & cultural background, these countries should be similar.

A pessimistic view is that the people in the UK and France learn how to hide their true feelings, and an optimistic view is that the people in Italy and Spain have not had the chance to learn to live in a racially heterogeneous environment. Which would you rather believe?

March 4, 2007 @ 7:43 am | Comment

“IF THE WEST DOES SOMETHING BAD, THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT WHEN CHINA DOES THE SAME THING, IT IS GOOD. A BAD ACTION IS ALWAYS BAD NO MATTER WHO DOES IT AND WE ALL HAVE THE RIGHT TO CRITISIZE WHOEVER DOES IT.”

and it also means your complaints will fall on deaf ears, just like they did when people were bulldozing native americans, maoris, aborigines, congolese, herero, etc. hand wringing hippies-of-convenience aren’t going to stop the CPC.

March 5, 2007 @ 5:07 am | Comment

Ferins is one of the dangerous ones. At least CCT seeks to interact on a rational level. So much rage.

March 5, 2007 @ 8:34 am | Comment

i don’t think the violence they’re using makes sense (then again a lot of the things they do don’t), but it’s hard to read the things people from the “free tibet” movement say without laughing.

March 5, 2007 @ 10:18 am | Comment

I don’t think anyone here takes the Free Tibet movement very seriously.

March 5, 2007 @ 11:46 am | Comment

I can imagine the Free Tibet militia riding in on their magic dolphins from India, with their Che Guevara t-shirts, liberating Tibet and trading marijuana for tofu rations along the way as they prepare to sack Beijing.

If the government stopped being excessively repressive in general and the Dalai Lama came back as a non-political spiritual leader that’d be progress, but it seems distant. I guess in the meantime it’s best to have people continue to scrutinize (as this site is doing) but it should be realized by now that hysterics just elicit unfavorable (jingoist) responses.

I suppose the 78 reforms were the first cracks in the wall, but major progress has to wait until a few politburo relics keel over.

Or in otherwords I’m just rambling and probably saying something that’s been said a million times here already.

March 5, 2007 @ 2:11 pm | Comment

@JXie

Actually, I lived in Washington during the Million Man March and worked the door at a bar in a tough neighborhood there. So, yeah, I’ve seen American racism up close.

I’ve only lived in China 7 years, granted, not as long as I did in the US. And there is no denying that racism is the most destructive social problem America faces. But while I meet the occassional racist idiot in the US who will rant on about black people (criminals, you can’t trust them etc.), or deliver some snide crack, I don’t think these views are mainstream, not in most places fortunately. And because we do have an overwhelming cultural concensus that racism is wrong, many racists feel obliged to bury it. A good thing in my opinion. If don’t don’t have anything nice to say, keep your mouth shut.

My students and teachers in China have been among the best and brightest this country has to offer. Graduates from top universities, people with MAs and PhDs. Top business people and even government officials. But, just as one example, the racist notions about Uighers that I encounter:

1. Uighers carry knives (yeah, I know it’s based on a tradition but they mean they carry knives rob people).
2. Uighers are dirty
3. Uighers are thieves.

Like I said, you can find idiots in America who will say the same things about black people in but you have to look significantly harder than you do in China. It’s not a case that Chinese are being more honest and open than Americans in their racism, it’s that these racist views are so mainstream and so pervasive. American culture has adjusted to the idea that racism is bad while in China, it’s considered normal and reasonable. And as a result, Chinese racism flourishes.

This is what I was basing my (admittedly emotional) judgement on.

March 5, 2007 @ 4:22 pm | Comment

TIB,

I was mostly addressing to how the minorities are treated overall. As to day-to-day racism, there are various degrees of racism, conciously or subconciously among all of us. Just for the kick, check out the following web site and see how you fare:

https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

March 6, 2007 @ 5:11 am | Comment

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