Behind the unrest in Tibet

Raj

Tibet: the jealousy, rage and bitterness of a new generation that fuelled deadly riots

An insightful article that has grave warnings for the future.

Tibetans in communities across the Himalayan plateau and in surrounding provinces who have risen up this week against Chinese rule appear mainly to be young men and women in their teens or twenties. They are from a generation too young to remember either a 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in which tens of thousands were killed or the destruction wreaked by Red Guards – both Chinese and Tibetan – during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

Their anger has been directed as much against the traditional symbols of Chinese power as against ordinary Chinese, hinting at a deepening resentment, even a hatred, that follows ethnic lines.

China repeatedly tells itself that everything will be fine in Tibet once the Dalai Lama dies and that it is older Tibetans who are the “troublemakers”. But, if anything, it is the older generation that try to keep things calm. Younger Tibetans are the angry ones who will resort to violence. They can’t be bought off with money because, at least at the moment, Chinese immigrants are the ones taking most of the opportunities. It’s too late to try to teach them Mandarin.

But there are those who feel left out. Young Tibetans who speak poor Mandarin – the official language of China and crucial to finding a job. Others are accustomed to a more rural way of life and their education, like others in China’s vast countryside, leaves them ill-equipped for the rough and tumble of a market economy.

The comparison between Tibetans and rural-dwelling Chinese is an interesting one. Note the sympathy the latter often gets from other Chinese due to official corruption and lack of opportunities, whereas the former get none. For a nation that loves to claim it lives in harmony with its minorities, I think there is an element of racism in that Tibetans are automatically blamed for any problems by Chinese.

So what is China going to do when these angry young youths become the majority? Clearly Tibetans are not trusted by the Chinese, despite what they may like to think.

Many Tibetans chafe under the restrictions imposed two years ago by the regional party boss that ban Tibetan Government servants from religious activities. Others are keenly aware that scarcely a single Chinese official in the regional government can speak Tibetan. That ethnocentric Han approach only intensifies the ethnic divide and cultural misunderstandings. No ethnic Tibetan has ever held the job of Communist Party boss – a potent signal of Beijing’s lack of trust in this deeply Buddhist people who still revere the Dalai Lama.

Clearly China needs to take the opportunity to deal with the Dalai Lama as the only Tibetan leader that still holds a large degree of respect across the region, whilst older and wiser generations are the senior community leaders in Tibet. Quisling leaders are complete jokes and only make matters worse. If China delays the new generation that does not heed the Lama’s calls for peace will take control. Then China would have to offer a lot more for a peaceful solution. Sadly I think that, as usual, China will stick its head into the sand and only pull it out when the opportunity to negotiate through the Dalai Lama has gone.

Update – 24th March

The Times reports that at least two Tibetans have been shot by Chinese forces, with a dozen or more wounded while taking part in a peaceful protest.

Hundreds of monks, nuns and local Tibetans who tried to march on a local government office in western China to demand the return of the Dalai Lama have been turned back by paramilitary police who opened fire to disperse the crowd.

Local residents of Luhuo said two people – a monk and a farmer – appeared to have been shot dead and about a dozen were wounded in the latest violence to rock Tibetan areas of China.

China spends tens of US$ billions more every year on the Chinese military, and yet for some reason the security forces can only deal with protests by gunning people down. Are promotions handed out on the basis of how ruthlessly people deal with unarmed civilians?

Broken bones amongst a few people = a $1,000 bonus?
Use of firearms = promotion to the next grade?
People dead/wounded = a villa in the nearest tourist resort?
A dozen + casualties = fast-track to the Politburo?

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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: 218 Comments

@CCT
I can’t pretend to be trying to see this from a neutral objective stance, I’m afraid. I’m just as smitten with my Anglo-American civilisation as you are with Chinese, and perhaps this is why I can sympathise a little more with the Chinese nationalist than say Raj or Snow.

Your arguments for why the PRC should not buddy up with the developed first world are, I suppose, as good as mine for why they should. I guess if the PRC becomes the wealthy superpower that the economists predict, the Middle East will become its problem. What do you imagine Israel’s relationship with China will be?

I do know a bit about the Cold War and about Afghanistan. I feel I need to make one correction to your analysis there. The ‘Osama bin Laden was sponsored by the CIA’ thing is a myth, or at least an oversimplifiction to the point of being totally misleading. Peter Bergen, the guy who interviewed bin Laden, has written quite a bit about it. Maybe he’s a liar, but there is no evidence I am aware of to support it.

Thinking about it though, you must at least admit that if the PRC is planning to become the #1, it would behoove it to start cultivating some friendships with states more meaningful than Burma and the Sudan. Waving the UN flag from a spaceship is a nice gesture, but what will a Pax-Sina really mean for the rest of us?

And just out of curiousity, how do you think that the US has perserved Chinese interests in Taiwan? Do you mean simply by refusing to support independence, or by preventing reunification, thereby allowing it prosper, creating a nice little nugget for the PRC to push back into the pie when the time is right?

March 27, 2008 @ 9:37 am | Comment

Oh, one more thing. The US didn’t rebuild Japan or Europe, it just helped by supplying resources. In Latin America, I’m not sure if you’re aware or not, a similar program was started by the Kennedy administration called the Alliance for Progress. It was much less successful owing in part to the failure of Latin American governments to use the money as constructively as Europe or Japan had.
I’m curious where post-war Europe fits in your thesis that poor democracies don’t mature economically as quickly or as well as poor dictatorships. Seems like some of those western European democracies, West Germany not least of which, were pretty poorly off at the conclusion of the war. Japan was in pretty rough shape too.

March 27, 2008 @ 9:52 am | Comment

Oh and another thing. The PRC doesn’t care about North Korea generally, and neither does the United States. Only Japan and South Korea are really concerned, the former because the North Korean secret service has developed the bad habit of kidnapping Japanese people for whatever, and the latter for the obvious reason that North still claims the south. But all those nations care very much about North Korea getting the bomb, including the PRC, and that’s why the PRC has actually been very helpful in the effort to dissuade Mr. Jong Il from this particular scheme.
The other reason that the PRC might care about North Korea that is often mentioned in the media (I don’t know how much realism it actually has) is the possibility that if the North Korean state collapses, millions of starving Koreans will be trying to flee into relatively prosperous China.
And as far as the quid pro quo goes, its worth pointing out too that although the US continues to sell the ROC conventional weapons, it actively prevented it from getting the bomb. The CIA even seriously considered sponsoring a coup against Jiang Jieshi over this. A nuclearly armed ROC would complicate things quite a bit wouldn’t it?
None of that really undermines your overall point, but its worth bearing in mind when considering how independent the PRC can really afford to be in the 21st century.

March 27, 2008 @ 10:21 am | Comment

Sorry about all the typos there; I’m cooking and posting at the same time.

March 27, 2008 @ 10:24 am | Comment

Tibet: Her Pain, My Shame

The Tibet tragedy from a Han with a conscience:
http://tinyurl.com/2k287o, complements of youpai.org

March 27, 2008 @ 11:31 am | Comment

i am personally starting to believe the ccp actually wants a boycott. their behaviour is giving the anti-boycott people little room to move and i for one am finding it hard to justify my present non-boycott attitude.

March 27, 2008 @ 5:25 pm | Comment

Si, I tend to agree with you that it seems they are inviting a call to boycott. How can they possibly be so stupid? They are definitely still not superpower material. Economically they may be shaking the world simply by the country’s sheer size, appetite for resources, huge foreign investment and cheap labor force. But they remain embarrassingly immature, pig-headed, ham-fisted, maddeningly obtuse and impervious to reason. They’ve got a long way to go.

March 27, 2008 @ 5:47 pm | Comment

Si/richard

Yes, their actions do beggar belief – but why should we expect anything else from the CCP/Chinese government? They are incredibly arrogant, even for a political organisation.

richard has summed things up quite nicely. I would just add that they’re also frequently in denial about reality. I honestly don’t think they can understand why anyone would want to boycott the Games/protest against what they’ve done in Tibet.

Yes, maybe another thing they lack is empathy – which is one reason why they’re often so cruel to those they find a nuiscance.

March 27, 2008 @ 9:47 pm | Comment

@Lime,

You make good comments again. I think you’re right that you and I tend to see eye-to-eye, perhaps because we’re willing to stand back and admit we have different eyes.

I just wanted to quickly address a few points.

First, from my “Pax-Sina” perspective, I think you’ll find that the PRC has done pretty well in terms of improving relations with neighboring nations. Take a look at India’s attitude towards the Dalai Lama and Tibet; compared to where things stood in 1962, things have come quite far. The same is true of relations with Vietnam, South Korea, etc. China was at war with Vietnam only 3 decades ago, and didn’t establish diplomatic relations with South Korea until very recently.

China’s done an especially good job of patching up relations with southeast Asia nations; if you want to talk about after-effects of the Cold War, the ASEAN nations was really a fault line between the “Communist” and “Capitalist” blocks. There was plenty of mistrust of Chinese motives throughout southeast Asia even after the fall of Communism.

I mean, who have you heard speaking of a boycott of the Beijing Olympics? Is it China’s Asian neighbors, or is it distant Europe? Has South Korea or Japan talked about it?

I’m curious where post-war Europe fits in your thesis that poor democracies don’t mature economically as quickly or as well as poor dictatorships. Seems like some of those western European democracies, West Germany not least of which, were pretty poorly off at the conclusion of the war. Japan was in pretty rough shape too.

Actually I have very strong opinions about this. I believe post-war reconstruction in Japan and Germany, as well as the post-colonial collapse in Africa tells me two things:

– “hard” assets are easy to replace,
– “soft” assets are very difficult to build.

Japan and Germany were highly industrialized nations before their factories were blown to dust. Both could brag about very high education rates, as well as a very efficient, functioning social structure at every level. The engineers didn’t forget engineering (or his traditional dedication to his work) because his equipment was blown up; it was only a matter of replacing the equipment before he could get back to work. Given sufficient capital, these nations went back to work quickly.

In contrast, post-colonial Africa was left with reasonable infrastructure. Throughout French and Portugese Africa, equipment, buildings, roads, dams… were all left in basically the same condition they were in when they happened to be part of European empires. In these countries however, technical expertise and education had spread very thinly. Literacy rates remained low, and governing/managing staff were ultimately led by the European base nation. And yet, quickly, these countries largely collapsed into economic ruin and civil war.

So, that’s how everything fits into my model. It’s overly simplistic to say “GDP/capita” in any given year is sufficient… at best, it’s a simple litmus test that usually provides the right results. But you really have to look deeper at the “quality” of the people in terms of education, work culture, etc, etc.

I’ll tie this back to China again. One of my aunts is a self-taught lawyer; she never even attended college because it wasn’t an opportunity available to those in her generation. And to be frank, I question many of her “methods” in practicing law I think she needs to be replaced by a couple generations of trained professionals in the field.

There’s no magic to be had in China. I can’t think of any scenario that will make China cleaner, wealthier, or “better” on just about any metric except 3-5 more decades of continued development and constant self-improvement.

March 28, 2008 @ 6:21 am | Comment

@Raj,

Do you have any idea what Taiwan looked like in the ’50s and ’60s? The dark era of martial law, the immediate successor to the 228 era? I obviously didn’t experience it, but my in-laws did, and they’ve given me some insight.

Whatever Taiwan has today was bought on the backs of slow, gradual progress. Chen Shui-bian wasn’t a better lawyer or braver than his predecessors; but the previous generations (both lawyers and the government officials suppressing them) just weren’t educated enough to know how to better resolve the conflicts than what they saw. The same can certainly be said about Ma Yingjiu.

I admit it; my family hasn’t had to sacrifice much beyond doing our duty and paying taxes over the last 3 years. But you know, I’d estimate that for 95% of Chinese, life in 2008 is better than it is in 2005… I’m not sure how many arrests or unlawful beat-downs you think are happening in China, but Hu Jia represents 1/1.3 billion people.

I have no interest in sympathy from the West, because it has zero practical value. Western actions are motivated by self-interest; I think I’ve repeated that theme more than once.

March 28, 2008 @ 6:37 am | Comment

CCT, I know full well about martial law in Taiwan. But change was not that slow. It happened relatively soon after martial law was lifted, whereas before there was little or no change for a long time. In Taiwan change was down to the will of a small number of politicians in the right process, rather than a constant process.

As for 95% of people, whether life is “better” is a subjective term.

If you have no interest in sympathy, don’t fish for it.

March 28, 2008 @ 9:45 am | Comment

@Raj,

If you “know” about martial law in Taiwan, then you obviously are aware that martial law wasn’t lifted until 1987. As you say, political reform was basically static (nonexistent) until 1987, when there was an explosion of liberalism.

How did it suddenly happen in 1987? Where did the politicians that led the reform era come from? Who were the journalists that protected them? Who were the military officials who stood aside and allowed it to happen, not seeing it as a threat to “national security”? Who were the lawyers that protected the dissidents fighting for political reform?

The answer is clear in my mind. The ingredients weren’t in place in 1949, 1959, 1969, or 1979. It took a long process of gradual reform until conditions were ripe. It took 20 years of Taiwanese students studying overseas and returning to significant positions in the KMT government and Taiwanese society.

I really have no idea how you expect China to have a functioning democracy, when only 25% of the judges in China have a law degree, and they have *no* retired judges (or legal tradition) around to lean on for guidance or advice. Who will decide the inevitable legal challenges that will come up when voting in a district is very close?

And who will actually be running for office? Do we have enough Harvard-educated Ma Yingjiu’s on the mainland? Ma will be running a society of 23 million. We will need 60 copies of Ma, at least.

It took Taiwan 40 years (from 1947 to 1987) to prepare 23 million people for some form of democracy… and the transition really took another 20 years from there to get into a healthy state. Mainland China has had all of 30 years since the reform/opening up period, which literally caused the rewriting of every single law and rule in Chinese society… and all of this for 1.3 billion people.

As for 95% of people, whether life is “better” is a subjective term.

Bullshit. Go ask 100 people in China whether their life is better today than it was in 2005, 2000, and 1995. I would bet my life that 95% will tell you, “subjectively”, that their life is better.

March 28, 2008 @ 2:38 pm | Comment

maybe another thing they lack is empathy

The empathy from western media to those Chinese girls who were burned to death are voluminous.

March 28, 2008 @ 2:51 pm | Comment

“only 25% of the judges in China have a law degree, and they have *no* retired judges (or legal tradition) around to lean on for guidance or advice.”

Can’t help but point out the irony that in one thread you are demanding that Tibetan “rioters” be brought to justice in “open” trial (or, more precisely, show trial), while in this thread you are using the lack of a strong legal system in China as an excuse for delaying democratization. You’re getting more contradictory than official ideology!

March 28, 2008 @ 3:23 pm | Comment

It took a long process of gradual reform until conditions were ripe.

There was no gradual reform for decades, nor was there even the desire to open up the political system. The KMT originally wanted to rule as the CCP does. It was only when politicians with different attitudes came to the fore – they had to make the reforms from scratch.

Go ask 100 people in China whether their life is better today than it was in 2005, 2000, and 1995.

I wonder which class of Chinese would be willing to talk to a complete stranger, and a foreigner to boot, on that subject openly without fear.

The ones whose lives have not improved or gone backward would be the least likely to talk to me (even if I was Chinese).

I really have no idea how you expect China to have a functioning democracy

Who said anything about a functioning democracy? How about starting with some basic human rights for PRC citizens, the Police not beating people up because they have a grievance, the judiciary being given a centrally-funded annual budget to allow them to be independent, rather than reliant on local government and thus unable to find against them?

We will need 60 copies of Ma, at least.

No, you don’t. You need honest people with some brains, honesty and common-sense. You don’t need people who went to university at snooty institutions. 60 Mas might be exactly what China does not need.

Or are you saying that China’s current leaders are woefully underqualified?

It took Taiwan 40 years (from 1947 to 1987) to prepare 23 million people for some form of democracy…

As I said that’s complete nonsense because THERE WAS NO PREPARATION FOR DEMOCRACY for most of those 40 years.

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CLC

The empathy from western media to those Chinese girls who were burned to death are voluminous.

At least the foreign media haven’t denounced the Chinese victims as being “troublemakers” who “deserved it”, as the Chinese government and many Chinese on the internet describe the victims of the Chinese State.

March 28, 2008 @ 9:16 pm | Comment

At least the foreign media haven’t denounced the Chinese victims as being “troublemakers” who “deserved it”, as the Chinese government and many Chinese on the internet describe the victims of the Chinese State.

Since when did the rotten Chinese propaganda become exemplary for free Western media?

March 28, 2008 @ 10:44 pm | Comment

Since when did the rotten Chinese propaganda become exemplary for free Western media?

Since never. I was making a comparison with its Chinese counterparts, as you did in regards to the lack of empathy the CCP has – the point being that the international free media still has way more empathy.

March 29, 2008 @ 4:30 am | Comment

the point being that the international free media still has way more empathy.

So that’s it? That’s not a big compliment that the free media is better than the worst. By the way, lack of a smear campaign does not substitute for empathy.

March 30, 2008 @ 12:15 am | Comment

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