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 â€“ a monk and a farmer â€“ 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?
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.