How fast is the sky falling?

This is a really bad week. Two big issues. And I mean big.

One: In case no one’s noticed, the US economy is being “challenged,” which is code for FUBAR, which is code for time to run for cover. When Bear Stearns gets bought out for $2 a share, and Citigroup and UBS and Merrill Lynch and other giants are brought to their knees by the subprime catastrophe, we know these are not ordinary times. I tried to say it more than a year ago and some people laughed it off with the usual lines about America’s can-do spirit and strong fundamentals – both true, but not enough to weather the storm that’s approaching. It does little to console us to see Alan Greenspan write today, “The current financial crisis in the US is likely to be judged in retrospect as the most wrenching since the end of the second world war.”

There are deep flaws in our economic structure, and the war in Iraq combined with the subprime mess rubbed a lot of salt deep into the wounds. Recovery now is not possible – at least not without bailouts and a lot of misery along the way. Bush and his stooges brought this on us with their anything-goes, to-hell-with-regulation “laissez faire” policies. And now they will use your tax dollars to bail out the very same scoundrels who wrought this misery on us. And each of us will pay a high price, with broken dreams, diminished expectations, houses we can’t sell and a painful submission to the sorrows of stagflation.

Two: Let’s look over on the other side of the world. Beijing’s chant of One World One Dream is getting drowned out by the international uproar over Tibet. Even if the line the Chinese have been spoon-fed about Tibet being “liberated” from feudalism is true, and even if the Dalai Lama actually is a pawn of the CIA, the world is still going to bristle when it perceives religious oppression and the crushing of protests. Hypocrisy, you say? Maybe. But perceptions matter, and China is not being perceived well this week.

With the Olympic Torch Relay starting in only a few days, the threat to China’s pride cannot be exaggerated; they have hitched their star to the Olympic Games, and if that star crashes and burns the country will erupt in outrage and shattered pride. I hope that doesn’t happen; I hope China will be smart enough to do something truly constructive and make peace with the unhappy Tibetans. Knowing Hu Jintao’s past, of course, one can only conclude this is unlikely. Heads will be cracked and more lies spun out by Xinhua.

Like me, all that James Fallows can see ahead is tragedy. Once again the obtuseness of the Chinese bureaucracy defies description, and you wonder where are all those brilliant, hard-working cadres you know? Why are the big decisions only made by the dummies?

The government is full of subtle thinkers, but few are in the propaganda or public security ministries. The propagandists black out news coverage and blame every problem in Tibet on what they call (when they speak in English) “hooligans” from “the Dalai clique.” Most people in China assume that Tibet, like Taiwan, Inner Mongolia, or the Muslim Xinjiang region of the northwest, is an integral and inalienable part of its territory. That’s all they have ever heard from the media and in the schools. The threat of regional “splittism” raised by riots in Tibet is in this view a true threat to national security.

Thus conditions are set for the next stage of tragedy in Tibet, as Monday’s deadline for the end of protest draws near. The government is conditioned to be tough — and to have the support of its public, and not to care about objections from overseas. It has to care more, in this year of the Olympics. Soon we’ll see how much that tempers the policy.

Huge question marks are floating in the air. How they are answered will affect many of us. I can’t say I am optimistic about either issues one or two. I suspect a lot of us are simply trying to ignore these developments, willing ourselves into a self-induced coma. Maybe that’s actually the smartest thing to do. Watching the dramas on both sides of the world unfold is simply too depressing and infuriating.

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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: 168 Comments

Previous message seems to have been posted twice, can a moderator delete one?

March 19, 2008 @ 9:24 pm | Comment

@Rohan,

India has a great deal of ethnic violence, but the only violence in India that is directly comparable to what is happening in Tibet is the violence around 1990-91 in Kashmir against the Kashmiri Hindus.

I’m baffled by what you mean. If you’re predicating your distinction between the Indian and Chinese government (with the first democratic and the latter not), then no comparison can ever be possible between these two countries.

But if we’re talking about ethnic violence, especially separatist-motivated ethnic violence… again, I’m baffled by what you mean.

Let’s just look at 2007, which seems like a perfectly representative year to me.

In Assam:
AP – Suspected separatist rebels fatally shot 13 sleeping migrant workers before dawn Saturday, adding to a string of attacks over two days that killed a total of 48 people and wounded at least 19 across India’s remote northeast, officials said.

All the attacks targeted poor, Hindi-speaking migrants and were likely carried out by United Liberation Front of Asom rebels, R.N. Mathur, police chief for Assam state, told The Associated Press.

In Manipur:
A separatist group in north-east India has killed eight of its members for allegedly collaborating with Indian security forces, the rebels have said.

Police in the north-eastern Indian state of Manipur say suspected separatist rebels have killed five migrant workers.

In Punjab:
CHANDIGARH, India – Indian police say they suspect Muslim militants allied with Punjab separatists were behind a blast that killed six people and injured 32 at a crowded cinema hall in northern India.

All of that is independent of action associated with Islamic fundamentalism and Kashmir. There are also the headline events which I’ve already mentioned. The massive blood-letting in Gujrat in 2002, for example.

It seems to me the major difference is that in India, the government isn’t involved in moderating ethnic violence. In many respects, it’s involved in fanning it. Look at the BJP’s Hindu nationalist campaign platform, especially with respect to Ayodhya.

In China, the government is accused of destroying Tibetan monasteries in the heat of the Cultural Revolution.

In India, the government doesn’t stop rioters from destroying a key Muslim mosque… and then subsequently runs on a platform of replacing it with a Hindu temple! Couldn’t possibly imagine that in China.

March 20, 2008 @ 1:18 am | Comment

“”””””I simply don’t believe the Chinese government is the evil, stupid brute that many in the West have demonized it as. I don’t believe that China is a much larger version of North Korea, with 1.3 billion people living either in fear or brain-washed worship of Communist Party rule.”””””””

Well you may believe what you want, but you are wrong. I challenge your perception. Do you know why people might think this way?

“”””””If you say the Communist Party has been *unable* to contain corruption, almost all Chinese will nod with you.”””””””

Right, well I guess because they cannot say anything against the party itself, but the correct statement would be closer to “the party is totally corrupt and evil”

“”””””If you say instead to the average Chinese that it’s a shame the Communist Party brainwashes its people; or that the Communist Party arrests dissidents so that it can rule through fear; or that the Communist Party is a threat to world peace… you will find most Chinese people disagreeing with you fervently. “”””””

Right, because they tiw their nationalism to the party, as you mention in the paragraph above, you do not believe the arty is bad, most Chinese don’t, and they are wrong. I dont care if they agree with me or disagree with me, but I think they are wrong, misinformed, brainwashed , and I dont fault them, but I do think they should wake up.

“””””””There may be some kernels of truth in those comments, but most of us just don’t agree with those broad conclusions. We know China better than that.””””””

“we know China better than that”, ie, the propaganda is more powerful than truth, and thats how we have grown accustomed to thinking and acting.

I have a question for you, by the way you didnt really answer my questions about this so called Chinese conscience and so called Chinese perspective….

Do you believe there is such a thing as evil? Do you think that there is such a thing as a party being totally corrupt and evil? Cause you dont strike me as a person who really believes that evil is evil, I think you will make excuses for evilness right till the end whithout considering what is good and bad, right and wrong, so how can you talk about evil if you dont even consider what it means?

March 20, 2008 @ 1:23 am | Comment

@Snow
What does evil mean to you, Snow? Is it relative?

March 20, 2008 @ 1:39 am | Comment

@Rohan,

In those circumstances, for Tibetans to attack Chinese is not racial violence. It is a desperate struggle against a murderous occupation and it is justifiable self-defence (even if it is not always advisable).

Under international law, China’s presence in Tibet is not one of occupation. (And no, I don’t care what the “international council of jurists” said in its research report.) And even if it was an occupation, there is no justification under international law for targeting civilian Chinese.

On the other hand, under international law, China has the right, no, the responsibility to maintain stability and punish those involved in killing/robbing others.

If the Chinese government were to declare a truce by ending arrests and imprisonment,

That would indeed change the situation! I’d like to see the Chinese government try to release those guilty of murder out on the streets. Beijing would be in flames, tomorrow. I’d be there with a torch.

But that’s all rhetoric. You threw a bunch at me, but I’m going to try at least and not return the favor. Let’s just concede that your arguments have *no* convincing power to those of us on the other side. I’m at least willing to concede that the Chinese “argument” has little convincing power over Tibetans in exile.

The only common point we share is a desire to see an end to the violence, and hopefully long-standing harmony and peace in the Tibet region.

So, let’s talk solutions and actual policies that assures the above. Frankly, I don’t see a problem with granting greater religious freedom, but that will only be possible if its *not* paired with a political independence movement.

How do you suggest the Dalai Lama, who once led a CIA-funded militant uprising in western China, convince Beijing that greater religious freedom for Tibetan monks (and private freedom for himself) will not lead to an independence movement?

March 20, 2008 @ 1:42 am | Comment

@CCT

In no particular order:

I don’t expect anyone can convince Beijing that greater freedom for Tibetans will not “lead to” an independence movement, for the simple reason that it is impossible. The Tibetans have been so brutalised by you Chinese, from the initial thamzing sessions of the 1950s on, that they do not trust you and in fact hate you. So your question is really based on false premises. Under those premises only further conflict is possible.

If Beijing steps in to shoot anyone who talks about independence, or anyone who talks about anything that could “lead to” independence, such as but not limited to Tibetan language primacy, independence of the monastic orders, return of the Dalai Lama then there is no hope for peace, and China will continue to deal with suppressed Tibetan rage and major world hostility.

I notice that despite your apparent commitment to liberalism, you do not support freedom of speech. This is the basic failing in your view. You are not prepared to let Tibetans talk peacefully about independence. Everything follows from that.

If you don’t install a peaceful safety valve, don’t be surprised when the pressure comes out of the violent one.

March 20, 2008 @ 2:11 am | Comment

@CCT

Regarding the point you were baffled about, it is to do with attacks by the majority population on civilians who are seen as occupiers accompanying an army of occupation. This was clearly the case in Kashmir in the 1990s and in Tibet now (although the resentment of Tibetans is more overt. In Kashmir there were not these attacks in broad daylight on the street by mobs. What happened was targeted assassinations, usually at night).

The Gujarat riots obviously don’t fit that picture. They were essentially a pogrom by Gujarati Hindus with state acquiescence and support, against the minority Gujarati Muslims. The Punjab case seems like an isolated bomb-throwing incident. However you may be right about the Manipur and Assam cases. My inclination is against it because I don’t believe from my admittedly limited knowledge that there is enough widespread support and universal resistance to make a comparison.

Anyway this discussion seems to be degenerating into a general observation that “there is a lot of ethnic violence in India”, which is a point nobody is going to contest, and has little relevance to the Tibet case.

March 20, 2008 @ 2:31 am | Comment

“”””””””Under international law, China’s presence in Tibet is not one of occupation. And even if it was an occupation, there is no justification under international law for targeting civilian Chinese.””””””””

Actually their presence there is more along the lines of genocide. GET THIS THROUGH YOUR HEAD: The CCP is in Tibet and all of China on a mission to unify the thinking of all Chinese people in support of the party’s culture. The party has it’s own f****d up concept of human rights, religion, property, nationalism, every concept, the CCP has a parallel F***D up version that it want s to impose in peoples minds, through various tactics. The conflict in Tibet is not about some land dispute, it is about brainwashing and forced cultural genocide.

So, I think most Han who are in Tibet are following the party line on wanting to destroy the Tibetan culture cause it is considered subversive. They call this hatred of freedom of thought ‘harmony’.

I will not say this absolutely, but it would seem that those Han who follow the party line are opressors of the Tibetan culture.

Correct me if I’m wrong.

They are shipped into Tibet to wear down the Tibetan culture as the party has worn down the Chinese spirit in China.

Aren’t all Chinese who follow the party line opressors of Tibetans, opressors of human rights activists, opressors of Falun Gong, haters of truth, ???

Would you say that Chinese who follow the party line and who are in a position to know better but have to conscience are innocent? Wouldnt you say they are elements of the party and guilty of the party’s crimes?

If the typical German knew about the mass Jew killings back during that time and some Jews rose up and took hooligan revenge on German nationalists (nazis) Would you say those Jews were attacking innocent people?

People who know the atrocities and dont oppose them are guilty of colluding.

Now a lot of Chinese are colluding to hate Falun gong people and treat them as if they are less than vermen, they are guilty of following an evil party. The Falun Gong people will not take violent revenge, but it’s not because you guys dont deserve it, its because they feel compassion toward the lost Chinese souls who commit sins blindly… so sad….

March 20, 2008 @ 2:49 am | Comment

@Rohan,

I completely disagree when you Indian ethnic violence has little relevance to the Tibet case. In the absence of the Communist Party this week, in the absence of its restrictions on free speech, I for one believe the sort of ethnic violence we saw in Gujrat would’ve been replicated in Tibet.

I for one am inclined to believe “civilian” Han nationalists could’ve very easily started a race riot in return, “purging” Tibetans from all majority Han areas. If YouTube hadn’t been blocked, and the really provocative videos (of physical assault) shown on CCTV… this would be a very different story.

You have one view of Tibet: that of occupying colonial power versus occupied resistance. I’m not going to insist that your view is necessarily wrong, but I’m going to tell you that there’s one other very significant view out there that you have to deal with.

The Communist Party will come, and it will go. Sooner or later it will no longer be in power. The 1.3 billion people in China will not be going anywhere. If you continue to insist on your own narrative to the exclusion of the Han Chinese… well, as just as you’re telling me today that this “explosion” was predictable, I’m telling you that a similar “explosion” in the future would be equally predictable.

Don’t think for a second that a democratic China will be more sympathetic towards a separatist movement in Tibet. I could easily imagine a Chinese nationalist party, much like the Hindu nationalist BJP, implicitly allowing Han nationalists burn down the Potala Palace if the ethnic conflict continues. After all… democracy is all about obeying majority will and wining votes.

March 20, 2008 @ 2:52 am | Comment

More on this theme from the Financial Times:

http://tinyurl.com/2pebtu

There’s this continuous belief out there that the Communist Party dictates political opinion in China. If this were the year 1967, there would be some truth in the statement. In the year 2008, that’s simply not true.

The Communist Party dictates government policy, and that’s it. The Party itself is infinitely aware that it’s only one popular uprising away from being replaced with another one that serves the aspirations of the Chinese.

Yesterday, Taiwan’s KMT presidential candidate, Ma Ying-jeou berated Wen Jiabao and the Communist Party for its heavy-handed treatment of Tibet. The Washington Post had an article about this, I believe, suggesting that Ma was now distancing himself from China in response to the situation in Tibet.

The *actual* quote from Ma goes on to say… (paraphrasing) “the Republic of China (Taiwan) has always believed in autonomy for Tibetans because of their distinct culture and religion.” In other words, even in long separated Taiwan in which the Communist Party is often public enemy #1, Ma will not offend his supporters and party by describing Tibet as anything but a part of China.

March 20, 2008 @ 3:01 am | Comment

random internet opinion that I agree with:

“”””To me, evil is the absence of good, so it includes not only nasty acts and behavior, but the failure to do what is good. Evil also includes apathy. Goodness is truth, integrity, responsibility, love – so evil is the absence of those qualities.””””

specially agree witht he quote of Buddha

Evil Quotations

Know one knows whether death, which people fear to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good.
Plato

The power of choosing good and evil is within the reach of all.
Origen

I think the world is full of evil people. I think in some ways we’re in more danger now than before.
Dean Koontz

An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may wound your body, but an evil friend will wound your mind.
Buddha

Constantly choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil.
Jerry Garcia

Lime,

The thing about the concept of evil, it can sometimes pertain to the realm of the mind, and that is a topic that is ignored in society’s culture todays. I think that religious materialism is the cause for people not giving a damn about the concept of good and evil. It has become less important, a secondary issue, the mind is ignored, but I think it is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING ( -:

March 20, 2008 @ 3:05 am | Comment

@CCT

That’s an argument I’m very familiar with from the Indian context. It goes something like this, “If Kashmir becomes independent / the mosque is not knocked down / some other insult to Hindu pride happens” then one billion Hindus will turn on the Muslims in India and annihilate them.

It’s obviously a frightening scenario, which is why people use it, but my sense is it’s used more as a tool than as a realistic analysis of what might happen. There have never been realistic signs that it’s happening, or might happen. Not to deny the infinitesimal possibility, but it’s usually just a debating strategy.

I think in a situation of openness, yes, you would have more reports that might inflame the ordinary Chinese, but you would also have a more realistic picture that would cause them to rethink. For example, information from Chinese pro-democracy activists like Wei Jingsheng about the crimes of the Party in Tibet.

By the way, I’ve noticed that when I mention Wei Jingsheng on Chinese boards, absolute silence usually follows, no discussion, views or other mention of any kind– not even the stereotypical “he is running dog of capitarists”. Is there a reason for this silence?

March 20, 2008 @ 3:25 am | Comment

@Snow
Perhaps I misunderstood, but are you seriously suggesting that because the random Chinese civilians that were killed by the Tibetan mobs in Lhasa were not actively plotting the downfall of the CCP, they were guilty of colluding with and deserved to be killed? I am not at the moment plotting to bring down the CCP, so am I therefore evil and deserve to be taken revenge on?
And for the record, in my morally relativist view, the hypothetical ethnically German citizens living under the third reich with knowledge of the holocaust would not deserve to be murdered by Jewish hooligans. Would they be innocent? Well, by how you’ve construed it, no one is innocent, save the newborn and perhaps the bodhisattvas

March 20, 2008 @ 3:29 am | Comment

Lime,

It would depend on how much you nitpick about peoples attitudes towards the CCP and Tibet….. I think asking the Chinese to plot the downfall of the CCP is not really what I mean…, but I was indeed suggesting that if they are committing crimes against the Tibetan people and their culture by following evil propaganda of the CCP, then they are not so innocent. But, I do not say that justifies violence.

interesting comment…

March 20, 2008 @ 3:40 am | Comment

@Snow
What you’ve done here is taken Orwell’s thoughtcrime one step further and created a thoughtsin. I think that CCT is probably right in that the overwhelming majority of PRC subjects believe that Tibet should be controlled by China. If this is evil, then in your construction, there are a billion guilty thoughtsinners out there. So are the overwhelming majority PRC subjects evil? This is the problem with moral objectivism, isn’t it? The most common way to escape this kind of a trap is to use the term ‘brainwashed’, but this is intellectual dishonesty. All our interpretations of the world around us are constructed from what we experience. It’s true the CCP goes to great lengths to control the kinds of experiences their subjects can have in effort to make their interpretations of the world ‘harmonious’ with the CCP’s own interpretations of the world. But this does not make the people mentally inferior, or incapable of critical thought or the ability to moralise. They have constructs of good and evil, right and wrong and so on too, but theirs are (apparently) divergent from yours. Therefore, if you’re a moral objectivist, the billion or so pro-PRC-Occupation-of-Tibet PRC subjects are sinners, and perhaps ‘evil’, if a person can be rendered evil through sin in your interpretation. What say you?

For interest’s sake, you’ve given us some idea what you believe evil, but evil, according to you is at least sometimes the absence of good, so what do you think good is?

March 20, 2008 @ 6:04 am | Comment

Lime,

Interesting points for sure, but the details of the crimes we are discussing are more complex than how you have just described it. The CCPs 59 year rule is chalk full of propaganda combined with terrirism and moral/cultural degradation.

I will read your comment another time here to see what it is we’re talkin about here…

“””””I think that CCT is probably right in that the overwhelming majority of PRC subjects believe that Tibet should be controlled by China.””””””

I definitely do not think this kind of thinking constitutes a sin or a crime… What I think is sinful/criminal is the hatred directed at the Tibetans, segregating them and labelling their leader an evil seperatist and stuff like that. I think it is wrong to rape Tibet till it’s spirit is gone. I think the CCP and it’s followers do not care about the Tibetans or their culture and only live to carry out the CCP agenda in hopes of achieving some kinda richness and standard of living, harmoany or some crap like that.

The Chinese people have been taught that the way to be successful is to pummel the opponent, destroy the opponent, purge the dirty element. With this indoctrination, all the CCP has to do is conjure up a dirty element and the followers will obey and commit crimes and sins against that propagated element. (like the holocaust)

The CCP deems people bad based on whether they are mosre virtuous than the CCP. If someone has some moral superiority, the CCP is afraid of them and makes up some lines to cause the Chinese people to take their side.

The Japanese are more free and successful, the Taiwanese are more happy and well off, the Tibetans are content to be simple and religious, the Falun Gong are happy by looking inside to become happy and good, Americans are pleased with their human rights and freedoms. The CCP has to keep a lid on China, has to not let any Chinese people realize that there is better solution than the CCP.

Actually you aksed if the chinese are all guilty sinners… My big beef with them and their sinnin’ is that they dont care whether they digest truth or lies, they dont care either way, they just want money and face. The second thing is that they dont care the difference between right and wrong, they dont value the concept of morality at all, they just want to follow the party cause its easier than caring about the big picture.

These are generalizations, but to illustrate my complaint about the Chinese people…..

March 20, 2008 @ 11:13 am | Comment

WhatdoI think is good? Hmmm…Its hard to say… Good is good right? he he…. Yuno… I dont think I have to tell you what good is, friend. I really do not want to have to tell anyone what is good because it is my belief that people KNOW this kind of stuff… I guess you just gotta care… and you gotta do the right things and treat stuff goodand be helpful and nice… to be good or to realize good, i think you gotta look at the big picture….not sure what I mean by that, something about clarity…

March 20, 2008 @ 12:14 pm | Comment

@Rohan,

Wei Jingsheng

Uhm, what did you see about Wei Jingsheng, and which Chinese boards? Wei isn’t really that well known to those inside China any longer. And for those outside of China familiar with the dissident community outside of China… well, on the boards I frequent, usually not much is said except: “Old Wei’s still around?”

I mean, we all know he’s Chinese, but there are 1.3 billion of us… we can’t care about everyone’s opinion! He’s had some influence on Chinese thought, but he was already past his prime and in prison by the time the vast majority of us (online) were even born. He’s “done” nothing since.. 1976? 1977? He’s just not relevant. And really, his writings these days are written for the Western crowd, not a Chinese one.

March 20, 2008 @ 3:40 pm | Comment

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