Which would you choose: India’s Democracy or China’s Harmony?

It’s hibernation time again for the duck, but I found this article so intriguing that I’m pasting it in full. Having never studied Indian politics or history and having never been there, I can’t claim to have any special insight into this comparison. One thing I do have at least some thoughts about is China’s unique vision of “harmony,” a pretty word with sinister undertones and an important aspect of the author’s comparison.

Poor, chaotic India vs. shiny, harmonious China (at least in the the big three cities, which to most of the world is China). Is the comparison fair? Could China really learn some lessons from India that would have helped them avoid the tragic debacle in Tibet? I’m wondering.

China had it all planned out. Or so it seemed. With the Beijing Summer Olympic Games only a few months away, the flashy sports stadiums, the world’s biggest airport and kilometers of extended subway lines combined to serve as gleaming testaments to the country’s dramatic material progress. Efforts had even been made to transform Beijingers themselves for their Olympic debut, from surly communists suspicious of foreign barbarians into smiling, service-oriented folk welcoming “foreign friends” to their city in English.

But as the events of the past few days have shown with protests against Chinese rule of Tibet spreading from Lhasa to parts of Gansu and Sichuan provinces, Beijing has been caught unprepared in its ability to deal with dissent. It is this inability, moreover, that will prove to be the country’s greatest vulnerability going forward; its Achilles’ heel as it strives for great power status.

As Beijing desires the Olympics to demonstrate, much in China has changed in recent years, often at a dizzying pace. The successes in poverty reduction are an awesome achievement. Beijing in 2008, with its slew of vertiginous skyscrapers, flood of fancy cars and array of malls boasting the most luxurious of luxury brands, is a far cry from the capital city of Mao Zedong suits and bicycles in the not so distant past.

However, while much has changed, China’s response to the events in Tibet is also indicative of how much remains unchanged. The official response to the protests in Lhasa and elsewhere, the most serious in two decades, do not indicate the discovery by Beijing of “Olympic-new” savvy ways of crisis control. Instead, the Chinese people and the world have only been subjected to the same old tired responses officialdom resorts to given any sign of discontentment among the Tibetan population.

This is a response that essentially amounts to a denial of any fundamental problem. The elements are familiar: a scapegoating and vilification of the Dalai Lama, a refusal to grant any legitimacy to Tibetan disaffection and an insistence on the myth of elemental “harmony” among all “Chinese” people, including Tibetans.

This denial of legitimate differences is ultimately the greatest difference between China and Asia’s other major rising power, India.

Indians who visit Chinese cities are invariably awestruck by the infrastructure. They look at the silken-smooth multi-lane highways with barely concealed envy, no doubt comparing them to the pot-holed clumps of tar more familiar as roads back home. They marvel at the relatively orderly flow of traffic on the broad avenues, unobstructed by stray cows. They remark on the absence of slums and beggars on the streets.

China has not only built cities that are almost impossibly modern from an Indian point of view, it has also provided jobs and opportunities for upward mobility for millions of migrant workers from the countryside.

China’s economic achievement over the past 30-odd years has in fact been unparalleled historically. However, a point usually unrecognized by Indians impressed by China’s glitter is the fact that so is India’s political feat.

China’s southern neighbor’s democracy is almost unique among post-colonial states not simply for its existence but its existence against all odds in a country held together not by geography, language or ethnicity but by an idea. This is an idea that asserts, even celebrates, the possibility of multiple identities. In India, you can and are expected to be both many things and one thing simultaneously.

Your correspondent is thus a Delhite, an English speaker, half a Brahmin, half a Tamilian, a Hindu culturally, an atheist by choice, a Muslim by heritage. But the identity that threads these multiplicities together is at once the most powerful and most amorphous: she is an Indian.

India’s great political achievement is thus in its having developed mechanisms for negotiating large-scale diversity along with the inescapable corollary of frequent and aggressive disagreement. The guiding and perhaps lone consensus that forms the bedrock of that mechanism is that in a democracy you don’t really need to agree – except on the ground rules of how you will disagree.

In direct contradistinction to China, India’s polity has flourished precisely because of its ability to acknowledge difference. The very survival of India as a country, given the scope of its bewildering diversity, has been dependent on the possibility of dissent.

India is a country of 22 official languages and over 200 recorded mother tongues. In this “Hindu” country, there are more Muslims than in all of Pakistan. The country’s cultural inheritance includes fire-worshiping Zorastrians and Tohra-reciting Jews. With no single language, ethnicity, religion or food, India is quite simply, implausible; yet marvelously, it isn’t. It is a country without a language, without a center, lacking singularity except in being singularly diverse.

In China, regular lip service is also paid to the country’s own, considerable diversity. During the National People’s Congress’ annual session, for example, delegates representing China’s multiplicity of minorities swish around the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in their “ethnic” dresses. Beijing regularly talks of the religious freedoms enjoyed by the country’s Buddhists, Christians and Muslims.

But in fact, the fundamental tenet of China’s political philosophy is not diversity but uniformity. This homogeneity does not only extend itself to the tangible, such as architecture or the system of writing alone, but also to thought.

Even in the modern China of the 21st century where there are more Internet users than even in the United States, those who disagree with mainstream, officially sanctioned views outside of the parameters set by mainstream officially sanctioned debate, more often than not find themselves branded as dissidents – suspect, hunted, under threat.

The insistence on “harmony” as the only reality and inability to admit genuine differences in interest and opinions between the peoples of a country of the size and complexity of China is ultimately the country’s greatest weakness.

Talk of political reform in China continues to be bound by the “harmonious” parameters set by Hu Jintao, the president. The idea is that everyone’s interests and opinions are to be balanced and resolved without conflict.

Oppositional politics with the clash of argument remain anathema. Consensus for the good of the whole nation is the way forward, we are told.

To imagine that these pious prescriptions will be adequate to address growing tensions within Chinese society as it evolves and changes is foolhardy. The interests of the laid-off worker and multinational executive are divergent, as are those of the real estate developer and the city-dweller about to have her home destroyed to make way for a mall.

These are conflicts that need to be acknowledged so that effective mechanisms for their resolution can then be identified.

As the recent protests have demonstrated, despite over 50 years of suppression and “patriotic education”, a strong strain of resentment against Beijing’s rule continues to simmer in Tibet. During this time period the region’s economy has benefited from Chinese-developed infrastructure, literacy rates are also on the up and health care has improved. Nonetheless, large swathes of dissatisfaction with Beijing’s policies persist.

For China’s authorities to simply deny the reality of the problem, blame all tension on an exiled leader and insist that the majority of Tibetans couldn’t be happier with the Communist Party’s harmonious policies, is self-defeating.

Given this stance whether or not the Chinese authorities react with “leniency” towards the protesters, the damage to their reputation internationally is assured.

Looking ahead to the Olympics and beyond, China would in fact do well to look to India, the neighbor it usually scorns as poor and chaotic, to understand the strength that acknowledging differences can provide.

Harmony is a laudable goal, but sometimes a little dissent is the mark of a truly healthy society.

Pallavi Aiyar is the author of the forthcoming book, Smoke and Mirrors: China Through Indian Eyes, (Harper Collins, April 2008.)

The Discussion: 72 Comments

You could say that India has taken the concept of “America” a few steps further, considering the otherwise caustic relationship between all of these religions and cultures elsewhere in Asia.

China is false.

March 19, 2008 @ 1:14 pm | Comment

“”””Poor, chaotic India vs. shiny, harmonious China (at least in the the big three cities, which to most of the world is China). Is the comparison fair? Could China really learn some lessons from India that would have helped them avoid the tragic debacle in Tibet? I’m wondering.”””

Harmony?? How can you use that word to describe China?

March 19, 2008 @ 1:44 pm | Comment

I have followed Indian politics for a few election cycles and have to say it’s extremely interesting and, I think, well suited for the country.

State parties form coalitions to produce their national parties and fronts (except, of course, Congress). And each state has such a different situation this makes a lot of sense.
West Bengal is also the only place where a communist party has won free and open elections for decades on end. Could the Chinese have managed that?

The development speed in India is not slow just because it has some unweildy democracy, but because they actually have to worry about, oh, say, the rule of law! And property rights! Unlike China, the Indian government cannot just insist it’s going to use whatever land it wants to start whatever project it desires, regardless of the opinions of the current property holders or local government.

And that’s a good thing.

India will devleop slightly more slowly, but it’s doing well for itself and is an amazing place.

Re: “But in fact, the fundamental tenet of China’s political philosophy is not diversity but uniformity.”

BS. It’s obedience.

March 19, 2008 @ 2:29 pm | Comment

I’ll certainly agree the differences between India and China are striking.

As far as value judgments, I think the best description possible is different strokes for different folks. Few in India is interested in moving to China (although some are in Hong Kong); and certainly very few in China is interested in moving to India (although Tibetans will go to the moon if that’s where the Dalai Lama happens to reside).

I’m not sure China really wants to learn from India’s example, however, when it comes to Tibet. For all the talk of India’s ability to navigate “diversity”… you have stuff like the Ram Janmbhoomi temple, and you have a few thousand people (many innocents) killed in ethnic violence in Gujarat.

In the minds of some, the fact that the Indian government isn’t involved in these killings is something to be admired. In the minds of others (like mine), the fact that government isn’t involved in *stopping* these killings is not something to be admired.

March 19, 2008 @ 2:39 pm | Comment

Interesting point Snow ^

No one who has lived in China for any length of time would describe it as ‘harmonious’.

I think that the author is using ‘harmony’ to mean two different things in his original article. He talks about Indian ‘diversity’ – diversity of language, ethnicity, identities – in contrast to Chinese ‘harmony’. This seems to suggest a common misperception. Possibly because most outsiders only see that China is 95% Han, and only hear putonghua (or possibly cantonese) I think it can be very easy for them to miss the huge regional, linguistic, and identity variations that are present here.

However, the author is also using ‘harmony’ in a political sense. The fact that there is only one political voice coming from Beijing, and, to outside observers, the vast majority of the Chinese populace appear to agree with that narrative without any dissent or discussion. In contrast to a participative democratic system, that could certainly give the impression of ‘harmony’.

March 19, 2008 @ 2:39 pm | Comment

By the way, to continue another theme I’ve often discussed in the past…

Another dimension to consider is how countries respond to catastrophic collapse. If there’s one thing that human history tells us, its that countries (eventually) collapse. It might be due to natural causes (prolonged famine, earthquakes, monsoons); it might be due to severe economic failure; it might be due to foreign invasion; it might be due to internal dissent… or very likely, it’s due to a combination of all of the above.

But sooner or later, large countries tend to break apart along fault lines. Local government pops up and provides services, while the previous “federal” government is simply gone or out of reach.

I’ve always been curious how India would respond to such a collapse. Will the different peoples and provinces of modern India recreate India, after whatever disaster passes? Or will local governments secede along cultural, religious, linguistic, or ethnic boundaries?

March 19, 2008 @ 3:17 pm | Comment

A-gu, uniformity and obedience go hand in hand. You rarely have one without the other.

March 19, 2008 @ 3:53 pm | Comment

Has anyone read “The Elephant and the Dragon”? I’m thinking of asking my girlfriend to pick it up for me when she visits Hong Kong. Is it academic or is it just a bunch of fluff?

March 19, 2008 @ 6:13 pm | Comment

I’m skeptical about how many lessons India and China can learn from each other.

Westerners tend to see the two countries as having “followed a different path to development” which explains the differences, but there are many reasons to think the differences are more basic and cultural.

If you read the Chinese traveller Fa-Hsien in 400 AD he marvelled that in India, people could travel across the whole of the country without permits or passports. Fast forward sixteen hundred years and this is still a major difference between India and China.

I don’t mean to deny the possibility of transformation — both countries are transforming themselves significantly — but they will inevitably do it in their own ways, and generally despise each other in the process.

Many Chinese think of India as a place of dirt and beggars where leprous hands stretch out to grab you as soon as you arrive.

Many Indians think of China as a cruel place with no interest in art and intellect, where they will eat anything (dogs, cats, snakes, you name it).

The Chinese can probably learn more about democracy from Taiwan since it is culturally close to them and they would be prepared to learn from it.

For a good perspective on India without having been there, read “City of Djinns” by William Dalrymple, or “Juggling with Tigers” by Neil Kelly.

March 19, 2008 @ 6:21 pm | Comment

One of the advantage of India with respect to China is the provision of pressure release valves in their political system.

There is no need of massive censure system and thought control procedures. I am not aware of any internet censure.

Nationalism is not used as a mean to legitimate power. I have yet to see demonstrations against any foreign power, specially against the British.

Major unrest do not lead to fears of toppling the power structure system or fragmentation of the country. With the exception of Pakistan during independence process.

March 19, 2008 @ 6:47 pm | Comment

In medium long term, I am putting my bets on India rather than China.
I consider China too unstable. Like a pressure cooker. Looks ok from outside but a lot of pressure is building inside.
I am putting my wallet were I am putting my moth too. My meager Asian investements are concentrated in India. So far doing quite fine.
Every time I decide to put something in China, something happens that takes me back.

March 19, 2008 @ 6:54 pm | Comment


I think jingoism is a better word to describe the worse aspects of the Chinese – Japanese or Chinese – American dynamic.

India has that to some extent against Pakistan, but it’s not quite the same kind of hatred against the ‘other’, since India and Pakistan are very close culturally. You see on the one hand very angry outbursts, and almost immediately very maudlin displays of sentimentality between the two countries (almost every Indian journalist who visits Pakistan seems to have stories about taxi drivers who refuse payment because ‘you are our guest’).

Continuing on my observation about basic cultural differences, the great French historian Fernand Braudel observed that the consistent historical tendency of China has always been centrifugal, whereas the corresponding tendency of India has always been centripetal.

Building up a single united India is in a sense contrary to the natural temper of the country, and even where it has been created, you don’t usually see a wall of unimpeded jingoism, there are always exceptions.

For example the two main books highly critical of the Indian annexation of Sikkim were both written by Indians, one of them a respected Calcutta journalist and the other a highly placed officer of the Indian administrative service; similarly the successful Indian journalists Tavleen Singh and A.G. Noorani have both written books denouncing Indian repression in Kashmir.

It is perfectly possible that a Chinese would write books critical of China’s annexation of Tibet, but it would have to be an outside dissident. Once they did such a thing, I don’t think they would have much chance to rise within China.

Allowing dissent and local autonomy seems contrary to the basic Chinese culture, which is very much conformative and disapproves of individualism, free thought, and the expression of unpopular/wacky/weird views. That too will change, but it’s a struggle the Chinese have to be aware of.

I have Indian friends in Hong Kong, and even though it is a very free place in many ways they seem a little unsatisfied there. It’s like they have nobody to talk to. There is no discussion. Everyone is just making money and nobody wants to argue about anything else. I have only spent a little time in Hong Kong, so I don’t know how exactly to interpret that.

But you could see that as another basic cultural difference, where China has always been interested in the physical world, and India the mental world. So China gave India silk and tea. And India gave China Buddhism and some mathematical advances such as the number zero.

To sum up:

– India is endlessly divided, while China is instinctively united.
– India likes to argue, while China can’t see the point.
– India likes freedom, while China likes control.

There are some obvious Mars/Venus analogies to be made here.

March 19, 2008 @ 7:08 pm | Comment

Um, obviously, exchange centrifugal and centripetal, in case it confused anyone who read that far. Editing comments would really be more elegant.

March 19, 2008 @ 7:12 pm | Comment

“I have Indian friends in Hong Kong, and even though it is a very free place in many ways they seem a little unsatisfied there. It’s like they have nobody to talk to. There is no discussion. Everyone is just making money and nobody wants to argue about anything else. I have only spent a little time in Hong Kong, so I don’t know how exactly to interpret that.”

It’s not like they don’t talk, they just don’t always talk everything to a foreigner. Just like people in my office don’t talk to me like they do to other locals.

March 19, 2008 @ 9:45 pm | Comment

The idea that the Indian “democracy” managed to resolve fundamental social, economic contradictions in India is laughable.

The brutalities of economic liberalization alienated multiple millions of peasants, pushing them over to fight for the increasingly strong, booming, and confident Maoist guerrilla fighters in a war against the Indian authority.

And who could forget about the Indian North Eastern States? Except for the faithfuls of of capitalist “democracy”, of course.

The minorities in the Indian NE States such as Assam, Manipur do not see themselves as Indians and are actively seeking independence from India. India calls them “disturbed States” and reacts with Draconian measures.

In Manipur, people are still being tortured and killed by Indian Army on a daily basis.

Of course few people know this (And I only knew it because of a respectable senior Indian lefty that I know), because international media is *prohibited* in this Indian region by an act called Restricted Area Permit (RAP).

And the military activities are covered up by another act called AFSPA 1958 (Armed Forces Special Power Act) applicable specially to Asa and Manipur.

Dissidents often suffer various kinds of mental/physical torture just for mentioning the issue in the North East.

If you have studied Political Science, you’d know that states, by definition rules through coercion. It is the same in every state.

There is a fundamental conflict of interest between Indian peasantry and the Indian capitalist ruling class and no amount of “arguing” will settle that.

March 19, 2008 @ 10:00 pm | Comment

The Restricted Area Permit is associated with the Foreigners (Protected Areas) Order 1958 (India)

March 19, 2008 @ 10:04 pm | Comment


Your analysis is true up to a point. However it breaks down where you try to tie it to peasantry versus capitalist ruling class again — come on, break free of your Maoist training, that is all outdated Communist claptrap that has no relation to reality.

I agree completely with you that in parts of the northeast people do not see themselves as Indians and the Indian policy is repressive, indeed similar to (although not on the same scale) as Chinese policy in Tibet. The AFSPA which you mention is an obvious example.

Just to give you an idea of how India’s democratic freedoms break down at the margins, the AFSPA outlaws all prosecutions against the Indian armed forces without the permission of the Defence Ministry — who are the people giving the orders! This means all human rights in the northeast are effectively suspended.

The protest by the lady you mentioned is covered in the Indian press regularly:


The law she is protesting against is completely unconscionable. Don’t lose sight of the differences, though. In China, you don’t hear about such protests. All you read are some Tibetan praising the party for giving him a better life. You don’t hear a single thing about the ones who are being tortured in prison. Openness gives a society the chance to make things right.

March 19, 2008 @ 10:52 pm | Comment

“Could China really learn some lessons from India that would have helped them avoid the tragic debacle in Tibet? I’m wondering.”

No need to wonder. China cannot, will not, dare not learn anything from anybody. China is so proud of its own culture that it will not even listen to what others have to say. And this is a historical heritage. This has been practised for thousands of years and is now even getting more entrenched. The only time this cultural heritage was ever weaken slightly was for a few decades in the early 1900’s.

Furthermore, Wen has already declared that he won’t listen to any ideas not his own “天變不足畏 祖宗不足法 人言不足恤” was what he quoted from Wang Anxe. Wang was criticize for not listening to any dissenting opinions. The Chinese apologist will argue that 人言不足恤 means Wen won’t stop whatever other people say. But that’s exactly the problem: Not listening. Wang droved for reform, and his reform failed, and Wang was kicked out of office in disgrace. May be that’s what Wen was hinting at what will happen.

However, this “damn the torpedo” attitude echos the “harmony” as preached by Hu. Harmony means total absence of dissent. Wen’s not listening to dissenting voices is how he is going to implement that strategy.

I think all the posts above echoes my “not listening” assessment situation very well. And one cannot learn unless one listens. Insisting of making ones own mistakes is a great sentiment. But I don’t see how China can make any more mistakes.

March 19, 2008 @ 11:33 pm | Comment

If you’re suggesting that he’s saying he could be kicked out of power for failing to implement reforms, I think that’s obvious.

If you’re suggesting that he’s saying he’s going to stop listening to others based on the last phrase alone… That’s a very.. uhm.. interesting.. interpretation of Wen Jiabao’s quote. Of course, it seems to me if he wanted to tell people that he wasn’t going to listen to others, he could’ve just said it.

His comments repeatedly hammered on the need for reform, in this 30th anniversary of the reform/opening up process. All 3 phrases are equally important, and reflects exactly this commitment to continued reform.

天变不足畏, – uncontrollable events should not be feared;

祖宗不足法, – our traditional laws/policies aren’t sufficient,

人言不足恤, – I won’t be distracted by how others criticize me.

March 20, 2008 @ 12:31 am | Comment


It is perfectly possible that a Chinese would write books critical of China’s annexation of Tibet, but it would have to be an outside dissident. Once they did such a thing, I don’t think they would have much chance to rise within China.

Have you heard of Wang Lixiong?

Openness gives a society the chance to make things right.

But 60 years of openness hasn’t made India right, based on what you’ve said. And how many are killed in India annually in race or religion-related violence?

March 20, 2008 @ 12:48 am | Comment


No, thanks for drawing my attention to him. It’s a little unclear from the information on the internet what his position is. Apparently he hasn’t been arrested recently. Does he work in some position? What does he do for a living?

Regarding openness —

I think the main thing you could look at is why Kashmir has not been as explosive as Tibet. Both cases are inherently quite similar and I personally believe there are good reasons to think both will be independent in our lifetimes. However Kashmir has not exploded quite like Tibet.

One reason you can look at is that politicians have been elected in Kashmir who are quite close to the independence activists and have stolen some of their issues. So for example the Indian authorities have a habit of shooting dead innocent Kashmiris who they suspect of involvement with separatists (much as it seems the Chinese in Tibet do, although they don’t need to bother as there is less scrutiny on the prisons and they can do whatever they like in there).

The Kashmir chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has criticized these ‘encounter’ killings, because not doing so would lose him votes in Kashmir. He was quoted as saying he will investigate human rights violations in Kashmir and “we will write to the Government of India about that and force them to take action”.

Now imagine this fellow Zhang Qingli criticising Beijing for committing atrocities against Tibetans, and saying that he will force the Central Committee to take action! First of all he would not do it, and second, if he did, he would probably find himself in prison with an electric prod attached to his genitals…

So if you had a real Tibetan leader, elected, with a real base, political mandate, and connection with the Tibetan people, you might not have seen this kind of explosion. People explode like this when they are totally alienated and have no other avenue, no other choice remaining to them.

By the way did you see the BBC video of Khampa horseman storming a town in eastern Tibet yesterday? What a magnificent display. Scary, but magnificent.

March 20, 2008 @ 1:25 am | Comment

“Have you heard of Wang Lixiong?”
I thought he was an exile and can’t go back to and rise with China now?

But 60 years of openness hasn’t made India right, based on what you’ve said. And how many are killed in India annually in race or religion-related violence?

Yes, India has the democracy and thus the freedom brought by its democratic establishment.

But India has so many other problems such as caste, religions and tensions between different ethnic groups which are causing all kinds of depravities that are no less than what are caused by the communist Authoritarian rule.

Western countries only focus on the good of Indian democracy because that’s what they promote (and I do too) when they compare India with China, and often choose to ignore or downplay the bad or worse of the other side of India under the glory of democracy.

Would we Chinese trade our cruel communist rule for, say, both India’s democracy and caste system? I think not.

March 20, 2008 @ 1:35 am | Comment

In a word, it’s not that simple to choose between India’s Democracy and China’s Harmony.

To some extent the two are not comparable without considering other factors.

I’d rather China had both India’s Democracy and it’s own harmony.

March 20, 2008 @ 1:41 am | Comment

Wang Lixiong and his Tibetan wife Woeser both reside in Beijing. Both are well known writers in China. As far as I know, neither have ever been arrested or detained for their political writings. China is simply not the overwhelming authoritarian police state that many have painted it as.

Woeser’s blog is a key gathering place for Tibetan-Chinese this week… at least those able to get around the block.

So if you had a real Tibetan leader, elected, with a real base, political mandate, and connection with the Tibetan people, you might not have seen this kind of explosion.

I do agree that a “real Tibetan leader” with a real base and political mandate would solve *some* problems..

But really, some fundamental ideological problems are about more than political mandate. I don’t see how Kashmir’s open and continuous warfare is remotely comparable to Tibet’s situation. This “explosion” aside (which now looks to be mostly extinguished), millions of foreign and Chinese tourists visit Lhasa every year, sipping beer and admiring Tibetan culture.

Again, different strokes for different folks… but I can’t imagine many average Tibetans would trade their daily existence for one in Kashmir. You probably disagree with me on this point, but I don’t see an easy way for either of us to convince the other of his opinion.

March 20, 2008 @ 2:17 am | Comment


Ah yes, I have heard of Woeser. Translations of her writing from Chinese are sketchy though.

Actually I agree with you about Tibetans not wanting to move to Kashmir, but that proves nothing, since most Kashmiris wouldn’t want to move to Tibet either.

Do you really imagine people go to Tibet and just “admire Tibetan culture”? Most tourist reports talk about the obvious vicious repression of Tibetans by Chinese, even though the situation was peaceful. That has played a large role in why the public in the West is so hostile to China. Most Chinese seem to be reading the western press and thinking “why do they hate us?” Like Americans who haven’t bothered to notice what their government is doing overseas, the Chinese have not bothered to learn what their government has done to Tibet.

Western travellers tend to report back things like (random selection of observations, add your own here):

“When I last visited Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, I was shocked to see that the Potala Palace, the equivalent of both Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, was open only to tourists. We were shunted around a few rooms in the wrong (heretical) order, while Tibetans stood plaintively outside. … Beijing’s actions are an assault on anyone who believes that some things are sacred, beyond expediency. And as China continues its conversion of a complex tradition into a thing for tourists (it is now building six new hotels in Lhasa), we must ask ourselves how far we are willing to acquiesce in the remorseless eradication of a culture. ”

“We can see now how fortunate we are, having freedom of speach, freedom of going where we like. Everybody is afraid to speak. Even us, free born people, not for our sake but for that of the Tibetans who can get in trouble just by speaking with us. It´s also very spooky to notice that we are being followed and approached by men who really try their best to look like tibetans”

“Lhasa is a small city, there is nothing special about it, since all of the Han Chinese that China ships into Tibet make it look like all the other cities”

“there are now as many Chinese in Lhasa as Tibetans and the city, except for the old Tibetan quarter, it is essentially a Chinese city, unrecognizable to anyone who knew it only 50 years ago. It is said that the city has changed more in the last 20 years then it did in the previous 1000. Tibetans in Lhasa and more so in the rural areas tend to live in abject poverty. The kids are invariably dirty and beg for money at the sight of any tourist. It is a thoroughly saddening experience.”

If there were more openness in China, perhaps the ordinary Chinese would be aware of this and not screaming bloody murder on the internet at anyone who speaks up for the rights of the Tibetans.

Some of them, like you for example, who are apparently willing to take to the streets to demand the government punish a few Tibetans who attacked Chinese on the streets, but are not willing to lift a finger to demand that the government punish the tens of thousands of Chinese who have committed much worse crimes (unfair imprisonment, torture, rape, murder, mass murder) against Tibetans… perhaps some of them would have a different reaction.

March 20, 2008 @ 3:10 am | Comment

“When I last visited Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, I was shocked to see that the Potala Palace, the equivalent of both Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, was open only to tourists.

Was it open to all Tibetans prior to 1950s?

And from the examples you gave, the “vicious repression”, except the freedom to enter Potala Palace, solely comes from the presence and dominance of Chinese in Lhasa, and the fear of CCP for Tibetans getting to confide on Westerners.

Yeah, this is how vicious a repression can be.

March 20, 2008 @ 3:36 am | Comment


My point on tourism was only that at least Tibet has been peaceful enough to develop a tourism industry.

As far as the Potala Palace goes.. this just goes to show how easy it is to get wrong impressions from a quick glance, and how effective exile propaganda has been. I have no idea if you know this, but the Potala Palace has two prices for admission: 2 RMB for religious Tibetans, 100 RMB for tourists.

Millions of Chinese tourists have visited Tibet over the past few years. Do you really believe no one but the West has seen the poor in rural Tibet? Are there more poor rural Tibetans than rural Han Chinese? Are there rights denied to Tibetans that are available to the Chinese? No, no, and no.

If the Tibetans in Lhasa had raised the Chinese flag while protesting and called for reforms in Chinese rule, for democracy, for freedom of speech… frankly, I think many average Chinese would’ve applauded them.

But the Tibetans in Lhasa did none of these things; they didn’t destroy the symbols of the state, they destroyed all symbols of China; they didn’t protest Communist oppression, they protested Chinese presence; they weren’t calling for a representative government, they wanted Chinese out of Tibet, and Tibet for Tibetans.

You can explain all day long why Tibetans don’t identify with the Chinese state and demand independence, but it doesn’t change the fundamental fact that they don’t, and they’re looking for something the *average* Chinese on the street absolutely will not accept, regardless of the presence of the Communist Party.

Here’s an idea. Next time Tibetan monks want to protest their treatment, have them raise the Chinese flag, sing the Chinese national anthem, and demand the Constitutional rights + autonomy they were promised. The Chinese government might not react any differently, but I can assure you the Chinese on the street will.

March 20, 2008 @ 3:39 am | Comment


It’s an interesting idea. Similar to what happened in the scene in the film “Gandhi” where Gandhi sings the British national anthem to get the British to stand up. Good short term strategy, perhaps, but lies are rarely a good long term strategy. For any lasting peace the Chinese people need to understand the truth, which is: the Tibetans hate us. They want us to get the hell out of their country. From the Chinese that I have met, I have faith that there are enough intelligent and sensible Chinese out there that they can understand that someday and spread the knowledge in China.

Now can I just say “Wei Jingsheng” on this thread and ask for some reaction here too? Anything? Please?

P.S. Interesting post below from a Chinese chick. It manages to combine in one letter of youthful misspelling 1) serious racism against Tibetans 2) desire for Tibetan independence 3) unconditional support for CCP policy. And then people wonder why there is no logic in international affairs…

“well,i’m a chinese woman,20sumthin,durin my lifetime here in china,esp.in a place which borders tibet,i have tibetan classmates and met lots of tibetans livin in my city.there’s 1 thing that i really agree with u westerners(i mean the british who got nothing to do but entertained by pretending to be a enthusiastic supporter of those extremists in tibet) i’d rather have them separated from us, reasons as follows
1.tibetans dont produce anything but trouble,esp in my province,those drank tibetans like to rob and fight against others.lack of natural resources and professionals,tibetan’s not helping with our economy.i’d rather have it separated so u british ppl’d take over and try to help it with your money.lol,if u really have the time and money after ur cause in the mid east.
2.tibetans receive 2 much special treatment from the government,my highschool classmate went to school in my city and leave her profile in tibet,coz tibetan kids have more preferential policies:70points added to their scores in the college entrance exam(with the lowest score in nation,they’d enter the best colleges),let alone the grants and scholarship they received in colleges:nothin about their performance but their race.this makes me fell inferior all the time.its unfair,i know millions of han chinese who are 2 poor to buy a pair of pants.but those tibetans,while recievin our help,never say thanks,and take it for granted.
3.just do watever u guys want,say watever u say,i didnt wanna waste time in here,but like 99%of the young chinese,i support my government on this issue.dont tell me how many monks have been killed.they wouldnt have been if they hadnt killed our ppl.
4.suggest you focus on ur own terrorist problems first.or if u really feel bored,try imagining a FREE TIBET without our government’s help: barren land,millions of ppl who ask for money from UN or UK,and u have to send ur troops there to keep security.i wonder if ur able to do that,just look at wat happened in the mideast.lol
BTW.hope my lil capitalist government didnt piss you guys off,have fun,and i’m not a communist.i’m just average chinese.i dont agree with everythin my government does or did,but on tibetan issue,i’m with it.

March 20, 2008 @ 3:53 am | Comment


Very interesting post. Good image of average Chinese mind

March 20, 2008 @ 4:36 am | Comment


For any lasting peace the Chinese people need to understand the truth, which is: the Tibetans hate us. They want us to get the hell out of their country.

Well, I certainly can’t agree with the theory that *all* Tibetans hate *all* Chinese. But there’s little doubt in my mind that’s certainly the dominant theme in the exile community, and a very significant percentage of the Tibetans in Tibet.

The Communist Party isn’t stupid. This is precisely why it’s very weary about making any sort of compromise on autonomy with the Dalai Lama. Why should Beijing bother when it’s just “a lie”, as you describe it?

So, here’s a concept you have to consider as well. Tibetans who hate Chinese also have to understand that the Chinese hate them right back. Being hated isn’t going to change a single Chinese mind when it comes to Tibet. You can burn down every single Chinese embassy overseas, and it won’t do anything except to cause the Chinese to hate Tibetans more.

If China desired peace above everything else, we’d get out of Tibet. If China desired the affection of Tibetan independence activists, we’d get out of Tibet. However, both of these are low on the list of priorities.

There’s a constant drum-beat of threats coming out of exiled Tibetans, and I have to admit I’m not smart enough to figure it out. If Tibetan independence activists want a war over the question of whether the Chinese should “get out of Tibet”, the Chinese are more than ready. I just can’t figure out why Tibetan independence activists want a war.

Do they really believe that the United States will send in the Marines in to defend Tibet? Do they really believe China isn’t willing to fight the United States, or any other country, over Tibet? Explain this to me. Short of military defeat, China (communist or democratic) is not going to pull out of Tibet.

The Dalai Lama is far wiser than the activists in exile, in more ways than one. He at least understands that the exile community is doing nothing remotely constructive for the cause of Tibet.

The letter by the Chinese chick describes a common view. The Tibetan independence community is going to further fuel Chinese hatred and prejudice towards Tibetans. Frankly, as someone who liked (and has worked for) the idea of a multi-ethnic/multi-cultural China, I think that concept has been dealt a serious body blow over the past week.

(And as far as misspellings go; her English is far better than your Chinese.)

March 20, 2008 @ 4:48 am | Comment

“(And as far as misspellings go; her English is far better than your Chinese.)”

That was funny.

But in question of complexity of both writing systems. I think that Chinese have it much easier with English than foreigners with Chinese writing system.

March 20, 2008 @ 5:15 am | Comment


You and I have no idea as to what your average Han Chinese in Guangdong, Shanghai, or Beijing makes of the revolt in Tibet. Doesn’t the fact that expressing any sympathy towards the seperatist cause is more than a faux pas in mainland China, putting it mildly, mean that it would be rather presumptuous to jump to any conclusions regarding what the “average Chinese” makes of it all?

I’ve seen numerous expressions of sympathy for Tibetan seperatism from Han Chinese in HK, Taiwan and overseas; the fact that they are ethnic Han doesn’t seem to have forced them into any ethnic hivemind. Given the totalitarian nature of mainland China on issues like these, I don’t think we can automatically can conclude that all mainland Han have either.

March 20, 2008 @ 5:21 am | Comment

>”Do they really believe that the United States will send in the Marines in to defend Tibet? Do they really believe China isn’t willing to fight the United States, or any other country, over Tibet? Explain this to me. Short of military defeat, China (communist or democratic) is not going to pull out of Tibet. ”

I think they may be hoping on a USSR-style fracturing of China. Not as farfetched as it sounds, with inflation running at almost 10%. Also, who knows what might happen on the Taiwan front.

March 20, 2008 @ 5:24 am | Comment


I think they may be hoping on a USSR-style fracturing of China.

If they’ve read any history, they’d see that China has already gone through that.

With the end of the Qing dynasty, China did indeed fracture into smaller pieces. But after nearly 40 years, China still reunited into pretty much the same general shape. And even for all of those 40 years, every government which even tried to speak as a “national” government laid a consistent claim on Tibet. Old-timers in Taiwan are still berating the Communists for “letting Mongolia go”.

If they’ve already seen this history.. why do they assume it’ll be different this time?

March 20, 2008 @ 5:40 am | Comment


Hhhhmmm…. Reactivation of the Taiwan independence issue now will put quite a bit or additional pressure.

Could Taiwan independence movement use Tibet crisis for their own cause.

Beijing will find itself suddenly in a two front conflict.

If the crisis is not peacefully solved I consider it possible.

March 20, 2008 @ 5:43 am | Comment


You and I have no idea as to what your average Han Chinese in Guangdong, Shanghai, or Beijing makes of the revolt in Tibet.

I’m mainland Chinese; I read many of the mainland forums; my extended family and friends are all in the mainland, and we talk regularly.

I don’t know what the exact percentages are, but I have no idea what gives you grounds to say that “I have no idea” as to what the average Han Chinese think.

I’ve seen numerous expressions of sympathy for Tibetan seperatism from Han Chinese in HK, Taiwan and overseas; the fact that they are ethnic Han doesn’t seem to have forced them into any ethnic hivemind.

I’d certainly believe it in Taiwan, especially with a significant Han population seeking a similar right of self-determination.

Overseas? In Hong Kong? Show me some links. I’ve seen “expressions” of sympathy, but show me links where discussion actually happen so we get an idea of broader sentiment. In the Hong Kong forums I’ve looked at, the overwhelming popular opinion was also one of anti-Tibetan independence. In the overseas Chinese community, in terms of people who identify with China and care about Chinese politics, the percentages are overwhelmingly in favor of a harsh crackdown against Tibetan independence.

Given the totalitarian nature of mainland China on issues like these, I don’t think we can automatically can conclude that all mainland Han have either.

Do you read Chinese and follow Chinese discussions online? “Totalitarian”? the same BBS’s I’m talking about are often bastions of anti-government, liberal thought. The exact same forums where people were saying “the Communist Party is thoroughly corrupt and can’t be saved” just last week are now filled with anti-Tibetan independence, pro-government posts.

The most popular sentiment even amongst those who oppose the Communist Party looks like this:

The motherland is sacred; the ‘dirty’ Communist Party is evil, but on the question of Tibet, our interests are completely aligned.”

March 20, 2008 @ 5:48 am | Comment

[Somebody other than me post the words “Wei Jingsheng”. That’s all I’m asking for, really.]


Sorry to give the impression I was mocking the girl’s English. It’s actually the opposite. What I meant by “youthful” was that her English is pretty much indistinguishable from many young people’s English across the world, even, probably in the USA. Which is interesting.

I’m interpreting for the Tibetans when I say they hate the Chinese. The Dalai Lama speaks very regularly about opposing the government, not the people, and a Tibetan who spoke to me at the march yesterday used the same language. But see today’s New York Times report (below and on the NYT site).

China is not going to pull out of Tibet in the short term. So the question for the Chinese is, you have all the power, what do you want to do?

1. Try to exterminate and further repress the Tibetans. This would affect not just the Olympics, the issue could blow up for years, strengthen opposition abroad, possibly create a new Cold War with China ringed by enemies and only Russia to count on for support. Of course, perhaps the world will forget about it after a year. Risk worth taking? Hard to say. Perhaps this is the CCP’s gut instinct policy, a great big FU to the world and never mind the risks. Or the dead Tibetans.

2. Talk to the Dalai Lama. Sounds like Wen wants to do this. Perhaps an accomodation where the Tibetans follow the Dalai Lama in pretending they want to be Chinese, just ‘autonomous’, and the CCP goes along by letting the Dalai live in the Potala and install some cultural autonomy. Perhaps the least stupid option, but the least likely for an arrogant dictatorship.

The question is whether the answer will look more like 1. or more like 2. I don’t have any idea how to answer that. I sympathise with your feelings. There is the notion that Tibet is a sinkhole for money and effort which is an investment that is not paying off, and since this crisis risks bleeding not only resources but other avenues of advancement.

As to the Tibetans, obviously they are not suicidal. They are just cornered. Their land is being swamped by people who despise them, and this is their last chance to make a stand before they are destroyed completely and submerged. I’m not sure why you have a hard time understanding this. It seems pretty obvious to me.

They care about their country, and they care about their lives. If you make them choose between the two, then a number of them are willing to walk up to the barrel of the gun, and that’s what we are seeing.

— From the NYT

“�The relationship between Han and Tibetan is irreconcilable,� said Yuan Qinghai, a Lhasa taxi driver, in an interview. �We don�t have a good impression of them, as they are lazy and they hate us, for, as they say, taking away what belongs to them. In their mind showering once or twice in their life is sacred, but to Han it is filthy and unacceptable.
�We believe in working hard and making money to support one�s family, but they might think we�re greedy and have no faith.�
Even among long-term residents in Lhasa, Han Chinese said they had no Tibetan friends and confessed that they tended to avoid interaction with Tibetans as much as possible. �There�s been this hatred for a long time,� said Tang Xuejun, a Han resident of Lhasa for the last 10 years. �Sometimes you would even wonder how we had avoided open confrontation for so many years. This is a hatred that cannot be solved by arresting a few people.� Tibetans, meanwhile, complain that they have been relegated to second-class citizenship, that their culture is being destroyed through forced assimilation, that their religious freedoms have been trampled upon.
A Tibetan university student in her early 20s who declined to give her name explained relations this way. �I really don�t want to talk about politics, saying whether or not Tibet is part of China. The reality is that we are controlled by Chinese, by the Han people. We don�t have any say, so in my family we don�t even talk about it.�
Although the young woman said that her family was relatively well off and that she was receiving a good education, the future was bleak here even for someone like her because the system favors the Han.
�I�m not even sure I can get a job after graduation,� she said. �For rich Tibetans and for officials, they send their children out to Chengdu or Beijing.�

March 20, 2008 @ 5:59 am | Comment

The motherland is sacred; the ‘dirty’ Communist Party is evil, but on the question of Tibet, our interests are completely aligned.”

Just be careful you all are not instrumentalized by the CCP. I remember quite well what happened with the Malvines/Falkland Islands.

Nationalism is a dangerous stuff.

March 20, 2008 @ 6:04 am | Comment


I agree with your point of view.

Option 2 seems the logical one, for me.
But I fear option 1 could be implemented in the end.

Purposefully or accidentally I do not know.

Too many emotions are playing here. Chinese Nationalism, Tibetan long grievances, and sensibilities of foreign countries.
It maybe too late, who knows?

March 20, 2008 @ 6:20 am | Comment


I don’t find what you described difficult to understand at all.

Fear of undesirable change, fear of loss of culture, fear of losing religion, fear of “foreigners” with a different view on everything… these are perfectly understandable fears, and they’re also fears that average Chinese sympathesize with. If you want to talk about propaganda, we’re all educated to believe that culture has value. From my point of view, those are good reasons to call for autonomy.

And I’ll say it again, if Tibetans were parading with the Chinese flag, singing the Chinese national anthem, and holding up copies of the 17-point agreement as a reminder of China’s promise of autonomy… the tone of debate in China would be fundamentally different.

But what you described in your earlier candid moment is a deep-rooted hatred of the Chinese. You can’t ask the Chinese to try to understand this hatred and then work around it… we’re not therapists. We’re people with our own feelings, desires, and thoughts. No one in China is going to be remotely interested in accommodating someone that hates them, in a way that we can’t accept.

March 20, 2008 @ 6:40 am | Comment


As far as your options #1 and #2…

– first, “extermination” of Tibetans suggests physical genocide. I think that’s very unlikely to occur, because it’s simply not necessary.

Tibetans aren’t significant enough to be a threat to China, except the Chinese unfortunate enough to live in Lhasa or other majority Tibetan areas. Assuming China remains patient (and I hope it is), China can simply wait out the protesters. Protest peacefully, and there will be no violence, although organizers will be detained. Protest violently, and everyone gets arrested.

As far as the Olympics and further explosions of violence… the Olympics are nice, but they’re a disposable luxury.

And frankly, threats of further violence doesn’t impress anyone, nor should it. The population difference is far too large. Have you ever sat down and thought about the scale of the difference? Do you realize there are three times as many Chinese in the city of Chengdu alone, as the world-wide population of all Tibetans?

I’ll say it again. The Dalai Lama has clearly thought about the difference in scale, and his conclusions seem perfectly reasonable to me.

– second, as far as negotiating with the Dalai Lama… I agree this is an attractive option, but only if the Dalai Lama can really convince all of us that he can control his followers, and that this accommodation is permanent, and not just an intermediate step towards independence. Otherwise, what possible motivation could we have for negotiation?

It was only a couple of years ago that the Dalai Lama called for Tibetans and Tibetan supporters to stop protesting Chinese leaders when they went overseas. The call basically went ignored. The question of whether he can control his followers is a very reasonable one.

March 20, 2008 @ 6:54 am | Comment


Chinese memory runs further back than the Falklands. We remember what China was like without nationalism. Think about it… the largest political party in Taiwan is still called the “Chinese Nationalist Party”.

March 20, 2008 @ 6:56 am | Comment

>You can’t ask the Chinese to try to understand this hatred and then work around it… we’re not therapists.

Europeans successfully did so, in some cases abandoning control over territories in which Europeans had lived in for hundreds of years. May I draw your attention to Portuguese Africa (settled since 1500) and South Africa (settled since the early 1600’s). The fact that the Africans showed hatred to the settlers did not change the fact that, at the end of the day, the Europeans gave in and returned sovereignty to the local people. Of course, particularly in the latter case, this sovereignty was ceded after a long and bitter guerilla campaign; but nevertheless, my point stands. The international community asked European settlers to give up their presence in southern Africa despite the fact that hundreds of thousands would be forced to leave Africa forever.

March 20, 2008 @ 6:58 am | Comment

I don’t see what makes the case of Tibet fundamentally different.

March 20, 2008 @ 6:59 am | Comment


Well the news reports indicate that very large number of troops are thundering into the Tibetan areas, so we can guess….


My understanding is that the Potala Palace functioned as a dzong, so it would have normally been the administrative centre of the government, open only to those on business, as currently happens with Bhutan’s dzongs. On festive days it would have been opened to the public. Mary Taring records that the 13th Dalai Lama’s body lay in state in the Potala and the public came there to pay their respects.

March 20, 2008 @ 7:10 am | Comment


I don’t know the history of African colonialism well, so I’ll have to rely on you to fill me in.

What drove the decision to leave? Was it nationalistic sentiment from the locals? Was it foreign pressure? Or was domestic sentiment an important consideration?

March 20, 2008 @ 7:16 am | Comment

“Chinese memory runs further back than the
Falklands. ”

Hhhmm…. you are avoiding the question.
I see here a case of strong nationalism that can be instrumentalized through a sensitive issue by the very power your fellow countrymen seem to criticize.
Very similar to what happened in Argentina and its Militar Junta.

March 20, 2008 @ 7:21 am | Comment

It was mainly UN pressure, plus the fact that European and US public opinion were so virulently against European colonialism, particularly in the case of apartheid. Millions of Americans and Europeans voluntarily insisted that their corporations, universities, and governments end their dealings with South Africa. This is why, personally, I find Chinese demands of “what about your own history” invalid. The fact is, Europeans and Americans broadly *DID* demand the end of colonialism by “their own” after World War II.

March 20, 2008 @ 7:21 am | Comment


You asked a question? What was it?


I already admitted my ignorance as to this part of European history, so I’m not embarrassed by taking guesses.

Quickly reading through Wikipedia articles on the discussion of Portugal’s decolonization, it looks like the war was quickly draining Portugal’s limited economic budget. And ultimately, the war was ended courtesy of a coup led by Communist (or at least leftist) elements of the military. There’s not much mention of an international role here.

So, two things strike me:

– first, I’d assume due to (apparent) support for the coup, a significant % of the Portugese population no longer desired the African empire. Is that correct?

– and second, Portugal was engaged in 13 years of war without being able to win…?

On the short-term at least, both of the above very different from the story in China.

I understand that things and sentiments change… the China of today would already be completely unrecognizable to the Chinese of 1968. And I believe it’s very possible that perhaps I won’t recognize the China of 2048, assuming I live that long. Perhaps nationalism will fade as an important concept.

But in the year 2008 at least, there’s not going to be any accommodation for Tibetan independence from the Chinese. When I say that, I’m not referring to the Chinese government, but rather the Chinese people.

March 20, 2008 @ 7:33 am | Comment

>On the short-term at least, both of the above very different from the story in China.

Possibly, but if Tibet becomes even greater of a dran, that may change. Just as the French thought “French Algeria” was 100% part of France, China may too be forced to come to a different conclusion if the cost of keeping it is too high. They can’t go with the genocide option, given the PR disaster it would be.

March 20, 2008 @ 7:48 am | Comment


The cynical part of me asks: China’s already accused (and convicted in the minds of many) of genocide, mass shootings, and an attempt to flood Tibet with Han Chinese. How much worse could the “PR disaster” get if China actually implemented those policies?

As far as Tibet being a drain… the population of Algeria is 30 million, the population of France is 60 million. Looking at Portugal… the population of Portugal is 10 million, and the population of her African colonies is several times that.

That’s a huge, huge difference from the situation in China/Tibet. Tibetans represent 0.3% of the Chinese population! As I mentioned earlier, the city of Chengdu itself has a population 5 times that of the total Tibetan population. I suspect just the civilian police in Sichuan province could win in a shooting war.

If we want to look at analogies, based on population and scale, it seems like the American and Canadian experience with their North American colonies is much more representative.

March 20, 2008 @ 7:58 am | Comment

If, as you say, China has already been accused and convicted in the court of global public opinion, then what IYO *has* stopped China from actually implementing them?

March 20, 2008 @ 8:13 am | Comment

So what it boils down to is that the PRC people want Tibet, and none of the rest of the world is willing to step up to the plate for the Tibetan’s, so it’s the PRC’s. Bottom line. I hope, CCT, that you’re at least willing to admit that the Tibetan nationalist who is proud of what he sees as his nation, is no less objectively justified in his claim to Tibet than the Chinese nationalist, even if he is out numbered 500 to 1.
What I find particularly disgusting about the position that alot of the PRC Chinese seem to be taking, at least on this blog, is that though Tibet is part of China, the Tibetans are definitely not. They seem to just be squatters in their homes, allowed to stay at the sufferance of the real Chinese. Funny thing is, the CCP, in my mind, is taking a far fairer and more reasonable stance on this issue than its subjects.

March 20, 2008 @ 8:18 am | Comment


Regarding the idea of Chinese allegiance, I think the realistic solution would be as I outlined in another thread, for China to renounce the CCP and Communism and embrace Tibetan Buddhism, ideally by bringing back a Buddhist emperor who would be a follower of the Dalai Lama. Then the Tibetans would have no problem declaring allegiance to China. I think this would be a win-win situation for everyone.

An additional benefit that people across the world could celebrate would be greater state patronage for the Shaolin Monastery.

The 17-point agreement is a non-starter and honestly I think you should be ashamed to even mention it. I agree it talks about autonomy, but it was signed at gunpoint, under duress. Nobody makes ‘agreements’ that way. Imagine if Japan demanded action on the 1922 treaty that guarantees their sphere of influence in Manchuria. This sort of nonsense doesn’t fly.

Two other issues:

1. Racism. You say you have worked for a multi-ethnic China. A prerequisite for that is a strong anti-racist policy, otherwise it’s all wishes and hot air. For decades everything said by ordinary Chinese about Tibetans has been so breathtakingly racist that I can’t imagine any non-Han wanting to live in the same state as these people. How can you even think about a successful multi-ethnic state without fixing that *first*? You can’t expect the minorities to take it on faith that it will change — after all they are the ones who suffer because of it.

2. Freedom of speech – are you willing to stand up for the principle that ‘I may not like what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’? This is only about speech, not actions. Are you prepared for a First Amendment that would protect the right of a Tibetan to hold up a Free Tibet poster anywhere in China, as long as he did it peacefully? Because in the context of that freedom you can start a dialogue. In the absence of it you’re just locking people up and shooting them, which doesn’t encourage dialogue.

March 20, 2008 @ 8:33 am | Comment

“Imagine if Japan demanded action on the 1922 treaty that guarantees their sphere of influence in Manchuria.”

Or indeed, imagine if the UK had demanded that HK remain British after 1997 according to treaty rights?

Oh, that’s right, they did, and the Chinese claimed that the treaty was “unequal” and therefore void. Strange how the Chinese are unable to see how the 17-pt. agreement might be considered to have been signed under duress.

March 20, 2008 @ 8:36 am | Comment

“Regarding the idea of Chinese allegiance, I think the realistic solution would be as I outlined in another thread, for China to renounce the CCP and Communism and embrace Tibetan Buddhism”
You think that they can just be told to embrace Tibetan Buddhism, eh?

March 20, 2008 @ 8:46 am | Comment

Just hand power over to a tiny minority for the sake of keeping the country together? That was kind of what happened with the Jin, Yuan, and Qing dynasties wasn’t it?

March 20, 2008 @ 8:49 am | Comment

Hell, better yet, let Tenzin Gyatso *be* the Huang Di, and every reincarnation after him. Then you have a rock solid dynastic succession plan. Except for the Shaolin temple thing, which I imagine they were perceive as being from a rival sect of Buddhism and burn to the ground, its a damn good plan.

March 20, 2008 @ 8:53 am | Comment

And Li Hongzhi could be the Zongli, then you have pretty much everything wrapped up. Except perhaps offering the whole thing as a puppet state to a Republic of China ruled by Lu Xiulian.

March 20, 2008 @ 8:56 am | Comment


Well, we’re talking about commanding the Tibetans to forget their basic sentiment of nationality and become Chinese. Fifty years of possibly the most brutal occupation anywhere on the planet has not accomplished that as this week’s events show. So *assuming* that you are leaving out for now the options of swamping or exterminating the Tibetans (which are separate discussions) — then what are you prepared to offer them to accomplish their allegiance to China?

I just laid out what I think would accomplish that. I’m not saying it’s realistic in the wider context of China’s other problems. I’m just saying that would be one way to accomplish Tibetan integration into China, something that current policies have clearly failed to achieve. If you have a better idea to accomplish the same (again, leaving out the two options above, which I’m not interested in discussing) then put them forward.

An emperor would be way cool. It wouldn’t even have to be a real emperor. Just a constitutional emperor like the Queen, with a parliament behind him, would do. And, as I mentioned, the benefits to Shaolin could potentially be enormous. Just say “Emperor Taizu’s Long Fist”. Haaa!

March 20, 2008 @ 9:00 am | Comment


If, as you say, China has already been accused and convicted in the court of global public opinion, then what IYO *has* stopped China from actually implementing them?

Idealism. Some of Mao Zedong’s legacy lives on in the Communist Party, and he for one consistently railed against the dangers of “Han chauvinism”. The term is very familiar to all Chinese.

So… the vast majority of Chinese still do perceive China as a “family with 56 siblings”, with the Han Chinese as the older brother, but all other minorities equally treasured. This is a fact that should be exploited by Tibetan exiles and those wanting reforms in Tibet, but I believe they simply don’t understand it (or refuse to believe it’s possible).


Is what I said above consistent with widespread racism on a personal level? Of course it is. There are many whites in Western Europe and the United States who would agree those of African descent are equal citizens and deserve equal rights… but remain racist on a personal level.

Rohan goes on to say that racism should be “fixed”. My god, I’d love to hear how! I suspect the world at large would love to know how you “fix” racism.

I’ve never turned on Chinese state television or read a Chinese state newspaper that has in any way encouraged racism. Instead, I spend every Chinese New Years Eve watching Tibetan culture on display… sure, in a somewhat cartoonish and commercialized way, but at least its an attempt to engender public affection.

The same is true of the “Splendid China” exhibits, or the national minority park in Beijing. These are held up for extensive ridicule by Tibetans in exile, mostly because they see it as repeating a political message. It is indeed repeating a political message, but it’s also attempting to increase public awareness of and appreciation for minority culture. Not an easy task in China.

You have an overly optimistic view of the Communist Party’s power. The Communist Party could no more “fix” racism instantly than it could get Chinese drivers to obey traffic laws.

And the truth of the matter is, the riots over the past week have set Chinese perception of Tibetans back 5 decades.

I mentioned before that Xinjiang Uighurs have a difficult time in inland China; many are stereotyped as either pickpockets or terrorists, and they have a hard time getting hotel rooms and catching a cab… a familiar story for those familiar with race relations in the United States. Now, I believe Tibetans will have the same challenges throughout China for the near future.

I’ll write more later, have to run.

March 20, 2008 @ 9:04 am | Comment

I’ve outlined my theory on how the Tibetans might be brought into the Chinese state in previous posts, but I’ll develop it a little more. I think that China should federalise, gradually if necessary. Give greater power to the provinces, allow them to select their own governments in one manner or another. If the Chinese can’t stomach universal suffrage, then allow it to be a House of Lords-esque manner. Let the landed nobles/bourgeoisie have a stake in the system, a material interest in being part of China, and they will do the work for you convincing the peasents/proles. I also think that this would help develop the provinces as they would be able to choose economic policies that best suit the regional challenges that they inevitably understand better than Beijing.
Problem was Mao was reading the wrong parts of the Communist Manifesto.

And I agree that having a constitutional monarch is way cool. It makes Japan that much more hardcore. But its kind of a history/mythology thing so to just set up a figurehead Huang Di would probably give you something more like Emperor Maximillian of Mexico than a Tenno Heika.

March 20, 2008 @ 9:26 am | Comment


Slight misunderstanding. Fixing racism is not about mind control, but about policies. There are still plenty of racists in the US and UK, for example, but the laws are such that a person who is racially abused or racially discriminated against has strong legal protection to sue for damages.

India also has pretty weak anti-racism (or more properly anti-discrimination) laws. For example there have been cases of housing complexes making explicit rules not to rent to Muslims, or landlords in general doing the same; also police systematically harass Kashmiris working in other parts of India. This is one of the many reasons why Kashmir could never be integrated. Same deal, probably, with Tibet.

When you say that this week’s events increased hostility dramatically, that is frankly a sign that the hostility was already there and it’s just being vented. People don’t make 180 degree turns in their mentality like that. Have you read the “Jampa” report on racism in China? I don’t buy that this week really set things back — it just brought them into the open so that you could see them.

March 20, 2008 @ 9:32 am | Comment

In my newly discovered role as the sole Manchu royalist on this blog, I must ask. Henri IV famously said “Paris is worth a Mass” when he converted to Catholicism. So, is Tibet worth, perhaps, the mysterious Chin-hsin, or one of his relatives? Would any of them like to declare their faith in Tibetan Buddhism and apply for the job?

March 20, 2008 @ 10:17 am | Comment

Why Manchu? Why not dig up one of the Ming Zhu family descendents (there should be e bloody nough of them). Perhaps the Tenzin Gyatso has a neice or some other relative that could marry into the Huang Di’s family?

March 20, 2008 @ 10:23 am | Comment

OK, you’re outstripping my Wikipedia-fuelled knowledge of Chinese history here. I’ve found a “Na Lan Ming Zhu” who was a Manchu official, and a “Li Mingzhu” who is a figure skater. I’m assuming you don’t mean the second one.

March 20, 2008 @ 10:28 am | Comment

The Ming ‘Imperial’ family’s name was Zhu, the founder was this dude;

One of his less well thought out policies was that all his descendants would be supported by the state, which was okay at first, but after 200 years and a ton of polygamy, it became quite a burden on the government’s budget. I am thinking that a guy might be able to trace some of the receipts and find a descendant of the Zhu Yuanzhong to revive Da Ming.

March 20, 2008 @ 12:20 pm | Comment


LOL, I’d love to hear how you came to advocate the theory of a return to imperialism. And I’m not laughing out of mockery, I’m really just more surprised and amused.

I have to say, though, that the prospects of a return to the Qing is less than zero. No one in China is remotely interested in this. There is an active political, intellectual community in China, and returning to Imperial rule today is somewhat akin to calling on the United States to reinstate slavery. (But if its any comfort to you, some Chinese mockingly refer to the current Communist government as the “Later Qing” 后清, suggesting that we haven’t moved far from the imperial days.)

As far as fixing racism, I do believe China needs anti-discrimination laws. Now, I do believe businesses have to have the right to hire based on language fluency and education level… but ethnicity shouldn’t be a factor. But keep in mind that China’s legal system was basically a vacuum 20 years ago, as in there were no legal books to speak of.

Keep in mind that we only put a law on *marriage* and private property on the books a few years ago. Anti-racism laws, while significant, will still be a lower priority compared to the *huge* number of legislation and legal reforms that still need to flow through the pipeline.

As far as “Jampa” goes, the movie is before my time. I’d never seen it or heard of it before reading it in that report. I doubt anyone born in the ’70s or later has seen it or heard of it.

Are there stereotypes about Tibetans being dirty and lazy? Yes, frankly, there is. Note though that any sort of hostility was never widespread (until this week)… in China, Tibetans are almost as rare as pandas. I don’t know how many Chinese outside of the southwestern provinces even know one on a personal basis. Other than seeing Tibetan monks, I only know a couple Tibetans on anything approaching a personal basis.

Finally, I really need to get off the computer and get back to work. I’ve put in way too much time, wrapped up in the emotion and stress of the Tibet protests. So, none of you will hear from me frequently for the near future.

But I’ll end this on a positive note. Now that the emotional reaction have largely calmed down, there’s hints in online discussions that we’re starting to reflect on how to do better in Tibet. For example, some are beginning to argue that inviting the Dalai Lama to return is good policy. Others are discussing whether Tibetans have legitimate gripes, and what can be done about it.

I just came from a thread, for example, where the discussion was about the Han dominance in business in Lhasa, and what should be done about it. Someone mentioned (and I certainly wasn’t aware of this) that Hu Jintao had approved a large number of triped taxi licenses exclusively for Tibetans back in the mid ’80s… but only a few years later, they were all either sold or leased to Han Chinese.

I just don’t know how you fix this. We just talked about a government with policies that try to combat racism, but now do we have to figure out ways to “guarantee” only Tibetans can operate stores in old Lhasa?

And how could you *possibly* enforce that? Wouldn’t a Sichuan businessman just pay a Tibetan to act as figurehead, while holding all profits? It seems to me the only solution is education, education, and more education. But that, in turn, comes coupled with claims of cultural genocide.

Regardless, I’m out of solutions and predictions for now. But I for one am pleased to see discussions turn in a positive direction.

March 20, 2008 @ 3:30 pm | Comment


This is really your idea, since you wanted to know how to achieve Tibetan allegiance to China. This is the answer. Anyway, good luck reintegrating into the working world… perhaps a temporary stint in a re-education camp could help ease the transition…

Now that I’ve looked it up on Wikipedia, though, I am slightly puzzled to learn that there is actually a person called Chinsin who is listed as the “current heir to the Aisin Gioro clan”, which is apparently the Manchu royal dynasty, and he was born in 1977.

This is at the very least an interesting sidelight if true and it’s odd there isn’t more information out there. Does anyone know if this person really exists or is a phantom of the web’s imagination? If he exists, is he a bicycle repairman in Chunking or something?

March 20, 2008 @ 7:02 pm | Comment

I’ve never seen it spelt like Chinsin, but I suspect you are talking about Qixin, in Mandarin spelling. He’s a calligrapher of some fame, but far less eminent than the recently deceased Qigong, who is also descendant of the same family, but perhaps a bit further off the heir lineage.

BTW, the thing with Tibetan Buddhism and Shaolin Temple is pure comedy gold. It is so much better for the apparent fact that you weren’t joking about it.

March 21, 2008 @ 10:04 am | Comment

Would I prefer India’s Democracy or China’s Harmony?

The question can be more appropriately framed as: Would I prefer to look upon hapless politicians haggling around on some non-issue while I starve by the Ganges, or would I prefer to look upon brilliant Olympic parades while I chew on my next hot dog in Beijing. I think the answer is simple.

Lens of Reason

March 22, 2008 @ 8:50 pm | Comment

As I said, I think the answer depends very much on who you are, your cultural viewpoint, etc.

One news item that caught my eye was the “Twelve Suggestions” from a group of Chinese intellectuals yesterday:


Perhaps I tend to see what I want to see in the news, but this suggests to me an affirmation of the view that a humane and civilised viewpoint does exist inside China, hidden by the enormous brutality that is expressed by ordinary Chinese and which is probably created by the stress of living and growing up in an enormously brutal regime.

That says that there isn’t really a choice. Democracy whether Indian-style or otherwise will come to China. When it does the policy of repression in Tibet will be unsustainable because it is almost impossible for most people to be schizophrenic (in favour of democracy, freedom and civilised standards in China, and in favour of repression, brutality and totalitarianism in Tibet).

I imagine most people here are not aware of the late Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, but I think he is a good indication of the advantages of living in a free society. He was a Ladakhi, so from a part of the cultural world of Tibet that by historical accident ended up in India. Like the Dalai Lama he was a reincarnation, a trulku. He served as India’s ambassador to Mongolia for ten years and was instrumental in helping many ordinary Mongolians to recover their Buddhist faith which was pretty much obliterated during the repressive decades under Soviet rule.

I’m fairly cynical about Indian democracy, but not about the freedom that is inseparable from it. Cases like Bakula Rinpoche’s are inspiring examples of the relation of democracy to ethnic differences, religion and faith, and personal freedom.

If China were ever able to appoint a reincarnate Buddhist lama as a Chinese ambassador overseas, that would be a very strong step forward, and a sign that China has broken out of its current state of benighted repression.



If you like to think so, go ahead. Good luck to you.

March 23, 2008 @ 4:59 pm | Comment

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