“Patriotic re-education” in Tibet

A once militant Tibetan monk named Norgye stops worrying and learns to love the CCP.

Norgye demonstrated with other monks in 2008 shouting “Tibet is not free!” Now, after some struggle sessions, he admits he was wrong, and says he’s grateful to be taught about the law in China. Classwork completed, lessons learned. He insists he wasn’t tortured or beaten; he simply saw the light.

Norgye spoke of his successful re-education to a group of foreign journalists being led on a government tour of Tibet this week. Is this for real? You decide. (Genuine or not, many of his fellow monks seem less contrite and subdued.)

Then came the journalists’ tour, and the incendiary statements by 30 monks in the Jokhang [a Lhasa temple] who had suddenly burst in on the journalists: “The government is telling lies; it’s all lies,” and, “They killed many people,” the monks said, according to reporting by an Associated Press correspondent on the trip.

Patriotic re-education — hours of classes on the law and Communist thought — was ordered for many monks like Norgye following the March uprising. Monks were told to denounce the Dalai Lama. The authorities emptied rebellious monasteries, and some monks fled to India.

On Tuesday, asked by reporters whether Tibetans have religious freedom, Norgye said, “Yes,” with a quiet voice and bowed head.

The Chinese government forbids all worship of the Dalai Lama, who lives in India. Photos of the Dalai Lama are banned.

Norgye was asked whether there was freedom to worship the Dalai Lama. He replied, “It’s freedom for one person to believe or not to believe.”

Pity the CCP. They try so hard and spend so much money to portray a jolly, peaceful, contented Tibet, and then the serene picture gets smudged by those pesky Tibetan people, all of them no doubt in the service of the jackal and his clique, and probably even the CIA.

Maybe Norgye will be Tibet’s Lei Feng, someone all Tibetans can emulate and learn from as he tells them, head bowed low and his voice a whisper, that Tibet is free, the Chinese government its savior.

Update: Forgot my mandatory disclaimer: I am no Free Tibet bleeding heart and realize how complex the situation there is. I understand that Tibet is a part of China, and that a lot of the 2008 violence was generated by angry monks and other Tibetan demonstrators. I also well understand the West’s dreamy-eyed and utterly false perception of Tibet as a Shangri-La. I always try to see the situation in Tibet from both sides. The CCP has definitely done some wonderful things in Tibet, and nothing hurts it more than its ham-fisted attempts to completely control the perceptions of outsiders and to airbrush away any signs of discontent. They are SO their own worst enemies.

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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: 13 Comments

What a coincidence. I was reading the same article just now. Anyway, yeah, after reading this article it made me more confused on the situation in Tibet. Take for example education. Just wanted to clarify–the Hans and the Tibetans are educated in the language of their choice right? But that everyone must learn Mandarin and English. The situation is very complex. How I wish we could get a straight-answer on this–without any media/nationality bias.

July 1, 2010 @ 12:12 am | Comment

“I understand that Tibet is a part of China …”

In the sense that it was invaded and occupied, yes, in the same sense that Czechoslovakia was invaded and occupied and incorporated in Greater German empire in 1938-39. China’s claims that Tibet has “always been part of China” are risible. China DOES have the right to claim that Tibet has historically been within its sphere of influence, but that’s as far as it goes.

“The CCP has definitely done some wonderful things in Tibet ….”

Wonderful is a strong word. Can you cite some “wonderful” examples … without, that is, sounding like one of those apologists for the British Raj, who were wont to cite the glories of the Anglo-Saxon civilising mission in India?

July 1, 2010 @ 12:12 pm | Comment

Wonderful things – infrastructure and investment. Does that mean they ONLY did wonderful things? No. Hitler did wonderful things, too, like the Autobahn. Not that I’m saying the CCP is like the Nazi Party, but credit has to be given where it’s due. Same with blame. I give China blame and credit when it comes to Tibet. It’s not black and white.

About Tibet being a part of China, I guess it depends who you ask. But again, I’m being pragmatic: Tibet has as much a chance of decoupling from the PRC as Texas does from the USA. I may not like that Texas is now part of the USA and it may not be fair, but I had better face that fact if I want to be grounded in reality.

July 1, 2010 @ 12:18 pm | Comment

As you intimated in your disclaimer, the monks in Tibet are political players. They are the former (authoritarian and brutal) ruling class, with a leader who has been on the CIA payroll, and who are still active agents of destabilization. Calling them monks in this situation tends to confuse this point.

July 1, 2010 @ 12:31 pm | Comment

“Wonderful things – infrastructure and investment.”

First point, who have largely benefited from these, indigenous Tibetans or Han Chinese migrants?

Second point, it is doubtless true that Tibet was no Shangrila in 1950. On the other hand, it was comparable in terms of poverty and exploitation to similar small countries like Bhutan and Nepal at the same time (and no one bothered to “liberate” the inhabitants of these lands).

Third point, in 1950 the standard of living of the average Tibetan peasant was slightly higher than that of the average Han Chinese peasant.

So for me to be convinced of the efficacy of these “wonderful” developments in infrastructure and investment I’d need to be convinced that the average standard of living of indigenous Tibetans today is qualitatively and quantitatively better than that of average Nepalese and Bhutanese. Maybe it is, I just don’t know (but I think I’m going to look into it).

July 1, 2010 @ 1:58 pm | Comment

Sojourner, we’ve had these debates too many times. I’m staking my claim smack in the middle. Many, many Tibetans have definitely benefited from the infrastructure improvement and the end of serfdom. Many if not more have suffered from the harshly repressive nature of the crackdown, and their seething resentment against the Han settlers speaks volumes. China fucked up in many ways big time, but I also think they seriously do want to improve the lives of Tibetans, even if their motivations are selfish (self-preservation, avoiding harmful unrest). In any event, they aren’t leaving, as obnoxious as we think the occupation and Hanification of Tibet may be.

July 1, 2010 @ 2:05 pm | Comment

Maybe you’re right.

And I am by no means an advocate of Tibetan independence because it’s an unrealisable dream. On geo-political grounds I don’t even have much problem with China’s occupation of Tibet (so long as they avoid the spurious historical arguments). Tibet,as I said, was for long periods of time in China’s sphere of influence (though never “part of China”, whatever that means), and it’s understandable that China didn’t want a Russian- or Indian-dominated Tibet on its strategic borders.

Indeed, the Dalai Lama had few issues with the situation until the late 1950s when things started to get nasty. If only the CCP had given Tibet real autonomy from the start, while retaining control over foreign affairs and defence, then China would not now be facing the international opprobium it does over Tibet today.

July 1, 2010 @ 2:15 pm | Comment

Why did you have to ruin a thoughtful post with such a ham-fisted and over-the-top disclaimer? Can’t your disclaimer just say something like: “I understand that Tibet is legally part of China and the situation there is not black and white.”

There are so many things wrong with your disclaimer…

“I understand that Tibet is a part of China.”

Legally, yes – at the present point in time. It hasn’t always been and it may not always be. Just because something IS, doesn’t make it right.

“lot of the 2008 violence was generated by angry monks and other Tibetan demonstrators.”

And why were they angry? Maybe they have cause to be? Being angry doesn’t make you wrong.

“I also well understand the West’s dreamy-eyed and utterly false perception of Tibet as a Shangri-La.”

Your condescension is breathtaking! Anyone who is informed on these issues understands that the situation is complex. Even the Dalai Lama himself says it’s complex and argues for autonomy rather than independence. In reality, it’s the Chinese propaganda of “Tibet is, always has been and always will be part of China” that is simplistic and utterly false.

“The CCP has definitely done some wonderful things in Tibet”
I guess you have to say this because you live in Beijing, but it’s completely untrue. Either you know it’s untrue and it’s said cynically or your completely deluded. (Oh yes, and Hitler made the trains run on time!).

August 9, 2010 @ 1:04 am | Comment

I don’t live in Beijing anymore but even if I did I would include the disclaimer. I believe China has made huge investments in Tibet and would truly like to see the Tibetans happy and peaceful, if only for the CCP’s own self-preservation and reputation. I do not put what the Chinese have done in Tibet on a level with Hitler – absolutely not. There has been zero genocide, and many Tibetans are grateful for what China did, even if more are less than delighted.

This is a third-rail topic and I will not write about it without mentioning how it’s seen through Chinese eyes.

About dreamy-eyed Westerners – trust, me, I know several who’ve taken the bait on the Dalai Lama (whom I respect but do not deify) and truly believe in the notion of a peaceful, happy, serene paradise crushed and brutalized by evil Chinese. As usual with complex issues like this, there’s truth on both sides, and plenty of myths. I believe the dreamy-eyed westerners are a majority, not a fringe, thanks to the superb PR of the Dalai Lama and the incredible stupidity of the CCP’s smear campaign against him, which backfired, predictably.

I condemn the repressive crackdown in 1959 and the ensuing occupation and all the wrongs committed against Tibetans. I also believe Tibet is a part of China, and that for many years the CCP has tried to make up for its excesses, and that they are genuinely bewildered at the refusal of the Tibetan majority to be grateful to them. I also know that the violence in the spring of 2008 was perpetrated by angry Tibetans, justified or not, and unfortunately a myth arose that it was the other way around. I will condemn the CCP in no uncertain terms for many things, and I post all the time on how unfairly they treat the Tibetans. But I also want to keep a clear head and tell both sides of the story. There is no black and white here. Many people’s standard of living in Tibet is far higher today than it ever was, and many appreciate that. Unfortunately, the party’s smothering tactics and obsession with putting out a picture of serenity have ensured ongoing ethnic tension and occasional bursts of violence.

August 9, 2010 @ 1:27 am | Comment

Caitlin
“Legally, yes – at the present point in time. It hasn’t always been and it may not always be. Just because something IS, doesn’t make it right.”

By Tibet, what do you mean? The TAR itself or the rest of Tibet such as Amdo and Kham? Because Amdo and Eastern Kham were annexed by the Manchus in the 1720s, half a century before the 13 colonies declared independence. Before then, they were also more or less comprised of several independent Tibetan kingdoms who were far from being under the control of any central government based in Lhasa. The same goes for “Inner Mongolia”- the demographic situation there is not a result of CCP encouraging mass migration, but the Manchu court encouraging mass migration.

Richard
“not a fringe, thanks to the superb PR of the Dalai Lama and the incredible stupidity of the CCP’s smear campaign against him, which backfired, predictably. ”

I think this is mostly directed at the domestic audience. It hasn’t really backfired so much as accomplish its goal perfectly- their attacks on the Dalai Lama indeed been effective at making some Chinese citizens distrust him. Really it was the Exiles who first started waving the bloody flag, accusing China of brutally murdering millions of Tibetans (which was totally unfounded), claiming they were forcefully sterilized (which was proven false by international NGOs), etc. It’s not so one-sided- and the Exile smear campaign against the CCP has created an even more severe backlash against not only the Exiles but “Tibetophile” CCP officials who were much more moderate and advocated heavily pro-minority policies such as Hu Yaobang. In fact the intrigues by the Exiles and CIA led in part to Hu’s wrongful humiliation and expulsion.

“I condemn the repressive crackdown in 1959 and the ensuing occupation and all the wrongs committed against Tibetans.”

There wasn’t really a repressive crackdown, Richard. A minority of Tibetans started an all out war against the CCP in Tibet and were suppressed. You will have to review your sources too- as many US Cold War accounts of the 1959 rebellion are simply false. It should be noted that many Tibetans were recruited into the PLA and many more Tibetans did not rebel; just as the vast, vast majority of Tibetans did not riot in 2008.

“that they are genuinely bewildered at the refusal of the Tibetan majority to be grateful to them”

I don’t believe the CCP expects “gratitude” from Tibetans, just recognition of their work by those toeing intractable Free Tibet line. It’s the rare internet commentator that thinks minorities should be grateful, which is a bit ignorant.

“I post all the time on how unfairly they treat the Tibetans”

How so? They aren’t treated any worse than any other PRC citizen.

“the party’s smothering tactics and obsession with putting out a picture of serenity have ensured ongoing ethnic tension and occasional bursts of violence.”

2008 was more or less the only major rioting in Tibet in the last 50 years. To put things into perspective, the activity from 1987 onwards cost fewer lives than the LA race riots of 1992; and in India and Central Asia there are many more devastating race riots (such as the recent one between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks that killed hundreds. A religious riot in much-touted democratic India cost 2,000+ lives. Tens of thousands of Sikhs were slaughtered in the days following Operation Blue Star. Muslim extremists regularly mass murder Indian civilians almost on a monthly basis. Chinese Indonesians were slaughtered and raped by the thousands by vicious Indonesian fascists. The list goes on and on and on. This isn’t tu quoque as I’m not justifying anything the CCP does- it just goes to show that the Lhasa Riots aren’t proof of widespread anti-Han sentiment among all Tibetans any more than the 1992 LA riots prove that all American blacks want to kill white people.

With so many ethnic groups speaking different languages and practicing different religions and especially in a developing country you’d expect far, far more ethnic conflict but it doesn’t really materialize.

August 9, 2010 @ 3:20 am | Comment

Ferin, we have beaten this subject to death too many times over the past 8 years and I’m not getting sucked into a debate about the history of the Tibet-China conflict such as whether the crackdown was harsh or not. I actually agree that the spring 2008 riots were poorly reported and poorly understood. But that is in no way giving the CCP a free pass. At its roots, the CCP is at the heart of the conflict.

August 9, 2010 @ 3:26 am | Comment

Sorry, Richard, your bio said you were in Beijing so I assumed that was still current.

The fact is the position of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile is a lot more moderate than the Free Tibet movement. If you look at his position objectively, rather than swallowing the Chinese propaganda against him you’ll see that this is true. They want autonomy, not independence. They don’t want Tibet overrun by a ruling class of Han Chinese and they want cultural and religious freedom. Yet they are realistic about global politics and accept that the links to China will have to continue. Not all Tibetans agree with this but that is the official position of the Dalai Lama and his government.

Tibet before the Chinese invasion was feudal and backward, no question. What’s happened since is worse than that. Tibetans are not free to practise their culture and identity. They are also becoming a minority in their own country/region. It’s a form of cultural genocide. Every year scores of young Tibetans risk their lives to cross the Himalayas on foot and start a new life in Dharamsala. If life were so great for Tibetans in Tibet, that would not be happening.

Furthermore, a lot of the so-called “progress” brought by the Chinese has been at incredible expense to the environment (as it has elsewhere in China). You talk about dreamy-eyed Westerners who see Tibet as a Shangri-La. The fact is that the only Shangri-La reference I know of in recent years is that ridiculous decision by the Chinese to nominate a random village as Shangri-La and then over-develop it for tourism at the expense of the local people.

By the way, I should clarify: I’m really not suggesting that squashing Tibetan culture is equivalent to gassing Jews at Auschwitz. That would be pointless hyperbole. The Hitler reference was simply to make the point that a few good things don’t make up for the general nastiness of a situation.

August 9, 2010 @ 4:18 am | Comment

Richard:
“Ferin, we have beaten this subject to death too many times over the past 8 years and I’m not getting sucked into a debate about the history of the Tibet-China conflict such as whether the crackdown was harsh or not.”

There is one crucial point- it can’t really be said to simply be a Tibet-China conflict. Tibetans themselves were instrumental in all of the various events on the Tibetan plateau, on all sides. There are many Tibetan PLA soldiers, local officials, and Red Guards. The Dalai Lama simply cannot speak for Kham or Amdo Tibetans, or members of certain other sects of Tibetan Buddhism, or many secular Tibetans.

I have to say it’s even polarizing to frame things as a Tibet-China conflict when a lot of it is also Communist vs. Nationalist, Atheist vs. Buddhist conflict. It’s popular in the West to juxtapose pro-Tibet with pro-China, as if you have to “pick a side” in a conflict that has been systematically oversimplified by all parties involved.

Caitlin:
“The fact is the position of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile is a lot more moderate than the Free Tibet movement. If you look at his position objectively, rather than swallowing the Chinese propaganda against him you’ll see that this is true. They want autonomy, not independence”

TGIE only changed their stance within the last 20 years. By then the damage was already done- Hu Yaobang was purged and moderates were discredited directly as a result of US-India-TGIE action. The TGIE even helped spur the Sino-Indian Border Conflicts of 1962. Changing Tibet politics have had far reaching implications in the history of geopolitics and it can’t be said that the Exiles have always been moderates.

“Tibet before the Chinese invasion was feudal and backward, no question. What’s happened since is worse than that. Tibetans are not free to practise their culture and identity. They are also becoming a minority in their own country/region. It’s a form of cultural genocide. Every year scores of young Tibetans risk their lives to cross the Himalayas on foot and start a new life in Dharamsala. If life were so great for Tibetans in Tibet, that would not be happening.”

Point by point:
1) There is no proof that the Tibetans are treated worse than they were before Beijing reasserted control over the TAR
2) Tibetans were not free to fully express their culture or religion before, the Dalai Lama specifically “discourages” the Dorje Shugden sect, and claims of cultural repression by the CCP are unfounded- rather it is market forces and modernization which pose a threat to ALL cultures of the PRC and even to East Asia and the rest of the world at large.
3) Tibetans have a much, much higher total fertility rate than Han Chinese. In fact the Han Chinese have close to the lowest birth rates in the world thanks to a deliberate policy of extreme population reduction, enacted by the central government, on individual Han Chinese. The alleged “flooding” of Tibetan areas is something that was enacted over 300 years ago and is not a recent phenomenon that can be blamed on the CCP. Communist Cadres in Tibet are “revolving door” immigrants who stay for a stint and then leave. Side note, many were recalled by Hu Yaobang but he was purged. Also, “cultural genocide” is quoting the DL verbatim- just so you know.
4) Define scores. Dharamsala has a population of a few hundred thousand, accumulated over decades. This is not a huge population. Another thing to note is that Dharamsala derives much of its population from Tibetan regions annexed by India- many of them not even Tibetan speakers to begin with, which the Dalai Lama unilaterally relinquished as a part of “Greater Tibet”. This is a major concession and a huge blow to all of the Tibetan peoples of the world.

“Furthermore, a lot of the so-called “progress” brought by the Chinese has been at incredible expense to the environment (as it has elsewhere in China).”

You mean deforestation and overgrazing? Because the environment in Tibet is heavily, heavily protected. Deforestation and overgrazing are the result of the natural expansion of the Tibetan population. So you can blame the Chinese government for this, because their favorable policies increased Tibetan living standards to the point where their population, given its traditional lifestyle, has begun to stress the local environment. Only technology can help here.

August 9, 2010 @ 4:59 am | Comment

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