Tibet, one big bundle of joy

From today’s Global Times.

The country’s Tibetan-populated regions are in a party mood as the Tibetan New Year, or Losar, falls today, striking a stark contrast with the call by the “Tibetan government in exile” to cancel celebrations.

Decorations decked Lhasa’s main streets, and local people were busy with last-minute preparations for their most important festival of the year.

Yonten, the head of publicity and education with Drepung Monastery on the outskirts of Lhasa, told the Global Times that families have cleaned up the buildings, prepared heaps of food and purchased new Tibetan garments as the Tibetan Year of the Water Dragon drew near.

“Markets in the city were crowded Tuesday with shoppers snapping up fruits, beverages and other goods for the holiday. We will get up before sunrise tomorrow morning in brand new clothes,” Yonten said.

Take a look at the photo, too. China’s minorities always wear such bright, colorful costumes.

This is not a post about Tibet per se but about how the Chinese media sugarcoats stories about it to the point of making these stories self-parodying and downright embarrassing. (This old post is my favorite example.)

About Tibet, let me just say I understand the Tibetan and the Chinese points of view. About who is right and wrong, we can leave that for another discussion, as it has been over-discussed already. My sole point here is how the Chinese government portrays Tibet in the media. Do they truly believe anyone fails to see it as rather desperate propaganda?


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: 156 Comments

To 145:
Hey look, you wrote an original sentence. Well done!

Your are correct, I used Gini incorrectly previously. But I must thank you again for bringing forth the data to support my assertion that a growing income gap in China must eventually result in a growing wealth gap, and I again enjoy the irony that you did so thinking it would support yours. That also was well done.

Your #143 is actually not bad. Of course, independence is logistically possible. And of course, independence is politically impossible. And that might explain why people aren’t talking about independence. They’re only talking about autonomy in more than name alone. And that doesn’t involve “Voluntarily giving up territory”, which seems to be the only position you can conceptualize on the subject.

February 29, 2012 @ 3:32 pm | Comment


I don’t think autonomy is really much more politically possible than independence. I think the government knows that once the genie is out of the bottle, they won’t really be able to control where it goes; therefore, they can never loosen their grip even a little. I do think there is an alternative in the form of some kind of closely-watched semi-democratic autonomy, but it would be risky.

February 29, 2012 @ 9:09 pm | Comment

The Chinese state in its current form is brutal, genocidal and totalitarian towards Tibetans. It has been since 1959 and it has not changed yet. Only the collapse of the Chinese state in its current form holds out any hope of any kind. Tibetans and well wishers should work towards that end.

February 29, 2012 @ 10:23 pm | Comment


Being as our enemies are consummate liars and distorters of the truth, let’s we go for a high standard of accuracy. China in Tibet: Brutal? Yes. Totalitarian? Yes. Genocidal? Not really. I don’t like the watering-down of that word.

The government has had 53 years to kill all the Tibetans, and there are an awful lot of Tibetans left. The demographic shift in Tibet is not a fait accompli yet and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be accomplished in the immediate future. This is a good thing – it means a free Tibet can be won without ethnic cleansing (as opposed to, say, Greek revanchism about Constantinople – there are currently more Turks living in the city than there are Greeks in the whole world). I think it’s probably true what they say that Tibetans’ average life expectancy has increased (I don’t necessarily trust official figures on how much it has increased, though). So, genocide doesn’t seem like the right word.

It’s interesting to look at the reasons why China has chosen brutal but not genocidal policies in Tibet. For one thing, there is the difficulty of implementing a practical policy which is contrary to the ostensible goals of the organization: it’s harder to give clear instructions to your subordinates. The Chinese Communists had a position in favor of ethnic self-determination going back to before they were in power, and it’s somewhat awkward to switch that to racial supremacy now. It’s not an insurmountable problem, though, since they have gone against Communist ideology in various other ways. An important thing to bear in mind is that Chinese policymaking has not been in the hands of one mastermind for a long time; instead, it’s done by committees and different levels of government interacting, which tends to discourage bold moves for good or ill.

Back in the 1950s, the PRC’s position was still somewhat unsteady and they were trying to avoid getting pulled into a major war with Tibet, so they attempted to coöpt the Tibetan élite instead. This created some inertia behind at least pretending to try to get along. After the revolt and the war (followed by the mulching of the Panchen clique) ended the élite collaboration strategy, they went straight into the Cultural Revolution. I think the Chinese leadership at the time overestimated how readily Tibetans would give up their identity and be assimilated as loyal Chinese subjects. They didn’t they had to kill the people to kill Tibet. They were reportedly very surprised at the emotional reaction of the Tibetan public to the Tibetan fact-finding missions in the early 80s (Chinese leaders apparently really believed that the public reaction would be anger and they were afraid of anti-exile riots!) Nowadays, there are probably limits to how much international PR damage the Chinese government is willing to put up with over Tibet; they’ll take a lot opprobrium and ignore it, but gas chambers might be a bridge too far. It’s worth noting that, in international law, genocide is often seen as a sufficient cause to warrant secession (as in the case of Kosovo) whereas simply enforcing objectionable laws is not. More to the point, what they’ve been doing in Tibet basically works; major political change there looks like it’s as far away as ever. They aren’t going to destablize it now with a big shift toward mass murder. I think they are still overly-optimistic about their long-term prospects. I think it will take hundreds of years to crush the Tibetan spirit of resistance (just as the English spent hundreds of years ruling Ireland and trying to get the Irish to like it, “the beatings will continue until morale increases”-style. The Irish didn’t stop wanting to be free even after they gave up their own language. Maybe some day there will be an independent Tibet where everybody speaks Chinese.)

March 1, 2012 @ 1:08 am | Comment

I do agree that the collapse of the Chinese state is Tibet’s only hope in the foreseeable future. Hopefully, the collapse would be followed swiftly by a new, stable, more liberal government. Actually, the ideal result for Tibet would be a partial collapse leading to a period of uncertainty and paralysis in China for a few months, with nobody totally sure who’s in charge, but without much actual violence. This would create a window of opportunity for an uprising in Tibet (and, presumably, in Xinjiang, too). However, any more liberal government would be very good news for Tibet. Liu Xiaobo for president!

March 1, 2012 @ 1:37 am | Comment

This thread has gone on long enough. If you need to keep talking about Tibet please use the thread above.

March 1, 2012 @ 1:59 am | Comment

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