Self-immolating Tibetans

I was delighted to see that longtime commenter Kevin Carrico has translated into English Tsering Woeser’s book Tibet on Fire: Self-Immolations Against Chinese Rule, and a generous sample has been published in the NY Review of Books online. The article helped me understand why these Tibetans light themselves on fire and what they are hoping to achieve. It comes down to politics.

In my interviews with international media on the topic of self-immolation, I have always tried to emphasize one area of frequent misunderstanding: self-immolation is not suicide, and it is not a gesture of despair. Rather, it is sacrifice for a greater cause, and an attempt to press for change, as can be seen in these two peaks in self-immolation. Such an act is not to be judged by the precepts of Buddhism: it can only be judged by its political results. Each and every one of these roaring flames on the Tibetan plateau has been ignited by ethnic oppression. Each is a torch casting light on a land trapped in darkness. These names are a continuation of the protests of 2008 and a continuation of the monks’ decision that March: “We must stand up!”

Tibet is always a tricky topic to blog about because it is so not black and white. It’s important to understand how the majority of Chinese see Tibet and how they wonder why Tibet would recoil from its supposed benefactors. The Han have built schools and roads and hospitals, ended serfdom and raised the standard of living for thousands of Tibetans. Why then do so many Tibetans see the Chinese as oppressors bent on snuffing out their culture, even their language? The reality of life in Tibet is far different from that imagined by so many Chinese people. Maybe the Tibetans really were “liberated,” but many of them ask, “Liberated by whom? Liberated from what?” This fine translation sums up their despair.

After the 2008 protests, a “patriotic education” program, forcing monks to denounce the Dalai Lama openly, was intensified and expanded beyond Lhasa to cover every monastery across Tibet. Outside of the temples, the people of Tibet face regular searches of their residences: images of the Dalai Lama are confiscated from their homes, and there have even been cases of believers being imprisoned simply for having a photograph of His Holiness.

Second, the ecosystem of the Tibetan Plateau is being systematically destroyed. The state has forced thousands to leave behind the sheep, grasslands, and traditions of horseback riding with which they have practiced for millennia to move to the edges of towns, where they remain tied to one place. In their wake, a sea of Han workers has arrived from across the country armed with blueprints, bulldozers, and dynamite. They have immediately gone to work on the empty grasslands and rivers, mining copper, gold, and silver, building dams, and polluting our water supply and that of Asia as a whole….

So how should we feel about Tibet? As I said, it is a very tricky subject, and I have always exercised a good deal of caution while writing about it. I have never advocated that Tibet be made an independent nation and I have criticized articles in the media that I see as biased against Tibet, only offering the point of view of the Free Tibet crowd, while there is more to the story than that. On the other hand, I’ve never congratulated the CCP for generously helping Tibet end serfdom and get on its feet. That, too, is simplistic.

Pieces like this remind me of just how harsh China treats Tibetans, to the point where more than 140 of them have chosen self-immolation since 2008. Like under apartheid, Tibetans are second-class citizens to the Han Chinese, and typically, the CCP responds to unrest only by making the oppression worse, to the point of not even allowing Tibetans to make photocopies, lest they make and distribute copies of anti-government literature. I want to be fair in my blogging about Tibet, but no matter how much I strive to remain unbiased, the stubborn facts remain: Something is terribly wrong, and the Chinese government bears direct blame for treating an entire class of its people as second-class citizens and worse.

Please read the entire excerpt. It is obviously told from the point of view of a supporter of the Dalai Lama, but it sheds important light on the steadily tightening of the screws on the Tibetan people and offers great insights into what is motivating these people to make the ultimate sacrifice for their ideals and setting themselves on fire. Congratulations to Kevin for this fine translation.


The asphyxiation of Xinjiang’s Muslims

Xinjiang separatists who practice terrorism exist, as we saw in the horrific knife attack in Kunming in 2014. Does that justify the widespread suppression of all Muslims in Xinjiang and other parts of western China? China seems determined to radicalize its Uighur population, all under the rubric of state security. How far can China go as it tries to impose its will on Xinjiang Muslims, who feel they are under siege as Han Chinese settlers continue to “colonize” the province? It looks like they are willing to go pretty far.

Families sundered by a wave of detentions. Mosques barred from broadcasting the call to prayer. Restrictions on the movements of laborers that have wreaked havoc on local agriculture. And a battery of ever more intrusive ways to monitor the communications of citizens for possible threats to public security.

A recent 10-day journey across the Xinjiang region in the far west of China revealed a society seething with anger and trepidation as the government, alarmed by a slow-boil insurgency that has claimed hundreds of lives, has introduced unprecedented measures aimed at shaping the behavior and beliefs of China’s 10 million Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority that considers this region its homeland.

Outrageous restrictions are being imposed on Uighurs in Xinjiang, as the article delineates, and this iron-fisted approach only serves to exacerbate tensions between the Han and the Muslims. Read the article to see just how extreme these restrictions are. Imagine bein know that if I were a Uighur in Xinjiang I would resist with every fiber of my being.


Night and Fog in Hong Kong

In 1941 Hitler instituted a program referred to as Nacht und Nebel — “Night and Fog.” Put simply, it called for dissidents and enemies of the state to be disappeared without a trace, with no notice to their families. They were simply captured and killed. This policy was implemented to instill fear in potential “enemies” and partisans in conquered territory.

China is not Nazi Germany, of course, but the recent articles about Hong Kong booksellers who have disappeared brings the notion of Night and Fog to mind. No one knows where these booksellers have gone, and that’s probably the point: their vanishing is meant to instill fear in others like them, who have sold books critical of the CCP. Bookseller Lee Bo is the latest of five disappearances.

Albert Ho, a pro-democracy lawmaker, told CNN that he believed that Lee Bo, 65, a major shareholder in Causeway Bay Books, had been taken across the border to China against his will.

“It’s a forced disappearance. All those who have disappeared are related to the Causeway Bay bookshop and this bookshop was famous, not only for the sale, but also for the publication and circulation of a series of sensitive books,” said Ho.

Ho said that the publishing house had been planning on publishing a book about the “love affairs” of China’s President Xi Jinping during his time working “in the provinces.”

Lee was reported missing to police Friday. Swedish national Gui Minhai, the owner of the publishing house Mighty Current that owns the bookstore, disappeared while on holiday in Thailand, the South China Morning Post reported.

Maybe the five victims will reappear and get back to their work. But for now, this is a truly alarming story. As Jack Ma takes over the South China Morning Post and as political “enemies” disappear in Hong Kong, one must wonder if One Country, Two Systems is working. I see it as being slowly chipped away, and I’m afraid similar clampdowns on those who have the temerity to stand up to the mainland government will only increase, all a part of Xi Jinping’s ruthless campaign to control what people say and think about the CCP. I hope I’m wrong.


The scourge of white “China experts”

[Update – someone pointed out that this article is a year old. It was posted today on my FB timeline so I thought it was new. Sorry about that – still a funny read.]

This is too rich to pass by. Apparently foreign “China experts” are part of a vast conspiracy to take over the country. Written by a German “cultural critic,” it’s by far the most bizarre thing I’ve seen in recent weeks, the Republican candidates notwithstanding. Here’s a sample:

There is a cult of Western evangelists and self-righteous crusaders who are determined to dislodge non-Western nations and usurp their governments.

In China they act as if above the law. That’s because they see the Chinese government as corrupt, non-elected, and communist, and thus illegitimate. So why care about what it says or stands for? Moreover, these evangelists believe Westerners can do whatever they want in China because America and the entire Western propaganda apparatus will bail them out should trouble arise.

These so-called China experts are now a political force in direct opposition to the Communist Party. They form clusters and networks, with a strong hierarchy and code of ethics: They reward their Twitter followers and lickspittles and praise each other’s work, while policing social media and punishing “traitors” or “China apologists”.

This could have been written by a certain marketing shyster executive in Shanghai but it’s too nutty even for him. And that excerpt is just for starters. Who knew that these “China experts” would poison the entire country?

Taking part in the Western mission to civilize the East is highly spiritually rewarding. And what is political destabilization and social unrest but a sweet revenge for China’s disregard for Western hegemony. Favorite targets are: corrupt officials, suppressed minorities, Han chauvinism and misogyny, demonstrations, currency manipulation, and censorship. It makes China experts feel good about themselves. They feel like social justice warriors. The problem: this is not their country, and their negativity is poisoning everything.

There’s lots more there, if you are looking for a good laugh. He even mentions the periodicals these white China experts write for to spew lies and hurt China. One of the crazier pieces about China in recent memory, bordering on self-parody. Please read the whole thing, for entertainment’s sake.