sábado, abril 12, 2008

Things / Coisas ... &etcTibetera

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Up, Down, Thread Ahead: polemic, Thread Back: Easter Sunday.

We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are. (Anais Nin)

Não vemos as coisas como elas são, as vemos como nós somos. or possibly (not sure on this yet) Não vemos as coisas como elas são, as vemos como nós estamos.

(Anais Nin, photo called 'Stripes' by Andreas Anderson, and Henry Miller)

Or more like (I would say) as we imagine ourselves to be.

I had gotten as far in my own thinking on it to recognize that the Han Chinese immigrating to Tibet are clashing with Tibetans on cultural & social & commercial issues beyond any repression. The NYT article below takes this much deeper ... how we imagine ourselves to be ... And the 2nd & 3rd articles below take it into the realm of (murky) history and on towards "the facts."

1. China’s Loyal Youth, Matthew Forney.
2. Don’t Know Much About Tibetan History, Elliot Sperling.
3. Some Considerations on the Tibet Issue, Elliot Sperling.

China’s Loyal Youth, Matthew Forney, April 13, 2008.

Many sympathetic Westerners view Chinese society along the lines of what they saw in the waning days of the Soviet Union: a repressive government backed by old hard-liners losing its grip to a new generation of well-educated, liberal-leaning sophisticates. As pleasant as this outlook may be, it’s naïve. Educated young Chinese, far from being embarrassed or upset by their government’s human-rights record, rank among the most patriotic, establishment-supporting people you’ll meet.

As is clear to anyone who lives here, most young ethnic Chinese strongly support their government’s suppression of the recent Tibetan uprising. One Chinese friend who has a degree from a European university described the conflict to me as “a clash between the commercial world and an old aboriginal society.” She even praised her government for treating Tibetans better than New World settlers treated Native Americans.

It’s a rare person in China who considers the desires of the Tibetans themselves. “Young Chinese have no sympathy for Tibet,” a Beijing human-rights lawyer named Teng Biao told me. Mr. Teng — a Han Chinese who has offered to defend Tibetan monks caught up in police dragnets — feels very alone these days. Most people in their 20s, he says, “believe the Dalai Lama is trying to split China.”

Educated young people are usually the best positioned in society to bridge cultures, so it’s important to examine the thinking of those in China. The most striking thing is that, almost without exception, they feel rightfully proud of their country’s accomplishments in the three decades since economic reforms began. And their pride and patriotism often find expression in an unquestioning support of their government, especially regarding Tibet.

The most obvious explanation for this is the education system, which can accurately be described as indoctrination. Textbooks dwell on China’s humiliations at the hands of foreign powers in the 19th century as if they took place yesterday, yet skim over the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and ’70s as if it were ancient history. Students learn the neat calculation that Chairman Mao’s tyranny was “30 percent wrong,” then the subject is declared closed. The uprising in Tibet in the late 1950s, and the invasion that quashed it, are discussed just long enough to lay blame on the “Dalai clique,” a pejorative reference to the circle of advisers around Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Then there’s life experience — or the lack of it — that might otherwise help young Chinese to gain a perspective outside the government’s viewpoint. Young urban Chinese study hard and that’s pretty much it. Volunteer work, sports, church groups, debate teams, musical skills and other extracurricular activities don’t factor into college admission, so few participate. And the government’s control of society means there aren’t many non-state-run groups to join anyway. Even the most basic American introduction to real life — the summer job — rarely exists for urban students in China.

Recent Chinese college graduates are an optimistic group. And why not? The economy has grown at a double-digit rate for as long as they can remember. Those who speak English are guaranteed good jobs. Their families own homes. They’ll soon own one themselves, and probably a car too. A cellphone, an iPod, holidays — no problem. Small wonder the Pew Research Center in Washington described the Chinese in 2005 as “world leaders in optimism.”

As for political repression, few young Chinese experience it. Most are too young to remember the Tiananmen massacre of 1989 and probably nobody has told them stories. China doesn’t feel like a police state, and the people young Chinese read about who do suffer injustices tend to be poor — those who lost homes to government-linked property developers without fair compensation or whose crops failed when state-supported factories polluted their fields.

Educated young Chinese are therefore the biggest beneficiaries of policies that have brought China more peace and prosperity than at any time in the past thousand years. They can’t imagine why Tibetans would turn up their noses at rising incomes and the promise of a more prosperous future. The loss of a homeland just doesn’t compute as a valid concern.

Of course, the nationalism of young Chinese may soften over time. As college graduates enter the work force and experience their country’s corruption and inefficiency, they often grow more critical. It is received wisdom in China that people in their 40s are the most willing to challenge their government, and the Tibet crisis bears out that observation. Of the 29 ethnic-Chinese intellectuals who last month signed a widely publicized petition urging the government to show restraint in the crackdown, not one was under 30.

Barring major changes in China’s education system or economy, Westerners are not going to find allies among the vast majority of Chinese on key issues like Tibet, Darfur and the environment for some time. If the debate over Tibet turns this summer’s contests in Beijing into the Human Rights Games, as seems inevitable, Western ticket-holders expecting to find Chinese angry at their government will instead find Chinese angry at them.

Don’t Know Much About Tibetan History, Elliot Sperling, April 13, 2008.

For many Tibetans, the case for the historical independence of their land is unequivocal. They assert that Tibet has always been and by rights now ought to be an independent country. China’s assertions are equally unequivocal: Tibet became a part of China during Mongol rule and its status as a part of China has never changed. Both of these assertions are at odds with Tibet’s history.

The Tibetan view holds that Tibet was never subject to foreign rule after it emerged in the mid-seventh century as a dynamic power holding sway over an Inner Asian empire. These Tibetans say the appearance of subjugation to the Mongol rulers of the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th and 14th centuries, and to the Manchu rulers of China’s Qing Dynasty from the 18th century until the 20th century, is due to a modern, largely Western misunderstanding of the personal relations among the Yuan and Qing emperors and the pre-eminent lamas of Tibet. In this view, the lamas simply served as spiritual mentors to the emperors, with no compromise of Tibet’s independent status.

In China’s view, the Western misunderstandings are about the nature of China: Western critics don’t understand that China has a history of thousands of years as a unified multinational state; all of its nationalities are Chinese. The Mongols, who entered China as conquerers, are claimed as Chinese, and their subjugation of Tibet is claimed as a Chinese subjugation.

Here are the facts. The claim that Tibet entertained only personal relations with China at the leadership level is easily rebutted. Administrative records and dynastic histories outline the governing structures of Mongol and Manchu rule. These make it clear that Tibet was subject to rules, laws and decisions made by the Yuan and Qing rulers. Tibet was not independent during these two periods. One of the Tibetan cabinet ministers summoned to Beijing at the end of the 18th century describes himself unambiguously in his memoirs as a subject of the Manchu emperor.

But although Tibet did submit to the Mongol and Manchu Empires, neither attached Tibet to China. The same documentary record that shows Tibetan subjugation to the Mongols and Manchus also shows that China’s intervening Ming Dynasty (which ruled from 1368 to 1644) had no control over Tibet. This is problematic, given China’s insistence that Chinese sovereignty was exercised in an unbroken line from the 13th century onward.

The idea that Tibet became part of China in the 13th century is a very recent construction. In the early part of the 20th century, Chinese writers generally dated the annexation of Tibet to the 18th century. They described Tibet’s status under the Qing with a term that designates a “feudal dependency,” not an integral part of a country. And that’s because Tibet was ruled as such, within the empires of the Mongols and the Manchus. When the Qing dynasty collapsed in 1911, Tibet became independent once more.

From 1912 until the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, no Chinese government exercised control over what is today China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. The Dalai Lama’s government alone ruled the land until 1951.

Marxist China adopted the linguistic sleight of hand that asserts it has always been a unitary multinational country, not the hub of empires. There is now firm insistence that “Han,” actually one of several ethnonyms for “Chinese,” refers to only one of the Chinese nationalities. This was a conscious decision of those who constructed 20th-century Chinese identity. (It stands in contrast to the Russian decision to use a political term, “Soviet,” for the peoples of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.)

There is something less to the arguments of both sides, but the argument on the Chinese side is weaker. Tibet was not “Chinese” until Mao Zedong’s armies marched in and made it so.

Some Considerations on the Tibet Issue, Elliot Sperling, June 10, 2002.

Some Considerations on the Tibet Issue: Statement by Elliot Sperling, Associate Professor of Tibetan Studies and Chair, Department of Central Eurasian Studies, Indiana University, Congressional-Executive Commission on China, June 10, 2002.

I am grateful to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China for affording me this opportunity to appear before you. Over the course of many years I have been engaged in the study of Tibet's history and Tibet's relations with China, both historical and contemporary. I am presently the chair of the Department of Central Eurasian Studies at Indiana University and I have served as a member of the Secretary of State's Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad (1996-1999).

The historical perceptions that underlie modern Chinese policies toward Tibet are relatively clear: it is the position of the People's Republic of China that Tibet became an integral part of China in the 13th century; that this sovereignty over Tibet was claimed by all subsequent dynastic rulers; and that inasmuch as China has consistently been a multi-national state, the fact that two of the three dynasties involved in this rule were established by Mongols and Manchus has no bearing on the question of Chinese sovereignty. With the collapse in 1911 of the last imperial dynasty, the Qing dynasty of Manchu rulers, Chinese claims were taken up by the Republic of China and in 1949 by the PRC, which was able to fully implement them. In May, 1951, following military clashes that left Tibet with no real defense, the central government of China concluded an "Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet" with the government of the Dalai Lama.

This account of Tibet's history, an emotional and nationalistic perception of Tibet as a centuries-old "integral part of China," is used to introduce almost all official Chinese polemics and arguments about Tibet and its history, ancient and modern and underpins China's assertions about its place in Tibet. Suffice it to say, outside the PRC, China's claim to continual sovereignty over Tibet from the 13th century on are often disputed; and the existence of a de facto independent Tibetan government under the Dalai Lama prior to 1951 is often adduced to contradict that claim. Since the establishment of the PRC the emotional element inherent in China's claim has been significantly nourished by the ideological imperatives inherent in the writings of Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao. The view derived from their ideas holds Tibet's integration into China to be part of the inevitable workings of History, as nations and peoples inexorably move together. This is, of course. an idea that is now rarely, if ever, overtly invoked or even seriously considered. It is sustained by inertia as much as anything else and as such has served to solidify a dogmatic attitude towards Tibet. None of this is meant to deny that Tibet also has a marked strategic significance for the PRC. It occupies a sensitive border area and thus, out of concern for stability (including stability in other areas of the PRC that are potentially restive), the Chinese government has clearly felt a need to integrate it as closely as possible with the rest of the country. To that end Chinese migration into the area is significant in the development of an economy-albeit a Chinese-dominated one-that binds Tibet ever closer to China. Be that as it may, in stating its case China has never based its claim to sovereignty over Tibet on military or security concerns. It has been based on the historical argument.

The ideological considerations that I have described have exerted an influence on the situation that is sometimes poorly perceived, particularly when proposals for bridging the positions of the Chinese government and the Tibetan government-in-exile are considered. On several occasions the latter has put forward propositions for a special status or condition for Tibetan areas within the PRC on the basis of the distinctive nationality of Tibetans. These have been rejected for reasons that can only be understood from an ideological perspective. For China the great cultural and national differences between Chinese and Tibetans cannot be a basis for special treatment within the PRC, since these distinctions are in theory defined as superficial, unlike the profound differences that China's ideological theorists recognize between the social and economic systems in the PRC proper and Hong Kong (or between the systems in the PRC and on Taiwan, for that matter). Not surprisingly, the PRC rejects such propositions (including proposals to lump all Tibetans in the PRC into one large, Tibetan autonomous unit) since they are grounded in national concerns rather than in concern about differences in social and economic development. In essence then, the Tibetan question is settled as far as the PRC is concerned. China would like to bring in amenable exile elements but does not consider this essential and will do so only on its own terms. The perception that the PRC has been unforthcoming in offering creative solutions to the impasse that has developed between it and the Dalai Lama's government in exile is largely rooted in this stance.

But for Tibetans opposed to Chinese rule the Tibet issue remains a nationalist issue. This fact has been elided, by both the U.S. government and the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile. For the U.S. government, which has never recognized Tibet's independence, support for Tibet is largely limited to political and human rights, and cultural issues, which are not the crux of what Tibetan nationalist agitation is aiming at. The Dalai Lama, through the Tibetan government-in-exile, has willingly discarded a policy of seeking independence for Tibet in hopes of reaching an accomodation with China that would allow Tibet internal autonomy and preserve Tibetan culture. These approaches are problematic, but both have been tied to calls for direct negotiations between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government.

As concerns the position of the United States, there has been a certain myopia inherent in its perception. To wit, hoping that improved political and material circumstances will alleviate Tibetan discontent ignores a well-known dynamic. When a highly authoritarian state begins to liberalize it is then that dissent spills over; we've seen this in many situations (the lack of understanding of this process is no doubt why so many Americans were perplexed about Gorbachev's lack of popularity in the waning days of the USSR). As conditions improved in Tibet, during the early part of Deng Xioaping's liberalizing break from the Maoist past, we saw more, not less, discontent, because at heart the core of the issue in Tibet is one of Tibetan national aspirations, not material conditions.

The preservation of Tibetan culture as a U.S. foreign policy goal also presents some problems. Tibetan culture, like any other, is dynamic. Calling for its "preservation" automatically brings forth the need for it to be defined, and this in turn leads to a stuffed-and-mounted item fit for a museum. In fact, for most people calling for the "preservation" of Tibetan culture, that culture is largely equated with clerical and monastic life, or with what might be termed folk culture. Tibetan culture does not need to be frozen in time, but Tibetan cultural life needs to be protected from measures that repress literary and artistic expression. In Tibet today secular writers and artists-and they do exist-working with modern forms, are every bit a part of the Tibetan cultural scene.

The focus on bringing China into negotiations with the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile has also been mired in misperceptions. For its part the Tibetan government-in-exile has often acted as if the sole obstacle to talks was China's failure to understand that the Dalai Lama did not advocate Tibetan independence. To that end, the government-in-exile would often urge diplomats and leaders from the U.S. and other countries to communicate to China that the Dalai Lama sincerely sought a solution that would leave Tibet within the PRC. However, with the simple goal of buying time, China has often decried the manner in which the Dalai Lama rejected independence, demanding certain other concessions (e.g., recognition of China's sovereignty over Taiwan), or displays of greater sincerity, etc., none of which have been sufficient to meet with Chinese approval. As a result, the Dalai Lama has tried to comply and has, as a result, become a significant actor in a strategy of delegitimizing support for Tibetan independence. This has not made negotiations imminent by any means, but it has undermined the position of Tibetan activists in exile and inside Tibet agitating for Tibetan independence.

What has become clear (even, of late, to members of the government-in-exile) in all this, is the fact that China's strategy is to look towards a resolution of the Tibet issue via the death of the Dalai Lama. Hence the tactic of buying time, which brings us to the ongoing controversy over the Panchen Lama, the incarnate hierarch generally considered second to the Dalai Lama within the Dge-lugs-pa sect of Tibetan Buddhism (the sect of the Dalai Lamas). Chinese moves here have been quite cynical: they have involved the Communist-led government of an officially atheistic country in the mission to discover the true reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, who, in turn, would normally recognize and enthrone the next Dalai Lama. What this clearly implies, of course, is that the next Dalai Lama will be chosen, groomed and educated in a manner according with PRC needs and PRC control. The result has been the recognition in 1995 of one child (now held incommunicado) by the Dalai Lama and another by the PRC authorities. The latter lives in Beijing, with all the trappings of a Panchen Lama, but is largely unaccepted by Tibetans. The tensions engendered by these sorts of heavy-handed and repressive incursions into religious life prompted the flight into exile in January 2000 of the Karmapa Lama, another high ranking incarnate lama who now resides in Dharamsala, India, the exile seat of the Dalai Lama. As a result, Chinese attempts to bring Tibet's resident Buddhist establishment into line cannot be deemed successful, and this does not bode well for Chinese hopes at influencing Tibet's population in general to accept a Tibetan Buddhism with the "Tibetan" element in check. Nevertheless, all of this points to a sense, on the part of the Chinese government, that whatever the inconveniences, China is capable of forging ahead in Tibetan matters without the cooperation of the Dalai Lama; if the Dalai Lama wishes to acquiesce and assume the ceremonial place that China is willing to grant him, well and good. Otherwise it is of little consequence to Chinese policies that he is not on board.

U.S. policy in pushing for negotiations between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government has largely followed the lead of the Tibetan government-in-exile and has not fully reflected China's decision to write the Dalai Lama out of the picture. One may debate the wisdom of that decision, but it is time to acknowledge that this indeed is the step China has taken. Up through the end of the previous administration, the Office of the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Affairs proceeded in its work on the assumption that negotiations between China and the Dalai Lama were feasible if China clearly understood the Dalai Lama's rejection of Tibetan independence.

At the same time, Tibet remains a focus of attention for several other reasons as well. As indicated above, the U.S. has oft-stated and well-justified human rights concerns with regard to Tibet. There is no doubt that imprisonment for dissenting political expression (most commonly with regard to Tibetan independence) and state pressure on religion, where there is a perception of a threat to state interests, remain serious matters. There is often an overlap between these concerns, as, for example, when loyalty to the Dalai Lama is at issue. Most recently Tibetan areas within the PRC have witnessed increasing restrictions on the activities of certain religious centers and religious figures (e.g., the 2001 closure and expulsions at Gser-thar).

Over the last two years China has embarked on a project designed to further the economic and social integration of the PRC's western regions with the rest of the country. This project, the "Great Western Development Initiative (Xibu da kaifa)," has its own implications for Tibet. It is important to note that while the project does seek to address the stark imbalance in development that characterizes the differences between areas such as Tibet and the wealthy coastal regions in eastern China, it also has the potential for spurring Chinese migration into Tibet and further Sinicization there. Given that one of the elements in this enterprise is the construction of a railway link to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, this project could greatly alter the situation in Tibet. And given the nationalism at the core of Tibetan political activism, this project may well exacerbate tensions, particularly in Lhasa and other urban areas, where Chinese residents are an ever-growing majority of the population.

Ultimately U.S. policy must be based on what the actual facts about Tibet are, not what we might like them to be. These include the fact that the Tibet issue is at its core a nationalist issue, not one centered around the improvement of material conditions; and the fact that Chinese policy is not to seek a compromise with the Dalai Lama, but to await his death and install a new Chinese-educated Dalai Lama. China's handling of dissent in Tibet continues to be characterized by serious human rights violations. Until such time as China can deal with Tibetan dissent-nationalist, religious, cultural, etc.-in a manner commensurate with international norms of respect for human rights, Tibet will be the focus of visible international concerns and demonstrations.


"Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent."

"All we want are the facts, ma'am." (Dragnet - Sgt. Friday / Jack Webb)


"Tousjours laisse aux couillons esmorche
Qui son hord cul de papier torche."

Who his foul arse with paper wipes,
Shall on his bollocks leave some chips.

Gargantua to his father Grangousier. (François Rabelais, Gargantua, Ch XIII.)