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Serf Emancipation Day
March 28, 2009 7:43 AM   Subscribe

Tibet serf debate shadows China's "emancipation day". Like Juneteeth or Martin Luther King Day, Tibet's Serf Emancipation Day commemorates the freeing of a million serfs in 1959. Much like the descendants of slaveowners mocking Martin Luther King Day, the descendants of Tibet's aristocracy have announced Smurf Emancipation Day.
posted by shetterly (111 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
This should clear some things up!
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 7:51 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, you can't walk down the street here in Salzburg without running into someone agitating to "Free Tibet".
It's really not all so simple.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:53 AM on March 28, 2009


How did serfdom compare to the lives of China's working poor today?
posted by Joe Beese at 7:56 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have no doubt that the success of the Chinese revolution liberated many from appalling servitude, hunger and precarity; not just Tibetans, also landless Han peasants, the majority castes of the Nuosu (Yi) and more. The problem for the central government today is that this does not supply legitimacy to their rule over Tibetan or other want-away ethnic regions today, as they know full well even as they continue to conflate the issues. The sham autonomy currently instituted in the "national minorities" areas is of course also a violation of the Party's own policies.
posted by Abiezer at 8:16 AM on March 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


Wasnt pre-invasion tibetan society feudal also? With monks running the government and the lay people as little more than serfs? It was. Incredible how the lessons and truth of history are dismissed for hot button political issues.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:53 AM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have a dream. My dream is to be the potential employer who tells one of those fools in the "mocking MLK day" link that they're not getting the job because I found their 'nig picture' on facebook.
posted by selfmedicating at 9:22 AM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


dda, there's an updated and expanded version of "Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth" here. And there's a rightwing response at Students for a Free Tibet: A Lie Repeated - The Far Left’s Flawed History of Tibet. Frankly, it seems like it's just "Is not, is not, is not!" but I include it for fairness' sake.

Students for a Free Tibet are linked to the National Endowment for Democracy in "Democratic Imperialism": Tibet, China, and the National Endowment for Democracy. I'm a little amused that Students for a Free Tibet link to Warren Smith calling Serf Emancipation Day "Orwellian". Smith is a professional propagandist for the US government's Radio Free Asia.
posted by shetterly at 9:26 AM on March 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


China’s YouTube Block: A Tibet Connection?
posted by homunculus at 9:32 AM on March 28, 2009


there's an updated and expanded version of "Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth" here.

Recent discussion of Parenti (for reference).

Students for a Free Tibet are linked to the National Endowment for Democracy

Refresh my memory: did you once say that Human Rights Watch is also linked to the NED? Or am I remembering wrong?
posted by homunculus at 9:47 AM on March 28, 2009


Er, Human Rights Watch, that is.

Need more coffee...
posted by homunculus at 9:54 AM on March 28, 2009


Well, they've got the hats for it.

I think, though, that in order to really get the point across, there needs to be a GargaMao.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:07 AM on March 28, 2009


(and he needs to be the one doing the "emancipating")
posted by Sys Rq at 10:08 AM on March 28, 2009


homunculus, I'm looking forward to the update on that youtube video. We've already had the "Chinese soldiers dress up as rioting monks" that proved to be images taken from a movie and used as anti-Chinese propaganda.

That China is too damn repressive, I and Parenti and, I suspect, just about any critic of the NED and its puppets will agree.

Human Rights Watch has ties to the NED; see Waging Democracy On China and Hijacking Human Rights. That doesn't invalidate all their work; it just means when you learn something from them, look for bias.
posted by shetterly at 10:13 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


What is interesting is that this serf debate is a good way to derail the debate oer Tibet as its own country.

I mean, let us say that Tibet was an evil feudal place, ust like the Chinese say it was. Well, for the purposes of the debate on whether or not Tibet is it's own country, that is meaningless. I mean Tibetans still speak Tibet, and have a different alphabet, a different culture, etc., etc. While obviously influenced by China, it seems they are no more a part of China than, say, Ireland was a paart of Britain. The brutality of Tibet before "liberation" is not relevant to whether or not Tibet is a country. What is relevant is,
posted by xetere at 10:13 AM on March 28, 2009


Wasnt pre-invasion tibetan society feudal also? With monks running the government and the lay people as little more than serfs? It was. Incredible how the lessons and truth of history are dismissed for hot button political issues.

Well, yeah. But that's missing 100% of the point, which is AUTONOMY.

'Cause, you know, maybe Tibetans have a better idea of what's best for Tibet than, say, its invaders or some anonymous outsider on a messageboard.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:15 AM on March 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


The whole discussion seems like a bit of a distraction. A lot of energy is being expended arguing about historical questions that have only tangential bearing on the central issue of Tibetan self-determination.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:16 AM on March 28, 2009


it seems they are no more a part of China than, say, Ireland was a paart of Britain.

Was? There are still six Irish counties in the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:20 AM on March 28, 2009


I have no doubt that the success of the Chinese revolution liberated many from appalling servitude, hunger and precarity; not just Tibetans, also landless Han peasants,

Hmm really? My recollection is that the first major rural reform was the Great Leap Forward, which was actually pretty terrible for peasants, basically turning all of them into serfs (depending on their local authorities, I guess) And also failing, causing widespread famine. Before that, rural life hadn't been changed all that much that I know of.
posted by delmoi at 10:21 AM on March 28, 2009


when you learn something from them, look for bias

It's a pretty good idea to do that with everything (including random blog posts about movie sets), especially with any information from any group having a clearly stated agenda. In cases like that, bias is pretty much a given. If such an organization were to release information that countered its agenda, well, that organization would be doing it wrong.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:28 AM on March 28, 2009


I have no doubt that the success of the Chinese revolution liberated many from appalling servitude, hunger and precarity

One more thing about that: There are many, many, many Chinese peasants working in "appalling servitude, hunger, and precarity." Maybe someone should liberate them.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:32 AM on March 28, 2009


No "China" tag? Could that somehow be a tacit admission that China doesn't belong in Tibet? (Personally, I'd just like a free press over there instead of the inevitable seesaw between the Chinese government-controlled media and Tibetan exile groups' samizdat news. ... A man can dream.)

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports today in a lead story, "Vast Spy System Loots Computers in 103 Countries":
A vast electronic spying operation has infiltrated computers and has stolen documents from hundreds of government and private offices around the world, including those of the Dalai Lama, Canadian researchers have concluded. In a report to be issued this weekend, the researchers said that the system was being controlled from computers based almost exclusively in China, but that they could not say conclusively that the Chinese government was involved. The researchers, who are based at the Munk Center for International Studies at the University of Toronto, had been asked by the office of the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan leader whom China regularly denounces, to examine its computers for signs of malicious software, or malware. Their sleuthing opened a window into a broader operation that, in less than two years, has infiltrated at least 1,295 computers in 103 countries, including many belonging to embassies, foreign ministries and other government offices, as well as the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan exile centers in India, Brussels, London and New York.
Even if one has no interest in today's anniversary propaganda exercise, regards the Chinese authorities' affairs in Tibet as an internal matter, or sympathizes with the Dalai Lama (or not at all), there's no question that the Tibetan issue spills over into the Chinese government's international behavior.
posted by Doktor Zed at 10:55 AM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Michael Parenti's Friendly Feudalism: The Tibetan Myth
What an idiot. First he signs up as U.S. chief of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milošević, now this. Just what the world needs -- a free-floating apologist for left-wing authoritarians.
posted by msalt at 10:57 AM on March 28, 2009


Hmm really? My recollection is that the first major rural reform was the Great Leap Forward, which was actually pretty terrible for peasants, basically turning all of them into serfs (depending on their local authorities, I guess) And also failing, causing widespread famine. Before that, rural life hadn't been changed all that much that I know of.
Then you know fuck all about Chinese history and should perhaps refrain from commenting on it.
posted by Abiezer at 11:17 AM on March 28, 2009 [6 favorites]


Digging into the links, this is a seriously bullshit axe-gringing FPP. The controversy is well-worth looking at, but the YouTube video is Chinese propaganda 1970s style, the phrase "descendants of Tibetan aristocracy" is a flat-out lie with an obvious agenda, the link to idiot Southern white college students offensive, and the basic concept is wrong.

March 28th was picked as "Serfs Emancipation Day" -- this year for the first time -- because it's the day Zhou Enlai ordered the People's Liberation Army to crush the Tibetan rebellion in 1959. It's as if the US ordered March 20th to be "Freedom From Dictatorship Day" in Iraq, commemorating our invasion. Well, sort of, yeah but descendants of Saddam's aristocracy might not be the only people offended by that.
posted by msalt at 11:20 AM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, for the purposes of the debate on whether or not Tibet is it's own country, that is meaningless. I mean Tibetans still speak Tibet, and have a different alphabet, a different culture, etc., etc. While obviously influenced by China, it seems they are no more a part of China than, say, Ireland was a paart of Britain. The brutality of Tibet before "liberation" is not relevant to whether or not Tibet is a country.

I really don't understand this idea that just because you might want Tibet to be its own country, or even that it should be, it is. Do you mean Tibet is a separate nation? I could get behind that, I guess, but it's almost trivially true. It just seems to me the same sort of thinking that makes some people say Taiwan is not a separate country from China when it so clearly is.
posted by bluejayk at 11:29 AM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


'Cause, you know, maybe Tibetans have a better idea of what's best for Tibet than, say, its invaders or some anonymous outsider on a messageboard.

Blasphemy. Anonymous outsiders on a messageboards always know best.
posted by homunculus at 11:38 AM on March 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, I do anyway.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:42 AM on March 28, 2009


Human Rights Watch has ties to the NED; see Waging Democracy On China and Hijacking Human Rights. That doesn't invalidate all their work; it just means when you learn something from them, look for bias.

Very true, shetterly, though I'd say the same about Students for a Free Tibet. Thanks for the links.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports today in a lead story, "Vast Spy System Loots Computers in 103 Countries":

The report isn't online yet, but when it is this might merit its own FPP. Thanks for this and the Pico Iyer piece, Doktor Zed.
posted by homunculus at 12:16 PM on March 28, 2009


Why are the scholars debating whether this was serfdom? What they describe (being born to an estate, having an unfree status and owing labour) is exactly what Western European serfdom was like. And many European serfs were rich farmers in their own right - usually richer than free rural common people (most of whom lacked land). But that didn't mean they liked their serfdom - they rioted and rebelled and petitioned against it in the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries.
posted by jb at 12:50 PM on March 28, 2009


jb I don't think there's any doubt that most Tibetans were serfs. What's definitely more questionable is that they were emancipated...
posted by Skeptic at 1:02 PM on March 28, 2009


What they describe (being born to an estate, having an unfree status and owing labour) is exactly what Western European serfdom was like.

Yes, and if you take away that first e in estate, you've got Chinese Communism. Again though, it's not about that at all. (See blinkery above.)
posted by Sys Rq at 1:03 PM on March 28, 2009


when you learn something from them, look for bias

It's a pretty good idea to do that with everything (including random blog posts about movie sets), especially with any information from any group having a clearly stated agenda.

Entirely agreed. I just linked to the first post I found about the movie. Sorry I didn't Google further for you. You might prefer the same information from a Buddhist practioner in the Tibetan tradition.

No "China" tag? Could that somehow be a tacit admission that China doesn't belong in Tibet?

LOL! If I put tags for southwestern US states on a post, would that be a tacit admission they don't belong in the US? (I do agree with your personal wish for an independent press.)

msalt, yes, if you can't attack the research, attack the researcher. Also, what's wrong with taking one day to celebrate something good that China did? There's still 364 days to attack things they did wrong. You're not really anti-emancipation, are you?

'Cause, you know, maybe Tibetans have a better idea of what's best for Tibet than, say, its invaders or some anonymous outsider on a messageboard.

Blasphemy. Anonymous outsiders on a messageboards always know best.

homunculus, that's funny, since you're one of those anonymous outsiders, y'know. (Uh, apologies if that was your joke, and I took it seriously.) The argument that the Tibetan exiles should decide is like saying the Confederates who fled to Mexico should decide what happens in their former country.

And I do seem to remember the US taking a strong position on secession some time ago. I know I've never had the opportunity to vote for a Free Arizona, anyway.

Why are the scholars debating whether this was serfdom?

Actually, the only scholars I've noticed debating are funded by the NED. I deliberately linked to a pro-US source so the NED supporters couldn't reject the article out of hand.
posted by shetterly at 1:28 PM on March 28, 2009


I don't think there's any doubt that most Tibetans were serfs. What's definitely more questionable is that they were emancipated...

Your politics might make you quibble with Strong's When serfs stood up in Tibet, though I'll note she was an extremely well-respected journalist with a cute smile and a great hat. However, I hope any rightwinger would approve of the Washington Post's In Tibet, a Struggle of the Soul. I think this covers it well:
”I’ve already lived that life once before,” said Wangchuk, a 67-year-old former slave who was wearing his best clothes for his yearly pilgrimage to Shigatse, one of the holiest sites of Tibetan Buddhism. He said he worshiped the Dalai Lama, but added, “I may not be free under Chinese Communism, but I am better off than when I was a slave.”
posted by shetterly at 1:35 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


The argument that the Tibetan exiles should decide is like saying the Confederates who fled to Mexico should decide what happens in their former country.

Wait WHAT? These are not analogous at all. Tibet was forcibly taken over by China, and people fled to escape the violence and repression. Doesn't sound like much of a choice. The Confederacy CHOSE TO START A WAR and then when they lost, some fled to Mexico. If Confederates wanted a say in what happened to their country, they should have maybe not started a war?
posted by desjardins at 1:45 PM on March 28, 2009


Meant to italicize the first paragraph there - those are shetterly's words.
posted by desjardins at 1:46 PM on March 28, 2009


I wonder if I can flag this post as 'Chinese Psy-ops.'
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:49 PM on March 28, 2009


No, the article definitely refers to scholars saying "Well, it was serfdom, but that implies it was horrid..."

To which I say that it was horrid, and I'm not going to mourn the loss of serfdom, no matter how much more ethnic autonomy there was.

That doesn't mean there aren't issues with political freedom now, but Tibet was also not a exactly a bastion of liberal freedom before, and the majority were serfs. Now they live in an oppressive state as non-serfs. The oppressiveness of the current state isn't going to make me excuse the oppressiveness of serfdom - and actually, considering that the early years of Chinese occupation are associated by the Tibetan peasants themselves with improved living conditions, I can't help but think that their discontent under the Chinese state is only possible because the more immediate discontents of serfdom no longer weigh as heavily on them. Hungry people don't agitate for political rights.
posted by jb at 1:55 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


No mention of China's Han-ification policies in Tibet in order to keep the region under control?

It's one thing to read accounts in history of how imperial powers took over and occupied their neighbors under the guise of "liberation." It's quite another thing (and an impressive one) to see that dynamic play itself out right in front of me in the present day.
posted by deanc at 2:33 PM on March 28, 2009


I love Parenti and agree with his stance on this as far as I know it, if the focus is limited to personal freedom as opposed to a form of slavery right here and now.

But there are issues at stake here that run deeper than feudalism versus freedom.

Namely, the carrying capacity of the Tibetan ecosystem and the fate of the water supply of a large part of Asia.

The deforestation of Tibet has accelerated drastically since the Chinese invasion, and the tragic fact has been that feudalism is more compatible with preserving the land and its capacity to support human life than economic freedom coupled with industrial development have proved to be so far.

Unless we can figure out how to make industrial development actually restore ecosystems instead of destroying them as it always has done to this point, the feudalism which will inevitably succeed this brief flurry of freedoms we are experiencing all over the world at the moment will be at least as harsh as anything we've ever seen before, and permanent for the foreseeable future because we will have used up all alternatives.
posted by jamjam at 2:47 PM on March 28, 2009


Yeah, what msalt said on this FPP, basically. It was always one of the ironic trademarks of the Marxist-Leninist regimes that they justified their imperialism in the specific language of leftist anti-imperialism, a tradition the PRC continues to uphold. Any sort of imperialism can be, and has been, "justified" by pointing to what it was like before the invaders came, from the British in India to Imperial Japan in Korea to the US in Iraq. But it's always a smokescreen- the question is what it's like for the Tibetans now, and what they think of PRC rule. The fact that the PRC makes it as hard as possible to find that out says a great deal, and what we do manage to hear from those in Tibet now says even more, none of it very supportive (to say the least) of the picture of happy Tibetans thankful to their kind Han masters that the PRC tries to paint.
(And on that note, painting all Tibetan exiles as feudalist aristocrats implies that only feudalist aristocrats would want to escape Chinese rule. Seeing as how even shetterly concedes that China's government is oppressive, I think it's fairly obvious that isn't true.)

shetterly: Also, what's wrong with taking one day to celebrate something good that China did? There's still 364 days to attack things they did wrong. You're not really anti-emancipation, are you?

Okay, let's order the Iraqi government to declare "Freedom From Dictatorship Day" as a holiday on March 20, then. It sounds like a great idea to me- I mean, after all, what's wrong with celebrating one good thing Bush and the American government did? You have 364 days in the rest of the year to criticize the things they did wrong, after all. You're not really anti-democracy and pro-Saddam, are you?
(Sarcasm aside, that's a truly terrible argument, especially the sneering insinuation at the end.)

On the whole serfdom discussion- I don't have time to get into this fully, but I'll just say I think there were other, far better routes to the emancipation of the serfs than being invaded by China, especially considering Bhutan had the same institution and got rid of it without having to be invaded by anyone. (Indeed, what I've read about it indicates that serfdom was more widespread and severe in Bhutan than Tibet.) Most pre-modern agricultural societies had feudalism, or something very similar to it. It does not tend to survive the advent of modernity, and presenting imperialism as the necessary solution to it is, well, the argument of an imperialist.

jb: That doesn't mean there aren't issues with political freedom now, but Tibet was also not a exactly a bastion of liberal freedom before, and the majority were serfs.

I certainly don't think the uglier aspect of Tibet's past should be hidden, and to be sure PRC oppression now does not make feudalist oppression in the past retroactively justified- but talking only about serfdom in relation to the Tibetan situation here and now is like making the US occupation of Iraq all about Saddam. There's a line between acknowledging the past, and using it to gloss over and/or justify the actions of the current oppressors. This FPP, in my opinion, is an example of the latter.
posted by a louis wain cat at 2:52 PM on March 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


(Uh, apologies if that was your joke, and I took it seriously.)

Apology accepted.

The argument that the Tibetan exiles should decide is like saying the Confederates who fled to Mexico should decide what happens in their former country.

You've made this comparison before, and it strikes me as rather silly. Does that make China the Union? A better comparison for China would be to the United States during the Philippine–American War, when we "liberated" the Philippines in order to occupy them ourselves.

No one is arguing that Tibet should revert to it's feudal form, but the Government in Exile today is radically different from the old Tibetan government, and they're far more committed to democracy in Tibet than China is. The Dalai Lama has made it clear he has no desire to return to feudalism, and it's not fair to blame him for the system he inherited while ignoring the evolution of his political views over time. If the Tibetans were allowed to choose and they chose for the Dalai Lama to return, I imagine Tibet would start to look a lot like Bhutan, where the monarch is more enthusiastic about democratic reform than many of the people are.

Of course, none of that matters. China wants Tibet's minerals and water, and the occupation is a point of nationalist pride. They're not going to let the people of Tibet choose for themselves, and they will continue to justify the ongoing occupation with propaganda like Serf Emancipation Day.
posted by homunculus at 3:33 PM on March 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


desjardins, if you want to understand Tibet's relationship to China before the Cold War, it's useful to go to older sources, like the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica entry on government:
Though the whole of Tibet is under the suzerainty of China, the government of the country is divided into two distinct administrations, the one under the rule of the Dalai lama of Lhasa, the other under local kings or chiefs, and comprising a number of ecclesiastical fiefs. Both are directed and controlled by the high Chinese officials residing at Lhasa, Sining Fu; and the capital of the Chinese province of Szechuen. Northeastern Tibet or Amdo, and also a portion of Khamdo, are under the supervision of a high official (Manchu) residing at Sining Fu in Kansuh, whose title is Imperial Controller-General of Koko Nor.
In 1959, Tibet's aristocracy revolted because they wanted to preserve slavery. When they lost, they fled. Sounds a whole lot like the Confederacy to me.

As for "If Confederates wanted a say in what happened to their country, they should have maybe not started a war?" the same has been said about the Tibetan feudal lords. The Dalai Lama fled, but many other lamas stayed with their people, like the 12th Samding Dorje Phagmo.

Mitrovarr, can I flag NED-backed sources as "US Psy-ops"? Then I might support your request.

deanc, you might like Tibet Through Chinese Eyes from the Atlantic. It notes that the right to travel is a basic human right.
posted by shetterly at 3:40 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Shetterly wrote: deanc, you might like Tibet Through Chinese Eyes from the Atlantic. It notes that the right to travel is a basic human right.

I haven't been to Tibet but I've been to Nepal a few times.(*) Anyway, lots of Tibetans live in and around Kathmandu and other Nepali cities. I think they'd like the right to visit their families, but they can't. So the fact that Han Chinese can "visit" Tibet isn't an exercise of their human rights: Tibetans can't visit Tibet. It's a pretty transparent attempt to swamp the native population.

(*) I considered visiting Tibet while I was in Nepal but it was a whole big deal - you needed special visas and to be on an official tour. I don't know whether it's easier now.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:07 PM on March 28, 2009


homunculus, you're also assuming China was the invader, but look at the evidence: Tibet paid its taxes to China for centuries. The Dalai Lamas were always vetted by China. even the current one. In 1940, the Kuomintang government approved the choice of the incarnation, and in 1950, when the Dalai Lama became Tibet's head of state, the PRC approved him.
posted by shetterly at 4:09 PM on March 28, 2009


On the whole NED/CIA theme in this discussion- I hold the CIA in very low esteem indeed, but I don't think it means as much that the Tibetan independence groups take money from the NED as shetterly thinks it does. (Also, there's a certain irony in using that as a way to immediately and automatically dismiss anything they say, and then saying "if you can't attack the research, attack the researcher.") He implies various sinister conclusions from this, but I don't think that necessarily follows- taking aid from someone does not invariably mean that the aid-taker is a puppet of the one who gave it.

For example, the African National Congress recieved aid and military suppport from the Soviet bloc. This, of course, did not mean that their cause was discredited, and it did not mean that (as certain right-wingers claimed) they were Soviet puppets who intended to set up a Stalinist dictatorship in South Africa- it meant they were taking whatever help they could get, and if it helped to bring about the fall of apartheid, I think it was a good thing that they did.
And on the other side of the Cold War, Poland's Solidarity movement got a bunch of aid from the CIA, and yet when the Soviet puppet government fell, it did not mean that a right-wing dictatorship was established- the victory of Solidarity actually did result in a more democratic state. As with the ANC, the fact that Solidarity got aid from one of the superpowers didn't mean they were some sinister puppet organization, it meant they were taking whatever help they could get. And again, if it helped them to survive, I think it was a good thing they did.

As I say, I think the CIA is a very nasty organization, but their goal isn't destroying democracy for its own sake, it's upholding (very often both cruelly and ineptly, to be sure) whatever they imagine "American interests" to be, as the Soviet equivalents upheld whatever they thought Soviet interests were. Sometimes (in both cases) this has meant crushing democratic movements, and at other times it has meant supporting them. Whatever criticisms you might make of the modern Polish government, it is certainly far more democratic and far better from a human rights standpoint than what existed before it. In the case of Tibet, which is already starting from a place of no democracy, no autonomy, and a dreadful human rights situation, I think that the Dalai Lama's goals being achieved (by some miracle) would mean the same thing.
posted by a louis wain cat at 5:06 PM on March 28, 2009


shetterly Your politics might make you quibble with Strong's When serfs stood up in Tibet, though I'll note she was an extremely well-respected journalist with a cute smile and a great hat.

Anna Louise Strong?! The honorary Red Guard? Court writer to both Stalin and Mao? Writer of such immortal lines as:

''The labor camps have won a high reputation throughout the Soviet Union as places where tens of thousands of men have been reclaimed. So well known and effective is the Soviet method of remaking human beings that criminals occasionally now apply to be admitted."

Human decency will make me quibble with anything that woman may have written. In fact, if ALS had written that the sky is blue, I'd doubt it.

What other "well-respected" witnesses are you going to put forward? Joseph Goebbels? Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf?
posted by Skeptic at 5:16 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


a louis wain cat, Allen Weinstein, one of the NED's founders, said, "A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA." But that should be the subject of another post.

Skeptic, good luck with that not-blue sky thing. If you want to make your pseudonym meaningful, read her skeptically. "Respected" doesn't mean ideologically pure. It means she writes well, and she says what she believes is true, and unlike a few folks on both sides of the Tibet game, she doesn't deliberately hide inconvenient facts.

Hmm. I'm probably being too active in this thread. Apologies. I'll only answer direct questions from now on.
posted by shetterly at 5:35 PM on March 28, 2009


Why do people keep referring to China as a communist nation? Is it 1975?
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:58 PM on March 28, 2009


Joe, sorry I didn't answer you earlier. I can't speak for all nations, but the US, like China, only believes in the right to travel within national borders. I can't legally go to Cuba. Many people who would like to come to the US can't enter legally. Australia may be more liberal about these things.
posted by shetterly at 6:09 PM on March 28, 2009


Suddenly discovering that the Chinese revolution wasn't universally destructive and evil and then deciding that you need to act as an advocate for CCP policies and start writing like you're on the staff of the People's Daily isn't cool.

Or, alternately, what msalt said.
posted by deanc at 6:16 PM on March 28, 2009


The US, like China, only believes in the right to travel within national borders. I can't legally go to Cuba. Many people who would like to come to the US can't enter legally.

Yes, but these were Tibetans. I would 100% support the right of refugees from the USA to re-enter and visit their relatives. And the same goes for Cubans visiting Cuba, of course. Not that I agree national borders ought to trump human rights.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:40 PM on March 28, 2009


deanc, the People's Daily, like the New York Times, is sometimes biased and sometimes accurate. You just got to read both skeptically.

Joe, points of fact: The US is building a wall along its southern border that separates families and tribes which had been going back and forth for centuries. Borders that restrict travel are no new thing.

And you keep saying "Tibetans" as though that meant they were an independent nation. China has, what, 56 ethnic groups? No nation has recognized Tibet as independent--another parallel to the Confederacy. There are reasons to quibble about the exact date that Tibet became part of China, but based on administrative records, it was long before the twentieth century. Heck, the US quibbles about Taiwan, but it's never said Tibet was an independent nation.

Hmm. Do I accurately remember you arguing against a Palestinian right of return? Because I agree that everyone should be able to return to their old homes and visit their relatives and generally travel freely across borders as well as within them.
posted by shetterly at 7:14 PM on March 28, 2009


So, after 2 years of lurking, I finally had to shell out 90 thousands dong just to say this.

shetterly: just because China has 56 ethnic groups doesn't mean they can nilly-willy claim another as their own. And what administrative record? Because historically Tibet paid tributes to China that means they belong to China? Hell no! Emphatically no!
And do you know why? Because if they could legitimately claim Tibet, that would mean they could claim Vietnam too.

a. Historical claim:
Look at this map here
That is a map of China during the Han dynasty, do you see Tibet on that map? No. Now look down south, see Jiaozhi? That was the Chinese name for us during that period. From 207 BC to 938 AD we were part of China, with intermittent flashes of rebellions and independents in between. That's more than a millennium under Chinese control. After we regained independence, we still paid them yearly tributes , and our kings and emperors had always asked for recognitions from China. Because that's what you do when you live next to a tiger, you have to appease it. It's just politic. China invaded us again a few other times, again we fought them off, then we asked for recognitions and we paid tributes. But we never let them rule us.
During the 18th century, emperor Qianlong of China sent his army to Tibet to help them rout out invader? Guess what, at almost the same time, he also sent troops to Vietnam, because a disposed Lê emperor asked for his help to restore him to the throne. The new emperor swiftly defeated them. Then he sent emissary to the Chinese, submitting to them as vassal, and paid annual tributes. There was a story of Qianlong demanding him to appear at his court in Peiking and Quang Trung sending them a double instead. The point of that story is, yes Chinese vassals could appear to be compliance and subordinate, but that was for show only, to appease the tiger while you do what you need to do.

Hell, I'm not deluded, one could even say that the Vietnamese government now still follow that same politic principles, of leaders making regular trip to China, maybe even asking for Chinese approval with each change of governmental head. They even recognised China's rule over Tibet because nobody want to piss China off, least of all a small country lying by it side.

b. Cultural significant.
In terms of culture, we have more in common with China than Tibet ever could. We have the same form of Buddhism, the same Confucian and Taoist beliefs. Our court structures and government were molded after them. Hell, the Imperial City in Hue is a poor man version of the Imperial City in Beijing (though the Imperial City in Beijing was designed by a Vietnamese architect). We celebrate the same holidays. Their myths became ours. I grew up reading the Chinese classics, Tang poetry. I know Chinese history as well as my own.

But despite all that, we are not part of China, we have never accepted that, and we never will.

So the point of this long post is, the only claim China can have on Tibet is a claim backed by the PLA. A claim of might and the economic potential of 1.2 billion Chinese market that makes other countries blind and deaf to the Tibetan's right for an independence nation of their own.

If China claim over Tibet is legitimate, then if China ever decide to invade us again, they would have even more claims over us, historically and culturally than they do over Tibet. I watched the Chinese installed Panchen Lama spoke his propaganda in Mandarin and I shuddered to think that could have been Vietnam's fate as well. If the French hadn't taken over us in the 19th, if we had been weak military-wise like the Tibetan in the 1950, then i guess we could have had a Free Of Colonisation day, with Chinese boots on our neck watching my own country overrun by Han, my own cultures slowly disappearing.
posted by LenaO at 11:54 PM on March 28, 2009 [9 favorites]


Do I accurately remember you arguing against a Palestinian right of return?

I don't think you do, but I'm not always consistent. And I don't think you should turn this into Yet Another Bloody Palestine thread.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:59 PM on March 28, 2009


I forgot to say this.
So shrug your shoulders, spread your hands wide and say: "What do we do! We can't do anything, China will never give Tibet up. And we don't want to offend China and risk losing that market if we do anything. Too bad they didn't have any oil, or they could have been helped too like Kuwait, or Iraq, or East Timor." Be honest, say there's nothing you can do, and that's it. Don't fall in with Chinese propaganda and deny the Tibetan the right to have their wrongs recognised. They were an independence nation, they were invaded, their autonomy taken from them, and China wasn't justified for doing so by any reasons, real or imagined.
posted by LenaO at 12:11 AM on March 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Skeptic: Anna Louise Strong?! The honorary Red Guard? Court writer to both Stalin and Mao? Writer of such immortal lines as:

''The labor camps have won a high reputation throughout the Soviet Union as places where tens of thousands of men have been reclaimed. So well known and effective is the Soviet method of remaking human beings that criminals occasionally now apply to be admitted."


Wow. I didn't really know much about her, but I do know a little about the Soviet Union, and if that's what she wrote, I'm definitely with Skeptic on this. There was a big Stalinist propaganda campaign in the 30s about how their slave labor projects (the gulags, the construction of the White Sea Canal) were "remaking" or "reforging" (the Russian word was perekovka) those forced to labor in them into good socialists. There's a fair amount about this in "The Whisperers" by Orlando Figes- it was one of the major themes of Stalin's propaganda for a while.

That quote from Strong is very much not the product of one who "doesn't deliberately hide inconvenient facts." It is an exact echo of what Stalinist propaganda was putting out at the time- the language about "remaking" is an unmistakable mark of one parroting the perekovka line. I don't know if she just entirely trusted what Stalin's government was telling her without bothering to investigate it more deeply, or if she actually knew what the gulags were and and still defended them, but either way, it doesn't exactly make me inclined to trust what she said about Tibet (or anything else), to say the least. Morally and intellectually, gulag apologia is way beyond the pale.

(LenaO, glad you decided to sign up- those were excellent comments.)
posted by a louis wain cat at 12:34 AM on March 29, 2009


Why do people keep referring to China as a communist nation?

Probably for the same kind of reason people keep referring to the US as a democracy - it's easier to maintain categories with big, ill-defined boundaries.


I'm also pleased that LenaO spent that money.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:27 AM on March 29, 2009


I've joked before that I link to something about Phunwang every time one of these threads comes up:
Bapa Phuntso Wangye alias 'Phunwang', one of the most important Tibetan revolutionary figures of the 20th century [was b]orn in 1922...In 1949, when communists took control over China, he merged his independent Tibetan Communist Party with Mao's Chinese Communist Party...In spite of his devotion to socialism and staunch faith in the Communist Party, Phunwang's persistent commitment to the welfare of Tibetans and strong advocacy for the interests of Tibetan nationality made him a suspect in the eyes of Han Chinese party colleagues. In 1958, he was secretly detained then imprisoned for 18 years in solitary confinement...
Devastation of Tibet under communist rule, is often described and explained in a dominant context of struggle between two opposing ideologies based on religion and atheistic communism but with Phunwang, Tibet as he describes 'Tibetan nationality' stands as a victim of 'Han majoritarianism' for which he claims there is no scope under Marxism. In 1979, in a conversation with a delegation sent by the Dalai Lama, Comrade Phuntso Wangye declared, "I was and am still a communist who believes in Marxism… I am a communist, true, but I was also in solitary confinement in a communist prison for as long as 18 years and suffered from both mental and physical torture" but then he does not blame party, at all, rather he says, "I was put into prison by people who executed the laws, broke the laws and violated party discipline and the laws of the country." Prominent Tibetans, of course in exile, accuse him of being a 'Red Tibetan' who led the 'Red Han' into Tibet and he, unhesitantly admits, "To be accurate, I led the People's Liberation Army. I was the Tibetan who guided the people, who in the words of Chairman Mao, were there to help the Tibetans - the brotherly Tibetans - to stand up, be the masters of their homes, reform themselves, and be engaged in construction to improve the living standards of the people and build a happy new society. But I never meant to lead the Han people into Tibet to establish rule over Tibetans by the Han people."
...
There is no doubt that story of 'Phunwang' gives wonderful perspectives and insights about Tibet's occupation by communist forces and what actually went wrong. "Phunwang sees China as a multiethnic state where large minorities like Tibetans constitutionally have the right to cultural, economic and a modicum of political autonomy, and should be considered equal in all ways to the Han (majority ethnic) Chinese. The issue for Phunwang is not that Tibetans demand to separate from China, but that they want the Han Chinese to treat them as equals. And it was to say this to people in China and throughout the world, that Phunwang took a great risk and gave me interviews over many years," says Melvyn Goldstein. He exposed Phunwang to the modern world by his wonderful biographical book on Phunwang A Tibetan Revolutionary: The Political Life and Times of Bapa Phuntso Wangye written with the help of Wiliiam Siebenschuh and Dawei Sherap...
It's as utterly facile to take the wild historical distortions of PRC propaganda at face value as it is to believe the rainbows-and-unicorns fantasies of the loonier wing of the Free Tibet lobby. There are any number of pressing national interests that explain the determination to continue the exercise of tight control over the contentious border regions; these have their own logic and are understandable but only a fool could pretend that the current central government line on Tibet (or Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang) is anything other than self-serving post hoc justification and a betrayal of the ideals which once gave the Chinese revolution legitimacy.
posted by Abiezer at 1:50 AM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just reading a piece on the subject by historian Tsering Shakya. I think he's spot-on here:
It is indeed possible that such an initiative may have come from one group of Tibetans - senior party apparatchiks on the receiving end of internal criticism for their failure in 2008 to guarantee a loyal and docile populace. But this itself is telling of the nature of the Serf Liberation Day initiative: for in an authoritarian regime, the failure of a client administration leaves performance as one of the few options available. It is natural then that authoritarian regimes have a love of public displays of spectacle, engineered to perfection, in which the people are required to perform ceremonial displays of contentment...
...For local Tibetan officials, the intended message of Serf Liberation Day will be the delivery of public mass compliance to the leadership in Beijing. A choreographed spectacle - in which former "serfs" will tearfully recount the evils of the past while locals in their hundreds march past the leaders' podium, dressed in colourful costumes and dancing in unison - will both reinforce the party's narrative of 1959 and convey the contentment of Tibetans today. This will allow the Tibetan officials to produce the performances required to retain their posts, and the local people to fulfil the needs of the local leaders so that they can be allowed to maintain their livelihoods. As Joseph Conrad discerned in his evocation of the native predicament under European imperialism in Africa a century ago, the local subject learns to savour the "exalted trust" of the colonial master.
The whole article is well worth the read for a nuanced Tibetan perspective by someone who's consistently engaged with the Chinese discourse.
posted by Abiezer at 8:10 AM on March 29, 2009


Last week's Economist has some on-the-ground reporting about the Chinese authorities' preparations for this propaganda exercise, succinctly observing, "With grim determination the authorities are trying to manufacture joy."
posted by Doktor Zed at 8:31 AM on March 29, 2009


LenaO, does China claim Vietnam? If not, I think you're sidetracking the issue with interesting details about Vietnam. (I'm also glad you're commenting!)

As for maps, see this obsessively documented short video, and note the links in the sidebar. Or check out this 1944 US documentary, about three minutes in, to see what the Republic of China included then. Tibet is explicitly mentioned at 3:46.

Joe, no desire for another Palestinian thread. But since you brought up Cubans, I figured you wanted to broaden the discourse. I'd love to stick to Tibetan feudalism.

a louis wain cat, I'm not saying Strong was right in her beliefs. I'm saying that when you disagree with her interpretation, you should still look at what she's reporting as having heard and seen. Whatever you think of her beliefs (and, yes, Stalin's a monster), she was present at interesting times and places--including Tibet soon after feudalism ended.

Abiezer, Shakya works for Radio Free Asia; "nuanced" is not what they do.
posted by shetterly at 8:46 AM on March 29, 2009


shetterly - I've met the man and you could not be more wrong. Read the piece - I get the impression you're defending the central government line on Tibet out of some misguided sense of anti-imperialism; Shakya sets out a strong case that having been a victim of imperialism and colonialism, the authoritarian state in China today is repeating the patterns of colonial rule in the frontier ethnic regions. In any case, working for RFA doesn't make you some implacable enemy of China or tool of the West despite the obvious motivations of its endowment. Han Dongfang regularly hosts a show for them and there's few truer patriots alive today than him.
posted by Abiezer at 9:26 AM on March 29, 2009


Abiezer, the problem with outfits like the NED is they happily fund good people to promote bad purposes. Han Dongfang and Tsering Shakya may be wonderful individuals with many fine values, but they're still pawns in the Great Game. Shakya's piece is well-written, and it has interesting bits, but perhaps the most revealing part for me was this: "For in repeatedly using the words "serfs" or "slaves" (albeit in relation to past oppressions), official China also reduces Tibetans to the status of primitives, and authorises outside management of their lives." That's like saying we shouldn't speak of slaves when talking about the Confederacy. It's trying to obscure the truth of what life was like before the PRC ended Tibet's attempt to secede.

Well, probably time to say "A plague on both houses" and drop this. I'm sorry I'm sounding pro-PRC; I suppose that's because I'm answering people who are strongly pro-NED. I do want democracy everywhere--but unlike the NED, I want a democracy that reflects the desires of the local people.
posted by shetterly at 9:53 AM on March 29, 2009


shetterly, your staunch defence of the indefensible, and couragoeus attempts to rewrite history make me think of Orwell, and in particular of the following passage in 1984:

The keyword here is blackwhite. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as doublethink. Doublethink is basically the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.

These words, which seem so incredibly fitting in this thread, were inspired to Orwell by the mental gymnastics that he saw Stalinist propagandists like Strong perform. If somebody who wrote such gems as The Soviets Conquer Wheat: the Drama of Collective Farming in 1931, The New Soviet Constitution: A Study in Socialist Democracy in 1937, The Soviets Expected It in 1941, or I Saw the New Poland in 1946 "wrote what she believed was true and did not deliberately hide the facts", then she can't have had much of a brain under that pretty hat.

Strong's record as an apologist for Mao is, if anything, even more shameful. I quote Jung Chang's less-than-complimentary (but extensively researched) biography of Mao:

[In 1947] Mao hoped to repeat the huge PR success he had had with Edgar Snow and "Red Star Over China", a success which was unique for the Communist world. But Snow had meanwhile been banned by Moscow, and so Mao had to fall back on a second-rate American journalist called Anna Louise Strong, who had nothing like Snow's influence globally, and was generally perceived as a lackey. [...]

Strong duly churned out an article called "The Thought of Mao Tse-Tung", and a book called "Dawn Out of China". They contained encomia like the claim that Mao's "great work has been to change Marxism from a European to an Asiatic form...On every kind of problem...in ways of which neither Marx nor Lenin could dream"; that "all Asia will learn from [China] more than they will learn from the USSR"; and that Mao's works "highly influenced the later forms of government in parts of post-war Europe".

Unsurprisingly, Strong's excessive zeal in promoting Mao didn't altogether amuse Stalin, and so she was arrested and expelled from the Soviet Union, on the apparent grounds of her being an American spy, but in fact rather because, in Strong's own opinion (and, for once, she seems to have been sincere):

Please tell Chairman Mao...that, so far as I could learn, it was my too persistent search into the road to China that the Russians finally attacked as "spying".

So it was Strong's sudden infatuation with Mao that led to her parting ways with Stalin. She seems to have had a bit of a thing with ruthless dictators, the more bloodthirsty the better, and was kept on a retainer in China until her death, writing rather less prolifically, but still as imaginatively, books like The Rise of the People's Communes in China in 1960.

I certainly have better uses of my time than to read, sceptically or not, the outpourings of such a reptilian figure as Strong.
posted by Skeptic at 10:42 AM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think you're misreading Shakya there; he doesn't accept the entirely black picture of pre-modern Tibet painted in the official discourse but he has no illusions about it either. Not sure if you've seen the exchange between him and (prominent Chinese intellectual) Wang Lixiong in the NLR: Wang's article; Shakya's reply.
As to your opposition to the NED, I'm minded of CIA funding of independent left critics of the Soviet Union in Cold war Europe - the design was certainly nefarious but the criticisms remained valid even if the intellectuals and artists concerned became unwitting "pawns."
posted by Abiezer at 10:42 AM on March 29, 2009


And shetterly, the People's Daily is the official organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. It may be accurate "sometimes" (broken clock and all that), but being "biased" is their fucking job.
posted by Skeptic at 10:58 AM on March 29, 2009


Also, shetterly, your last three FPPs have been on China and human rights, in all three cases following the PRC's official line. If you are attempting impartiality, that's a definite FAIL.
posted by Skeptic at 11:28 AM on March 29, 2009


Skeptic, when it comes to Orwellian, I always bow before the NED: you can't beat overthrowing democracies in the name of democracy. I don't pretend to be impartial here, but my partiality is not with the CIA or the PRC. Binarians can't believe this, but it is possible to have a third position on almost any issue.

Yes, Strong's belief made her defend people she shouldn't have, just as conservative capitalists like Lindburgh and Ford defended Hitler--they didn't want to believe someone who promoted their principles was guilty of great evil. But if you want to call Strong a liar, point to something she claims to have seen or heard, then tell me where she lies. In fact, if you can point to any evidence that she was ever insincere, please do so. Duped, yes--but part of the job of being a journalist is to be duped by your sources sometimes.

And, yes, the People's Daily, like the New York Times and *any other newspaper* has the bias of its publishers. That's why you should be skeptical of *all* sources. If you don't grasp that, you might want a new pseudonym.

Abiezer, thanks for the link. I will read Wang Lixiong's article. I despise the NED, but I hope I never assume everything they touch is corrupt.
posted by shetterly at 11:56 AM on March 29, 2009


shetterly But if you want to call Strong a liar, point to something she claims to have seen or heard, then tell me where she lies.

Frankly, the sheer cheek. What about that line I quoted about Soviet "labor camps"?

So well known and effective is the Soviet method of remaking human beings that criminals occasionally now apply to be admitted. Yup, I'm sure there were plenty of volunteer "criminals" in Kolyma.

What about those titles of books published with uncanny timing? "The Soviets Conquer Wheat", at a time when most Soviets were lucky if they could get but a whiff of grain!

Blackwhite indeed! Ford and Lindbergh's advocacy for the Nazis was utterly despicable in and for itself, and, to follow your analogy, I wouldn't even dream of quoting them to defend the "emancipation" of, say, the Sudeten Germans. However, at least they had the feeble excuse of not personally witnessing the crimes of the Nazis. Strong, on the other hand, was there. She can't possibly not have witnessed the famines or the purges. If you have to compare her with a Nazi apologist, then to Julius Streicher.

That's it, I'm done argueing with such a blind ideologue: CCP Blue.
posted by Skeptic at 12:22 PM on March 29, 2009


Skeptic, we're talking about huge countries. Had Strong visited the labor camps, or had she reported what she was told? If she visited them, was she allowed behind the scenes? Do you damn reporters who praised people like Pinochet with equal vigor? (Tangentially relevant, since the Dalai Lama was one of Pinochet's defenders.) All reporters can do is report what they see and hear and believe is true. The sorts of things Strong reported about Tibet have been reported by Time Magazine and the Washington Post. Surely they're sufficiently ideologically pure for you.

Here, for example, from Time magazine in '59:
About four-fifths of them work to support one-fifth, who are shut up in lamaseries. What little land is not owned by the monks belongs either to the Dalai Lama or to about 150 noble families.
Tibetan serfdom was not concealed in the US until the Dalai Lama began accepting the CIA's pay. You may try to obscure the reports by damning the reporters, but facts stay facts.
posted by shetterly at 1:41 PM on March 29, 2009


Lest anyone doubt the Dalai Lama was on the CIA's payroll, an article from Newsweek: When Heaven Shed Blood.
posted by shetterly at 1:44 PM on March 29, 2009


shetterly The URSS and China may have been large countries, but during the purges people were being arrested right and left of her, it strains imagination to consider that she may not have noticed most people in her circles suddenly "dissapearing" around her. Read also the horrifically low average calorie intake in those "large countries" during the famines associated with collectivisation: didn't she notice that most people were rather on the skinny side? Repeating obviously implausible claims without checking also counts as lying in my book.

But of course, you must be quite acquainted with shameless lying, to claim that the Dalai Lama "was one of Pinochet's defenders".

What the Dalai Lama said, according to the CBC: "in the Pinochet case, as an individual, now old, I think forgiveness is important, but forgiveness does not mean to forget about what happened."

That's quite a far cry from defending Pinochet, never mind defending him during his heyday. BTW, yes, I certainly damn reporters who praised Pinochet, I've known Pinochet victims myself.

Also, I point you towards my original comment: I don't think there's any doubt that most Tibetans were serfs. What's definitely more questionable is that they were emancipated...
posted by Skeptic at 2:26 PM on March 29, 2009


Skeptic, saying someone should not face the law is defending them. You may think Pinochet deserved forgiveness; I think he deserved justice.

Abiezer, just read Wang Lixiong's article and you're right; it's good. Some of the interpretations seem simplistic and a bit condescending toward Tibetans, but I'll reserve judgment until I've read Shakya' reply. Its account of the '50s seems especially convincing.
posted by shetterly at 2:39 PM on March 29, 2009


Skeptic, I hope you're enjoying this as much as I am, 'cause I have another point for you: It's just as legit to question whether the slaves of Dixie were emancipated. They didn't get their forty acres and a mule. They just became migrant workers.
posted by shetterly at 2:43 PM on March 29, 2009


Shetterley wrote: since you brought up Cubans, I figured you wanted to broaden the discourse.

You were the one who brought it up.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:13 PM on March 29, 2009


Shetterly:Han Dongfang and Tsering Shakya may be wonderful individuals with many fine values, but they're still pawns in the Great Game.

Han Dongfang and Tsering Shakya are rubber, and you're glue.
What you say bounces off of them and sticks to you.
posted by msalt at 4:37 PM on March 29, 2009


Joe, oops, right you are! I should've reread the thread to remember what was being discussed where. My bad.

Abiezer, the Wang and Shakya (do I have the family name correct?) pieces are fascinating when read together. Thanks for linking to both.

Shakya mentions Thrinley Chodron's revolt in 1969, but he doesn't say what class she was from. Any idea? It would say a lot about who supported her. I don't think Shakya puts enough emphasis on the '69 revolt happening while the CIA was funding the Dalai Lama, who waited until '74, when the funding ended, to tell Tibetan rebels to stop fighting. But Shakya seems to gloss over both US funding and a number of class issues--when he talks, for example, of Tibetans being willing to murder Dalai Lamas, those murders weren't ordered or committed by serfs.

Well, more to ponder. Thanks!
posted by shetterly at 5:28 PM on March 29, 2009


msalt, LOL! I suppose we're all pieces in the game, to some degree. But Wang Lixiong has connections to Reporters Without Borders, who finally admitted they were funded by the NED, and Tsering Shakya's Radio Free Asia connection puts him very, very close to the CIA.

Or were you suggesting they're more than pawns?
posted by shetterly at 5:42 PM on March 29, 2009


Shetterly, I just read my comment again today, and it was an incoherence mess, I was in a passion and in a hurry and could not revise, I'll attempt to do better today:

You wrote: homunculus, you're also assuming China was the invader, but look at the evidence: Tibet paid its taxes to China for centuries. The Dalai Lamas were always vetted by China. even the current one. In 1940, the Kuomintang government approved the choice of the incarnation, and in 1950, when the Dalai Lama became Tibet's head of state, the PRC approved him.

As you seemed to think that proves Tibet has always belonged to China, I was attempting to use Vietnam's case to refute that point.

China was (still is) a large, powerful country, and living next to is dangerous (Hence the analogy of living next to a tiger, you don't know when it's gonna attack you). Countries surrounding it did what they could to keep the tiger happy, so they gave it tributes, they appeared to be subservient by pretending to have their heads of states vetted by China, but it doesn't mean that their autonomy were ever in doubt.

It's a delicate affair, the giving and saving China's face to put it more accurately, as proven by the story of Quang Trung and Qianlong. They didn't like the new head of state and attempted to change it by force, was they successful? No, we picked our own rulers, and we managed our own affairs.

The tributes, and the having your head of states approved by China was ceremonial only. We say hey, so and so is our new king now, and China says ok, and that keeps them happy because they'd like to think that they are the Big Brother in the neighbourhood, and nothing should ever happen without them knowing. If you don't do it, then China lose face and they will attempt to punish you. It's not that you can't fight them off, but they are like a big bully around the corner of the block that just won't go away. You'd like to come home with clean clothes sometimes and be left to do your own thing so you bribe him.

As for China approving the Dalai Lama in the 1950, I was saying, hey, they approve our head of states too, if you want to put it that way, even today. If you look up the news, right after any change of head in Vietnamese leaders, the first trip they would make is to China . Because even now, you don't want to openly thump your nose at it. (The last time China attempted to punish Vietnam was very recent, in 78's when they were angered that Vietnam would go to Cambodia against their wishes. So you see that Big brother mentality remains until today.)


If Vietnam can remain independence with our histories and cultures so much entwined with China, then it stands to reason that Tibet, too, have the right to be an independence nation. Tibet couldn't fought them off, and that's the only reason why China can claim it now. They do not have any historical legitimacy.

Let me tell you who else used to pay tributes to China: all of the Indochina countries, Thailand, Burma, Nepal, Bhutan, Korea, and even Japan. Are you saying that proves they all historically belong to China? How about when should China ever decide to be in an expansion mood again one day, and invade them all?
Would you then use the same logic you are applying to Tibet today for those other countries?

Don't say Tibet has always belong to China, without an accurate understanding of the historical backgrounds.

Admit the truth: Tibet belong to China because China has invaded it, and there is nothing anybody can do. Chinese propaganda is just a sop to your conscience to make it easier for other nations to ignore the fact that yes, even at this modern time with the UN and people pretending to care and everything, a bigger and stronger nation can do what they want if they want to, and the world will just watch.
(The whole going in to save Kosovo and Kuwait thing? That's just because Yugoslavia and Iraq were easy targets.)
posted by LenaO at 10:42 PM on March 29, 2009


LenaO, the US policy of manifest destiny made it a tiger on this continent. It took land in the Mexican American War, and no one's offering to let anyone in that land vote to be free. We fought a major war to establish the principle that once we take territory, it's ours, no matter what the local people think. That's just how nations tend to behave.

Regarding China, Vietnam and Tibet are not analogous. Are there centuries of maps showing Vietnam to be part of China? Has China claimed Vietnam in the last thousand years? I haven't looked this up, but I'm pretty sure Vietnam has been recognized as an independent nation for ages. What nation has recognized Tibet as independent in the last three centuries? Why wasn't it included in the League of Nations in the 1920s or the United Nations in the 1940s?

Based on what I've read from many very different sources, the 13th Dalai Lama declared independence around 1912. All other countries ignored him. By 1930 or so, the relationship with China resumed. Wang Lixiong's account of that time period is interesting, but I don't know enough to say it's definitive.
posted by shetterly at 12:27 AM on March 30, 2009


Wang Lixiong has connections to Reporters Without Borders, who finally admitted they were funded by the NED

With all due respect, your fixation on the NED feels very close to conspiracy-theory ravings, especially when you say you sound pro-PRC "because I'm answering people who are strongly pro-NED."

I have no idea what the NED is. I'm not any kind of activist one way or the other. But I lived in China and traveled to Tibet (in 1987), via routes the Chinese government blocked to tourists. And I saw the bodies of peaceful Tibetan protestors shot dead by the PLA on the streets of Lhasa in 1987.

I met lots of Tibetans who loved the Dalai Lama and deeply disliked the Chinese who invaded their land. The Tibetans I met were well-adjusted, happy, non-materialist and yes very religious people, more religious than 99% of Mefites. But not oppressed serfs or liberated communists.

Shakya, quoted in the Reuter's article in the OP, sums up the problem with your position nicely -- there is widespread grassroots Tibetan opposition to Chinese rule. "These are the second or third generation who are supposed to be the sons and daughters of liberated serfs, so why are they rising up?"
posted by msalt at 1:05 AM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Have to agree with msalt here, shetterly - your notion that any tangential connection to NED funding somehow undermines someone like Wang's position (which I don't share myself) borders on the McCarthyite and shows a staggering ignorance of the realities of discourse within China. Amusingly enough, by supporting the idea that a large imperial power can intervene in a "backward" polity to bring progress, you share the fallacious thinking of the neo-conservatives. You've substituted communist intervention for liberal intervention.
As to the class composition of Thrinley Chodron's rebels - you can see Wang himself points out how little enthusiasm the incoming Communists found among commoners. You only have to look at the figures for the numbers involved in the rebellions - there just weren't that many aristocrats in old Tibet; for a rising in a locale like that lead by the nun, it's hard to imagine it could only have been former aristos, and recall it was mistaken for a Red Guard action at first.
Shakya is a family name I believe, although not all Tibetan people have one. Couldn't swear to that though.
posted by Abiezer at 3:46 AM on March 30, 2009


That's it, I'm done argueing with such a blind ideologue: CCP Blue.

Welcome to a shetterly FPP, Skeptic. Also interesting to note that close to 20 of the so-far 80-some comments in the thread are by him, which (once again) suggests he doesn't trust his links to speak for themselves.
posted by aught at 8:47 AM on March 30, 2009


msalt, Google is your friend. The NED is the National Endowment for Democracy, a US-funded organization which continues the CIA's work of overthrowing inconvenient democracies and installing US-friendly ones. Among other things, they helped oust the democratically-elected president of Haiti, and in 2002, they helped fund the coup against Venezuela's democratically-elected president.

Abiezer, I don't know enough to know how these things affect Wang or Shakya--I'm just saying I need more information, because their supporters have engaged in extremely undemocratic actions in the past.

Regarding Thrinley Chodron, Wang doesn't provide the scale for the revolt. Twenty people? Two hundred? All I noticed was that a few people were murdered--in a country with millions of people, that's not necessarily indicative of anything.

aught, when people question my links, I answer. You did notice that I provided more links in a fair number of the replies, I trust?

And I'm grateful for everyone who provided additional links. Especially the Wang and Shakya essays, which will affect what I study next, and which helped fill in gaps in my understanding of Tibet.
posted by shetterly at 9:34 AM on March 30, 2009


What does FPP stand for? I keep meaning to ask. I'd also like to know what SLYT means, as well as any other Metafilter abbreviations.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:07 PM on March 30, 2009


Joe: Here is a list of some of them.
posted by desjardins at 5:00 PM on March 30, 2009


China Will Reopen Tibet to Tourists.
posted by shetterly at 6:02 PM on March 30, 2009


Thanks! And this way I saved my weekly question, in case there's something I really need to find out before next week. Which prudent consideration has kept me from asking any questions on Ask MeFi for quite a while.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:05 PM on March 30, 2009


Regarding Thrinley Chodron, Wang doesn't provide the scale for the revolt. Twenty people? Two hundred? All I noticed was that a few people were murdered--in a country with millions of people, that's not necessarily indicative of anything.

The party's own Major Events in Communist Party History in Tibet (Chinese source) has this in the entry for June 13: "...reactionary nun Thrinley Chodron (赤列曲珍) exploited religious superstition....to inflame the people to attack the PLA propaganda team, killing all 22 team members. On the 21st, 13 grass-roots cadre activists were killed at the convent."

This follows the entry for May 20, which records that groups including the "Emancipated serfs reactionary rebellion command" stormed the Bianba county party offices and injured thirty officials, and in the following month a crowd of more than two thousand people seized power from the revolutionary committee. What followed were assaults on other government and party agencies and a seventeen-day orgy of "assault, looting, burning, and killing" during which hundreds of officials and soldiers were injured and more than 50 were killed (and it notes gruesome treatment including disemboweling, hand-chopping, and eye-gouging).

There are other incidents noted in the records for 1969, most of which are blamed on "a small handful" (一小撮) of reactionary individuals or bad elements, and each of which resulted in several dozen deaths.
posted by zhwj at 7:06 PM on March 30, 2009


zhwj, you're the most recent reason I love MeFi and the net! Out of curiosity, what's the literal meaning of the word you translated as propaganda team?
posted by shetterly at 9:12 PM on March 30, 2009


The literal meaning is "propaganda team." The text uses the abbreviation 军宣队 for the more unwieldy official name, "PLA Mao Zedong Thought Propaganda Team" 人民解放军毛泽东思想宣传队. These teams were the vehicles through which, beginning in 1968, the army kept military control of activities in schools and at other work units. They were joined by civilian "worker propaganda teams."
posted by zhwj at 11:32 PM on March 30, 2009


Shetterly:
LenaO, the US policy of manifest destiny made it a tiger on this continent. It took land in the Mexican American War, and no one's offering to let anyone in that land vote to be free. We fought a major war to establish the principle that once we take territory, it's ours, no matter what the local people think. That's just how nations tend to behave.

Might = Right. I agree with you there. That's what I've been saying, poorly if it didn't come through clear enough.

Did the US claim the Mexican Cession belonged to them because of some historical reasons? "We fought a major war to establish the principle that once we take territory, it's ours, no matter what the local people think." There, that's all I want China and it's supporters to say. Straight out, no bs about how Tibet has always belong to them so they have a right to invade it.

Also, if I'm not mistaken, Texas chose to to join the US, didn't they?

About maps, how about these maps showing Tibet as a tributary states albeit one with more China interference. But so was Mongolia and look who is an independence nation now?

As for Tibet claim for independence in the 1912 getting ignored. Most of the countries of the League of Nations at that times still got their own colonies to think of. In the 40's? Yep, they still got their fingers deep in the pockets of their colonies.
Vietnam declared independence in 45 too, and was not recognised as a nation either until much later, after we have kicked the French out.

I was not sure about whether I should continue with this topic or not or whether it is appropriate in this thread. I jumped in because it has always annoyed me when people speak as if the Tibetan don't have the right to demand independence quoting some propaganda about how it has always belonged to China. (If that wasn't what you mean shetterly, I applogise for derailing)

I guess the points I have been trying to make are:

I'm not saying Tibet doesn't belong to China now. It does, and the only reason for that is China had invaded it.
It doesn't mean Tibet wasn't an independence nation in the past. It doesn't mean Tibet have no right to demand their independence, or at the least autonomy, now.

If the colonies in America could demand their independence because they didn't like England's taxes then so can Tibet.

If Vietnam could regain independence after thousands of years belonging to China, then so can Tibet.

So to the Tibetan, don't listen to China's bs, don't give up your rights. Demand your independence by force, paid for it in blood if you have to. And persist, if you persist long enough you don't even have to win, you just have to make it costly and unprofitable for China enough and you will have what you demand.
posted by LenaO at 5:53 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


The source zhjw links to for Thrinley Chodron's uprising does, as he says, list numerous other incidents that year (1969) and it's quite obvious they enjoyed solid popular support. For example, it doesn't take much reading between the lines to see that this was more than just the actions of a "handful" of malcontent aristocrats:
7·26 比如县发生反革命暴乱事件 上半年,一小撮坏人混入群众组织,利用宗教迷信,组织“白色神军”,大肆进行打、砸、抢,揪斗区乡干部。有的在公路沿线设卡拦车,破坏桥梁。砸烂道班十七个,抢去国营牧场马二百六十余匹,牛一千八百二十余头,羊五千九百二十余只,抢劫国家财产。七月二十六日,少数坏人策划并诱骗群众抢夺当地驻军武器弹药,打伤打死战士多人,抢劫烧杀达七天之久,抢走各种枪支十八支,六零炮二门,火箭筒二具,手榴弹五千余枚,以及一些炮弹、子弹等。八月一日,又煽动全县八个区、十二个乡的部分群众,向县机关和驻军发起攻击,并向县人民政府开炮。机关和驻军被迫开枪还击。
26 July: A counter-revolutionary violent incident broke out in Biru County. During the first six months of the year, a handful of bad persons had inveigled their way into the mass organisations and, by using religious superstition, had created a "White Army of the Spirit." This engaged in wanton assault on District and Township cadre, smashing, robbing and subjecting them to struggle. Some [of the insurgents] set up road-blocks on the highways and damaged bridges. Seventeen highway maintenance brigades were smashed up; 260+ head of horse, 1,820+ head of yak and 5,920+ sheep were stolen from a state-run pasturage and their was [other] plundering of state assets. On the July 26 the plots and cajoling of a small number of evil persons induced the masses to seize arms and ammunition from locally-stationed troops, with many soldier killed or inhured. The pillaging, burning and violence continued for as long as seven days; 18 guns of various types were stolen, also two mortars, two rocket launchers, more than 5,000 hand grenades as well as shells and ammunition. On August 1 they again incited a portion of the masses in eight districts and 12 townships across the county to launch an assault on the county authorities and troops stationed there; they also began shelling the county government [compound]. The county authorities and troops were compelled to return fire.
posted by Abiezer at 6:30 AM on March 31, 2009


urgh, their/there cock-up :(
posted by Abiezer at 6:31 AM on March 31, 2009


Also loads of spelling mistakes and I suppose 火箭筒 is more likely "bazooka" than rocket launcher. Any military buffs?
posted by Abiezer at 6:47 AM on March 31, 2009


A bazooka is a rocket launcher. In China, it would probably be what we call an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade, which is pretty much the same thing.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:38 AM on March 31, 2009


Yeah, I did a GIS afterwards and the top results were bazookas or RPGs. Would have been quite something if they'd nicked a couple of those "Stalin organ" things!
posted by Abiezer at 7:58 AM on March 31, 2009


zhwj, does "propaganda" simply not have the connotations in English that it does in Chinese? In the US, we would call something like that a press department, or public relations center, or an information organization, or an education service, or something sneakier.

LenaO, The Texas War was in 1836. Basically, Texas had belonged to Mexico, and a lot of USans moved there. But when Mexico ended slavery, Texas seceded from Mexico and joined the US as a state where slavery was legal.

The Mexican-American War was ten years later. That's when the US took New Mexico, Arizona, California... essentially, what we call the Southwest.

I agree with you that for centuries, China was simply so powerful that Tibet knew it was best to be a Chinese state. But the analogy with Vietnam doesn't hold. Vietnam was an independent nation that became a French colony. Tibet never became a British colony, though the British influence was strong for a while. Tibet was always a Chinese state so far as the world was concerned.

I agree that everyone has a right to independence. But we don't know whether the Tibetan people want independence. As Wangchuk noted, they're better off under the PRC than they were under the Dalai Lama. Trying to separate Chinese and US propaganda is difficult. I think it makes more sense to work with China to make things better in Tibet than it does to fund separatist activities led by people who haven't lived in Tibet in half a century.

Abiezer, the "induced the masses" and "portion of the masses" are intriguing. I wonder if anyone has decent estimates of the actual numbers of people involved--a thousand? Ten thousand? More? Do you know how closely Thrinley Chodron was working with the rebels who got CIA funding?
posted by shetterly at 10:06 AM on March 31, 2009


shetterly, I'd have to ask you to take my word on it as someone who's read a lot of Party documents that the way the Chinese is phrased here it screams "widespread, spontaneous movement" rather than some nefarious scheme entirely the work of outside agitators. Historiography in Leninist states is notorious for its twists and turns in line with prevailing ideology and anyone with any experience of working with sources of this nature would tell you the same.
I've read a few things about the CIA-backed guerilla activity out of Mustang and even sources hostile to these "contras" say that the last raids occurred in 1969 and had been having increasing trouble penetrating the border even earlier. Given the size of Tibet and the fact the Chinese source makes no mention of outside help there's very little if any reason to suppose their involvement. The entry for September at the same source has the central government ordering suppression of the rebellions but making no mention of outside agitators, instead claiming “西藏一些地区的一小撮阶级敌人,利用民族情绪,宗教迷信,煽动胁迫群众抢劫国家和群众财物,破坏交通,已完全属于反革命性质” -- "In some areas of Tibet a small handful of class enemies have made use of nationalist sentiment and religious superstition to incite and intimidate the masses into plundering assets belonging to the state and the masses and to sabotage transport links; these incidents are of an entirely counter-revolutionary nature." To be frank, you appear to be clutching at straws; I've spoken to researchers at Chinese Tibetology Institutes who are happy to concede the general unpopularity of central rule in Tibet, certainly in the historical period we're discussing here. China has a case for its continued rule in Tibet; it undermines that case by not making it honestly, not living up to its commitments on autonomy and telling stupid lies about the past instead.
posted by Abiezer at 10:56 AM on March 31, 2009


Abiezer, I dunno about clutching at straws, but I'm definitely moving pieces around in a puzzle trying to figure out how they fit. I will take your word about a widespread movement. I've seen how the US under-reports protest, so I'm very comfortable assuming China is as bad or worse. Bureaucrats hate to look bad, so if they can fudge things to look better, they will.

The timing is significant for something else, too: the Cultural Revolution would've just ended.
posted by shetterly at 11:33 AM on March 31, 2009


Bureaucrats hate to look bad - exactly.
In '69 we were still seven years away from the official end of the Cultural Revolution; it went through a number of phases and took different forms in different locations across China, so I'll not generalise other than to say you have to recall there was open armed conflict in many locales, sometimes involving tanks and heavy weaponry - Guiyang was practically flattened in factional fighting IIRC. That the particular form of armed revolt took on nationalist and religious overtones in Tibet is hardly surprising and, again, by no means evidence of outside agitation.
posted by Abiezer at 11:45 AM on March 31, 2009


Shetterly, I know you're all historical materialist and shit but not everyone thinks "higher GNP + hundreds of my people's churches/temples razed + pervasive attempts to destroy my culture + mass immigration of foreigners as claim to democratic rule + wanton exploitation and destruction of natural resources" = "better off."

And your Texas analogy is way off. Mexico in 1836 was 15 years old, a post-colonial state without a unified and distinct identity, culture, language, alphabet, or religious tradition. The United States was not much different, for that matter. So the battle over Texas was more like 2 gangs arguing over turf, or two homesteaders fighting over who gets which (traditionally Native American and collectively managed) land. Tibet had all the elements of a culture and a nation even if they are too religious for your taste.
posted by msalt at 11:55 AM on March 31, 2009


I agree that everyone has a right to independence. But we don't know whether the Tibetan people want independence.

Yes, we do. But you seem to have made up your mind that any Tibetan dissent is really just NED propaganda, and you refuse to listen.
posted by homunculus at 12:41 PM on March 31, 2009


msalt, I'm feeling guilty for participating so much here, so I'll only address "too religious." No. I studied Theravada Buddhism with monks in DC when I was young, and several people I'm very fond of are followers of Tibetan Buddhism. I like religion in general and Buddhism in particular.
posted by shetterly at 12:50 PM on March 31, 2009


homunculus, how do we know that? There are 150,000 exiles from a country of nearly three million. The exiles were all beneficiaries of the old system. Why should we assume they're right and people like Wangchuk and Samding Dorje Phagmo are wrong? Honest, give me a link to something unbiased, and I'll accept it in a second. My Google Fu may be weaker than I know.

(Possibly amusing: I wanted to double check Tibet's population with a number people would accept, so I went to the CIA Factbook--only they don't list Tibet's population, because the US has never recognized Tibet as a country. D'oh!)
posted by shetterly at 1:00 PM on March 31, 2009


In the US, we would call something like that a press department, or public relations center, or an information organization, or an education service, or something sneakier.

China does have government agencies of this kind in various forms. But the propaganda teams were Party organizations. True, over the past few decades the word "propaganda" has fallen out of fashion as an English term for the publicity arm of the party (it officially changed its English translation to Publicity Department not too far back), but for that period of time I don't think you're going to find a better word. Or at least not one that will allow you to participate in conversations with people who follow the terminology that party documents and historians both use when discussing the subject in English.

Besides, with the presence of "Mao Zedong thought" in the name, it doesn't really matter whether you follow that with "public relations team" or "cheerleading squad," because the connotations that "propaganda" has in English are present regardless, and they're fairly close to the sense that the name 毛泽东思想宣传队 gives today (and, at least according to some of the memoirs I've read, similar to the sense it had at the time).
posted by zhwj at 6:07 PM on March 31, 2009


For history buffs, I think I mistook Guiyang for Nanning as one of the cities worst affected by factional fighting in the Cultural Revolution, now having bothered to look it up, though it appears Guiyang had its share of strife too.
posted by Abiezer at 6:36 PM on March 31, 2009


I'm feeling guilty for participating so much here
Re: the posting guidelines: If you love something, set it free.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:54 AM on April 1, 2009


Extract of an article in to appear in this month's FEER: Tibet as 'Hell on Earth'
...

There’s no doubt that Tibet’s traditional society was hierarchical and backwards, replete with aristocratic estates and a bound peasantry. And there’s no doubt that Tibetans, whether in exile or in Tibet voice no desire to restore such a society. Many Tibetans will readily admit that the social structure was highly inegalitarian. But it was hardly the cartoonish, cruel “Hell-on-Earth” that Chinese propaganda has portrayed it to be. Lost in most discussions is an understanding that Tibet’s demographic circumstances (a small population in a relatively large land area) served to mitigate the extent of exploitation. The situation was quite the reverse of China’s in the early 20th century, where far too little land for the large population allowed for severe exploitation by landowners. China’s categorization of Tibetan society as feudal (technically, a problematic characterization) obscures the fact that this socially backwards society, lacking the population pressures found elsewhere, simply didn’t break down as it ought to have and continued functioning smoothly into the 20th century. Inegalitarian? Yes. Sometimes harsh? Yes. But Hell-on-Earth for the vast majority of Tibetans? No. Traditional Tibetan society was not without its cruelties (the punishments visited on some political victims were indeed brutal), but seen proportionally, they paled in comparison to what transpired in China in the same period. In modern times mass flight from Tibet actually only happened after Tibet’s annexation to the People’s Republic of China.

Tellingly, China often illustrates its Hell-on-Earth thesis with photographs and anecdotes derived from rather biased British imperial accounts of Tibet. That one might use such materials to create a similar narrative of decadent Chinese barbarism is no small irony; and such assertions can indeed be found in literature from the age of imperialism. A further irony is that for Tibetans today there is probably no period that registers in the historical memory as cruelly and as savagely as the one that started with democratic reforms in the 1950s (outside the present TAR) and continued through the depths of the Cultural Revolution. When the Dalai Lama’s first representatives returned to tour Tibet in 1979 cadres in Lhasa, believing their own propaganda, lectured the city’s residents about not venting anger at the visiting representatives of the cruel feudal past. What actually transpired was caught on film by the delegation and is still striking to watch: thousands of Tibetans descended on them in the center of Lhasa, recounting amidst tears how awful their lives had become in the intervening 20 years. These scenes stunned China’s leadership and for some, at least, made clear the depths to which Tibetan society had sunk since the era of “Feudal Serfdom.”

It’s hardly likely that most Tibetans, after all these decades, are ready to buy into the government-enforced description of their past; such ham-handed actions may well make many view the past as far rosier than it actually was. It is also unlikely to win over large foreign audiences beyond those who already are, or would like to be, convinced. Most likely, it will simply reinforce a Chinese sense of a mission civilatrice in Tibet. The colonial thinking and arrogance inherent in such missions when entertained by European powers in the past is obvious. And it is precisely the kind of attitude that will likely exacerbate friction in Tibet and—justifiably—lead Tibetans to view China’s presence in their land as of a sort with the colonialism of other nations.

...
I'd seen reference to that 70s visit before but haven't seen the footage. Wonder if it's online anywhere?
posted by Abiezer at 11:17 PM on April 10, 2009 [1 favorite]


Tibetans refuse to sow spring crops in protest against Beijing
posted by homunculus at 10:11 AM on April 12, 2009


Are Tibetans happy? There's no way of knowing
posted by homunculus at 9:21 PM on April 13, 2009


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