China's view of Tibet
March 2, 2009 10:57 AM   Subscribe

West 'uses Tibet to attack China'. Against a background of Chinese authorities denying police had shot a young Tibetan monk who tried to set himself on fire, China has issued Fifty Years of Democratic Reform in Tibet. For a little background: FACTBOX - Historical ties between China and Tibet.

Xinhua has a flurry of articles on Tibet. Origin of the title of "Dalai Lama" and its related background tells about "soul boys" and how Chinese authorities have always approved the choices of Dalai Lamas. White paper: Tibetan people suffered from feudal serfdom, darker than medieval Europe has a great quote from Edmund Candler's The Unveiling of Lhasa, "Powerful lamas controlled everything in Tibet, where even the Buddha himself couldn't do anything without the support of the lamas."

A warning: With Chinese sources in English, you have to watch more carefully for typos and copyeditor errors. For example, that White paper says, "All the farmers in Tibet are serfs saddled with lifelong debts, and it is almost impossible to find any of them who have paid off their debts," French traveler Alexandre David-Neel wrote in his book, Old Tibet Faces New China.. That should be "Alexandra David-Neel wrote in her book..."

Also perhaps of interest: Relics renovation promotes employment in Tibet and Tibet to spend 450 mln yuan on environmental protection.

An earlier MeFi post on related issues: Chinese Nationalism.
posted by shetterly (33 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
A separate commentary in the People's Daily newspaper said that the West was attacking China over Tibet because it feared China's growing strength.

I hate it when they're right.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:10 AM on March 2, 2009

Sure, and next they're going to claim that our concern over a 14-year old gymnast was mostly a reflection of a racially-motivated fear than it was an expression of a true love of the rules of sport and a nationwide refusal to ever use banned substances of lie about one's age. Nice try, China. Face it, America loves feudal theocracies. Always have, always will.
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:50 AM on March 2, 2009

The comically crude bullshit machine of the faded Leninist state rarely reaches more cretinous heights than when addressing "national minorities" questions. Good enough to sucker in a few daring "thinkers" in the West who take positions on self-determination based on their dislike for Richard Gere rather than any kind of principles, I suppose.
posted by Abiezer at 12:09 PM on March 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

Missing the "propaganda" tag, at the risk of pointing out obvious. That's not to say propaganda is automatically untrue - I learned the differences among the white, grey, and black varieties on my mater's knee - but the Chinese authorities remain oblivious to such fine distinctions.
posted by Doktor Zed at 12:20 PM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

While in itself this says exactly nothing about who's right, Tibet did invade China in 714 A.D., and occupied the capital and other important lands, that were the seat of imperial power, when China was the supposed to be the greatest power in the world.

Anyone championing Tibet should know their history. I've received pro-Tibet chain letters from Californians stating that Tibet has been minding it's own business forever and China just jumped in out of nowhere.

My sympathies are with Tibet, but are not reinforced by those denying or ignoring history.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:30 PM on March 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

The Chinese government says that anything anyone says about China that's not completely positive must have its origins in an anti-China bias. The closest the PRC ever came to admitting fault was once saying that Mao "made some mistakes."

When I was in China I found complete denial that "national minorities" were anything other than a treasured part of the country's culture coupled with outrageous racism and condescension against those same supposedly treasured people. Most Han Chinese people will tell you with a straight face that there is no ethnic discrimination in China. They don't seem to see the irony of loudly damning Western imperialism while their own country conquers neighboring peoples for their own good.

Massive generalizations, I know, but I didn't meet a single person who deviated from them.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:31 PM on March 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

When I was in China a few years back I remember People's Daily running an article about the evils of Taiwan's "bribes" to developing countries and that were thankfully being opposed by PRC "aid". I imagined it must have been written by some frustrated intellectual wondering how far he could take irony before people saw the ridiculousness of the propaganda... at least I hoped so.
posted by nangua at 12:33 PM on March 2, 2009

anything anyone says about China that's not completely positive must have its origins in an anti-China bias

Here in the U.S. just about everything anyone says about China, positive, negative, or neutral, does have its origins in an anti-China bias that was carefully groomed by cold war propaganda. These stereotypes have lingered out of intellectual inertia.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:46 PM on March 2, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sorry, a couple of nearly content-free newswire pieces, a book from a seeming vanity press that is named deceptively similarly to one of the most respected publishers of Tibetan Buddhist books, and a half-dozen unabashed PRC Xinhua propaganda pieces do not make a quality FPP about the Tibet situation, no matter how mean some lamas may have been to serfs 100 years ago.
posted by aught at 1:04 PM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Chinese government says that anything anyone says about China that's not completely positive must have its origins in an anti-China bias. The closest the PRC ever came to admitting fault was once saying that Mao "made some mistakes."

Young republic in glorifying-Founding-Father shock.

Although I think one side is clearly in the right here, the PRC and the Tibetan independence movement are pretty much equals in the art of euphemism. China's boilerplate about the historical tasks of the PRC, repulsion of imperialist forces, and China's "patience, tolerance, and sincerity" is pretty familiar, but the Tibetans are constantly innovating. How would you describe centuries of poverty and illiteracy, administered by a tiny caste of corrupt and tyrannical medicine-men? Here's how the International Campaign for Tibet puts it:
[Tibet's] material development has been systematically neglected in favor of their spiritual development. For centuries, the main line item in the budget of the national government has been support of the monasteries and the studies and the practices of the monks and nuns. The wheel was purposely never used for transport, but only for generating prayers, the energy of OM MANI PADME HUM.
This is supposed to be a good thing; apparently Tibet has historically been ruled by "spiritual lineages of wisdom and compassion". I'm not even getting into the idiotic race-mongering and the proposed distinction of ethnicities based on "roundness of head" to be found on the same page.
posted by stammer at 1:21 PM on March 2, 2009 [4 favorites]

Abiezer: take positions on self-determination based on their dislike for Richard Gere rather than any kind of principles

Report on Living Doing the Opposite of What Richard Gere Does


Am not gigolo.
Have not been charged with public indecency in India.
Do not fall in love with prostitutes.
Did not name offspring after Fourth Dragon King of Bhutan, Jigme Wangchuck.
No squinting.


Am not cowboy version of Bob Dylan.
Consumed with desire to crush Tibet under iron heel.

Status of Report

PRELIMINARY. Waiting on confirmation of veracity of "gerbil incident" before completing report.
posted by Kattullus at 1:38 PM on March 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

China cares because Tibet is of incredible strategic importance. While some consider it a potential regional route for energy transport, it is more importantly a massive source of water.

Water is the next major worldwide resource shortage (the current California water crisis is nothing), and Tibet has a massive downstream of delicious mountain snow-water. China wants to secure that major water source.

Note that a fair amount of the downstream goes to India, and if China decides to route its water to feed its people, there is potential for major regional conflict.
posted by amuseDetachment at 1:57 PM on March 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

Ugh. I don't have time to get into this as fully as before, but this FPP is ridiculously biased. What do the last couple of Xinhua links have to do with anything, other than showing off what a kind master the PRC supposedly is to their Tibetan subjects? It's like those reports from the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq on all the schools they were painting, and in the overall context of the situation it's about as meaningful.

This all reminds me again of the thing that really tipped me over into being a supporter of Tibetan autonomy/independence- reading the PRC's side of the situation, and the way Chinese nationalists online (who, like most nationalists, strike me as being a deeply unpleasant bunch) talk about the issue. Which I don't think was the intended effect, but they so clearly don't give a shit about what the Tibetans want, or how they feel about their situation. Everything is about China, and how special China is, and how China should be able to do whatever it likes, and how China has done so much for the Tibetans, and how the Tibetans love China too, and how if the Tibetans don't love China, China will make them regret it, and how they deserve it for not loving China. The links in this FPP, as is the case with pretty much every pro-PRC perspective I've seen on this, radiate that attitude. Not that this is unique to China, by any means- one finds pretty much the exact same sort of arrogant, callous paternalism on American right-wing blogs on the subject of Iraq. It is the way imperialists and their supporters sound everywhere, and it has left me with no doubt that what's going on in Tibet is indeed imperialism.

StickyCarpet: While in itself this says exactly nothing about who's right, Tibet did invade China in 714 A.D., and occupied the capital and other important lands, that were the seat of imperial power, when China was the supposed to be the greatest power in the world.

The interesting thing is, that actually is something that pro-Tibet people should probably want to spread around. PRC propaganda claims that Tibet was always part of China, and the existence of the Tibetan empire in that time period is one of quite a number of things in history which shows the untruth of that. (Really, my impression from what I know of that history is that by the arguments the PRC uses, Mongolia probably has a better claim on Tibet than China does.)
The Tibetan independence movement definitely plays on romanticized images of what Tibet was the past to gain support, which may help in the short term, but in the long term is a mistake, I feel- we don't have to think that Palestinian or Iraqi culture, for example, are things of pure enlightened peacefulness to feel that they should be free to govern their own affairs.
posted by a louis wain cat at 1:58 PM on March 2, 2009

An important note about that Tibetan near-conquest of the Tang Empire: the Tang emperor sued for peace, and both parties departed to their respective borders where they erected stele in both Chinese and Tibetan declaring their mutual intentions to forever honor one another's borders. Didn't work out so well, that.
posted by 1adam12 at 2:33 PM on March 2, 2009

I usually end up posting something about Phunwang to threads like these, so there you go.
posted by Abiezer at 2:40 PM on March 2, 2009

aught and a louis wain cat, look at the title of this post. It's China's view. Of course it's biased. You're supposed to read critically, just as, I would hope, you would read things from the NED or Students for a Free Tibet..

Now, if you have counterlinks to offer, don't hesitate.

I do agree that nationalists of all nations tend to be deeply unpleasant folks.

Aught, you might want to do a little more googling before you damn something. I linked to Google books because that would let you read inside it, but Candler's work was first published by E. Arnold (London, 1905). He was an interesting and well-respected writer.
posted by shetterly at 2:59 PM on March 2, 2009

The Chinese government says that anything anyone says about China that's not completely positive must have its origins in an anti-China bias.

The right-wing talking heads say that anything anyone says about the US that's not completely positive must have its origins in an anti-US bias.

The letter writers to the Boston Globe say that anything anyone says about the Catholic Church that's not completely positive must have its origins in an anti-Catholic bias.

Works with Israel, too.

It's a technique. Lots of insecure groups do it. What's interesting is that the Chinese government is that insecure.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:27 PM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

HRW on the current situation: Tibet Lockdown Exacerbates Tensions
posted by homunculus at 3:44 PM on March 2, 2009

I think it's more of an issue of Buddhists having a very positive public image in the US and the West. Partly due to movies and tv, partly due to the rather charismatic Dalai Lama, and partly because they're the kind we tend to get here, the western view of the Buddhist is of an kind and tranquil pacifist. Oppressing them seems particularly foul - it's like oppressing the Jedi, if the Jedi were so nonviolent they'd carry the worms away from a construction site to avoid harming them. And if they were also puppies.

Realistically, of course, when one examines the historic record and current countries in which Buddhism is the majority religion, one finds they pretty much act like normal people. Also, any in-depth analysis of Tibetan history reveals that a Buddhist theocracy is just as much a human rights disaster as any other religion's. None of this justifies the Chinese oppression of the Tibetans, of course, nor the obvious attempts at eliminating their culture, but it may help understand why people here are so fast to leap to the Tibetan's defense while they'd happily ignore, say, the Uyghers.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:27 PM on March 2, 2009 [3 favorites]

Tibet was of course a backward nation, politically and economically, for a long time.

But you know what? The Dalai Lama has said publicly, many times, that China's incursion into Tibet has had a positive impact in ending these anachronistic feudal practices. He is a very world-wise and generous man.

That's a lot more open minded than that Chinese propaganda piece, which accused Buddhism of
"shackl(ing) people's thinking," while on the other hand extolling their quaint practices as a diversion to their iron-handed rule. The Han people have moved into Tibet, and are extinguishing their culture. Tibet deserves autonomy. It is almost too late.
posted by kozad at 6:26 PM on March 2, 2009

I don't like that China is in Tibet. I'm pretty much for Tibetan independence and believe that what the Dalai Llama is asking for is entirely reasonable. But...

Why does this issue invite such heated exchanges? I've really never understood. Understand that this occupation is no better or worse than the Turks of Armenia, the Russians of Chechnya, the Israelis of Palestine, and the Chinese of Xinjiang, and their threatened occupation of Taiwan. The only way to proceed in this debate is to proceed from acceptance that Tibet was a brutal theocracy that was then denied its chance to modernize, and acceptance that that occupation was conducted by the fanatical, militarized wing of an essentially dead political order. Mao is dead, his politics are dead, and what remains of the government he established, though still authoritarian, is not the rampaging tide of revolution sweeping all before it that it was. And, for better or worse, we have to accept that Tibet is the cause de jure for a lot well-intentioned, but young and misguided people who, in trying to save the world the best way they know how, cloud the issue. Lies are told on all three sides. And it's rare that the Tibetans themselves get a say, and sometimes they lie too.

Why is this so hard for people to understand? If you read the wikipedia article on the war in the Congo, everyone is pretty objective about what's going on, and nobody in that conflict escapes blame, despite the vastly wider scope of its tragedy. Nobody forgives the Rwandans, or declares Kabila a saint. We understand and debate solutions, but nobody's panties are in a bunch about the wrongness of one side over another. And we have the same conversation about Xinjiang, mostly. The first thing people tend to reach for in that conversation is economic development statistics in Xinjiang, as well as the current status of minority cultures. Even Chinese agree that protection isn't adequate. To what degree and who is to blame for it, we differ, but civilly. Why can't we do this with Tibet? I really wish people would calm the hell down about it...
posted by saysthis at 11:02 PM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

Why does this issue invite such heated exchanges? I've really never understood.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I think the fact that I know many kind, sincere, and thoughtful Tibetan refugees whose family members and friends either have been killed by the Chinese or currently live in a state of constant fear and anxiety under the Chinese occupation has something to do with it for me.

And boy, Shetterly, those early 20th century covert British military expeditions into Tibet produced such fair and balanced accounts: the one you cite actually blames the Tibetans in its opening pages for the fact that "punitive" British expedition had to kill so many of them. Candler's account (kept in print today by the vanity press I mention) was justifying the British Empire's actions in 1905 to the British public not unlike the way all that Xinhua propaganda works to justify the PRC today to the Han majority.
posted by aught at 6:01 AM on March 3, 2009

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