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Preview: openDemocracy - Tibet (2008)

Tibet (2008)


The Olympics’ “civilising” legacy: St Louis to Beijing

Fri, 23 May 2008 13:51:31 +0000

The third modern Olympic games were held in StLouis in 1904 alongside the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (world's fair). Chinadid not take part in the sports (it would send its first Olympic athlete to the1932 Los Angeles games), but the Qing dynasty did send its first-ever officialdelegation to an international exposition. It was motivated to do so byconcerns about the negative national image of China promoted by the unofficialexhibits at previous fairs, such as the "opium-den" exhibit at the 1893 world'sColumbian exposition in Chicago. The 1904 Olympics were apparently also the first Olympics to bereported by the press in China.Susan Brownell is professor in the department of anthropology, Universityof Missouri. In 2007-08 she is on sabbatical leave as a Fulbright Scholar atthe Beijing Sport University. She is the author of Training the Body for China: Sports in the Moral Order of the People'sRepublic (University of Chicago Press, 1995) and Beijing's Games: What the Olympics Mean toChina (Rowman &Littlefield, 2008)This essay was originally posted on TheChina Beat: Blogging How the East Is Read (3 May 2008); a revised and expanded version appeared in Japan Focus (16 May 2008) The world's fair was America's coming-out party as a worldpower. The United States had just acquired the former Spanish colonies of thePhilippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam as aresult of the Spanish-American war of 1898 and the subsequentPhilippines-American war (see Warren Zimmermann, FirstGreat Triumph: How Five Americans Made Their Country aWorld Power [Farrar, Straus& Giroux, 2004]). At the fair, it presented itself as an expanding power, with anextremely large display devoted to thePhilippines. Another large section of the exposition grounds was devoted todisplays intended to demonstrate that the government was succeeding in "civilising"American Indians.That the Old World was not completely happyabout the emerging New World is evident in the European criticism ofthe Olympic games. International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Pierre de Coubertin said that awarding the games to St Louishad been a "misfortune" and recalled: "So the St Louis Gameswere completely lacking in attraction. Personally, I had no wish to attendthem. [...] I had a sort of presentiment that the Olympiad would match themediocrity of the town." He complained about "utilitarian America". He also labelled as"embarrassing" the "anthropology days", in which natives who had beenbrought to the fair for the ethnic displays competed in some track and fieldevents and pole-climbing, and compared their performances unfavourably withthose of the "civilised" men who took part in the Olympic games.While the Americans themselves were generallysatisfied with the Olympic games, even to this day European historians considerthe St Louis games and the associated anthropology days to be one ofthe low points of Olympic history (see Susan Brownell, ed., The1904 Anthropology Days and Olympic Games: Sport, Race and American Imperialism [University of Nebraska Press, December2008].It is often said that the 1906 IntermediateOlympic Games in Athens "saved" the Olympics. The historian MarkDyreson has observed that after St Louis it became clear that American notionsof what purposes Olympic sport should serve differed quite dramatically fromthe notions of the European nations that made up the core of the IOC'sleadership (see Mark Dyreson, Makingthe American Team: Sport, Culture and the Olympic Experience [University of Illinois Press, 1998]. Thisconflict would continue for the rest of the 20th century.China'striple-jumpAlso in openDemocracyon China's Olympics, and Tibetan tensions:Li Datong, "Beijing's Olympics, China'spolitics" (22 August 2007)Kerry Brown, "Beijing's politicaltightrope-walk" (12 March 2008)Gabriel Lafitte, "Tibet: revolt with memories" (18 March 2008)Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "The perils of forced modernity:Chi[...]

China's soft-power failure

Mon, 19 May 2008 14:06:08 +0000

The Chinese government planned the year of the Olympic games in Beijing on 8-24 August 2008 as a demonstration of the country's pride and confidence on the global stage. So far, it has not turned out that way. The Tibet protests in mid-March, and the disruption of the Olympic-torch relay that followed, have created confusion in government circles. Now, the earthquake in Sichuan on 12 May has presented the authorities with another severe challenge of management and public relations. A triumphal year is becoming ever more tense. Li Datong is a Chinese journalist and a former editor of Bingdian (Freezing Point), a weekly supplement of the China Youth Daily newspaper Among Li Datong's recent articles in openDemocracy: "Beijing's Olympics, China's politics" (22 August 2007) "China's media change: talking with Angela Merkel" (6 September 2007) "Shanghai: new history, old politics" (19 September 2007) "China's leadership: the next generation" (3 October 2007) "China's communist princelings" (17 October 2007) "China's age of expression" (14 November 2007) "China's modernisation: a unique path?" (28 November 2007) "Taipei and Beijing: attitudes to historical truth" (12 December 2007) "Xiamen: the triumph of public will" (16 January 2008) The official reaction to this series of events is part of a pattern that reveals much about how China is ruled and how its leaders think. In this sense, their response is not random but a case-study in the nature of modern governance in China. The torch of merit The Olympic-torch relay suffered unprecedented disruption in Britain, France and other countries, and has at times descended into chaos. In response, the Chinese government, through the media, launched an unprecedented counterattack. Now that the torch is back on Chinese soil, the media war has abated. The Chinese government's fury is easily understood - the protests were a total humiliation for China. This is the biggest blow to the country's image for twenty years. The only comparable setback came after the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989. Then, China's reputation suffered almost irreversible damage in the face of international condemnation and sanctions from the United States and Europe. But at least the government was prepared for the consequences of its post-Tiananmen repression. Chinese leaders were ready to make the sacrifice necessary in order to hold onto power. Deng Xiaoping knew that sanctions against such a large country as China could not go on indefinitely, and that China could ride out the storm. Deng also understood the importance of repairing China's image, and as early as 1990 put forward the plan for China to apply to host the Olympics. The Chinese government never expected such embarrassment over the torch relay. Over twenty years, the influence of Tiananmen has been diluted, and to international amazement, China's rapid economic development has made it one of the world's largest economies. Every major country has been affected by China's development. After its unsuccessful bid to host the 2000 Olympics, China was favourite to be awarded the 2008 games, and emerged victorious. As a country of over a billion people, a member of the United Nations Security Council and of the World Trade Organisation, China had no less right to be awarded the games than had the Korean military regime in 1988. Also, China's size means that it will be unlikely to slip into debt due to the Olympics, unlike Greece. In terms of hard facts and figures, China was definitely one of the best-qualified countries to host the games. The Chinese government was full of confidence, and in principle the torch relay was an idea that would be welcomed by the rest of the world. But things did not go according to plan. The claim of right What the Chinese government didn't realise was that "soft power", rather than hard power, has[...]

China’s political colours: from monochrome to palette

Wed, 14 May 2008 16:30:40 +0000

A dramatic but largely unacknowledged shift has recently taken place in how the past is understood in China. One way to think about this Chinese transformation is to see it as a sort of "colour revolution" - albeit one very different from the associations this term has with the popular upheavals in Georgia or Ukraine. Jeffrey N Wasserstrom is a professor of history at the University of California, Irvine. His most recent book is China's Brave New World-And Other Tales for Global Times (Indiana University Press, 2007), and his next will be Global Shanghai, 1850-2010 (Routledge, forthcoming). He writes for a wide range of academic and general interest periodicals and is a founding member of a new group blog on Chinese issues, The China Beat: Blogging How the East Is Read Also by Jeffrey N Wasserstrom in openDemocracy: "One, two or many Chinas?" (15 February 2008) "The perils of forced modernity: China-Tibet, America-Iraq" (27 March 2008)Within a few years of Mao Zedong taking power after the communist victory of October 1949, a colour-scheme took shape in which the only parts of the past which could be celebrated were those considered to be completely “red” - that is, tied to the revolution and useful in adding to its lustre. But more than three decades after Mao’s death, China is making room for parts of its past that fall into two other colour-coded categories. It is no longer off-limits to praise things associated with the colour “blue” - which in China has sometimes been linked to the sea, and by extension objects and fashions coming from the west. The fall of another taboo is reflected in favourable comment about historical artefacts or figures regarded as “yellow” - which, in addition to certain sexual and pornographic connotations, conjures up traditional modes of thought and imperial rule. The crowds that have attended this very Chinese “colour revolution” are gazing at tourist sites, not protesting in city-centre squares. True, even in the newest of new China, it remains acceptable to visit and take pride in the classic “red” locales, such as places where Mao himself fought battles or held meetings. Indeed, 2005 was even declared a year of “red tourism”, marked by the publication of books about specific cities and provinces where sites with sacred revolutionary significance could be found. But it has also become acceptable to revel in aspects of China’s past that are “blue”, in the sense of symbolising the country’s ties to international currents that have more to do with consumption and capitalism than to radical action. The refurbished neo-classical structures that line Shanghai’s waterfront Bund are an example. In a sign of just how far things have moved on from the days when these buildings were disparaged as symbols of “bourgeois decadent” lifestyles, some Shanghai residents clamour to see them become China’s latest addition to the United Nations list of world heritage sites. Perhaps even more strikingly, it is now routine for citizens of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to trek to “yellow” sites linked to the Confucian and dynastic past in a spirit of reverence. Some of these places were indeed seen as appropriate destinations in Mao’s day, but to be reminded of the injustices of “feudal” times rather than to take pride in their splendour. Even Beijing’s “forbidden city”, which Mao considered tearing down completely to make way for buildings more representative of the new China, has been recast as a symbol of the nation. The forbidden city's renewed sacredness became clear when a popular television personality spearheaded a campaign for the removal of a Starbucks outlet at the edge of the old palace complex. If the network of imperial buildings had still been seen as a polluted and degenerate space, such a protest would not have made any sense (nor been successful, as it ultimately was). It is equally notable that, three decades after[...]

Tibet: looking for the truth

Thu, 08 May 2008 15:40:24 +0000

When the Lhasa incident of 14 March 2008 occurred, rumours were spreading all over the streets even as the Chinese media kept its usual silence. For several days, the Chinese media carried only the brief bulletins and speeches from the leaders of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. In the bulletins, there was only one description of the incident: "Recently, a small number of people in Lhasa engaged in assaulting, vandalising, looting and arson." This was just an ordinary, brief news item. But the people can tell from the strong condemnations of the "Dalai Lama clique" that this incident was no small thing, and therefore they set out to find out more. Chang Ping (the writerly name of Zhang Ping) is a Chinese blogger. He was formerly deputy chief editor of the Southern Metropolis Weekly magazine. Ching Peng published this column on the sources of news about Tibet - "How to find the truth about Lhasa?" - on 3 April 2008. It was revealed on 6 May 2008 that he had been fired from his job Many people, basing their efforts on past experience, obtained additional information from the overseas media. At around the same time, several forum posts and videos that exposed fake reporting by overseas media appeared and gained popularity. This quickly became an internet incident in which Chinese citizens angrily condemned the western media. Several websites appeared with names such as "anti-CNN," "anti-BBC" and "anti-VOA". An angry current Chinese netizens compiled information indicating that certain media in countries such as Germany, United States, United Kingdom and India had made clear factual errors in their reporting. From the viewpoint of journalistic professionalism, these errors were very wrong, even deliberately misleading. Although some media outlets have issued apologies and corrections, the damage from the inaccurate news was already done, and the Chinese people find this hard to forgive. Like any kind of fake news, the damage is first and foremost to public trust in the media itself, because ten thousand truths cannot undo one lie. But if in the reporting of the Lhasa incident (as well as other major incidents), the Chinese media is not allowed to report freely and the overseas media are suspect, then where is the truth going to come from? Some of the netizens who had exposed the fake reporting by overseas media claimed that they wanted to use their action to show the truth about Lhasa to the world. This assertion is logically incorrect, because their actions can only let people see that the western media are not reporting the truth accurately. But what happened in Lhasa? Most Chinese people have only seen the unified press release issued by their government several days later. When the news comes from a single exclusive source, I cannot say that it is fake but I cannot accept that it is true either. The overseas media have mostly described this as "the truth that the Chinese government has carefully scripted". After the government organised a visit to Tibet by a group of overseas journalists, their reports were mostly not translated into Chinese. But given the fervour of the campaign to condemn the western media, not many people would believe those reports even if they were translated. Also in openDemocracy on China's tensions over Tibet and the Olympics: Li Datong, "Beijing's Olympics, China's politics" (22 August 2007) Kerry Brown, "Beijing's political tightrope-walk" (12 March 2008) Gabriel Lafitte, "Tibet: revolt with memories" (18 March 2008) Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "The perils of forced modernity: China-Tibet, America-Iraq" (27 March 2008) Donald S Lopez, "How to think about Tibet" (28 March 2008) Dibyesh Anand, "Tibet, China, and the west: empires of the mind" (1 April 2008) Ivy Wang, "China's netizens and Tibet: a Guangzhou report" (8 April 2008) Wang Lixi[...]

China’s Olympics: after the storm

Tue, 06 May 2008 16:06:15 +0000

In hindsight, it can look as though China's apparently tortuous last six months have been part of some masterly public-relations plan to manage the world's expectations of the Beijing Olympics on 8-24 August 2008. Kerry Brown is an associate fellow on the Asia programme, Chatham House, and director of Strategic China Ltd. His most recent book is Struggling Giant: China in the 21st Century (Anthem Press, 2007)Also by Kerry Brown on openDemocracy:"China's top fifty: the China power list" (2 April 2007)"China goes global" (2 August 2007)"China's party congress: getting serious" (5 October 2007)"Shanghai: Formula One's last ride" (15 October 2007)"Beijing's political tightrope-walk" (12 March 2008)"Taiwan and China: an electoral prelude" (4 April 2008) The problem was that these expectations were becoming dangerously high. A PR campaign was, then, required; its purpose was to reduce them to such a low level that even a moderately well-run event with no major calamity could be portrayed as a success. The strategy of the Chinese government - and its key PR advisors, Ogilvy & Hill Knowlton - was to arrange a succession of events that left the rest of the world awed in disbelief. There was no need after all, it seems, for the advice of scholarly experts (see James A Millward, "China's story: putting the PR into the PRC", 18 April 2008). The sophisticated campaign had four stages. First, there was the circulation of claims - increasing by late 2007 - that China's nefarious role in the western Sudanese province of Darfur was guaranteed to make Beijing the "genocide Olympics". This argument culminated in February 2008 in the resignation of Stephen Spielberg as creative director of the Olympics's opening and closing ceremonies (though on this last point, the Chinese government could preserve the appearance of wounded pride by pointing out that there was nothing for Spielberg to resign from as he had never signed a contract). Second, there were the uprisings in Tibetan-inhabited areas in mid-March 2008 - from the Tibetan Autonomous Region itself to Sichuan and Gansu - which led to the death of (according to Tibetan accounts) over 100 people. These had been preceded, and were followed, by incidents of protest (including demonstrations) in the northwest province of Xinjiang. Third, the Olympic torch's global procession faced vocal demonstrations in a number of western capitals, which degenerated into scenes of chaos as Chinese defenders (mostly students) of their country's right and dignity clashed with Tibetan activists and western human-rights protestors. Fourth, China has continued its squeeze on its own internal dissidents; the three-and-a-half-year sentence handed in April 2008 to the internet and environmental campaigner Hu Jia for crimes of subversion, is only the most visible among many examples. In the wake of the storm This storm of bad news for the Chinese government was as unexpected as it has been unremitting. In such periods, its leaders will often invoke the advice of the classics - in this case Mao Zedong himself: that the best way to deal with defeat was to use it as a basis for the next victory. When its ferocity has subsided, the nine-strong politburo - in place only since the seventeenth congress of the Chinese Communist Party on 15-19 October 2007 - may well observe the becalmed landscape and see a blessing in disguise. As long, that is, as the tumult really has ended. The People's Republic of China (PRC), and the Chinese people as a whole, have shared with many people outside China a set of inflated, unrealistic notions about what the Olympics could or will deliver. When Beijing won the right to host the 2008 Olympics in 2001, many on all sides may well have sincerely believed that in seven years' time China would have made great progress both in human rights and in politi[...]

Tibet scholars and China: a letter

Tue, 22 Apr 2008 14:51:30 +0000

Dear Mr President, The world has witnessed an outbreak of protests across the Tibetan plateau, followed in most instances by a harsh, violent repression. In the majority of cases these protests have been peaceful. The result has been an unknown number of arrests and the loss of numerous lives, which have been overwhelmingly Tibetan. This has understandably triggered widespread concern and anguish across the globe. As scholars engaged in Tibetan studies, we are especially disturbed by what has been happening. The civilisation we study is not simply a subject of academic enquiry: it is the heritage and fabric of a living people and one of the world's great cultural legacies. This article contains a statement by seventy-five concerned Tibetan-studies scholars on the crisis in Tibet, addressed to China's president, Hu Jintao, and the government of the People's Republic of China. The document, released on 27 March 2008, has since been signed by hundreds more scholars We express our deep sorrow at the horrible deaths of the innocent, including Chinese as well as Tibetans. Life has been altered for the worse in places with which we are well acquainted; tragedy has entered the lives of a people we know well. At the time this statement is being written, continued arrests and shootings are being reported even of those involved in peaceful protest, the accused are being subjected to summary justice without due process and basic rights, and countless others are being forced to repeat political slogans and denunciations of their religious leader. Silence in the face of what is happening in Tibet is no longer an option. At this moment the suppression of political dissent appears to be the primary goal of authorities across all the Tibetan areas within China, which have been isolated from the rest of China and the outside world. But such actions will not eliminate the underlying sense of grievance to which Tibetans are giving voice. As scholars we have a vested interest in freedom of expression. The violation of that basic freedom and the criminalisation of those sentiments that the Chinese government finds difficult to hear are counterproductive. They will contribute to instability and tension, not lessen them. It cannot be that the problem lies in the refusal of Tibetans to live within restrictions on speech and expression that none of us would accept in our own lives. It is not a question of what Tibetans are saying: it is a question of how they are being heard and answered. The attribution of the current unrest to the Dalai Lama represents a reluctance on the part of the Chinese government to acknowledge and engage with policy failures that are surely the true cause of popular discontent. The government's continuing demonisation of the Dalai Lama, which falls far below any standard of discourse accepted by the international community, serves only to fuel Tibetan anger and alienation. A situation has been created which can only meet with the strongest protest from those of us who have dedicated our professional lives to understanding Tibet's past and its present; its culture and its society. Indeed, the situation has generated widespread shock among peoples inside and outside China as well, and we write in full sympathy with the twelve-point petition submitted by a group of Chinese writers and intellectuals on 22 March (see "Chinese intellectuals and Tibet: a letter" [15 April 2008]). Also in openDemocracy on Tibetan protests and China's response: Ugen, "Tibet's postal protest" (4 November 2005) Jamyang Norbu, "Tibetan tales: old myths, new realities" (13 June 2005) openDemocracy / Tenzin Tzundue, "Tibet vs China: a human-rights showdown" (15 August 2006) Gabriel Lafitte, "Tibet: revolt with memories" (18 March 2008) Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "The perils of forced modernity: China-Tibet, Americ[...]

China and Tibet: the true path

Tue, 15 Apr 2008 11:59:11 +0000

Wang Lixiong is a Beijing-based writer. He was the organiser of the twelve-point statement on Tibet by twenty-nine Chinese intellectuals, released on 22 March 2008. This article was published in the Wall Street Journal. It was translated from the Chinese by Perry Link of Princeton University. The recent troubles in Tibet are a replay of events that happened two decades ago. On 1 October 1987, Buddhist monks were demonstrating peacefully at the Barkor - the famous market street around the central cathedral in Lhasa - when police began beating and arresting them. To ordinary Tibetans, who view monks as "treasures", the sight was intolerable - not only in itself, but because it stimulated unpleasant memories that Tibetan Buddhists had been harbouring for years (see Tubten Khétsun, Memories of Life in Lhasa Under Chinese Rule [Columbia University Press, 2008]). A few angry young men then began throwing stones at the Barkor police station. More and more joined in, and then they started fires, overturned cars and began shouting "Independence for Tibet!" This is almost exactly what was witnessed in Lhasa on 14 March 2008. The fundamental cause of these recurrent events is a painful dilemma that lives inside the minds of Tibetan monks. When the Chinese government demands that they denounce their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, monks are forced to choose between obeying (which violates their deepest spiritual convictions) and resisting (which can lead to loss of government registry and physical expulsion from monasteries). From time to time monks have used peaceful demonstrations to express their anguish. When they have done this, an insecure Chinese government, bent on "annihilating unstable elements" in the "emergent stage", has reacted with violent repression. This, in turn, triggers violence from Tibetans (see Robert Barnett & Shirin Akiner, Resistance and Reform in Tibet [C Hurst 1994]). Also in openDemocracy: Gabriel Lafitte, "Tibet: revolt with memories" (18 March 2008) Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "The perils of forced modernity: China-Tibet, America-Iraq" (27 March 2008) Donald S Lopez, "How to think about Tibet" (28 March 2008) George Fitzherbert, "Tibet's history, China's power" (28 March 2008) Dibyesh Anand, "Tibet, China, and the west: empires of the mind" (1 April 2008) Robert Barnett, "Tibet: questions of revolt" (4 April 2008) Wenran Jiang, "Tibetan unrest, Chinese lens" (7 April 2008) Ivy Wang, "China's netizens and Tibet: a Guangzhou report" (8 April 2008) In recent decades, the Chinese government's policy for pacifying Tibet has been to combine the allure of economic development on the one hand with the threat of force on the other. Experience has shown that this approach does not work (see "Skewed gains", Economist, 10 April 2008). The most efficient route to peace in Tibet is through the Dalai Lama, whose return to Tibet would immediately alleviate a number of problems. Much of the current ill-will, after all, is a direct result of the Chinese government's verbal attacks on the Dalai Lama, who, for Tibetan monks, has an incomparably lofty status. To demand that monks denounce him is about as practical as asking that they vilify their own parents. It should be no surprise that beatings of monks and closings of monasteries naturally stimulate civil unrest; or that civil unrest, spawned in this way, can turn violent. The solution within Why aren't these simple truths more obvious? Phuntsog Wanggyal, a Tibetan now retired in Beijing who for years was a leading communist official in Tibet, has observed that a doctrine of "anti-splittism" has taken root among Chinese government officials who deal with religion and minority affairs, both in central offices in Beij[...]

China's netizens and Tibet: a Guangzhou report

Tue, 08 Apr 2008 12:46:46 +0000

Ivy Wang graduated cum laude from Yale University with majors in History and English literature. She has spent the past year and a half in Guangzhou as a fellow of the Yale-China Association, teaching English and American history at Sun Yat-sen University and researching the right to health. In the weeks since the protests, riots, and government crackdown in Tibet hit the headlines, Chinese coverage of the events has gone through several incarnations. It began life as a terse state press-release, then refashioned itself into a front-page struggle between embattled civilians and scheming "splittists", before arriving at its current manifestation: the public shaming of the purportedly anti-Chinese western media. On the face of it, these changes have been mandated from the top down. But behind the curtains of China's official media, networks of active internet users have played a key role in shaping the course of the reporting of Tibet. The state-controlled media apparatus has become increasingly, if somewhat selectively, responsive to the noisy participation of the country's netizens. Breaking the news The morning that unrest in Lhasa was first reported in the west - 12 March 2008 - I savoured the opportunity of breaking the shocking news to Chinese colleagues in my office in Guangzhou, southern China. "Did any of you see? The Guardian says the protests in Tibet are the biggest in twenty years..." At that stage, sure enough, my position as the sole reader of English-language news on the premises that day meant I was the only one aware of the unfolding events. My colleagues, all employees of or volunteers at a major international NGO, were surprised. "Can you send me the link?" one asked. "I have a friend who would want to see this." But others were already getting clued in. In the protest's early days, renowned blogger Zhou Shuguang, better known as Zuola, served as an unofficial source for people seeking news from Tibet (his site has since been blocked in China). This was before Xinhua, the state-run news service, even acknowledged the occurrence of demonstrations in a grudging, one-paragraph statement accusing an "extremely small minority of Tibetans" of "plotting to destroy the stability and harmony of Tibet." Also in openDemocracy on the Tibet protests and China's response: Ugen, "Tibet's postal protest" (4 November 2005) Jamyang Norbu, "Tibetan tales: old myths, new realities" (13 June 2005) openDemocracy / Tenzin Tzundue, "Tibet vs China: a human-rights showdown" (15 August 2006) Gabriel Lafitte, "Tibet: revolt with memories" (18 March 2008) Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "The perils of forced modernity: China-Tibet, America-Iraq" (27 March 2008) Donald S Lopez, "How to think about Tibet" (28 March 2008) George Fitzherbert, "Tibet's history, China's power" (28 March 2008) Dibyesh Anand, "Tibet, China, and the west: empires of the mind" (1 April 2008) Robert Barnett, "Tibet: questions of revolt" (4 April 2008) Wenran Jiang, "Tibetan unrest, Chinese lens" (7 April 2008) "In the beginning, the government had been hoping to keep things quiet", my friend Bei Feng, an editor of a major Chinese web portal whose blog was chosen in 2007 as one of China's ten most influential, told me. "But the actions of netizens forced them to widen their coverage." He himself was an example of this sort of net activism. When news of Tibet broke, he employed a strategy he says he commonly uses for sensitive issues, posting a story about it on his blog and then taking it off after only a few hours to avoid being shut down by censors. The window of time is narrow, but gives readers ample opportunity to copy and paste his st[...]

Tibetan unrest, Chinese lens

Mon, 07 Apr 2008 12:06:58 +0000

Wenran Jiang is an associate professor of political science at the University of Alberta, Canada, and acting director of the China Institute (CIUA) there This article is also published in the Globe and Mail (Toronto) Since riots and unrest broke out in March 2008 in Tibet and the surrounding provinces, emotions have been running high on all sides. On one side, critics of the Chinese government charge that what happened was the result of a resistance movement by the Tibetan people against Beijing's longstanding repressive policies in the region. They call for international attention to the Tibetan situation, organise protests along the routes of the global torch-relay leading up to the Beijing Olympic games (as in London on 6 April), and push for a boycott of the 8-24 August event. On the other side, the authorities in the People's Republic of China (PRC) claim that the Dalai Lama and his separatist forces masterminded this unrest, which turned into violent rampages, looting, burning and killing of innocent civilians. Beijing insists that law and order be restored and rioters be punished; it will not tolerate further violence, and has indicated it will do whatever is necessary to fight Tibetan independence, even at the cost of damaging its reputation as Olympic host. Also in openDemocracy on Tibet: Ugen, "Tibet's postal protest" (4 November 2005) Jamyang Norbu, "Tibetan tales: old myths, new realities" (13 June 2005) openDemocracy / Tenzin Tzundue, "Tibet vs China: a human-rights showdown" (15 August 2006) Gabriel Lafitte, "Tibet: revolt with memories" (18 March 2008) Jeffrey N Wasserstrom, "The perils of forced modernity: China-Tibet, America-Iraq" (27 March 2008) Donald S Lopez, "How to think about Tibet" (28 March 2008) George Fitzherbert, "Tibet's history, China's power" (28 March 2008) Dibyesh Anand, "Tibet, China, and the west: empires of the mind" (1 April 2008) Robert Barnett, "Tibet: questions of revolt" (4 April 2008) It is not surprising that such a bitter confrontation has extended beyond China's borders. Tibetans in exile took to the streets in India and Nepal. In major European and north American cities, well coordinated demonstrations have been staged in front of Chinese embassies and consulates as the unrest was spreading in Tibet and neighbouring provinces. For their part, many in the Chinese diaspora have exhibited a strong sense of nationalism that opposes any Tibetan independence movement and resents any form of boycott of the Beijing Olympics. What is surprising, however, is the very high level of mobilisation of Chinese public opinion (including in the blogosphere) that is not as much a response to Beijing's rallying calls for national unity as it is a strong reaction to what many Chinese perceive as the one-sided reporting of the Tibetan unrest by the western press. Chinese people everywhere want their side of the Tibet story told. In 1989, Chinese people all over the world, including scholars and students from the mainland, protested against the government crackdown on students in Tiananmen Square. This time, by contrast, Chinese people - in European and Canadian cities, for example - have taken to the streets in support of Beijing. While many overseas Chinese believe that Beijing's extremely harsh and hostile words against the Dalai Lama are neither effective nor well received by the western public, they still see western news media as being excessively anti-China. (Many noted errors in the reporting, including the mislabelling of photos of Indian and Nepalese police confronting demonstrating monks as Chinese soldiers cracking down in Tibet.) They have fed their observations back to Chinese cyberspace instantly, in a process that is p[...]

Tibet: questions of revolt

Fri, 04 Apr 2008 11:58:20 +0000

The charred bodies and pulped faces of Chinese migrants murdered during the riots in Lhasa on 14 March 2008 are likely to become a new and terrible image of Tibet. Just as those Tibetans who have died in ethnic violence or at the hands of the security forces, those killed in the latest struggle over Tibet's future died what should have been unnecessary deaths. The desperation of Tibetans living on the Tibetan plateau has been documented for several decades by scholars and journalists, as well as in repeated appeals by exiles and their leader, the Dalai Lama. Major grievances include: Robert Barnett is director of modern Tibetan studies at Columbia University in New York. Among his books are Lhasa: Streets with Memories (Columbia University Press, 2006) and (co-edited with Ronald Schwartz) Tibetan Modernities: Notes from the Field on Social and Cultural Change (Brill, 2008) An earlier version of this article appeared in the Wall Street Journal See also this interview with Robert Barnett: "Seven Questions: What Tibetans Want" (Foreign Policy, March 2008) * elaborate restrictions on religion * an undisguised encouragement of Chinese migration to Tibetan towns * the ban on criticism of most Communist Party policies * the imposition of ethnic Chinese leaders to run the region * the forced settlement of 100,000 nomads without prospect of future livelihood * the obligatory moving of 250,000 farmers in 2006 from their villages to new houses along major roads, often largely at their own expense. Underpinning all of this is the deeper issue of Tibetans' continuing recollection of themselves as a separate nation that has been forcibly annexed. China has shown some flexibility and good intentions. In 2002 Beijing began, with impressive initiative, a dialogue process with the Dalai Lama after twenty years of little contact. In 2003, Hu Jintao - reconfirmed as China's president for another five-year term on 15 March 2008, as the Tibet protests exploded - called for development policies based on ultra-rapid GDP growth to be replaced by a focus on developing human resources. He began to refer to the positive role of religion in a "harmonious society", especially in reference to Buddhism. But these important policy signals were not applied in Tibetan areas. Little effort was made to justify these renewed restrictions, some of which did not apply to ethnic Chinese in Tibet or exist in inland China. The Dalai Lama's call in 2005 on exiles to stop protesting against Chinese leaders was not matched by confidence-building measures from Beijing. By 2006, the talks with exiles had slowed down to the point of virtual non-existence, waiting for any sign of commitment from the Chinese side. A shadow world In Lhasa, there was nothing subtle about the hardening of policy. In May 2006, Hu Jintao appointed Zhang Qingli as the new party secretary for the Tibet Autonomous Region. Zhang spearheaded an intensification of the anti-Dalai Lama campaign first imposed on Tibetans ten years earlier. He will be remembered for such choice remarks as "the Central Party Committee is the real Buddha for Tibetans" (though he did at least deny that he was himself a Buddha); for stepping up the semi-secret ban on students and government employees engaging in any form of religious practice (a ban that is illegal under Chinese law); and for pushing through the construction of the first railway line in Tibet without introducing policies to address Tibetans' fears - since proved correct - that it would accelerate Chinese migration to the region. Also in openDemocracy on Tibet: Ugen, "Tibet's postal protest" (4 November 2005) Jamyang Norbu, "Tibetan tales: old myths, new realities" (13 June 2005) openDemocracy / Tenzin Tzundue, "T[...]

Tibet, China, and the west: empires of the mind

Wed, 02 Apr 2008 14:27:49 +0000

The sudden escalation of protest by Tibetans in Lhasa and elsewhere in March 2008 has been accompanied by vigorous rhetoric from the Chinese state reaffirming its sovereignty over Tibet and strong counter-arguments from Tibetans claiming the right to self-determination. Both these positions crucially depend on historical references and evidence for their validation. But how far does history provide support for either? One way to approach this question is to examine contemporary political claims over Tibet in light of the contending parties’ use of the idea of sovereignty. Such a reading might be said to complicate both sides’ political assertions. For example, in the early 20th century Tibetans took advantage of civil wars within China to throw out Chinese officials and troops and make their state de facto independent, a situation that lasted from 1913 to 1949. But this period did not see Tibet gain widespread recognition as an independent state, and de jure Chinese claims of political supremacy went unchallenged. In this sense, China retained valid historical and legal claims over Tibet. Dibyesh Anand is a reader in international relations at Westminster University’s Centre for the Study of Democracy. He is the author of Geopolitical Exotica: Tibet in Western Imagination (University of Minnesota Press, 2007); his book Hindu Nationalism and the Politics of Security in India is due from Palgrave Macmillan in 2009. His research interests include postcolonial international relations, Sino-Indian relations, China, Tibet and India. At the same time, China’s political control of Tibet had never been absolute. Tibet had occupied a special place for China, whose emperors were often Buddhists and who also found the Tibetan lamas useful allies in efforts to pacify the Buddhist Mongols. The relationship resembled that of patron-to-priest; it had a religious-symbolic-political content that was alien to absolutist terms of sovereignty or independence (see Gray Tuttle, Tibetan Buddhists in the Making of Modern China [Columbia University Press, 2005]). The Chinese use of the European concept of absolute sovereignty gave this relationship an extra charge. It was itself the product of two factors: the rise of nationalism in China in the early 20th century, and British-Indian attempts to name Sino-Tibetan relations using European vocabulary. In this sense, Chinese control over Tibet can be understood through two different imperial trajectories – one Chinese and one western. The fact that the People’s Republic of China (PRC), while focusing primarily on historical-imperial ties to legitimise its control over Tibet, uses the modern concept of sovereignty – a product of European universalisation through imperialism and decolonisation – shows the significance of the western imperialist trajectory in the “scripting” of modern Tibet. The crucial transition Tibetan nationality/ethnicity was from a very early stage at the core of modern Chinese national consciousness - along with the categories of Han, Hui (used for all Muslims), Manchu and Mongol. Meanwhile, the combination of the impact of western (European, American and - in this context - Japanese) imperialism and awareness of China as being a “great continuous civilisation” made Chinese nationalism hyperconscious of any challenge to its imagined collectivity. Thus, Tibetans became an integral part of modern Chinese nationalism and then the nation-state well before military “liberation” in 1950 and the “seventeen-points agreement” in 1951. More broadly, today’s Chinese regime uses nationalism as a primary means of legitimising its rule as it seeks to combine authoritarian control with capitalist economic practices; as such, it cannot but be paranoid about ethno-natio[...]

How to think about Tibet

Mon, 31 Mar 2008 16:02:32 +0000

Think about Tibet as Latvia, with very tall mountains. Latvia was once the westernmost Soviet republic, although it had little in common with Russia. The language, the religion, the literature, the food, the society were all quite different. Latvia had been oriented to the west and to Europe over much of its long history. Yet Latvia came under Russian control during the 19th century. After the Russian revolution of 1917, it gained independence in 1921, only to fall to Stalin in 1940. After fifty years of Soviet domination, the Soviet Union collapsed and Latvia regained its independence in 1991. Donald S Lopez Jr is professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan. Among his books are Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West (University of Chicago Press, 1998), (as editor) Buddhist Scriptures (Penguin, 2004), and The Madman's Middle Way: Reflections on Reality of the Tibetan Monk Gendun Chopel (University of Chicago Press, 2005) Most Tibetans have never heard of Latvia. But the parallels are striking. Today, the "Tibet Autonomous Region" (TAR) is the southwestern province of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC); the Chinese word for Tibet is Xizang, "western treasury." Although linguists today speak of "Sino-Tibetan" linguistics, the relation of Chinese to Tibetan is tenuous. Tibet received its Buddhism from India long after the establishment of Buddhism in China; indeed, beginning in the 8th century, Tibet looked to India rather than China for its literary and religious culture, even modelling its alphabet on an Indian script. Tibetans eat roasted barley moistened with the infamous "yak butter tea", something the Chinese palette finds unappetising. Yet, during the 18th century, much of Tibet's foreign affairs were overseen by the Chinese court. With the fall of the Qing, Tibet became an independent state, a status it maintained from 1913-51. Since 1951, Tibet has been part of the Peoples Republic of China. What is today called the "Tibet Autonomous Region" (TAR) represents only a portion of the Tibetan cultural domain. The remaining areas were incorporated into Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu, and Qinghai provinces of the PRC. On 10 March 1959, a rumour circulated in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa that the Chinese troops occupying the city intended to do harm to the Dalai Lama. A large mob gathered and surrounded his summer palace in order to prevent the Chinese from coming in or the Dalai Lama from going out. On 17 March, the Chinese shelled the palace; the Dalai Lama escaped that night, disguised as a Tibetan soldier, and made his way to exile in India. He has not returned. A potent anniversary 10 March is celebrated as "Tibetan national uprising day" by the Tibetan exile community and supporters of the Tibetan cause around the world. It is not publicly observed in Tibet. However, on 10 March 2008, about one hundred monks from Drepung monastery (prior to the Chinese invasion the largest monastery in the world, with over 10,000 monks) began walking the five miles into Lhasa to protest the detention of monks after the Dalai Lama received the Congressional gold medal in the United States in October 2007. They were stopped by Chinese security forces, and some of the monks were beaten. Monks have always been accorded respect in Tibetan society; since the Chinese takeover of Tibet, to be a monk is to be a patriot, the red robes and shaved head marking a certain defiance of the avowedly atheist Chinese state. Tibetan lay people are protective of Tibetan monks; it was when Chinese cadres tried to collective the lands of Buddhist monasteries in eastern Tibet in 1950 that the first bloodshed occurred between Chinese communists [...]

Tibet’s history, China’s power

Fri, 28 Mar 2008 15:13:08 +0000

The Chinese public's frustration at the western media's apparent anti-Chinese bias with regard to the reporting of the recent unrest in Tibet is understandable. The Lhasa riots of 14 March 2008 claimed several innocent Chinese lives and the destruction of many properties and businesses. But the Chinese public should not be blinded from an understanding of the wellsprings of the protest. George Fitzherbert is a scholar of Tibet at Oxford University Whenever there is any domestic turmoil in China, the government's instinctive response is always to lay the blame on external anti-Chinese influences "meddling in China's internal affairs". Yet it is very clear that the Dalai Lama has played no direct role in instigating the current wave of riots and demonstrations across the Tibetan plateau. It is, rather, the Chinese government's refusal to respect Tibetan aspirations with regard to the return of their leader that is is one root cause of the present unrest. A historic moment What has given this outbreak of protest such a violent and ethnically antagonistic dimension is that in many parts of the Tibetan plateau - which are undergoing rapid economic development - Tibetans are rapidly and reluctantly becoming a minority in their own ancestral homelands, in much the same way as Mongolians have already become an almost negligible minority in the equally "autonomous" Chinese province of Inner Mongolia. The central government is well aware that once outnumbered by Chinese immigrants, Tibetan nationalism will become, of necessity, an unviable anachronism, and the Tibetans will be forced to accept the status that the Chinese have always assigned to them - as inalienable members of the "big family" of the Chinese motherland. Tibetans themselves are also acutely aware that in-migration to their lands and the establishment of Chinese economic concerns pose the greatest threats to the continuance of their culture, and these are therefore the primary targets of the protests. Despite rising levels of material livelihood, Tibetans across the plateau are experiencing a sense of colonial disenfranchisement and an increasing distance from their once-sacred and animate environment, which in traditional culture imbued life with value and meaning. The fact that spontaneous protests have erupted across the Tibetan plateau, from Lhasa to the borderlands of Amdo and Kham (in Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces) marks the belated coming-of-age of a pan-Tibetan nationalism. In the past there was no Tibetan name, aside from khawachen gi yul (the "land of snows") to describe the entire Tibetan cultural world. The Tibetan name from which the name "Tibet" is derived, Bod (pronounced pö) referred only to the central Tibetan provinces of U and Tsang, while excluding the more populous Tibetan cultural and linguistic regions of Kham and Amdo, whose loose governance was traditionally divided between many independent and semi-independent statelets and principalities, which were somewhat culturally and socially integrated with central Tibet through the system of federative monasticism. Indeed, it was the coming of the Chinese communist regime that unwittingly fostered a sense of pan-Tibetan identity - a reaction both to the encounter with "the other" in the form of the Han and Hui (Muslim) Chinese, and to the implementation of the CCP's nationalities policy, based on the Soviet model, in which Tibetans of all regional shades are classified, quite correctly, as a single Tibetan nationality (minzu - these days more often translated in Chinese government documents as "ethnic group"). As a result, around 50% of the landmass of Sich[...]

The perils of forced modernity: China-Tibet, America-Iraq

Thu, 27 Mar 2008 18:01:17 +0000

The Chinese government's plans for the Olympic games did not include a revolt in Tibet. The immediate aftermath of the widespread protests in Tibetan- inhabited areas in mid-March 2008 - from Lhasa in the Tibetan Autonomous Region to Gansu, Qinghai and Sichuan provinces to the east - has seen intense efforts by the authorities to restore control and manage access to information. The disruption by monks at the Jokhang temple in Lhasa of a choreographed visit of foreign journalists on 27 March indicates that the strategy is not working. Jeffrey N Wasserstrom is a professor of history at the University of California, Irvine. His most recent book is China's Brave New World-And Other Tales for Global Times (Indiana University Press, 2007), and his next will be Global Shanghai, 1850-2010 (Routledge, forthcoming). He writes for a wide range of academic and general interest periodicals and is a founding member of a new group blog on Chinese issues, The China Beat: Blogging How the East Is Read Beijing's worried officials will do their best to defuse the potential of these unfolding events to subvert their larger understanding of what the event in their city on 8-24 August means for China. It is notable in this respect that China has avoided mentioning the precedent of the Olympic games in Tokyo in 1964, or voicing any sense that there might be a parallel in the impact of the respective events on the respective countries' global profile. In principle, one attractive way for the Beijing authorities to think about the 2008 Olympics is that they will come to be seen as comparable to 1964. The Tokyo games - and the Osaka world Expo that followed in 1970 - globally promoted a vision of a Japan that had bounced back from a period of extremism and defeat to become a stable country with modern cities and forward-looking aspirations. These two high-profile international gatherings also symbolised the concurrent processes of economic development that would see Japan's own rise to its current status as the world's second biggest economy. China's leaders might consider the Tokyo 1964/Beijing 2008 analogy at least privately compelling on several levels - even if their suspicion of a historic adversary (and present competitor) might make them reluctant to voice this sentiment too openly. China too has been climbing rapidly in the global economic hierarchy and wants to move still higher. It is preparing to follow its hosting of the Olympics with its own Expo - set to start in Shanghai on 1 May 2010, the country's first-ever world fair. Its own modern history has seen moments of destructive extremism (the "great leap forward" and resulting famine, for example) and moments of defeat (including the foreign occupation of Beijing in 1900 and Japanese invasions of the 1930s) that it has good reason to want to put far behind it. The Manchukuo lens At the same time, a very different analogy can be drawn between China in 2008 and Japan at another moment in its past (as Howard W French points out, in one of the most thoughtful and historically minded commentaries on the current crisis in Tibet; see "Beijing's claims of an ‘unwavering stand' in support of Tibet are groundless", International Herald Tribune, 20 March 2008). This alternative line of argument, however, would be much less palatable to the Chinese regime than the 1964/2008 one. Why? Because the other era in Japanese history that has lessons for China today is the 1930s - a decade that is remembered in China as one when Tokyo acted in despicably aggressive ways towards it. Also in openDemocracy on Tibet: Ugen, "Tibet's postal protest" (4 November 2005[...]

Tibet: revolt with memories

Tue, 18 Mar 2008 17:45:18 +0000

The Tibetan revolt of March 2008, like those of 1959 and 1987, will be crushed by the overwhelming might of the Chinese military. No match could be more unequal: maroon-clad nuns and monks versus the machinery of oppression of the global rising power. In recent months, fast-response mobile tactical squads whose sole purpose is to quell the people have been overtly rehearsing on the streets of Tibetan towns for just what they are now doing. What is the point of revolt if it is almost certainly suicidal? This uprising has many uniquely Tibetan characteristics. At street level, a favourite item seized from Chinese shops was toilet-rolls - hardly the usual target of looters. Not that Tibetans, over millennia, have felt much need for the paper rolls, or even for the basics of the Chinese cuisine such as soy sauce. What the Tibetans did with the loo paper was to hurl it over power lines, instantly making Lhasa, and other Tibetan towns, Tibetan again. Right across the 25% of China that is ethnically and culturally Tibetan, the unrolled toilet paper looks like wind horses, the white silken khadag [or kata] scarf with which Tibetans greet and bless each other. As all Tibetans know, they carry their messageon the wind: victory to the gods! Gabriel Lafitte is a development policy consultant to the environment & development desk of the Tibetan government- in-exile, based in India. This article was first published in the online journal NewMatilda. That is what this revolt is about: making Tibet Tibetan once more. The white scarves also protected Tibetan shopkeepers from attack as the streets filled, for a short and costly moment of freedom, with Tibetans smashing the businesses of immigrant Chinese traders. Even in the most intoxicating moment of reclaiming the streets no Tibetan could have forgotten the ever-present security cameras, and the network of informers penetrating deeply into urban Tibetans’ private lives. No Tibetan could have been unmindful that the full repressive power of a modernised, high-tech tyranny would hunt them down, and show no mercy. All Tibetans know of former friends who, on release from prison and torture, now shun old acquaintances because they are under such intense pressure by their torturers to regularly name names of those who privately voice thoughts that do not conform to the party line. These informers live in fear of being hauled in again, for further torture, and of betraying their friends. That is what makes this revolt uniquely Tibetan. It is no accident that from the outset the protests were led by those who have already renounced all ties to kin, dedicating their lives to serve all of humanity, unconditionally. The nuns and monks of Tibet have taken vows to work for the liberation of all sentient beings from all sources of suffering - in the mind and in the external world. From the Dalai Lama through to the newest novice, they train in meditation to cut attachment to existence, to the existence of me ahead of all others. They know they will die, and are ready for it. Just as in the great Tibetan revolts of two and five decades ago, many will die in secret prison cells, after torture. When the world is no longer watching, or able to see, Tibetans who risked all so as to focus the world - in this Olympic year - on China's shame, will die. Tibet’s bedrock What do Tibetans find so objectionable about today's China? Why is it that Tibetans and Chinese, neighbours for thousands of years, cannot get on? Media coverage focuses on immediate causes, but there is a deeper story. The experience of working with Tibetans for thirty years, and of seeing Chinese development projects in Tibe[...]