26 January 2011

Tibet + China

You know that saying "be careful what you wish for?"  Well, I once decided that it would be interesting to see both sides of the Tibet/China issue since I'm quite familiar with the Tibetan story but not at all with the Chinese. 

I am different from many of my friends in that my ideas about politics are still under developed.  I have listened to many soapbox rants from my friends (including radical republicans, democrats, and moderates) without really participating.  I dislike many things with which politics are closely associated (for example, I disapprove of dishonesty), and I therefore tend to avoid the entire political spectrum.

The case of Tibet and China has just become one of those political issues that I really dislike.  I just read two Chinese perspectives and one Tibetan perspective of the conflict, and I'm not at all pleased.  Here are some highlights:

(From a Chinese history of Tibet) On May 23, 1951, the "Agreement of the Central People's Government and the Local Government of Tibet on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet" ("17-Article Agreement for short) was signed, and Tibet was peacefully liberated.  The peaceful liberation put an end to the imperialist aggression against Tibet, enabled the Tibetan people to shake off political and economic fetters, safeguarded the unification of state sovereignty and territorial integrity, realized equality and unity between the Tibetan ethnic group and all other ethnic groups throughout the country as well as the internal unity of Tibet, and laid the foundation for regional ethnic autonomy in Tibet.
Wow!  Perfect!  Thanks, China, for agreeing to these mutually beneficial terms!  Why is there any conflict between these countries?

Oh, wait.
(From the Friends of Tibet) On May 23, 1951 a Tibetan delegation, which had gone to Peking to hold talks on the invasion, was forced to sign the so-called "17-point Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet," with threats of more military action in Tibet and by forging the official seals of Tibet.  The Chinese then used this document to carry out their plans to turn Tibet into a colony of China, disregarding the strong resistance of the Tibetan people.  What is more, the Chinese violated every article of this unequal 'treaty' which they had imposed on Tibetans.
Hmmm . . . .  Perhaps it's a language barrier because these two groups are definitely not reading the same 17 points.  Really, though, it's more of a requirement than a recommendation that you support statements such as "the Chinese violated every article of this unequal 'treaty'" with good, solid evidence. 

Ready for more ugly accusations?
(Chinese source) Even in the first half of the 20th century, Tibet remained a society of feudal serfdom under theocracy, one even darker and more backward than medieval Europe.  The ecclesiastical and secular serf owners, though accounting for less than five percent of the population of Tibet, controlled the personal freedom of the serfs and slaves who made up more than 95 percent of the population of Tibet, as well as the overwhelming majority of the means of production.  By resorting to the rigidly stratified 13-Article Code and 16-Article Code, and extremely savage punishments, including gouging out eyes, cutting off ears, tongues, hands and feet, pulling out tendons, throwing people into rivers or off cliffs, they practiced cruel economic exploitation, political oppression, and mental control of the serfs and slaves.  The right to subsistence of the broad masses of serfs and slaves was not protected, let alone political rights.
Even worse than medieval Europe?  Those are some pretty repulsive tortures.  How does that statement jive with this one:
(Tibetan source) On March 10, 1959 the nation-wide Tibetan resistance culminated in the Tibetan National Uprising against the Chinese in Lhasa.  The Chinese retaliated with a ruthlessness unknown to the Tibetans.  Thousands of men, women and children were massacred in the streets and many more imprisoned and deported.  Monks and nuns were a prime target.  Monasteries and temples were shelled.
So did that ruthlessness come upon a perfectly peaceful, idyllic people?  It was evidently unknown prior to these brutalities.  

[The Chinese] totally rejected the [Tibetan] Memorandum, although every article in the Memorandum is guaranteed under the Chinese constitution, therefore the Chinese government [does] not even adhere to their own constitution.
Again.  It's a really, really good idea to prove your point when making statements like this, otherwise you seem like a fraud.

Here are the highlights from journalist James Miles's interview in Beijing, China:
James Miles, journalist with the Economist, was in Lhasa during violent protests.  Says he witnessed violence against ethnic Han Chinese and Muslim Hui minority.  Ethnic Tibetans involved in protests were "armed and very intimidating," he says.  He says he did not see any evidence of any organized anti-Chinese activity.
The point of this article is to show that the rebellious in Tibet are unruly, violent, uncontrollable jerks who simply need to submit to the Chinese order in order to generate peace.

I think it is most likely that neither side is entirely right.  It is most likely that each side had good and bad reasons for their behavior, that neither was solely motivated by peace and good deeds, and that both sides have exaggerated their stories.  That's why I don't like politics!

Alright.  I'll get off my soapbox now.

As for my actual research, I am so glad that Dr. Burton suggested I do away with the political component of my question.  I do not want to become involved in this situation that leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  I'd actually like to move further away from it, since it isn't as directly tied to cultural preservation as I once thought.  The Tibetan future is not likely going to include a return to Tibet and a return to pre-1959 life.   It is likely, however, that Tibetans will want to have a voice in politics and to keep their unique identity as they move into uncharted waters.  From now on, I'll do my best to detach myself from the past conflict and, when referring to politics, simply address the place of digital literacy in the Tibetan political voice.

Photo credit Rishi S


  1. Reading these articles back to back for class really made me step back. I thought, "Whoa! Talk about exact opposite perspectives!" That's why I think it's good to hear the story from both sides and to always know where you're sources are coming from. Thank you for sharing your insights about this. :)

  2. You've done such a good job showing on several specific points where different perspectives are conflicting with each other. This kind of thing seems to happen whenever different groups of people come in contact with each other ... but this is such a stark example.

    As far as your project work, I think you've taken an appropriately moderate position on the politics of the community you'll be working in.

  3. A FB friend of mine is a party caucus member in his state. As he was headed to the primary last year he posted, "Participatory politics rocks!"

    I corrected him.

    "No, participatory *government* rocks."

    He replied, "I don't see a difference."

    "My dictionary says that 'politics' is the process of gaining and maintaining power; governing is a mechanism in that process, but power is the goal."