21
Apr
08

Thoughts on Tibet from a Chinese-American

I’ve been a fan of Tibetan culture ever since grad school. One night while I was supposed to be studying, I was just bored out of my mind from quantum physics / communication theory / whatever, and went looking for an interesting book to read instead. I picked up from the stacks the oldest book I could find, complete with loose pages and crooked typesetting. The book I picked up happened to be about the mythology of Tibetan culture. The tales of how each reincarnated Dalai Lama is identified when just a child was endlessly fascinating. The Oracles and the mystical events that led to the Golden Child was incredibly exotic and rich in culture. I thought to myself how shameful it is to have this disappear from humanity. Over time I learned more about the culture through Western press, learned about Tibetan Buddhism and became increasingly sure that the culture should and must be protected against Han-washing that the Chinese government are intent on carrying out.

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The systemic destruction of any culture, indigenous or not, is one of the worst crime in the world. What the European settlers did to the Native Americans, the Australians did with the Aborigines, the Spanish to the Incas, were all despicable acts, acts that turned humanity further down the road to a monocultural wasteland. The Nazis obviously take that crime to the extreme in the modern era, trying to destroy not only the culture but went on to murdering the Jewish people. In the names of religion and civilization, cultural destruction have been carried out all over the globe by Christian missionaries, from the Pacific Islands to South America to Africa. Not unlike what the Moors did in the name of Islam during the Dark Ages, actually.

Anyway, I’ve long held the belief that the Dalai Lama’s position, of not seeking independence but autonomy, is the right middle ground. China will never willingly give up the Tibetan plateau because of its military significance. Throughout Chinese history, the majority Han Chinese empires has been subject to invasions and attacks from neighboring states such as Mongolia, Manchuria, and, yes Tibet. The first two groups succeed and established their own empire for a time, establishing minority rule over the Han Chinese. For bad or good, weariness over the neighboring state is just part of the Chinese cultural consciousness. After all, they wasted millions of lives building a giant wall to protect themselves; that should tell you something.

Add to it that Tibet as an independent state is not the predominant stance throughout modern Asian history, and I can see why the Dalai Lama took the position that he still holds.

But somehow, the protests and anger over the Chinese treatment of Tibetan protestors has me on the fence. I couldn’t quite put a finger on what it is, but I’m not as strongly protective on the Tibetan side as I usually am. Was it because in some small way I identify with the Chinese authority? Maybe, but that’s not my usual norm and it would be a bit surprising. I really couldn’t put my pulse on it. When asked by my Korean in-law’s how I feel about Tibetan situation, I stuttered and couldn’t quite articulate the complexity of my thinking. And that really got me thinking.

I came to two realizations:

First: There is a new element in the conflict/impasse, and that is the young Tibetans that are not only yearning for autonomy, but for an independent Tibetan state. As with young people everywhere, they are more aggressive than the older generations, and it’s hard to blame them. But it went beyond what I think is the solution, and I felt it hard to support their position. This takes away some of my enthusiasm for supporting this particular round of movement.

Second: I think that there is more than a tinge of Anti-Chinese sentiment in these protests against China, outside of the Tibet issue. The rise of China in the last two decades has surprised a lot of people around the globe, putting them increasingly at odds with the Chinese economic behemoth. Issues of job security, product safety, environmental pollution, energy consumption and price increases, food shortages, and concerns about their military spending are all reactions to their rise in global stature. Some of them are legit issues that the world should be concerned about, such as job security, product safety and environmental issues that affects everyone in the world. Others, in particular their military modernization, I feel is completely ignorant of the Chinese history and culture, and is driven by the zero-sum, they-are-winning-we-must-be-losing mindset of the developed world.

In some ways, it is this “holier than thou attitude” that turns me off about this round of protest against China, confusing me for a moment from my real position on Tibet. The Dalai Lama has wisely chosen the middle way, one that both the young Tibetans and the Chinese authority should follow. In particular, I don’t understand why the Chinese authority is so stupid as to let this opportunity pass. But when people from around the world attack China, fanned by their national and economic insecurity and supposed moral superiority, yet little sense of Tibetan and Chinese political history, I do take issue with the sentiment behind the attacks.

So to be clear: I support the Dalai Lama’s stance for Tibetan automonmy, but believe the current round of protests smack of cultural and economic bias. I hope cooler head prevails before we get into a us-vs-them contest.

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