An increasingly vocal constituency in public discussions on the future of Tibet is being found among Chinese academics, lawyers and other intellectuals within China itself. While there has always been a notable degree of sympathy and support for Tibetans and the Tibetan cause among sections of China’s politically active exile community, events since the Spring Uprising in Tibet appear to have inspired more and more Chinese writers within China to question the Chinese government’s treatment of Tibet and the Tibetan people.
These encouraging signs of a fuller awareness of the situation in Tibet among influential Chinese elites are enhanced by the growing popularity of Tibetan Buddhism within a broader cross-section of Chinese society. This interest in Buddhism comes in tandem with a growing interest in the Dalai Lama in China, which is far removed from the government’s condemnations of him as a “splittist of the motherland”.
In March, in the early days of the uprising, numerous prominent Chinese intellectuals signed a petition calling on the security forces in Tibet to exercise restraint when dealing with the protests, and calling on the Chinese government amongst other things to commit to substantive dialogue on the future of Tibet with representatives of the Dalai Lama. They also accused the Chinese government of deliberately stirring up antagonism between Chinese and Tibetans by repeatedly televising footage of Tibetan rioters in Lhasa targeting Chinese property. (ICT report, Leading Chinese Intellectuals Ask China to Rethink Tibet Policy – March 22, 2008)
Around the same time, several prominent lawyers publicly made themselves available to defend Tibetans who were detained in the aftermath of the protests, suggesting they would be unlikely to receive a fair trial otherwise. As a direct consequence, at least two of these lawyers were stripped of their license to practice law. (Rights Lawyers Face Disbarment Threats: Intimidation Overshadows Reforms to Law on Lawyers, Human Rights Watch, May 30, 2008)
The articles below, translated from Chinese into English by ICT, are an example of a growing tendency among Chinese intellectuals to question the official angle on Tibet – sometimes in conjunction with broader questions about the Party’s and government’s over-arching abuses of power.
The articles themselves make no reference to the ongoing Special Meeting in Dharamsala, but they nevertheless offer timely voices of moderation and introspection from within China, in sharp contrast to official propaganda and rhetoric.
Who is most qualified to represent the Tibetan people?
“To block the ‘Middle Way’ espoused by the Dalai Lama and to try and draw things out in the hope that the Tibet problem will resolve when the Dalai Lama passes is the dream of an idiot”
In this first piece, published on November 14 on a US-based Chinese dissidents’ website, the writer Ding Yifu challenges the Chinese authorities’ claims to represent the Tibetan people, and also lambasts them for failing to understand the Tibetan people’s fundamental loyalty to the Dalai Lama. He concludes with a warning that history will not judge the Chinese authorities kindly if China ‘loses’ Tibet.
This article is followed by comments by Tibetan writers posting on a similar topic to a popular Chinese-language blog.
Zhu Weiqun, Deputy Director of the United Front Work Department said when explaining at a press conference that there has been no outcome to this most recent dialog between the central government and representatives of the Dalai Lama, that discussions with representatives of the Dalai Lama had only been about how the Dalai Lama could “reach an understanding with the central government and the people of China to resolve the issue of his personal future.” On the conditions for talking with the Dalai Lama’s side, aside from ceasing splittist activities, he said: “The Dalai Lama doesn’t even have any legal status, and to put it politely, it is inappropriate for him to ask these questions of us. To put it bluntly, he is not even qualified to ask such questions.”
This is strange. If this is so, then what has the great central government been doing meeting not once, not twice, but over the years as many as seven or eight times for dialog with an old monk who has no legal status? Even though the Party and United Front have often concerned themselves with the future of some individuals, it has without exception been that these individuals are able to do something for the Party in return. And seeing that the central government regards the Dalai Lama as completely insignificant – the Tibetan people have lived happy lives under the leadership of the central government for half a century, and in this half century two generations of people have grown up and therefore the Tibetan people have no connection to the Dalai Lama any more – why go to the trouble of talking about the Dalai Lama’s individual future?
When Zhu Weiqun became Deputy Director of the United Front Work Department, his predecessor seemingly didn’t tell him the “historical experience”.
Some 30 years ago with the conclusion of the Cultural Revolution and the return to normalcy, the central government headed by Deng Xiaoping invited a delegation of the Dalai Lama’s personal representatives to “come home and see.” Deng Xiaoping personally met with the Dalai Lama’s representative, and said “aside from independence, everything else is negotiable.” He then invited the Dalai Lama’s representatives to visit Tibetan areas. Before the Dalai Lama’s representatives set out for Tibetan areas, the central government asked the local governments if they were able to ensure the safety of the representatives. The local government responded that they had already carried out work among the masses, asking them not to spit at or throw stones at the representatives. In their imaginations they thought this would almost certainly happen when the “liberated serfs” saw their former owners.
When the Dalai Lama’s representatives went into Tibetan areas, people met them with a fanatical welcome. Everywhere they went they were surrounded by people who had hurried great distances to see them. People knelt before them crying and wailing for the return of the Dalai Lama, and wailing for the long life of the Dalai Lama. The scenes were so soul-stirring that the central government had no choice but to ask the Dalai Lama’s representatives to leave early. It was this reaction by the Tibetan people that made Hu Yaobang visit Tibet in person, to see the Tibetan people for himself and which made him ameliorate the central government’s reigning polices in Tibet.
Unfortunately, all trace of these events has been removed from Chinese language books and documents, and it is mentioned by no one anymore. This was the nightmare for the central government’s Tibet policies, and they wanted to forget it as soon as they could. The central government’s policies on Tibet were strengthened yet further and made more authoritarian. And from then on they have never once dared again ask the Dalai Lama or his representatives to go and see for themselves what is happening in Tibetan areas.
Today, when Deputy Director Zhu so roundly denigrates the Dalai Lama he is making the most basic of errors. The central government and people in Han areas have for decades been unable to understand the place that the Dalai Lama holds in the Tibetan people’s hearts. One moment he is treated as a person of political force, and the next moment he is regarded as an old and decrepit monk. They do not understand that as far as Tibetans who focus on the spiritual world are concerned, the Dalai Lama is irreplaceable and eternal.
The Dalai Lama is an absolutely unique phenomenon in the political history of mankind. Ancient and modern, Chinese and foreign, no matter how much power the previous political incumbent had and no matter how many devotees, as soon as they were driven into exile the power vacuum was quickly filled by their successor. Once the new power structures are in place and with the passage of time, the old power system is more and more unlikely to be re-established, and 10 to 20 years later it disappears in the stream of history. But the Dalai Lama is the exception. In the history of human politics it has never before been seen that a political figure who has been in exile for half a century and whose people have lived for a further two generations – people who can barely see his portrait let alone speak his name – can still be loyal to him. Search all Chinese and foreign history and you will not find another example of this.
If Deputy Director Zhu does not believe this, he should ask his interlocutor in the dialog, the personal representative of the Dalai Lama he so roundly denigrates, to accompany him on a tour of Tibetan areas among the Tibetan people and see things for himself.
The Chinese government’s policies on Tibet today have been hi-jacked by a few people who are terrified of the Dalai Lama returning. Among them are people who were Red Guards in their day, such as the power brokers in Tibet. They know perfectly well that the person most qualified to represent the Tibetan people is not them but the Dalai Lama. They are doing everything they can to block the Dalai Lama’s return, and to this end their attacks on the Dalai Lama are said with such ferocity, malice and resolve that it’s impossible for the central government to make a U-turn. However, the central government should themselves know perfectly well that the “Middle Way” espoused by the Dalai Lama is a public statement that he is not pursuing independence, that what he wants is autonomy for the Tibetan people, and that this would be a beneficial path for both the Han and Tibetan peoples. Blocking this path has not resolved the Tibet problem. The Han and Tibetan peoples are neighbors and if they enter into a relationship of ruler and ruled, and if the Tibetan people feel aggrieved because they cannot welcome back their spiritual leader, and if the Tibetan people have to silently bury their resentment and misgivings deep in their hearts, then the day will come when they will revolt. Whether the Tibetan people are content or not, whether the Tibetan people are living happy lives or not, who the Tibetan people want to revere, who is most qualified to represent the Tibetan people – the central government should ask the Tibetan people themselves. They should not ask themselves, and even more so, they should not ask Han. To block the “Middle Way” espoused by the Dalai Lama and to try and draw things out in the hope that the Tibet problem will resolve when the Dalai Lama passes is the dream of an idiot. We must accept that everything changes, and that China’s government and society has its own internal and external problems. To wait until that these problems explode and bring huge change is the day that the long-oppressed Tibetan people will finally be independent. If Chinese people today do not want to be cursed by future generations for losing Tibet, we should return to the “Middle Path” espoused by the Dalai Lama as soon as possible.
Tibetan responses to the question of “true representative”
“I want to talk about this Pema Triling who the United Front Work Department said was some ‘true representative of all Tibetan people’ – that’s a laugh and a half!”
During the eighth round of negotiations between Chinese Communist Party officials and representatives of the Dalai Lama in early November, it was reportedly claimed by the Chinese side that Pema Trinley, the ethnically Tibetan Executive Deputy Governor of the TAR and Director of the TAR United Front Work Department, is in fact the “true representative of all Tibetan people”, and not the Dalai Lama. This inevitably roused deep outrage among Tibetans, as indicated by the following two postings left on a popular Chinese-language blog.
The strength of the writers’ condemnations of Pema Triling reflects the deep animosity that ordinary Tibetans often feel towards those few Tibetans who attain senior positions of authority in government. Ethnic Tibetans in the lower echelons of government are often seen by ordinary Tibetans as working to protect common Tibetan interests in the face of social and economic marginalization; however, senior officials such as Pema Triling are almost universally reviled by Tibetans for the active role they are perceived to play in enforcing and ‘validating’ deeply unpopular Chinese government policies in Tibet.
November 18, 2008.
What a joke. The United Front Work Department has said “Pema Triling is the true representative of all Tibetan people”! Pema Triling!? In Lhasa and in the TAR he has a great reputation, but this reputation isn’t because of the many good things he’s done, it’s because he hasn’t done a single good thing! He’s corrupt! There are so many economic cases in the TAR linked to him. In July of this year when the owner of the Yabin Hotel was arrested, the case was linked economically to a whole bunch of officials including Pema Triling. All of Pema Triling’s people are terrified that their corruption and bribe-taking is going to be investigated, and so they’re competing with each other to strike the fiercest and most active “anti-splittist” pose. It’d be better to say that the pair of white stone lions in the Potala Square are the “true representatives of all Tibetan people” than to say Pema Triling is the “true representative of all Tibetan people” – at least they’re cleaner than Pema Triling!!!
I am from Kham. I am also a Khampa. It is obvious and common-sensical that all of Tibet has a population of almost 6 million, and not just the 2.7 million in the Tibet Autonomous Region (we Tibetans call this main area Wei Zang [Ü Tsang]). This is to say that according to Tibetans’ common understanding there are more than 3 million Tibetans distributed outside the TAR in Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu and Yunnan, and of course that these are administrative divisions drawn up after 1950 in order to split up the entire Tibetan people’s areas of habitation. But I won’t talk about this, rather I want to talk about this Pema Triling who the United Front Work Department said was some “true representative of the entire Tibetan people” – that’s a laugh and a half! Never mind how many people in the TAR have ever heard of this so-called “true representative”, how many of the three million Tibetans in Kham and Amdo have ever heard of this Pema Triling? How on earth has he become the “true representative”? This United Front, you go and ask Tibetans how many have heard of this Pema Triling and how many have heard of His Holiness, our Dalai Lama. I can tell you, United Front, of the 6 million Tibetans there is none who have never heard of His Holiness, our Dalai Lama, and there is none who do not believe in His Holiness, our Dalai Lama from the bottom of their hearts. Of course, that Pema Triling doesn’t believe because he has been forced into no longer being truly Tibetan, he is just a dog waiting by the gates of the United Front! He only dares bark a few barks when the United Front tells him to bark a few barks! And so, United Front, if you say a dog is the “true representative” of we 6 million Tibetans are you saying we can only be represented by a ferocious dog called Pema Triling? You truly insult us!
November 18, 2008, 1:44 pm.
Going into the customs office post office for the first time
“I have been law-abiding since being born, and apart from applying for my ID, my household registration and marriage certificate, I’d never before had dealings with the organs of a dictatorship”
The anonymous writer of this article, posted on a blog on November 14 and widely circulated in China since, uses his experiences of trying to buy a copy of a banned book by the Tibetan writer Woeser to take a wry and sometimes sarcastic look at the Chinese system of censorship. His or her exasperation with the censor and the Party’s arbitrary and over-arching power in China is a common and growing theme in China, and is a reflection of growing frustrations among China’s elites.
From March 10 to 14 in 2008, there were riots in Tibetan areas. As someone who has been educated for many years by the Party, and as someone who works in an office wholly funded by the state, I resolutely believed everything without reservation: this was an extremely small minority of people involved in beating, smashing, looting and burning activities, disrupting social order, and threatening the lives, property and security of the masses. With the Party’s and government’s patient propagandizing, I unequivocally believed that the relevant departments in the autonomous region took a series of effective measures to uphold social stability in Tibet, to uphold the solemnity of the law, and to protect the fundamental rights of the broadest masses. Later there was the ubiquitous Party and government propaganda in the newspapers, magazines, television and even the Internet, and I believed it all without reservation, that this chaos was the act of a tiny group of splittists. The Party and government had treated Tibet well for decades, and so how could these people be so ungrateful? Ah, I was so angry.
Later, I read on the Internet about someone wanting to buy a book called Sha Jie that was supposed to be a book of photographs compiled by the famous Tibetan writer Woeser and taken by her father during the Cultural Revolution in Tibet. In the introduction there was all manner of lies about the heroic Party and government, and again I was angry and decided to buy a copy so I could write a scathing critique.
Of course, because of political incorrectness there was no way of freely buying this book in the motherland and so this was a copy imported from Hong Kong. As everyone knows, in our great motherland, not everyone is able to see all spiritual products, particularly those spiritual products that have some poisonous content. For instance, during the last few decades, only people like Jiang Qing and Lin Biao and their ilk, people who were similarly high officials and who like those two had betrayed the revolution and been proved to be counter-revolutionaries at different times and who had high positions despite once being of the proletariat – only they could watch “reference films”; and similarly, only intellectuals with a position of deputy high commissioner could go to the library and read The Golden Lotus [an erotic novel]. There is no question about it, I wholly support this practice. The broad masses’ levels of discernment and powers of critical absorption are not reassuring for the leaders.
As far as I as an individual am concerned, first and foremost I have been posted to a wholly state-funded office and in accordance with civil service management and therefore I have the status of a cadre; secondly, I have always closely followed the Party and I am now a positive activist within the glorious Party; and finally after many years of effort I have successfully entered the levels of the high-ranking intellectuals, and am regarded as an associate research fellow. In sum therefore, I think it is correct that the Party and government should not let the common masses read this book. But I am not of the common masses. I am of the “three represents,” [former President Jiang Zemin’s theory on the essential primacy of the Party in China] and the Party most definitely places its trust in people like me.
And so I ordered a copy over the Internet.
Around a month passed, and I unexpectedly received a registered letter from the customs office post office. It said there was a book for me there mailed from Taiwan, asking me to go in and either pay extra duty on it, abandon it, or send it back.
Good Lord. It reminded me that I have been law-abiding since being born, and apart from applying for my ID, my household registration and marriage certificate, I’d never before had dealings with the organs of a dictatorship. The notice reminded me instantly of that distant time of my youth, where the streets of my hometown were festooned with steel signs forbidding people to listen to enemy radio or maintain illicit relations with a foreign country. Heavens above, did the Party and government consider me to be having illicit relations with a foreign country? Isn’t that quite a serious crime? These mortally terrifying thoughts churned around inside my head for weeks, leaving me in a state of constant anxiety. Finally, a couple of weeks later I resolved that in life I am a man of the Party and government and in death I shall be a ghost of the Party and government; I trust the Party, I trust the government, I trust the organization. This is despite the fact that it’s said in 1956 there was a minor kerfuffle where (only 5 million or so) intellectuals who trusted the Party, trusted the government, trusted Chairman Mao, lived with the consequences and wandered in a desperate plight for the rest of their lives. But now, surely, Chairman Mao has been gone a long time. And what’s more, the minor kerfuffle with the intellectuals was later peacefully and amicably resolved and everyone was rehabilitated. Even those yet to be vindicated still have people writing books on them, commemorating them. An intellectual does not seek glory or fame, and it is enough to leave a good name for a hundred generations. And so I set out for the customs office post office.
“The bitter wind crosses the icy waters of the River Yi/ The hero crosses the frozen earth never to return.” [Sima Qian (?135 BCE – 86 BCE), Records of the Grand Historian.] What the f***, I’d reverted to the bad habits of a ‘stinking intellectual’, blowing out of all proportion every little thing I do.
Okay, so now let me start to coolly and calmly relate the experience of going to the customs office post office.
The address given in the registered letter was a street number. I looked for ages along Hualin Road but I couldn’t find the number, and so I had no other choice but to call the phone number on the registered letter. A woman answered the phone. I asked her, where on earth is the customs office post office? She said it was clearly written on the notice. I said that I’d been all up and down Hualin Road but hadn’t seen the street number. And that’s when she told me. She said, we’re not on Hualin Road. If you walk to the end of Hualin Road, turn left onto Liuyi Road and walk for 50 meters where you’ll see a small lane, turn into the lane and walk 100 meters and you’ll see the large post office building. We’re on the sixth floor. Okay, okay, f*** me, but if you’re not on Hualin Road, why does it say Hualin Road on the notice?
After getting directions, she suddenly remembered something and asked, What’s your name? Was it us who notified you to come? I spelt my name out for her and she thought for a moment and said, Oh, it’s you. Have you left yet? I said yes, I’d left. And then she said, Aiya, if you’d have called us before leaving it would have been better. We would have told you there’s no use coming. But, I think, the ball has started rolling and there’s no way of stopping it. If I went home without seeing the whole thing through in person, it’d mean I’d been stuck in this state of anxiety for nothing.
And so there I was. Not long after I got to the customs office post office. As soon as I entered the door a woman saw me and said, Are you XXX? Was that you who just called? I said yes. She said it turns out that I didn’t have to make the trip over but seeing as I was there, they might just as well tell me face-to-face.
Then, the interrogation started.
Her: Did you buy this book on the Internet?
Her: Do you know what this book is about?
Me: I don’t know exactly. But I do know it’s a book of photographs of Tibet during the Cultural Revolution.
Her: Now, I must explain to you that the contents of this book are extremely reactionary. We’ve seized it. We can’t let you have it. Why did you want to buy this book?
Me: In March of this year, chaos broke out all over Tibet. Later, the Party and government put out a great deal of propaganda in the press and on television about changes in Tibet in recent decades. I went online and saw that this book’s introduction was apparently at odds with our propaganda. And so I wanted to buy a copy and read it.
Her: So are you saying you know what this book is about?
Me: I know a little. It’s about events in Tibet during the Cultural Revolution. I’m a high-level intellectual and I think that if you want to completely understand the Tibet question you should start by learning the history. It’s like if we want to talk about Taiwan being a part of China, we should definitely start by talking about the history. And furthermore, we should definitely listen to other voices, otherwise high-level intellectuals such as myself will have no way of understanding the whole situation, and if you can’t persuade yourself how can you expect to persuade the common masses?
I figured it had been a long time since anyone as boring as this had been into her work unit. Our conversation drew another woman in to listen, and to be honest, heh heh, at this point I was starting to enjoy it. After all, the worst that could happen, and it was evidently going to happen, was that my book would be seized.
Her: And so where do you work?
Me: Xxxxxxxxxxx. Look, if I had any ill-intent I wouldn’t have come here today as magnanimously as this.
She looked at me, trying to figure out what I was up to. It’s like this: There’s no way we can give you this book. However, seeing as you bought it we’ll allow you to flick through it. Whereupon she called a comrade from the book storehouse management and they both went off to the book storehouse to get my book.
When I got to the customs’ office post office there was already someone else there waiting to be dealt with too. When the two women went to get my book, I started chatting with him. I asked him if his printed matter from Taiwan had also been seized. He said he’d bought a total of 50 magazines mailed from Taiwan but it turned out that two of them had forbidden content (note, it’s hard for them too – they had to go through them all). My curiosity piqued, I asked him about them and saw that they were still open on a table, the two magazines with the forbidden content. I looked, and for a moment I thought I was going to die laughing. It turns out that on a couple of the magazines’ pages were four of five photographs of postage stamp designs bearing portraits of Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo. [Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975) led China’s nationalist army against the Chinese communists during the civil war prior to the 1949 revolution, and established the nationalist government in Taiwan. His son, Chiang Ching-kuo (1910-1988), succeeded him.]
At this point the two women who had gone to the book storehouse reappeared with Sha Jie. Whatever happened, the final decision had been made and so we could be a little less formal with each other. I leafed through Sha Jie while chatting with her, and she said she’d heard that the writer of this book used to be a public servant in Tibet but that she fled overseas, and that therefore her motives weren’t pure when she published this stuff. Laughing out loud, I said to her no, this is wrong. This Woeser used to be editor of the journal Tibetan Culture, but she was dismissed from her post because of a book she published called Invisible Tibet but she didn’t leave Tibet because that’s her home. The woman laughed with embarrassment at being corrected by me. Ah, she suddenly said, everyone knows quite clearly that the whole situation is very tense. Did you know there’s a whole stack of seized books mailed from Taiwan in there, and there’s a huge workload at the moment? And who’s to say that in a few decades all of this won’t be history? I was stumped when I heard her say this: was she saying that in a few decades this checking of books would be history, or was she saying that buying books like this in a few decades would be history? With this talk of history I gritted my teeth and said: you see this man’s magazines? In them are portraits of the two Chiangs – what more can they do? What further crimes can they commit? They’re already history. I find it hard to understand this impulse to forbid. The woman only laughed and didn’t say anything. All she said was, And so back to you: the simplest thing you could do is write a statement saying you voluntarily relinquish the book and then that’ll be the end of it. I was amenable to this suggestion, quite naturally, and so wrote out the statement and walked out of the customs’ office post office. Thus ended my journey in search of a book.
And so it’s all over.
However, if I said I wasn’t angry and wasn’t annoyed, then I’d be lying.
I’ll say no more but quote Marx and let it be done. He once said:
“The real, radical cure for the censorship would be its abolition; for the institution itself is a bad one, and institutions are more powerful than people.”
I don’t know if what he said is true or not.