In an interview entitled ‘Time to reveal the truth’, Ai Weiwei, the artistic consultant behind the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic stadium in Beijing and one of China’s most respected artists, raised his concern over China’s suppression of the realities in Tibet. Ai Weiwei, who has been remarkably forthright in his condemnation of the Communist Party system since the Games began, says: “I think the Tibet issue is particularly special. Due a lack of facts and a deliberate suppression of the truth, people’s understanding and powers of deduction have been impeded… I often ask why can’t we have a society with no supervision or control of the media. What are we trying to hide? What kind of facts can be so dangerous?” Ai Weiwei’s comments was first published in German in the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on March 31, and were reproduced in Chinese on other websites last week. ICT’s full English translation of the Chinese version is published below.
Writer Zhu Rui, who lived and worked in Tibet for several years but is now based in Canada, wrote an open letter to the Dalai Lama inspired by her experiences of witnessing the Tibetan peoples’ devotion to him. In her letter to His Holiness, Zhu Rui concludes that the loss of moral values that can be witnessed throughout China “… inevitably runs counter to the Olympic spirit. The superficial prosperity cannot conceal the void within. The need to reform bad governance is a fact that has been placed before every Chinese person. If the Communist leaders continue to be arrogant and imperious on the question of Tibet and coerce and trample upon the Tibetan people, and deceive and mislead the Chinese masses, and if they continue to deny your irreplaceable value towards peace in the world and your unrivalled spiritual contributions, and adhere to the inhuman logic of ‘power grows from the barrel of a gun,’ then their days will come to a sudden end one not too distant dawn. There is no doubt you will return to your land! When you are reunited with the suffering Tibetan people, please extend the warm light of your benevolence to care upon the heavy sins of China’s vast land.”
With the kind permission of the author, ICT’s translation of her moving letter to the Tibetan religious leader, dated August 8, is published in full below.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, March 31, 2008
Time to reveal the truth
Ai Weiwei, what is your view of the recent unrest in Tibet over the past few weeks and the reaction of the western world?
As an observer, I think that the information presented both in the West and in China was to a certain degree incorrect. There was no in-depth reporting on the reasons behind the violence, and aside from mutual criticisms, neither side had any substantive communication with the other. Regrettably, a prominent feature when looking back on our history is the lack of public debate. We live in a society where ideology is severely controlled, especially when it touches upon the issues of ethnic minorities. If the majority of occupying Han treat the ethnic minorities as liberated serfs, there’s no hope of resolving the issue. The reality of the situation is extremely complex. They have their own religion, their own path of cultural development and their own ways of thinking. The Tibetan people are now chided for being lawbreakers, but I don’t think this can solve the problem. This is only going to intensify the hatred between the Han and ethnic peoples, and deepen the differences between them.
How can these differences be eliminated?
Most important is to truly respect ethnic minorities, and to admit all of the mistakes perpetrated against them in the past. In all events, this latest unrest [in Tibet] at the very least speaks to the failure of ethnic minority policies. We have never fully understood their religion and their lifestyle. Historically, we destroyed their monasteries and statues – that’s a simple fact. Now they have started destroying property and they have attacked military personnel. We are compelled to ask, where did this hatred come from? Do we really want the kind of society where we completely ignore their rights but then say everything is normal? In a democratic society, the rights and characteristics of different groups are respected. These issues have to be solved. If they cannot be solved then it’s a failure of policy. A dialog must be sought. To simply accuse them of the crime of splittism is not feasible. We need to establish a society in which different ethnic groups, people with different languages, different religions, lifestyle and different ways of thinking can coexist. And this requires respect, tolerance, consultation and dialog.
Why, do you think, has the western world been disapproving?
If people carry preconceptions with them, they wont see the outside world clearly – “A single leaf before ones eye/ Obscures a view of all Mount Tai.” Wherever there are cover-ups, there are also suspicions and speculation. I fundamentally believe that misunderstandings and resentment between people and between nations, and differences between ideologies and between east and west, and that the misunderstandings and resentment between Han and Tibetan people can to a large degree be traced back to the suppression of information, and a lack of transparency and channels for gathering information. This has been at great cost to society. Throughout China there have been some changes on this, but there are still areas which are led by these old structures and thinking. And in this regard, I think the Tibet issue is particularly special. Due a lack of facts and a deliberate suppression of the truth, people’s understanding and powers of deduction have been impeded. It sounds a little naïve, but this is incredibly basic. The ways and means people use to try and acquire facts and experience denote fundamental differences among different societies. In the early stages of Communism, people attempted to acquire the absolute truth by means of struggle. While people were striving for the truth, ordinary people who needed the truth were not trusted with it. It is extremely dangerous to tell the public the truth. This very old way of thinking touches upon how people wield their power. I often ask why can’t we have a society with no supervision or control of the media. What are we trying to hide? What kind of facts can be so dangerous? Naturally, if the majority of people can only get one-sided information then they’re easier to control. Information is power. But before judgment can be made on who is right and who is wrong, the truth has to be understood. This has always been the way. We’ve never had this power before, but now is the time for us to have it. Otherwise when history is reviewed the whole world will try and put responsibility elsewhere – if nothing shameful has been done, then why should there be cover-ups? Overall, I think the media did not exaggerate. If there wasn’t the slightest reporting of this and there was no one to actually see what was happening, that would have been truly damaging. Many Chinese people are now cursing the west, and this is an outcome of a long period of propaganda where the west is the enemy, the enemy who deceived China. This is an outcome of bias.
Many Chinese are curious as to why so many western people are interested in Tibet. And conversely we can also ask: why are so few Chinese people concerned about Tibet?
Customarily in China, there’s a lack of sympathy for the weak. The weak and injured have no toe-hold in this society. This is a society for the successful, for the power-brokers. There is little empathy. The west is another world, where people naturally stand on the side of the weak. Many Chinese people regard Tibet as a holiday destination, somewhere to go and sightsee. These minor businesspeople from Shanghai and Beijing will happily and obliviously spend a holiday there, but they don’t understand the local people and they have absolutely no qualitative interaction with the local people whatsoever.
How do people in China’s literary and artistic society view these events?
People are confused at the moment. I often hear people ask, What went wrong? What does the Dalai want? People have been thrown into confusion. Devotees of Buddhism should be peace-loving, but they were seen with knives in their hands, burning the flag destroying buildings and filled with a burning hatred. But is there any possibility that they could speak? Could they be invited onto Central China Television to discuss what they’re thinking, and to stop just simply calling them criminals? I can’t help but asking why not? Who has built these high walls of misunderstanding? What are they for? If we continue to regard them as barbarians are we ever likely to be understood by them? The only possible outcome is the deepening of division and hatred. True bloody barbarism is if one wants other people to disappear, whether physically or in the spiritual realm.
Zhu Rui’s Letter to the Venerable Dalai Lama
August 8, 2008
Revered Dalai Lama:
I have to tell you that my impression of you in my childhood and youth was that you were a flayer of human skin, a demon who picked flesh from human bones. From this point alone, you have probably guessed that I am Han Chinese. Indeed, I grew up within the Communist education system. But in 1997, I chanced upon an opportunity to travel to Tibet. That was the first time I (secretly) saw your photograph, your kind and compassionate visage, and it made me doubt the Communists’ propaganda.
At the Festival of the Bodhisattva of Good Fortune that year, I went early to the Zulakang temple where the Bodhisattva’s covering had already been removed, and in the light as soon as I saw her face, the sound of a voice rose behind me. It was the mournful yet excited sound of an elderly voice. There before the Songsten Gampo hall, she sang while she poured wine into a goblet in front of the statue. Men, women and even the children all around immediately joined in the singing, and when the police turned up, their voices rang ever more brightly… “They’re praising the Dalai Lama,” a monk quietly told me.
That day, I moved out of my hotel and into the former home of a merchant on the Barkhor. Prior to 1959, the mistress of this family used to wear clothes most days worth 30,000 to 40,000 renminbi, but now all she had left was two sets of clothes. The home left to her by her ancestors had been demolished. The new home seemed to be worth more, but it was less than half the size of the old one and there was no running water and the communal toilets were constantly blocked, sending their unbearable stench right out into the Barkhor street. This woman had no complaint about being plundered by the Communists, but there was something she was constantly saying, very quietly – I could only ever see her lips moving. I thought she was reciting the mantra, “Wish for a better life to come.” But one day, when there were only the two of us and she saw there was no one there outside, she said she was reciting a long-life prayer for you.
In April 1999 I went to Tibet for the second time where I lived in the home of farmers in Rizhika village in Jiru township, Zalang county in Rikaze prefecture. There was no running water there and no electricity. At dawn each day, the family traipsed to the river to carry water and in the evenings even the small children sat around the weak oil lamp twisting wool. Selling felt was pretty much the only means of livelihood the villagers had. Our food was very simple, with potatoes for two meals a day (aside from gruel for breakfast) being a luxury. But there in the home, in the place where the most light came in, was a picture of you in an exquisite frame draped all over with long white khada.
Later, I chose to work in Tibet. As an editor and journalist I had the opportunity to meet with some Tibetans who worked in Chinese Communist Party offices, and with my own eyes saw how in the most secret places in their homes they have photographs of you and yak butter lamps that had never been lit.
You are not the enemy of the Tibetan people, you are the father of the Tibetan people; you are the source of the Tibetan people’s compassion and happiness. You are Yeshe Norbu, the Tibetan people’s wish-fulfilling jewel; you are Kundun, who forever will appear before all Tibetans whenever they call you; and you are Gyalwa Rinpoche, higher than all kings and the most precious of treasures. And evidently, the Communist authorities did not liberate Tibet, they robbed Tibet; they did not sow happiness, they created suffering.
Listening to your lecture at Madison in Wisconsin, I was filled with emotion. An ocean of Buddhist wisdom of the greatest depth and by degree ever more complex was systematically expounded by you until it miraculously became like rain, nourishing and vitalizing your listeners; you did your utmost to answer every everyone’s questions, embracing the smallest shred of individual pain and suffering; and even when someone asked a question about China-Tibet relations, with limitless patience and concern you emphasized the excellence of the Chinese nation, and encouraged friendly exchange between the Chinese and Tibetan peoples. And the Communists’ evil, their scheming, their corruption and dictatorship, when compared to your compassion, your transparency, your honesty and democracy – all shall undergo the test of time.
In March of this year, the Communists’ cruel 50-year colonial rule of Tibet gave rise to peaceful, non-violent protests at more than 100 locations throughout all Tibetan areas. The tragedy is that not only have the Communist leaders failed to reflect upon or adjust their policies in Tibet as a result, but condescendingly they actually dictated to you that there were the “four do not supports” as preconditions to dialog, making the white-hot Tibet question a problem for you personally. Their intention is to smother and even kill off the Tibet question, and Tibet has now become an enormous prison. It’s said that in Lhasa, one in three people is a plain-clothed police officer. The military has gone into even the most remote village and all telephone calls from the outside (especially foreign calls) are closely monitored…
Tibet’s culture is profound and extensive, ancient and progressive, and I long ago saw the beauty of its traditions in the Tibetan people: devotion, kindness, gratitude, benevolence; and what has China’s 5000-year culture left the Han people? Naturally, not all of it has been exquisite, and the Chinese authorities have used those dregs in gruesome details to enslave and shackle the Tibetan people with “traditions of unique benefit to all mankind!” In the twenty-first century when people leap over their countries’ fences in a common pursuit of freedom, democracy and human rights, and respect for the singularity of their ethnic culture, it is precisely such colonial behavior as this that the world rejects as a thing of filth. There are more and more deep-thinking and incisive intellectuals in China who are starting to see through the Communists, publicly expressing their own independent views on the Tibet question, demanding an end to totalitarian rule, the implementation of freedom of expression and freedom of the media, withdrawing the accusations against you of being a “splittist of the Motherland”, and demanding “a resolution of the Tibet problem by means of respect, tolerance, consultation and dialog.”
In the almost 30 years of reform and opening up, the trend has led China towards becoming a “great nation”. In actual fact, it’s no more than “As China enters the international mainstream, it is hitching a ride towards globalization.” The loss of morality has permeated into even China’s most remote villages, and evil and dissipation have become the fashion. Hosting the Olympics under circumstances such as these inevitably runs counter to the Olympic spirit. The superficial prosperity cannot conceal the void within. The need to reform bad governance is a fact that has been placed before every Chinese person. If the Communist leaders continue to be arrogant and imperious on the question of Tibet and coerce and trample upon the Tibetan people, and deceive and mislead the Chinese masses, and if they continue to deny your irreplaceable value towards peace in the world and your unrivaled spiritual contributions, and adhere to the inhuman logic of “power grows from the barrel of a gun,” their days will come to a sudden end one not too distant dawn. There is no doubt you will return to your land! When you are reunited with the suffering Tibetan people, please extend the warm light of your benevolence to care upon the heavy sins of China’s vast land.
May the ship of your compassion for ever be among us!
From a Han who sympathizes with the suffering of the Tibetan people, and who has limitless respect for you: Zhu Rui.