Tibetans celebrating emancipation of serfs.
By Carl Davidson
I get turned off when the Presidential ‘Debates' hit on the topic of China. Some worthwhile points may be made about trade relations, but I’m informed enough to know there’s more than one side to that story. The US has done more than its share of ‘dumping’ and other unequal and unfair economic dealings with the world far more and far longer than China.
What really worries me, however, is the lurking and old ‘Yellow Peril’ chauvinism seeking into the working class. It’s mainly a diversion to mask real problems with government policy at home. It’s not China’s fault, for instance, that the U.S. lacks a decent industrial policy.
But harsh anti-China views also emerge in left and progressive circles, often around the question of Tibet. It’s a complicated issue in some way, and in other ways, not complicated at all, at leas on a few things. Following are some items from a discussion on Facebook:
CarlD: Folks, Tibet is part of China. Whether you consider that true or false, right or wrong, anything else is a non-starter.
Same for the other 50 or so minority nationalities within its borders. Even the Dalai Lama holds to regional autonomy, not separation or independence.
Within that context, there is a just battle vs Han chauvinism, and gains can be made on it. But given China's relatively recent history, where the imperialist powers of the West sought to divide it up and carve out their own privileged sections, the Brits and French in Shanghai, the Brits in Hong Kong and elsewhere, the Germans with their chunk, and so on--there is simply no way China will tolerate even the slightest suggestion of separation.
The Opium Wars are a too bitter memory, one often forgotten here, but not in China.
Al-Quaeda is making an effort among to Uighurs and and other Muslim nationalities in China's far West, and China rightly moves to smash them. To their credit, they have also punished Han settlers for anti-Muslim pogroms in the area.
China, because of its history of being both an Empire AND subject to colonialism itself, never accepted the Comintern's approach to self-determination. They won't even let the Vatican have the decisive say on who gets to be a Chinese Catholic bishop. It holds to regional autonomy internally, and relatively strict non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
I think they would be wise to make a deal with this Dalai Lama, and there are some currents in the leadership who seem to think so as well. But simple demanding 'Free Tibet' will only put you in a camp with many half-hidden and unsavory allies--and I don't mean the Tibetans themselves.
Jay: Some years ago I had some experience with the "Free Tibet" people in my area, and in answer to the question "where else is that coming from," at that time it was two-fold. One camp consisted of countercultural Tibetan Buddhism adherents and supporters of the Dalai Lama, and the other camp was composed of right-wing anti-Communists. These two camps seemed to get along relatively easily. Now, "Free Tibet" may be more racist in nature, since I haven't been in contact with any of these folks in a while, I don't know.
I've also been to Tibet, and as a result, I must be one of Carl's "non-starters." There is no question but that the Tibetans are an ethnically, linguistically, and culturally distinct people. Tibet is not part of China.
However, it may be politically impossible at this point in history to make Tibet independent from China, which is a problem faced by a number of ethnically-distinct or indigenous populations, such as the Hawaiians.
CarlD: I agree that Tibetans are a distinct nationality--in every way but one: politically. In that respect, they have been 'part of China' going back a very long time. And given their strategic position in the Himalayas, their only access to the outside world is through China or India, with a degree of dependence either way. Each for their own reasons, the Nazis, the Brits, the Indians and the CIA have all tried to dislodge them from China to one degree or another, to no avail. Genuine regional autonomy within China, included respect for Tibetan Buddhism's efforts to maintain itself, is the only practical and reasonable way to go, IMHO.
Casey: The Tibetans disagree with your view of their nationality as part of China, Carl. Seems to me it's up to them, not you. But the position you outline, regional autonomy within China with respect for cultural identity, is HHDL and the government in exile's, position. No one is saying "Free Tibet" now except young Tibetan activists. The objection to the destruction of Tibetan cultural identity comes from respect for Tibetan culture and identity, Roxanne. It's not about race. I don't know where you find hatred in this issue. Can you identify a source? I don't see any in the Friends of Tibet, and HHDL has consistently preached and practice forgiveness. As does the leading Tibetan in Arizona, Garchen Rinpoche, who was a political prisoner for 20 years, still crippled from being tortured in prison. Both of you are quick to point out and critique the same issues as they exist in in capitalist countries while defending them in China. Perhaps it is Marxist romanticism. I can't see any other reason.
CarlD: Casey, I've seen human thigh bones of prisoners in Tibet's feudal prisons and torture chambers made into flutes by the monks of the old theocracy. The old Tibet was no Shangri-la for the Tibetans. It's connection with China goes back to the 7th Century, until the Brits and Indians broke it away temporarily. With the victory of the Chinese revolution, the Chinese reasserted control, and assisted Tibetan serfs in 'standing up.' Many crimes were committed by the Han vs the Tibetans, especially during the 'cultural revolution,' when Red Guards were smashing everything Buddhist or Confucian all across China, including Tibet. Whether a new and more just Tibet emerges remains to be seen. I think it can, and as a student of Zen myself, I certainly hope so. But I also think it will remain 'part of China.'
This is only a small opening to a long discussion. Feel free to offer your own views…