The Enemy of My Enemy

(  The Enemy of My Enemy.  By Drunkpiano.  April 5, 2008.

[in translation]

I didn't want to discuss the Tibet issue anymore.  But after reading a couple more blog posts, I could not help but jump in again.  I didn't have the time to conduct a one-versus-five debate, so I was going to send a private email.  But now that I have written such a long essay, it seems wasteful to have an audience of one.  So I am posting this onto my blog.


I thought that the key to the affair is not the "tree" that is the "CNN military vehicle photo" (frankly, I thought that the details about that issue are arguable).  Rather, the key is the "forest" in which many western media obviously went blind in their Tibet reporting.

My personal observations in England over the past three weeks showed that many of the mainstream media began by being extremely biased, but they gradually became fairer as time went on.  But a couple of days ago, BBC ran a documentary titled <Undercover in Tibet>.  This news documentary ran for one hour without interviewing a single Han person.  All the interviewees were Tibetans, most of whom hated the Chinese government.  This reminded me of how the Chinese Communists used to organize the lower- and middle-class peasants to criticize the landlords.  Some of the allegations (such as "Tibetans will be arrested if seen speaking with a foreigner") are almost surely lies, as I have an American student who works as a long-volunteer in Tibet and none of her Tibetan associates have ever been arrested a result.  While I believe that maybe certain monks have been arrested for speaking to the foreigners, this hidden suggestion that the experience is prevalent is misleading.  Similar misleading elements filled this entire documentary.  This is like a director wanting to tell everybody about the "real America" and then going on a tour of Harlem interviewing all the black people who had been arrested before.  The result is then declared to be the "real America."  What is the result of the such a "report"?  The Tibetans will be angry when they see it, the westerners will be angry when they see it and the Chinese people will be angry when they see it.  I see no constructive contributions as this documentary only served to inflame the hatred among the various sides.

I believe that it is a clear truth that many western media went blind selectively on Tibet.  But I must distinguish between making value judgments versus making judgments about facts.  I do not believe that the western countries are out to get the Chinese.  In fact, I believe that most of the westerners who feel sympathy for Tibet are decent and kind-hearted people.  The problem here is that the biased news reports and the resulting public opinion formation have formed a vicious cycle.  "Support Tibet" is part of "political correctness."  Most news report are edited under the premise of this "political correctness", which in turn reinforce the "political correctness" of "supporting Tibet."  With this backdrop, it is pointless to argue over the details (e.g. whether the "military vehicles" photo had been edited by CNN) ...  The important thing is the "overall impression" conveyed by the media.

Based upon my chats with westerners, many of them have the following overall impression about Tibet: Before 1951, Tibet was an independent country that resembled Shangri-la; the Communists then invaded Tibet; they implemented cultural cleansing programs in the manner of white people over aborigines elsewhere; the current policies of the Han people and the Chinese government in Tibet continued to be systematically discriminatory, exploitative and oppressive ... By comparison, they are almost completely ignorant of the historical relationship between Tibet and China, the previous system of peasant-slaves, the unity of state and religion, the riots instigated by the monks against land reform, the 1956-1969 "armed struggle" supported by the CIA and tacitly approved by the Dalai Lama, the compensatory policies in place today, etc.  The basis of the "political correctness" is likely rooted in 1989, when the Tibetan democracy movement occurred around the same period of the June 4th democracy movement in mainland China.  Together with the Nobel prize won by the Dalai Lama, westerners cannot avoid "bundling" the struggle by the Tibet people with the "democracy movement."  When many westerners (as well as Chinese people) talk about Tibet, they are really reminiscing about that other event.

I should state here that I do not believe that just because a region had belonged to a certain nation once upon a time, then it ought to remain so for perpetuity.  That is an issue of value judgment.  But the issue of whether Tibet once belonged to China in history calls for a factual judgment.  On the matter of factual judgment, I felt that the "one nation theory" is  correct for at least better than 50% or more.  In like manner, I do not believe that when a government offers preferential policies for a certain ethnic group, then people from that group should be thankful.  Once again, this is an issue of value judgment.  But the issue of whether the Chinese government has given preferential policies for Tibet calls for a factual judgment.  Because of their value judgments, many western reporters decided to gloss over or avoid altogether mentioning that "Tibet once arguably belonged to China in history" and "the Chinese government offered many preferential policies to Tibet" and thus deprive the western people of a chance to make their own value judgments based upon the facts.  That is unfair.  Maybe you say that you don't care what the western media have to say.  But when their well-intentioned deeds have resulted in stirring up a virulent nationalism among the Chinese people, you better care.

I think that my divergence from the other bloggers on this affair is based upon my refusal to bundle the March 14 Lhasa disturbance with the democracy movement.  To state it bluntly, I feel that you people think that this disturbance arose because the Chinese Communists had the wrong ethnic policies which abused the Tibetan people to the point where they finally exploded in an extreme form.  Even though it is wrong to employ violence, the Chinese government left them with no choice.

For me, I detest sentiments such as nationalisms to the extreme (because far too many wars and hatreds were started as a result).  I don't feel that the the Tibetan nationalism was really "purer" than that in mainland China, Taiwan, Chechnya, Serbia, Kosovo, Zimbabwe ...  I admit that there ware many stupid elements in the ethnic policies of the Chinese Communists and that "rising up against the oppression" was one factor for the March 14 disturbance.  For just like the cases in other nationalist uprising elsewhere in the world, the "elite structure" (in Tibet, this would be the structure of the Buddhist monks who were aided and abetted by the western politicians and media over the past two decades) is another important factor. 

Wang Lixiong must surely be considered to be sympathetic to the Tibet cause, and he even wrote that the "awakening to the cause of independence" occurred after the 1980's.  During the 1960's and 1970's, many Tibetans loved Chairman Mao more than their own parents.  They never felt the need for independence back then.  So how come the transformation occurred after the 1980's?  Did the Chinese rule got so bad that the people had to rise up?  Did the secret Tibet finally revealed itself?  Or could it be that the new and more tolerant environment provided the Tibetan elite to mobilize (especially by the monks in exile)?  I think that it is the latter.  Even Wang Lixiong acknowledged that the Tibetan policies of Hu Yaobang were the most tolerant and humanitarian in the history of the Chinese Communists, but they only led to the three disturbances in 1987, 1988 and 1989.

You cited Woerser's essay that called for attention about the suppression of the demonstrations from March 10 to March 14 before the big disturbance itself.  Let us suppose that she is correct (and I do not regard her as a neutral source of information).  Why don't we move backwards before March 10 when the Tibetan monks has advocated separatism under the name of freedom of religion for the past two decades?  Of course, my political opinion is that even separatism should be tolerated.  But when I think about how I can wake up tomorrow morning and all the people in Xinjiang, Yenbian, Mongolia, Guangxi, Yunnan, Sichuan, Taiwan and Hong Kong are all clamoring for their own separatism, then maybe I am going to get disgusted even thought I am still being tolerant.  This disgust does not mean that I feel strongly about national sovereignty.  On the contrary, it is due to my indifference towards the notion of national sovereignty.  Because of this indifference, I feel that in the absence of a humanitarian crisis and systemic discrimination, those who are "fighting for independence" and those who are "defending unification" are equally silly.  Both sides are attempting to consolidate their own influence by instilling hatred, and it is always the common people who serve as cannon fodder in a conflict.

Of course, there is something else about nationalism that I despise most of all.  That would be the natural human senses of bigoted "territoriality" and "xenophobia."  If the logic of "resisting the oppression" led to attacks on Han civilians, then why did the Tibetans attack the Hui people as well?  Since when did the Hui people "oppress" the Tibetans?  Don't you think that Tibetan nationalism contains the element of hitting at unrelated persons that is present in all the manifestations of nationalism around the world, including China itself?  Many people use the words of the angry youth in China to show how brain-dead they are.  Frankly speaking, if we had gone onto a Tibetan forum instead, would similar extremist writings be present as well?  Are only the Han angry youth "brain-dead"?  Are the Chinese ruling class the only ones who are evil?

By the way, you may think that the Tibet problem will be cleared up as soon as there is freedom and democracy.  Don't forget that freedom and democracy do not mean just freedom and democracy for the Tibetans, for there is also freedom and democracy for "brain-dead people" like myself.

Another point is the uneven process of modernization.  The Tibetans deserve sympathy for being marginalized for their language, but should the blame be assigned to the "government"?  The Tibetan woman who wrote to Lian Yue said that she was forced to attend a Han school because the quality of Tibetan-language education was poor.  If the government was deliberately under-investing in Tibetan-language schools, we should deplore that.  But could there be a factor wherein there were insufficient numbers of Tibetan teachers who can teach physics and mathematics using the Tibetan language?  What about it?  Should the Han teachers be forced to learn Tibetan to teach their classes?  (I recall Xu Mingxu writing about the difficulty of translating modern technology terms into Tibetan).

In terms of language, many Tibetans say that it is hard to find a job without being able to speak Han.  This was taken to be evidence for "cultural genocide" by the government.  Frankly speaking, it is not easy to find a job anywhere in China if you cannot speak putonghua.  So are all the local cultures in China being "exterminated"?  It is not easy to find a job in Hawaii if you cannot speak English, right?  What can be done in this situation?  The Tibetans must either develop their own enterprises that can raise the employment rate, or else they can start to learn Han as well as Tibetan (and the two are not in conflict with each other).  There are many higher institutions of education in China which award much higher "work points" for publications in English rather than Chinese.  This is forcing many Chinese scholars to publish in English instead.  Is this similar to the suffering of Tibetans who don't know the Han language?  Unfortunately and inevitably, such are the trade-offs in the process of globalization and marketization.

Anyway, my view is that the March 14 Lhasa disturbance occurred because of the following factors.  First, "resisting the oppressive rule" is one factor.  Secondly, the long-term mobilization by the elite is another factor.  Thirdly, the natural ethnic bigotry of humans  is another factor.  Fourthly, the process of modernization had been uneven.  You people have focused completely on the first factor and you ignored the other three factors.  This is basically where we disagree.  I feel that all four factors are important.  I feel that the same framework can be used to analyse the "anti-Japanese sentiments" among the Chinese (obviously, the relative contributions by the four factors would be different).  You can say that I do not emphasize the first factor enough on Tibet.  So I will repeat myself -- I think that the the government policy to "disallow media coverage," "to forbid the worshipping of the Dalai Lama" and "to ban peaceful assembly" are stupid and reactionary, and the government bears an inexcusable responsibility for the intensification of the conflict.  After the disturbance, the government's diplomatic awkwardness and the reification of their thinking were unbearable to watch.  But at the same time, I still feel that it is extremely dangerous to equate extreme nationalist sentiments with the demand for freedom and democracy, especially when state and religion are regarded as one.  The enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend.