Finding Common Ground on Tibetan Self-Immolations

I am taking the liberty of posting here the following that I wrote for the International Campaign for Tibet’s blog.

Finding Common Ground on Tibetan Self-Immolations

Bhuchung K Tsering

http://weblog.savetibet.org

November 28, 2011

I enjoy reading the articles by the Chinese “writer” who is having to comment on Tibet related issues under the fictitious name of Hua Zi.  She seems to have some understanding of the Tibetan society and may indeed know more than she is willing to put in print.

In her most recent output, published by China Daily on November 25, 2011 under the headline, “Extreme acts of violence,” she comments on the self-immolations by Tibetans.  Before I dwell on the politicization aspect of the article, it seems to be that Hua Zi has sympathy for the “victims,” as she calls those Tibetans who committed self-immolations. “It is sad that these young men and women should feel compelled to take their lives in such a horrific way,” she says in the article.

Since she obviously must be a mother, she shows an understanding of the development from the perspective of the family.  She writes, “In fact, self-immolations inflict enormous pain on the families of the victims. It is no doubt a nightmare for them that their sons and daughters chose to put an end to their lives in such an extreme and pointless manner.”

The above indicates to me that even Chinese officials and individuals who subscribe to their government’s political position can look at Tibetans at the fundamental level of the sameness of humanity.  Some may feel that I am making a big deal here but if my perception is correct and Chinese like Hua Zi begin to understand the angst of the Tibetans as a people, there is some hope.   Here I am not talking about finding overnight political solution to the issue but a change in the Chinese mindset leading to the treatment of Tibetans with respect and dignity.
As I am writing this I am thinking of the increasing Chinese interaction with Taiwanese as a people, including those from the KMT, who are historically the arch enemy of the Communists. Chinese officials and society have been providing space to the Taiwanese, be it freedom of movement to and from China or other levels of interaction.  Even KMT leader, Lien Chan, was not only able to travel all over China in 2005 but also to perform the very personal and moving act of paying homage to his grandmother’s tomb in China.

I am mentioning this because when it comes to dealing with Tibetans, the Chinese authorities have a different standard. May be ethnicity has something to do with the way Tibetans are treated, compared to how the Taiwanese are treated. I myself know a few cases of Tibetan families who have not been able to visit Tibet for personal reasons because they were denied visas even after going through a racially discriminatory process at the Chinese Embassy here in the United States. In one case a terminally ill Tibetan American was kept waiting for several months by the Embassy and eventually denied the visa to fulfill his emotional desire of spending some time on Tibetan soil before he passed away.

It is with such a background that I feel even one Chinese official revealing some positive feeling of Tibetans as a people ought to be welcomed.

Unfortunately, my admiration of Hua Zi ends there. She intentionally (or is made to do so by her professional obligation to the authorities) misses the wood for the trees in the main thrust of her article.  Instead of following up on her feelings and trying to understand the reason why “these young men and women should feel compelled to take their lives in such a horrific way’  she succumbs to political expediency of blaming those outside of Tibet for the mess that is there today.  Who in his right mind would believe her assertion that “Extremism, as endorsed by the Dalai Lama and his clique, seriously taints the image of Tibetan Buddhism and disrupts social order.” ?

There is no indication that she or the authorities have made any effort to study the underlying causes that are leading Tibetans to take desperate measures. If the Tibetan people have positively “experienced five decades of democratic reforms and social development” why are they still having grievances? If the Tibetans in Tibet are really subscribing to the “political conspiracy” from outside what does it say about the confidence that they have in the political leadership in place in Tibet today?  Hua Zi does not even heed Xinhua’s interpretation of her article, namely, “The writer called for an objective analysis of the causes and potential consequences of the self-immolations, so as to keep such tragedies from happening again.” There is no indication that she has looked into these aspects of the issue.  Maybe this was not her role.

Despite these negative aspects, I hope that Hua Zi’s feeling of sympathy for those Tibetans who have committed self-immolations will not remain just a vehicle for China’s “charm offensive” on Tibet, but be the beginning of Chinese wanting to find common ground with Tibetans, if indeed Tibetans are equal citizens of the People’s Republic of China.  She owes it to the Tibetans. She owes it to the new China. She owes it to the “image of Tibetan Buddhism.”  And I look forward to her next article.

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