Archive for the ‘Tibet and the World’ Category
Posted November 15, 2013on:
Here is my reaction (originally posted on the blog of International Campaign for Tibet) to this Chinese official’s rhetoric on Tibet.
My Tryst with the Poet Nissim Ezekiel
Bhuchung K. Tsering
I first came to know of Nissim Ezekiel when his poem, Night of the Scorpion, was part of the syllabus in my school. At that time I was struck by two things; first the simplicity of the language that brought clarity to the message; and secondly the realization that people could survive even after a scorpion sting. Until reading it, I somehow had this understanding that a scorpion sting was always lethal.
Here is a taste of the poem describing the situation just after the scorpion had stung the mother’s toe:
With candles and with lanterns
throwing giant scorpion shadows
on the mud-baked walls
they searched for him: he was not found.
They clicked their tongues.
With every movement that the scorpion made his poison moved in Mother’s blood, they said.
In any case, I read more about Mr. Ezekiel thereafter. While in college in India in the early 1980s, I reached out to Mr. Ezekiel, both to get his counsel on my personal career as well as to understand his thoughts on Tibetan-Chinese relationship.
He was kind enough to respond, mostly through the familiar Indian postal department’s yellowish postcards. We even kept a steady communication thereafter; he shared his thoughts about what certain developments on the Tibet front would be seen from the eyes of the international community and also offered space in the Freedom First, a liberal monthly, which he was editing then.
Beginning with an article on “The Tragedy of the Tibetan People” in Freedom First’s October 1981 issue, I had the privilege of writing a few articles for the magazine.
Mr. Ezekiel passed away in 2004 and I will always be grateful for the brief period of interaction that I have had with him.
In the years thereafter the liberal group of writers, artists, and scholars in Bombay (now Mumbai) to which Mr. Ezekiel belonged has continued their interest in Tibet, hosting events and raising the awareness among the people there.
Physical Demise of The Tibet Mirror Press in Kalimpong
Bhuchung K. Tsering
Just as the shops run by “kayens” that have historically catered to the Tibetan traders, there is another landmark in the Indian border town of Kalimpong that is dear to the Tibetan people; Babu Tharchin’s Tibet Mirror Press. It is from this small nondescript place on Rishi Road that Bapu Tharchin attempted to create a literary revolution in Tibet through the publication of the only Tibetan language newspaper, Yulchog Sosoi Sargyur Melong, (Wylie: yul phyogs so so’i gsar ‘gyur gyi me long, i.e. Mirror on the news from the respective countries, given in English as just Tibet Mirror). In the post 1959 period, books published by it have also contributed to the revival of Tibetan language, literature and grammar among the Tibetan speaking community outside of Tibet. Although Babu Tharchin and his Tibet Mirror Press did not hide their Christian missionary zeal and objective yet these did not hinder them from embracing the Tibetan Buddhist community in their natural setting.
Like other Tibetans, I have a reverence for Babu Tharchin although I have not been lucky enough to meet him when he was alive. In the late 1970s I had the opportunity to have a peek at this historical site, while on a visit to my relatives in Kalimpong. In between I had the opportunity to read the three-volume biography of Babu Tharchin, The Life and Times of a True Son of Tibet, Gergan Dorje Tharchin, by H. Louis Fader and also reviewed one of them for The Tibet Journal.
Earlier in 2013, in yet another brief visit to Kalimpong, I went to look the place up. Unfortunately, “modernization” had taken over and all I could find was a sign beside an empty plot where the press stood. I don’t know when exactly the physical structure was demolished but as I did a touristy thing of having a photo taken of myself beside the sign, I had a feeling of sadness.
Here are some photos, the first one is by me and the other two from the informative website about Kalimpong that gives you a glimpse of the Tibet Mirror Press in the past. I can only echo the feeling of the writer on http://www.kalimpong.info who said, “It is a pity that Kalimpong’s rich and colorful history has been reduced to this.”
Recently I had the opportunity to rummage through a box of some of my stuff that I had not touched for several years. In the box was a copy of August 1990 issue of March, the magazine of the Delhi Tibetan Youth Congress. It had carried an article of mine and, since I see its relevance still holds, I am posting it here, even though I can no longer be considered a part of the “young” generation. The article comes with the following note about me: “The author is a former student of Hans Raj College, Delhi University. Presently, he is a deputy secretary in the Office of Information & International Relations, Dharamsala.”
Tibetan Youth and Society
Bhuchung K. Tsering
(Magazine of the Delhi Tibetan Youth Congress)
The monthly Tibetan Review carried in its September 1989 issue an article of mine on corruption in the Tibetan community in exile. In that article I have tried to analyze why, despite being a small community, such malpractices as embezzlement, misuse of public fund etc., seem to take place in the various offices under the Tibetan Government.
Since the article’s publication I have had quite a few reactions from both within the Tibetan as well as Indian and Western communities. Some praise me for having the ‘courage’ (I don’t know what they mean by that) to write such a piece. Others castigate me for having written it. In this article I would like to dwell on the latter (the adverse reaction) and attempt to show the importance of social awareness among the Tibetan youth.
Some of the adverse reactions have been conveyed to me directly while a few others have been heard from a third source. First, the reaction among the Tibetan community. Most of the young educated Tibetans appreciate the thrust of the article though some of them feel it would have been better if I had written it in a general way instead of pegging it on some scandals. A few others, mostly officials, feel a bit affected for having dwelt on such negative aspects of Tibetan officials. Among the older Tibetans, again some of them have heard about the article and appreciate it. A few others, I heard this from a colleague in McLeod Ganj, say, “that is the true colour of the Tibetan youths. They bring out the bad things in their own generation” or something to that effect. Read the rest of this entry »
Chinese President Xi Jinping has talked about making arduous efforts to achieve what he calls the “Chinese dream” (Zhongguo meng) – a great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
Participating in a CNN discussion on the concept, Wu Jianmin, a former Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, said, “Reemergence of China is the Chinese dream.” He expanded, “China used to be a leading nation in the world for many. many centuries. But in the past two centuries, China lagged far behind the industrialized countries. Chinese were down and out. Chinese always dream of better future.”
More interestingly, Ambassador Wu said “we need rule of law and democracy” in the definition of the Chinese dream adding, “Rule of law and democracy is the goal of our political reform” and “Xi Jinping was very clear on that. We need rule of law and democracy.”
I had an experience of a different kind of Chinese dream the other day when I attended a talk by a visiting Chinese professor of history. His topic was the Cultural Revolution in his region. For more than half an hour, he went into details about the existence of factions and their nature during the Cultural Revolution and how these had impacts on the society. The Chinese professor had collaborated with an American professor in researching on the issue and published a series of articles in international research journals. I thought he was forthright on issues, including in calling the Chinese regime a totalitarian one.
As he ended his remarks and after the chair had taken advantage of his being the chair and thus asking the first question, the next question was posed by an elderly gentleman who asked whether the many articles that he had written were solely in English or also available in Chinese and accessible to the Chinese people in China. The Chinese professor responded that these were available at his university but not to the general public in China.
This question was followed by others about how the Cultural Revolution was being explained to the Chinese students currently and whether he could use terms such as “dictatorship” (which one questioner said he had used during his presentation here) while teaching to his students in China.
The Chinese professor responded that he was part of a committee discussing content of a text book for high school students in China and that Cultural Revolution was covered in just three pages. He said he would not be able to use terms like dictatorship in China. In short, it was clear that only sanitized versions of such issues were being made accessible to the Chinese people.
As I sat listening to these I began to realize the existence of another Chinese dream; projecting two versions of China – one for the Chinese public and the other to the international community. Read the rest of this entry »
My Talk in Minnesota on Understanding the Reality in Tibet
March 31, 2013
A shortsighted and meaningless effort by the Chinese Consulate in Chicago to propagandize about Tibet at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis led to an opportunity for me to go there and share my views on Tibet. The Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota, the Students for a Free Tibet, Tibetan Youth Congress and the Tibetan Women’s Association in Minnesota asked me to come and be a part of the activities to present the Tibetan viewpoint so that we could challenge the Chinese exhibition on Tibet that was being organized in the University.
So, I spoke on March 27, 2013 at the venue of the Tibetan people’s exhibition on Tibet at the University, which was next door to the one organized by the Chinese students and funded by the Chinese consulate (the story of how the Chinese had to cancel/withdraw their activities in the light of this Tibetan onslaught is a different story, some of which have appeared in the local newspaper, Star-Tribune). I titled my talk “Reality in Tibet Today.”
In my talk, I talked about the different aspects of the Tibetan issue, including political, environmental, human rights angle, and how His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan side had responded positively to Deng Xiaoping’s message that “other than the issue of independence everything else can be discussed and resolved.” I said His Holiness had not only presented his Middle Way Approach as a response but that he had also prepared the Tibetan people to accept that this was in the best interest of both the sides. I told of my own experience of interacting with ordinary Chinese and how we Tibetans have been educated by His Holiness to differentiate between Chinese Government and people and how we should be reaching out to the people. I said, however, the Chinese side had not fulfilled their part of the commitment made by Deng Xiaoping about everything else could be discussed and resolved. The Chinese side has also not prepared the Chinese people and instead is projecting the Tibetans as being against the Chinese people.
But this blog is about another talk that the organizers had arranged for me, which was to the Tibetan community. This took place on March 26, 2013. Despite it being a weekday and people had to go to work, there was a reasonable turnout of Tibetans, old and young. Read the rest of this entry »
Here is an analysis that I did on one aspect of the new leadership in Lhasa.
Bhuchung K. Tsering
March 19, 2013
The appointment of Jampa Phuntsok (Ch: Qiangba Puncog) as a Vice Chair of the National People’s Congress on March 14, 2013, completes an interesting development in the regional representation in the top Tibetan leadership in Lhasa. This new development could be said to have begun when Pema Thinley (Ch: Padma Choling) assumed the Governorship of the Tibet Autonomous Region in 2010; it is now the Chamdowas, the people from Chamdo (Ch: Qamdo) in Eastern Tibet, who hold all the highest Tibetan leadership positions in Lhasa and Beijing.
Earlier this year, we had Pema Thinley becoming the Chairman of the TAR People’s Congress; Phakpalha Gelek Namgyal (Ch: Pagbalha Geleg Namgyai) was reappointed as head of the TAR PPCC; and Lobsang Gyaltsen (Ch: Losang Jamcan) has become the new Governor of the TAR. Except for the top position of the Party Secretary, which continues to be in the hands of a non-Tibetan, these three positions are the highest in the region. All three individuals holding the positions are from present-day Chamdo Prefecture (Technically, Phakpalha was born in Lithang, but he is the recognized lama of Jampaling Monastery in Chamdo and is popularly known as Chamdo Phakpalha. Similarly Lobsang Gyaltsen was born in Dagyab, which is also in present-day Chamdo Prefecture). At the national level, Jampa Phuntsok has become the highest rank Tibetan official now and he is also from Chamdo.
The fact that they are all from Chamdo region could be coincidental, but if we look at popular perception of Tibetan history in modern times we see that there have been periods when elites from a particular area dominated the leadership positions in Lhasa. Read the rest of this entry »
I contributed the following to the International Campaign for Tibet’s blog as I feel there is a need for the Vatican to look at the Tibetan issue from a different angle.
Bhuchung K. Tsering
March 1, 2013
On March 1, 2013, Catholics throughout the world started the day with a new experience, one that none of them had experienced in their lifetime; being without their spiritual leader the Pope, not because he had passed away, but because he had undertaken the papal version of the royal abdication. The Tibetan people had somewhat similar yet different kind of experience in 2011. While the Pope resigned from his spiritual duties now, the Dalai Lama had withdrawn himself from his temporal authorities then.
As the process begins for the search and election of a new Pope, among those watching the development closely will be the government of the People’s Republic of China. One of the unresolved religious issue in China today is the status of its estimated 12 million Catholics, which is having political and cultural implications. The Communist Government of China, despite being atheists, has been wanting to control the affairs of the Catholics and in the process giving them the false choice of obeying either the Vatican or Beijing on matters relating to their spiritual affairs. The Chinese Government has come out with different initiatives codifying the Church, creating in the process virtually two Catholic churches in China; the government-approved one and the underground one that has been showing its resilience for the past many years. The issue is further complicated by the fact that the Vatican has diplomatic relations with Taiwan and not with China.
The Vatican’s ties with China will be one of the issues confronting the new Pope, just as it was with previous Popes. In fact, there are reports saying that one of the ardent wishes of Pope John Paul II had been to “set foot on Chinese soil, kiss the ground and personally embrace the Chinese people.” Observers had also expected Pope Benedict XVI to make progress on ties with China. Pope Benedict XVI had even created a special Commission tasked to help the Vatican examine the issue of relationship with China.
Over the years, both the Vatican and China have sent feelers to each other in their effort to test the situation for improvement of their relations. But there have been no concrete outcomes.
As we await the new Holy Father, it might be worthwhile for the Vatican to look at the ongoing challenge the Tibetan Buddhists are facing in their relations with China to get an indication of whether there are any chances for a forward movement.
The Chinese authorities have been implementing a policy on Tibetan Buddhists, very much similar to the one on the Catholics, to either choose their spiritual tradition and leader, the Dalai Lama, or conform with Chinese government-approved procedures. As long as this mindset is not changed there cannot be any progress. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, February 20, 2013, I participated in a discussion on the Talk of the Nation program on America’s National Public Radio (NPR). Below is the transcript of the same as posted on NPR’s website. You can also listen to the audio recording here. I thought Michael Biggs from Oxford succinctly put the development in Tibet in the broader context of self-immolation as a form of protest.
February 20, 2013
More than 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 to protest Chinese rule, according to Tibetan advocacy groups. Self-immolations in Tunisia and Vietnam also gained international attention, but the motives and effectiveness of the practice are widely debated.
Michael Biggs, lecturer in sociology, University of Oxford
Robert Barnett, director of the Modern Tibet Studies Program, Columbia University
Bhuchung Tsering, vice president for special programs, International Campaign for Tibet
NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I’m Neal Conan in Washington. A grim milestone last week in Tibet: Over the past four years, more than 100 people have now set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule. According to the campaign, International Campaign for Tibet, at least 85 died following their protest.
The practice of political suicide is not new. During the Vietnam War, a horrified world saw pictures of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc sitting calmly as his body burned in a public square in Saigon. Two years ago, the self-immolation of Tunisian fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi inspired protests that developed into the Arab Spring.
Thus far, more than 100 such acts appears to have effected little change in China. Later in the program, we’ll talk about the anatomy of a successful movie trailer, but first self-immolation and politics. We begin with Michael Biggs, a sociologist at the University of Oxford. He joins us from BBC Studios there. Welcome to the program.
MICHAEL BIGGS: Hello.
CONAN: And I have to ask you, I know you’ve looked into it – why – and it’s hard to answer this question – why does someone set themselves afire, kill themselves, to effect change and harming only themselves?
BIGGS: Well, I think we can distinguish two different motivations, although they’re often combined in a single action. So one motivation is to show a distant audience, an audience far away that doesn’t understand your situation just how badly your group is or your group of people is suffering.
So in the example from Saigon in 1963 that you mentioned, the aim was very much to speak to an American audience, to show the American public just what was going on in South Vietnam under the government that was sponsored by the United States.
And so the idea is to speak to, to address and to get the attention of a very distant audience. That’s the first sort of motivation. The second motivation is to strengthen the resolve of your fellow people. So now you’re directing your action, or your action is mainly intended for your local audience. But you’re wanting to say, you know, we need to show greater resolve, and I’m willing to kill myself, and so I hope that my fellows will be willing to perhaps take part in the street demonstrations or to do some other more modest action for our collective cause.
CONAN: I read in a piece you wrote for Foreign Policy titled “Ultimate Sacrifice” that in fact this act has caused the definition of the word immolation to change.
BIGGS: Yes, I mean classically immolation means sacrifice. I mean, the etymology is sacrifice. And yet since the 1960s it’s now come more and more to be used to mean death by fire or a fiery death.
CONAN: And fire, why – this – is the act augmented by choosing such a painful death?
BIGGS: Yes, I think it’s obviously – partly we can find earlier examples of suicide protests, earlier in the 20th century. So for example in Japan, Japanese people protesting against the exclusion of Japanese from the United States in 1924, they committed suicide by disemboweling themselves, the sort of traditional Japanese seppuku. So we find suicide protests earlier, and it’s really this action in 1963 that attaches suicide protest with fire and that now most cases, the vast majority of cases of suicide protest are carried out by fire.
It’s partly because of this terrible – the fact that it’s a very painful death. It’s also a very visually – you can capture this on film and you can show a picture of this in a way you can’t show a picture of someone being disemboweled. So it’s a very kind of tele-visual protest.
And also, it also has a kind of cultural resonance in some cultures in the way that fire is purifying. So for us, I think, in the Christian tradition or the Western tradition, fire is often kind of horrifying. But of course in Buddhist or Hindu traditions fire has much more a positive resonance of something that’s purifying and holy.
CONAN: You wrote in that piece that the monk in Saigon in 1963, that changed things. Among those horrified by it was President Kennedy.
BIGGS: Yes, exactly, yes. He realized that the effect on American public opinion, also global public opinion – remember, of course, the United States was in a Cold War, and this was terribly bad publicity for the Western side. If you say, you know, that here’s our great democracy in South Vietnam, and yet a Buddhist monk is willing to set himself on fire to protest against religious persecution, then that’s very, very bad for – it was used by the communists as propaganda, and of course it was very bad for the West.
So the feeling was we have to make sure this regime changes.
CONAN: And it did, in an American-sponsored coup just a couple months later.
BIGGS: Yes, exactly, yes. So that’s a very clear connection between the action, these actions – and of course there were lots of other protests going on as well, street demonstrations and so on, by monks, and that very clearly and quickly led to the overthrow of the government.
CONAN: Yet we have in the case of Tibet over 100 now, and as mentioned, very little change.
BIGGS: Yes, I think that the situations are very, very different because of course the – well, the Tibetan cause already has considerable amount of sympathy among the Western public. But of course there’s nothing that Western governments can do or want to do in forcing China. China is a major power, and you cannot boss China around like the United States bossed South Vietnam around.
CONAN: And also those images, they do get out to the West, but they are not seen in China.
BIGGS: Yes, exactly, and so China can censor at least the majority of the Han – the local majority population, the Han Chinese, from seeing these. And even if they did see them, I’m not entirely sure that – I mean Chinese nationalism is very strong, and so I’m not sure that they would garner such great sympathy. But that’s of course speculative.
But it’s not – you know, it’s certainly not the case that the Tibetans have been trying to speak directly to the Chinese public, or the majority Chinese public.
CONAN: Joining us now to talk about Tibet is Robert Barnett, director of the Modern Tibet Studies Program at Columbia University, author of a number of books, including “Lhasa: Streets with Memories.” Thanks very much for being with us today.
ROBERT BARNETT: My pleasure.
CONAN: And what’s the cause of this recent wave, the past four years of these horrible protests?
BARNETT: Well there’s of course a long history of 60 years of rather troubled rule by China in Tibet in which the Chinese have been really rather aggressive in trying to persuade Tibetans that they are Chinese and a part of China. It hasn’t really worked. But the thing that seems to spark this in an area which had been relatively calm for some 30 years was a decision in about 1998 to ban the photographs of the Dalai Lama and quietly to ban worship of him.
This had already been done in western Tibet a few years earlier, but from ’98 they began to push this idea, this policy across the eastern areas which had been much more relaxed after the death of Mao and where people had been allowed to practice religion, at least to a considerable extent.
So a very big change there in religious policy, particularly about the Dalai Lama and a number of other issues: nomads being made to settle; language, Tibetan language being gradually withdrawn from schools; very strong controls on information and travel; these kinds of issues as well. But I think the religious question is primary.
CONAN: Those of us in the West might see this as a sign of despair. Do you find that to be accurate?
BARNETT: It’s hard to say. I mean I think that we have to listen carefully to what Michael said about this being a way to try to reach the ears of important people. Of course Westerners and exiles tend to see it as trying to reach the ears of the international community, but I think as Michael explained it’s really about trying to get the Chinese leadership to pay attention to what’s happening in their far-flung western areas.
And this may be a way to also – I don’t know if it’s to rally the community, I don’t think that’s an intention of these immolators, but it’s a way to express a real commitment to their cultural and religious ideals. It’s probably not thought through as a deliberate strategy. It just makes huge sense within the terms of traditional Buddhism, the idea of self-sacrifice for a noble cause, that’s very strong in Buddhism, and the idea that there is something here that’s been threatened: the culture, the language, the religion, and the nation, really, by current Chinese policy.
But it’s not a clear political movement or a specific strategy.
CONAN: We mentioned there had been little change. There’s been little reform. There has been a change, and that has been, of late, a crackdown by the Chinese government.
BARNETT: Yes, it’s very interesting. In the first like year and a half or so of these terrible self-immolations in Tibet, the Chinese officials were very uncertain about how to proceed. But the realized very quickly they shouldn’t criticize monks, and instead they started to say that the monks, most of the first year, the first 40 cases or so were monks or nuns or former monks.
And they didn’t criticize them, but they criticized the people around them, who they accused of helping them. And they regarded the immolators as, quote, innocents. But recently, in the last two and a half months, they’ve very radically changed this approach and begun to arrest almost anybody they can find in some areas who they can accuse of inciting immolations.
It seems to be anybody who expresses the idea that an immolation is justified in Buddhism or is noble. These people seem to be arrested in some areas. It’s not the same in every area, but it’s – they’re offering large amounts of money for information about immolators. One person has already received a suspended death sentence for supposedly inciting immolation.
It looks to me that he just expressed support for the notion and said the people who’d done it were heroic. So we’ve moved into a very aggressive phase here, trying to contain this wave.
CONAN: Michael Biggs, let me ask you. As Robert Barnett just mentioned, the first 40 or so were monks or nuns or ex-monks. Now it has begun to widen. There are people from all walks of life who’ve now become immolators in Tibet. What’s the significance of that?
BIGGS: Well, I suppose it shows the incredibly, the incredibly positive resonance that these actions have with the general public, with the general Tibetan people. And we find a similar pattern in South Vietnam, where first of all it was monks, and then ordinary lay people began to copy the action as well. So I think it shows just how not popular but how much symbolic resonance this action has with the ordinary people, who see this as a, you know, exemplary action by monks; a few brave people who are not monks will try to imitate and strengthen the cause by following in the same, in their footsteps.
CONAN: We’re talking about self-immolation. Our guests: Robert Barnett, he is the director of the Modern Tibet Studies Program at Columbia University; Michael Biggs is also with us, you just heard him, a sociologist who studies social movements and collective protests at the University of Oxford. Stay with us. When we come back, we’ll get to the Tibetan perspective. I’m Neal Conan. It’s the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I’m Neal Conan. When Thich Quang Duc self-immolated in Vietnam in 1963, journalist David Halberstam was there. In his book “The Making of a Quagmire,” he remembered that day. Please note the description is graphic.
Flames were coming from a human being. His body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning flesh. Human beings burn surprisingly quickly, Halberstam wrote. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered even to think.
Today we’re talking about recent self-immolations, more than 100 in Tibet in the last four years now. Michael Biggs of the University of Oxford and Robert Barnett of the Modern Tibet Studies Program at Columbia University are our guests. Joining us now is Bhuchung Tsering, vice president for special programs at the International Campaign for Tibet. He’s been kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A. Welcome to the program.
BHUCHUNG TSERING: My pleasure.
CONAN: And I – what’s been the response to these immolations among Tibetans?
TSERING: I think there are two broad responses, and we’re talking about Tibetans in the free world, not inside Tibet. First is the strong emotional connection that people have sort of got upon learning from these reports, these emotional connections both of sorrow that yet another Tibetan has died, just like in the case of yesterday, and at the same time admiring their courage of willingness to do the utmost for the sake of their people. So that’s one aspect of it.
The other aspect is to say what is there that we can do outside that really you cannot at all match what the people inside Tibet have done but that can really help change the situation for the people inside Tibet to no longer have to do those things. Read the rest of this entry »
VOA and China’s Latest Narrative on Tibet
Bhuchung K. Tsering
I am glad the Voice of America has lost no time in challenging the Chinese Government’s accusation that it is encouraging Tibetans to self-immolate. On February 6, 2013 VOA released a video and written statement in which its Director David Ensor said the allegations were “totally false and called on China Daily and CCTV to retract their stories.”
China first made this allegation in a TV report on its Chinese language television channel (CCTV 4) on February 5, 2013. An edited English version was broadcast on February 6, 2013 in English on CCTV 9. Xinhua also released reports based on the TV report.
These reports are but the latest attempt by the Chinese authorities to change the narrative relating to the spate of Tibetan self-immolations.
China is increasingly finding it difficult to justify its harsh crackdown on the Tibetan people. The Chinese security forces have no legal justification in taking the entire Tibetan people to ransom and denying them even the limited rights enshrined in China’s own constitution. China is punishing the entire Tibetan people even as it wants the world to believe that only “A few individuals with a strong sense of extreme nationalism showed sympathy with the self-immolators.” (Xinhua report of February 7, 2013 quoting Lu Benqian, Qinghai’s deputy police chief. ) Therefore, they have started what virtually seems to be a conspiracy theory.
There is a historical consistency in this Chinese strategy of blaming others for developments in Tibet. Initially, the Chinese Communists blamed “Western imperialist forces” of encouraging the Tibetans. In the post-1959 period, they have experimented with putting the blame on everything that happened in Tibet to “the splittists”, “Dalai Clique” Tibetan Youth Congress, etc. The much-maligned Cultural Revolution provided a slight change in the narrative. The Communist leaders found a new “other” to be blamed for everything bad that took place in Tibet during the period, as they did in the case of China, too. Since it serves their conspiracy theory and narrative, the Chinese Government does not hesitate to use the term “Tibetan Government-in-Exile” in its reports about the involvement of Tibetans abroad although they are the first to deny that such an entity does exist or is legal.
Therefore, it is not a surprise that in the course of the self-immolations, the Chinese Government had no qualms in blaming Tibetans outside for what is essentially a result of its misguided policies in Tibet.
The latest report by China has blamed the free Tibetan-language media, including VOA, that exist outside of Tibet, for virtually spreading propaganda in Tibet. This is ironical, if not laughable. VOA is right to be incensed by this Chinese allegation.
The Chinese don’t get it. Since they control all media in China, the Chinese authorities may be assuming that all the Tibetan-language media in the free world are under the control of the Tibetan leadership in exile. The CCTV documentary shows footages (I wonder what the rules say about copyright in such usage, but that is an aside!) from VOA TV’s Kunleng program as well as the websites maintained by other Tibet-related media houses.
As part of my work, I closely monitor Tibetan-language media, both those in Tibet and outside of it. They all do a commendable job of “serving as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news” (as the VOA’s Charter says). The information about the self-immolations is a case in point. News about these were broken by the free Tibetan language media like VOA, RFA, VOT (as well as Tibet Times, Tibet Express, Phayul, etc.) while the CCTV and Xinhua continued to maintain silence for a considerable period of time. As VOA Director Ensor said in his statement, “We report them. We certainly don’t encourage them,” It was only when China realized that it was losing control over the narrative that it began to acknowledge the self-immolations.
VOA’s Tibetan Service chief, Losang Gyatso, has “also denied that any news reports were influenced by the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan government in exile. He noted that VOA Tibetan’s news reports often present the views of Chinese officials.”
I know this for fact because both VOA and RFA are based in Washington, D.C. whenever they are aware of Chinese officials giving a press conference on Tibet here, they make attempts to cover these events. However, on several instances it is the Chinese Embassy that indulge in racial discrimination by denying Tibetan-language media access to such events even as they allow others, including Chinese-American journalists, to cover them.
The latest Chinese narrative needs to be seen in the context of the international community’s assertion (see statements by the United Nations, United States, the European Union, etc.) that China needs to address the “deep underlying issues” in Tibet that are the cause of the self-immolations and not to use “heavy security measures and suppression of human rights.” It is China’s attempt to justify its violation of the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people.
China’s baseless allegation against VOA and other media is already starting a discussion on how the United States Government should look at its liberal policy of allowing the Chinese Government’s media to have a free hand in the United States. Currently, both CCTV and Xinhua are expanding their capacities in this country. China Daily has started an American edition. In the days to come I won’t be surprised if discussions touches on their activities.
As it is on February 7, 2013, State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland responded to a question about the Chinese accusation saying, “obviously VOA has made clear that they were not involved, and we support VOA in that statement.” She further said that she expected this issue to be taken up at the official level with the Chinese. Nuland also reiterated the U.S. position that “there are deep grievances within the Tibetan population which are not being addressed openly and through dialogue by the Chinese Government.”
Be that as it may be, I think the Chinese leadership needs to realize that such conspiracy theories are not the solution. The solution could begin with China’s Tibet-policy makers really following some recent advices by their new leaders, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang.
Xinhua has quoted Xi Jinping telling at a Chinese New Year event on February 7, 2013 that Chinese leaders needed to “be more tolerant of criticism and receptive to the views of non-communists.” “The CPC [Chinese Communist Party] should be able to put up with sharp criticism, correct mistakes if it has committed them and avoid them if it has not,” Xi is said to have added. Xi further said, “Non-CPC personages should meanwhile have the courage to tell the truth, speak words jarring on the ear, and truthfully reflect public aspirations.”
What the Tibetans have been doing is just that.
Meanwhile, China’s potential Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said (this week) following a meeting with disadvantaged Mongols in Inner Mongolia: “You are living in bad conditions and we really feel sorry.” Will China have the courage to say that to the Tibetans?
May be we should watch VOA to get the answer!