China and the art of contradiction on Tibet
Bhuchung K. Tsering
The other day, I read through Mao Zedong’s essay “On Contradiction” in the course of researching for a paper. Mao has said that life is a result of contradiction and I believe the present Chinese leadership is certainly proving this in its approach towards the Tibetan issue.
Some months back we had the practical reality of the Chinese authorities not providing visas to foreigners wishing to visit Tibet, corroborated by travel agencies who reported receiving instructions to that effect. Of course, that was to avoid “incidents” during a “sensitive” period. But seeing how that has taken the air out of Chinese desire to project an image of normalcy in Tibet, there is a new narrative coming from Beijing accusing the foreign media of “making distorted reports and misleading the whole world.”An article in an official Chinese news site on Tibet had this to say, “”We’d call on the Western press to speak with evidence instead of misleading the international tourists who are longing to travel to Tibet, especially in the peak season.” The new narrative is that there has been no ban on foreigners’ traveling to Tibet at all.
Actually, it was officials of Tibet-based travel agencies who reported the ban, obviously because they had to inform their clients who would have booked trips to Tibet. An employee of the Tibet China International Tour Service told AFP in early June 2012: “The tourism bureau asked us to stop organizing foreign groups to Tibet in late May. We don’t know when they will life the ban.”
This is a case of the Chinese authorities contradicting themselves in order to fit their current narrative on Tibet.
Yet another contradictory issue is about the historic and historical appointment of a Caucasian American as the abbot of a Tibetan monastery that has been re-established in south India. Although the Chinese leadership swears by socialism, equality, etc., yet they contradicted this by showing their innate racist tendencies on the appointment of this American as an abbot. In an article on China’s official website titled, “Why does Dalai Lama appoint Nicholas Vreeland head of Rato Monastery?” the writer is condescending about Ven. Vreeland. There is no attempt by the Chinese side to appreciate the many years of rigorous studies that Ven. Vreeland has undergone in the institutions set up by the Tibetan exile community. Above all, do the Chinese authorities not know that historically, foreigners — be it Ladakhis, Mongols or even Chinese — have been appointed to various positions in the Tibetan monastic institutions? Had there been a free media in China I would not see any additional implication of this article, other than being the views of a private individual. However, everything in China has to have official sanction, particularly on an sensitive issue like Tibet.
As if feeling that the people are not getting the message about their contradictory policies, the Chinese authorities in Lhasa have said they “will invest 30 billion yuan ($4.7 billion) to build a massive culture and tourism park in the next three to five years.” This at a time when Xinhua itself reported in April this year that “Though Tibet is a place with rich water resources, due to poor economic and geological conditions, farmers and herders in the plateau’s remote areas still have trouble obtaining clean and safe drinking water.”
Even though the authorities are projecting this theme park as an economic development project, the political agenda is quite clear if one looks at what it will exhibit.
The report about the theme park says, “The park will include attractions themed around Princess Wencheng, daughter of Emperor Li Shimin of the prosperous Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), who married Tibetan King Songtsan Gambo when she was 16. The princess, along with a dowry consisting of numerous treasures, books, golden furniture and medical equipment, traveled 3,000 km to her new home.”
Is it not clear to the Chinese authorities that what the Tibetans need at this point of time is an assurance that their life, dignity and freedom will be respected and not another project that will only heighten their fear psychosis? May be the Chinese officials are too blind to see their contradictions.
This reminds one of France’s Queen Marie Antoinette who is reported to have said “let them eat cake” upon learning that the peasants had no bread to eat? Or a better comparison would be the report that “an ancient Chinese emperor who, being told that his subjects didn’t have enough rice to eat, replied, “Why don’t they eat meat?” ”
Given that these writings are appearing on websites overseen by the
United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party, it would be safe to assume that some officials in that department share these views. Observers of the Tibetan issue have noted the contradiction in the fact that the United Front that formally acts as the host to the envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the dialogue process also has among its mission statement to “ Take on responsibility for investigating and researching all matters concerning …separatist threat posed to the motherland both domestically and from abroad by the Dalai Lama clique.”
We certainly live in a world of contradictions, at least Chinese contradictions on Tibet!