May 12, 2009
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Pro-Justice, Not Anti-Chinaby Amy Yee[Far Eastern Economic Review]Posted May 11, 2009


During the past
year that I’ve reported on Tibetan issues from my base in India, one of
the Dalai Lama’s recurring messages has struck a chord in me. It isn’t
his well-known calls for peace, nonviolence and compassion. Rather,
it’s his constant reminder that “We are not against Chinese people. We
still have faith in Chinese people.”

 

The Dalai
Lama repeated that again in March of this year, which marked the 50th
anniversary of China’s rule in Tibet and his exile to India. That
message has become his mantra as he travels the world and almost
desperately tries to meet Chinese people. His call has grown
more urgent as he tries to defuse surging Chinese nationalism that
peaked with the Olympics in Beijing. Official talks with Beijing broke
down last autumn so the Dalai Lama’s outreach to Chinese people is the
only way to advance the Tibet issue in China. But I fear that
his outreach to Chinese won’t work because reason is too easily
obliterated by the flames of nationalism. Too many Chinese people
confuse protests against the policies of the Chinese government with
being anti-Chinese. The Dalai Lama’s outreach to Chinese
people isn’t lip service. I am Chinese, though born and brought up in
the U.S. by immigrant parents. Even though I wear the face of the
“enemy,” I have always been treated warmly by Tibetans during the
considerable time I have spent in Dharamsala, home to the Dalai Lama
and about 12,000 Tibetans. I have waited for a Tibetan to treat me
bitterly or with scorn but it has never happened in dozens of
interviews I have conducted here. Many Tibetans can tell I’m
Chinese and even call out “Ni hao!” as I walk through the streets of
this hill town. Sometimes we converse in Mandarin, not out of any sense
of obligation but because Tibetans still have an affinity with Chinese
people even if their religion, language and culture have been repressed
by the Chinese government. After a four-hour prayer service in
March, the Dalai Lama thanked the people in Tibet, the international
community and “Chinese friends.” At a ceremony to mark the 50th
anniversary of Tibet’s failed uprising against Chinese rule, the Dalai
Lama shared the stage with 30 Chinese pro-democracy activists. Another
group of 30 filmmakers and journalists from Taiwan were also present. When
Han Chinese travel to Dharamsala the Dalai Lama eagerly grants them a
coveted private audience if they speak and write Chinese and can
somehow convey his message into China. Why this charm
offensive with Chinese people? The Dalai Lama says that Tibetans and
Chinese will have to live together in the future, no matter what
happens. Communication and exchange is necessary, especially if
official negotiations are fruitless. Since 1994, the Tibetan
government-in-exile has printed magazines and newsletters in Chinese.
It also launched a Chinese-language website that attempts to convey his
point of view within China to those savvy enough to get around Chinese
blocks. However, it is unclear whether the charm offensive is
working. Chinese who support Tibet are suppressed in China and branded
as traitors on Chinese blogs. When the Olympic torch passed through
Canberra last year there were about 10,000 Chinese and some 1,500
pro-Tibet demonstrators. When the Dalai Lama met with some
Chinese in New York who were protesting his visit last year, he said
five of the seven wouldn’t listen to him. Fortunately it was a large
table or they might have slapped him, he admitted at a press conference
last year. Even overseas Chinese in the U.S., Australia and
Europe where there is free media and access to information, waved signs
that read “Dalai is a Liar.” I’m not sure what they accuse the Dalai
Lama of lying about. He openly advocates autonomy for Tibet under
Chinese rule, not separation as China insists. Is he lying
about human-rights violations in Tibet? Why not ask former political
prisoners from Tibet who have sought refuge in India? Why not ask
thousands of Tibetans who have been arrested since China began its
harsh crackdown in Tibet a year ago? And if the list of those arrested
is fake, as some claim, why not produce the Tibetan in question to show
they are alive and well? For all of China’s insistence that
Tibetans are content and should be happy that they have longer life
spans than 50 years ago, the forceful repression in Tibet indicates
that something is terribly wrong. The wise thing to do would be to
somehow come to the table to discuss how, at the very least, the plight
of Tibetans in Tibet could be improved. Measures on improving education
and access to jobs for Tibetans are well within China’s reach. The
Tibetans who rioted in Lhasa last year should not have resorted to
violence and it is tragic that Chinese people died in the clashes, as
the Dalai Lama himself has said. But why not allow an independent
investigation into exactly what happened last year in Lhasa? I
know firsthand the effects of Chinese nationalism that can cloud
reasoned judgment. Last summer my brother and I were at my parent’s
house in Boston when the Olympic torch relay came up. My brother was
angry and disgusted by the pro-Tibet protestors. I was taken aback by
his response. We grew up in a progressive part of Boston where
activism and questioning of the establishment was de rigueur. U.S.
policies were often raked over the coals during dinner table
conversations. But I knew why my brother was so angry. We are
Chinese. I believe my brother was mistaking protests against the
policies of the Chinese government with some slight against him as a
Chinese person. I didn’t start a heated debate. I simply told
him what I knew from reporting in India, where I have lived since 2006.
“They shot a 16-year-old Tibetan girl in the head,” I said, referring
to Chinese security that shot and killed unarmed and peaceful Tibetan
protestors in western China last year. “What’s wrong with protesting?” I
refrained from pointing out to my brother what he already knew: that I
lived in China for two years, taught English to about 120 Chinese
university students, learned Mandarin and traveled for nearly a month
in Tibet in 1998. During that trip many Tibetans I met in Tibet were
scared of me until I told them that I was American. When I
mentioned Lhundup Tso, the 16-year-old Tibetan girl whose body was
photographed in a pool of blood, my brother’s face contorted. Perhaps
his newfound sense of Chinese nationalism was battling with the
education—based on reason, fact and analysis—that we both received.
Fortunately the latter prevailed. “As long as it’s nonviolent,” he said
grudgingly. I glanced at my mother, who had threatened to
disown me when I announced I was going to China after college partly
because she feared what Chinese authorities might do to me. She
prudently chose to remain silent. It is easy to confuse
protest against Chinese policies in Tibet with being anti-Chinese. But
wanting a better way forward in Tibet is not anti-Chinese people or
even anti-China. It is, as the Dalai Lama likes to say, pro-justice. –Amy Yee is a journalist based in New Delhi.
The article is reproduced from the May 2009 edition of Far Eastern Economic Review

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