Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Tracy Strong, Doug Vaughan and John Gaudette on American imperialism,the Dalai Lama, and the ferocity of Chinese domination, part 2

Chinese oppression in Tibet has much more of a back-story than most Americans are willing to acknowledge. In response to my post here on the Yong-he Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Beijing (a second part is to come), Tracy Strong, with long interests in China (see his fine biography of the courageous radical journalist Anna Louise Strong, who reported on the Chinese revolution, Right in her Soul here) wrote a measured account of the Dalai Lama as ruler of Tibet (and beneficiary of the oppressiveness of an older regime), indicates some weaknesses (I remain enormously impressed with the Dalai Lama's Autobiography, but want to look into the suppression of the worshippers of Shugden; there is an issue here of the inclusiveness and toleration of Buddhism which the Dalai Lama hopes to defend - as opposed to excluding - that the original Shugden killed some followers of another branch Nyingma. The Dali Lama hoped to exclude exclusivism (suppressing the suppressor, a point that consistent liberals might want to think about, i.e. being tolerant of Nazis where they commit crimes means "tolerating" the suppression of a diversity of viewpoints). Tracy alludes to some of the ferocity - the lack of coalition or genuine movement from below as well as murders of monks - which has accompanied the Chinese occupation.

Tracy also makes the important point that the autonomous region the Tibetans seek is a very large one. If China were willing to negotiate, such a demand might, I imagine, be qualified. China has rightly stood for defending its own territory. It fought in Korea to restore its own boundaries and North Korea's but not to enter the South. It rebuffed India's entry into Chinese territory in 1959, but stopped at the line of reclaiming what it thought had been taken. The contrast with U.S., for instance, in the aggressive war of 1846-48, seizing all the Mexican-named states save Florida, is stark...)


His recounting of conversations with the Chinese - genuinely puzzled about American sympathy for Tibetan resistance - is rightly critical of how the Chinese government has gone about the displacement of the Tibetans. But it is far from strong enough


Doug Vaughan rightly adds to this picture the role of the CIA (and the invasion of North Korea by the US) in trying to overturn the Communist revolution. Note that the CIA's commitment to the Tibetans is slight...


Finally, John Gaudette, a former student of mine who has gone to Dharmasala and learned some of the brutality of the Chinese occupation, is rightly shocked by it.

If the Chinese are to break out of their current isolation in the world, they have to alter their relationship with Tibet for which the Dalai Lama's proposal of an autonomous region, and the general compassion of Tibetan Buddhism (seeking to stop the killing, but looking at killers with understanding\compassion) provides an opportunity - by ceasing denunciation of the Dalai Lama and more killings. Tracy's thought about how the Chinese want Tibetan Buddhism but with no loyalties outside China, just like Christians of a Chinese variety, has two possible variants here. One is the attempting to set a new lineage for the Dalai Lama in China; the Dalai Lama is working, rightly, to block this. The government would then cordon off the Buddhists in China from Dharmasala and ethnically cleanse, both physically and culturally, Tibet. This course will increase the friction of China with the rest of the world about these matters, consolidate isolation.

The second is to work out an agreement for a Tibetan autonomous region backing off on the Han settling and displacement. That is the way of the future and China alone has the power to enact it (has to rethink everything, give concessions, try to heal over time). For along with economic development focused on green energy, working out decent relations with the Tibetans would do more for China's standing in the world than any other single change.


What John describes resembles Israel in Palestine. All of my students, mainly young women from the middle of the country, who went to study at the Hebrew University, worked with Palestinians, learned of the brutality of the Israeli occupation, and have roughly the same reaction. Jamie Siers was thrown down the stairs of an apartment building for trying to protect an 80 year old widow from eviction from her apartment in East Jerusalem...

The Founding Amnesias here - of America and the native Americans, of Israel - "a land without people for a people without land" and the Palestinians, of the Chinese "modernizers" and the Tibetans are, sadly, of a piece.


Tracy initially wrote:

"more in response shortly but it is worth noting that the Tibetans (ie those with the Dalai Lama) claim not only the Tibet autonomous region but also Qinghai and the Western Sichuan as part of their territory. I do not think this claim has been relaxed. This is a lot of territory."

He then sent the following description:

"The Tibetan situation is very complex. I have been to the Lama Temple in Beijing and it is as Alan describes it. A couple of remarks:

Tibet was before the Chinese came in essentially a theocratic feudal country. That is an odd combination for the West but the Dalai Lama was not just the spiritual leader and authority but also the ruler. Much of the work supporting the lamaseries was done by serf labor. Only recently has the Dalai Lama renounced his "secular" ruling role -- though what that amounts to at present is hard to see.

As the religious authority, the Dalai Lama is not a model of tolerance in relation to various factions inside TIbetan Buddhism. Those who stray from orthodoxy are repressed, cast out or put down. A recent notable example is the forbidden of the worship of Shugden, a popular Mahayana Buddhist deity. There was violence and even death threats and ostracism of those who persisted. I have not seen them but both the German TV show "Panorama" and the Swiss "10 vor 10" apparently had extensive shows on this. Shugden worship has been part of Tibetan Buddhist practice since the 15th century.[for more background on the controversy, see here]

After the Chinese came in they brought (took/kidnapped/ forcibly removed) a good number of Tibetan children to China where they were indoctrinated in the way of the Han; they have been subsequently returned to Tibet to occupy positions of authority.

The Chinese have been often very heavy handed in their wish to change the Tibetan system -- one may say that the old feudal system had to go but there are perhaps easier ways to emerge from it than the rather forcible ones the Chinese have employed. Many have been killed.

There is the additional problem --referred to in my earlier post -- that the pro Dalai Lama Tibetan forces claim not only Tibet as part of an autonomous region but also Qinghai and Western Sichuan -- a good chunk of Western China..

Finally , one must remember that China thinks of itself as an empire. It has no non-adjacent territorial ambitions and never has; but it is categorically unwilling to give up any part of what it considers to be China (and this includes Taiwan). This was the source, for instance, of the 1959 war with India where after retaking what it considered the Indians to have encroached upon, it simply stopped. China also refuses to tolerate any group that owes final authority to anything other than China. Thus it has no problem with Chinese Catholics as long as their bishops do not have allegiance to the Pope (in this, they are a bit like Hobbes in the XVIIth century). There are actually more Christians (absolutely and proportionally) in China today than at any time in the past.

As the successor to the Dalai Lama is not chosen by dynastic succession but by the passing of a number of complex and gnomic tests adminstered to very young children by monks, the line of succession is not at all clear. The present Dalai Lama has mentioned that he might be the last one -- I read this to mean that any successor not chosen in the traditional way by those loyal to the present Dalai Lama will be illegitmate. I suspect though that the Chinese will try to install their own -- and succeed in diluting the authority of the Dalai Lama.

When I was last in China, again and again I was asked how it was that the West and Americans in particular could be so supportive of the Dalai Lama's position. These were honest questions of surprise. The Chinese think, not illegitimately, that they have done a lot to modernize Tibet both in political regime and in infrastructure. But just as there were other ways to institute the First Five Year plan, there were probably other ways to do this.

Tracy B. Strong"


Doug Vaughan names American imperialism during the Cold War - and corrects an error or at least misimpression given by my previous post - and even the training of Tibetans by the CIA at Camp Hale in Colorado (is there no depredation including CIA activities which has, sadly, not found a home in Colorado?).

"The Chinese leadership was not simply paranoid and chauvinistic toward Tibet as a cover for an expansionist impulse among the Han majority, similar to the doctrine of Manifest Destiny among the European-American elite, as you imply in your attempt to be even-handed, balanced and nuanced in assessing what some call Han imperialism or colonization of Tibet. (You might go on to include the restive Islamic and Turkic-speaking western regions as well as Manchuria and Mongolia in your survey.) The liberators of China from the Japanese occupation were deeply concerned about US imperial intentions and responding to US actions and provocations in the Cold War. For example, you allude to the US refusals to permit national and popular-front regimes who had defeated the Japanese to take power in Korea; you might have segued to Vietnam. These wars were part of a strategy that lasted from 1948-72, fundamentally altering the political dynamics. The big wars were accompanied by continuous smaller wars, insurgencies, sabotage and harassment. They included the effort to foment rebellion in Tibet, including the training of "volunteers"/mercenaries at Camp Hale, Colorado, in the 1950s, in concert with efforts to "unleash" Chiang's huge army on Taiwan ("Formosa"), protected by the US nuclear threat as were the military dictators in South Korea, and another substantial KMT army in the Golden Triangle border region of Thailand. They tried continuously to 'roll-back' the Communist-led liberation of China. And failed. By failing to include these facts, and how China's government might otherwise have responded or preempted US proxies' attacks, your revision of the post-war history goes too far toward justifying the imperial strategy, which shifted to accommodation, co-optation and cooperation with state-capitalism in the 1970s."

Just one qualification of Doug's point: I agree with Tracy, policies could have been instituted, down to not kidnapping children to be future leaders, without the violence against Tibetans (and then, the Communists might have won more people over politically, as Mao suggests in his - not implemented for Tibet - very good pamphlet "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People"). That it was not quite American-style ethnic cleansing, does not mean that it was not...ethnic cleansing.


The Chinese oppression of Tibetans has been ferocious. Tibetan monks and others have immolated themselves and instead of a decent response, their colleagues have been jailed and tortured, or their husbands or fathers.... John Gaudette, a student who has been working in Dharmasala for five months, responded to my previous post which favors the position of the Dalai Lama as if I must be accepting of this. I am not.

A caution on indigenous people in America: the ethnocide against the Plains Indians and consignment of survivors in concentration camps creates as severe transgenerational trauma as it gets (think also of the Tibetan nomads whom you emphasize below). That indigenous people survive today is not the equivalent of flourishing (it is flourishing against the grain...). They are a) often not recognized as human beings (that is racism still flourishes toward them; is constantly encountered by them - I name merely Mount Evans and Evanston...- and b) this racism ignites the trauma. No, their plight today is not as bad as when the US army was committing its attacks on Indians camped for the winter and murdering women and children (the last massacre at Wounded Knee was not a battle but an unprovoked attack on peaceful Christian ghost dancers...)

Yes, it is very bad. One should be careful of comparisons (since in oppressive societies, what is temporarily abated may come up again - currently Native American children are being deprived of food stamps by a rapacious Congress...). And no, it is not as bad as Chinese oppression of Tibetan is currently.



I hope you are enjoying China. I have been working at a Tibetan human rights organization in Dharamsala for the past five months. I have been curious to see what you would have to say about Tibet and China's policies. I suppose my exposure to China has been the opposite of what you have in China.

Here, I hear a lot of stories about how bad the situation is in Tibet and how there is no freedom. The economic development that China champions only benefits the Han Chinese that move into Tibet because of discriminatory hiring practices. The nomads are being forcibly resettled and forced to give up their traditional way of life (by 2014 90% of the nomads will be resettled according to Human Rights Watch).

China has also adopted the approach of controlling religion and trying to corrupt Tibetan Buddhism. I've talked to monks and read numerous accounts of how the government imposes "Patriotic Reeducation Campaigns" for the monasteries where the monks are forced to attend classes organized by openly racist Chinese officials. At the end of the classes they are forced to take a test that includes parroting the Chinese government's position on Buddhism and denounce the Dalai Lama. Anyone who fails the test is kicked out of the monastery.

In Lhasa the government has imposed the Grid surveillance system that would make the NSA envious. Everyone is required to register with their real name to use their cellphone or the internet. All communications are monitored and communications are frequently cutoff if there is a protest or self-immolation so that news cannot reach the outside world. With the Grid system Lhasa is divided into section and each one is monitored with cameras and police. If anything happens, such as a protest or self-immolation, the police are on the scene in second to minutes.

Protesters and other people committing the vague crimes of "splittism," which in almost every case I've heard involves people exercising their right to freedom of speech or freedom of assembly, are first detained by the police. The detention can last week to months without any charge and without anyone knowing where the person went. Torture during detention also seems universal. The prisoners are beaten (sometimes killed) with hands, fists, and electric batons. They are also tied up and suspended from the ceiling from their hands or in some cases thumbs. After detention they can be sent, unilaterally on the police's authority, to a labor camp for 3-4 years. More often they are given lengthy prison sentences for "spittism" or "threatening stability."

A recent trend is for the government to focus on relatives of self-immolators. In the past few weeks Tibetans related to self-immolators (nephews and husbands) have been sentenced to 10+ years in prison or death. Monks from the same monastery as a self-immolator have been given long prison sentences or sent to labor camps without any due process.

Especially since the Snowden leaks, comparing some Chinese tactics with what the United States has done is fairly common. There are a lot of similarities between colonialism and the American treatment of the Native Americans. The Chinese are not as explicitly as genocidal as the Americans were and the Tibetans are committed to non-violence but the idea of a historical or god given right to the land and to plunder the natural resources at the expense of the local population is very similar. More subtly there is the tone in Chinese propaganda that the Tibetans are savages and uncivilised and are now better off under Chinese rule. In Dharamsala these comparisons are used more to contextualize the treatment of the Tibetans than to excuse China's conduct.

For my part I think the comparison between some of the ugliest things America has done and China's treatment in Tibet is a reminder of American's shameful past but also a reason to act. The biggest difference that I see between the American treatment of the Native Americans and the Chinese treatment of Tibetans (among others that I am not as informed about such as the Uyghurs and Falun Gong) is that the Chinese abuses are happening now. This is not to say that life is good for Native Americans in the US and there are still substantial problems with access to the justice system, discrimination, poverty, and exploitative mining, but they are not being gunned down for holding a religious ceremony (as Tibetans were in Sichuan Province on July 6), gassed and beaten for protesting against illegal mining (in Qinghai Province last week), imprisoned and tortured for being related to a protester or having a photograph of the Dalai Lama.

I have seen a lot of pieces of Chinese propaganda that use the phrase, "what would America do if" or something similar but I've never found the arguments very effective. At the core the argument really an attempted ad hominem argument that tries to expose hypocrisy rather than address the issue. It is only an effective ad hominem argument if the person is not willing to admit America has its failings or believes in the infallible morality of the United States. A criticism of torture by the United States or China is just as valid from a Swede as its from an Eritrean.

In your non-violence class I remember when we went to stage a counter-protest against the Westboro Baptist Church [some of the students invited the class]. Even though they never showed up you told the class how it was significant that we could stage a protest without abuse from the police. At the time I was fairly nonplussed by the observation. I started to appreciate the significance more as the Occupy Protests were shut down by police in riot gear. After meeting Tibetans who have been shot, tortured, sentenced to labor camps based on the unilateral authority of the police and seen friends maimed, blinded, and killed for staging non-violent protest I am beginning to understand how important that right is.

What I do not understand is how your blog post mentioning Tibet can be so light of such horrific practices. Especially after reading your argument against inviting W. to DU, which focused on torture as a war crime, international standards, and the illegal use of force, your post concerning Tibet seemed very tame in response to torture as a crime against humanity (because there is no armed conflict in Tibet) and the violation of, and in come cases absolute rejection of, basic international human rights standards. My best guess is that living in Dharamsala and working for a Tibetan human rights NGO I am taking my new-found knowledge of the situation in Tibet for granted. When I was in the US I only heard passing references to Tibet and people's sympathy for Tibet. I did not hear specifics or much about the human right situation there.

I thought I would send a longer message with a cursory explanation of the situation in Tibet so that you would have another perspective on what is happening in Tibet and the government's systematic response to the longest on going non-violent movement in the world.

I was wondering if you saw any fire extinguishers when you were in Tien an men Square. I have heard that in response to the now 121 self-immolation protests against Chinese rule in Tibet they have special police with put fire extinguishers in Tien an men Square so that a potential self-immolator cannot take advantage of the historical importance of the venue.

I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay in China and beginning of the year is not too tainted by Bush's appearance.


John Gaudette"

No comments:

Post a Comment