Friday, April 11, 2008

Chinese Democracy

One of the biggest fantasies from many of my friends in the West, as well as the armchair bombardiers at the American Enterprise Institute, is the notion of democracy in China. The Tibetans are demonstrating for a cause alright. They know good and well that they are never going to be living under a democratic China--although it is debatable to me the extent to which these monks would support a democratic Tibet, a province the dalai lamas ruled over with an iron fist only Saudi Arabia could admire before the 1950s. It took me some time after visiting and studying in the country to come to the same conclusion.

I have already stated my view on Tibet, in terms of the legitimacy of its cause, so I will not restate it here. I feel torn on the issue of Darfur, although less so on Tibet, but I am certain of this much. The demonstrations over the issues are going to have no consequence on the Chinese population and less of one on the government. Indeed, they are likely to harden the position of the Chinese government on issues like Tibet and Darfur.

People that live in democracies sometimes have an overly heightened feel of ourselves as individuals impacting the larger world we live in. The truth is, even in a democracy, for the most part, we do not. In an authoritarian society, even less so. There are environmental activists in North Korea. You do not hear about them because they are rotting away in Camp 22, far removed from cable television cameras, You Tube, and all of those other filtered mediums we use to make ourselves think we are an influence over here.

In China, they typically do not face the same fate (as the North Koreans arrest entire families to punish one dissident), but it is still a country whose government will target those who politically organize against the ruling party. And unlike the Soviet Union or East Germany, the Chinese Communists have remained in power because it is a government that has no qualms about using force. Worse, its bureaucratic culture, dating back to imperial times, is based on reacting to events and phenomenon after the fact, which means it waits until there is a disaster and then responds in a way to try to make you forget the original malady that required their intervention. This is why the Chinese government will execute a food safety chief after some people die from tainted medicine that was manufactured in the PRC. The response is always disproportionate, but when it comes it arrives with the ferocity of a state that will do anything to keep itself in power.

There is a reason for the bureaucratic culture of the Chinese state, of course. The Chinese government, historically, has experienced numerous collapses (following periods of rapid growth), which is why the central government in Beijing obsesses so much about maintaining stability and order. And of course, the pro-Tibet independence folk know this. They hope to embarrass Beijing, which is what the demonstrations over the issue of Tibet, Darfur, etc., this week in San Francisco are all about. That much is understandable.

What is not understandable is that in knowing this and what little impact the demonstrations will have on Beijing, and is actually having the opposite effect, what can be gained by boycotting the opening ceremonies of the Olympics or trying to ransack a torch procession? Westerners need to understand that China looks down upon these demonstrations in large part because they are predominantly in the West. Here is but one example of what the Chinese media is saying about the torch demonstrations and the boycott calls of the Olympics. Also note the historical context of the opinion, one that is rarely mentioned in the West.

Commentary: A New Positive View of the Olympics Games

By Xiong Lei (China Daily)

Updated: 2008-04-10

Seven years ago, when the International Olympic Committee granted Beijing the honor to host the 29th Summer Olympic Games, I was among a handful of dissidents in China who were not too pleased.

While I still have my reservations - Beijing is not environmentally ready for such an event - I have decided to do my part to contribute to the Games.

This change, ironically, is due to a handful of people in the world who are not only making noises against the Beijing Olympics, but also agitating to spoil it.

Even though not every Chinese is very passionate about the event, me included, millions of our people are enthusiastically reaching out to the world to make the Games a success. I do not think any one has the right to disregard this enthusiasm, and deprive the Chinese of the pleasure to play host to the world.

Some people have caused and will continue to cause trouble as witnessed at the torch launching ceremony, and the current torch relay, to steal the show and annoy people determined to hold a successful Games. These people are behaving like "hijackers".

I wonder if those who are backing such protests have thought about the rights of the majority of Chinese people, comprising 56 ethnic groups. Humiliated by the aggressions of foreign powers since the late 1830s, the Chinese people did not win national liberation until 1949, and today, a country capable of hosting the Olympic Games.

But this was not without overcoming certain obstacles. A blockade was imposed on the New China for more than two decades. The People's Republic of China was only able to make its Olympic debut in 1984, 35 years after its founding.

Now that China has been entrusted by the IOC to host the Olympic Games, there has been an eruption of annoying scenes and threats of a boycott over various allegations.

It is pointless to explain to these agitators that Tibet has been part of China long before the United States came into being. It is pointless to tell them China has no troops other than peace-keeping units under the United Nations in a foreign land. It is pointless to let them see that China's overseas investment is but a tiny fraction of the Western powers.

Those who wave flags and chant for rights are deaf to our voices and blind to these facts.

What is wrong with the Chinese people's wish to host an Olympic Games? Do we not have the right to stage such an event at home?

Obviously, the agitators are ignoring these rights of ours.

As an anonymous Chinese netizen remarked: "It is alright for someone to seek their own interests, but it is shameless if they seek personal gains under a seemingly noble banner. And it is disgusting if they do so by hurting others."

Those trying to hijack the Beijing Olympics are the shameless and disgusting people, said the netizen.

These hijackers have only enhanced my enthusiasm for the Games. After all, it is the first time our nation is going to host such a great event, and I wish to join my compatriots, it is history in the making.

Those who are trying to hijack the Beijing Olympics are behaving like clowns, they will gain nothing. It will be fun to watch their farce from the first row of the arena.

These agitators have incurred nothing but resentment from ordinary Chinese and people standing for justice around the world.

I am glad they are helping to improve the public relations efforts of our government, and its crisis management. Pretty soon our officials will learn to take things easy and smile, just like when confronted with unusual dishes at a banquet. Such dishes, though odd, can make for humor.

And I sincerely hope that by the time of the Games, our environment would have improved.

The author is a council member of the China Society for Human Rights Studies.

And that is the more charitable of the commentaries. Here is one that is much less sanguine.

TYC, a terrorist organization much catastrophic than bin Laden's, say netizens

Al Qaeda has been infamy in recent years with a series of terrorist activities it has plotted, such as bombings and hijacking of airplanes. But few people knew anything about the inside story of the Tibet Youth Congress or TYC. It has begun surfacing and arresting the attention of common people since such riots as beating, smashing, looting and arson erupted in Lhasa, capital city of the Tibetan autonomous region on March 14.

Founded in 1970, the Tibet Youth Congress, or TYC, is an exile group comprising chiefly descendents of those Tibetan aristocrats, who came in exile with the Dalai Lama about half a century ago. With a current membership of 30,000, it now has close to 70 branches around the world, including the United States. Since its inception, it had advocated for the "total independence of Tibet".

Afterwards, it all joined the "Tibetan government in exile" and became the core of power of the Dalai clique. For a long period of time, TYC has engaged in activities to secede China and made an "indelible service" in the recent violence involving murder, arson and other acts of vandalism against innocent civilians in Lhasa.

Unlike the Dalai Lama who uses "non-violence" to gloss over his blemishes, TYC has all along turned to violence and resorted to terrorist activities as its first primary task to attain the Tibet independence. Kalsang Phuntsok, its former president, once alleged that they would resort to any means, violence or non-violence, for the sake of their cause.

Meanwhile, the Dalai Lama's younger brother and follower, Tebdzub Choegyal, said more bluntly that the maximal effect could be brought about by terrorist activities at the lowest costs. These open, naked allegations have enabled us to see that TYC does not have much difference essentially with al Qaeda and Chechen terrorists militants, but it could be even worse.

In fact, riots erupted in Lhasa since March 10 and the March 14 serious incident of violence is precisely a premeditated "masterpiece" of TYC. Back in late August of 2007, an "Asian Weekly" reporter discovered during his India visit that the Tibet independent forces, or TYC, intended to create turbances and schemed to organize guerrilla.

Moreover, they incited Tibetan youths to go in for underground activities, and spy on railways and water conservancy and power grid projects in Tibet and numerous barracks of the military area command. On January 4 and January 25, seven Tibet independence groups held press conferences in New Delhi, India, giving calls to organize an uprising inside Tibet and these Tibetan exile groups had announced the creation of a "Tibetan People's Uprising Movement" and spread the so-called proposal on the internet.

As the Chinese government could not agree to their unreasonable and unjustifiable demands, TYC and other groups provoked disputes on March 10, or "the last day" they had set as the deadline, inciting some Buddhist monks to make disturbances. Again on March 14, they brazenly created the violent Lhasa incident with a resultant heavy loss of human lives and property damage.

These seven groups include the Tibet Youth Congress, or TYC, the Tibetan Women's Association, "Students for a Free Tibet", the "National Democratic Party of Tibet", the "Tibet Support Network" and the "Tibetan Writers' Organization".

After the Lhasa riots occurred on March 14, police seized a lot of offensive weaponry in some Tibetan Buddhist temples or Lamaseries, as a clear proof to the violent nature of TYC. Among the weapons seized, according to Ministry of Public Security spokesmen Wu Heping, there were 178 rifles or guns, 13,013 rounds of bullets, 359 knives or swords, and a lot of explosives, including 3,504 kilograms of dynamite, 19,360 detonators and two hand-grenades. The destructive capabilities of the above-mentioned weaponry can be said to be "shocking". If such an organization of violence, which can be said to be much catastrophic than ben Laden's, is not practicing terrorism, then what else can said to be a terrorist organization?

On March 15, the following day of the March 14 incident, TYC held a meeting of its executive members in Dharamsala, India, and unanimously adopted a resolution on cross-border entry into China to carry out guerrilla warfare and launch a secret entry into the country though the Sino-Nepalese border. A TYC ringleader even claimed that they are ready to sacrifice another 100 Tibetans for their complete victory. This has once again laid bare the ugly feature of this group of terrorists.

On March 24, the Beijing Olympic sacred fire was set off in Greece with its 85,000-mile journey starting from ancient Olympia in Greece to Beijing. On the following day, however, about 50 people ignited a torch symbolic of "Tibet independence", but regrettably, their torch will never be the "sacred fire" of the peace-loving people the world over. And on the contrarily, they will bury themselves ultimately in the sea of fire at the purgatory they have erected with their own hands.

By People's Daily Online

Chinese opinion, when on the defensive, will not infrequently contain such variants of nationalism, although Chinese nationalism has always been tempered by the outside sources occupying or sponsoring its existence (be it British opium lords or Coca Cola). Still, it is a familiar nationalism, one precipitated by mistrust and humiliation of those same foreigners they have allowed or were not able to prevent from turning their economy into the international investors’ nirvana.

Another point of contention, and an issue I addressed in an earlier post about Tibet, is the theocratic leadership and violence of the pro-Tibet forces in the West. It is something most Western liberal sympathizers are blind to, as Tibetan Buddhism has been sold as the Buddhist version of Gandhian pacifism, but one need only look at the behavior of some of these monks and their supporters to see otherwise. Their attack on a wheelchair-bound Chinese torch bearer hardly did the Tibetans any favor in the Chinese press.

The violence of the riots this last month, in conjunction with some of the violence of the anti-Chinese demonstrations during the torch carrying incidents have done much to reinforce an image of the pro-Tibetan independence forces as ones representing a cause of bloodshed. Of course, this is not mostly true. Moreover, the Chinese government is hardly the guarantor of justice. Its treatment of ethnic minorities in the PRC has been a record of abject failure until recent times, at which point the central government tried to better integrate its minorities into Chinese society, such as its recent employment of affirmative action in contracts and hiring policies, as well as exempting ethnic minorities from its One Child policy--all designed to co-opt peoples the government has traditionally treated as subordinated classes.

As much as the Chinese government would like to portray this as an effort of just a few monks and the Dalai Lama, the numerous riots and sacking of Lhasa suggests that in actuality there is a wider hatred of the central government on the part of Tibetans. This is symptomatic of one of the biggest weaknesses of Chinese Communism and nationalism—the inability of the Chinese state to forge a common national identity beyond the traditional conceptualization of citizenship, which in most countries (including China) is centered around an ethno-cultural tie of the national group with that of the state. This is hard for Americans, in particular, to understand, because we have a civic ethos of citizenship (like Canada and Australia), but if you look at most countries, in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and to a lesser extent in Latin America, probably 80% of the states in the world are historically tied to a national group of some kind, and that national group is based on a cultural, territorial identity. For the Chinese, it is the ethnic Hans, and even though Communism was supposed to form a new identity, the reality is the Communist movement in China, like most de-colonizing countries of the time, was closely linked to nationalism to further cement those movements with the masses they claimed to represent.

The dilemma with the ethno-cultural conceptualization of national identity is if you have more than one ethnic group living on your land they are by definition the “other” and historically are going to be seen as outsiders. In that context, it is going to be difficult to gain the loyalty of such groups to the state. For the longest time, the Chinese Communists tried to claim, like the Soviets, that they were creating a “new man,” but the ethnic minorities in the western provinces were not buying it. The Tibetans and Uyghurs, especially, were on the receiving end of some of the worst treatment of the central government, during the imperial, nationalist, and Maoist years, and whose leaders and interests overwhelmingly came from ethnic Han backgrounds. This is not to say it is the same today. As aforementioned, the Chinese government (contrary to its portrayal in the media in the US and Europe) has made an effort in the last decade to reverse this, but until the central government can truly convert itself over a civic state it is going to have a daunting task in convincing historically repressed minorities that they are now Chinese.

If nothing else, it will be an eventful Olympics. It is a pity that it is being held in Beijing, although for national prestige reasons it could not have been held anywhere else. Beijing’s airport is not up to par, especially compared to Shanghai's, retains some of the biggest rip-off artist cab drivers (the worst in the PRC and almost as bad as the ones in Manila [in fact, if I did not know any better, I would swear that Beijing cab drivers were trained in Manila]), and numerous local merchants and businesses who have the habit of charging special rates for foreigners (although they do the same in many Eastern European countries, so Beijingers are hardly exceptional in this regard). What is so odd about Beijing is that it is one of the few cities in China like this. In Changchun, Harbin, Shanghai, Chongqing, Dalian, Shenyang, Yantai, Wuhan, Guangzhou, etc., the cab drivers and merchants tend to be much more honest and less incredulous--if anything, overly polite and quite interesting conversationalists (as long as you know some Mandarin or Cantonese in the south). Aesthetically, Shanghai would have been a much nicer destination, in my humble opinion, but then China has another problem, more dangerous than any Tibetan theocratic monk--its pollution. Here is Beijing in the afternoon, three years ago.

I am sorry to say, Shanghai is not much better (circa, 2006).


danny said...

I agree with some of your points.But I hope you will mention more progress
and changes happened in China. Although lots of things has to be done in the future, Chinese has witnessed the great progress of the society in the past 20 years, and the
whole nation is making effort to improve the human rights, environment,and anything else the west criticize about China. So almost every Chinese including the Chinese decent around the world stand in the side of the government
of China to object the riot in Tibet and the hijacking Olympics.
I wonder why you said Olympics should not be held in Beijing. Only the developed countries has the right to held th Games? Who entitle you depriving the right of Chinese people to host the Olympic?

TA said...

Thanks for your post. As for the Olympics, I only meant that I thought that Shanghai would be a better location, because of its airport, the city is a little bigger, the logistics more convenient for travelers (although the pollution is just as bad in Shanghai), but I know that there was no way the government could hold the games there. Beijing, as the capital city, was going to be choice.