Tibet – revolt with memories

Published on OpenDemocracy, by Gabriel Lafitte, March 18, 2008.

The Tibetan revolt of March 2008, like those of 1959 and 1987, will be crushed by the overwhelming might of the Chinese military. No match could be more unequal: maroon-clad nuns and monks versus the machinery of oppression of the global rising power. In recent months, fast-response mobile tactical squads whose sole purpose is to quell the people have been overtly rehearsing on the streets of Tibetan towns for just what they are now doing. What is the point of revolt if it is almost certainly suicidal? …

… China’s time-warp:

To be a Tibetan in Tibet can be compared with being black in Mississippi in the 1950s. Travel within Tibet, migration from country to city, number of livestock permitted, number of children permitted – all are rigidly and oppressively controlled by an invasive bureaucracy. Meanwhile healthcare and education, strictly on a capitalist user-pays basis, are concentrated in urban areas. Only if you have the money upfront, and connections, do you even get in the door of a hospital.


The monks and nuns, who devote their lives to clarifying and purifying the mind, draw inspiration from the example of their teachers, and the teachers of their teachers, the highest of all being the Dalai Lama. China’s party leaders – including Hu Jintao (elected president for a further five-year term on 15 March), who imposed martial law the last time Tibet revolted – never seem to learn that insisting on monks trampling or spitting on an image of the Dalai Lama is only going to deepen Tibetan alienation.

The China the world glimpses briefly today is a China that has not, in Tibet, changed as much as everyone would hope. Tibet under Chinese rule is stuck in a time-warp – of Marxist anti-religion propaganda, mass campaigns of denunciation and thought reform. China’s policies in Tibet are deeply contradictory and self-defeating. China wants Tibetans to embrace and love the motherland and the party, but the punitive insistence on stability always undermines the uneven, often exclusionary, progress towards development.

China needs to be told by its friends that an empire cannot be made into a nation by force. (Australia, as a close friend and now with a prime minister fluent in Chinese, is uniquely placed to remind the isolated and fearful party leaders that they can gain much by listening to the message of the rioters: give us a break. Australia could also teach China much about land management and care, about rural communities and government working as partners to repair long-term damage, and about discovering the hard way how to respect and reconcile with indigenous peoples.)

As the Dalai Lama has always said: Tibetans and Chinese have had good relations in the past, and can have again – but only if there is mutual respect for fellow human beings who differ in their sources of happiness.

Tibetan monks and nuns are now dying, usually with equanimity and no hatred, in order to maintain that difference. (full long text).

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