With all its might, China cannot crush the Tibetan soul

by Bhaskar Roy: The Chinese Communist Party recently issued a public directive that all government departments in Tibet must carry out all measures to quell any further (Tibetan) unrest. Failure to maintain stability, it warned, could result in dismissal from jobs and even criminal prosecution of the officials.

Chinese authorities have always pressed administrative and security officials to ensure peace and stability. But never before has a threat of criminal prosecution been made for failure. This suggests Chinese authorities are seriously concerned about- and even distrustful of – Tibetan officials.

According to reports, more than one million photographs of core leaders and one million Chinese national flags were dispatched to Tibetan regions in January. AFP

The directive was issued ahead of the Tibetan New Year and the “March 10” anniversary of the Tibetan uprising of 1959 against the Chinese. March 2008 also witnessed Tibetan unrest in Lhasa that spread to the neighbouring Tibetan-inhabited areas of Sichuan and Qinghai provinces.

Nine Must-Haves

Separately, 20,000 Han Chinese were being deployed in Tibetan villages to teach them “love for the motherland”. Described by some as a return of Maoist re-education campaigns, a newly launched campaign, named ‘Nine Must-Haves‘, requires every Tibetan monastery, school, community centre and household to display photographs of Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao (the leaders of four generations of the Party leadership), copies of the People’s Daily, and the official Tibet Daily, and a Chinese national flag.

(Watch The Guardian‘s correspondent Jonathan Watts’ report on his recent sneaky entry into Aba, where he found evidence of Chinese authorities’ efforts to impose a “patriotic re-education” campaign, and preparations to extinguish dissent with riot police, with fire engines standing by in the event of attempted self-immolations.)

According to reports, more than one million photographs of core leaders and one million Chinese national flags were dispatched to Tibetan regions in January. Security and police personnel tried to force the Tibetans to celebrate the Chinese New Year this year, even bribing them with money.

If a sense of desperation is writ large on China’s Tibet policy, then it is of their own doing. The approach towards reconciliation has turned out to be of bitter estrangement.
Following the 2008 Lhasa riots, Tibetan protests have spread. Since March 2011, at least 20 monks, nuns and lay people have attempted self-immolation; most of them have died. Recently, police firing on Tibetan protest gatherings have killed several people. The demonstrators and the self-immolaters are demanding Tibetan independence and the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. The more the Chinese pressure to “reeducate” the Tibetans, the stronger is the opposition.

The role of the Dalai Lama

There are several issues that require further investigations. The most important may be the Dalai Lama’s decision to give up his political responsibilities and devote himself to religious activities. If the Chinese authorities wanted him to move out of the scene, they have it now. They do not have the Dalai Lama to talk with, and they do not want to talk with the new Tibetan government-in-exile lest it given them legitimacy. This is a serious dilemma for China.

Although the Tibetan diaspora abroad reluctantly accepted the Dalai Lama’s withdrawal from political life, Tibetans inside China believe it was Chinese pressure that forced the withdrawal, and refuse to accept it. The major protests virtually coincided with the Dalai Lama’s resignation.

Since the 2008 riots, the Chinese have imposed even more strict restrictions on Tibetans. The Chinese central government has invested substantially on Tibet’s, development, but fruits of such development have mainly gone to Han Chinese migrants. Some Chinese NGOs have pointed to this, but the government is unwilling to acknowledge it.

A variety of changes and innovations introduced in Tibet, especially in the areas of education, jobs and Han migration, have impacted Tibetan culture, language and way of life.  Tibetans saw this as forceful ‘sinicization’ of Tibet by Beijing, and resent it; they see it as a sinister plan to suffocate all that is Tibetan, which feeds fatalism or obdurate opposition.

Chinese authorities have tried everything, including misconstruing Tibetan religion to subdue the protests and self-immolations, but nothing is working.

The ethnic minorities’ plight

Out of 65 ethnic minorities in China, most have died quietly because they were small in size and pushed into a corner. Inter-marriage with Han Chinese have further promoted this sinicization. The one-child policy is not applicable to the minorities, but even so the minority population has not increased in arithmetic progression. Are the Hans overwhelming them? Have coercive policies adversely affected the fertility rate of the minorities?

Beijing’s politics and actions towards the Tibetans defy logic. It appears to be a potpourri of Marxism-Leninism, Han chauvinism, Han nationalism, and a nightmare of disintegration of China. By its own action, China has created a situation where it has become the devil against itself.

Political education is one thing. But it  did not work well even for Mao Zedong and the Gang of Four. Even now, the state and the party have failed to change the minds of dissidents jailed for eight to eleven years.

As long as the Dalai Lama was in charge of political affairs, he had a say over the actions of his people. Today, Tibetans inside China believe they have no option other than peaceful resistance. Under these conditions, the Tibetans are drawing sympathy and empathy from the international community.

China has faced only limited foreign pressure on this issue and human rights issues. China’s economic clout  has given it the authority to talk down to Western powers. India too will come under pressure sooner or later, given that the Dalai Lama resides in India and the unrecognised government-in-exile is based in Dharamsala.

Beijing is on a wrong trajectory against the Tibetans. Tibetans believe that a body can be killed, but the soul cannot. If Beijing pursues a hard line, it will have to suffer the consequences. And that will create another unstable situation along the India-Tibet border which includes Nepal. The US and the West will not be far behind either.

Bhaskar Roy  is a China analyst based in New Delhi. Republished with permission from the Chennai Institute of China Studies.

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