A hero smiling and a hero burned

CLAUDE ARPI: The Games are over. The less one comments on India’s performance, the better. Though the Indian sports minister seems happy and sees a bright Olympic future for India, for outside observers, India, a super-economic power in the making, remains third-rate in terms of sports; though one can only have admiration for those who manage to beat the system and collect a medal in the Games. The minister may see life in pink, but it is not the case for the Tibetans who continue to resort to extreme steps to extract the world attention on their plight.

Last week, Dolkar Tso, mother of a five-year-old daughter and a two -year-old son, undressed near the Tsoe monastery in Kanlho prefecture of Amdo region and later immolated herself. She is said to have raised slogans for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet and the freedom of her country. She succumbed to her injuries and passed away soon after.

It is from the same Amdo region that Choeyang Kyi (or Qieyang Shenjie for the Chinese), a young Tibetan athlete won a bronze medal in the women’s 20km race walk at the London Olympics.
According to Xinhua: “She grew up herding yaks on a plateau meadow, just like many other women from rural Tibet. Singing and praying accounted for much of her spare time. And it was not until 2008 that she got the chance to watch the Olympic Games on TV for the first time.”

The young Choeyang told the Chinese news agency that during the race: “I had only one thought in mind — fight! The crowds were so enthusiastic. That helped me stay in high spirits.” On her Sina Weibo microblog, many congratulated her; someone wrote: “Last night, all of the Tibetans here
stayed up and watched your game on the track. We were thrilled to see you win a medal. Tashi delek! Hope you can bring more glory to the Tibetan people.” Another blogger commented: “She smiled a lot during the final 20 km. But I was almost thrilled to tears.”

The ironical part is that in the streets of London, the Chinese supporters were heard shouting ‘Jia You!’ while tens of Tibetans encouraged her, ‘Gyuk!’ (‘Go on!’ in their respective languages).
This exemplifies the dilemma of the Middle-Way Approach propounded by the Dalai Lama who keeps repeating: “We do not seek independence for Tibet, though it is a historical fact”.

The Tibetan leader thus describes his political philosophy: “the Middle-Way Approach [is] a non-partisan and moderate position that safeguards the vital interests of all concerned parties — for Tibetans: the protection and preservation of their culture, religion and national identity; for the Chinese: the security and territorial integrity of the motherland; and for neighbours and other third parties: peaceful borders and international relations.”
In London, both groups had their flags, the red one of the People’s Republic of China, under which Choeyang participated and the one with the snow lions of the Tibetan supporters.

Wasn’t the Middle-Way Approach put into practice?
Though side by side in London, the Tibetan and Chinese supporters however appeared to be on a different wave-length.
As for the bronze-medal earner, she kept very quiet during the press conference. One can understand why. Choeyang Kyi must have had a harder time during the press interaction than while racing.

Because the Tibet issue is more, much more complicated.
For Tibetan exiles, the dilemma of the Middle-Way seems to be: was Choeyang Kyi a Chinese runner or a Tibetan one?
One of them told an AP reporter: “As an individual, we are proud of her, but that she is representing China, I’m not happy.” This does not pose a problem for Mary Kom, who can be an Indian and a Manipuri at the same time; but it poses a serious dilemma in Communist China (Thank God that India is not China, though China’s medal tally is fuller than India’s).

But is it not what the Middle-way is about?

Personally, I wish that we could have more Choeyang Kyis and less Dolkar Tsos. It is not that I deny the extraordinary courage of this mother of two in sacrificing her own life, but to win a medal also needs a lot of sacrifice.

Just imagine, if five young Tibetans, living in exile could manage to earn an Olympic medal (they probably would have to compete as Indian nationals), it would have incredible effects on their country’s struggle for freedom. Many young Tibetans are extremely fit; some of them have fought on the Siachen or elsewhere on the Himalayas under the Indian flag (particularly with the Tibetan Special Frontier Forces).

Can Choeyang Kyi trigger new vocations on this side of the Himalayas?

To win an Olympic medal certainly demands 10 or 15 years of hard work and sacrifice, but at the end, though I do not belittle the action of Dolkar Tso and those who immolated themselves, I prefer a smiling hero to a martyred hero.

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