June 18, 2008

Flame approaches Lhasa

Burmese farmers need some $83 million dollars in aid in order to get back up and running after salt water inundated their fields as a result of Nargis. U.S. farmers, especially in Iowa, aren't in such great shape either, but they have a government that that will advocate for them, at least in theory.

The Olympic torch is due to reach Tibet Saturday, and though things have quieted somewhat in terms of international press, the relay has been delayed and will be shortened to one day from three. China will not comment on why the relay in Tibet was shortened, but it's pretty obvious. It's gratuitous to send the torch through Lhasa. We'll see how doing so affects Beijing's Olympics, already as tainted as any in recent memory, despite China's Sisyphean efforts to force the world to love them and their combination of the crudest, most exploitative capitalism paired with a one-party dictatorship that smothers press freedom and jails political dissidents. What's not to love?

Plus an article from the Times of London's Literary Supplement looking at two views of Tibet and China. Westerners misunderstand the problem because of prejudicial ideas about the concept of statehood dating back to the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Okey dokey.

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Gerald Ford's picture

Speaking of Chinese/Tibetan sovereignty, there is some truth to the notion that Westerners misunderstand the nature of their political history, though perhaps not enough to justify what goes on now.

I happened to have a class in college on Tibet, with emphasis on its history. One of my projects was to research the Tibetan relations to other groups, namely the Mongols and Chinese. What's interesting is that in the past, Tibet often functioned as a teacher-patron relationship where other groups such as the Mongols or Chinese provided defense, while the Tibetans provided spiritual guidance. This happened under a few different Mongol khans (Genghis, Tamerlane and later ones in the 17th century), but also for the Chinese Ming and Qing dynasties. These were by and large peaceful relationships of suzerainty, not like what goes on today.

The difference with the current Chinese government was it's heavy-handed attempt to introduce progressive Marxist style politics to a country that wasn't interested in them. That failed badly at home during the Cultural Revolution, and failed even worse in Tibet where the ethnic population is different and the society being structured differently. Chinese, Tibetans and Mongols have all suffered from the excessive Marxist approach to things, which was a fundamentally short-sighted strategy anyways. President Hu was the former administrator of Tibet, and his time there reflects old Marxist-style approaches to government. Big surprise that people in Tibet have so much resentment now. Materially they are better off, but they've lost their culture and identity.

Also, China's notion of state-hood now is different than the old Imperial one where the Emperor would reign, but not rule. One-party politics plus capitalism creates more friction because it requires more direct administration to make anything run. That would be fine in a state where everyone is the same ethnic group (or at least identify themselves as the same country), but not so well here.

I understand why the Dalai Lama would rather press for more autonomy not independence. If China wants to build better road and infrastructure, that's fine and beneficial if done right. However, when China imposes Marxist-politics on a culture that doesn't want it, that's going to create anger and friction. Chinese citizens were happy with the Revolution given the chaos they suffered in WWII, but Tibet didn't want to be Marxist; China just imposed it.

When does imposing a political system on another group ever work?