Let’s All Argue About Tibet

Last Thursday, the US State Department published its annual report on global human rights which, as one might expect, included a hefty 44-page section on China’s various (alleged) misdeeds. Also unsurprisingly, human rights violations in Tibet featured heavily, earning their own section and the following condemnation in summary:

The government’s human rights record in Tibetan areas of China deteriorated severely during the year. Authorities continued to commit serious human rights abuses, including torture, arbitrary arrest, extrajudicial detention, and house arrest. Official repression of freedoms of speech, religion, association, and movement increased significantly following the outbreak of protests across the Tibetan plateau in the spring. The preservation and development of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage continued to be of concern.

The report is harshly critical, although it does note that many of the alleged abuses violate Chinese law and that, for the record, the United States officially considers Tibet a part of China. Needless to say, Chinese officials were less than amused, and responded with a their own report about human rights violations in the United States (something they’ve been doing in time with the US State Department’s annual report since 2001), “to help people around the world understand the real situation of human rights in the United States, and as a reminder for the United States to reflect upon it’s own issues.”

Chief among their complaints: the serious threat posed by (comparably) high levels of violent crime in America; civil rights violations including internet monitoring, illegal wiretaps, police brutality, and unacceptable prisoner’s rights protection; economic and social rights violations including the gap between the wealthy and the poor; racial discrimination (which apparently “prevails in every aspect of social life”) against African-americans, Hispanic people, immigrants, Native Americans, and the general threat of Americans’ “serious racial hostility”; a variety of violations of the rights of women and children ranging from workplace inequality to gun violence in schools; and, of course, the United States’ various transgressions in other nations, primarily Iraq.

The report cites statistics from American government reports as well as the reports of internationally recognized human rights watchdogs like Amnesty International (whose website, ironically, is blocked in China).

While there may not be much interest in watching two countries hypocritically accuse each other of being hypocritical (especially in what has come to resemble a yearly spat between a grumpy married couple), China also took further steps to support its case in Tibet this year, publishing a white paper two days ago called “Fifty Years of Democratic Reform in Tibet” that attempts to lay out the government’s official history, highlighting successes and progress in the region to counterbalance the constant negative press coming from, well, everywhere else.

Although it doesn’t explicitly say so, the paper seems to be aimed at least partially at a Western audience, in keeping some other recent government activities that indicate a new willingness to communicate with the West about Tibet, if only to get their own point across. The section on feudal Tibet is especially telling, as nearly all of its supporting evidence comes from the travel accounts of a variety of Westerners who visited the region in the early 1900s, or from Tibetan laws themselves. (For those interested in reading it, be advised it’s fairly grisly stuff, with eye-gougings and whatnot).

The section on post-1951 Tibet reads as one would expect, nevertheless, it does cite some fairly powerful statistics. For example, on education in Tibet, they report:

[In old Tibet,] the enrollment rate for school-age children was less than two percent, while the illiteracy rate was as high as 95 percent. During the past 50 years, the central government has invested a huge amount of funds in education in Tibet, making Tibet the first place in China to enjoy free compulsory education in both urban and rural areas. Since 1985, the state has set up boarding primary and high schools in farming and pastoral areas, and covered all tuition as well as food and lodging expenses for students at the stage of compulsory education from Tibet’s farming and pastoral families. In 2008, all 73 counties (cities and districts) in Tibet realized six-year compulsory education and basically wiped out illiteracy; in 70 counties of which, nine-year compulsory education is being practiced, and the illiteracy rate has fallen to 2.4 percent overall. The enrollment rate for primary school-age children has reached 98.5 percent, that for junior high school 92.2 percent, and that for senior high school 51.2 percent.

The report also denies that are no ethnic, religious, or human rights issues in Tibet, and that the so-called “Tibet issue” is “the Western anti-China forces’ attempt to restrain, split, and demonize China.”

Perhaps more importantly, the conclusion notes that “history has also convincingly proved that there is no way to restore the old order, and there is no prospect for the success of any separatist attempt.” That may well be more true, and more relevant than any political arguments made by one side or the other; at any rate, the sentiment fits in pretty well with some of my own observations as posted on this blog earlier.

In an effort to further promote the image of a peaceful, developed, and unified Tibet, the government has supposedly been bribing local Tibetans to throw lavish, televisable celebrations for Losar, the traditional Tibetan New Year. Some Tibetans can be seen dancing jubliantly on CCTV; others are having none of it. The New York Times quotes one Tibetan monk: “There is no Losar […] They killed so many people last year.”

In much, much stupider Tibet related news, music fans are all agog about two Oasis shows being cancelled. Originally, word on the street was that the show was cancelled because Noel Gallagher appeared at a Free Tibet benefit concert in New York in 1997, but Reuters reported yesterday that the Chinese promoters are saying the gig was cancelled due to lack of funds (you know, there’s some kind of economic crisis going on). Net rag Pitchfork snarkily doubts that’s the real reason though:

Unsurprisingly, Reuters reports that China’s Foreign Ministry is backing the mysterious Luo…who probably wasn’t forced by the government to give an ulterior motive for the quashed gigs or anything. That would never happen.

Come on, folks. I can understand the skepticism, but since when has China ever backed down or tried to hide their Tibet position, especially in their own country? They just released a lengthy white paper detailing their successes in the region and supporting their cause, but they’re not willing to admit they canceled a rock concert because they’re afraid of…who, exactly? Angry Oasis fans? (No offense, Oasis fans, but I don’t think you scare Hu Jintao).

For those of you really into Oasis, though, Shanghaiist has been following the story closely; most recently reporting on the BBC’s repeated failure to fact check their Bjork-related information.

0 thoughts on “Let’s All Argue About Tibet”

  1. On the confusion surrounding Oasis, the buck passing between promoter and government fits with a classic Chinese official trick I’ve encountered on a number of occasions. When making an unpopular decision, pass the blame back and forth between departments to exasperate and grind down anyone who dares to complain.

    As for the Tibet stats, more fool ChinaGeeks for failing to consider that living conditions arguably would have improved regardless of the CCP. Anyone who’s been out there and has seen the repression with their own eyes knows the truth. It’s not a happy part of the world. The best analogy I can think of is a violent husband who beats his wife for failing to appreciate the Mercedes convertible he bought her. If things are so wonderful, why are foreigners banned? Surely there is nothing to hide in China’s free, emanicpated Tibet?


  2. I suppose. I just find it very hard to buy that the government gives a crap about Oasis one way or the other, for ONE member attending ONE benefit over a decade ago. If it was some band that Chinese people listened to, maybe, but the only one this decision is unpopular with — in fact, the only people who are even aware of it — are expats. And we all know the government doesn’t give a crap what we think about them anyway.

    As for the second half of your comment, I urge you to reread the post again as you have grievously misunderstood its point. I know that whenever anyone grants the Chinese government the dignity of actually printing their side of the story it looks to some people like whoever is posting it works for the CCP, but check again. All I’m doing is presenting what’s in the paper they published. I certainly never argued that there was nothing to hide in Tibet. Nor did I fail to consider that conditions in Tibet would have improved without the CCP. I’m quite sure they would have, however, that has nothing to do with the point of this post, which is a report on several documents the Chinese government has released concerning Tibet in the past week.


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