“The 50th Spring: Free Tibet Concert”

This post is a partial translation of a post at Woeser’s site with some commentary following the translation. Photos are also lifted from Woeser’s site. The post is essentially a news article about a Free Tibet concert that happened in Taiwan on the 11th. A short opinion piece follows the translation.

Partial Translation

[…] At the concert a video was shown of the leader of Tibet’s government-in-exile, the Dalai Lama, saying, “In the life of people, freedom, democracy, justice and the rule of law are [things] we all benefit from.” The entire audience erupted in thunderous applause. The Dalai Lama said, “The young people of Taiwan have a great responsibility for shaping the future of freedom, democracy, ideology, and material life in Taiwan.”

An excited mood prevailed at the concert. Singer Ba Nai said that his reason for participating in the concert was that he considered it a “personal favor” for [improving] the Tibet situation. Singer Da Zhi […], who uses songs to strive for freedom and democracy, said: “I sing to criticize idols, do you have the freedom to do this in China?” [Another singer said:] “As far as Taiwanese are concerned, we should do a bit more, whatever we can to help our brothers get freedom. Only when all of humanity is liberated can we finally liberate ourselves.”

The sponsor of the event, Freddy, leading everyone in making a T with their arms, representing “T for Tibet”,and screamed “Free Tibet! Free Tibet!” in a massive chorus that echoed through the clouds. There was international media there recording the concert, so “Free Tibet” can be spread throughout the world.

The Honorable Dalai Lama gave a speech for the concert [not in person], saying:

“Today, seeing these famous Taiwanese performers, I’m really very happy. Knowing that you’re commemorating the Lhasa uprising of March 10th and organizing a concert, I’m really very happy, as well as thankful, and at the same time I am praying that the event goes smoothly.

In the life of people, freedom, democracy, justice and the rule of law are [things] we all benefit from. They are also our natural rights; your hosting this concert is also to let many people know all of this. That is a great thing, and because of it I congratulate you again [beforehand] on the smooth running of your concert. And I express my gratitude.

Additionally, freedom and democracy are intimately connected with the ideology and the efforts of humanity. This concert reveals that the young people of Taiwan have a great responsibility for shaping the future of freedom, democracy, ideology, and material life in Taiwan. I believe that this new generation, having grown up in an environment of free information, will use their wisdom, explore the truth, pay attention to what is good, kind, and morally just, thus striving in their hearts for peace, freedom, and happiness.

Just, kind spirit and behavior can fill one’s own life with renewed satisfaction and can also benefit others, [so] I hope everyone makes great efforts [to accomplish this].

Personally, I am a Buddhist monk, so I pay special attention to mercy and compassion. I hold that mercy and compassion towards all things is the true realization of the foundation of justice, freedom, and democracy. Personally I spare no effort in striving to make my life free, just, and democratic. You are a new generation, you must cherish the past and usher in the future. You must be resolute in mind and dauntless in spirit, you must struggle for the good of humanity. This is my hope/expectation. Thank you!“

Videos from the concert:





My Thoughts

Woven throughout this piece, and throughout much of the international discourse on China’s so-called domestic issues is the idea that Tibet, Taiwan, and sometimes Xinjiang all have something in common. On a basic level, this is true, however, if we hope to resolve any of these situations they cannot be treated as though they were the same. “Free Taiwan”, “Free Tibet”, and “Free Xinjiang/East Turkistan” are all quite nice sounding, and both the Dalai Lama and the performers at this event are clearly trying to link the struggles up with broad terms like “freedom” and “democracy”.

Unpopular as this idea is, we’ve said it before (although no one was reading this blog back then): an independent Tibet would be a disaster for the (common) Tibetan people right now. Here’s our imagining of what would happen if tomorrow, China handed Tibet over to the Dalai Lama to run as an independent nation:

The Dalai Lama and the rest of the exile community would probably return. They would arrive to find a society greatly changed from the one they ruled over half a century ago, and a people who have had little contact with them for decades. They would also find strong racial tensions that did not exist in the 1950s, and that has frequently erupted into violence in the past. The embittered remnants of the former Tibetan provincial government would likely also remain, and possibly position themselves in the way of anyone attempting to commandeer their bureaucracy. It seems unlikely that the exile leaders would actually be able to run a modern nation on their own; but even if they were theoretically capable, what money would they use?

As mentioned above, Tibet’s economic output is insufficient to support the region. The removal of all Beijing’s political infastructure would undoubtedly weaken Tibet’s economy further, leaving the new “nation” in the hands of an inexperienced relgious sect with little governing experience and no money.

Tibet would have almost no hope of finding support from other nations, either. China would certainly never [actively] support an independent Tibet, and other nations would also refuse support for fear of angering China and harming trade relations.

There seems very little reason to speculate that a “Free Tibet” wouldn’t quickly devolve into some third-world hellhole, complete with all the starvation and social instability that comes along with that title. At the end of the day, protesters calling for a Free Tibet must ask themselves what, exactly, it is that they want, and who they want it for.

Taiwan, of course, is a different story, and one that I don’t want to get into here because I feel ill-equipped to analyze that situation. The point here is that having a thousand people chant “Free Tibet!” and make the “T” sign is fun, but ultimately pretty meaningless. The situation is not going to be resolved, improved, or even productively influenced by black-and-white rhetoric that fails to take any shades of gray into account — and this applies to the Chinese government’s side of the story, too. As long as they continue to ignore the protests of ethnic Tibetans and paint the province as a racially harmonious utopia instead of genuinely addressing the problems there, unrest is going to continue.

Just the same, as long as the Tibetan exile community and international human rights groups keep demanding unconditional independence with no room for considering the actual situation on the ground, no progress is going to be made.

Same as it ever was.

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0 thoughts on ““The 50th Spring: Free Tibet Concert””

  1. First of all you have got the facts wrong, the Tibetan Exile government is fighting for REAL autonomy which is guaranteed in the Chinese constitution. This is also supported by the majority of the Tibetans in exile which was demonstrated at a Special meeting among Tibetans in India last fall.

    Secondly, I find it amusing that you have very strong opinions on Tibet’s potential chaotic future, but “feel ill-equiped” to analyze the Taiwan situation. Tibetans have lived as an independent nation for thousands of years before PLA “peacefully” liberated Tibet in 1950. Tibetans can manage their own affairs and natural resources. If Tibet should become independent as you suggest in your thought experiment, Central Asian countries and Bhutan are more realistic models for Tibets future.

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  2. First of all you have got the facts wrong, the Tibetan Exile government is fighting for REAL autonomy which is guaranteed in the Chinese constitution. This is also supported by the majority of the Tibetans in exile which was demonstrated at a Special meeting among Tibetans in India last fall.

    Secondly, I find it amusing that you have very strong opinions on Tibet’s potential chaotic future, but “feel ill-equiped” to analyze the Taiwan situation. Tibetans have lived as an independent nation for thousands of years before PLA “peacefully” liberated Tibet in 1950. Tibetans can manage their own affairs and natural resources. If Tibet should become independent as you suggest in your thought experiment, Central Asian countries and Bhutan are more realistic models for Tibets future.

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  3. I don’t have much patience for the Free Taiwan crowd since it’s already free.

    @checkit/geekyfacts:

    First of all you have got the facts wrong, the Tibetan Exile government is fighting for REAL autonomy which is guaranteed in the Chinese constitution.

    I agree the Chinese constitution and past political stance has promised Tibet autonomy. I agree that the autonomy they have right now can be questioned. However, I think this discussion could be advanced if you described this “REAL” autonomy for us. In my experience, a lot of people wield it without elaborating on what it means and how it can be feasibly implemented, thereby making it an emotional but otherwise meaningless buzzword. Do you agree?

    This is also supported by the majority of the Tibetans in exile which was demonstrated at a Special meeting among Tibetans in India last fall.

    I have no doubt. The problem is why you felt it was a good idea to use the opinion of Tibetans in exile instead of the opinions of Tibetans who have been living in Chinese Tibet this entire time. The entire paragraph would be much more persuasive (in proving that Custer “got the facts wrong”) if you could reasonably argue that the majority of Tibetans in actual Tibet support the “REAL” autonomy you, ideally, would have described.

    Secondly, I find it amusing that you have very strong opinions on Tibet’s potential chaotic future, but “feel ill-equiped” to analyze the Taiwan situation.

    Why? Perhaps Custer has studied/researched/read more about the Tibet situation than the Taiwan situation. Wouldn’t any reasonably humble person acknowledge what they’re mentally ready to offer their opinions on?

    Tibetans have lived as an independent nation for thousands of years before PLA “peacefully” liberated Tibet in 1950.

    There’s a lot more nuance to the “liberation” of Tibet than you’re either acknowledging or are aware of. Perhaps we should start with how the Communists managed to convince so many serfs to side with them (and once you’re confounded by that, you could then further your research into how many of those serfs eventually became conflicted by whether their decision was in their own interests).

    Tibetans can manage their own affairs and natural resources.

    I agree that they can. The question Custer is understandably raising is whether they could do so to the level they themselves would be satisfied with. I don’t think Custer is arguing that China should manage these things for them as a ideological or philosophical matter, but rather as a pragmatic matter. He spent so much time outlining the problem for you, yet you completely ignored it all. Remember: “At the end of the day, protesters calling for a Free Tibet must ask themselves what, exactly, it is that they want, and who they want it for.”

    If Tibet should become independent as you suggest in your thought experiment, Central Asian countries and Bhutan are more realistic models for Tibets future.

    This is a good start, but I don’t see how this addresses the concerns Custer was outlining.

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  4. Custer, I am not sure if this is your personal opinion. If that is so then let me address this to you. I think there are few things that you overlook. Most of us in exile, around 150, 000 have some connection inside Tibet. I have cousins who still live in Tibet. The Dalai Lama recieves, or atleast the Tibetans in Dharamsala, on an average 3000 tibetans from Tibet every year. To give you a small example, in 2006, the Dalai Lama at Kalachakra in Andhra Pradesh in South India called for Tibetans not wearing fur and animals. There were mass burning of furs and Tibetans today almost dont waer them anymore.

    I think you are either not aware of any of the discourses by the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan govt in exile or you are being little reckless. The charter of the Tibetan govt in exile makes it absolutely clear that tibet will be governed by Tibetans who remained in Tibet. The Dalai Lama has himself said it many times that he will hold no political office in Tibet.

    I think one of the major reason for the widespread protest in Tibet last year were economic disparity. So what makes you think CHina leaving Tibet tomorrow will spiral Tibet into a “thirdworld hell-hole”? It is very condesending to claim that Tibetans will not be able to take care of ourselves without the CHinese overlords.

    We Tibetans believe that we have a rich culture, tradition and civilisation, that survived in flourished for thousands of years before the Chinese occupation. And I think we can take care of ourselves. It is a colonial mindset that looks at the Tibetan issue in such superfluous way. You overlook the loyalty that the Dalai Lama and the Tiebtan govt in exile commands. The Tibetans still look at Dharamsala for leadership and guidance and not Beijing. And until and unless Beijing is able to win the hearts and minds of Tibetans, not with colonial programmes but with respect and equality, Tibetans will risk decending into ‘hellhole’ than remain under occupation.

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  5. “To give you a small example, in 2006, the Dalai Lama at Kalachakra in Andhra Pradesh in South India called for Tibetans not wearing fur and animals. There were mass burning of furs and Tibetans today almost dont waer them anymore.”

    Yak,

    Hence, you are saying Dalai Lama’s will is Tibetans’s will.

    In other word, ONE person’s opinion decide how other people think, Tibetan people DONT HAVE THEIR OWN THOUGHTS cuz they are deeply religious people, just like Chinese 40 years ago, they would do whatever Mao said.

    Let me ask you : If Dalai Lama had sided with CCP, would there be any trouble, at least in Tibet ? I know vast majority of Tibetans crossed board into India simply cuz they wanted to get bless from Dalai Lama.

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  6. In my own opinion, Chinese have no interest controling Tibetans and Chinese dont look down on minority. If a Han chinese doesnt want to work with a Tibetan or a Uighur, it is simply cuz they have different education background or financial background. Such feelings exist in every countries and also among Han chinese. So it is not cuz he is Tibetan or Uighur.

    You must know wu er kai xi, the student leader on Tiananmen square in 1989, he is an Uighur, and he was elected by Han chinese students.

    You may ask why China cant handle Tibet like Hongkong. Sorry, China cant allow India’s and West’s political influence into Tibet, it is for her own safety. If Dalai Lama had sided with CCP, he and his followers would have had lot of powers in Tibet, like in Hongkong.

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  7. @ yak:

    What I’m talking about in this post is not the exile government’s actual policy, but the sort of things many “Free Tibet”ers advocate. Even if the Dalai Lama has promised not to take a government position, many people advocate reinstating him; hence my analysis of that idea here.

    Furthermore, condescending or not, I don’t think Tibet could currently function as an independent nation. It’s very easy to label me as racist — and I expect some will — but my point has nothing whatsoever to do with ethnicity or the inherent capabilities of the Tibetan people. ANY people would be hard pressed to make success out of half-built infrastructure, an economic system heavily reliant on a supporter that has disappeared (China), and no hope of bailout from anyone (because no one, not even the US, is going to be willing to get that far on to China’s bad side).

    Yes, Tibetans lived independently for a long time (according to some people anyway), however, I suspect that modern Tibetans would demand (and the current Tibetan population would require) a much more complex economy than the traditional Tibetan system which, lets face it, wasn’t exactly utopian anyway. As Chris Hearne once argued on this site, historical precedent isn’t really a good way to justify modern policy, regardless of whether the policy is pro or anti “Free Tibet”.

    The point I’m trying to make, essentially, is that agitating for “Free Tibet” is meaningless and distracts attention from more useful endeavors like working for a more autonomous, more ethnically equal (in terms of opportunity, not in terms of population) or more economically independent Tibet.

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  8. yak

    I would suggest to Dalai Lama to request for the Dharamsala to be free and independent since this is more practical. He can then reinstate himself as king there as he did 50 years ago in Tibet. For those who would like to join him can cross over to his country and revoke his citizenship in China. Lets have peace in practical ways rather than incite hatred and rioting. Dalai Lama’s talk of peace is not meaningful if he doesn’t practice it.

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  9. @wooddoo

    Da Zhi (大支) is a rapper from Taiwan. Even though I’m not always agree with its point of view (more or less indepentist) it’s definitely (with it’s friend MC熱狗) the best rapper on the island, the lyrics are often hilarious.

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  10. C.Custer,

    Again I love using examples to show my point :

    In New York, the boards of apartment building are very reluctant to sell apartments to Indian because of the smell of their cooking. If they let one indian family moving in, other buyers will hesitate buying the other apartments in the building, hence the value of the building will drop significantly.

    Do you think those board members dont like Indian people ? or they look down on Indian people ? I dont think so. It is simply cuz they want to protect the value of their own properties, or their own business.

    if you call that a discrimination, fine, as 99.9 % of people on earth have this kind of discrimination.

    When Panchen Lama married a Han Chinese girl, no Han chinese said “Wow, she married to a Tibetan.”; when Wu er kai xi was elected as leader on Tiananmen square, no han students felt embarrassed that they were led by an Uighur, not a 大汉.

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  11. Wahaha,

    He’s not saying that all Chinese people look down on minorities, but rather that there are those that do in fact exist. You seem to be implying that there are no such people.

    My piano teacher in China once made a joke that the reason people sometimes ask me if I’m from Xinjiang (it’s true, and I don’t look Asian in the slightest) is probably because I look like a 东突人, so I should watch out because they’re the enemy. But her racism doesn’t stop there! She’s told me on a few occasions that a mutual friend of ours, an international student from Ghana who, last year, bought a 6000 yuan guitar from her shop is not trustworthy because he’s black and that I should watch out, lest he try to cheat me. I would say she is a fine example of a Chinese person who looks down upon minorities, and in fact, I’ve often suspected that one of the only reason she’s so nice to me and helps me whenever possible is because I’m a foreigner (an attitude I’ve noticed she doesn’t extend so freely to my Chinese girlfriend.)

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  12. @ Wahaha: First of all, Josh is right in that I’m not saying all Chinese look down on minorities, and my examples are just as valid, are they not? Second of all, that IS still discrimination. I’m American, does that mean I’m always going to be cooking American food in my apartment in China? In fact, I cook mostly Mexican, Italian, and Chinese food. Assuming that just because people are Indian they will be constantly cooking smelly dishes is discrimination (and ignorance and unwarranted assumption), and just because you feel that’s OK doesn’t mean that “99.9% of people” think that way.

    Also, you keep saying “no Chinese” felt this way…how in God’s name could you possibly know how everyone in Tiananmen Square felt when Wuer Kaixi was “elected” (as a sidenote, the students democratic practices in ’89 were questionable at best, so saying he was elected is perhaps somewhat misleading)?

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  13. Damn, I finally make my way back feeling guilty that I may have started something and then neglected to follow-up only to find that checkit/geekyfacts didn’t bother to respond. Blah.

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  14. C.Custer,

    In my opinion : if a person doesnt want to live or work with someone cuz of protecting himselves or his properties , his business, etc, that is not discrimination, as this is one of the basic human instincts. So if you generalize the meaning to behavior of every human being, the word “discrimination” is no different from other words like “hatred” and “love”.

    Discrimination is, in my opinion, a feeling of ” I m superior than you are.” cuz of you being who you are, like your genetic, your race, your lacking of noble blood.

    Ok, I made a mistakes, some chinese have discrimination.

    *************************************************************

    how in God’s name could you possibly know how everyone in Tiananmen Square felt when Wuer Kaixi was “elected” ?

    Cuz even in Anti-cnn (usually crowded with nationalists, according to some people), even they dont like those oversea democratic activitists, they never mock his ethnicity, like “why did he, as an uighur, butt into our businese?”, you know such sentences were often used towards west media. So at least before 7.5, han chinese considered Uighurs part of family.

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  15. I still don’t buy it. As far as I can tell, Tibet is more viable as an independent state than many of the countries of the world are. I doubt that very many of them are interested in selling themselves to China as parcels of its sovereign territory in return for subsidies. Still, this is a relatively straightforward question, compared to most political issues, so it could reasonably be presented to the Tibetan public in a referendum, “Would you prefer that Tibet remain part of China and continue to receive such subsidies as Beijing chooses to give, along with the benefits of their bureaucrats; or would you prefer an independent Tibet with no subsidies?” Let’s see what they would say. (This is, coincidentally, the choice that the United States keeps giving to Puerto Rico, and they apparently keep choosing the subsidies.)

    You say “third-world hellhole” quite casually, it seems, but that covers a lot of area. An independent Tibet would certainly be part of what most people describe as “the third world”. China is itself part of what most people describe as the third world. “Hellhole” is entirely subjective. The material wellbeing of the average Tibetan person in Tibet under the current regime is nothing to write home about. Could it get worse? Sure. Would it? I don’t know. That’s really their business, so I’d just assume let Tibetans decide what direction they want their country to go in without pre-judging their possible choice as a hellhole-to-be. “It could become a hellhole” is basically an argument against the independence of any developing nation in the world.

    You write, “The Dalai Lama and the rest of the exile community would probably return. They would arrive to find a society greatly changed from the one they ruled over half a century ago, and a people who have had little contact with them for decades.” Yeah, so what? Who cares how the exiles feel about things? You’re right that there are many people, Tibetans and foreign sympathisers, who advocate independence for Tibet, but who exactly is it that advocates independence and rule by the exile elite? What I hear people talking about is independence and democracy. I’m not sure what kind of expertise you think the new Tibetan government will need the lack of which will result in starvation and anomie. Why can’t people just vote for the best leaders they can think to vote for, and then those elected muddle along as best they can? The way to feed people and generate prosperity isn’t by having skilled bureaucrats, but by allowing markets to do their job. My main concern is that an independent Tibet would tend to re-socialise the economy, since the Dalai Lama often sounds lukewarm on the market economy, and Tibetan in Tibet have had mixed experiences with markets under the Chinese.

    Above, I’m assuming a hypothetical scenario in which the Chinese government decides to allow independence for the entirety of the Tibetans’ land. This is, of course, an unimaginable development unless China loses a war; slightly less completely impossible would be for China to grant independence only to the TAR while retaining the other Tibetan areas. That situation would certainly put the fledgling Tibetan state in a very difficult position, since it would essentially come into existence missing half the territory it claimed for itself, and more than half the population, with said population a short distance away, probably clamoring for national unification but under the watchful eye of a far more powerful country. This would greatly exacerbate the ethnic tension inside Tibet, which would have some tensions anyway, much as the former Soviet Republics do.

    Lastly, I don’t agree with your premise that China would be able to keep every country from involving itself in supporting Tibet. I don’t think anything that China could say would prevent the U.S. from insinuating itself into Tibet to the greatest extent the Tibetans would put up with. This fact is actually unfortunate, since Beijing obviously doesn’t want this to happen; but how could they prevent it if they were to loosen their control over the area? If Tibet were independent, they would have very little they could do. Even if it Tibet merely became autonomous, Beijing would probably still fear American infiltration.

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  16. Sure, there might be some subtle influence — after all, the CIA has worked in Tibet before — but I doubt the US cares about Tibet enough to risk seriously damaging and possibly irreparably harming relations with China.

    If China granted Tibet independence willingly, the scenario I described above might play out differently, but it’s hard to imagine what course of events would lead to that. Anyway, I wonder how many of the other third world countries you’re talking about that have economies that rely on foreign powers for 90% of their income? I’m not an economist — and I mean that seriously, not sarcastically, maybe there are some — but I would guess there aren’t any. Electing leaders to run an independent Tibet would take time, too, especially if one wanted to do it right.

    My point — and this is something everyone always seems to miss — is not that there isn’t a set of conditions that might lead to a happy free Tibet. My point is that the people shouting “Free Tibet!” but not considering the issue any more deeply really aren’t considering what they’re demanding, and whether or not it’s good for the people they are supposedly advocating for — and, for that matter, the right of those people to decide their government for themselves.

    Granted, that’s a right they don’t have under Chinese rule, but neither do any other Chinese citizens, so why is it Westerners only give a shit about the opinions of Tibetans?

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  17. I wasn’t arguing that other third world countries rely on foreign aid for 90% of their budgets. I was arguing the opposite, which is that most of the other countries in the world are able to get living more or less within their means, and I don’t see why Tibet couldn’t do the same.

    You’re right that electing a new Tibetan government would take some time (the Dalai Lama has suggested that it should take no more than two years). There would necessarily be an interim government in the mean time. In the event that Tibet somehow — through some sort of incredibly fortuitous series of events — gained its independence unilaterally via a movement led by the Dalai Lama, the interim Tibetan government would probably look a lot like what is described here: http://www.tibet.com/future.html . In brief, it says that the Dalai Lama would appoint an interim president on the advice of a committee also selected by the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama would then have no further political role, and the interim president would organise elections for a constitutional convention, and then, on the basis of the new constitution, organise elections for all government offices. As I mentioned, the new elected government should be in place within two years. This document says specifically that the existing TAR administration should remain in place. It’s worth noting that the interim appointment is made specifically by the Dalai Lama personally, and the rest of the Government-in-Exile plays no role in this scenario; in fact, it is explicitly dissolved. However, it then proceeds to say that “although no one will be entitled to special privileges by virtue of his/her position in the Tibetan Administration in exile, I hope the officials of the exile Administration will willingly accept whatever responsibilities are entrusted to them in view of their qualifications, experience and abilities.” This implies what is to be expected anyway: that there would be a tendency to appoint relatively qualified Tibetan exiles to the higher positions within the administration, acting as leaders for the general body of functionaries who are holdovers from the PRC era.

    So, I would say that you’re right to an extent that this scenario would probably produce a government — at least temporarily — in which Tibetan exiles had a lot of influence. While it would be fascinating to watch how this process would play out if it could really happen, it would of course be virtually impossible for the Dalai Lama’s side to emerge so completely victorious. Even if things were to go very remarkably well for them, the creation of independent or autonomous Tibet would still almost certainly have to be mediated by the involvement of some outside power, either a gracious and friendly China or a helpful foreign government. In either case, that friendly power would obviously be able to insist on a certain type of transition — for instance, they might insist that the Dalai Lama and the exiles have no political role at all during the transition.

    I apologise for this lengthy tangent about a hypothetical transitional Tibetan government. My point is that you say, “Electing leaders to run an independent Tibet would take time, too, especially if one wanted to do it right,” but managing the transition doesn’t strike me as an insurmountable problem, nor one that hasn’t been considered yet, and, what’s more, it probably would be up to the Tibetans to handle the transition unilaterally anyway.

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  18. Regarding your point, isn’t it like shooting fish in a barrel to complain about the overall insightfulness level of a group of people shouting slogans at a rock concert (or even at a political rally)? Obviously, most people don’t have very sophisticated or nuanced political views. When a political cause becomes fashionable, more people will pursue it for sake of fashion than for the sake of any kind of intelligent political ideas. That seems like normal human behaviour to me, not praiseworthy but not particularly bad, either. Fashionable teenagers could do worse things with their time that making gestures toward an ideal that they believe will help other people.

    I don’t really know what you mean when you say “people shouting ‘Free Tibet!’ but not considering the issue any more deeply really aren’t considering … the right of those people to decide their government for themselves.” Are you saying that “Free Tibet!” fans should consider the right of Tibetans to decide whether they want to be free or not? That sounds like an oxymoron; to be free is to make one’s own decisions. Or you are saying that you think “Free Tibet!” fans insist on Tibetan independence not because they think Tibetans want to be independent, but because they think Tibetan independence is a good thing even if Tibetans don’t want it? In that case, you would be reading a lot more into their intentions than I think you can plausibly really know.

    “why is it Westerners only give a shit about the opinions of Tibetans?” is a frequently-asked question, and I think there are several answers from different ways of looking at it. For one thing, it’s based on a false premise: there certainly are human rights groups in the West that work on behalf of the human rights of Chinese people, and I doubt that very much that the average Western person is against China as a whole becoming democratic. I will agree that the West seems to be more interested in the Tibet issue than in the China issue. Why is that? Well, one answer is, who cares? Different people are interested in different things, and some subjects are interesting to more people than to others. Tibet is a fascinating country and people are naturally interested in it. Another answer is that Tibet has the misfortune of suffering from political system that is fundamentally foreign to it and is imposed from the outside; while, China suffers from the same political system, but for them it’s homegrown. It’s normal for people to feel more sympathetic in the former case; the solution is simpler. Another answer is that, out of all the stateless peoples in the world, Tibet has one of the strongest arguments to be made in favor of its right to self-determination; so, anyone who is interested in anti-imperialism and the rights of small nations in general will naturally be interested in the specific case of Tibet. There are probably lots of other answers that could be given to this question, including some good reasons and some bad ones.

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  19. By the way, in comment #22, I meant to say “what’s more, it probably would not be up to the Tibetans to handle the transition unilaterally anyway,” i.e. it would be decided by outside circumstances.

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  20. @ comment 22:

    I’m not sure I agree most of the world’s comparable countries are “living within their means”. Looking at small autonomous countries in Africa, for example, many of them are still extremely poor and war-torn, as are many of the smaller South American countries. I’m not arguing they wouldn’t work things out eventually, I just think that going that route is likely to lead to more suffering than waiting out more autonomy from China (because I think that for better or for worse, the current regime is going to have to let go a little bit to keep power in the future. I don’t think they’ll ever grant Tibet full independence, but more autonomy is certainly possible).

    Also, how would the existing TAR administration stay in place? I can’t imagine they wouldn’t be called back to Beijing in the event Tibet became independent. Some people would stay, certainly, but I think at best the Dalai Lama would be inheriting a crippled skeleton bureaucracy.

    @ comment 23: In short, I think some of (not all, of course) the Free Tibet fans are just yelling it because (1) it’s popular and (2) they entertain some orientalist notions about the “simple purity” of traditional Tibetan culture. Westerners, especially, like the idea of an unspoiled mountain hideaway where the people drink out of wooden bowls and where they can hire a human pack mule for slave wages while they climb mountains to blow off steam from their stressful city lives. Furthermore, “fashionable teenagers could do worse things with their time that making gestures toward an ideal that they believe will help other people.” — perhaps, but I reject the idea that it’s harmless. Walk around the streets in the US and ask people their opinion on Tibet. 10/1 odds they say “it should be free” but can’t point it out on a map. These people spread ignorance because people hear them and follow along. Now, most Americans have pretty entrenched ideas about the Tibetans as pure and innocent, and Chinese as conniving and evil. You’d be hard pressed to get someone to tell you that directly, but if you’ve spent any time discussing China outside China I feel certain you’ve encountered such people. Mindless “Free Tibet!” people facilitate that, and regardless of their good intentions, their ignorance begets more (and more harmful forms of) ignorance.

    Why Westerners only care about Tibetans is somewhat based on a false premise of course, it’s a sweeping generalization. Note, though, that in your own response you implicitly equate wanting China to become democratic with caring about the opinions of Chinese people, which is sort of what I’m talking about. In fact, the Chinese government is rated quite highly in opinion polls, though people do complain about corruption. I would submit the “democracy for China” people — at least, those who advocate that unequivocally — are also guilty of ignoring actual Chinese people. That’s my constant frustration with the dialogue about China in the West. I don’t necessarily even disagree with some of the ideas personally, but I’m frequently disgusted by how blatantly what Chinese people think is brushed off, ignored, or not even investigated to begin with.

    As for Tibet’s situation being comparatively interesting, I suppose that’s true, assuming one accepts your version of history — and I’m sure you’re aware not everyone does. But it is a bit easier to quantify when you define it that way. I think examining the issue in any more depth kind of melts away that argument — what about all the Tibetans in Sichuan? What about other ethnic minorities, shouldn’t they get countries too? etc. — but of course, most people don’t examine it in more depth. Understandable, yes, but regrettable too, and I tend to believe we’re capable of discussing these things at a deeper level than people usually do. Maybe it’s unrealistic, but the alternative is too depressing.

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  21. Custer,

    I’m a bit sorry that I’ve gotten as far into this topic as I have, because I actually have a only a very limited interest in defending the hypothetical average Tibetan independence activist. I very much agree that the average person, even a lot of political activists, has a very superficial understanding of politics at best. Whether being well-meaning but ignorant does more harm than good on net is an interesting conundrum about which I have no strong opinion. I am inclined to come down on the side of good intentions, but, on the other hand, getting involved in a fashionable and safe political movement where you can meet cute girls or boys doesn’t prove the super-goodness of your intentions. In my experience of talking to Americans about China, I have actually not generally heard them express very many negative opinions about China; perhaps this is because they quickly get the impression that I am a bit of a Sinophile, and they don’t want to be offensive? Or perhaps it’s just that I tend to steer conversations with acquaintances away from topics that might be at all sensitive? I have noticed and been a bit surprised that so many Americans I talk to seem to show a reflexive support for Tibet without being terribly knowledeable about it; since this is an opinion that I share, though, I’m not inclined to look that gift horse in the mouth. When someone I’m talking to says something in favor of, say, free speech, I do sometimes wonder if they’ve thought very seriously about it, but I’d rather be surrounding by unreflective pro-free-speech neighbors that unreflective censors.

    You say that I “implicitly equate wanting China to become democratic with caring about the opinions of Chinese people”. I did sort of imply that, but what I really meant was to give this as a typical and well-intentioned view among Americans. In conventional American political thought, the idea that people don’t want democracy is an oxymoron, since democracy is equated with getting what you want. I personally take a view that is quite different, but I still think this opinion is well-intentioned within the constraints of the conventional paradigm. The people with this opinion show a typical and average level of ignorance, but not a spiteful indifference to what other people want.

    I have to take issue with your argument that “As for Tibet’s situation being comparatively interesting, I suppose that’s true, assuming one accepts your version of history — and I’m sure you’re aware not everyone does.” I suppose it’s true that Tibet seems interesting to me because of my view of Tibet, but that’s because I don’t subscribe to the stereotypical Western hippie view of Tibetan history: “Tibet was once a small and isolated land where the people lived simple but happy lives with a low carbon footprint. Under the benevolent and probably magical rule of the Dalai Lamas, Tibet was at peace continually for thousands of years, until the eventually the Chinese attacked for no reason in 1959. Since then, Tibetans have faced daily torments and Buddhism is illegal.” In fact, Tibetan history is rich with political intrigues, competing power centers, and facts that can be interpreted in various ways. Both sides tend to want to ignore the complexities in the service of contemporary political goals, which inevitably saps the colour of the story.

    At the risk of stooping to psychoanalyse other people, I suspect that Tibet seems boring to a lot of Chinese people because they view it is basically a backwater of Chinese civilisation, instead of recognising it for the complex and distinct civilisational center that it is. On the other hand, trendsetters in China have begun to adopt of more Western view of Tibet as an atavistic and more pure part of China. This tends to reduce Tibet to a tourist destination, no more culturally distinct from China than Colonial Williamsburg is from the U.S.

    Regarding the last few points you bring up, they’re interesting enough that I, as you noticed, I decided to make a separate post about one of them over at Jigme’s blog. You brought up some more very interesting points in your response, which I am keen to respond to. Unfortunately, I’ve run into some constraints on my time from the non-blog-related portion of my life, so I don’t think I’ll have time to reply to you over there until the weekend. (Actually, I didn’t really “have time” to type up everything I did just now, but that’s the way it goes sometimes).

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