Tag Archives: Tibet

Another Lesson in How to Fail at Soft Power

I came across this story a couple days ago, and found it mildly amusing, but eventually decided it was worth sharing here because it’s indicative of the larger trend. First of all, here are the basics for those that haven’t already read the article:

Citing “strong resentment from the local Chinese community,” the Chinese government has asked the city of Corvallis to force a Taiwanese-American businessman to remove a mural advocating independence for Taiwan and Tibet from his downtown building.

But city leaders say the mural violates no laws and its political message is protected under the U.S. Constitution.

Taiwanese artist Chao Tsung-song painted the 10-foot-by-100-foot mural last month on the side of the old Corvallis MicroTechnology building at Southwest Fourth Street and Jefferson Avenue. The work was commissioned by property owner David Lin, who is renovating the space for a restaurant and has rechristened the building Tibet House.

In vivid colors, the painting depicts riot police beating Tibetan demonstrators, Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule and images of Taiwan as a bulwark of freedom.

In a letter dated Aug. 8, the Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco formally complained to Corvallis Mayor Julie Manning about the mural’s content and asked for her help in having it removed.

“There is only one China in the world,” the letter reads in part, “and both Tibet and Taiwan are parts of China.”

Now, I can’t be too sure about the quality of the reporting here, because the article refers to Tibet as a “country” and as a “breakaway province” (it most certainly is neither, though some might like it to be). But I’m guessing the basic facts of the case here are true.

Let’s think about this from the perspective of the local Chinese consulate general. A business owner in your area of the US has put up a mural that you find offensive. If this were China, of course, you could have it taken down, and maybe have the guy beaten or tossed in jail for a little while to teach him a lesson. But you don’t have those powers in the US, so your only real options are to ignore it or make a big stink about it. Why in hell would you ever choose the latter?

If you ignore it, the only people who ever hear about it are the people who happen to visit or drive by that building, most of whom probably aren’t even going to understand its meaning. If you make a big stink about it, on the other hand, you turn it into a news story. What’s more, you turn it into a news story that the local government has an active interest in promoting because it makes them look awesome. ‘We stood up to pressure from the Chinese government and defended the first Amendment rights of an American business owner’ — what US government official wouldn’t want that story on the front page of every newspaper? That is exactly why what could have been a tiny non-story is now being discussed on this blog and elsewhere despite the fact that I don’t even know where Corvallis is.

The other question is what the hell did Chinese consular officials think they were going to gain from sending that letter? Surely Chinese diplomats are given at least some basic training in US laws, so they ought to know the local government wasn’t even going to consider taking the mural down. And while I understand this is probably the sort of thing that has to be done from time to time to please the overseers back in China, I can’t imagine anyone in China would have heard of this mural either of the Chinese consulate general hadn’t broadcast it to the world by formally making a complaint about it.

The complaint makes the Chinese government look petty and weak even as it draws attention to two issues the Chinese government doesn’t want anyone talking about. The publicity helps ensure that more Americans are going to come down on what the Chinese government would consider to be the “wrong” side. Sure, consular officials may have scored some points with their buddies at home, but they did so by putting yet another scratch in China’s already-battered international reputation and by setting the country back even further on its increasingly unrealistic-looking quest to wield some kind of measurable cultural power outside its borders.

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Two China Documentaries to Support

Many of you know that I’m currently working on my own documentary with the ChinaGeeks team. Some of you even gave me money (but we spent it all already, and need more)! Anyway, mine is not the only cool documentary project around. In fact, here are two that are cooler and more professional than my own. At the very least, take the time to check them out, and if you like them, pony up a little cash to show support!

(Note: the text below is copied from the projects’ respective Kickstarter pages).

UPDATE:
Never mind about that first one!

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Two years, seven countries and eleven cities later, I know Ai Weiwei. He is the ultimate prankster: simultaneously an international art star and a “dissident artist” in the Western press, with tens of thousands of Chinese netizens following him online and the government keeping almost constant tabs on him.

I have over 200 hours of footage (some of it viewable here) that includes never-before-seen interviews with Weiwei’s family, friends and fellow artists, and chronicles his preparation for major museum shows at the Haus der Kunst and Tate Modern, and a public sculpture work for New York’s Central Park. The two years I spent filming him really mark his rise to international renown, both for his art and his online activism. He is probably the fiercest and loudest internal critic of China, yet somehow he is not in jail. ((This is from her original pitch; obviously, there’s also an update about Ai Weiwei’s current situation.))

Weiwei’s story is extraordinary, but I need your help bringing it to the world.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/alisonklayman/ai-weiwei-never-sorry?ref=spotlight

Comments

These both look like really cool projects, so please check them out! I have only copied parts of their pitches here, so check out their Kickstarter pages for the full deal and the rewards you can get for donating.

Note: I am opening the comments in this post so that people can express their support for these cool projects. OFF TOPIC COMMENTS WILL BE DELETED. Please read that sentence a couple times before you hit “Post comment.”

Flashback: What the CIA Was Spending on Tibet, circa 1964

While looking for something interesting to translate, I stumbled across a link to this document in the den of iniquity that is the Anti-CNN forums. This being history, many of are probably familiar with the general idea — the US government in general and the CIA specifically were running a series of programs with the intent of undermining Chinese authority in Tibet, which continued more or less until Nixon shut down some of the programs following the normalization of relations with the CCP.

What, if anything, they’re doing now, and much of their activity since then, hasn’t been declassified.

But the specific numbers and the places the money was headed back then might surprise you:

The cost of the Tibetan Program for FY 1964 can be summarized in approximate figures as follows:

a. Support of 2100 Tibetan guerrillas based in Nepal–$ 500,000

b. Subsidy to the Dalai Lama–$ 180,000

c. [1 line of source text not declassified] (equipment, transportation, installation, and operator training costs)–$ 225,000

d. Expenses of covert training site in Colorado–$ 400,000

e. Tibet Houses in New York, Geneva, and [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] ( 1/2 year )–$ 75,000

f. Black air transportation of Tibetan trainees from Colorado to India–$ 185,000

g. Miscellaneous (operating expenses of [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] equipment and supplies to reconnaissance teams, caching program, air resupply–not overflights, preparation stages for agent network in Tibet, agent salaries, etc.)–$ 125,000

h. Educational program for 20 selected junior Tibetan officers– $ 45,000

Total–$ 1,735,000

Among other things, it looks like the DL was getting more from the CIA via a stipend than however many of its own agents were in Tibet at the time. Interesting indeed.

Guest Post: How Chinese Intellectuals Perceive the Tibet Issue

The following is a guest post and translation by Mindy Zhang. Obviously, as the original email was just private correspondence, the professor was just making some basic points, not writing something he expected to be published. Accordingly, we will not publish his name, the name of his university, and the original Chinese text will not be available for this article.

However, readers should be aware that the author of the email is a major figure in the study of International Relations in China.

Two years ago, when I was in D.C and saw some Tibet activists in person, I found myself utterly ignorant of the issue, and I wrote an email to a professor in my college. He replied in length. The other day, I was having a conversation with a friend from Britain, who was very curious about China’s Three-T issues and his question reminded me of this email. So, I decided to pluck it from my personal mailbox and translate it into English.

Translation

  1. Here is my opinion: what makes Tibet an issue is mainly that some Tibetans, backed by strong international factors, are seeking independence. There have been two major independence-seeking/Anti-Han movements, one happened during the Revolution of 1911, when the British attempted to negotiate with central government (ROC) as a representative of Tibet. The other occurred in 1949, also supported by the British, along with some Indian intervention. It failed and the DL, as a local delegate, signed the Seventeen Point Agreement with the central government (PRC). The 1959 riot was backed up by the CIA and India. Most of westerners’
    essential knowledge of Tibet is mainly from propaganda by Britain and U.S. One particular case in point is that the 1959 suppression was often distorted as an invasion (at least, some westerners I knew consider it as an act of invasion). The Seventeen Point Agreement, which had a clear regulation of Tibet’s autonomous status and its relations with central government, is barely mentioned in books published in western world.
  2. The management of Tibet since 1949 was based on autonomous system and the Seventeen Point Agreement until 1959. Some major changes then were made and the traditional theocracy was completely abolished. The cause of the 1959 uprising can be partially explained by land reforms and ownership reforms implemented in some Tibetan-inhabited areas outside the Tibet Autonomous Region. However, those reformed areas has nothing to do with the Tibet Autonomous Region, where the DL was in charge. That being said, the central government did not necessarily break the Seventeen Point Agreement. Some Tibetan separatists and Americans took advantage of this situation, but it doesn’t make any sense that some [regular] Tibetans did the same thing. (The ultra-Leftist trend during cultural revolution was also a contributing factor to their resentment)
  3. Personally speaking, the current situation is not fully an outcome of central
    government’s religious and ethnic Policy. There is indeed a substantial force in Tibet wishing for secession from China. There is no problem with central government’s policies after the reforms and opening up period; in fact, I personally feel like Tibetans have been quite favored, making some lamas feel they can act above the law. Insurgences like this happened before, in 1987 and 1989. The pattern is quite similar——demonstration, still unhappy, violence in use, suppression.
  4. The whole thing is for sure deliberately plotted and prepared. First, peaceful demonstration (March.10th), violence next (13rd), then there comes the Olympic torch relay. The perfect timing and media’s one-sided response are not a coincidence. I am not suggesting here that it was plotted by a specific government; the international community is increasingly complicated as
    globalization evolves. All the above is just my personal judgment, it would take time to verify.
  5. In regard to western media, they interpret theTibet issue based on their own perceptions, which is a problem that will take time to solve and might be insolvable. Don’t take their comments seriously and let them make noise. The more attention you pay, the more swelled their heads will be. Some Chinese care too much about their comments/evaluation, thus giving them a sense of superiority. Also, media itself is amplifier capable of making a simple word into big news. Those trouble-makers are not a big deal. The Beijing Olympics will work out regardless of all kinds of resistance. Hard-working Chinese athletes will get more golden medals if some western ones are absent [because their nations choose to boycott], and some reception fees, i.e. taxpayers’ money, will be saved if some of them choose not to attend the opening ceremony. The world is a big place; each of us is just utterly insignificant.
  6. Check out Prof. Zhang Zhirong’s International Relations and the Tibet issue (《国际关系与西藏问题》). Tibet is not my specialization and the latest research is not something I am aware of. I have been studying in the international sphere for years and my personal experience is westerners are unaware of many issues. Explain to them if you were in a good position, if not, just forget it. Young people will change as you grow up. The way of displaying patriotism varies from person to person, some are impulsive and some restrained. In all, try to make yourself high-minded. Your upbringing/character also matters, because sometimes you are being judged not just as an individual but as a Chinese.

Anti-CNN Members Spam CNN Poll on Tibetan Independence

In the wake of President Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, and this CNN poll indicating most Americans think Tibet should be independent, the Dalai Lama went on Larry King Live. In keeping with that show’s tradition of internet straw polling, Larry asked viewers the same question CNN asked Americans last week: Should Tibet be an independent country?

The results of this poll were quite different as the graph to the left, a screen-capture from Larry King’s site, shows. The reason for the discrepancy is quite simple: Anti-CNN forum members found the poll and rallied, racking up a fairly impressive vote count for “No”. Apparently the post also found its way onto Tianya, another more massive Chinese BBS, which helped.

As the voting went on, the numbers for “No” continued to climb as forum members commented on their progress in threads like this one. And while there was little doubt about whether Tibet should be an independent country, there was some debate about the usefulness of this tactic. Several commenters called it “boring”, but others expressed enthusiasm for this kind of democracy. One commenter wrote:

Come on, everybody, let’s jiong [囧, shock] them to death. If they dare to change the numbers then we’ll “Anti” them again.

Although no one on Anti-CNN seems particularly serious about ruining CNN online polls, one wonders if whether, especially given the already-sensitive state of relations between the Chinese and American internets after the Google hacks (and the subsequent accusations leveled at two fairly unremarkable Chinese schools, which former NYT writer Michael Anti called “the biggest joke I’ve heard so far this year”), this sort of tactic might only serve as fuel for Western fear-mongers who claim that Chinese people are going to “destroy” the internet. Lest you think such people don’t exist, check this out. Crazies will find their ammunition somewhere, of course, but one has to wonder what the Anti-CNN folks felt they gained from this.

Elsewhere in Tibet-related news, the Dalai Lama has again shown that he can run laps around the CPC elite when it comes to PR stunts. Hu Jintao may have a People’s Daily microblog (that has been closed already), but the Dalai Lama? He’s on Twitter.

That’s a great example of how Chinese internet censorship hurts its own cause in unexpected ways. As Twitter is blocked in China, Hu Jintao can’t very much set up an account to spread the government’s side of the story. So everything stays the same: the West gets to keep hearing from the Dalai Lama, the Chinese get to keep hearing from the government, and never the two shall meet…?

Tibet and Western Romanticism

Thanks to twitterer niuB for pointing us in the direction of this excellent piece in Foreign Policy on myths and truths about Tibet, and the strange collective nostalgia many Westerners seem to have for a place they’ve never been and a people they’ve never been among. The entire article is worth a read, but I’ll be excerpting a few bits here with my commentary.

Larson first characterizes Western pereceptions of Tibet and the Dalai Lama:

Tibet is a land of snow-capped mountains and sweeping vistas, fluttering prayer flags, crystal blue skies, saffron-robed monks spinning prayer wheels, and, perhaps most of all, timelessness. And likewise, the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet and its chief emissary to the West, is a man of abiding wisdom and compassion, an inspiration and moral compass, a beacon of calm in a frenetic modern world. Set aside the fraught politics of this contested region. If one word sums up what Tibet means to the West it is this: purity.

The Dalai Lama is an especially beloved figure — something I have always found baffling, not because he is unworthy of it but because many of the people who speak so highly of him know little about him or his religion. Doubtless, the man has done many things worthy of praise. But Larson wonders if you were aware that he is opposed to abortion, in favor of nuclear weapons, has accepted large financial donations from terrorists, and believes that using anything other than your genitals during sex is improper (no masturbation, oral, or anal sex allowed, although curiously, he is OK with prostitution). Christopher Hitchens has also written on this topic in this Salon article, but his ignorance of Buddhism and the vicious tone of the piece make it much less worthy reading than Foreign Policy’s piece.

Larson goes on to note that Tibetans are not as “pure” or “spiritual” as some imagine them. They are, in point of fact, regular people. While she notes that they do tend to be more religious than the average Chinese, and they hold a strong sense of ethnic unity, for the most part Tibetan youngsters like Adidas and cigarettes just as much as their Han counterparts. Surprising? It shouldn’t be, but for some people it still is.

On the topic of religion, Larson notes:

Many versions of Buddhism are practiced in China, some with tacit consent of the authorities, but Tibetan Buddhism has proved particularly difficult to integrate because, as with the Islam practiced by Uighurs, it invests authority in local religious leaders who rival the authority of local officials. On issues ranging from property rights to marriage customs, sparks may fly.

Countless times I have heard people in the US espouse the idea that the Chinese government wants to repress Tibetan buddhism because ‘they are afraid of so many people organized in one group’. No one ever mentions that, in all fairness, the religion does not match particularly well with secular governance. That doesn’t mean that Tibetan buddhism should be repressed, or even that Tibetans shouldn’t have the right to elect their own religious leaders to political positions if they so choose, but regardless, it’s worth noting that (as usual) there is more behind the official Chinese government position than just “pure evil”.

Later, Larson is describing some time spent with Tibetan youths from both inside and outside Tibet proper who have gathered in Yunnan province for a friend’s wedding:

What they resent, they told me, is three things: when government actions benefit new Han settlers more than locals; when government makes incorrect assumptions about what Tibetans really want (for instance, the railroad into Tibet and greater development in general); and when government restricts their culture and practice of religion. (To learn about traditional Tibetan culture and heritage, many families in China who can afford to do so send their children to study in India, where there is a large Tibetan exile community. Some say it is near impossible to learn about real Tibetan culture within China.) These young Tibetans did, not, however, say their concerns necessarily added up to wanting independence, but they did think that something in the system would eventually have to give.

And therein lies my biggest problem with the Western discourse on Tibet: it generally ignores the opinions of actual Tibetan people. To be fair, there are some good reasons for this. It is expensive and difficult to travel to Tibet, and even once there, the government certainly does not encourage independent opinion polling or canvassing the locals about whether or not Tibet should be free. But that doesn’t excuse making assumptions or presuming that the Tibetan you talked to once is representative of an entire ethnic group.

The fact is, certainly some native Tibetans want Tibet to be an independent country. Just as certainly, others do not. My guess — and this is just a guess — is that one would be hard pressed to find Tibetans who wouldn’t say that Chinese policy in Tibet is in need to serious reform at the very least, but if we’re going to have that discussion at all, it needs to be one that Tibetans and Chinese are involved in, rather than one that’s occurring in some useless three-way echo chamber between the Tibetan exiles in India, Free Tibet groups in the West, and the central Chinese leadership in Beijing.

And, as the Foreign Policy article points out, the first step towards a more productive discussion is abandoning our orientalist, black-and-white ideas about Tibet.

Thoughts? (This is the part where half of you hurl abuse at me for not siding with Free Tibet groups, while the other half of you hurl abuse at me for being an anti-CCP splittist!)

Interview with the Karmapa Lama

The Karmapa Lama is “the only senior Buddhist leader recognized by Beijing, the Tibetans and India.” He’s also a 24 year old who likes hip-hop and violent video games. Recently, he gave an interview in the Times of India. It’s an interesting reflection of the ways Buddhism continues to adapt to the times.

He also speaks a bit about tensions between Tibet and China, but more or less just echoes the Dalai Lama’s policy. No surprises there. What is a bit of a surprise is his attitude about video games:

Is that why you play war games on your play station because many might say it’s inappropriate for a Buddhist monk dedicated to peace to play war games?

Well, I view video games as something of an emotional therapy, a mundane level of emotional therapy for me. We all have emotions whether we’re Buddhist practitioners or not, all of us have emotions, happy emotions, sad emotions, displeased emotions and we need to figure out a way to deal with them when they arise.

So, for me sometimes it can be a relief, a kind of decompression to just play some video games. If I’m having some negative thoughts or negative feelings, video games are one way in which I can release that energy in the context of the illusion of the game. I feel better afterwards.

The aggression that comes out in the video game satiates whatever desire I might have to express that feeling. For me, that’s very skilful because when I do that I don’t have to go and hit anyone over the head.

But shouldn’t meditation take care of that?

No, video games are just a skilful method.

His comments on the India vs. China tension are also interesting if, again, not surprising:

Obviously I can’t speak from the perspective of a politician who is active in these communications. Obviously the government of each country has its own interests in the ongoing conversation. They are doing what they can to advance their own interests. I’m not able to comment on what those interests might be. But if I were to make some observations and guesses from my own vantage point, it seems to me that the Chinese government is acting somewhat deliberately in attempts to slightly irritate the government of India.

Because of this the neighbourly relationship has suffered a little bit. India has always been a relatively peaceful country, a country that has always had a reasonably good record of valuing peace, India does not seem interested in pursuing any type of conflict, however, India is on the rise in the world and perhaps the Chinese government feels some type of impulse to blunt this rise somehow. Perhaps that is what is causing some of the things we see today.

Tangentially relevant to this blog’s area of focus? Yup. But still interesting, no?