Our Voice – Our Truth
Who are you?
We are human beings, first and foremost. Most of us are also ethnic Chinese; due to our personal ties and experiences in China, we more keenly understand why Beijing applied to host the Olympics, and why so many Chinese place significant weight on a successful Beijing Olympics.
Many of us are American citizens; most of us have lived, worked, and thrived in the United States for decades. We are your neighbors, your coworkers, your classmates, and your students. We are lawyers, engineers, housewives, grandmothers, and school-children.
Are you affiliated with the Chinese government or embassy?
No, we are not at the beck and call of the Chinese government. The Chinese embassy has not made an appeal for us to appear, and will not pay us a penny for being here. The Chinese media has not called on us to be here. We have called in sick or taken vacation days to be here.
Some of us last marched on June 4th 1989 in Tiananmen; we are marching today entirely out of our own volition, out of our own conscience.
Why are you here?
We’re here to celebrate the Olympic Torch and the Beijing Olympic Games. We see the Olympics as being uniquely human: it brings into sharp contrast the differences that divide us into different peoples and nations, while also reminding of us of the things that unite us.
The Olympics represent one of the precious few events where Iranian and Israeli athletes might face each as equals on the judo mat, Cuban and American athletes might face each other on the baseball diamond, and Albanian and Serbian athletes might swim next to each other in adjacent lanes.
We are well aware of the controversy around the Beijing Olympics and the Olympic Torch. Tomorrow, we will return to our classes, our minivans, and our cubicles. Today, we’re here to share with you our thoughts, our emotions, and our hopes. We are here today to make sure our voice is heard.
What about Tibet?
There are two different discussions here. What’s been happening in Lhasa over the past month, and the larger picture of Tibet’s status as well as Chinese government policy.
What happened in Tibet recently? What of the crackdown?
Please reconsider what you think you might know about the subject. We believe the Western media has largely given a very one-sided rendition of the truth, and has caused many intelligent, caring people to jump to conclusions.
On March 14th, a political protest for independence quickly degenerated into a race riot. Non-Tibetan Chinese of different tribes were targeted for attacks. A mosque, numerous stores, and schools were burnt to the ground. A Muslim boy had his ear cut off; teenagers and women were dragged off of bicycles and nearly beaten to death. Five young women working at a clothing store were burnt to death by rioters.
The rioters were initially led by political activists, but not all of them had a political motive; most were just criminals who enjoyed the sense of power… no different than the violent rioters who appeared in New Orleans after Katrina, or those who beat passing motorists in the LA Riots of 1992. The victims were not political; they were Chinese of all ethnicities, including several innocent Tibetans.
These riots were anything but “non-violent”.
During the riots themselves, and in the following days, the Chinese military and police forces acted in an extremely restrained way. The riot police on the streets in the early hours of the riot had no weapons; only riot shields used to protect themselves. All eyewitness videos show riot police hiding and trying to run from the rioting crowd.
In the aftermath of such a riot, there’s really no alternative. The Chinese government must be responsible to her citizens, arrest those responsible for the specific acts of violence, and restore law and order. We are outraged by this violence, and don’t believe that has a place in any modern country. Those responsible must be brought to justice.
Are you saying that no Tibetans have been killed?
We know that Tibetans have been killed; several were killed by rioters in Lhasa. A 19 year old Tibetan girl was burned to death, and we mourn for her and her family.
We also have seen reports that Chinese security forces have killed Tibetans in riots occurring in other parts of China. We don’t know the truth of such claims, as both the Chinese government and the Tibet government-in-exile have provided conflicting reports. But if the ferocity of these other riots match the videos we’ve seen from Lhasa, it can’t be a surprise that Chinese police might have had to, on occasion, use lethal force.
Are you sure you aren’t being lied to? It sounds like you’re repeating Chinese propaganda.
We’re all aware that the Chinese media is state-controlled, and provides a very biased view of the news. It only offers one side of the truth, and we would never accept its word alone. Unfortunately, the same appears to be true of Western media.
Our version of the truth comes not from state media reports alone, but on the basis of the only credible (Western) eyewitness reports we have at hand. James Miles of the British publication “Economist” was in Lhasa for a full week, and his direct observations of the riots and its aftermath are widely available. You can also search for the name “John Kenwood”, a Canadian tourist in Lhasa who has given wide-ranging reports on what he saw.
Despite the presence of numerous Western observers… no one objective, no one credible has been able to validate the death of a single protester in Lhasa. In contrast, all eyewitness Western observers reported witnessing beatings of innocent civilians, and a police force that acted in a very restrained way.
Don’t assume our version of events to be the truth. Don’t assume the Tibetan government-in-exile’s version of events is true, either; it should be obvious there are political advantages to lies and exaggeration. Please, do your own research by looking into eyewitness reports from credible Western observers; start with John Kenwood and James Miles.
The bigger question is: why is China in Tibet at all?
We should start by clearing up terminology. About 90% of China’s citizens belong to the “Han” tribe. Many in the West therefore automatically define “Chinese” as “Han”… and we don’t accept that definition. Just as non-whites can be Americans, we believe non-Han can also be Chinese. We call ourselves (the collection of all tribes in China) the “zhonghua” race.
We believe Tibet is part of China. And we believe Tibetans are part of the “zhonghua” race.
Tibet has a long history as part of China. Not “always”, but for at least the past 400-800 years… for longer than the United States has been in existence. From 1911 to 1950, with the collapse of the central government in Beijing, all of China collapsed into small fragments. Tibet isn’t the only area of modern China that became de-facto independent of Beijing rule. It’s important to note that at *no* point during these 40 years of de-facto independence did any other country recognize Tibet as an independent country; not British India, not the United States, not anyone else in Europe. Tibet is no Poland or Kuwait; both of these were easily recognizable as being “independent” under international law.
In 1950, after China was again reunified and stable under the new government of the People’s Republic of China, one of its first priorities was re-establishing the relationship that had previously existed.
Was this really the invasion of a different “country”, or was it merely the sovereign right of a nation to re-establish itself after decades of civil war? How do we describe Abraham Lincoln’s actions when he led the United States of America into war against the Confederate States of America, an American democracy?
We, the Chinese, wish to preserve our union.
Isn’t Tibet a colony of China?
In the People’s Republic of China today, ethnic Tibetans have more rights than the Han Chinese majority. While Han Chinese are held to the “one Child” policy, Tibetans face a much more relaxed version. Just as the United States have affirmative action for minorities, China offers extensive affirmative action for all ethnic minorities. Tibetans receive huge boosts when applying to college, scholarships for many programs not available to the Han majority, tax benefits, etc. If a Tibetan/Han family have the option of choosing an ethnic identity for their child, they will almost always choose Tibetan… the advantages are so much better.
If Tibet is a colony, then it is probably the only one in recent history in which the “colonized” have ended up with more rights than the “colonizer”.
What about all the Tibetans killed, and monasteries destroyed over the past 50 years?
China’s history over the past 50 years has unfortunately been a very bloody one. Due mostly to political extremism, our government committed obscene acts of violence against all Chinese. Tibetan monasteries were indeed destroyed, and monks/nuns were persecuted in horrific ways; the same happened in Han Chinese monasteries. This period of extremism comes from a dark period of our country’s history, and we reject it thoroughly.
Please don’t judge China on the basis of the events of the Cultural Revolution or before; it’s not fair or accurate, just as it wouldn’t be fair or accurate to judge the United States today based on its history of African slavery and Jim Crow segregation.
What about human rights violation in Tibet and China today?
We are well aware of the on-going human right abuses throughout China today, including those in Tibet. As Chinese, we more than anyone else want to eliminate such abuses as soon as possible. However, many of these problems have deep rooted causes that are difficult to eliminate quickly. Just as “solving” the homelessness problem in San Francisco can be more difficult than it first appears, there are very few easy questions to the difficult problems still facing China today.
We welcome the support and help of those who legitimately want the best for China and the Chinese.
However, let’s not be distracted from why we’re here today. We are here to express our support for the Olympic Games. The Olympics are not the solution to China’s problems, nor are they intended to suggest that China’s process of reform and growth has already completed. They are only meant to be a celebration of what China and humanity has achieved over the past 30 years, as hundreds of millions of people have started to stumble away from grinding poverty.
SUPPORTERS OF THE OLYMPIC TORCH
Why do the Chinese care about the Olympics? It’s over-commercialized, and filled with sports most Chinese (or anyone else) don’t actually play.
For more than 100 years, China has existed in some form of isolation from the global community. Earlier, we were isolated by foreign invasion and resulting poverty. Later, we were victims of our own self-imposed political policies; we were isolated by political ideology, told that we were surrounded by our enemies. Over the last century, few Chinese left China’s borders, and few foreigners visited China.
The last 30 years have represented the light at the end of the tunnel for many of us. It represented the end of our isolation. We began to travel overseas in great numbers; we went out into the world to learn, and bring back what we learned. We began to trade, we began to make international friends, we began to embrace global values…
- 30 years ago, none of us had flown in a plane, watched a Western movie, or seen the Golden Gate Bridge.
- 20 years ago, few of us had indoor plumbing, most owned only one change of clothing, and all of us could only fantasize of one day owning a color television.
- 10 years ago, few of us had ever ridden in a private car, eaten a Big Mac, bought a stock, gone online, or vacationed outside of the country.
This year, we want to celebrate how we’ve changed, and we want to deepen the links that allowed us to change. We want to celebrate the subways and air-conditioned buses that crisscross our cities; we want to celebrate internet and cable TV; we want to celebrate the opportunity to vacation in Europe, California; we want to celebrate stock markets and Pizza Hut.
We are well aware of how much further China has to go on every level. We’ve only seen the light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re not yet out of the darkness. But before you shake your heads at what we’ve failed to achieve, please ask us about where we started, and what we’ve already achieved. Ask us about the differences between the country that we were born into, and the country that exists today.
We encourage the world to visit China, and see what it has become. We understand the need to remind us of how much further we need to go, and we as Chinese appreciate your constructive advice and support.
If China is so great, why aren’t you there? Could you march in the streets there?
The fact that we love and support China doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate the generosity of the American people, or the greatness of the American nation. Some of us are citizens, and this is our country too; others of us are gracious guests, trying to live up to our responsibilities at work and school.
In fact, we recognize China is not yet “great” in many ways when compared to the developed nations of the West. China remains a fragile, poor developing nation, and this implies many things. Look around at developing nations around the world; civil war, political instability, racial violence, famine, poverty… all of these are a sad reality in the modern world. But the Olympics are not only for “great” nations… it should also be an event for the developing nations that represent more than ¾ of the human race.
The right to political protest is something Americans rightfully take pride in today, and we’re here to share this experience. We all hope to see China one day soon become a “great” nation in the same way: a strong, wealthy, tolerant, stable, mature nation that tolerates political dissent.
Hasn’t the Olympics always been politicized? Didn’t China boycott in 1980?
Yes, there’s a sad history of linking political action to the Olympic Games. During the early 1980s, China, USA, the former Soviet Union, and a host of other countries boycotted the Olympics at different points.
We look back on that period with regret. Remember, if you can, that the world was still embroiled in the Cold War at the time. All of us lived with the realistic fear of impending war; we saw an enemy at every corner… and the Olympics were just another casualty of that war. We would like to avoid a return to that era, if possible. We would like to believe that we’re not yet embroiled in the beginning of another global war, that the differences which separate us can be diluted with logic, words, and mutual understanding… rather than standing armies and the threat of nuclear destruction.
We hope that can avoid repeating the mistakes of our fathers; we hope that we can find a way to end this conflict before it flares even more.
I feel strongly about this issue, and the Olympics brings with it the world’s spotlight. Why shouldn’t I use this attention?
Politics and political confrontation surrounds us, every day. And if you feel strongly about a political issue, you have many opportunities to make your opinions heard. You can always contact your own government, or even protest the Chinese government directly. If your issue has meaning, it will gather the world’s attention without the use of melodrama.
But protesting the Olympics just sets a new precedent that will eventually destroy the Olympics, and any hint of international cooperation. Imagine:
- a Cuban athlete wearing an orange jumpsuit and black hood to the medal stand as a protest of American policies in Iraq;
- an English athlete tearing up the image of the Pope as a protest of IRA policies in Northern Ireland, before he starts the 4×100 relay;
- an African-American gymnast calling out “God Damn America” before he starts his floor routine…
There is politics all around us, and there is political protest all around us. All of the above already happens, but so far not within the arena of athletic competition. These protests may be engendered by legitimate concern… but we ask: is there really no room left in our world for all of us to come together without being divided by politics?
China is ready to change, but please, help us change in a constructive and respectful way.
But Beijing is concerned; political protests clearly are having an effect!
The Beijing government does not make political decisions hinging on national interests on the basis of the Olympic Games. The Chinese people would not allow the Communist Party to sacrifice our national interests just in order to host a successful sports event.
If you’re familiar with Chinese history over the past 200 years, you would understand that many Chinese believe our country became a wreck torn apart by war, and later on a poor developing nation precisely because we have been too accommodating and weak in the face of foreign political pressure. We all hope that China learns from the best experiences of the West, but we also all hope that China remains strong against forceful pressure.
Is there nothing else that I should do?
On political issues ranging from Tibet and Darfur, our advice is that you try talking to the Chinese people. The Chinese government is not a democracy; we’re all aware of that. But no government can exist long without popular support… if you want to change China, change the Chinese people.
The China today is not the autocratic country that many Western media like to paint it as; we are here as proof of the wealth of information and opportunity available to the Chinese people. The Chinese today have access to BBC, CNN, and the New York Times… only we, all 1.3 billion of us, can be the instruments of real change in China.
If you want to change China, talk to us, change our minds first. And if you ignore us as irrelevant Communist pawns, then don’t expect to force any policy change upon our government; we will not back down.
For those interested in Chinese affairs, we hope the dialogue continues.
This was first posted at http://www.chinatibet.info/
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