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May 20

More on Tibet and Wang Lixiong – Another reader’s questions

Written by Buxi on Tuesday, May 20th, 2008 at 10:07 pm
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One of our readers, JL wrote this in an earlier thread:

So Tibet is very similar to the European colonies. Researching this is my day job so I can provide you more references if you want. And I’m disappointed that you would deny it because you think “its dangerous” to do so. I thought you were interested objective reality?

My point here is not that Tibet should be independent, or even that it should be more autonomous: after all the Maori now have very little autonomy in New Zealand. But I would have liked to have seen some honesty regarding Tibetan history from Chinese netizens. Happily, there are Chinese scholars who are more honest about Tibet’s colonial past and present though. I suggest you check out 王力雄, a Beijing based researcher, whose work presents Tibetan history from a fairly neutral perspective.

Your “suggestion” that we read Wang Lixiong’s works is not only patronizing, but also misguided. I’ll respond to this below.

Many, many Chinese netizens have by now read every word ever written by Wang Lixiong. (And I regularly read and post to his wife Woeser’s blog.) I can’t claim to be an expert in his writings (especially since its probably been 5 years since I read his original writings on Tibet), but even my superficial memory tells me you’re completely misinterpreting his “fairly neutral perspective” on history when you claim that “Tibet is very similar to the European colonies”, especially vis-a-vis New Zealand or other foreign lands claimed by the British Empire.

I’ll translate this part of Wang Lixiong’s writing, speaking specifically of European colonialism and how Tibet + China fits into the picture:

— translation begins —
It can be argued that one of the unique symbols of humanity’s modern history is the rise of the West. During the 200 year period of the 18th and 19th centuries, the West was an unstoppable force that went out in the world and expanded, conquered, and colonized, breaking open every sealed society in Asia (including China and Tibet). All those who opposed were taken down in defeat, and the West went from victory to victory. By the 20th century, all of humanity had basically been absorbed into a global society led by the Western civilizations.

It’s not a surprise of course that the maintenance and operation of this global society’s basic values and procedures fell into the hands of the West. Since we really are speaking of a global society, it’s not possible for two different or multiple different values and procedures to co-exist; other value systems inevitably have had to change. In the story we’re going to talk about below, Tibet paid the price of total defeat and embarrassment as the price of its attempt to hold firm to its values and traditional values. China of course tasted this bitter fruit even before Tibet. Unless you can force others into respecting your strength and abilities, you will have to accept the values and rules of others. And if you don’t change, you’ll be beaten – this is the implicit rule of the international jungle.

In recent history, many non-Western countries have begun to change their own behaviors on the basis of Western standards. In making these changes, other than those forced to do so, some have also accepted Western principals as axiom and implemented their own reforms. Traditions have been destroyed, balance has been lost, civilizations are in conflict, societies are in chaos… the confusion and loss of transition, the destruction of national spirit… non-Western countries have paid an incalculable cost during this period of change.

If the world could have stayed unchanged from the 18th century, the relationship between Qing-dynasty China and Tibet described in my earlier article (“one side getting face, the other getting practical benefits”) could have been maintained in a fuzzy non-defined status, and an appropriate and natural balance could have been achieved. However, once the Western concept of sovereignty was adopted, China and Tibet had to transition to this new system, and rearrange its relationship based on these new rules, to the point of rewriting history on the basis of these new standards. It should be obvious if you think of it that once China accepted the Western concept of sovereignty, it would have to establish clear control over Tibet’s sovereignty. And when Tibet accepted the Western concept of sovereignty, it would want to escape China and declare independence. These two bodies originally peaceful co-existed on the basis of a fuzzy definition which could not be transferred over into a clear definition of sovereignty. Therefore, once this system took effect, China and Tibet’s relationship would have to become confrontational.

From a fundamental definition of sovereignty, Tibetans can claim to have always had sovereignty in practice. It has had the territory, people, and government demanded of independent countries; it had an independent army, issued its own currency, and had an unique culture. But China in turn can use Tibet’s history of submission as evidence, claiming that China has always had sovereignty from a legal perspective. For 200 years officials sent to Tibet from the imperial court didn’t have much in terms of actual control rights, but this symbolic rule has given Beijing (ed note: not the Communist government; referring to all Beijing governments) a firm inner conviction: Tibet belongs to China. This belief didn’t just exist in Beijing’s political elite, but has become the collective perception of the vast majority of Chinese. This belief has naturally been equated to the newer, more recent definitions of sovereignty.

The confrontation from both sides, in the context of the sovereignty system and its associated nationalism, has become sharper day by day. The modern media era has allowed average people to participate in this process, and mediating this confrontation has been increasingly difficult. We can say that all that has happened between China and Tibet to date was destined from the moment the Western empires began to search for a new continent, from the moment when they began to sell opium to China. The entire 20th century history of Chinese-Tibetan relations at heart can be defined as the establishment, adaptation, and adjustment of the philosophy of sovereignty. This process has created a large amount of conflict, setting the foundation for today’s relationship between China and Tibet.
— translation ends —

And yet you continue to insist that we should refer to Tibet by Western standards of colonialism? Colonialism itself is a Western concept that fits even more poorly when applied to Tibet than the labels of “suzerainty” and “independence” placed on it by your forefathers.

I personally have no interest in being painted into this corner. I refuse to engage any longer in the historical debate of whether Tibet was a “colony”, “independent” or “a part of China” in the years 1911, 1950, and 1959. For the academic historians that are paid to study this and place their dead labels on live history, do your worst. For the rest of us, we will continue to struggle to find and define a righteous and long-lasting solution for Tibet’s status within China… guided only by our own principles, beliefs, and conscience.

Only by building a strong China can we rest assured that it will be our principles that will eventually define the outcome in Tibet. That, too, is the rule of the international jungle.


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43 Responses to “More on Tibet and Wang Lixiong – Another reader’s questions”

  1. JL Says:

    Wang Lixiong writes:

    “The entire 20th century history of Chinese-Tibetan relations at heart can be defined as the establishment, adaptation, and adjustment of the philosophy of sovereignty. This process has created a large amount of conflict, setting the foundation for today’s relationship between China and Tibet.”

    And I agree. But I don’t think you understand what colonialism is very well -colonialism also predated the rise of notions of ‘sovereignty’ in the West. That same process of negotiation of the notion of “sovereignty” has gone on in every Western settler colony throughout the 20th Century. Various governments have conflicted with indigenous peoples over what sovereignty is and what indigenous sovereignty could mean, just as China has debated the same issue with Tibet.

    I’m not particularly happy with your tone: how was I supposed to know whether or not you’d read Wang Lixiong.

    If you “refuse to engage any longer in the historical debate of whether Tibet was a “colony”, “independent” or “a part of China” in the years 1911, 1950, and 1959″ then fine, although I thought the purpose of your blog was to encourage debate.

    “For the rest of us, we will continue to struggle to find and define a righteous and long-lasting solution for Tibet’s status within China… guided only by our own principles, beliefs, and conscience.”
    And to what extent will you consider the Tibetan people’s “principles, beliefs and conscience”?

  2. Bing Ma Yong Says:

    Whether Tibet was part of China or not is a forever debate depends how we read and see the same history from different angle. Each side can pick up a long list to prove the point due to the complexity of ethnic and culture in China and the emperor’s different practice of administrative applied to different ethnic groups inside China which were not seen in European countries within sealed broaders(no included colony in other continent). It wasn’t seen in the then multi cultured Great Britten or Austria-Hugaria. Due to so many facts,It won’t be a agreed view by everyone of yesterday’s status no matter how long we would argue. we’ve been argued for many years already.

    I understand Buxi’s term of “our own principles, beliefs, and conscience” includes Tibetan people and no-Tibetan Chinese ‘s principles, beliefs, and conscience not necessarily guided by the western value or western power which has been successfully in some region but also very not successfully in other region.

    of course Chinese government’s oppression of human rights in China includes Tibet dose not serve well the case. But also I can not see TGIE’s ideal of Greater Tibet without the tolerance of no-Tibetans rights,culture and religion and the systematical hatred education towards general Han-Chinese population whom have lost much more in term of the number of human lives,Buddhist monasteries and than Tibetans lost during the 50s,60s,70s would not serve the case better either.

    I am not quite sure Buxi’s background, but as me, a engineer not a academic historian, who cares about China includes, Tibet do not want to see a bloodshed of break up or unification ,would more like to debate a peaceful solution rather than a arguable past.

  3. FOARP Says:

    For myself, I cannot see how anyone could oppose the idea that Tibetan people should be granted a say in the running of their homeland. I cannot see how anyone could oppose the idea that the principle of national self-determination applies equally to Tibet as it does to any other ethnic group with its own homeland, language and culture. I cannot see what is particularly controversial in what the Dalai Lama has put on the table in the way of proposals. However, the CCP opposes all of these things.

    It is from this viewpoint that I see Chinese rule in Tibet.

    It is also from the point of view that thousands of refugees cross the border into Nepal, India and Bhutan every year seeking to escape Chinese rule. It is also from the point of view that Chinese border guards have been caught on film calously shooting and killing women and children attempting to flee over the border from behind, and that the Chinese government then attempted to excuse this as gun fire in self-defence.

    Watch the video here if you don’t believe me:

    http://www.protv.ro/filme/exclusive-footage-of-chinese-soldiers-shooting-at-tibetan-pilgrims.html?id_file=4265#4265

    It doesn’t matter if you agree with the commentry on the video or not, the footage is quite clear – you see Tibetans walking slowly toward the border, you see border guards shooting at them, you see Tibetans falling dead, you see a Tibetan attempting to hide in the camp, you see the Chinese border guards collecting the bodies. What you see is the true face of Chinese rule in Tibet – semantic arguments as to whether Tibet is a colony or not shrink to nothing in the face of such footage. Any government anywhere which rules a region in such a fashion that thousands flee it every year and it has to shoot its own citizens in an effort to prevent them from escaping is one that all right-thinking people must oppose.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Before we quote Wang Lixiong as an authority on Tibet, we should remember that he has drawn intense criticism from some quarters. This is what a prominent Tibetan historian has said about Wang’s analysis of Tibet:

    It seems that asking some Chinese intellectuals—be they Communist Party officials, liberal democrats or dissident writers—to think about Tibet in an objective and reasonable manner is like asking an ant to lift an elephant; it is beyond their capabilities and vision. Their perception is impaired by racial prejudice and their imagination clouded by the convictions and certainties of all colonial masters. Wang’s essay exhibits the same arrogance of reasoning and contempt for the native mind—into which he purports to have delved deep, and to have felt the heartbeat of a simpleton.

    http://www.newleftreview.org/?view=2388

  5. jim Says:

    If you “refuse to engage any longer in the historical debate of whether Tibet was a “colony”, “independent” or “a part of China” in the years 1911, 1950, and 1959″ then fine, although I thought the purpose of your blog was to encourage debate.

    I found out pretty quickly that the purpose of Buxi’s blog is not to encourage debate. He is responding the same way to you that he did to me: “refuse to engage in debate” sums it up. The point seems to be just to shout “the view of the Chinese people,” which he pretends to represent.

    I think other commenters around here are a little more reasonable, though.

  6. Buxi Says:

    JL,

    This blog is intended as an open platform, and I have not, and I will not silence the voices of anyone attempting to make a point.

    As Wang Lixiong has argued eloquently above, debating Tibet’s historical status using Western terms that simply had no contemporary equivalent is misguided and destined to mislead more than it informs. Tibet’s relationship wasn’t one of independence, and it wasn’t one of full sovereignty; it’s simply not a black and white issue. And I’m not interested in arguing about the number of angels dancing on the head of this pin, although you’re perfectly welcome to continue to do so.

    I agree with BMY above as well; I’m also an engineer, and other than “intellectual curiosity”, I have little practical interest in debating Tibet’s status in 1950. I don’t believe it will play any role in solving the Tibet problem today.

  7. Buxi Says:

    FOARP,

    For myself, I cannot see how anyone could oppose the idea that Tibetan people should be granted a say in the running of their homeland.

    I absolutely believe the Tibetan people should be “granted a say”. I believe the voice of each Tibetan person should be equivalent to that of every other Chinese citizen.

    I cannot see how anyone could oppose the idea that the principle of national self-determination applies equally to Tibet as it does to any other ethnic group with its own homeland, language and culture.

    I don’t know if you make the claim of “national self-determination” out of ignorance, or some act of mental gymnastics that I don’t quite understand.

    Let me refer you to:
    – Arunachal Pradesh/India,
    – Assam/India,
    – Kashmir/India,
    – Nagaland/India,
    – Tamil/India,
    – Confederate States of America/USA,
    – Aceh/Indonesia,
    – Kurdistan/Iraq,
    – Kurdistan/Turkey,
    – Southern Basque/Spain,
    – Northern Basque/France,
    – Corsica/France,
    – Chechnya/Russia,
    – Scotland/England,
    – Wales/England,
    – Quebec/Canada.

    None of these countries respect the “principle of self-determination” for any of its constituent peoples, even those with an unique homeland, culture, and language.

    Some of these countries have used different formulas in an attempt to solve this problem; offering different types of autonomy, for example. None of these countries have offered the “high degree of autonomy” so far demanded by the Dalai Lama, however.

    I cannot see what is particularly controversial in what the Dalai Lama has put on the table in the way of proposals.

    I don’t know that the Dalai Lama has put anything on the table. He’s been the source of numerous excellent sound-bites, in which he claims to not “want” Tibetan independence… although he’s not necessarily opposed to it.

    But when I go to the Tibet government-in-exile’s home page, the only thing that I find which looks remotely like a proposal is this:
    http://www.tibet.com/future.html

    That was published in 1992, after the Dalai Lama supposedly “gave up independence” in 1988.

  8. Buxi Says:

    Anonymous,

    I have my own two eyes, my own brain, and therefore my own ability to read and interpret Wang Lixiong’s writings. I don’t need a “prominent Tibetan historian” helping me with the analysis.

    I have read Tsering Shakya’s books in the past. I’ve also read the Tsering Shakya and Wang Lixiong exchange in the New Left Review. I think it’s a very interesting debate with excellent back/forth, and it’s unfortunate that Tsering Shakya couldn’t focus on the issues, but instead to debate Wang as an individual.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    I have no idea why you take a reading suggestion as a personal insult. Apparently you think that you have nothing to learn from others. If you had actually bothered to read the article you would know that Tsering’s critique of Wang goes beyond a criticism of him as a person and your knee-jerk reaction prove Tserin’s point about the inability of mainland Chinese to take Tibetans seriously. Anyway, I take it from your comments on this blog that you are not interested in dealing with facts that make you uncomfortable, so I’m not going to bother you. Have a nice monologue.

  10. Buxi Says:

    Anonymous,

    I said above that the two articles published in the New Left Review is an excellent debate on the issues. The primary focus of Tsering Shakya’s article isn’t Wang Lixiong at all, but rather a point by point analysis of the topics Wang raised. I’d love to see a discussion of those points continue.

    It was you that chose to focus on one of the few areas in Tsering Shakya’s article in which he didn’t discuss the issues, but rather Wang’s intellect. To emphasize again what Tsering said in the quote you brought to this board…

    …it is beyond Wang Lixiong’s “capability and vision” to think about Tibet in an “objective and reasonable” manner…

    Again, I find that kind of rhetoric, that kind of personal attack incredibly distasteful. I think Wang Lixiong’s writing (as translated above) speaks for itself.

  11. JL Says:

    Buxi,

    How would Chinese people feel if Japanese said “talking about the Japanese invasion of China is pointless and irrelevant”?

    You might think that historical issues are irrelevant, but I can assure you that a lot of Tibetans don’t see it that way. For them, debating the colonial status of Tibet is not debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. You haven’t responded to any other comments I’ve made about Western colonialism being a more complex thing than you obviously think it is, and have given me no reason to stop suggesting to people that the history of the European settler colonies provides a powerful and useful comparison when we think about Tibet.

    As a last comment, you provide a useful list of other countries with similar problems. Which countries do you think have been most successful in resolving these disputes? (I also think that the inclusion of USA is a little misleading here because the core issue of the US civil war was a political/ economic one: slavery; whereas ethnic-nationalism has been at the heart of the other conflicts.)

    – Arunachal Pradesh/India,
    – Assam/India,
    – Kashmir/India,
    – Nagaland/India,
    – Tamil/India,
    – Confederate States of America/USA,
    – Aceh/Indonesia,
    – Kurdistan/Iraq,
    – Kurdistan/Turkey,
    – Southern Basque/Spain,
    – Northern Basque/France,
    – Corsica/France,
    – Chechnya/Russia,
    – Scotland/England,
    – Wales/England,
    – Quebec/Canada.

  12. A Yu Says:

    I’ve been thinking about self-determination for a long time, and I think this thread has the potential to develop into a very insightful discussion … if we allow it.

    Here is my problem with self-determination.

    On the one hand, self-determination resonates with me. The Europeans conquered a large part of the world over the last 500 years, with devastating effects to the detriment of many across the world. The independence movement of former colonies in the name of self-determination in the aftermath of WWII rightly became a rallying cry to all dispossessed in the world.

    On the other hand, how far should we go with the analogy of “colonialism” in today’s world? In the U.S., there have been ethnic based dominations and suppressions for over two hundred years. Is the U.S. a colonial power with respect to various minority groups such as native Americans, Hispanics, blacks, Asians, or others in the U.S. – these minorities being colonial subjects of the U.S.? Are calls for the U.S. to be a “melting pot” of immigrants actually an imperialistic guise for U.S. domination?

    We also should note that none of the former colonies that became independent were further broken up even though each (Indonesia and India being extreme examples) also contained diverse indigenous populations sharing little in terms of culture, ethnicity, religion, language, etc.

    Are we really read to pronounce all pluralistic societies that contain distinct groups of ethnic minorities necessarily imperialistic…?

    I am not.

    In terms of domestic US politics, I like Obama’s approach to race in the U.S. over that of black nationalists or white supremacists focusing on divisiveness…

    No matter how we divide societies, minorities will will always exist in any society (no society is homogenous; if any society appears so, it’s probably a function of your ignorance over the society rather than reality).

    Dividing upon subdiving political units along ethnic and cultural lines will not solve the problem. As Iraq today shows, even seemingly stable societies have the potential to fester sectarian violence under the right circumstances.

    The better approach in the world I think is to focus on stability, tolerance and plurality rather than festering divisiveness along ethnic, religious, sectarian, linguistic lines.

    In summary – in today’s world, I don’t think self-determination has moral force by itself per se.

    Self-determination can be used as both a tool for liberation as well as a tool for divisiveness. How it is used depending on each specific context.

    I also want to add that in discussing self-determination, many also have a tendency to cheapen the importance of nation states. However, as any traveler in the world can attest, the fate of peoples across the world are inexorably tied to the strength of their nation.

    If self-determination is carelessly politicized by the West as an instrument to weaken and fragment nations they don’t like, it will bring in an era of new neo-imperialism and be a harbinger for further human sufferings rather than human liberation.

    Just my 2 cents… Welcome anyone’s thoughts.

  13. Buxi Says:

    How would Chinese people feel if Japanese said “talking about the Japanese invasion of China is pointless and irrelevant”?

    Well, that was basically what was said in Tokyo over the last month as Chinese President Hu Jintao met with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda. I certainly don’t think the Japanese invasion of China is something that has to be “solved”. I also certainly don’t accept that the Japanese invasion of China is comparable to China’s relationship with Tibet. Compare the history, and compare the rights of Chinese citizens in the Japanese empire with Tibetan citizens in the Chinese empire.

    I’ve been in the process of translating a Chinese article about Sino-Japanese relations, especially in the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake. More about this relationship there, but the short summary is: everything looks to be improved.

    I’m not really sure what I can say in response to your comment that “Western colonialism is more complicated than I think it is”. Complicated in what way relevant to this discussion? I’m not trying to dodge the question, I just didn’t see anything there interesting to follow up on.

    I think Wang Lixiong said all I want to say about the question about colonialism and independence. The confused legacy of history is seen throughout east Asia. Should Okinawa really be part of Japan? Should Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh be part of India, China, Tibet, or none of the above? Should Taiwan be considered independent, part of Japan, part of the United States (as a recent lawsuit in the US claimed), or part of China?

    Quite frankly, looking for a simple legal definition (in the Western sovereignty tradition) to any of the above requires that you dumb yourself down and willfully ignore the complexity of the situation.

  14. Buxi Says:

    A Yu,

    Would you consider writing up something more comprehensive about self-determination, perhaps with some supporting links, and we’ll post it as a new thread entirely?

  15. A Yu Says:

    Buxi – sure thing. I’ll do so in a day or so by emailing to webmaster. In the mean time, I am curious to see what others’ responses are.

    For people reading this thread: another interesting and related (but bottomless) subject is nationalism. Are all nationalism created equal? Is nationalism a right?

    My parents are native Taiwanese, and I’ve been fascinated (and dismayed) by the rise (and now … hopefully the start of the fall) of Taiwanese nationalism over the last decade.

    I don’t think this is too hypothetical a question for those interested in Taiwanese nationalism to ponder: in the future, if a majority of Taiwanese do favor reunification but a large vocal majority of a southern district on the island do not, does the southern district deserve to have their own independent nation or should they yield to the majority will of the entirety of the Taiwanese people?

  16. A Yu Says:

    My last question in my last post is interesting because if you believe the minority in the southern district need to submit to the will of the majority (a perfectly democratic concept), then why shouldn’t the will of a mere province like Taiwan submit to the will of the whole of a country like China?

    And if you believe the southern district deserves its own country, then are we ready to go even finer: to the self-determination of each city, each village, each neighborhood, even each household!

  17. Buxi Says:

    JL,

    Which countries do you think have been most successful in resolving these disputes?

    I don’t really know if I know what parameters to use in judging “success”. I doubt we can have a common standard.

    Most of the above countries have succeeded in avoiding independence, so that in that sense they’re all successful. (Serbia, on the other hand, has not been.) In some of the countries, autonomy has mostly been satisfactory so far. Quebec in Canada, Northern Ireland (after a century of conflict)… these are success stories. The United Kingdom appears to be finding a balance with Wales and Scotland, but we’ll see.

    But in many of the above regions, there’s an active insurgency where people are killed every day. Basque regions of Spain; most of the separatist movements in India; Tamil/Sri Lanka. Many of the countries in the former Soviet Union; Georgia, Ukraine. In that sense, these countries are failing a little bit every day.

    By the way, if you haven’t read this yet:
    http://blog.foolsmountain.com/?p=86

    (I also think that the inclusion of USA is a little misleading here because the core issue of the US civil war was a political/ economic one: slavery; whereas ethnic-nationalism has been at the heart of the other conflicts.)

    Mmm… I’ll concede that it’s a “political” issue (as all the others are). For the south, it was very much a nationalist issue however, and many in the Confederacy appealed to the sense of “Southern culture”. One thing that it’s absolutely not about: slavery. I’ll just paste this passage from Abraham Lincoln’s letters, written in 1862 (2 years after the US Civil War started):

    http://showcase.netins.net/web/creative/lincoln/speeches/greeley.htm

    I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that

  18. JL Says:

    Buxi,

    “I’m not really sure what I can say in response to your comment that “Western colonialism is more complicated than I think it is”. Complicated in what way relevant to this discussion? I’m not trying to dodge the question, I just didn’t see anything there interesting to follow up on.”

    “Quite frankly, looking for a simple legal definition (in the Western sovereignty tradition) to any of the above requires that you dumb yourself down and willfully ignore the complexity of the situation.”

    The point I have been trying to make about western colonialism (and perhaps I have been expressing myself poorly -sorry), is that “simple legal definitions (of sovereignty)” don’t occur very often within the history of Western colonialism either. That history is ever bit as complex as Tibet’s history is.
    I think the crux of our disagreement here is not Tibet, but western colonialism. You seem think the latter was a rather simplistic process and that notions of sovereignty have remained static in the west. Whereas I think that colonialism was an extemely complex process in which notions of sovereignty changed enormously. So obviously we will disagree about whether or not Tibet is similar to various European colonies.

    Regarding my standards for conflict resolution, I would say that peace and justice are the most important criteria. War is not a successful result, and neither is a result in which one side feels it has been treated unjustly -as this will likely lead to future conflict. The United Kingdom does seem to ahve been relatively successful thus far -but might I point out that the Welsh and Scottish are allowed to freely discuss issues of history, autonomy and independence?

  19. Buxi Says:

    JL,

    Well, I still can’t agree that Western colonialism is “every bit as complex” as Tibet’s history. Based on what you described earlier, it seems like New Zealand has a complicated history if you take the time to see things from the Maori perspective (which sounds like it didn’t happen until recent decades?)… but from the British imperial perspective, its relationship with New Zealand has been very simple from day one! The fact that New Zealanders took the time to revisit this relationship is a credit to the New Zealand *people* for making a choice to do so; it certainly wasn’t forced upon it by any sort of international tribunal or body.

    but might I point out that the Welsh and Scottish are allowed to freely discuss issues of history, autonomy and independence?

    You certainly can make that point, and I think its a good one. I even agree that’s one area that China needs to improve upon in Tibet, and everywhere else in the country for that matter. These issues should be freely discussed.

    The Chinese government is very paternalistic and believes that these very divisive issues should be kept off of the front pages. Note that it’s not just the Tibetan nationalist voice that’s repressed; Han Chinese nationalists that called for an end to affirmative action + complete end of non-putonghua education are repressed just as effectively.

    I hope that this is just an issue of timing; I hope that just as China’s foreign policy is maturing and evolving, our domestic policy and tolerance for debate will also mature and evolve.

    (I can’t help but put in a small dig here: may I also point out that the Chinese, unlike the French and Austrians, are allowed to freely discuss issues involving Nazi-ism and the Holocaust?)

  20. JL Says:

    Buxi

    “but from the British imperial perspective, its relationship with New Zealand has been very simple from day one!”

    yes and no. In English (and the Maori version is a little different) the first article of the Treaty of Waitangi, by which NZ entered the British Empire is:

    “The Chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand and the separate and independent Chiefs who have not become members of the Confederation cede to Her Majesty the Queen of England absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignty which the said Confederation or Individual Chiefs respectively exercise or possess, or may be supposed to exercise or to possess over their respective Territories as the sole sovereigns thereof.”

    It seems fairly straight-forward, and it directly raises the issue of sovereignty. But note that the Chiefs are ceding sovereignty to the Queen of England, rather than Britain as a nation-state. The Maori thus became subjects of Her Majesty, but at the time this did not mean that NZ became a part of Britain in the same way that Cornwall was a part of Britain, or in the same way that China says that Tibet is a part of China. The Maori were granted the “same rights and privilidges” as other subjects of Queen Victoria, but they were not (at the time) considered to actually be British, in the same way that Tibetans are now considered to be Chinese. So what were the Maori, and what was the nation-state of which they were a part? -This was a complex problem, because the idea of a modern nation-state was not really fully formed in Europe when the treaty was signed in 1840.
    The reason I compared Tibet to NZ, is that to me it seemed similar in that the Tibetans became the subjects of the Qing Emperor in the eighteenth century, but at that time they weren’t really considered to be a regular part of a ‘Chinese nation-state’ simply because the concept of a nation-state didn’t really exist in China. Hence subsequent conflicts which seem, to me, to be similar to conflicts between the British-New Zealand state and Maori in nineteenth and twentieth century NZ.

    You’re right that Chinese people had the freedom to deny the Nazi genocide if they want, thought note that Austrians can discuss the issue -the crime is denying it. Which is something I agree with, freedom of speech should have limits- the Chinese state should also be able to stop Tibetans advocating the mass-murder of Han in Tibet.

  21. Bing Ma Yong Says:

    self-determination is a great ideal but often results in bloodshed in a real world. It worked for Czech&Slovakia. But it caused tragedy in formal Yugoslavia ,formal USSR. It is still costing lives everyday in India,Srilanka Caucasian mountains. I won’t see it will work well for China.

  22. Bing Ma Yong Says:

    Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,Friends and Comrades

    I think most of us on this blog are well educated, mutual,rational good hearted people. we are either Chinese or China-connected or caring about the situation in China including Tibet. most of us are not extremist Chinese nor extremist White nor extremist whoever.

    we are here to voice/exchange ideal,opinions same or different. we respect each other.

    Sometimes I am bit of sad to see there are some personal attacking tone/words appear on the blog. no matter we agree or disagree, please respect each other, please be polite to each other.

    at the end of the day, we will all die. dare to say CCP would die,Dalai Lama would die as well . please be nice, be kind to each other and go home and hug the family as long as we alive.

    I am not teaching with these words and am just saying what I am thinking.

  23. Buxi Says:

    BMY,

    You’re right… not only because we will all die, but because hard discussions doesn’t get anywhere when we’re less than polite to each other.

    I don’t admit to being much of a saint however, so I can’t promise to always be able to keep my emotions under control… but I will do my best to play the part of a gracious host.

  24. FOARP Says:

    @Tang Buxi – “I absolutely believe the Tibetan people should be “granted a say”. I believe the voice of each Tibetan person should be equivalent to that of every other Chinese citizen.”

    Since Chinese citizens do not have a say in the running of their country, this is a contadictory argument.

    “I don’t know if you make the claim of “national self-determination” out of ignorance, or some act of mental gymnastics that I don’t quite understand.”

    If you do not understand what the principle of national self-determination is, let me explain it to you. At the end of world war one, the allied powers issued a proclamation that the lands of ruld by the German, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires would be allowed to govern themselves on this principle – that where a distinct ethnic group was found in a distinct geographical area then they would be allowed to form their own country. After world war two, under pressure from the United States, this principle was extended beyond Europe to the rest of the world.

    So let me ask, why do you think it should not apply to Tibet?

    The parts of India you list, I have no idea about except that all Indian states have democratically elected regional assemblies. But I can speak for the Welsh, Northern Irish and the Scottish, who have been allowed on more than one occasion to demonstrate a desire for national self-determination through voting for their respective independence/Irish republican parties – Plaid Cymru, the Scottish Nationalist Party, Sinn Fein and the SDLP. The British government is not opposed to permitting votes on independence in either Wales or Scotland, and a referendum on independence is due in Scotland at the end of the term of the current parliament (that’s right, we have regional assemblies with devolved powers, as do most of the regions you listed). Quebec has also been allowed to vote on independence twice, and on both occasions chose not to do so. Kurdistan has a regional government with wide-reaching autonomy, in fact most observers feel that indepence will follow withdrawl of US forces. The Basque region of Spain has a regional assembly, one which even the political wing of ETA is allowed to join.

    Compare this to Tibet, where there is no meaningful autonomous governance, where the government has thoroughly ruled out any political role for the pro-independence forces, where (according to the UNHCR) almost 100,000 Tibetans now live in exile, and the government operates a shoot-to-kill policy on the border in an effort to stop more people escaping.

    “None of these countries have offered the “high degree of autonomy” so far demanded by the Dalai Lama, however.”

    It think you may now see how erroneous this statement was, but even if it wasn’t, what would it matter?

    So let me now ask, what is wrong with a program in which the TAR is granted the same level of autonomy as Hong Kong now enjoys? This is, as far as I know, what the Dalai Lama has asked for. It is worth noting that when someone like Wen Jiabao gets on his high horse and talks about the ‘不可告人的目的’ of independence forces, he safely avoids mentioning that the aims of the the Dalai Lama’s party at least are fairly moderate, and definitely not ‘unspeakable’.

    Let me ask again, why should the principle of national self-determination – as recognised by the CCP when it recognised Mongolian independence following a soviet-administered referendum – not be applied to Tibet?

  25. Buxi Says:

    FOARP,

    So let me ask, why do you think it should not apply to Tibet?

    Didn’t you answer your own questions below?

    India, Wales, Ireland, Scotland… many do indeed have elected parliaments and some form of autonomy. I believe I discussed this above as well. But how many of these regions are given the right.. in your own language here: “allowed to form their own country.”

    In the case of the United Kingdom, well, let me just post the relevant passage from Wikipedia:

    It should be noted however that any referendum for Scottish independence or any Scottish parliamentary bill seeking to change the constitutional status of Scotland as determined by the Scottish Parliament would not be legally binding on the UK Government; under the Scotland Act 1998 the United Kingdom parliament holds absolute parliamentary sovereignty and any changes to the contitutional status are reserved as a matter for Westminster[40].

    Is this the precise definition of national self-determination that you’re referring to? If the legal right to make any changes in legal status rests in Westminster, where lies the “self” in the term self-determination?

    It think you may now see how erroneous this statement was, but even if it wasn’t, what would it matter?

    Are you really under the very false impression that the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies have the “high degree of autonomy” seen in Hong Kong, and demanded by the Dalai Lama?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reserved_matters

    I personally am supportive of autonomy in Tibet, and I think the Welsh model gives China much from which we could emulate. I don’t know if the Dalai Lama is as open-minded, however.

    Let me ask again, why should the principle of national self-determination – as recognised by the CCP when it recognised Mongolian independence following a soviet-administered referendum – not be applied to Tibet?

    Because recognition of Mongolian independence was a mistake that should not be repeated. The Republic of China on Taiwan has never recognized Mongolian independence, for example.

    The PRC really didn’t have much choice in the face of USSR insistence. Of course, the People’s Republic of China also had heated debate about this issue in the ’40s; the argument was finally kicked aside by claiming that the whole world would soon be liberated and united as part of the International Communist movement… why worry about the status of Mongolia, which was already far more “advanced” in the level of Communism it had achieved?

  26. FOARP Says:

    However, the British government has already stated that were such a mandate to be given to the Scottish government then they would not oppose it, and legislation would be passed in Westminster giving it effect. Similar statements with respect to Quebec have been made by Canadian premiers starting with Trudeau. And once again, it would not matter even if these things were not true, Tibet constitutes a separate geographical, cultural and linguistic body, its people deserve the right to be asked if they wish to receive self-governance.

    So once again, why shouldn’t the principle of self-determination apply to Tibet? Talking about what happens in other countries is neither here nor there, and if you wish to dismiss the principle of self-determination then one might ask by what right any government rules anyone.

    Do not overly exagerate the degree of self-rule currently enjoyed by Hong Kong. The degree of autonomy is actually fairly narrow, although on paper the government has greater powers, the fact that Beijing effectively chooses the Chief Executive and has the power to appoint a controlling proportion of the LegCo basically means that the territory is not self-ruling in any real sense. Central government has promised full suffrage, but has not given a solid date for it.

    “Because recognition of Mongolian independence was a mistake that should not be repeated. The Republic of China on Taiwan has never recognized Mongolian independence, for example.”

    Why is what the ROC government thinks important? Is the CCP going to start listening to Taipei on other issues? I have to say, I am dismayed that you could dismiss the desire for self-rule so easily – would you like to reverse the ‘mistake’ of Mongolian independence?

    At any rate, we have no way of knowing what is currently going on in Tibet, the outside media is not allowed access and the Chinese media is tightly censored, but the flow of refugees and the efforts to which the government has gone to stop them speak for themselves. It does not matter is Tibet is analogous to Rhodesia, Vichy France, or late Qing-era Mongolia, there is no positive way of describing the situation there.

  27. A Yu Says:

    FOARP – as you may know, no consensus regarding the true scope of self determination in the International arena has yet to be formed…

    One of the problems for confusion is because the international community has never agreed regarding what/who self-determination is to be applied to…

    Are we talking about self-determination of nations, of people of a particular religion, ethnicity, and/or language, or some other entities?

    Under traditional International Law, most people agree that each nation has a right to its own destiny; hence, self-determination of individual nations is traditionally not a controversial subject.

    The problem comes when we want to legalize a channel for secession. Some want to say that a certain grouping of people (based on race, religion, language, whatever) has a special right to demand, at any time, to secede from a nation, a society, or whatever political unit to which they belong – simply on account that they belong to the speical groupings of people.

    I think reasonable people can disagree on whether self-determination of special groupings of people is a good idea.

    But I personally prefer self-determination of nation-states if nothing else than because I think each nation-state is in general in the best position to judge the interests of its people.

    I don’t like the idea of outsourcing such decisions to the UN or far away countries that understand little of my history and political context to determine which political movement within my country represent a “people” entitled to self-determination and which political movements don’t.

    I don’t want to get into a situation whether another country has to decide, for example, whether Buddhists have a right to secede but not atheists – or whether homosexuals have a right to secede but not bisexuals – or whether Native Americans have a right to secede but not African Americans…

  28. Buxi Says:

    So once again, why shouldn’t the principle of self-determination apply to Tibet? Talking about what happens in other countries is neither here nor there, and if you wish to dismiss the principle of self-determination then one might ask by what right any government rules anyone.

    And yet again, we find the ground-rules for the discussion itself is lost. Perhaps you’re also engaged in an intellectual exploration, but I’m engaged in a practical discussion about what China, as a country, should do about Tibet. The fact that even the developed Western nations haven’t led the way on true, unilateral self-determination is very significant. The United Kingdom has gone far, but even there the progress is limited.

    I have no problem saying that China should not, will not be the trail-blazer on this or any other political ideology. If you’re looking for a guinea pig, look closer to home.

    As far as Hong Kong… Beijing “appoints” a controlling propotion in the legco? You may want to revisit your understanding of the Basic Law. You can say that Beijing *friendly* Hong Kong’ers have a disproportionate voice in selecting the legco, but the final decision at the end of the day lies in the hands of Hong Kong citizens, and only Hong Kong citizens.

  29. FOARP Says:

    By ‘friendly’ HKer’s, you mean HK business concerns which are beholden to central government – this is not the same as self-rule.

    Refusal to face the issue of self-determination on the part of the Chinese government except by pointing to the mockery of autonomy that Tibet enjoys is part of why very few people not born and raised to think of Tibet as an integral and indivisable part of China agree with the Chinese government’s position. The flow of refugees, the rioting, the shooting incidents both on the border and within, they have shown us what the real situation in Tibet is.

    So here’s my solution – a referendum on independence. If you believe that the Chinese government can win the argument, that the majority of Tibetans are happy with their position, that Tibetans understand that China and Tibet are indivisable halves of a whole – then let the world see the same.

    You see, I am not an ideologue who thinks that each and every geographically and ethnically distinct territory should automatically be granted independence. I believe that multi-ethnic states can be successful where the peoples who make up that state give their consent. This is why I welcome the upcoming vote in Scotland – because I believe that the union is beneficial to all people in the UK and think that the majority of people in Scotland will agree. However, if we cannot win this argument then the union does not deserve to exist. This is a very practical solution, and not simply a philosophical argument.

    In history we have seen that more than one country has worn the appellation ‘prison of nations': first was the Russian empire, then the Austro-Hungarian empire, then the Soviet Union. In each case where the constituent people were finally given the choice they decided to break up the tyrannical infrastructure that bound the constituent nations together – even where they had no previous history of independece. Do you wish China to become known as a ‘prison of nations’ where those in power dare not give their people any say in the governance of their country because they know what the verdict of the people will be?

    @A Yu – “I don’t like the idea of outsourcing such decisions to the UN or far away countries that understand little of my history and political context to determine which political movement within my country represent a “people” entitled to self-determination and which political movements don’t.”

    Isn’t this problem met quite fully by allowing independence only after a referendum? Aren’t the people resident in that nation the ones in the best position to decide?

  30. yo Says:

    You guys might want to check out this debate in regards to Tibet. I found it very insightful and very respectful.

    http://discussions.pbs.org/viewtopic.pbs?t=68073&postdays=0&postorde

  31. Buxi Says:

    This is why I welcome the upcoming vote in Scotland – because I believe that the union is beneficial to all people in the UK and think that the majority of people in Scotland will agree. However, if we cannot win this argument then the union does not deserve to exist. This is a very practical solution, and not simply a philosophical argument.

    FOARP,

    I agree, I see the above as a very practical approach worth trying. I’m not willing to call it a “solution”, however, because history hasn’t given us enough time to evaluate it.

    I say that because the specific scenarios you’re describing are more academic than meaningful. The real test-trials of this approach won’t come from the Welsh deciding they wish to be “autonomous”; all those involved are largely homogeneous, and there’s simply no realistic national impact.

    The real test trial of your solution comes when, for example, a small London borough with a majority Muslim population decide they wish to secede and implement sharia law.

    If the English people are as generous in offering this community the same rights to self-determination (and respectful enough to continue normal economic ties, of course)… then I honestly believe humanity will have evolved to the next stage in social development, and I hope China will follow in its footsteps.

    Do you wish China to become known as a ‘prison of nations’ where those in power dare not give their people any say in the governance of their country because they know what the verdict of the people will be?

    LOL, in all honesty, I couldn’t care less what China was “known as” in the West. Think about it for a second: are you really concerned what labels Chinese nationalists, or Mugbabe’s supporters in Zimbabwe, are placing on the heads of Western activists?

    Western righteousness has a very peculiar focus. It’s very concerned about political rights for people in China. It’s far less concerned, in contrast, that the people in Haiti live in near-starvation in a country that was “liberated” by Western peacekeepers only a decade ago. Double goes for the poor people of East Timor, also “liberated” by the West within the last decade.

    I’ll be polite enough to say that you have your priorities, and I have mine. A very tiny part of me is mildly concerned whether China is liked in the streets of Paris and London; a much larger part of me is concerned whether the Chinese people have a nation, a home, and a society that is stable and able to forward our interests.

  32. Wu Kong Says:

    Forbes.com has commentary by a Louise Blouin MacBain on the current Tibet situation. She’s the first foreigner to be allowed into Tibet after the recent closure because of March 14 riot. I think it’s worth checking out.

    Clearly she’s taken a keen interests on the Tibet issue, because she has written several opinion pieces on the subject already.

    http://www.forbes.com/home/2008/05/23/lhasa-tibet-macbain-oped-cx_lbm_0523lhasa.html

    http://www.forbes.com/opinions/2008/05/01/tibet-china-talks-oped-cx_lbm_0501tibet.html

  33. Buxi Says:

    Wu Kong,

    Looks like a great read. Are you interested in writing it up as a new blog entry, perhaps with some commentary?

  34. Wu Kong Says:

    @Buxi:

    When my English writing is half as good as yours, I would gladly take up the challenge. But for now I am just content on being a loyal reader.

    And I really appreciate what you guys are doing, because there are many Chinese like me out there, who share the same thoughts but aren’t as eloquent or elegant when it comes to the use of English language.

    So please make full use of the links I provided, I agree they deserve a separate entry.

  35. Allen Says:

    @FOARP

    Isn’t this problem met quite fully by allowing independence only after a referendum? Aren’t the people resident in that nation the ones in the best position to decide?

    In talking about a referendum, one has to ask a referendum for whom? Whole country? A subpart of country? Which subpart?

    Should a referendum be demanded any time there are riots? Anytime a charismatic leader demands it? Only when the UN passes a resolution? When a superpower like the US asks for it? Or only when the majority of the country affected decides to offer it?

    Consider that riots occur in a section of Lhasa, should a referendum be demanded for the whole of China, part of China, whole of Tibet, part of Tibet, Lhasa only, or part of Lhasa?

    More broadly in general: the question we are talking about is when does the will of a majority trump the will of the minority and when does the will of the minority trump of the will of the majority?

    And regarding a majority and a minority – what unit are we talking about – of the country, a sub part of the country, which sub part? Who decides?

    As one ponders these questions, one should think about what role the UN or US or the individual country involved should play in deciding these questions.

    One should also try to apply them to a situation like the American Civil War. Should the war have been settled by a referendum for the South to determine if they wanted to be an independent nation? Should the South have been allowed to vote as a block – or should each state be allowed to vote as a block – or each county, each city, each neighborhood…?

  36. Buxi Says:

    Wu Kong,

    Appreciate the compliments. Just remember to keep sending us links that you think are worth writing about.

  37. sleuthing Says:

    Are the Chinese themselves Tibetans or is it that the Tibetans themselves are Chinese? Obviously not the first but the second is now to be accomplished by law, law made by one party not the other. It is curious that the Tibetans themselves did not come running in a rush to join in and enter under the rulership of the Chinese and that many attempt to flee that fate, if successful, for if they protest such a fate they are persecuted and imprisoned. There’s the answer. They have too much land and too many rivers but if they can be forced into stationary hovels (those not worthy to be visited by “tourists”) and deprived of their hereditary nomadic lifestyles, well then they will be Chinese — when they will certainly become “the minority” in their own land, and unable to speak the language of their land. That fate will become their newly won Chinese prosperity.

  38. Nimrod Says:

    FOARP Says:
    May 22nd, 2008 at 11:23 am –1
    @Tang Buxi – “I absolutely believe the Tibetan people should be “granted a say”. I believe the voice of each Tibetan person should be equivalent to that of every other Chinese citizen.”

    Since Chinese citizens do not have a say in the running of their country, this is a contadictory argument.

    ++++++++++
    Why is it contradictory to believe that all citizens of China should have an equal voice, without referring to ethnicity? None of them may yet have the kind of political voice that FORAP is accustomed to, but they do have some. As long as we’re talking about the evolving civil rights of the citizens of China, Buxi’s original remarks make perfect sense.

    However, I think FORAP was going further with that reply by referring to the kind of voice that he *imagines* that people have or that he *believes* people should have, like… some kind of maximalist right of self-determination that gives literally everybody the right to a referendum to form his or her own country or to reject rule. In today’s world, that’s just not the kind of voice that people have in the political process. If they appear to have such, it is for show, as we have seen in all those places that say local actions on rejection of rule is “non-binding” on the central government.

  39. Samantha Says:

    FOARP,

    The vast MAJORITY of annual outflow of refugees from TAR to India contrarily to your perception are not intended to flee from political persecutions, but for two other purposes: (1) to go to school in India; (2) to obtain blessing from Dalai Lama.

    It is apparent that predominant portion of the “refugees” seeks education in India if you simply glance over the figure posted by Tibet Bulletin of May to June 2005, over 60% of refugees age 25 or under, including 20.58% under the age 13, 40.23% age 14-25. “Children under the age of 18 constitute more than half of the Tibetans annually seeking asylum in India.” statement from Tibetan Centre for Human Rights & Democracy International Campaign for Tibet, Europe June 2003 also support the above figures.

    Poor parents in TAR rural area are persuaded to send their kids to go on this journey with a promise that their kids will receive a free education and return home equipped with skills better suited for employment in TAR.

    The fact that each year with the out flux of refugee, there are also comparable returning refugees to TAR consisting two groups: (1) young graduates return home to seek employment; (2) and the returning pilgrims.

    Therefore, these constant out flow of “refugees” are hardly “political” if not in every case.

  40. Buxi Says:

    Are the Chinese themselves Tibetans or is it that the Tibetans themselves are Chinese?

    Are the Americans themselves black, or is it that the blacks themselves are American? Sounds like a ridiculous, doesn’t it?

    As I’ve tried to stress time and time again, I believe China is a country for the zhonghua minzu, which consists of numerous different races + minorities. Even if Han Chinese form a majority in this country, that doesn’t suggest we want a racially pure country.

    If you would only try applying this rhetoric to your own countries, you might get a better idea of why we find this entire school of thought so distasteful.

  41. sleuthing Says:

    FYI Another’s view, in reply to:
    “Even if Han Chinese form a majority in this country, that doesn’t suggest we want…” – to become the majority in Tibet?

    [BY A YOUNG FRENCH TOURIST (OBTAINED TRANSLATION ONLINE)]

    “Riots in Lhasa
    Témoignage d’un touriste Français visitant Lhassa au moment où éclatent les émeutes dans la capitale tibétaine. L’original est ici : http://parceque.over-blog.com/.

    Report of a French tourist visiting Lhasa when broke up the riots in the Tibetan capital city.

    ….
    Editor’s note: sleuthing, I think this article is a very interesting read, and thanks for bringing it to us. However, to be fair and consistent, I believe this is also too long to paste in the comments. If you could, please provide just a link. If you can’t, contact us via email, and we can setup a new thread to contain it.

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