Miles from Home

China Commentary– Youthful Musings on the Environment, Culture & Development

Obama, Tibet and Dignity

with 6 comments

Online, on-air, and among friends there has been plenty of talk dismissing the validity of Barack Obama’s candidacy.  It’s not so much a discussion about can he win the nomination.  That’s possible, most say, and they leave it at that, filed away in a little manila folder tabbed “As Good As it Gets.”  It’s the national election that people adamantly fear he will lose.  

There are all sorts of platitudes to buttress this intuition.  America just isn’t ready for a black president being the primary crux.  He doesn’t have enough experience, secondly.  But what lies within these statements that empower them with such detrimental imperium?  These justifications mask a latent submission to the methodology of our past, a belief that change is not possible in our time, that the powers-at-be will keep on being and have always been.

Zimbabweans went to the polls this week with a chance to legally oust their hero-turned-tyrant president from a possible sixth term in office.  The country hasn’t just spiraled out of control; it has turned a tailspin into a drill-bit, burying the country beneath unthinkable inflation and imprudent policies.  It is tragic.  I feel for my friends there, some of whom have been forced to flee their homes in search of the means to provide basic necessities of life.  I admire the entire country’s fortitude and resilience.  Yet, how is it that Zim has not risen against its elite?  How can it be, that even with nothing left to lose, there is nothing left to fight for?

That line in the sand forms and reappears with the tides of the times.  In light of the political situation in my country, pawns will be pawns and kings’ll be kings. It becomes so ingrained in our mental faculty that the very notion of change becomes frightening, destabilizing, producing uncertainties.  For what if the brave leader who seeks to guide us falls, what then?  Shall I, humble peasant, be expected to lift his sword?

The situation in what China calls the “Tibet autonomous region” has left nearly one thousand buildings burnt to the ground, hundreds in jail, estimates between dozens and hundreds dead, and a society teetering on a Himalayan edge.  What brought about this uprising?  Why here and not Zim?  For years, China has been pumping money into its rocky southwestern region.  It came by way of new train lines, new roads, and subsidized business loans.  In China, a country with an Olympic-sized pool of laborers and a rice bowl to fit them all in, well, the draw was too enticing to pass up.  Thousands of ethnic Han Chinese flooded into the region, eager for their manifest destiny promised to them by politicians in a capital thousands of kilometers beyond the horizon.  Immediately, the cultural chasms split.  On the one side, you have Tibetans, a pious Buddhist population happy to live a quiet life observing its modest rituals.  On the other, you have Han Chinese, cleansed by Mao’s Cultural Revolution of almost all respect for anything beyond money, power, and the respect they feel the two bestow upon their owners.

Yes, I am simplifying.  But this is very much the situation.  Beijing’s crude attempts at policing culture have been very well documented, including forcing monks into re-education camps and hoping materialism would supplant idolatry of the Dalai Lama.  They failed.  And while the ethnic cleavages reinforce social separation, they were not enough to propel peace-loving monks into murderous mobs.  No, that final straw came atop the press pulpit.  The incessant global glamorization of China’s “journey of harmony” to the Olympics provoked a generally pacified Tibetan peasantry.  It was all the, “Hey World, look at us.  We are China, and we are great.  We don’t have any problems anymore because we blot them out of the newspapers and cut away from them on the television.  We bully lesser nations with our economy.  Denounce whoever we damn well please.  And after these Olympics, there ain’t a damn thing you’re gonna be able to do to stop us from taking your lunch money whenever we damn well please.”  That, that got ’em.

It was another slap in the face of a people who have been pushed to the very edge of the world and still cannot find their peace.  It was an affront on their dignity.  And, savvy as they are, Tibetans knew it was now or never for one last push at some international press before China is given the credibility it feels the Olympics bestow.  Here, the Beijing line is a one-sided world-view based on principles of power and ego.  Incomplete control over Tibet threatens the CCP’s paper-thin confidence, and they will stop at nothing not to be embarrassed.

It is this weak ego prodding along the blind pursuit of power that is so hauntingly similar to the broken vanity of the U.S.  Yet, each country has a palate of positive tools at its disposal, forces that inspire in me the idealism that things can and must change.  Paramount to each, China has its Olympics and at home, we have the election.

Tibet rose up because it was being denied its rightful dignity.  And that is the most difficult step to take, the step towards change.  It is time for Americans to restore the dignity of our nation.  Wobbling through the world as a belligerent bully wins no wars, no hearts and no minds.  Sobering up isn’t go to be easy.  But the first step is getting off the junk that got us here, the faulty choices that have run their course in our system.  It’s time for fundamental change, and that will require a more mental than fun exercise.  We must conquer our demons.  Conquer our fears, and respect ourselves again.  We need to believe that the U.S. is still capable of being the most progressive plot of land on this rock.  No, not perfect, as Obama said in his historic speech, but willing to work towards perfecting it.


Written by Miles

March 30, 2008 at 5:56 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Just a comment and I’m not trying to make tough arguments. It is human to over look criminal reasons for those sent to labor-camps. Surely some monks went there while passers-by only noticed the color of their dresses. As being born after the legendary cultural revolution I am pretty much happy it happened (and not affecting me) so any sense of ideology is wiped out from the Chinese mind-set. Personally I don’t wish to live with a book, be that the Bible or the Sutra or “Serve the People”. With the absence spiritual crap one thinks more of humanity itself and becomes keen on off-the-scene initiatives of self-righteous or simply bought reporters.


    March 30, 2008 at 7:25 pm

  2. Great post.

    It is encouraging that Obama has spoken out on this issue:

    However, action by individuals, acting towards a collective goal, may be the best way to impress upon China the choice they now face: empire or markets:


    March 31, 2008 at 2:09 am

  3. I am a registered Democrat Obama-backer, but I am troubled by many of my fellow party members who are undereducated, short-sighted (i.e. Pelosi), and vapidly self-righteous about this Tibet situation. Before 1949 Tibet was not a happy idyllic land of monks meditating under trees, but a feudal aristocracy in the guise of religious authority and enforced by violence (yes, violent Buddhism). The majority people were mere serfs denied education and social mobility. The truth is 95% of Tibetan commoners were sentenced to a life of servitude and placed in a crude caste system enforced by religious doctrine. Today the average Tibetan is happy to be part of China. As we’ve seen before in recent history, it’s the religious extremists that push for independence so that they can be the oppressors, many descendents of the former aristocrats. China is a nation that does not tolerate religious extremists, and that includes the Islamic plots in XinJiang and the Buddhist extremists in XiZang (Tibet). China has many things to be embarrassed about, but this Tibet shit is being purely overblown. There is evidence that the Dalai lama organized the murder of 100 random Han civilians in Lhasa and Chengdu, and that is the reason for the crackdown. I’m glad Obama has not been outspoken about this issue, and I believe Hillary Clinton “stepped in it” when she called for boycotting the Chinese Olympic opening ceremonies. Any American reading this post should be aware that China can put us into hot water if we are not careful. If China goes down, we go down too. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, but we can and must do a lot more constructive things to stop China from overreaching, than bitching about an issue that we should not intervene. Be angrier about how China treats the Han peasant; the Tibetan peasant is better off in many ways under China. The Western media is just serving as pawns for these religious extremists. I’ve been to Chengdu and Beijing China many times, and fueling racism and hard feelings with a large group of people that so far hold no ill-will towards us will not be constructive. In my opinion, being passive aggressive about China’s legitimate claims to territory (we are in no position to be “aggressive-aggressive” with China) frankly embarrases America more than China.

    Joseph Denor

    April 10, 2008 at 1:33 am

  4. Damn. He stepped in it too.

    But I understand. Strategically it’s the right thing to do. Based on the current information available on the mass media, it’s okay on the campaign trail to appeal to your base and the safe move to prevent Senator Clinton from getting points.

    It’s only the campaign, but I hope the Democrats will not be as evidence-adverse and narrow-minded as the neocons, and as information about both sides of the XiZang issue emerge, and emotion about this issue fades, I suspect Obama would have the wisdom to not pursue “saber rattling” like the current bunch of selfish cretins.

    Joseph Denor

    April 10, 2008 at 11:20 pm

    • Now that I’m looking over my files from undergrad years, I noticed my comments on Obama and Hillary goin’ at it about the whole Tibet affair. I had meant to take a Chinese cultural course with one of my electives here at UWM, but I needed everything I could to graduate in engineering. I guess I end with the thought that this issue is fading into the background again, just like the faded “Free Tibet” bumperstickers. Wow was I naive and sophomoric.

      Joseph Denor

      August 6, 2010 at 3:42 am

  5. I’ve tagged some of my old blog entries and have meant to follow up on some of them, but you know college life takes its toll. I’ve finally gotten aroung to it. As I suspected, this issue faded into the background. Just as all the “Free Tibet” bumper stickers I see (if any at all) are also faded. I wanted to take some more electives on Chinese culture, but had to do all I could to fulfill my major requirements.

    In any event, I had one more thought on the matter. At the risk of making a straw man’s argument, I want to comment on all the comparisons made to Nazi Germany in early 2008. Let’s analyze that a little bit. Nazi Germany intended to keep it’s inferior citizens from breeding. China, on the other hand, has lifted its one child policy on the Tibetan farmer. Nazi Germany placed its Jewish citizens in the Einstatzgruppen, where China provides many young Tibetan with free medical school entry so they can serve back in their communities with better skill. Finally, Nazi Germany kept the Jewish businesses oppressed, where China has lifted many of the taxes on the farmers. Let’s not go Godwin’s law on this issue again.

    Since then I’ve seen less and less Falon Gong activists on State Street (UW-Madison) lately. Could this issue be fading into the sunset? I hope.

    Joseph Denor

    June 22, 2010 at 4:54 am

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