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

The Dilemma: Tibet Before, China Now

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My own personal dilemma at work has partially handicapped my own thought process.   I realized this recently.  When confronted with something weighing heavily in one direction, the natural reaction is to instinctively pull in the other, seeking balance.  But issues rarely find that equilibrium.

Every time protesters interrupt the Olympic torch relay, an irrepressible smirk slides its way across face.   It’s not about spiting China, and maybe not even about Tibet.  It’s about the action, about people taking action.  It’s inspiring.  And I cannot help being amazed and intrigued by the reactions of my Chinese colleagues as they find out how the world is welcoming their torch (as a news organization, we are allowed to pipe in BBC news for footage purposes).

At the same time, this seemingly rewarding feeling shames me.  Many of my friends here in Shanghai are very proud of their country hosting the Olympics.  They should be.  This country has come a long way in a short time, not citing tactics, to arrive as a major world power… arguably THE world power.  Patriotism, often manipulated into nationalism, is an inevitable result of a nation which believes in a 5,000 year history of glorious facts and fables.  The Olympics symbolize China’s return to its rightful reign, in their minds.

It can be said that this idea is narrow and naive.  Yet, I have often pointed out the similarities in the way in which we Americans are taught to perceive our national identity.  We constantly hearken back to our own glorious periods of history, primarily the Revolutionary War and World War II– the Founding Fathers and the Greatest Generation.  We rarely discuss, let alone teach, let alone review, our past actions in those times or between.  We ignore realist justifications for our involvements, rather choosing to recognize the idealism and rhetoric of our actions.  Are we so different?  Is China a bastard nation for holding its own notions of Manifest Destiny?

And it must be realized that Tibet is given the benefit of the doubt with the foreign press.  Rarely do you hear the other side’s description of life in Tibet before China took control of the region in the 1950s.  Tibet’s feudal empire was ruled by religion, something I find repulsive in all forms.  I believe people should be free to choose and follow their own religions, sure.  But to rule by them is wrong.  Too often the world excuses backward ways of life as a certain people’s culture.  I just don’t buy that.  Freedom is choice.  Culture is too often a tool of repression, granting a mandate to megalomaniacs who defend their actions as a culture others fail to understand.

There is plenty I do not understand about Chinese culture.  Yet, as an American, their stubborn pride is not that surprising.  I chuckled when one colleague commented (in Chinese thinking I didn’t understand), “These are foreigners protesting in London?  Not even Chinese?  What the hell do they know about our affairs?”  This coming from a citizen in a nation that systematically denies access to balanced, timely information!  Ha!   Then I saw BBC footage of a cute young Chinese lady in London saying she was proud of her country and didn’t understand why people couldn’t celebrate China’s progress.  Achk!  It’s all a paradox of pride and shame, fact and fiction, progress and policy, reform and repression… can there be balance?  How?


2 Responses

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  1. The way I see it the movement for a free Tibet is a movement of people that are basically opposed to the Chinese government, and are championing the cause of separatism! To be separated from China!
    China has for decades attempted to modernize Tibet and eliminate their monarchy and feudal system where the Dali Lama, monks and religious leaders hold sway over their feudal subjects and rule them with an iron hand! They exploit their subjects without mercy, just like in the ancient times.
    The opposition toward the separatist movement in China, is overwhelming! The movement to modernize Tibet and keep Tibet as a part of China is strong!


    April 13, 2008 at 2:18 am

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