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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Listen to the other side of Tibet issue

May 4, 2008

DORI JONES YANG
GUEST COLUMNIST
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
May 1, 2008

When I happily announced to my Chinese husband that I obtained a coveted
ticket to hear the Dalai Lama, he frowned. To him, the Dalai Lama is a
divisive political leader, not a compassionate holy man.

These days, I feel caught between widespread U.S. support for Tibet and
an angry, pained reaction from my Chinese friends. Born and raised a
Jones in Ohio, I am now a Yang, married to a man from China. Fluent in
Mandarin, I often have long discussions with Chinese friends in their
native language. As a journalist who covered China for eight years, I
was trained to aim for objective coverage.

Recently, at a dinner party, my friend Li pleaded with me to be neutral.
But I find there is no neutral ground on the subject of Tibet. Both
sides view the other as manipulated. I can't explain the popular
American perspective to Chinese people without being lumped in with the
demonstrators who wave Tibetan flags because it's cool. And I can't
explain the Chinese perspective without an American calling me an apologist.

What I am finding is that Chinese people -- not the government
propaganda machine but flesh-and-blood people -- are angry and hurt at
the world's increasingly negative portrayal of their beloved country.
Through their eyes, American free expression can look ignorant and
insensitive. What upset my friend Li was that a CNN commentator called
China a "bunch of goons and thugs."

My hackles rise when I hear charges of media bias. I notice how often
newspapers try to be fair, interviewing Chinese counter-protesters and
identifying the Dalai Lama as a political as well as spiritual leader.
Yet news analysts get away with vitriolic comments that sound like
1950s-style red-baiting.

This Olympics, meant to bring the world's people together in peaceful
competition, is driving a dangerous wedge between China and the West.
Deeply held antipathy to China is bubbling to the surface in the U.S.
and Europe. That trend scares me. I have a child of mixed heritage. What
future does she face if these two countries continue to pull apart?

Almost all Americans side with the Tibetans, and I understand why. They
admire the ideals of the Dalai Lama and believe they are taking the
morally correct position.

Yet to Chinese people, including many in the U.S., the central question
is also moral: What right do foreigners have to interfere in Chinese
internal affairs? Americans, who live on land stolen from native people,
have problems of our own to solve, in inner cities, on reservations, in
race relations, in Iraq. So why do we insist we know how to resolve
theirs? When Chinese see Americans demonstrating to free Tibet, they see
unwitting agents of a U.S. policy that aims to weaken their country by
dividing up its territory. They cannot forget the "national shame" of
the period when European colonial powers occupied parts of their country.

While most Americans see China as powerful, most Chinese do not see it
that way. In the past 80 years, China went through starvation and
drought, invasion and civil war, and destructive political campaigns.
They see China just emerging as a country that can provide a good life
for its people and hold its head up with pride. Just as China stands up,
Americans seem eager to tear it down.

For 30 years, China has been on an upward trajectory toward greater
freedom and prosperity. Each time I visit, I see modern buildings,
highways, even new houses in poor farm regions. My husband's relatives,
who suffered in earlier decades, are thriving. Never before in history
has China enjoyed such a high level of prosperity, stability and even
human rights.

It's true the Chinese do not have the freedoms we do here. Yet every
time I visit China, I hear people vociferously criticizing their
government. They can even protest in the streets, although not
violently. What they do not have is the freedom to organize opposition
to the government. But the realm of what is possible is wide.

As an educated American, I pride myself on having an open mind. I hope
other Americans, too, will realize that they are subtly influenced by an
anti-China bias. I hope Americans will listen to the anger of Chinese
people and realize that there is another side to this story.

Dori Jones Yang of Seattle is a writer who specializes in China;
dorijonesyang.com.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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