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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?"

Opinion: Chinese Nationalism and the Tibet Issue

July 10, 2008
July 9, 2008

In this charged up atmosphere where elemental urge for freedom runs
high amongst Tibetan people it could be incongruent for anybody,
especially a Tibetan, to make a stab at highlighting the significance
of Chinese nationalism in the context of the Sino-Tibet dialogue.
However, to gloss over subject as nationalism in China, which of
course Tibetan people find it difficult to be associated with due to
different historical backgrounds, would be nothing less than suicidal
for our goal of a negotiated settlement with the Chinese counterparts.

Nationalism in China can be classified into two categories; popular
nationalism and official nationalism which in official lexicon is
"patriotism". The opening up of China in late 70s not only provided
Chinese markets to explore new possibilities in terms of business but
it also enabled many Chinese intellectuals to study western cultures
and their perception of China. Although, many intellectuals were
entranced by the western concepts of democracy and liberalization,
they were in a very awkward position for many of the concepts, such
as 'democratic peace theory', which asserts that democratic countries
don't go to war against each other, tend to take China a virtual
threat to the democratic West. In addition to that, there was a
"China threat" trend in early 90s in the West, especially after the
collapse of the Soviet Union, as West wasn't prepared to accommodate
another communist country with all the trappings of former Soviet
Union. This led many Chinese intellectuals to conclude West as
unfriendly at best and hostile at worst to China's national interest
and thus sought to revive Chinese nationalism to counter western
challenges with series of "Say No" books, such as 'The China That Can
Say No', 'The China That Still Can Say No', 'How China Can Say No',
'Behind The Scene Of Demonizing China' and so on, and all these books
went on to become best-sellers in China. Although the communist
regime was receptive to the new wave of nationalism, which was
sweeping the nation as it was in desperate need to replenish the void
left after the decline of Chinese people's faith in Marxism-Maoism in
order to remain in power. But at the same time, was very cautious as
firstly, China is a multi-national country and; secondly, it knows
that excessive nationalism can ruin its modernization dream. The
Chinese government thus promoted the term "patriotism" in lieu of
nationalism, which is aligned with party's strategy to cement its
position as it calls for 'loyalty to the socialist system under the
leadership of the Communist Party which promises an economically and
militarily strong China. This stand, in effect, doesn't mean that the
Chinese government is against nationalism but it rather means that
the government is exploiting nationalism to its political advantage
coining a new term for it.

The popular nationalist sentiments has its roots in Chinese people's
attitude toward past which sees China being exploited and humiliated
by western imperialism and its perception of west and its "China
threat" theories as hostile to China's national dream to emerge as a
superpower in the future to redeem its old prestige as one of the
greatest civilizations. These nationalistic outlooks make Chinese
people very sensitive and vulnerable as they continue to cling to
victim status and thus hold on to the government, which misuses these
sentiments to its political advantage. Thus, the series of unfounded
and uncalled for accusations which the Chinese government regularly
makes against His Holiness the Dalai Lama, especially in the wake of
the protests that begin in March and spread throughout Tibet
resulting in hundreds of death and thousands of Tibetans being
tortured and imprisoned without a fair trial, alleging his alliance
with 'western forces' which are intent on undermining China's
national interest. These may sound absurd to Tibetans in and outside
Tibet and the West but are proving quite expedient politically in
canvassing Chinese people's opinion in its favor as far as dealing
with the issue of Tibet is concerned. For the Chinese government
knows that as long as it succeeds in dishing out canard with
nationalistic/patriotic flavor it has a ready Chinese clientele to
lap it up, even though it reeks of Chinese government's
double-standard policies.

Nationalism occurs among people with shared history and common
culture and Tibetans neither share common history nor culture with
Chinese and so, Tibetans have never been part of the mainstream
nationalism, which is on the ascendancy in China. The "patriotic
education" introduced to the Tibetan people in early nineties by the
Chinese government and which became very intense later on forcing
Tibetans to denounce His Holiness the Dalai Lama to prove loyalty to
China has nothing to do with the kind of patriotism which Chinese
masses expect from the Tibetan people as "patriotism" in Tibet is
used as a political tool to suppress voices of dissent than winning
hearts of the Tibetan people by allowing them to enjoy equal rights
vis-à-vis Han Chinese. Moreover, the Chinese people get easily
deceived by misinterpretation of Tibetan people's call for more
political and religious freedom as impinging upon their dream of a
great China which the present regime presents itself to be catering
to in order to justify its existence. It is this nationalistic
sentiment that Tibetans are disloyal to the country that many Chinese
people tacitly approve of all the suppression and brutalities being
meted out to the Tibetan people for defying Chinese government's
policies which seek to draw loyalty through force as a strong and
unified China is in the core of Chinese nationalism, as evidenced by
the huge public support during the 1995-96 Taiwan strait crisis and
the anti-secession law passed unanimously by the National People
Congress on 14 March 2005. The Olympic games in Beijing slated for
this August thus carry so much importance both to the Chinese people,
as it would provide them an opportunity to mark the emergence of a
China with a power to be reckon with in the international arena, and
the Chinese government, which believes Olympic pageantry and
extravaganza would feed its people's nationalistic sentiments and
serve to legitimize the Party/State system. His Holiness the Dalai
Lama understands how strongly are the Chinese people's wish to get
over defeat and humiliation they suffered in the past and how much
this Olympic means to them in that respect. Thus, His Holiness
supported Beijing Olympics from the very beginning, despite virulent
allegations against him from the Chinese government.

The protests which started in Lhasa this March and spread all across
Tibet, including Kham and Amdo which are now incorporated into
Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Yunan, Gansu and Qinghai, unfortunately
resulted in the accidental death of few Chinese during the initial
stage, while few protesters were setting ablaze shops unaware of some
of the Chinese being hiding in them. Instead of redressing the
grievances of the Tibetan people and rectifying its own flawed
policies, which caused such a massive and widespread protests, the
Chinese government employed its mouthpiece to drive wedge between the
Chinese and the Tibetan people. This led to erroneous conclusion that
Tibetans are against China's development without realizing the kind
of patriotism being enforced upon Tibetan people is nothing but a
step to extirpate everything that is Tibetan. Chinese people must
realize that both China and Tibet have different histories and it
would be irrational to foist their dreams on the Tibetan people under
the guise of nationalism or patriotism. Both sides should learn to
respect each other's history and future goals in order to create a
harmonious society.

Following the protests in Tibet the BBC interviewed some Chinese in
Beijing about their reaction to the protests and some of the
revelations were shocking and particularly disturbing as one Chinese
went on to support killing of the Tibetan people. This shows the
gravity of the situation and the destructive nature of misperception
and distorted information which Chinese people are plied with. On the
other hand, the Chinese people are so preoccupied to win respect, but
is denied because a spark is enough to flare up nationalistic
sentiments against anything perceived as anti-China, such as popular
protest against a right-wing Japanese group, which erected a
lighthouse on the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands over which China claims
sovereignty in 1996; large-scale student protests in front of the
U.S. embassy in China against NATO's accidental bombing of the
Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999; anti-Japanese protests in March
2005; and most recently, anti-France protests in April 2008 over the
disruption of the Olympic torch relay, coupled with comments by
French President Nicolas Sarkozy that he might boycott the opening
ceremony of the Beijing Olympics and so on.

The protests during the Olympic torch relay in Europe, for instance,
engendered undesirable sentiments amongst Chinese against the Tibetan
people, as the expression of resentment against the Chinese
government's killing and repression of the Tibetan people and
protesters in Tibet is misconstrued as anti-China or Chinese. Though
Chinese sentiment toward Tibetan is not akin to the ones mentioned
above for Tibetans were neither the cause of China's past
humiliation, nor they have any "China threat" theories. It
nevertheless points to the potential for possible nationality
animosity between the two people if steps are not taken in this
regard. Therefore, in the light of above reasons, the Central Tibetan
Administration urged its people to show restraint during the torch
relay because our goal is to resolve the issue of Tibet and not to
embroil ourselves in nationality strife which is not in the interest
of both sides.

It is important for the Tibetans to make it clear that Tibetan
struggle is neither anti-China nor Tibetan people's wish to humiliate
Chinese in front of the world, but, it is rather a struggle between
the Tibetan people and the Chinese government which is denying them
the right to live with freedom and dignity as provided for in its own
constitution. On the other hand, Chinese people must understand that
as long as the issue of Tibet continues to pose serious challenge to
the conscience of the world, their dreams of not only strong but a
respected China in the international arena would remain a pipe-dream,
for guns may win land but it cannot win hearts and the spirit in them.

(The author writes under pseudonym - messenger. The views expressed
here are solely those of the author and they do not reflect or
endorsed by those of the Central Tibetan Administration)
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