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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Tibet, Taiwan & Tiananmen: Chinese perspective

July 5, 2010

Republica (Nepal) 
July 4, 2010

I am writing this piece with a sense of
trepidation. Our views on China are influenced by
the Western media’s biases and there is a real
danger of being labeled undemocratic when one
presents a differing view. The biases are more
apparent when the West reports on Tibet, Taiwan
and the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, or the 3
Ts. I believe by swallowing everything that the
West feeds us, we are being unfair to a billion
plus people. To be fair to the Chinese we have to
understand how they view these issues by looking
at China’s not-so-distant history and how it has
shaped the Chinese perception vis-à-vis the 3 Ts.

Although an open civilization during the earlier
dynasties, China isolated itself from the world
from the 15th century onward. Its impressive
naval mission that discovered America in 1421 (71
years before Columbus) was abruptly ended and its
doors shut to the outside world. However,
starting the 18th century China began trading
with the East India Company. The Company bought
tea from China, but the Chinese were not buying
anything of value that would lessen the trade
deficit. To make up for the loss, the British
started selling opium grown in India to the
Chinese. Soon after, growing opium addiction
among the population became a major concern for
the Chinese government. To put an end to this,
the ruling Qing dynasty made opium illegal and
sent an able administrator, Lin Zexu to Canton
(present day, Guangzhou). Lin tried all measures
to stop the opium trade including writing a
passionate letter to Queen Victoria requesting
her to personally intervene to stop the opium trade.

When nothing worked, Lin destroyed a large cache
of opium and denied compensation to the British.
Britain was aware that China was weak and could
be easily defeated. This led to the Opium War
between the two countries. China lost and ceded
Hong Kong to Britain in 1842, and had to sign
unequal treaties with other powers. Owing to
these unequal treaties, the foreign powers carved
out their spheres of influence in China, which
was referred to as “slicing the Chinese melon”
(gua fen). Because of the humiliations suffered,
all Chinese revolutions from that time onward,
whether the Republican Revolution of 1911, the
New Culture Movement of 1919, the Communist
Revolution of 1949 and the Reform and Opening Up
of 1978 were motivated by the aspirations of the
Chinese people to realize their dream of a strong
China (qiang guo meng) that would deal with
foreigners on its own terms and for a government
that would preserve its territorial integrity and protect its dignity.

Since the origin of Chinese nationalism is about
protecting its territorial integrity and standing
firm against foreign interventions, any regime
that lets go even an inch of territory whether in
Tibet or Taiwan would cease to exist.

Since the origin of Chinese nationalism has to do
with protecting its territorial integrity and
standing firm against foreign interventions, any
regime that lets go even an inch of territory
whether in Tibet or Taiwan would cease to exist.
And any government that bows down to the Western
pressure on Tiananmen would be vehemently opposed by the people.

For the Chinese, Tibet is an integral part of
China. To make sure that Tibet didn’t slip out of
their control, the Qing rulers (1644-1911)
converted to Tibetan Buddhism. When the Qing
dynasty was ousted in 1912, China became chaotic.
But even then, Beijing hadn’t forgotten Tibet.
Article 3 of the Provisional Constitution of
Republic of China promulgated in 1912 (47 years
before the alleged Chinese invasion of Tibet)
clearly state that Tibet is a part of China. The
Chinese flag from 1912-1928 had 5 stripes to
represent the 5 nationalities— Manchu, Mongol,
Hui, Han and Tibetan. The 1912 Qing abdication
edict suggests the new rulers to maintain the
social harmony between the 5 nationalities and
protect the territorial integrity of the empire
which included Tibet. However in the transition
period, the central government in Beijing was
weak and warlords in various provinces refused to
accept Beijing’s authority. Amidst this chaos,
Tibet declared independence but it didn’t get
wide international recognition as a sovereign
country. Although later the Nationalist (guo min
dang) government headed by Jiang Jieshi (Chiang
Kai-shek) wanted to bring Tibet back into
Beijing’s control, with the Japanese invasion and
the civil war, the plan was abandoned.

After the communist victory in the Chinese civil
war in 1949, they reasserted Beijing’s control
over Tibet. There’s no denying that in the
process many Tibetans died and many monasteries
destroyed and there’s no justification for it.
However, one also has to remember that 1960s was
a crazy time in China, and temples/monasteries in
other parts of China too were destroyed in a
frenzy to smash all things old and many people
killed to establish a communist utopia.

Taiwan became a part of China in 1685, and made a
separate province in 1885. In 1895, after its
defeat in the Jiao Wu war, China ceded Taiwan to
Japan. After Japan’s defeat in World War II in
1945, Beijing reasserted its control over Taiwan.
When the Nationalists lost the Chinese civil war
in 1949, they fled to Taiwan and considered it a
base to fight the communists in the mainland.
Jiang Jieshi never said Taiwan was independent
and even thwarted American attempts to declare it
independent by co-opting with the mainland
communists. The call for independence came
starting the early 1990s because it had recently
democratized and the newly formed parties had to
appear different from the Nationalist Party and
independence became their agenda. Democratic
Progressive Party, a pro-independence party, won
the presidential elections in 2000 and 2004
employing cheap tactics. Its presidential
candidate Chen Shuibian had himself shot from a
distance right before the 2004 elections to gain
sympathy votes and as it happens in such cases,
he won the second term to office. However, in
2008 elections, the Taiwanese voted the
Nationalist Party back to power proving that they
don’t want to change the status quo. This has
made both Beijing and Taipei hopeful that they
can work out a plan for a peaceful reunification.

Tiananmen is yet another issue that is distorted
in the Western media. In its reporting of
Tiananmen incident of 1989, Westerners do not
mention that the protestors were not demanding
for a Western style democracy. They also do not
mention that the Chinese government since then
has been fulfilling the protestors’ demands. For
example, the government is serious about
controlling corruption, nepotism and creating
economic opportunities for the people and
precisely for this reason there has been no
Tiananmen II. Call it hypocrisy of the West: Zhao
Ziyang, purged from the Communist Party and put
on house-arrest until his death in 2005 for
siding with the protestors was exactly the kind
of leader the people were protesting against. His
sons were taking advantage of his position in the
Party and were amassing wealth by indulging in
corruption, and there’s no question that he
didn’t know about it. But in the Western accounts
of the event Zhao is portrayed as a hero.

It is also important to note that China has a
long tradition of rebellions and revolts. Rebels
are celebrated in one of the four Chinese
classics, Outlaws of the Marsh (shui hu zhuan).
One of the biggest rebellions in history, the
Taiping rebellion, in which 20 million people
died, took place in China in the mid 19th
century. Chinese people have always stood against
tyranny and oppression, and they will stand again
if they feel the need to do so. But as of today
they haven’t and we have to admit that one billion people can’t be wrong.

Also, many facts and images go missing in the
Western reports on Tibet and Taiwan. Pictures of
Chinese police beating up Tibetans are widely
published but the ghastly pictures of atrocities
committed against the Han Chinese in Lhasa by
Tibetan protestors during the 2008 protests are
seldom published. The fact that Taiwanese were
the first to protest in the 1970s when Japan
claimed Diaoyutai islands belonged to it, and not
to China, and Article 120 of its constitution
promulgated in 1947 maintains that Tibet is a
part of China, are rarely mentioned. Therefore,
the Chinese are not off the mark when they say
that by constantly bringing the 3 Ts, the West is
playing a dangerous game of making China more
nationalist. Its about time they realized that
China is no more the “sick man of Asia “, but a
world power with a nuclear arsenal, the better it
is for world peace. Otherwise, the West will have
to take the responsibility for the consequences
resulting from the next wave of Chinese nationalism.
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