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<-Back to WTN Archives Beijing refuses to budge (Guardian)
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World Tibet Network News

Published by the Canada Tibet Committee

Wednesday, July 25, 2001

2. Beijing refuses to budge (Guardian)

China's resentful nationalism echoes its rewriting of history

Source: GUARDIAN 25/07/2001 P18

Beijing's No 1 intermediate people's court yesterday sentenced Gao Zhan to 10
years in jail, just four days before what is billed as a fence-mending visit to
China by Colin Powell. Mrs Gao is a Chinese-born academic, resident in the
United States. Her crime was to give photocopied book and magazine articles on
Taiwan's relationship with China to another academic.

Mrs Gao is one of several scholars detained in one of China's nastier bouts of
muscle flexing earlier this year. I doubt that she was spying for Taiwan. But
the sentence sends two signals - that overseas Chinese who wish to conduct
academic research in China do so at their peril and that China, whatever the
rest of the world thinks, intends to continue to ignore international standards
of justice.

The sentencing offers a clue to the question that China watchers have been
chewing over since the Olympic games decision went in China's favour. Will the
staging of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing make China's regime nastier or nicer?
There are two issues tied up in that question: human rights and Chinese
nationalism. China made no human rights concessions to win the games
(recognising, perhaps, that the Olympic committee itself has few pretensions to
the high moral ground). The sentence signals that there's little hope now that
China intends to moderate her inclination to political repression.

But what about nationalism, the tattered remainder of Mao Zedong thought, the
ideology that dominated China for nearly 50 years? It is unlikely to diminish,
since it is the one thing that unites the Chinese leadership and which finds a
ready echo in a population that has been taught to regard itself as a victim of
history. Will the successful staging of the Olympics transform China's resentful
nationalism into a more welcoming national pride and even gives some quarter to
the other nationalities whom the Chinese have swallowed up?

It's not impossible, but before it could happen, China would have to take a hard
look at her brand of nationalism and acknowledge a few historical truths. Since
1949, China's nationalism has been expressed largely in irredentist terms. When
Mao Zedong planted the communist flag on Tiananmen in October 1949, the party
declared it an urgent priority to complete the `liberation" of the fatherland:
Tibet, Outer Mongolia, Hong Kong and Macao, Hainan Island and, of course, Taiwan
- all of them, in the party's view, historic territories unfairly separated from
the body of the nation. Hainan Island and Tibet were swiftly `liberated". Hong
Kong and Macao duly handed back. Outer Mongolia was by then a Soviet
protectorate and China thought better of it. Taiwan sits, nervously, wondering
when the assault will come and what form it will take.

China's claim to these territories rests on a curious interpretation of history.
A glance at an historical atlas reveals, for instance, that the boundaries of
China in the Ming dynasty (the last ethnically Chinese imperial dynasty)
enclosed a country that was barely half the size of the present People's
Republic. Since the fall of the Ming in 1644, China has doubled her territory at
the expense of the nations on her borders - an act now consolidated, in
Beijing's view, into historic right. And the joke is that this spectacular
expansion was not even achieved by the Chinese. It was the Manchu, a nation that
lived on the steppes on China's north-eastern borders - and regarded by the
Chinese as irredeemably barbarian - that unintentionally doubled the size of
China. (Tibet remained a separate country under the pro tection of the Qing
emperors, who were Buddhist and owed spiritual allegiance to the Dalai Lamas.)

When the Qing dynasty collapsed in 1911, Tibet and Mongolia naturally reasserted
their independence. Xinjiang, with its largely Uighur Muslim population, failed
in its bid for independence in the 20s and 30s. Taiwan was under Japanese rule.
When the communists came to power, Beijing occupied Tibet and Xinjiang, along
with Inner Mongolia. Manchuria itself was occupied by Japan during the second
world war, but handed over to Chinese rule on Japan's defeat.

Of all those nations, the Manchus have fared the worst. As a Manchu friend
observed recently, conquering China was Manchuria's biggest mistake. `Imagine,"
he said, `if we hadn't conquered China. We would have been an independent
oil-rich state. Our language and culture would have survived and we would have
the government we wanted."

The Manchus have paid dearly for their success: their language and culture are
lost, their nationality has been erased and China has had the use of the
Manchurian oil deposits for more than 50 years. China as victim of history? I
don't think so.

Articles in this Issue:
  1. Muted defiance from Tibet monks (CT)
  2. Beijing refuses to budge (Guardian)
  3. Too eager to do business with Beijing (The Australian)
  4. Taking time to watch monks creating mandala
  5. Population in Tibet Doubles Over Past Five Decades (Xinhua)

Other articles this month - WTN Index - Mail the WTN-Editors

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