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Saturday, 22 March 2008
Tibet or not tibet: Shangri-La la land
Just got back to find this powerful post at the Socialist Unity website on the subject of Tibet. It's an admirable contribution to the debate in a worrying climate of knee-jerk attacks on China from the West.
China has many faults, of which we're all aware, and is not the socialist paradise many once hoped for. But neither is Tibet the last repository of spiritual transcendence on Earth as presented in the media. So what's motivating the current focus on China as the Big Bad? As opposed to any of America's client states? (Saudi Arabia and Israel heave into view, to name but two.) The green-eyed monster takes on the Sleeping Dragon now that it's waking up. The Chinese are the US's biggest creditors, so I guess US fury is understandable. And it's a useful diversion from their own criminal actions in the world. Similarly with the British establishment's demonisation of the Chinese that goes way beyond legitimate and thoughtful criticism, and could just possibly be motivated by old territorial ambitions.
I may not have a deep knowledge of Tibet but I catch on eventually.
Some have asked, "Madam Miaow, does lil ol' Britain really have evil designs on the Kingdom at the Roof of the World?"
To them I say, remember British Empire, grasshopper? Encroachments from India into the Himalayas and Afghanistan? The East India Trade Company? Opium Wars? Do fish fuck in water? You betcha! The Brits have been sniffing around Tibet since it began secretly mapping it in 1865 (see Wikipedia). In the 1904 invasion, British troops under Colonel Francis Younghusband occupied Lhasa and machine-gunned a load of locals, finally imposing a trade agreement and sticking it to their Tsarist Russian rivals. How's that for spiritual? There's been a lot of destabilising going on behind the scenes, especially in the cold-war lead-up to the events of 1950. The CIA funded a Tibetan guerilla war against China, backing the Dalai Lama, until at least 1969 (or 1972, depending on source). Officially, that's when it ended, but who knows what they're up to now?
A few years ago I was asked to attend a parliamentary meeting set up by some of the political elite in support of the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso. My first utterance was, "Baby, have you got the wrong vampire!" [Ref: Jewish vampire played by Alfie Bass when confronted with a crucifix in Polanski's Dance of the Vampires.] I had to explain why I was not enamoured of Dolly Llama and his Shangri-La nostalgia for feudalism.
Unfortunately, after a promising start when whole sections of Tibetan society welcomed them as liberators, China behaved with the same degree of sensitivity as the British in Ireland. China raised literacy levels massively, lifted life expectancy from 35 to 67 [according to the Chinese authorities in 2003. Unescap says 59 in 1990 - see note below], redistributed the land once held by the tiny ruling elite, and ended feudal ownership of serfs. But torturing nuns, no matter how much you disagree with them, is unlikely to win you friends. I do wonder, though, if this behind-the-scenes, ahem, "interest" from old imperialist forces is helping keep China in a constant state of alarm?
While I'm on the subject, is everyone aware of Dolly's background? That his mother, Dekyi Tsering, was one of the biggest owners of serfs prior to the 1950s? His own website describes him as being born into "a farming family". Yes, farming like the Duke of Cornwall is a "farmer". Yet all 18 families working at Shexing village were serfs owned by Dolly's Mum, and worked on her manor. How convenient that in 1935 the new Dalai Lama was located in the ruling class! I wouldn't buy a used prayer-wheel from His Slipperiness.
Dolly comes from a long line of loan sharks, issuing usurous loans right up until 1950 for 20 to 30 percent interest pa. And who is aware that the DL along with the rest of the monastic and aristoctratic ruling class had the power of life and death over the population and that his predecessors used it? Punishments meted out by the courts and prisons (privately owned by estate owners and monasteries) included amputation, eyes gouged out and flaying. Had Dolly come out and condemned these feudal practices, relinquished his privileges, and worked towards a fair society instead of one where the five percent made up of officials, nobles and upper clergy owned absolutely everything, and the 95 percent of the population who were serfs and hereditary slaves didn't even own their own bodies, I might have been sympathetic. As it is, I'm not impressed with this Trojan Horse for imperialism.
Some place First Contact as the "invasion" of 1950. Yet, in the 7th century it was Tibet which invaded China. Even now Tibetan nationalists are making ugly noises about "historic Tibet", referring to territories lying outside its borders. According to Wikipedia, it was the Qing emperors who established the Dalai Lama as spritual and political head of Tibet. There have been alliances and even a royal marriage in the 7th C, so I reckon China has a better claim than the UK has over some of its regions.
BTW, I've had Cornish nationalists crawling all over my YouTube vids of Cornwall, so perhaps I should take to lobbying for their independence. And the Welsh. And the Scots. And the Irish. (Whoops! Done that already.)
That "invasion": in 1950 there was a power struggle going on between the Tibetans themselves; one of the aims was to expel the imperialist forces supporting the pro-separatist Regent Dagzha. The Brits had effectively tried to annexe Tibet using their proxies in 1949. One infamous letter of 1949 signed by Dagzha and the 14th Dalai Lama asks the US, Britain, Nepal and India for combat training, a US loan and World War II weaponry. And the Living Buddha Geda, who was lobbying for the Chinese government, was poisoned by Robert Webster Ford, an American telegraph station director at Qamdo, in August 1950. Is it any wonder that the government sent in the troops?
Han Chinese make up 6.1 percent of the population. That's about the same proportion as non-whites in Britain, one difference being the Han are perceived as dominating the jobs market and business. How far down the BNP anti-immigration road arguing cultural genocide do we want to go? Is the Disneyfication of Tibet the answer? I can see Mickey Mouse and Dolly bringing a little bit of Hollywood to the Himalayas. Should we protect the cute traditions of burying babies in the corner foundations of the monasteries to bring luck? Or owning human beings? None of which you will find in the Dolly hagiographies.
China needs to deal with what rampant capitalism is doing to all its people. To present this as Chinese "communism" oppressing a rebellious religious minority is to miss the point and distort the picture. Just who are the Tibetans who are rebelling by attacking the Han Chinese and Hui Muslims, anyhow? Descendents of the serfs? The clergy class? They may have legitimate grievances in that they feel they are being treated as third class citizens and fear they'll end up the same way as native Americans and Australian aborigines. Cutting the pursestrings by granting some faked-up "independence" where they'd be dependent on UN handouts and subservient to their new western political masters is probably not the answer.
Finally, in case you hadn't noticed, it's not China which is the biggest threat to world peace. I think the US and UK are at the head of that queue. Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, Palestine, Syria, China: these are all within their sights (sorry if I missed any). Fans of Dolly should think about boycotting themselves over the chaos wreaked by the US and the UK and their friends in giving us World War, the sequel. "This time it's personal."
Friendly Feudalism: The Tibet Myth by Michael Parenti. "Whatever wrongs and new oppressions introduced by the Chinese after 1959, they did abolish slavery and the Tibetan serfdom system of unpaid labor. They eliminated the many crushing taxes, started work projects, and greatly reduced unemployment and beggary. They established secular schools, thereby breaking the educational monopoly of the monasteries. And they constructed running water and electrical systems in Lhasa."
Andy Newman at Socialist Unity on Tibet
Liam Macuaid on Tibet
Michael Backman at Global Research on the Dalai Lama
CIA in Tibet, "a covert attempt to arm the Tibetans" and annexe the country.
More CIA activities in Tibet
Times report of Tibet riots
YouTube: peaceful Tibetan protesters
Eyewitness account of rioting by Shenzhen woman shopworker in Lhasa
What does China Think? Stephen Marks at Pambazuka News
Why They Hate China Russell Berman at Telos Press
UN - "Mortality and Life Expectancy: After the Democratic Reform in Tibet, mortality declined by a large margin. The decrease in the mortality rate has slowed down since 1970. The mortality rate had fallen from 28 per 1,000 in the 1950s to 6.60 per 1,000 in 2000. The model of age-specific death rates is in the stage of transferring from the traditional "U-shaped" model to the modern "J-shaped" model. The death rates for males were higher than those for females. There was a wide gap between urban and rural people in the death rates. Mortality at all ages in Tibet was much higher than the national average. The death rates in each age groups in rural areas were higher than those in urban areas. The infant mortality rate was very high in Tibet with a great difference between the sexes. But the infant mortality rate had fallen from 430 per 1,000 in 1951, 91.8 per 1,000 in 1990 to 35.3 per 1,000 by the year 2000. In 1990, life expectancy in Tibet has reached 59.64 years, 57.64 for male and 61.57 for female." More
Video — Lost Horizon: Madam Miaow removes her make-up on leaving Shangri-La