To read most major news sources, you’d think today hadn’t been a holiday. Xinhua ignored it, the China Daily ignored it; who was going to report on the joyous celebrations on Tibetans on this, the first glorious anniversary of Serf Liberation Day?
As usual, the hard-hitting journalists at the People’s Daily go where others fear to tread. Among the exciting stories you can read in the special section they’ve built on their website to celebrate the holiday (under the headline “Latest News”):
- 1959 marked new era for Tibet
- Performances in Lhasa to celebrate coming ‘Serfs’ Emancipation Day’
- Singing for ‘Serfs’ Emancipation Day’
- Students cheer for ‘Serfs’ Emancipation Day’
Or, you could read this article: American experience fails to help them understand Tibet.
It actually starts off a lot less crazy than you might expect. Via Steven Wong, director of the U.S.-Japan-China Relations Research Center, the article points out that “Americans have little knowledge of China’s history and the feudal serfdom of Tibet before Tibet was liberated.” Which, let’s face it, is pretty damn true. Most Americans don’t know anything about Tibet except that the Dalai Lama comes from there and that they should be “free”. (Full disclosure: I have, in the past, expressed the opinion that Tibet should not be free and that most Americans don’t know what they’re talking about).
That’s more or less where the article heads South, though: “As long as religion, culture or language protection is mentioned, many Americans will compare the U.S. Indian reservations with China’s Tibet.”
Ah, yes. I see where this is going:
what the U.S. did to the Indians in history was so unfair and cruel that even Americans cannot forgive themselves anymore. The misery of the Native Americans started when the English colonists stepped onto the American continent, and spread all over after the American War of Independence. During the Westward Movement caused by the industrial revolution, millions of Indians were cruelly slaughtered, and the Indian race and their religion and language almost all became extinct. Though the number is not large, some U.S. filmmakers have focused their attention on this dark period of human rights. For example, the movie “Dances with Wolves,” which won many Academy Awards in 1990, and the TV series “Into the West” created by Steven Spielberg, both reflect this period of history. Especially in “Into the West,” many historical facts which made people extremely sad and angry were represented, such as the genocidal policy, the Grattan Massacre, the “Chief Sitting Bull” Incident and the Americans breaking the treaties between them and the Indians, such as the “Treaty of Fort Laramie.” Currently, the population of the American Indians, who were the native people of the American continent, is only about 2 million, and they have only 225,000 square kilometers of land. Now, they are living in the scattered “reservations” with poor social conditions.
Yes, yes, this is all stuff we’ve heard before. Come on, People’s Daily. Take us to Crazytown!
In 2008, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized to the nation’s native people for “a sad chapter in our history.” So, we assumed that the U.S. would also deeply rethink and repent their own misdeeds and vowed to prevent them from taking place again. In the face of the cruel misdeeds, anyone who abides by basic moral principles cannot feel at ease, let alone Americans who regard themselves as the chosen people of God. We respect the Christian culture in the U.S. and thus understand the prejudices some Americans have against China on the Tibet issue. But, after confessing to God, can Americans restore their self-confidence and believe that they are superior to others and that others deserve their suffering? Can God’s love become a premise of cultural hegemony?
If the U.S. has really learned from the past, it should not regard itself as the guide in human history and hold that others should repeat its own mistakes. Instead, it should show more respect for different cultures and unfamiliar countries.
Uh, what? First of all, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that Americans are “the chosen people of God.” After all, Americans aren’t really a “people”, we’re a collection of immigrants. As far as I understand it, “the chosen people of God” refers to the Jews. But beyond that, why does the US’s “Christian culture” mean that Americans would side with Tibetans, who are, after all, not even a little bit Christian? And isn’t the point of Americans protesting about Tibet that they don’t want others to suffer? Americans aren’t saying others should repeat their own mistakes, they protest in Tibet because they don’t want others to repeat their own mistakes.
So, OK, People’s Daily, you’ve taken us to Crazytown. Can we swing by Outrightliesburg on the way home?
Today’s China is a confident and open nation which allows tourists from all parts of the world to tour Tibet. Any tourist can witness the difference between Tibet and the Indian reservations in the U.S. So, the prejudice from some Americans resulting from their sense of superiority is a misunderstanding of China’s intention.
Yes, tourists from all parts of the world may tour Tibet. Assuming, of course, that they apply to travel there via a travel agency, hire a government-approved guide at around 1000RMB/day (last I checked), and don’t venture outside of Lhasa or a few other designated tourist spots. Yup, nothing says confident and open quite like requiring a government-vetted tour guide at all times and forbidding foreigners to travel on their own.
Who is this stuff for?
Anyway, everyone knows the People’s Daily is crap, so tearing apart an article of theirs is, admittedly, a bit of a soft target. My question is: who is this stuff actually for? Who do they think they are fooling? I have said it before, and I will say it again: China could really stand to hire some decent Western PR folks. Someone who can tell them that articles like this — and stunts like Serf Liberation Day in general — are never going to be convincing to the Western public (even if the Western public did read the People’s Daily).
The thing is, the Chinese government does have some legitimate things to say about the situation in Tibet. Obviously, the reality isn’t nearly as black-and-white as they make it out to be, but there’s a case for Tibet-as-China to be made using actual, real facts. Why fake it?
Why is China afraid to admit wrongs?
By my estimation, the biggest reason the Chinese government won’t enter into an actual discussion of the Tibet issue is that it knows to convince the West, it would have to admit that some mistakes had been made, and wrongs — perhaps even atrocities — committed. But in all honesty, I think a bit more transparency could buy the Chinese government some much needed credibility abroad and also bolster support at home. Chinese people know that the government makes mistakes, and while they’re used to the government claiming the contrary, wouldn’t it be something like a breath of fresh air to hear them say: “You know what, we have done bad things in Tibet in the past, and the situation right now certainly isn’t ideal, but we think Tibet remaining under China’s control is the best thing for Tibet and its people and here’s why…”
Still, don’t hold your breath waiting for the Chinese government to admit its mistakes in Tibet or make actual effort to convince anyone outside its borders. As Captain Mal Reynolds once said, “That’s a long wait for a train [that] don’t come.”