More on China and Tibet

A friend of mine, commenting on my "Love Letter to My Ancestors' Country," says he can't help but feel that China's claim on Tibet is still part of "political hegemony, after military take-over."  Ultimately, I agree.   My beef is when Americans decry the "invasion" by China of Tibet in 1950 and they don't know the history of the region.  There is also a part of me that feels Tibet is part of China because that is how I was raised, and part of me that thinks Tibetan independence would weaken both China and Tibet (just look at what happened to the former Soviet republics) but ultimately I believe a people cannot be ruled by force, no matter how far back it goes. Of course, this raises interesting questions about Hawaii and other indigenous peoples in the U.S., and the morality of the Civil War.

I am thinking about Tibet once again as I type on my laptop in the Denver airport, because of an argument with my parents this morning, my last morning in Cali. In response to the Olympic flame coming through San Francisco and the extraordinary measures taken to avoid the protesters, we started talking about Tibet while we sat in the McDonald's for breakfast. My parents' take on this is that China is 100% correct, even though they hate the communist government as much as anyone does. When their native country is under attack it's amazing how loyal they become to the government there. I guess that's human nature. I was careful to let my parents know that I did not agree with most American protesters. But just because the Americans are wrong that doesn't mean that the Chinese are right. When I pointed out China's human rights record and the cultural destruction in Tibet, they still accused me of being too American in my views, which is ironic given how "foreign" I've been feeling since these latest rounds of protest and violence have flared up again. But I guess I am American in my views - holding fast to the ideals I was taught to embrace.  I ultimately do believe in freedom from oppression, whether from European/American imperialist oppression or Chinese imperialist oppression.

My father makes the comparison between the Han Chinese relationship with Tibet and the American relationship with Hawaii. I think this is a fair comparison, tho it puts him at a disadvantage since Hawaii was taken over less than 50 years ago, whereas Tibet was taken by the Yuan dynasty in the 13th century. But the reason why I think it's a fair comparison is because of the attitude that my parents hold towards Tibetans. They kept saying things that are very similar to what I've heard from many whites in the U.S. with regards to Native Americans and even blacks. "The government is just trying to modernize a backwards people." "They don't know what's best for them." "They don't want to work." It's paternalistic. imperialist. The lack of respect for a people's autonomy, their right to make choices for themselves, even if the choices are different than what we would make, is the cause of the cultural genocide going on in Tibet right now. From the Han government's point of view, why would one want to preserve a "backwards" culture? They are doing the Tibetans a "favor" by forcing them to modernize. And my parents fall in line with this kind of thinking. I tried to point out the irony of this - that this is precisely the kind of thinking that justified the European carving up of China in the 19th century, something my parents still resent.

I have realized recently, that I have to come to terms with the fact that while in this country I feel marginalized, in the country of my ancestors, it's my people who are the oppressors. And it's difficult to deal with European/Euro-American moral indignance over Tibet when the vast majority of them have not owned up to the harm their own countries have caused, and continue to cause. But I have to remember what's important here, and that is freedom from oppression for everyone.

It seems the only public person I agree with here is his holiness the Dalai Lama, a voice of reason, the middle way between the extremes of the protesters and the "Chinese" stance. The Dalai Lama does not call for independence, but rather autonomy. He is saddened by the violence in Tibet, but firm in saying that Tibetan culture is being destroyed by the communist government. He supports China's right to host the games and also the protesters' right to protest.  (Tho I must add that I don't think protesters have the right to try to extinguish the flame.) Once again, I wish that followers would actually listen to the person that they claim to follow.

I do not know why the Dalai Lama does not call for independence. Whether it's because he feels such a demand would only lead to violence from the communist government and therefore he is compromising. Or whether he, like me, feels that there is greater strength in unity instead of multiple smaller countries. Of course, for there to be true unity and not oppression, the voice of the Tibetan people must be heard and represented.

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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative