Whatever possessed the editors of the Post-Intelligencer to devote nearly half their November 3 op-ed page to a turgid, tendentious, and blitheringly naive (or else dishonest) recitation of the official Chinese line on Tibet and the Dalai Lama? Two motives, I suspect. First, to be bravely un-PC and stand up to the bleeding hearts in their bumper-stickered Volvos. And second, to be gracious to a guest: Huang Xiangyang, who penned the editorial “Tibet of History Was No Shangri-La” and is copy desk chief at the state-owned China Daily (China’s English-language official mouthpiece), is on a fellowship at the P-I.
Here’s some of the “history” Huang recounts:
*”Chinese historical archives [Huang’s unimpeachable sources] suggest that the Dalai Lama represented the ruling class of the old Tibet society, where a feudal serfdom system, one of the cruelest in human history, was practiced.” The 14th Dalai Lama, like many of his predecessors (or, if you prefer, pre-incarnates), was born a commoner. He deplored the old feudalism and said he wanted to modernize Tibet. China has denied him the chance to come through on that promise. That sweeping “cruelest in human history” claim is plainly presumptuous and unsupportable. But it would be interesting to weigh the oppression in feudal Tibet against that in imperial (or for that matter Maoist) China. After 49 years, Tibetans still clamor at every chance (and often at great peril) for a return of those supposed bad old days. The thousands at Tiananmen Square in 1989 weren’t clamoring to go back.
*To rebut the “many” claims he’s heard that the Chinese massacred “more than 2 million Tibetans,” Huang recounts that “the population in Tibet was only a little more than 600,000 in 1950, as suggested by the census at that time,” and “increased by nearly 200 percent from 1959 to 1998.”
I’ve never heard the “2 million” claim, which does sound inflated; some authorities estimate that China’s “liberation colonialism” has killed 1.2 million. The authors of the propaganda Huang recites seem to be trying, as oppressors often do, to diminish the historical presence of the oppressed. (Palestinians and Native Americans get the same treatment.) Even an honest census in the first year of Chinese occupation in that vast and roadless land would be far off. My 1950 Columbia Encyclopedia lists the population of the “country” (not “province”) of Tibet as “circa 4 million.” Columbia Tibetologist Robert Thurman told Congress Tibet’s population had long been stable at 6 million when Mao vowed to move 40 million Chinese in. If, as Huang reckons, it’s now around 2 million, what happened to the rest?
*Huang allows that Tibet may have suffered some “cultural genocide” during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, but notes that the “whole country” (i.e., China) did too. In fact, the closure of monasteries and suppression of Tibet’s distinctly Buddhist culture accelerated after a bloody 1959 crackdown and again after 1987.
*”Tibet was incorporated into the map of China 700 years ago, not just after 1950. No government of the world has ever challenged China’s claim of sovereignty over Tibet.”
However the Chinese drew their maps, Tibet was independent from the 6th century, when it united and became China’s chief rival (even capturing the imperial capital and collecting tribute). The Chinese invaded in 1720 and established nominal suzerainty, but they didn’t stay and Tibet governed itself for two more centuries. China invaded again in 1910, but in the ensuing decades of chaos Tibet regained de facto independence. All the while it dealt with other nations as a nation. Britain signed a bilateral note recognizing Tibet’s autonomy in 1914. In 1961 and 1965, the UN General Assembly passed resolutions deploring “the suppression of the distinctive cultural and religious life which [the Tibetans] have traditionally enjoyed” and urging the restoration of “their fundamental human rights and freedoms, including their right to self-determination.” Mao himself told his generals to be patient in transforming Tibet because in contrast to Xinjiang, a captive territory where Chinese had long lived, “in Tibet there was not even a single Chinese.”
It’s true that the United States and other powers have long tiptoed shamefully around “the Tibet question” so as not to offend China. It’s shameful the way Britain and France have recently suppressed routine demonstrations so as not to offend their smug autocratic visitor from Beijing, President Jiang Zemin. And it’s a shame that Beijing’s propaganda went unchallenged in the P-I. But yes, hospitality is a virtue.
Dumb and bummer
Before this year’s election becomes yet another traumatic repressed memory, savor some of its finest moments:
I don’t campaign, I don’t have to. Running nearly unopposed, rookie appointed Port Commissioner Clare Nordquist didn’t get a picture or statement in for the voter’s guide (and didn’t even show up for his Weekly endorsement interview!)—and handed a raving Socialist Worker opponent nearly a third of the vote. “If I’d known he’d run like that, I’d have run again,” quips 1997 Port candidate David Ortman.
Oh my god, a Libertarian; pull out the big guns! Likewise nearly unopposed (and widely esteemed) County Council member Larry Phillips responded to Libertarian Chris Caputo’s self-funded direct-mail blitz with a glossy color mailer that was hysterical in two senses: It showed a frizzy-headed ’70s-style Caputo on a cereal box reading “Caputo’s WACKOS . . . The Breakfast of Libertarians . . . The Cereal for Voters Who Aren’t Paying Attention.” Cute, but such overkill does more to diminish widely respected Phillips (who won by a landslide, as he would regardless) than marginal Caputo.
Dewey beats Truman. The Stranger reported that I-695 lost. Only in our dreams and in Seattle. Stay up later next election night, guys.