As part of my work I look at the statements by China’s leaders to see if they reveal anything about the current state of affairs in Tibet. This was particularly so after General Secretary Xi Jinping took over the leadership and people were having expectation that he will be different.
Therefore, it was interesting to read the article by Tibet Autonomous Region Party Secretary Chen Quanguo in the Party journal Quishi, “Ensuring the Security of Tibet’s Ideological Realm with Courage to Show One’s Sword” (Qiushi, No. 21, 2013), which has been translated into English by High Peaks Pure Earth.
It is about how the Chinese leadership should intensify the effort to control the minds of the Tibetan people through the media. People have read this essay as an indication of hardening of Chinese stand on the Tibetan people. In a way, it is, but to me the article has three other points worth noting. Let me expand.
First, the article is a concrete acknowledgement of failure of China’s Tibet policies to date. It talks about “hostile forces” that “have colluded with the clique of the fourteenth Dalai Lama, and have considered Tibet as a key area for infiltration and separatist activities and as the main battlefield for sabotaging and causing disturbances. They have tried all means to contend for the battlefield, popular feeling and the common people, thus, all their efforts have made Tibet the teeth of the storm in the struggle of the ideological realm.”
The article further says, “We will thoroughly carry out the educational activities of comparing Old Tibet with the New Tibet, instructing people of various ethnic groups to be grateful to the Party, listen to the Party and follow the Party.”
In other words, despite more than 60 years after the “liberation” the Chinese authorities have not been able to win over the hearts and minds of the Tibetan people, who are displaying indications of loyalty and reverence to the Dalai Lama.
Also, if after 60 years the Chinese authorities have to make effort to paint independent Tibet (“Old Tibet”) as negative to the Tibetan people compared to the current socialist Tibet (“New Tibet”) something is certainly lacking. Good or bad, those Tibetans in Tibet who are of a certain age have experienced life in Tibet, before and after 1959, and no amount of “educational activities” can alter their directly felt perception.
Secondly, we can infer that the Chinese authorities are losing control over the cadres and party officials who are not toeing the official line. Although the article does not specify, it could be that these are mainly ethnic Tibetan officials.
For example, it says, “We should strengthen the political responsibility of the “Chief” of Party Committees of various levels, requiring them to lead the work and face the challenges directly. They are required to take the lead to listen to and watch state media as well as the local Party newspaper, the local radio station and the local TV station. They should also take the lead to control the orientation of the local media and the public opinion.”
The article adds, “We should put forth an effort to train a group of excellent propaganda cadres, who are politically reliable and who are in complete mastery of their professional work.
Connected with this is a sort of declaration of lack of trust in the intellectuals, again of Tibetan origin, I assume. It says, “We will build a contingent of intellectuals with high quality, who are obedient to the Party, who are grateful to the grace of the Party and who follow the Party.”
Either Chen Quanguo shows disrespect to the capability of intellectuals or the state of affairs of the Tibetan people are such that even intellectuals are not showing gratitude to “the Party.” Otherwise, if the Chinese Communist Party has done positive things for the Tibetan people, the intellectuals, by definition, should be at the forefront in appreciating them for they would know better.
This brings me to my third point, which is that the article is a clear indication that the Chinese authorities have nothing in substance to show to the Tibetan people that their interest is being looked after. Logically, if one needs to convince a community that good is being done to them, publicity is of secondary importance. What is needed first is that something good needs to be done that could be publicized.
Therefore, something is not right when Chen Quanguo has to say, “ We should persist in disseminating the earth-shaking and tremendous changes that have occurred in the new socialist Tibet and publicizing the new stable, peaceful and happy life of people of various ethnic groups in Tibet.” Isn’t it common sense that if there have been “earth-shaking and tremendous changes” the Tibetan people would have felt them without having to be convinced by others?
Above all, this article by Chen Quanguo is a clear indication that the Chinese leaders who administer the Tibetan people have a distinct lack of understanding of the nature of Tibetan people and society. Leaving aside the political issues of “Middle Way,” “high degree of autonomy”, etc. no Chinese who understands and respects Tibetan history, culture, religion and way of life could have said something like “We should educate and guide cadres and ordinary people of various ethnic groups to separate Tibetan Buddhism from the fourteenth Dalai Lama, and separate the fourteenth Dalai lama from the title of the Dalai Lama so that they will consciously make a clear break from the fourteenth Dalai Lama’s clique.”
The bond between the Tibetan people and the Dalai Lama is older than the Communist Party of China or even the Nationalists Chinese. Moreover, Tibetan Buddhism as we know of it cannot be separated from the Dalai Lama, the way Chen Quanguo puts it, without destroying the fundamentals.
Here I want to contradict myself by saying that the Chinese authorities do understand this special bond and are afraid of it. Chen Quanguo’s article is just one of the many efforts that the Chinese leadership is making to break it. The ban on the possession of photos of the present Dalai Lama is related to this and is very much in line with Chen Quanguo’s strident remarks saying they should “prevent voices and images of hostile forces and the fourteenth Dalai Lama’s clique from being heard and seen.”
What should be the Tibetan people’s response to this onslaught by Chen Quanguo? I want to repeat two points that I mentioned in another article in 2008.
First, I believe the Tibetans should continue to assert their Tibetan identity, within Tibet and outside. This has to be understood as the broader concept of the Tibetan struggle and not narrowed down merely to political identity.
Secondly, Tibetans in Tibet and outside need to assert the commonality of their aspirations. I believe this commonality in the aspirations among Tibetans is the solid foundation of the Tibetan struggle. Tibetans in Dho, U and Kham, which incorporate the entire area of traditional Tibet, have time and again highlighted this commonality.
So, if there is anything positive that General Secretary Xi Jinping is planning vis-à-vis Tibet, I think it should include changing the mindset of leaders who are selected to rule over the Tibetan people. I can say with certainty that almost all Tibetans will take this article by Chen Quanguo with more than a pinch of salt. Even if the Chinese leaders do not care about the Tibetan people, such articles are counter-productive to China’s own interests.