Category Archives: Orientalism

“Nationality: Democrat”

Foreign Policy tracks the footholds democracy is gaining in and around China, despite the CCP’s racist claims that Chinese people are somehow unworthy of democracy:

But Beijing’s fury reflects a much deeper problem for the Party: any list of factors contributing to the development of a distinct identity among Hong Kong people would have to include civil liberties, independent courts, press freedom, and political parties. When Beijing concluded negotiations on Hong Kong’s return with the British, it promised a “high degree of autonomy” and agreed that democracy was the “ultimate aim.” Beijing, however, gave itself the right to interpret these terms, and since reassuming control of the territory it has repeatedly pushed back the date when Hong Kong people might choose their leader and legislature.

Hong Kong’s people have energetically defended their civil and political liberties. To Beijing’s chagrin, that includes holding demonstrations held each year on July 1, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule. In 2003, a massive march, estimated at 500,000, defeated plans to enact legislation outlawing subversion according to Article 23 of the Beijing-drafted Basic Law — “a people’s victory over their Hong Kong puppet government and the dictatorial Chinese Communist Party,” Liu Xiaobo wrote in a 2007 essay, recently republished in a collection of his essays and poems. An uptick in the number of protestors at last summer’s July 1 demonstration has been attributed at least in part to opposition to the government’s proposal to do away with by-elections.

Taiwanese, too, have developed their own distinct identity tied to democracy. Polls show a steady climb in the percentage of people who consider themselves “Taiwanese.”

Perhaps worse, from Beijing’s perspective, as Shelley Rigger, a political scientist at Davidson College writes, Taiwanese people’s “commitment to democracy is stronger than their determination to achieve a particular outcome.” A civic identity that prioritizes democracy is an existential threat to the Chinese Communist Party, which peddles a brand of nationalism based on chauvinism, xenophobia, and great power pretentions.

The democratic identity developing among Tibetans in exile is also a challenge for Beijing. Communist propaganda presents the Dalai Lama as an “evil splittist,” the representative of a backward, aristocratic elite from which the Party has emancipated the long-suffering Tibetans. In fact, the Tibetan spiritual leader long ago abandoned independence as a goal, opting instead for “genuine autonomy” within the People’s Republic. He has led the India-based Tibetan government in exile through a democratic transition. Last March, he completed the project by separating his religious duties from his political ones, turning over the latter to a prime minister elected by eligible voters among Tibetan exiles in South Asia, Europe, and the United States. The Dalai Lama has said that whether the institution of the Dalai Lama continues is up to Tibetans, and he pursues dialogue with ordinary Chinese citizens. All of this is extremely threatening to Beijing.

Like the pictures yesterday in the Atlantic, perhaps something to help reassure people who lose heart in the face of the machine Beijing has assembled to defend itself- it is at the same time beset from all sides and within by forces for change. Containing these forces is becoming a larger task every day, and I for one don’t subscribe to the notion that Beijing is infinitely powerful. Change is inevitable.

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Filed under democracy, Hong Kong, Orientalism, Taiwan

“Who Are the Real Orientalists?”

Woeser has a new post, criticizing Chinese scholars who turn histories of Tibet into political manifestos confirming the righteousness of Chinese colonialism in Tibet:

The protests that swept across the Tibetan region three years ago led to some interesting conclusions among China’s mainstream scholars and writers.

For example, Professors Wang Hui from Tsinghua University, who does not seem to be “an expert in Tibetan studies”, and Shen Weirong, the “Tibetan expert” from Renmin University, both published articles and books vehemently criticising the West’s “Shangri-La complex” and “Shangri-La Myth” as being nothing but mysterious “Orientalism”.

I have previously written that Tibet is by no means the “Pure Land” that people imagine it to be. Tibet is just like any other place in the world, it is a place where people live. The only difference is that it has strong beliefs and is thus a place shining in maroon-red (the colour of the monks’ robes). In history, there have existed two stereotypical attitudes towards Tibet: demonisation and sanctification. The result, however, has always been the same: Tibet and its people have been distorted.

Perhaps we should remind these Chinese scholars and ask them whether they approve of the CCP’s final conclusion with regards to the “Old Tibet”, describing it as “the most reactionary, the darkest, the most brutal, and the most barbaric” place. Also, we should ask them whether they admit that it is actually China that entertains “Orientalism” with regards to Tibet and that it is the kind of “Orientalism” that demonises Tibet. Especially since they believed that in 2008, it was Western societies that dominated and influenced Tibet, why don’t they just stop and think for a moment; why would the “emancipated serfs” who have been living a “liberated” life for so many years rise up to protest and “liberate” themselves? How is it possible that on the vast Tibetan land, most of the numerous protesters who took to the streets or galloped out onto the grasslands, were in fact born after Tibetans had already been “liberated” by the CCP?

They just pat each other on the backs, praising that their criticism of the West reveals a certain kind of “rationality and intuitive knowledge”; but from the start to the very end, they never voiced a single critical sentence about their own country, their own society and system, which has long grown accustomed to demonising Tibet. These people are scholars, not politicians; but of course, they are scholars of the state, so it is little surprising that they choose to stay blind.

Also, since they like the word “Orientalism” so much, they should remember the two quotes on the first page of Edward Said’s monumental book “Orientalism”. One comes from Karl Marx: “They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented”; and the second one comes from a British writer: “The East is a career”.

This is a question Tibetans have asked repeatedly of the government since 2008: if the 2008 Uprising was, as the CCP contends, an effort to ‘restore fuedal theocracy,’ why were the vast majority of participants young men and women? Are they so discontent with Chinese rule that they want to live in something described as ‘hell on earth,’ or could the government possibly be misrepresenting the source of their anger?

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Filed under Orientalism, Tibet

“More on Understanding China”

Although plenty of people come to their own self-serving conclusions when analyzing China, the other extreme is just as odious:  the nonsense about how foreigners simply can’t understand China, because they haven’t been endowed with the magical China-comprehending abilities that Chinese people possess.  Orientalist hogwash.  At The Useless Tree, this premise is examined, and found lacking:

“As the comparison with Japan suggests, I do not buy Chinese exceptionalist arguments, just as I do not buy American exceptionalist arguments. Yes, each national history and culture unfolds in its own particular way. But those processes are not each sui generis; they are subject to similar global economic and political forces and there are similarities in those national trajectories. There might be specific national experiences of modernization, but they are all expressions of broader dynamics of modernization.”

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Filed under China, Orientalism