“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

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