“The Hero Propagated by Nationalists”

Woeser is on a roll again- High Peaks has translated one of her posts about Zhao Erfeng, a Qing dynasty official who had a career as a warlord in western Sichuan/ eastern Tibet. He is remembered by Tibetans for a series of horrific massacres, but Chinese officialdom is trying to rehabilitate his perception and make him into a hero for bringing part of Tibet into the Chinese fold:

Zhao Erfeng was a late Qing Dynasty Imperial Minister in charge of the Sichuan-Yunnan border area and also of troops stationed in Tibet; between 1905 and 1908 he sent his army into the eastern Tibetan Kham region to brutally stop Tibetan protests; he also put into effect the abolishment of the hereditary Tusi system and with it the the establishment of the “Liuguan” system to forcefully assimilate Tibet. Tibetan people felt deep hatred towards him, referring to him as “Zhao Tufu”, which means murderous dictator.

According to records, Zhao Erfeng first “destroyed Qigou Village of Batang County, killed several hundred Tibetans, and threw their dead bodies into the Yangtze River; then he cut out the hearts of the several leaders of the rebellion and strained their blood”. After that he “burned down Sampel Ling Monastery of Chatreng County and Chode Monastery of Batang County for no reason and threw all Buddhist statues, bronze ware, cast copper coins and sacred texts into the toilet; The coloured silk cloths protecting the deities were taken by soldiers and used for foot-binding. It is hard to tell how many innocent people were murdered and slaughtered. But it reached the point where those who escaped into all directions were left destitute and homeless”.

An executioner who not only murdered people like scything flax but also in the same undignified way destroyed Tibetan culture, has been regarded as supreme by Chinese officialdom. The Party Committee member of the Foreign Affairs Bureau of the Tibet Autonomous Region, Ma Jinglin, said: “with regards to the specific course of events and the specific measures implemented by Zhao Erfeng, no matter what social class one comes from or whether the methods were or were not correct, we need to analyse, understand, and grasp what happened in the context of the particular times and environment at the time. As long as what he did was in tune with the inevitable laws of historical development, we should give him full approval.” This kind of explanation was also used for the massacre on Tibetans in the 1950s, and also during the bloodbath in 2008.

Scholars and writers from within the Chinese system also think highly of Zhao Erfeng; one example is the Han Chinese writer Ma Lihua who lived in Tibet for over twenty years and who became famous by writing books on Tibet; in one of her books she says: “when a dynasty comes to an end, it is possible that a regional general who acts in such a way appears” and then infallibly adds “later on, even though overall, Tibetans spoke badly of Zhao Erfeng, a third of them couldn’t help but express their respect.”

When one searches for “Zhao Erfeng” online, one is confronted with many thought-provoking phenomena. Many Chinese mention that Zhao Erfeng killed Han Chinese people, which they consider the “dark spot in his life”, but his evil behaviour in Tibet is endlessly being praised; one finds headlines such as “the misunderstood national hero of the last century”, “the historical contributions of the great Qing minister Zhao Erfeng who led an army into Tibet to put an end to the rebellions”, “cherish the memory of the national hero Zhao Erfeng”, or “recapturing a Tibetan hero”. This very clearly shows that killing Han Chinese is cruel and mean, whereas killing Tibetans is an act of patriotism.

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Filed under ethnic conflict, history, Tibet

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