Category Archives: history

“Foreigners Under Fire”

The Diplomat has a piece from writer Tonio Andrade, who describes the changes requested by Chinese censors when he tried to publish a book in the PRC:

My new book, Lost Colony: the Untold Story of China’s First Great Victory over the West, won’t be published in mainland China. It might have found a strong readership there. Its main personage, Koxinga, is famous for driving the Dutch from Taiwan and bringing the island under Chinese rule. The story of his triumph is a gripping one, and I strove to tell it in a balanced way: no East versus West, just humans scrambling to do their best during hard times. As a member of the global history movement, this kind of balanced history is what I strive for. It’s the mission of my scholarly life.

But Chinese censors apparently don’t truck with balance. My erstwhile publisher asked whether I would acquiesce to omitting some “sensitive material” and changing some wording. It sounded like an innocuous request until I got to the details. Since Koxinga is considered a “positive figure in China,” my publisher informed me that the text would have to omit any discussion of torture by him and his soldiers. (Descriptions of Dutch atrocities were acceptable, though.) The book couldn’t refer to Koxinga as a “conqueror” or a “warlord,” and his “restoration of Taiwan” couldn’t be referred to as an invasion or an attack. Similarly, any mention of resistance by Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples (who, historical sources make clear, rose up and killed thousands of his soldiers), would also have to be excised, on the grounds that such episodes hint of “some sort of consciousness of Taiwanese independence.” The Chinese publisher said that if I refused to make such changes, the translation wouldn’t proceed. “Abridgement,” I was told, “is unavoidable.”

And so I set aside my dreams of renown and royalties and said no.

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Pu Zhiqiang on Nagoya

Chinese human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang on the recent scandal caused by Nagoya mayor Takashi Kawamura denying the existence of the Nanjing Massacre (via Shanghaiist):

“I can absolutely understand why the mayor of Nagoya would deny the Nanjing Massacre. All of your history is propaganda. There’s no credibility and no historical evidence. 300,000 victims, you say, but the number looks like it was plucked out of thin air anyhow you turn it. And let’s not forget how you’re so ready to greet your own countrymen with the knife, gun, sword, halberd, ax, hook, fork and other weapons. Up till now, you still haven’t owned up to the small massacre in 1989. What right do you have to demand that the Japanese mayor acknowledge the big massacre?”

On the one hand… yeah, the irony of Chinese officials getting mad about historical revisionism is pretty thick. But on the other hand, unless the major of Nagoya really is denying Nanjing specifically because of Chinese historical revisionism, defending him still doesn’t feel right. Two wrongs, a right, etc.

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Woeser in Nyarong and Lithang

High Peaks Pure Earth (with a sweet new trilingual layout, by the way) has yet more from Woeser’s travels. In “Nyarong County’s Gonpo Namgyal” she describes a famous Khampa from the area, while in “Tibetan Buddhist Gatherings Worship a Portrait of His Holiness” she writes about the huge gathering in Lithang last summer:

On the bumpy road leading from Nyarong to Lithang, I used my mobile phone to note a few sentences describing my feelings at the time: road inspection points have been set up in every county, there are piles of ordinary and armed police forces registering people’s ID cards in a suspicious manner. The ordinary police are mainly Tibetans, whereas the armed police are basically Han Chinese. In Gyangpa township, Lithang County, we stopped to take pictures, the police car that was always following us stopped right in front and waited, afraid that we would start a conversation with any local Tibetans.

Lithang Monastery (also called Tupchen Chökhor Ling Monastery) has a special meaning in the history of Tibet. In March 1956, the Chinese Communists who claimed to bring happiness to the Tibetan people, flew over Lithang and bombed the Monastery and on the ground they sent troops of the PLA that massacred monks and laymen; only in the 1980s did the monastery recover, albeit with great difficulties. I have been to Lithang Monastery many times but because we were being followed I discarded the thought of paying it another visit. This was probably sensible because otherwise I would have been subject to great analysis by concerned parties. Many days later, on the road when I was online and unexpectedly managed to “jump the great firewall”, I saw the following shocking news: On July 15 (precisely 2 weeks before we passed through Lithang) Lithang Monastery held the 4th Winter Buddhist Assembly, which was attended by thousands of monks from several hundred monasteries of different Buddhist Schools from Kham and Amdo. What made this one different from previous gatherings, however, was that at the beginning, during the prayers, a large portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama was revealed on the solemn altar; monks and devotees respectfully offered khatas, many with warm tears in their eyes. According to the report, prior to the assembly, many monks had revealed to the local government and public security department that a portrait of His Holiness would be worshipped during the meeting and that if this was stopped by the local authorities, they could not guarantee the smooth running of the event and protests may erupt.

He then moved on to express in a suppressed and low voice that could hardly cover up his excitement that the revival of traditional Tibetan Buddhism is already approaching and that during the critical and determinative times today, the efforts of many visionary Lamas from different Buddhist Schools have brought back to life the united religious movement that had been initiated over 200 years ago by the monasteries of Derge County, Kham.

Indeed, three months later, the 7th Kagyu Buddhist Assembly took place in Nangchen County, which is situated near Yushu; it was attended by 1500 monks from 35 different monasteries of different Buddhist Schools from Kham and Amdo. Once more, a large portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama was presented and most sincerely revered by practicing Buddhists and believers. Clearly, the portrait of His Holiness has already become a distinct symbol for the unification of monks from different religious schools and regions in Tibet.

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“Is China Ripe for a Revolution?”

Historian Stephen Platt on the likelihood of a violent revolution today:

The Qing Dynasty, founded in 1644 by Manchu tribesmen who conquered China from the north, was brought down by a highly organized revolutionary movement with overseas arms and financing and a coherent governing ideology based on republican nationalism. The Communist Party today faces nothing like that.

What it does face, however, is enormous, inchoate rural unrest. The dark side of China’s economic rise has been a shocking widening of the gulf between the prosperous coast and the poverty-stricken interior, a flourishing of corruption among local officials and, by such data as we can gather, widespread anger and discontent. The government has acknowledged tens of thousands of yearly “mass incidents,” which can range anywhere from a handful of elderly widows protesting a corrupt real estate grab to communities in open revolt (like the southern village of Wukan) to murderous ethnic rioting, as occurred in the last few years in western Xinjiang Province and in Inner Mongolia.

In that sense, it is instead the Taiping Rebellion, which nearly toppled the Qing Dynasty 50 years earlier, that bears the strongest warnings for the current government.

What was so remarkable, and so troubling, about the Taiping Rebellion was that it spread with such swiftness and spontaneity. It did not depend on years of preliminary “revolutionary” groundwork (as did the revolution that toppled the monarchy in 1912 or the 1949 revolution that brought the Communists to power). And while Hong’s religious followers formed its core, once the sect broke out of its imperial cordon and marched north, it swept up hundreds of thousands of other peasants along the way — multitudes who had their own separate miseries and grievances and saw nothing to lose by joining the revolt.

Beijing has learned its lessons from the past. We see this in the swift and ruthless suppression of Falun Gong and other religious sects that resemble the Taiping before they became militarized. We can see it in the numbers of today’s “mass incidents.” One estimate, 180,000 in 2010, sounds ominous indeed, but in fact the sheer number shows that the dissent is not organized and has not (yet) coalesced into something that can threaten the state. The Chinese Communist Party would far rather be faced with tens or even hundreds of thousands of separate small-scale incidents than one unified and momentum-gathering insurgency. The greatest fear of the government is not that violent dissent should exist; the fear is that it should coalesce.

He also describes the end of the Taiping Rebellion, where the British ultimately stepped in to preserve the Qing dynasty. Given the scale of economic links, he asks, would global powers like America end up doing the same to preserve Communist Party rule? It’s a good question, although I think China’s rise and ongoing American fears of China pushing America out of east Asia entirely might radically change the equation this time.

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Saturday Tibet Update GrabBag

First, a picture found on Weibo of Chinese troops in Lhasa carrying fire extinguishers, one consequence of the self-immolation crisis:

Second, an official statement from Kalon Tripa (Tibetan Prime Minister) Lobsang Sangay on the crisis:

I’ll have to congratulate the CTA on somehow finding a picture of the Potala Palace without a dozen Chinese flags planted obnoxiously in front of it. Perhaps that explains the side angle. Next up, a story from the NYT about a Tibetan school in Amdo:

But perhaps the greatest marvel unfolds each morning in the newly built classrooms here at the foot of one of Tibetan Buddhism’s holiest mountains — six hours from the nearest city and far from the circumspect eyes of Communist Party technocrats — where dozens of young men and boys learn to write the curlicue letters of the Tibetan alphabet and receive their first formal introduction to a history, culture and religion that many Tibetans describe as embattled.

“Tibetan language is the key to our culture, and without it all our traditions will be locked away forever,” said Abo Degecairang, 25, a ruddy-cheeked monk who is among the inaugural class of young men enrolled at the school, the Anymachen Tibetan Culture Center, which opened in September here in southeastern Qinghai Province.

Nonreligious schooling is typically controlled by the state, most often anchored in Mandarin, although poverty and geographic isolation deprive many children of any formal education.

It was those young people whom the Rinpoche [Tsering Lhagyal]— a title bestowed on high-ranking teachers in Tibetan Buddhism — has sought out, eager to give them a future that he hopes will help preserve their heritage. Today, 30 shepherd boys, orphans and novice monks are learning the fundamentals of Tibetan culture, as well as Mandarin and English. Some are garbed in burgundy monks’ robes, others in jeans and trucker hats. A few arrived unable to read or write in any language, but the Rinpoche has faith that these challenges can be overcome, just as he succeeded in establishing this center despite the daunting political and financial odds.

“If your heart is in the right place, everything else will fall into place,” said the Rinpoche, who raised more than $3 million to build the vermilion-painted building topped by shimmering gold roofs. The main building, which dominates a breathtakingly picturesque valley, also houses an ornate temple filled with colorful Buddhas and altars illuminated by butter lamps. The school is so far off the grid that it must rely on solar power.

The government, he says, hopes the center, which he says will eventually house 600 students, will attract tourism and raise local living standards. To raise money, the Rinpoche traveled across China seeking donations, and received them largely from Han Chinese, who make up 80 percent of his 1,000 contributors. “Han people give me money for the same reason Tibetans donate: they want to do good,” he said.

Many donors — most of them newly affluent Han — say they view Tibetan Buddhism as an antidote to the materialism and greed that have flourished alongside China’s breakneck development.

Those who now call the center home have seen their world profoundly altered. Some, like Tuzansanzhi, 19, a shy youth dressed in monks’ robes who, like many Tibetans, uses a single name, had never been to school before. “I’m an only child, and my parents needed me to care for our sheep,” he said in Tibetan, the only language he knows. Before he arrived in July, Tuzansanzhi was illiterate. Now, he sits at a desk writing a Tibetan script that is crisply uniform.

A great story, and I hope the school succeeds. On a side note, I do wish newspaper writers would take the time to run their stories past a Tibetan, or at least someone knowledgeable about Tibet, before publishing them- this piece is full of Tibetan words which were clearly transliterated from Chinese, not Tibetan. That is to say, instead of directly taking Tibetans names from Tibetan, they’ve first been transliterated into Chinese, and then the Chinese names were spelled out in pinyin. Place names, too- I’d doubt that any of the Tibetans there actually call this (Tibetan) town ‘Zhandetan.’ A minor gripe, but it’s like calling Beijing ‘Peking’ these days: using a name bestowed by outsiders instead of the one used every day by the people who have lived there for generations.

Finally, High Peaks Pure Earth has the next part of Woeser and Wang Lixiong’s travels through Tibet last summer, this time in Kardze- a town which has been in the news for protests and self-immolations lately:

After we arrived in Kardze at the end of July, I suddenly noticed a street sign attached to an electricity pole at the side of the road, which read: “Memorial Hall for the Commander in Chief, Zhu De and the 5th Geta Rinpoche”. Had this been built in recent years? I followed the sign, was slowly guided out of the city and finally found a tightly closed red door with a Chinese-style building behind it and verdant trees and lush flowers surrounding it; the hall name was an eye-grabbing piece of calligraphy created by Jiang Zemin.

Afterwards I found on the internet that the construction of this hall began in 1991 and was completed in 1993, becoming the “base for patriotic education” from Kardze County and Prefecture all the way to Sichuan Province. According to the introduction, “the hall features the detailed descriptions of the 5th Tulku’s entire life, accounts of how the Red Army passed through Kardze during the Long March as well as revolutionary relics”. I noticed that among them were “paintings and photos of the establishment of the first ethnic minority region during the Soviet Tibetan Bopa Government; and also images of Geta Rinpoche, the Vice President of the Bopa Government and its other Tibetan members”.

How did the name of “Bopa Government” come about? It is quite a complicated story, just as the Communist Party admits, on its Long March, the Red Army established two “Republics”, namely the Gyarong Republic and the Bopa People’s Republic. These regimes were all established on Tibetan territory, the former where today’s Gyarong area of Rongdrak county is located and the latter in today’s Kham Region (Kardze and other counties); their declarations did by no means go against the native population’s political and religious authority, instead they determined the following: “all Tibetan territory will always be administered by the regional Bopa Government. We swear to oppose Han Chinese aggressors, KMT officials and warlords that have put in place politics of annexation for thousands of years and we firmly stand for the course of liberating and making an independent Bopa”; “Our flag is one of an independent Bopa, our current mission is to revive Tibet and extinguish Chiang Kai-shek.”

After that she relates the history of Geta Rinpoche and the Bopa Republic– well worth the few minutes it’d take to read. What a pity that the early CCP claims of opposition to Han annexation came to nothing!

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“After 20 Years of ‘Peaceful Evolution,’ China Faces Another Historic Moment”

Damien Ma at The Atlantic has a lengthy piece up about Deng Xiaoping, the evolution of the Chinese political science, and why today it’s approaching another fork in the road:

Twenty years ago this month, the octogenarian Deng Xiaoping embarked on his “southern tour,” a journey that would turn out to be one of the most significant acts of modern Chinese history. Although Deng would die five years later at 92, his organs donated to medical research, the elder leader’s bold maneuvering in the winter of 1992 made the China of today possible. Deliberately ambiguous in intention, the trip was in fact a political campaign of sorts aimed at achieving two crucial objectives: First, to sustain the political conditions that would facilitate continuous reform and economic liberalization; and, second, to rescue the Communist Party — via a reform agenda – -from reducing itself into a speck in the dustbin of history.

Indeed, Deng was thrusting himself into a political climate that was entirely anathema to his “reform and opening up” policy. The conservatives in the party seemingly emerged victorious after the Tiananmen crackdown three years earlier, only to have the collapse of the Soviet Union hand them another convenient justification to block economic and political reforms. A considerable conservative faction vehemently discredited further reform, claiming that it would bring the party to its knees. To them, the Tiananmen tragedy of 1989 and the Soviet disintegration were all products of “peaceful evolution,” which they viewed as the clear and present danger. Peaceful evolution was the most serious and threatening in the economic sphere, they claimed, and any economic reforms must be first and foremost subject to the question, “is your surname socialism or capitalism”?

Very much worth a read.

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A Second Day of Violence in Kham

The protests have spread to Serthar, which is still in Kardze prefecture but which has been much quieter than Kardze town and Ngaba over the last few months:

Chinese authorities shot dead five Tibetans and seriously wounded 40 others on Tuesday in the second day of bloodshed as protests escalated in the troubled Kardze (in Chinese, Ganzi) prefecture in Sichuan province, local sources said.

Protests were also reported in neighboring Ngaba (in Chinese, Aba prefecture) as several hundred monks and lay-Tibetans sat along a road crossing to speak out against Chinese rule.

“The laypersons took off their upper clothes and remained half naked reciting mantras and eating [roasted barley] in protest,” one source said.

“They marched to the main town in Meruma and when the Chinese police tried to block them, they refused to stop and marched ahead,” the source said.

Tibetans who tried to attend a 15-day special prayer at the Kirti monastery in Ngaba were also stopped and beaten by Chinese security forces, the source said.

Meanwhile, Kathleen McLaughlin writes about the difficulty of reporting on Tibetan affairs when China prevents journalists from entering troubled regions:

Violence has reportedly rocked Tibetan areas of China again this week, with reports on Chinese police firing on Tibetan protesters in Sichuan and killing at least one. Tibetan rights groups outside of China say Chinese forced turned their guns on unarmed protesters in a remote mountainous area, The protesters had refused to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

And herein lies the crucial problem with reporting on Tibet and getting accurate information. Chinese journalists are constrained by censorship and state-owned media rules. Foreign correspondents require special permits to enter Tibet proper. In cases like this reported violence in a Tibetan area of Sichuan province, journalists are certain to be barred, detained and turned away from reporting on the scene. So how does one verify the facts of what happened in what was certainly a violent outburst in Tibetan parts of Sichuan province?

Many rely on Tibetan groups based outside of China and what contacts they can collect from within the country. China then puts forth its own version of the story. But most often happens, the real truth of events remains clouded in shadows, without independent verification.

I’d say that the real truth remains only temporarily clouded, because as time goes by more and more locals will be able to get their accounts out of the country. Take the 2009 Urumqi protests, for example- although China initially managed to confuse the issue greatly, within a few months hundreds of eyewitness accounts had been gathered by groups outside of China who then reconstructed a pretty solid timeline of what happened.

Oiwan Lam at Global Voices Online writes about how Chinese intellectuals have remained largely silent on the self-immolation crisis:

Since 2009, there have been at least 17 Tibetan self-immolation incidents in China. The latest case was reported on January 15, 2012. The public discussion about the protests of Tibetans has been manipulated and monopolized by state controlled media outlets who blame the Dalai Lama and western media for inciting to violence and terror.

The reaction among Chinese public intellectuals and netizens is practically indifferent when compared to other self-immolation incidents, such as the Yihuang demolition case. Some netizens wonder, where have all the public intellectuals gone?

She goes on to detail conversations between Woeser and a number of Chinese bloggers on the subject.

Finally, the Tibetan Political Review has an interesting piece on recently declassified documents from Canada. The Chinese government loves to remind everyone that every government in the world acknowledges Tibet to be a part of China, but they don’t like to mention how hard of a decision it was for foreign governments. England, India, and the US spent years deciding whether or not they should consider Tibet as a part of China, and the decisions were in the end made using reasons that don’t exactly line up with what China teaches in their history books. Now we have proof that Canada, too, struggled on that issue:

Declassified documents from 1950 through the 1960s show that Canada considered Tibet to be “qualified for recognition as an independent state.” These documents also show how the Canadian government’s concern over the outcome of United Nations votes led Canada to publicly avoid the question of Tibet’s political status in favor of human rights. But while Canada downplayed Tibet’s political status, it also accepted that the issue of human rights includes the Tibetan people’s right to self-determination.

These declassified documents consist of a trove of secret memos, correspondence, and diplomatic cables.

One of the most important documents is a November 21, 1950 cable from Canada’s Secretary of State for External Affairs to the Canadian Ambassador in Washington DC (another identical cable was sent the same day to the head of the Canadian delegation to the United Nations). The Secretary of State discloses that the department’s Legal Division had asked and concluded:

“The question is, should Canada consider Tibet to be an independent state, a vassal of China, or an integral portion of China. It is submitted that the Chinese claim to sovereignty over Tibet is not well founded. Chinese suzerainty, perhaps existent, though ill-defined, before 1911, appears since then, on the basis of facts available to us, to have been a mere fiction. In fact, it appears that during the past 40 years Tibet has controlled its own internal and external affairs. Viewing the situation thus, I am of the opinion that Tibet is, from the point of view of international law, qualified for recognition as an independent state.”

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