Saturday, March 29, 2008

Tibetans and Chinese have something in common

In the blogosphere, a number of pro-Beijing bloggers have been linking to a scholarly article by Michael Parenti which -- at first glance -- seems to represent a heroic effort to debunk "myths" about Tibet and the Dalai Lama. Parenti believes Tibet's past history to have been over-romanticized.

However, these bloggers seem to overlook the fact that Parenti is unequivocal that the future prospects for Tibetans under the rule of Beijing appear grim:
In the 1990s, the Han, the ethnic group comprising over 95 percent of China’s immense population, began moing in substantial numbers into Tibet. On the streets of Lhasa and Shigatse, signs of Han colonization are readily visible. Chinese run the factories and many of the shops and vending stalls. Tall office buildings and large shopping centers have been built with funds that might have been better spent on water treatment plants and housing. Chinese cadres in Tibet too often view their Tibetan neighbors as backward and lazy, in need of economic development and “patriotic education.” During the 1990s Tibetan government employees suspected of harboring nationalist sympathies were purged from office, and campaigns were once again launched to discredit the Dalai Lama. Individual Tibetans reportedly were subjected to arrest, imprisonment, and forced labor for carrying out separatist activities and engaging in “political subversion.” Some were held in administrative detention without adequate food, water, and blankets, subjected to threats, beatings, and other mistreatment.
Throughout China, writes Parenti: "Regional bureaucrats milk the country dry, extorting graft from the populace and looting local treasuries. Land grabbing in cities and countryside by avaricious developers and corrupt officials at the expense of the populace are almost everyday occurrences. . . . Cancer rates in villages situated along waterways have skyrocketed a thousand-fold. . . ." Parenti concludes: ". . . If China is the great success story of speedy free market development, and is to be the model and inspiration for Tibet’s future, then old feudal Tibet indeed may start looking a lot better than it actually was."

The riots are not the big story out of Tibet. How the recent protests were depicted by a Western news media -- organizations that had prohibited from reporting inside Tibet -- is certainly not the big story. I think the recent rioting needs to be understood with the context of modern China's approach to development. One might call it state-sanctioned crony capitalism run amok. That is the big story: China's policy of "development at all costs" and the high the price Tibetans are paying for it.

Because the reckless approach to development that is destroying Tibet is also destroying China's environment, depleting its resources, and ruining the health and well-being of the Chinese people. Chinese and Tibetan people have far more in common than they may realize.

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