Monday, March 24, 2008

Uprising in Tibet: Tibet on Fire

Read the three posts below to find some websites to visit for more information about the uprisings in Tibet and also to sign a petition. I will be honest, I've been signing petitions since college, but I doubt the Chinese government will respond to international pressure on this subject. They never have before. Beijing's line is that the "separatist" Dalai Lama has hoodwinked the foolish Hollywood liberals into spinning a fairy-tale story of Tibet, and all the pressure to Free Tibet comes from this. Beijing has been unmovable in their disdain for Western intervention on this matter. However, there are new factors coming into play now. These factors give me enough hope to spread the word. Sign Petitions, keep informed, get involved because if ever there was a time, it is now.

Here's why: The Olympics. China as a viable player in the world economy. If China wants to trade, they will want to run a nice looking show at the Olympics. If they want to run a nice looking show at the Olympics, they can't have a bunch of Tibetans burning down Han stores. It is the serpent eating its tail, but it does present a new spin on this issue. In any case, I did sign the petition.

I think this uprising was inevitable. The impending summer Olympics has fanned fires, but the embers have been rising for a few years. The completion of the supertrain in 2006 pushed these tensions higher. The Chinese are incredible road-builders. Build a road or a supertrain and you have a better economy. That is what Chinese did in Tibet. According the The Economist, Tibets GDP growth has stayed above 12% for the past seven years. I read in The Economist and elsewhere that while that may be true, most Tibetans perceive that the bulk of the new wealth has gone to the Hans. You see, while these roads and trains bring better trade and mobility, they also bring more Hans. The plan has been to dilute the Tibetan culture and destroy its roots. It is a slow, methodical process, but since the new rail link in 2006, a dam has broken. This flood of Han immigrants probably had a lot to do with the recent uprising.

This leads to a second point, and that is the idea of identity in Tibet. When I lived in Turkey, I learned this lesson of cultural identity firsthand. Ataturk said, "how happy to be Turks." This motto is everywhere in Turkey and for good reason. Turkey was, and still is, a land of many disparate cultures. The only way Ataturk was able to unite his fledgling country was to bring them all together under one identity. Sure, you can be a Kurd, Arab, or Armenian, but only if you display your pride at being a Turk first. Swear your allegiance to and your identity to the Turkish land it its ideals, then eat some Kurdish food with your Turkish friends. The problems in Turkey are with those subcultures who still consider themselves "Kurd" first and Turk second. It is the same in China. A popular pop singer is a Tibetan girl who sings in Mandarin and wears "hip" clothing. She is the ideal Tibetan, one who thrives in Han culture. Most know of the Chinese campaign to stomp out the culture of Tibet, "patriotic education" it is called. However, many do not realize that moving Hans into Tibet, clearing the land of its people, is the most effective. This same relocation has happened in areas of Mongolia and Xinjiang. In fact, for many years Hans were paid money to relocate and marry a person from the subculture.

How do I feel about what is happening in Tibet? Angry, but strangely hopeful. For so long, the Tibetan people suffered silently. When I see a Tibetan emboldened by the riots to disrupt Olympic events, I think "go, man, go." This silent suffering and release is encapsulated in the story of one man I interviewed named Karma. Having grown up in Tibet, Karma was a rare man to meet here--a Tibetan who had lived in his homeland. I meet so many first, second, third, fourth generation refugees. He told me that he left Tibet as a man. In fact, he grew up in the area where my book takes place. One day, Karma told me, he realized that he could not live one more day without freedom. He just got on a horse and rode, found a way across the border, and finally was able to come to the U.S. I asked him if he told his family he was leaving and he told me that he hadn't. He said that if he told anyone he would have endangered their lives. He said that every day he wondered about his family, but he felt sure that they understood his decision. I imagine Karma, brooding at the rolling dark clouds, watching a sunbeam rise and sink, and finally lacing his boots and riding to the pulse of his fate.

Could this be that possible opening for Tibet? If only the Tibetans can squeeze through this space and breathe. What will that feel like?

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