Posted by: Shaun | March 31, 2008

China in Tibet: not tough enough?

This morning’s New York Times has an excellent story on the role of Chinese nationalism in fueling popular backlash against violent protests by Tibetans and against the Chinese Communist Party. Why the party you ask? The piece has a great explanatory quote in the second graph:

“We couldn’t believe our government was being so weak and cowardly,” said Ms. Meng, 52, an office worker, who was appalled that the authorities had failed to initially douse the violence. “The Dalai Lama is trying to separate China, and it is not acceptable at all. We must crack down on the rioters.”

It goes on to explain that some Chinese are talking about the Tibet incident in stark, ideological terms such as “people’s war.” (In fact, I find this a little ironic since “people’s war” was Mao Zedong’s term of art for his groundbreaking theory of guerrilla resistance against the established order.) The sentiments expressed in the piece are a reflection of a new civic culture that has emerged in China in past two decades, namely popular nationalism. Since the practical demise of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong thought, national pride has been cultivated as a ready replacement by the CCP and is often put on public display when Japan’s prime minister visits the Yasukuni Shrine (containing the remains war criminals from the 1940s) or when, say, America accidentally bombs a Chinese embassy (our bad).

However, as the CCP has learned in several previous mass protests, the genie of nationalism is difficult to put back in its bottle. Stoking the flames is easy but reigning in an angry public is another matter, and when the government is perceived as weak on issue like Tibet, the ire of the people can easily be directed toward the powers that be. Beijing needs to be more careful what kind of sentiment it inculcates in its populace lest it get burned in the future.



  1. please take time to know some tibet history before you speaks.

  2. The Tibetan serfs were something more than superstitious victims, blind to their own oppression. As we have seen, some ran away; others openly resisted, sometimes suffering dire consequences. In feudal Tibet, torture and mutilation–including eye gouging, the pulling out of tongues, hamstringing, and amputation–were favored punishments inflicted upon thieves, and runaway or resistant serfs. Journeying through Tibet in the 1960s, Stuart and Roma Gelder interviewed a former serf, Tsereh Wang Tuei, who had stolen two sheep belonging to a monastery. For this he had both his eyes gouged out and his hand mutilated beyond use. He explains that he no longer is a Buddhist: “When a holy lama told them to blind me I thought there was no good in religion.”21 Since it was against Buddhist teachings to take human life, some offenders were severely lashed and then “left to God” in the freezing night to die. “The parallels between Tibet and medieval Europe are striking,” concludes Tom Grunfeld in his book on Tibet.

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