China and Tibet: an honest quest to find the truth
When people in the West want to badmouth China, they will definitely point to Tibet. Ordinary Chinese have no idea why the West is making such fuss out if it, and doesn’t like its nosiness. As a Westerner I know the Western story best, but I am questioning if it is not just part of Western propaganda. Are we maybe exaggerating the human rights abuses? With this question in my mind I explored greater Tibet.
First I talked to many Han Chinese about the issue. Many didn’t really care, and stressed that Tibet is historically part of China. Others said that China liberated the Tibetans from a backward society ruled from the monasteries. The ‘unification’, as they like to call it, helped the Tibetans with economic growth and development. So maybe there are benefits for the Tibetans?
Nowadays it is difficult to go to the Tibet province. You need a permit, to travel in a group and with a special guide. Nevertheless, greater Tibet is much bigger than the province Tibet and so we travelled through parts of greater Tibet. One of my first encounters with Tibetans was in the sleeper train from Chengdu to Xining. Nobody spoke to them. They were not directly mistreated, but simply ignored. It seemed like two different worlds; Chinese and Tibetans were living separately in the same train carriage.
The Tibetans were studying in Xining, but came from the Tibet province and told us how much has changed, because of the Han Chinese who are encouraged to migrate to Tibet. Those Han Chinese get the good jobs. “So,” they explained, “although the economy in Tibet is growing, too many Tibetans live in poverty.” They further stressed that they are discriminated: “On the streets we are treated as second class citizens by the Chinese authority even though it is our country.” So, which stories are true?
I honestly don’t understand the argument that Tibet was part of tributary system hundreds of years ago and therefore part of China. The old tributary system still meant autonomy for Tibetans, so why should it be part of China now? Furthermore, China had many tributary states, like countries as Mongolia, Vietnam and Myanmar. Why are those countries not invaded? Here another important factor comes into play, namely that Tibet will be of huge importance for the Chinese water supply. The Tibetan mountains are the water supply for many Chinese rivers. In a country where clean water is becoming scarce, the Tibetan water sources are indispensible. It is not a legitimate reason to invade a country, but it gives an understanding of the real reasons behind it.
I also have doubts when people say that the Tibetans should be happy for the economic growth China is giving them and that they were just ruled from the monasteries. Sure Tibet was no democracy, but what is the alternative China is offering? A totalitarian regime. All Tibetans we spoke were very unsatisfied with the Chinese rule and wished that a form of old rule could be restored. Not one saw advantages with current regime. That says something. Some even go as far as burning themselves to protest against the Chinese, like last week at the start of the Chinese convention and many other times. Many Chinese on the other hand, hate the Tibetans for their protests and self-immolation. They see it as a sin, because they want destabilize the regime. Maybe the old way of thinking in terms of a tributary system, namely very hierarchical, is restored in Tibet. It is a system of double standards, where Han Chinese have other rights than Tibetans.
Furthermore, I saw with my own eyes is the Chinese aversion against Tibetans. It weren’t only the looks from Chinese in the train. You almost never see a Chinese or Tibetan engaged in a nice conversation. The Tibetans and Han Chinese live segregated lives. And with Han Chinese everywhere in power it is clear who are the losers. For example, we only saw Tibetans doing simple jobs and owning a shop was the best they could do. All the other jobs were for the Han Chinese.
So, my honest quest to find the truth ends with the conviction that Tibetan Human Rights are abused. I didn’t find the arguments of many Chinese convincing, while so many Tibetans are extremely dissatisfied with the regime. This mass dissatisfaction cannot be based on thin air. I heard stories about authorities refusing to let Tibetans to go to monasteries, random arrests, and the great inequality. With my own eyes I witnessed the discrimination. Nevertheless, this doesn’t take away the fact that Tibet is used as Western propaganda. In the same journey we visited Xinjiang province, home to the Uyghur. Those people are discriminated like the Tibetans, but I rarely hear the West complaining about that. You didn’t see mass protest to support the Uyghur during the Olympics four years ago. There are no Hollywood films made about them. Many Western people even never heard the name Uyghur before. Maybe the west has also double standards?