Thursday, April 17, 2008
BLAME, THE NAME OF THE FLAME GAME
ast week was a challenging one for China's permanently governing Party. Faced with mounting international protest against its policies toward Tibet, Burma, Sudan, and its own people's lack of freedom to speak their conscience (and getting sent to prison for doing so), China's state-controlled media became schizophrenic. "Warm reception in cold London" and "Chinese outraged over torch relay disruption" blared the headlines.
Some of the media methods were even slightly reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution when propaganda organs were able to whip up the public into a frenzy of rage over an issue of their choice.That article is a few days old, and the modern equivalent of Red Guards online are making the methods more than just slightly reminiscent of the old days.
If there's one thing the Chinese Communist Party is well experienced in, it's historical revisionism. And shifting blame for its own policy failures onto others... TWO things the Party is very good at are historical revisionism, shifting blame onto others, and stoking hysteria among the masses... The THREE things ARE: historical revisionism; shifting the blame; stoking hysteria; and ruthless efficiency! You get the picture. My hovercraft is full of eels.
Your humble correspondent has had to juggle his time recently, between doing what I want to do (this), and doing what needs to be done elsewhere. By that I mean keeping a close eye on the anti-Tibet commenters to my YouTube videos, and responding to the hysterical revisionism and blame-shifting that floods in. I don't like censoring them, but crap cannot be allowed to stand there unchallenged. In many cases, the lack of historical knowledge is breath-taking. (Very few, with no redeeming value, are actually deleted.)
I had saved an excellent and concise overview of the competing historical views of Tibet-China relations, published last weekend, with plans to discuss it here. Written by Elliot Sperling, one of the world's foremost Tibetologists, you won't find a more readable and clear explanation of the various contentions between the two sides anywhere: The Mongols, Mao and the Dalai Lama.
But before I could get to it, I saw that the Tibeto-logistician has made use of it and produced something far more wonderful than I could ever dream of doing: Tibetan Independence: Testimonies from Two Professors & a Bird. Run, don't walk your mouse up to that link and go take it in right now -- there is no better use of your time, scholars and non-academics alike. (Then come back here of course!)
If you really need more coaxing, then here you go: Learn how a 13th century Tibetan hero saved the Chinese people from genocide. See a 15th century painting which depicts this act (be sure to look at the full version, and get lost in it for a while like I did). You need to stick with the article all the way through (not difficult) to reach these treasures, and you'll know a lot more by the time you get there. The Bird of the title will get you through. A masterpiece.
ince the day Tibetan monks began their peaceful processions on March 10th, and especially after the next four days of violent provocations against them (beatings, tear-gassing, arrests, and rumours of killings behind closed doors) culminated in the violent Lhasa riot on the 14th, Beijing has sought to blame anyone but itself. The Tibetans were "peacefully liberated," the Party claims, and "the Tibetan masses are overjoyed with their good fortune." These difficulties were only the work of a few isolated malcontents who didn't understand the true history of China's long dominion over their country, they claimed.
That this wasn't possibly the case soon became evident to everyone with eyes to see. The widespread and sustained nature of the uprising suprised everyone. The historical arguments remain of prime importance to the Party (they're building a new "Tibet Museum," fittingly in Beijing), but that wasn't enough when much of the Tibetan plateau was rising up against them.
It must be someone's fault, and who better to lay the blame on than Dalai Lama himself? The world famous Buddhist monk, teacher of compassion, exponent of inter-dependence, advocate of non-violence, preacher of peace and disciple of Gandhi -- he's the guy behind it all! (I wonder which Party committee came up with this idea)
The world at large didn't buy it of course, apart from a few die-hard old Far Leftists who don't matter anyway. Actual world leaders collectively laughed at the notion, and politely begged China's rulers to 'get over it' and sit down for a serious talk with the Tibetan spiritual leader. But China's stridency was cranked up even further as they fell back on bad old habits that everyone had thought were already in the dustbin of history (follow that link for other modern instances of dusting off the old propaganda manuals, which tend to be quickly forgotten).
So first blame was awarded to Dalai Lama, who they said had been ruining Tibet for years. Then came increasingly disgusting language about a "vicious beast with a human face," and "a monster in monk's robes" -- but it still didn't get them anywhere. Rather than to bring anyone to their way of thinking, this stuff only made people wonder if the Chinese leaders hadn't finally, well and truly, flipped their lids.
But a new strawman was on the horizon: Western Media. After they were all expelled from Tibetan areas, and measures adopted to ensure that any reports from within these areas would have an almost impossible chance of escaping to the outside world, "the international media is distorting the facts!" The worldwide profession of journalism is collectively branded as "anti-China," with but one goal: to demonise their ancient country. Couldn't muzzling the media have had something to do with it, rather than media malice?
This, after weeks of unambiguously demonising Tibetans who want their just rights, and demonising their deeply beloved spiritual teacher. Now the Chinese authorities had two directions in which to shovel the you-know-what. And the basis for the charges against reporters? A picture was cropped not to their liking, and a few lazy editors mis-captioned a couple of others.
Wire services were reporting on violent crackdowns against Tibetan demonstrators (in Tibet), while the only images available were Nepalese police cracking Tibetan heads. Such sloppy mistakes were inevitable in those circumstances, but corrections were made (and they weren't major media either - a couple of small French and German newspapers as I recall). Such corrections will never be made in Chinese state-controlled media, but they gave an opening for more helpful shifting of blame.
Then last week came new allegations, shifting it around to even more targets. It just wasn't credible that the democratic government of Tibet-in-exile was fomenting terrorism, but what of the young, impatient Tibetans who oppose Dalai Lama's "middle way" approach (genuine autonomy, not separation)? That's it! This trick will work for sure! (sorry Bullwinkle, that trick never works)
So the Tibetan Youth Congress, one of the five largest Tibetan civil society organisations which mounted a Satyagraha-style march for truth (Gandhi's philosophy of "standing on truth"), and headed toward their homeland, were the new stalking horse. Avowedly not in opposition to Dalai Lama's base policy of non-violence, as their peaceful march (and passive resistance to their arrests) attested, Beijing would now link them to Osama bin Laden, central Asian terrorists, and an intent for the violent overthrow of Chinese dominion over their country. As in each previous blaming exercise, without a shred of proof.
Beijing promised "proof" of Dalai Lama's deviously violent schemes weeks ago. Where is it? Exactly.
As the "Sacred Flame of Harmony" traverses the globe, it becomes each day more of a political pawn in the CCP's narrative. That narrative has been completely rejected by worldwide opinion, which leads more people to want to speak up when the torch comes near them. It's no longer the world's torch or the Olympic movement's torch, it's China's torch. China's leaders have put their state's "face" into that torch, and many people will want to have something to say to it in the days ahead, to "speak truth to power."
But for China's leaders, seemingly stuck in an earlier age, the name of the game is blame. It's so much easier than introspection.
Addendum: There is more reporting now on the idealistic young Chinese student at Duke University, whose story I've been talking about in recent days. The Red Guards online are feeling their oats, and this young girl is getting the worst of it (and her family back in China). New York Times here and Washington Post here.