Thursday, May 29, 2008
SOCIAL QUAKES AND EARTH ONES
s the horrific destruction and loss of life from the May 12 Sichuan earthquake (and the thousands of aftershocks) continues to rise, so has China's world image continued to improve. Journalists have been gushing over the newfound openness they find in the quake region -- but no one is talking much anymore about what might be going on across the plateau itself. The clampdown on information escaping from there has been nearly total, since the much wider-spread (and sustained) social earthquake rocked the region 80 days ago, with follow-up tremors continuing to present.
Two seismic events -- a natural one, beneath the eastern edge of the Tibetan Plateau, and a man-made one (by committee, even), across the surface of it -- have struck China and shaken the broader society in different ways. The person on the street is filled with compassion and empathy in the one case, while filled with the opposite of compassion and no empathy in the other.
The state seemingly re-invented itself in responding maturely and competently to one event (and earning world praise), yet it reverted to old discredited methods of ideological social warfare -- the very causes of the problem in the first place -- in responding to the other. The difference in official handling of the natural calamity and the man-made calamity couldn't be more stark, with their close proximity in time and space.
Since the quake, however, journalists generally have been free to go where they want. In the flattened city of Beichuan, reporters were allowed to walk down a block lined with 60 body bags. Soldiers only asked them not to take photos, citing respect for the dead...This freedom of movement does not extend into the predominately Tibetan areas west of the quake zone, of course. If journalists are reporting the right things, that's fine; just make sure they can't accidentally discover any of the wrong things just a couple of valleys over.
A crowd of weeping parents in Wufu made allegations to a reporter that their children were killed in a shoddily built school that collapsed. No official "media minders" were there to remind the parents that they could be punished for criticizing the government.
If there were checkpoints, journalists were usually allowed through, even welcomed. Police and soldiers, who reporters would normally stay away from because of the threat of arrest, willingly gave newsmen directions to some of the worst hit areas.
The authorities' response to the quake disaster has seemed excellent, not only with this new openness toward reporting it, but also toward accepting help from other countries. Out of character for the CCP, and a welcome surprise. Of course they also had a real-time lesson in what not to do, with Burma's universally repellent example. But still, it can be hard to break bad habits sometimes.
In Juyuan, a town where a school collapsed and killed most of its 900 students, a woman began complaining about local corruption to an AP reporter while she walked around the school's rubble holding a picture of her dead son.Only time will tell whether the newfound tolerance of criticism will be accepted as a positive thing -- and not necessarily dangerous to the CCP's permanent mandate on absolute power -- or whether it will eventually be reigned in as global attention inevitably fades. For Tibetan victims of the man-made calamity resulting from a half century of destructive policies, the taste of such tolerance is still an unknown experience.
Another woman approached and began taking pictures. Identifying herself only as a "volunteer," she kept whispering to the distraught mother, "Don't criticize the government."
Confirmation has been received for the arrest of a Tibetan doctor and her husband, reported here May 19 via Radio Free Asia. Dr. Yangdzom was retired but had continued working at Lhasa People's Hospital. She was accused of providing medical care for those injured during protests in the Lhasa area. Her husband Shelok is 63, and retired from the border patrol. He had been doing tailoring work in his retirement, and was accused of passing information to the outside world, and also of helping Tibetans in hospital. A source told RFA earlier that the husband had been taken to Gutsa prison, but the doctor's whereabouts is still unknown.
Around May 6 - 7 some of those arrested from Meldro Gungkar, Phenpo Lhundrup and Takste Counties (in the Lhasa vicinity of the TAR) were released. Included in the releases were around 300 from Lhundrup County, including about 35 nuns from Shar Bhumpa Nunnery (nearly all of the nuns at that institution were detained in early April).
Many of this recently released group were suffering from injuries inflicted while in detention. An elderly man from Meldro Gungkar County died of his injuries within a few days of release. Kunga was around 60 years of age, and his death brings the toll to 207.
There have been other confirmed cases of people being released in a very critical condition following severe abuse, and dying after their release. Nechung was a mother of four children from Ngaba County, and was held in custody for just 9 days in March (for having taken away a door plate from a township office during a demonstration). She was in a dire condition on release, was then taken to a government hospital, but was refused admission due to intimidation by authorities. She finally died around the middle of April.
In Nagchu Prefecture, in the Tibetan "Autonomous" Region, 15 year-old Sonam Gyalpo was arrested on May 9 in Sog County for shouting freedom slogans at the public market. On April 20, 19 year-old monk Chokdhen Tsultrim from Zendhen Monastery in Sog County was arrested for scattering posters in the county and in Nagchu town.
Tibetans have continued holding protest actions in Kardze County, Kham (Ch: Sichuan), which seems to be one of the enduring epicentres of the uprising movement. On May 22, four nuns of the Nyimo Gaysey Nunnery in Kardze County protested against the ongoing crackdown and illegal arrests of Tibetan people, and their detentions in Chinese prisons. The nuns distributed leaflets around the county government headquarters and called out freedom slogans. Public Security Bureau officers quickly rushed to the scene, arrested the nuns and administered beatings. The whereabouts and condition of Bhumo Tengha, Rinchen Jamatsang, Jamgha Dolma and Pema are not known.
On May 23 two nuns of Dargay Hardu Nunnery staged a peaceful protest, again at the popular spot -- the Kardze County government headquarters offices. Ven. Jampa Lhamo, 30, and Ven. Rinzin Wangdon, 23, called out freedom slogans at the offices.
Of course they both knew arrest would be inevitable and immediate, which it was. They would have expected to be beaten by Public Security Bureau officers before hauled off to the PSB detention centre, and they were. There is no further information on their condition. As stated here before, the nuns of this region have clearly shown that they are fearless and tough individuals. Carrying out demonstrations like these is pure self-sacrifice, nothing less. Photos of the two nuns are on the above linked page.
The Central Tibetan Administration separately confirmed both incidents on May 26. And in Lhasa, still under very tight control of the military, a public demonstration was reported to Tibet Info Network just last Saturday.
Sources from Lhasa have reported that a demonstration took place in Lhasa in front of the Tsuglagkhang (Jokhang), the city's main temple and Tibet's most sacred. According to unconfirmed reports, there were around 100 protesters, most of whom were arrested.Our determined Tibetan citizen journalist (important update about her below) writes on May 21 that early on in the uprising, Tibetans had also been arrested in Dechen Prefecture, Kham (located in one relatively small corner of Yunnan Province). Their misdeeds ranged from looking at banned websites to having too many foreigner acquaintances (many tourists visit this area). She reports that these people have gradually been released -- in good condition and without mistreatment, often owing to sympathetic Tibetan prison guards. This is in contrast with reports she receives from Tibetans working in Lhasa's security and legal system, who disclosed that the orders given to police in the holy city is, "to beat them until they confess."
She continues with reported conditions in Lhasa, just weeks before the glorious torch of flaming harmoniousness pays a visit. People who have recently been in the capital describe a seemingly "empty city under the military control", with many military vehicles whose identifying numbers are covered. The lack of tourists has driven hotel room rates down to as low as 15% of the normal price. At the railway station, a special facility has been installed for the high-volume of security checks by 60 - 70 "husky special police", who will check even inside a Tibetan's hair. Han Chinese pass through easily.
"He said there are no human rights for Tibetans and their religious teachers aren’t allowed to visit them in Tibet. So he stressed again that they were not protesting against the Chinese people or trying to obstruct the Olympics."It was also alleged by authorities, said the source, that he had sent photos to Hong Kong reporters. A second source said he was arrested by PSB officers from elsewhere in China, not local police. The authorities had somehow known that a person in Tawu was contacting people abroad. Nyima Drakpa had been previously jailed for 15 days, for the crime of copying statements of Dalai Lama.
Last Friday I mentioned a transport stoppage by Tibetan taxi and truck drivers in Tawu County. Authorities had tried to bribe them back to work with road tax concessions, but it didn't work. It's now reported via RFA that some 200 Tibetan-owned trucks in Tawu have been parked in such a way as to block the movement of Chinese-owned trucks. Tibetan citizen journalist confirms the work stoppage since the first week of May.
And speaking of our courageous Tibetan citizen journalist, her harrassment continues as well. She has continued to report from Beijing despite police warnings to stop writing about Tibet, and she had her blog hijacked a few weeks ago (locking her out). Now she's once again come under cyber-attack. A group of hyper-nationalistic Chinese hackers calling themselves the "Red Hacker's Alliance" claimed responsibility for stealing not only her blog this time, but her Skype identity. Her husband, writer Wang Lixiong, said that it was a big threat to her, but "an ever bigger threat to her friends." More than 170 of her Skype contacts are now at risk. The hoodlums have also gotten into her Gmail account.
Information out of Tibet has been effectively shut down by the CCP's clampdown on communications and travel, but even the thinnest sliver of a channel through which the truth might emerge must be turned off at all costs. I received what turned out to be a false alarm last week, in what first appeared as a renewal of the nationalists' cyber warfare campaign which gathered steam last month. After realizing that it was in fact an earlier warning, I told my correspondent that most likely the hackers would lay off for now, and not want to jeopardize China's new-found positive international image following the earthquake. Surely the authorities would not want some angry creeps screwing up that remarkable public relations turnaround, right?
Wrong. When it comes to information flow, especially out of Tibet right now, it must be stopped. Citizen journalist's blog, hosted outside China, was defaced with gloriously waving communist flags and despicable threats (she's had three blogs shut down previously by the government). They replaced her writing with such gems as:
"Long live the People’s Republic of China! Down with all Tibet Independence Promoters!!!!"The creeps had found a clear picture of her after they stole the keys to her place, and posted it prominently with a call for violence against this lady.
"Please everyone remember the Tibet Independence Promoter Woeser’s ugly face. If anyone has seen her, beat this bitch up for me!!!!"Just like the Revenge of the Flame hoodlums last month, these guys just can't get enough of those delicious exclamation marks. This is for China's pride? This afternoon the blog returned a technical error; tonight it is gone -- "nothing is configured at this address."
Her statement to friends, and recommendation for protecting themselves, is posted at that last link on China Digital Times. The thieves have already tried to establish contact with her friends, pretending to be her ("Degewa"). She asks that friends speak first if contacted (and use Tibetan if possible, since the thieves obviously can't).
In her last-released update, Tibetan citizen journalist wrote on May 21 that the elderly former head monk of Rong Gonchen Monastery (also called Rongpo or Rongwu) in Rebkong County Amdo, who was brutally beaten and seriously injured on April 17, has himself donated 10,000 yuan for earthquake victims. The monks of that monastery are reciting prayers for them each day, and have collectively donated around 50,000 yuan.
Of course virtually every religious institution in Tibet which has held prayer services and raised money for this humanitarian cause, has also suffered from egregious state abuse and violence against their members and their sacred places over the past 80 days. Tibetans in exile, not only in India but across the world, have also supported the Chinese people with compassion in their hour of grief. Dalai Lama has donated money and offered prayers and comfort to the victims. But as citizen journalist notes in her last update, none of this seems to matter to the propaganda masters.
She cites an example from Xinhua on May 20, written by the Party Secretary of the "China Tibetology Research Center". Using one of those inscrutable communist jargon-slogans, he writes that the government's policy toward Dalai Lama has actually changed: from the 'Two Approval' to the 'Three Adhering' -- whatever that might mean.
"The words and deeds of the Dalai Lama around March 14 Incident further prove that he stubbornly adheres to his political standpoint which sets himself against all Chinese people including Tibetan people, and willingly serves as the loyal tool for the western anti-Chinese forces."Does it not sound more than a little discordant, given current circumstances ("Western anti-Chinese forces" who generously donate to earthquake relief?) and the clearly stated -- and demonstrated -- positive stance of the Tibetan leader toward China, her people, her Olympics, her great longstanding culture, and so on?
He has clearly caused some frustration among his own people, with a clear call for them to avoid expressing their aspirations during this time when China is grieving. Don't demonstrate at Chinese embassies around the world, he advises them. To those inside Tibet, he asks that they not disturb her harmonious flamey-ness when she comes near, because she's the pride of Chinese people. "I always supported China to host the Olympics," he tells everyone he meets on his overseas visits. "They deserve to host the Games."
But China's propaganda template never changes, no matter how at odds with reality it is. How long can the ideologues sustain this contradiction between verifiable facts, and their conspiracy theory-fueled suspicion and distrust? As long as their jobs depend on it, possibly.
Citizen journalist sees this as an indication for not holding too much hope for any progress in the next round of Tibet - China discussions next month. Those will likely adhere to other purposes, for the Chinese side. They want to see adoring, cheering crowds when the flame is in Lhasa (remember: Tibetans won't be welcome to this event, according to organisers, only Han Chinese). And they want to keep the world off their back until after the Games, probably by tantalizing hints of a "breakthrough" just around the corner. After that, all bets are off, and Tibetans had better keep their heads down after that closing ceremony.
Full translations of Tibetan citizen journalist's bulletins may be read here. I hope she can get back online soon.