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Tibet and the World

category central asia | imperialism / war | opinion / analysis author Wednesday May 21, 2008 07:59author by Oisín Mac Giollamóir - WSM (personal capacity) Report this post to the editors

On March 10th, the 49th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising, 300 monks demonstrated in Lhasa, Tibet, demanding the release of a number of imprisoned monks. In doing so they marked the beginning of a brief period of rioting by Tibetans against the rule of China, and the Chinese Communist Party, over Tibet. These riots were violently suppressed by the Chinese state.
The riots and their suppression has been widely publicised in the media and sparked a series of international protests aimed at undermining the Beijing 2008 Olympics. These protests occurred along the route of the international Olympic Torch Relay causing the torch to be extinguished 5 times in France alone.

Tibet and the World

On March 10th, the 49th anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising, 300 monks demonstrated in Lhasa, Tibet, demanding the release of a number of imprisoned monks. In doing so they marked the beginning of a brief period of rioting by Tibetans against the rule of China, and the Chinese Communist Party, over Tibet. These riots were violently suppressed by the Chinese state.

The riots and their suppression has been widely publicised in the media and sparked a series of international protests aimed at undermining the Beijing 2008 Olympics. These protests occurred along the route of the international Olympic Torch Relay causing the torch to be extinguished 5 times in France alone.

What happened in Tibet

Tibet was invaded by China in 1950. For a few years the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s historical theocratic head of state, remained the ruler of a largely autonomous Tibet. However, after a failed CIA funded uprising in 1959 the Dalai Lama and his government fled and went into exile. Since then China and the Chinese Communist Party has ruled Tibet.

In recent years, Tibet’s connection with China has greatly increased with the opening of Tibet’s first railway link to the rest of China. This railway development was bitterly opposed by many Tibetans. But their opposition was laid to one side as Chinese state officials ensured them the rail link would lead to low prices for food and other goods. However, since the opening of the railway, prices across China, Tibet included, have been rising significantly. The rail link has also lead to an explosion in immigration to Tibet. Han Chinese, the ethnic majority in China, now run many of Tibet’s shops, small businesses and tourist facilities. This explosion of Han Chinese migration to Tibet has been likened by some to the settlements by Israeli Zionists in the occupied territories of Palestine. It has also been likened to the expansion of the USA into the Native American lands of the ‘Wild West’. One commentator writes: “Rather than use sheer military coercion, the Chinese now rely on ethnic and economic colonization, rapidly transforming Lhasa into a Chinese version of the capitalist Wild West with karaoke bars intermingled with the Disney-like "Buddhist theme parks" for Western tourists. In short, what the media image of the brutal Chinese soldiers and policemen terrorizing the Buddhist monks conceals is the much more effective, American-style socioeconomic transformation. In a decade or two, the Tibetans will be reduced to the status of the Native Americans in the United States.”[1] Tibetans have also complained that they do not have the same access to jobs and education as the Han Chinese.

Following the monks protest on March 10th many people in Tibet seized the opportunity to rise on Friday, March 14th. There has been some speculation that there were two distinct aspects to the rising: on the one hand the monks, on the other the Tibetan youth of Lhasa. The Tibetan youth of Lhasa are quite distinct from the Tibetan monks. George Blume, a German reporter who travelled to Lhasa the day after the riots started said “I felt that these young people wanted something else. Like our young people they have headphones in their ears, they wear jeans, the same jackets, the same shoes. They have most ardently complained that they do not … get the same education as the Chinese that the Chinese have more money.”[2] However, due to the Chinese Communist Party’s control of information on what happened in Tibet it is difficult to say how great or small the divide is between the youth and the monks.

The riots themselves have been described by James Miles of The Economist magazine, the only foreign journalist in Lhasa at the time of the riots, as “primarily an eruption of ethnic hatred.” [3] He says he “saw crowds hurling chunks of concrete at the numerous small shops run by ethnic Chinese lining the streets of the city’s old Tibetan quarter. They threw them too at those Chinese caught on the streets—a boy on a bicycle, taxis (whose drivers are often Chinese) and even a bus. Most Chinese fled the area as quickly as they could, leaving their shops shuttered.” [4] In an interview with CNN he said “What I saw was calculated targeted violence against an ethnic group, or I should say two ethnic groups, primarily ethnic Han Chinese living in Lhasa, but also members of the Muslim Hui minority in Lhasa. And the Huis in Lhasa control much of the meat industry in the city. Those two groups were singled out by ethnic Tibetans. They marked those businesses that they knew to be Tibetan owned with white traditional scarves. Those businesses were left intact…Almost every other business was either burned, looted, destroyed, smashed into, the property therein hauled out into the streets, piled up, burned.” [5]

Another eyewitness wrote: “They are throwing stones at anyone who is Han [Chinese] or from other minorities like the Hui, who are Muslims. It seems like it's ethnic - like they want to kill anyone not Tibetan….I saw three people assaulting a man - I was 50 metres away, but I think he was Chinese. They kicked him and then one man had a knife and used it. He was lying on the floor and the man put the knife in his back, like he wanted to see he was dead.” [6]

The ethnic violence of this episode is obviously regretful, disgusting and should be unequivocally opposed by all anarchists. However, it is worth noting that the movement seems to be a poorly articulated movement by the Tibetan working class against Chinese imperialism and colonialism. The motivation behind the violence seems largely to spring from food price inflation and the inability of the Tibetan working class to pay for food. Also the movement seems to have expressed itself against the bourgeoisie and petit bourgeoisie in Lhasa, who seem to be composed largely of Han Chinese and Hui Muslim.

Who done it?

The Chinese government has said that the riots were orchestrated by the ‘Dalai clique’ i.e. the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile. They have presented a detailed explanation, with a lot of evidence, to back this claim up. [7] However, being a Marxist-Leninist state their information is not exactly trustworthy.

The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile have denied being behind the unrest. But likewise they’re far from being trustworthy. In a remarkable example of doublethink, one member of the Tibetan government in exile said of the unrest: “the Tibetan (rioters) has [sic] been non-violent throughout (the incident). From Tibetans' perspective, violence means harming life. From the video recordings you can see that the Tibetans rioters were beating Han Chinese, but only beating took place. After the beating the Han Chinese were free to flee. Therefore [there were] only beating, no life was harmed. Those who were killed were all results of accidents.” [8]

Others, such as Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez, have claimed the rising was orchestrated by the USA. He argues: "the (U.S.) imperialists want to divide China. And they're causing problems there in Tibet… We ask the world to support China to neutralize this plan… You see the images of the violence in Tibet. Who is that against? Against China. It's the (U.S.) empire that wants to weaken China, because China is rising up." [9]

While Chavez is obviously wrong that China should be supported and while it is unlikely that the riots were ordered from Washington, the USA is to some degree involved. It is clear that, if in no other fashion, they have been active in the area through the US Congress funded Free Radio Asia.

Thus far it is far from clear exactly how spontaneous the rioting was and what involvement the USA and the Tibetan government in exile have had in its orchestration.

Tibet and the West

Lhasa is a city of 257,400 people; marginally larger than Cork City. It’s economically and militarily unimportant, in an economically unimportant area, sitting on top of no major resources, so the question arises: why has a few days rioting in Lhasa become a major international incident?

The answer is not because the brutality of the suppression of the riots is a betrayal of the ‘Olympic spirit’. The ‘Olympic spirit’ has been betrayed many more times before this. For the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics thousands of young black men were imprisoned to get them off the streets in preparation for it. Likewise, in 1996 in preparation for the Atlanta Olympics ridiculous ordinances were introduced such as one that made lying down in public illegal in order to get the poor off the streets. Again in Athens in 2004, hundreds of homeless people, drug addicts and mentally ill people were locked up to prepare for the Olympics. However, surely the most shocking example of Olympic repression was in 1968 in Mexico City when hundreds of Mexican students and workers occupying the National University were slaughtered in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas on October 2, 1968, ten days before the start of the games. [10]

The answer why the Lhasa riots have become an international incident is also not given by the idea that it is a rising against the power of the Chinese Communist Party. The truth is that China is a country wracked by internal political strife. In 2005 alone the Chinese government recorded over 87,000 incidents of social unrest involving a hundred or more people. This in a country where opposition to the government is illegal! However many of these incidents of unrest are not of the kind the west desires. They are struggles demanding better wages and better living conditions i.e. they are the same struggles we endure in the West.

The Lhasa riots have been significant for two interconnected reasons: the role Tibet plays in the western imagination and the geopolitical concerns between the west and china.

Tibet in the Western Imagination

The role that Tibet plays in the Western imagination is a contradictory one. This is clearly demonstrated by the thoughts and actions of “Colonel Francis Younghusband, who in 1904 led the English regiment of 1,200 men that reached Lhasa and forced trade agreements on the Tibetans, He mercilessly ordered the machine gun slaughter of hundreds of Tibetan soldiers armed only with swords and lances and thus forced his way to Lhasa. However, this same person experienced in his last day in Lhasa a true epiphany: "Never again could I think of evil, or ever again be at enmity with any man. All nature and all humanity were bathed in a rosy glowing radiancy; and life for the future seemed nought but buoyancy and light." [11]

For Col. Younghusband Tibet is simultaneously an object to be incorporated into the west and into western liberal capitalism, at gun point if needs be, and it is the ethereal on earth. Likewise, western hopes for Tibet today are that it becomes a neo-liberal nation-state and a spiritual centre that transcends capitalism, the market and geopolitics. Tibet is for the west both a political issue and an apolitical issue. This enables the West in supporting Tibet to speak for the ‘spiritual’. The struggle against “Chinese Communism” becomes a struggle that is justified by forces outside of politics. Naked imperialism becomes a struggle over the sacred Other.

It is no surprise then that right wing mysticist groups such as the Italian fascist Youth Action (Azione Giovani) have taken the issue of Tibet’s liberation as their own raising slogans such as “For the people of Tibet, Against Communism”.

China & Geopolitics

The seemingly apolitical exceptionalism of Tibet is extremely useful for the west in its relationship with China.

It is no secret that China is rapidly becoming an economic superpower to rival the USA. It is also exercising more and more political power on a global scale. The ‘genocide’ in Darfur and the non intervention of the west is continuing primarily due to the links between the Sudanese and Chinese governments. In 2005 China and Russia, rivals since the Sino-soviet split in the late 50s, began joint military exercises. Both are now members of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation). The SCO was founded in 2001 by Russia, China and the Stans; through it China hopes to create a kind of EU for Asia. In the last fortnight, China has been trying to ship arms to Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

China is increasingly becoming a threat to the USA’s position as global hegemon. [12] The US is becoming increasingly incapable of securing its position of hegemony through economic means. Under the Bush administration, it tried to turn to military means of enforcing its position. However, this attempt has failed with the USA getting stuck in an internecine conflict in Iraq.

The West, and the USA in particular, is in an awkward position where it knows that it does not any longer have the military capacity to prevent the increase in China’s power in the manner it did in the Korean War, for example. Anyway China is too important to the world economy and to the west’s economy and in particular the profits of western multinationals to challenge directly. As French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said, backing down from a proposal to boycott the Beijing Olympics, "When you're dealing in international relations with countries as important as China, obviously when you make economic decisions it's sometimes at the expense of human rights…That's elementary realism." [13]

China is also in an awkward position. Its aspirations to global hegemony are undermined by the fact that it is widely and correctly viewed as a tyrannical and ant-democratic power. Global hegemony cannot simply be attained by means of military and economic supremacy. Hegemony also entails a ‘moral and intellectual leadership’ [14] based on the accepted claim of the hegemon that it is acting in the general interest. This lack of a ‘moral and intellectual leadership’ is becoming a major obstacle to China’s rise.

Mark Malloch-Brown, Britain’s Minister for Africa, Asia and the United Nations said of the Beijing 2008 Olympics: “This is China’s coming-out party, and they should take great care to do nothing that will wreck that.” The west has tried to ensure that the Tibetan riots have wrecked ‘China’s coming-out party’. The riots in Tibet are an international incident not due to their real international significance but due to their ideological significance. They enable the west to undermine China’s aspirations for ‘the moral and intellectual leadership’ needed for it to gain world hegemony.

Oisín Mac Giollamóir
Friday, April 11th, 2008

[1] Zizek, S. “From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism” in Cabinet Magazine
[2] «Die Jugend will mehr»", Neue Zürcher Zeitung,
[3] "Fire on the roof of the world", The Economist,
[4] Ibid
[5] Transcript: James Miles interview on Tibet.
[6] "'Oh my God, someone has a gun ...'", The Guardian
[7] "Dalai clique's masterminding of Lhasa violence exposed", China Daily,
[8] “2008 Tibetan unrest”
[9] "Chavez: U.S. encouraging Tibet violence", USA Today
[10] “China's Brutal Olympic Echo” by Dave Zirin
[11] Zizek, S. “From Western Marxism to Western Buddhism” in Cabinet Magazine
[12] A hegemon may be defined as a state or power that can dictate the policies of all other powers in its vicinity, therefore a global hegemon is a state or power that can dictate the policies of all other powers globally i.e. has global hegemony. Today the USA is a global hegemon i.e. has global hegemony.
[13] "Kouchner backtracks on idea for mini-boycott at Olympic opening ceremony", International Herald Tribune
[14] Gramsci, A. “Notes on Italian History” in ‘Selections from the Prison Notebooks’ pp.57-58

author by Paddy Rua - WSMpublication date Fri May 30, 2008 01:56author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Talking about double standards, on the Cannes ceremony that frivolous idiot Sharon Stone did some outrageous remarks on Tibet and the Chinese earthquake:

"I'm not happy about the way the Chinese are treating the Tibetans because I don't think anyone should be unkind to anyone else,"

"I've been concerned about how should we deal with the Olympics, because they are not being nice to the Dalai Lama, who is a good friend of mine,"

"And then all this earthquake and all this stuff happened, and I thought, is that karma -- when you're not nice that the bad things happen to you?"

If we judge world powers for their unkind relationship to others, and for doing "bad things", I just wonder how many earthquakes, tornados, floods, plagues, famines and volcanic eruptions does the US deserves according to Ms Stone "flawless" theology... maybe Iraquis, Latin Americans and Afghanis could give an idea?


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