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Blogging Beijing

The 2008 Summer Olympics will punctuate three decades of development and test China's global legitimacy. They've already transformed the way millions of people think and live. Seattleite and Fulbright researcher Daniel Beekman brings you Beijing.

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March 27, 2008 12:48 AM

International furor, domestic solidarity

Posted by Daniel Beekman

Beijingers don't read the Seattle Times.

Few subscribe to Newsweek, Spiegel, Asahi Shimbun or the Washington Post - publications competing to cover a suddenly holy headline: the 2008 Olympics, Darfur and Tibet.

Riots in Tibet's capital, Lhasa, set the world's top presses a-churn on March 14. Counter-protests and arrests kept them churning.

Last month, American film-guru Stephen Spielberg resigned as artistic advisor for August's Opening Ceremonies, linking Sino-Sudanese relations to violence in Darfur (a region of western Sudan). While angry Tibetans spoke out, their exiled spiritual leader - he of the crimson robes and grandfather spectacles - reaffirmed China's Olympics and rallied Western leaders to his cause: open talks with Beijing.

On Monday, members of activists broke up a flame-lighting ceremony and a torchbearer withdrew from the Olympic relay in sympathy with Tibet. Meanwhile, the European Union's president told a German newspaper that EU nations should consider a boycott. Scores, possibly hundreds, of Tibetans and Chinese have died.

All news considered, the 2008 Games are veering toward scandal abroad. Here in Beijing, however, anxious government media have released soothing reports and a plebeian Olympic passion burns on.

'Local spring harvests smoothly carry on - Tibet overcomes adversity and makes way for the plow' testified one headline atop the March 24 edition of China's biggest newspaper - the People's Daily. 'Longing for the flame, welcoming the Olympics' read another.*

"This mess in Tibet, it's insignificant," said a young woman, resting between weight machines in a north Beijing park. "We Chinese just want to participate in the Olympics."

The Darfur-Olympic connection hasn't received much publicity in China, where Sudan ships two thirds of its exported oil. Spielberg's move attracted attention, of course. But Beijingers may regard Africa's wars as mysterious and irrelevant.

"We Chinese love peace," a young man explained. "And what about the U.S.A.? You Americans invaded Iraq and killed many people for oil. All countries need oil. Yes, China deals with Sudan - this is the nature of global trade."

For more than a year, activists and politicians - Hollywood actress Mia Farrow included - have demonstrated against the 2008 Beijing Games on behalf of Darfur, where government forces and a militia known as the Janjaweed have killed or displaced hundreds of thousands.

Farrow and others want Beijing to power United Nations peacekeeping efforts. According to Human Rights First, a U.S. nonprofit, China sold Sudan US$55 million worth of weapons from 2003-2006 and has provided 90 percent of that country's small arms since 2004, when a U.N. embargo took effect.

Beijing has objected to criticism on Darfur - claiming impartiality when it comes to trading partners' internal affairs. Liu Guijin, China's special envoy to Darfur, has praised a Chinese engineering unit - in Sudan for a year, installing a water system for U.N. peacekeepers.

"What's happening in Darfur is not our fault," an elderly woman walking through Beijing Academy of Agriculture Science said. "In fact, we've helped keep the peace in Sudan. It's just that the world likes to blame China."

Civil unrest in the Tibet Autonomous Region, as well as in the provinces of Gansu and Sichuan, sustained a weeklong media frenzy here. Whereas most reports abroad tied Lhasa's riots/protests to the 2008 Olympics, domestic coverage and online forums stressed Tibetan attacks on Han Chinese.

On March 18, the Beijing Morning Post ran a story titled 'Presently, the Tibet situation remains steady.'

"The government has taken effective action and restored law - Xinhua News Agency," the report began. "In Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, a small number of people have smashed, looted, burned etc. They have sabotaged and harassed the social order, jeopardizing the personal safety and property of others. Departments of the Autonomous Region involved have taken effective, lawful action to maintain Tibet's social stability, defend the sanctity of the legal system and protect the broad masses' fundamental interests. The situation is already under control."

Next, the Morning Post story recapped the events of March 10 and March 14 in Lhasa.

"On the afternoon of March 10, 300 Buddhist priests of the Lhasa Zhaibung Monastery, showing disregard for national law and temple regulations, attempted to enter the city's urban district and create disturbances. They dashed at and verbally abused police officers on duty, showing complete arrogance.

Also on March 10, student priests from the Sera Monastery unfurled a 'snow lion' flag outside of the Jokhang Monastery square and shouted 'Independence for Tibet' and similar slogans. From March 11 to 13, individual Buddhist priests continued to gather, shout reactionary slogans, try officers' restraint, throw stones, splash lime with boiling water and injure several dozen on-duty police officers severely. Three Zhaibung Monastery Buddhist priests also took photographs of each other after performing self-mutilation in an attempt to cover the truth and mislead the public.

On March 14, more trouble was stirred up. Hoodlums gathered at Lhasa's Bakuo Street to shout separatist slogans and carry on beating, smash, looting and burning wantonly. They also assaulted the local Public Security police stations, governmental agencies, banks, stores, gas stations etc. According to preliminary statistics, these hoodlums burned three elementary and middle schools, 22 buildings in all. They also burned dozens of police and civilian vehicles, killing ten innocent people and wounded 12 police officers, two of who are in critical condition. Overall, both national and personal property suffered great losses."*

Various Chinese interviewed for Blogging Beijing reacted strongly to video footage of riots/protests in Tibet and Sichuan broadcast on television and online.

"On T.V. you can see how all the foreigners in Lhasa ran for their embassies," an older man working out near his apartment complex said. "They were afraid of the Tibetans.

"Have Tibetans died? No way. We've all been watching T.V. If they had, we'd know. Just turn on your T.V. - see for yourself. This stuff is on all day."

That Tibet's instability could overshadow or perhaps ruin the 2008 Olympics is an argument made frequently in Europe and the U.S. - and an argument many Beijingers oppose.

"All countries deal with these kind of disturbances," declared the young woman. "Our Tibetans want to kill many people and their ambitions aren't right - independence and disruption. The Dalai Lama is not a spiritual leader - he is a fugitive who directly interferes in Tibet.

"There is no relationship between the Beijing Games and unrest in Tibet. The Olympics are the Olympics."

State-sponsored Chinese media have asserted that Tibet's most famous Lama secretly orchestrated the violence in Lhasa last week. Yesterday, Xinhua released a report called 'Questions and answers about the course of the recent Dalai-backed riots.'

This background, courtesy of the Beijing Morning Post:

  • The Dalai-group rebelled in 1959...unwilling to see new Tibet flourish more and more every day.
  • In the 1960s, the Dalai-group reorganized and rearmed, launching harassing attacks at the border.
  • In the 1980s, the Dalai-group planned a disturbance in Lhasa, attempting to split Tibet from the motherland.
  • In recent years, the Dalai-group has promised orally that it has given up 'Tibetan independence,' but in fact has not stopped its separatist sabotage. During visits to Europe and America last year, Dalai declared many times: "Perhaps 2008 is the essential year, these Olympic Games are the Tibetans' last chance." He also appealed to foreign countries, relating the 'Tibet question' to Beijing's Olympics.*

"I've heard about the boycotts - on T.V. and in the newspaper," the older woman said. "The people campaigning for a boycott think China is a bad country. They think our government treats minorities poorly.

"We are just as moral as the next country. The Dalai Lama has petitioned foreigners to join a boycott, but his program will not succeed. It will fail. The 2008 Games are un-boycottable."

Not all Beijingers follow international sentiment so closely. Yet every person interviewed for Blogging Beijing toed the Party line.

"Boycott? I don't know about that," said a puzzled Beijing Institute of Technology student. "Is it really true? This is just business as usual in Tibet, mere politics. It shouldn't affect the Olympics.

"There's a small war between the government and the Tibetans. Maybe people will protest the torch relay near Mount Everest. Protest or no, the torch will pass through Tibet."

"I haven't heard anything recently about Tibet," a 19-year old restaurant worker mopping up said. "Don't boycott the Games. Human rights in China are pretty good."

On March 24, the flame-lighting ceremony in Olympia was awarded top billing by both the Beijing Morning Post and the Beijing Star Daily - a light, subway newspaper.

A half-page photo of the ceremony accompanied the Morning Post's headline - 'Sacred flame to be lit today.' 'Flame-lighting ceremony moved ahead one hour' ran the Star Daily's bold-faced alert. Tibet didn't make the Star Daily's front page. That newspaper's editors pushed '33 museums now offering free admission' and 'Small ads send real estate business a warning' instead.*

"What a chaotic place," another young woman commented of Tibet. "We Chinese give the Tibetans so much. They shouldn't make trouble like this."

"I've read about these potential boycotts," laughed a sportswear clerk. "It's the Americans and...well, I forget. At any rate, too many people are considering this. They don't understand China. If they did, they wouldn't want to boycott our Olympics.

"Tibet's like Taiwan - it's always been a part of China. So don't boycott the Games. If you do, it's your own loss."

Beijingers don't read the Seattle Times. Like Lhasa's Tibetans, Han Chinese see in these 2008 Games a chance. They're hoping to banish forever that infamous colonial image - China, 'Sick Man of East Asia.'

"I hope the Olympics aren't boycotted," another older man said, shaking his head. "We've waited a hundred years for these Games, and we need them."

* Amateur translation by Blogging Beijing


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Posted by Peking Tail

4:29 AM, Mar 27, 2008

Why are people giving so much credibility to a guy who claims to be reincarnated from the previous Dalai Lama? It is a fact that the monks turned violent and went on a rampage. This betrays Buddhism, betrays the Tibetan freedom movement, and violates law and order in any country. All the former colonial powers, with your past and on-going human rights abuses, please get down from your high horses, and face the fact that Tibet will never be free, even if the Tibetans resort to terrorist activities.

Posted by Harold Tiernan

5:23 AM, Mar 27, 2008

Nice to see the other side of the story.

Posted by Jason

9:22 PM, Apr 02, 2008

The Riots in Lhasa

  by Eirik Granqvist, a foreign expert in Shanghai who visited Tibet in 2006

   "The western medias announced that China had cut all information and that articles about the riots could not be sent out! I got mad about all the apparently incorrect information and wrote this article and two other similar ones although I am not a journalist but just because I could not stand all the bad things about China that was told. I sent them by e-mail without problems and they arrived well but two newspapers did neither respond neither publish what I had written. The third answered and wanted a shorter version that was published many days later as a normal 'readers voice'. What Dalai Lama had said was largely published every day together with a real anti-China propaganda. What I had written was apparently too China friendly for the 'free press'."

  I was very shocked by what I had seen in the television and been reading in China daily about the riots in Lhasa. The most that shocked me was anyhow may be not the cruel events by themselves but how the medias in my country of origin, Finland, reported the events. A friend has scanned and sent me articles and I have checked also myself what can be found at Internet.

  Very few Finnish people have ever visited Tibet, but I was there together with my wife in 2006. This was private persons and not as a part of a group-travel. I have seen Lhasa with my own eyes. I have been talking and chatting with people there. This was without any restrictions. Okay, we had a lovely and very competent guide that helped us much and took us where we wanted to go in the mornings but in the afternoons we were alone. Therefore I think that I have something to tell.

   I am also interested in history and know more than people in general. When writing this, I do not have any reference books so I write out of my memory. If I do a small mistake somewhere, I beg your pardon. Anyhow, I think that this gives my writing an objectivity. I am well aware of that I will be accused for this and that for writing what I think is the truth. I will be accused by those who think that they know but do not know and by those that haven't seen by their own eyes.

   Tibet was for centuries an autonomous concordat between Nepal and China. Sometimes China ruled Nepal as well. The king of Tibet used therefore to have one Chinese wife and one Nepalese and then a number of Tibetan ones.

  With the fifth Dalai Lama, the religious and the political power were unified under the rule of one person, The Dalai Lama. Tibet became a theocratic dictatorship and closed itself for the rest of the world. No foreigners were anymore allowed in.

   At the end of the nineteenth century, the famous Swedish traveller Sven Hedin made an attempt to reach Lhasa but was sent politely back, out of Tibet by Dalai Lama.

  A French woman, Alexandra David-Néel was more successful. She visited Lhasa dressed as a Tibetan pilgrim and she was fluent in the Tibetan language. She told how she was afraid many times that she should be discovered and then she knew that she like other suspects or opponents should "happen to fall down" from the walls of the Potala palace.

  Tibet was not a paradise. Tibet was an inhuman dictatorship!

   The weakened Chinese Qing Dynasty had more and more lost its influence in Tibet. Tibet became more and more interesting for the Russian empire in the north and the British in the south.

  In 1903 a British army expedition directed by the colonel Younghusband reached Lhasa. The British lost 4 soldiers but slaughtered more the 700 Tibetans that tryed to stop them, mainly by magic. The British installed "a commercial representation" in Lhasa. The Chinese evacuated Dalai Lama to the Qinghai plateau where he hade limited rights of move, probably for preventing him from having contacts with the British occupants.

   The Finnish national hero, Marshal Mannerheim, visited him there in 1907 during his famous horseback trip through central Asia. He was then a colonel in the Tsar Russian army and his trip was in reality a spy trip. Therefore the 13th Dalai Lama was interesting.

  The power of Dalai Lama was weakened. In 1950 the PLA marched in to Tibet without war. The 14th Dalai Lama seems at the beginning to have accepted this just as a security for his power as the theocratic dictator he was. He enlarged and restructured the Norbulingka Summer Palace in a luxury way in 1954.

  The Chinese decided anyhow to finish with the cruel theocratic dictatorship under which the opponents fell down from Potala. The borders where during this dictatorship closed for all foreigners and the only schools where the religious ones. It is well known that it is easier to rule a population with a low education and is ignoring the outside world. In Tibet, about 5% of the population owned everything and the rest literally nothing. About 40% of the Tibetans were monks and nuns living as parasites on the rest of the population that had to feed them. Tibet was not a paradise!

  Now China decided that the Tibetans should have the same rights and place in the society as the rest of the country's population. The monasteries should be emptied from their excessively large monk and nun populations.

  Tibet could earlier be reached only by some horse trails and was for the rest insulated. The Chinese built rapidly a trafficable road. The insulation was broken.

   In 1959, the young Dalai Lama caused a peoples upraising, using the religion as power since he was loosing his own powerful position. The upraising was however stopped, may be in not a too clever and smooth manner. Dalai Lama then left Tibet and his fellow citizens and escaped to India wherefrom he has continued to fight for his come back and reinstall the theocratic dictatorship that China will never allow again.

  Then followed the ten years of Cultural Revolution that was an unhappy time for all China that closed itself to the rest of the world.

  Now Lhasa has a modern airport and a railway. China has invested a lot in Tibet. The standard of living has been raised a lot in Tibet and last Xmas I have seen Tibetans spending sun-holidays on Hainan Island! Very lucky looking old women in traditional dresses walking on the beach with their husbands and the youngsters dressed like other young people enjoying the beach life.

   The possibilities for Dalai Lama to take back his power has diminished and he does not anymore have the population with him. China and India are developing their cooperation and with the closer friendship, India will for sure also not more admit Dalai Lama to disturb this development. His possibilities to act against China will be diminished.

  Therefore he undertook recently an around the world diplomatic travel since he has seen the possibility of harming the now good international image of China and provoking boycotts of the Olympic games in Beijing.

  The Lhasa riots where very well prepared. Curriers where crossing the borders illegally for to see Dalai Lama and get his orders. A group of foreign mountain climbers filmed recently across the border an unlucky incident when one of these curriers got shot and another that crossed the border openly declared that he wanted to go to see the Dalai Lama. I have seen that in television just before I left for China in November.

  China is no longer a closed country. There is no need for illegal border crossings if you are not doing something illegally! You just ask for a passport and take the necessary visas and cross the border at a legal border crossing or better, just take a regular flight from Lhasa to Kathmandu!

   There where no peaceful demonstrations in Lhasa that where brutally knocked down! Young men went to action after a well prepared scenario at many places at the same time so that police and fire brigade should be taken by surprise and unable to act everywhere at the same time. This was successful! People where just knocked down without differences and all what could be broken was broken in the shortest possible time. With Molotov cocktails, fires where lit and fire cars where stopped. 18 normal citizens where killed without feelings and one police. The police had order to not respond with firearms for not being internationally blamed!

  When I have seen the filmed riots in television, my diagnosis was immediately clear. The scenario was the same that I had seen many times of organized riots in France since more the forty years of tight familiar contacts and 21 years of living there. The difference was only that less ordinary people seemed to take part in Lhasa. The rioters where surprisingly few but well organized! China's positive image in the world should be damaged!

  Dalai Lama is acting as the friendly and peaceful father. This is an old trick that also dictators like Hitler and Stalin used. I am not comparing him with them but he is acting like a demon when he tries to take back his power at any cost, not once caring for human lives and against Buddhistic non-violence principles. It was a try to do a coup d'ètat that failed. Now he is asking for international help for to stop the violence that he, himself had planned!

  When I visited Tibet in 2006, I was surprised by the relaxed atmosphere and the few policemen in Lhasa. All that I have seen were Tibetans. Not the Han-Chinese. The atmosphere was remarkably peaceful and gave a picture of general well living. There was no oppressed feeling like I had seen so many times in the Soviet Union and its satellites before all that non-human system collapsed. People in Lhasa where friendly and wanted to speak to me, mostly without success since I do not speak Chinese nor Tibetan but up and then somebody could speak some words in English. Their wish for contact was just out of normal curiosity towards the foreigners.

  I had heard that the religious life should been oppressed but it was flowering! I had also heard that so many Han Chinese where moved in that the Tibetans where now very few in Lhasa. I did however see much more Tibetans there. May be that the Han Chinese where hiding?

  The western medias announced that China had cut all information and that articles about the riots could not be sent out! I got mad about all the apparently incorrect information and wrote this article and two other similar ones although I am not a journalist but just because I could not stand all the bad things about China that was told. I sent them by e-mail without problems and they arrived well but two newspapers did neither respond neither publish what I had written. The third answered and wanted a shorter version that was published many days later as a normal "readers voice". What Dalai Lama had said was largely published every day together with a real anti-China propaganda. What I had written was apparently too China friendly for the "free press".

Posted by commie smasher

1:39 AM, Apr 04, 2008

A foreign "expert" should know that no matter how bad things get in a country, nobody wants a bunch of communist scum coming in and pushing people around. America should raise tariffs on China on all of the cheap communist made garbage that they ship over here. Go Tibet! smash those commies.

Posted by hoggdizzle

4:01 PM, Apr 07, 2008

Blogging Bejing:
I was a teacher in China in 2005-06 and I enjoy reading the blog. I would like to suggest something: Try to explain how the Chinese can be controlled as a population through the manipulation of their media.
I think Westerners really stuggle to understand how the Chinese can be controlled so easily, especially in these current issues and it would be enlightening for your readers to show examples of how their thought process is developed through systems of control and manipulation.
For example, when I was a teacher in China, I was amazed at how the people felt about the "Great Chinese Firewall", which is the government blocking internet content. To a westerner, this is a direct violation of free speech, but the Chinese response was always the same:
"The government is doing us a favor because they only block things we should not be seeing anyway."
You see in the comments from Chinese all over the media in the Western world the same key phrases about Tibet--that is it China, that the Dalai Lama has no credibility, that he is leading this charge of resistance and that the United States and other world powers have nothing to say as we all have blood on our hands.
These are all key components of a system which teaches the Chinese both internally in the country and outside of the mainland that they are too appear as friends as long as they can keep control of the game. The Chinese system of education is not free and open. People are indoctronated to believe specifically what they are taught and not to question leadership.
These comments about the Dalai Lama are astonishing as he is the leader of Tibetian Buddhism and in my opinion, the Leader of Buddhism overall. He is the most well respected leader of religion because of the Buddhist consistant record of peace and non-violence and for the Chinese to lay blame specifically on this person is sickening.

Posted by Sad Facts

7:31 PM, Apr 08, 2008

I traveled in Tibet last summer. We found nearly all vendors surrounding the Jokang Temple to be Han Chinese or Muslim. Nearly no Tibetans in the myriad of stalls in the market. This is like visiting Bethlehem and having Muslims and Hindus sell you religious trinkets, art and souvenirs on the way in.

Tibetans told us they were very frustrated. That they couldn't get news of the world, and that they did not have religious freedom. Out of more than 6,000 Tibetan Buddhist temples, the Chinese demolished all but 8 - and none were left intact. Tibet was looted for it's riches and today is plundered for it's mineral / environmental wealth. Very little of this trickles down to ordinary Tibetans, who are poor and who continue to be marginalized. It is true that China has done many things to help modernize Tibet. China also continues to treat Tibetans in a paternalistic way - Tibetans want to keep their culture. The Chinese government is invested in re-education programs, eradicating Tibetan culture (content edited).

Pull into any small Tibetan town in the middle of nowhere. All the shopkeepers will be Chinese. All the beggars will be Tibetan.

That didn't get reported by the Foreign Expert did it?

Of course not.

That doesn't get reported in Chinese newspapers does it?

Of course not.

Posted by irony

1:11 PM, Apr 10, 2008

hoggdizzle,

Your comment completely misses the point.

"Comments from Chinese all over the media in the Western world" are from oversea Chinese who don't like Chinese leaders nor Chinese government. It is the media bias and distortion from CNN,BBC etc that triggers all these pro-Chinese government comments.

I have lived in United States for 14 years and never watched Beijing's propaganda since. When I first came here, I had a lot of sympathy for Dalai Lama's cause. However, after years of hearing lies from him and his group ("1.2 millions Tibetan was killed", on and on), now in my eyes he is no better than communist leaders. I simply could not be convinced one liar holds higher moral standard than another one.

About "non-violence" nature of Tibetan Buddhism, please read "A History of Modern Tibet - 1913-1951: The Demise of the Lamaist State" by Tibetan expert and scholar Melvyn C Goldstein (available from Amazon) to find it out yourself. Don't tell me your understanding of Tibetan Buddhism and history are from media or Holywood movies.

Talking about system education, when I get "brain washed" in China, I was in Tiananmen Square in 1989 confronting PLA army where a mini Statue of Liberty was established. After watching CNN, BBC etc for just one month, I found that for the first time in my life I fully support China's crack down on riots in Tibet, what an irony!

If you talk to regular Chinese around you, you will find out that most people have the exact same feeling as I do. Recent "Free Tibet" activities and "mainstream" media hypocrisy give Chinese government support they could not even dreamed of in recent 30 years after China was opened up to Western world in 1978. Isn't that sheer stupidity?

Posted by seattle_one

8:54 PM, Apr 10, 2008

Seriously? The Dalai Lama is a terrorist leader? Give me a break!! He has consistently lobbied for open discussion and peace with China who continues to represent him as an agitator (content edited).

Wake Up!!

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