By Jane Mee Wong
Northwest Asian Weekly
Editor’s note: Tibet-China coverage has been one of the most — if not the most — controversial news items this year for Northwest Asian Weekly. We are choosing to reprint this story because it does its best attempt to gather many types of voices, not just one person’s opinion.
“China loves Tibet,” Zhang, a Chinese graduate student read aloud from the multitude of signs. He continued, “But the question is, does Tibet love China?”
At the lively protest of up to 400 Chinese students and workers, according to UW Police Chief Ray Wittmier, held at the University of Washington convocation of the Dalai Lama, no easy answers were found.
In response to the violent protests that have taken place in Tibet, chants of “No More Violence,” “No to Riots,” and “We Want Peace” resounded from the long row of Chinese protesters who began their march from Red Square on the UW campus.
“I am here today because the U.S. media likes to sensationalize what is happening in Tibet,” said Xia Songtao, a Chinese national working at Microsoft. “It wants to portray China as irrational, as against peace in the world.”
“The U.S. media simplifies what is happening,” said Xia, speaking in Chinese, referring to the conflict between ethnic Tibetans and ethnic Han, who make up the majority of China’s population.
Citing the example of ethnic Tibetans who live in the bordering regions of Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan, Xia continued, “The Han ethnics have higher educational qualifications than many of the local Tibetans and so there is resentment between them.
“The media portrays Tibetans as oppressed, but in reality, life is improving for many Tibetans. There used to be only religious institutions in Tibet, but now there are close to 100 institutions of higher learning. It is an astounding number.”
Who bears the burden of destroying Tibetan culture, however, remains an open question.
With the stated purpose of clearing myths propagated by the U.S. media, a female spokesperson of the protest asked, what about the McDonalds and the Starbucks that are found in Tibet? Is globalization also cultural genocide? Is the loss of Tibetan culture in the march toward development a deliberate form of cultural genocide carried out by China?
For some, the suppression of Tibetan religion and culture is more straightforward. “The rights of Tibetan people are fully taken away,” said Jill Corey, a Seattle resident attending the Dalai Lama’s convocation. “Tibetans aren’t allowed to practice their religion. They cannot even have pictures of the Dalai Lama.
“The Dalai Lama should be reinstated and assume his religious authority in Tibet now,” she said.
Not all, however, see the return of religious authority as an expression of Tibetan freedom.
“Tibet used to have a hierarchical social structure,” claimed the female spokesperson in the protest. Slaves made up the majority of the population under the religious hierarchy, she said. “Why didn’t Dalai free his people then?”
Some saw the UW convocation of the Dalai Lama as a reflection of U.S. institutions’ interventions into China’s internal politics.
“The U.S. is using Tibet for its own political reasons to tear apart China,” said Wei, a student at the University of Washington who gave his first name only and spoke in Chinese. “The CIA used to fund the Tibetan resistance in the 1960s,” he claimed. “China, like the U.S., is a multicultural country, with its own set of race affairs and tragedies. Why does the U.S. want to intervene in China’s internal affairs?”
For some Chinese students, these perceived interventions have their loopholes. “If the U.S. is speaking out against oppression of Tibetans, why isn’t it also supporting the resistance in Muslim-dominated Xinjiang? Why is it still in Iraq?” asked Jing, speaking in Chinese. A graduate student at UW, she asked to be identified by first name only. She is from the Xinjiang region of Western China, where, as in Tibet, protests against Chinese rule have also recently taken place. (end)
Jane Mee Wong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.