Vandalism and Bloodshed in Lhasa
By Gwydion M. Williams
Someone new to English might suppose that ‘Deconstruction’ was a fancy name for rioting and street-violence. There are indeed plenty of cases of ‘Otiosis’ in English, the use of rare words for no good reason, or perhaps to give a garnish to dull familiar ideas. You’re not pissed off, you’re alienated. It isn’t pointless or surplus to needs, it’s otiose, etc. This is little different from the traditional habit of giving things fancy names so as to stake a claim for refinement – those aren’t cakes, they are gateaux.
As for ‘Deconstruction’, it supposedly means something very subtle, but what? I can’t see anything in ‘Deconstruction’ beyond an attempt by a few philosophers to secede from the real world, claim knowledge that they do not in fact possess. Rehashed Plato: Plato in the Republic actually argues that tables and chairs arise from an archetypal existence of ‘The Table’ and ‘The Chair’, rather than the mundane matter of humans in their crude flesh having an evident need to sit down and to have a useful raised surface to put things on. If humans had arisen from a branch of primates that had retained their tales, seats at least would be designed very differently. For that matter, not all cultures sit down in the same way: some prefer low stools and some like the Japanese prefer to squat on mats.
Plato and Aristotle have long been evicted from science. Their ideas were perhaps a useful starting-point, but were rapidly tested and found to be completely useless and an evasion of truth.
Plato and Aristotle have survived in theology and philosophy, and also covertly in law, via the ‘Jurisprudence’ that supposedly underpins justice. In all of these areas, an evasion of truth can be quite profitable for the person doing the evasion, or the interests they are serving.
I don’t suppose the typical Tibetan rioter would have cared about ‘Deconstruction’, even if they knew English – and any Tibetan who knew English would have probably been doing well and not rioting. But they rioted on the assumption that they had loyal support from the outside world, which would follow logically from the stuff that’s broadcast on the global media. Only it’s not true: no one is going to ‘put their money where there mouth is’. Even in Mao’s day, when there was minimal trade and a general desire for a confrontation, no official body ever recognised an independent Tibet.
People call China’s control of Tibet an occupation, and suppose on that basis that it must end in due course, like other occupations. That analysis ignores two basic facts:
- Almost all Han Chinese regard Tibet as Chinese territory, part of ‘Zhongguo’, the Middle Kingdom
- In terms of International Law, they are absolutely right.
You can adapt the old saying:
“Treason never prospers
“What’s the reason?
“For if it prospers
“None dare call it treason.”
Extremely few people say that New Zealand, Australia or North America are occupied by their dominant Anglo settlers: you say it’s their land now. That also applies to the spreading population of Malay / Indonesian peoples in what’s commonly called the Malay Archipelago, and might or might not include the island of New Guinea. Geographically, New Guinea is part of the same ‘continental shelf’ as Australia, and distinct from the other islands that are part of Asia. Politically, half of New Guinea was awarded to Indonesia by the United Nations, with the US encouraging it because they wanted to please Indonesia. The other half was too hot and densely populated to be of interest to Anglo settlers, so they set up the independent state of Papua New Guinea. Papua New Guinea also included Bougainville Island, which would fit more logically with the Solomon Islands, but has had to settle for autonomy because their copper deposits are to valuable for Papua New Guinea to let go of completely.
East Timor was a different matter – they got officially recognised under International Law. Which didn’t help them during the Cold War, when the USA was keen to keep Indonesia on their side. In the 1990s they found the issue embarrassing and anyway wanted to harass Indonesia a bit, along with other Cold War allies now viewed as ‘surplus to requirements’. So East Timor has.
None of it is fair, obviously. It was not intended to be fair, despite all of the rhetoric, nor has International Law ever been much more than a code created for the benefit of established power. President Wilson announced his famous ‘Fourteen Points’, several months after he had chosen to join in the First World War. He went along with the Versailles Peace, even though it contradicted what he had said he believed in. This was justified in terms of the need to get the League of Nations operational, but then he failed to cooperate with sympathetic members of the Republican Party to get the US to agree to join, trying to use the issue as a party-political item for his own Democratic Party. This is generally seen as a blunder, but if you suppose that he was all along working cynically to advance US power at Old Europe’s expense, then it wasn’t that badly done.
Back at the start of March 2008, I was assuming that there would be a few protests over Tibet, but nothing new. But reports from the 15th told how something much worse had happened, that anti-government protests had turned into ethnic attacks:
“British journalist James Miles, in Lhasa, told the BBC that rioters had taken control of the city centre.
“‘Some of them are still attacking Chinese properties – shops, restaurants, owned by ethnic Chinese,’ he said. [A]
“Well it’s early evening here, and the old Tibetan quarter of Lhasa still is very much in the control of the ethnic Tibetans who have been rioting for the last several hours since midday.
“Some of them are still attacking Chinese properties, shops, restaurants, owned by ethnic Chinese. Some of them are looting those shops, taking out the contents and throwing them on huge fires which they’ve lit in the street.” [B]
The BBC was caught between the known facts and the agenda it had decided upon before-hand, so they could make no sense of it. Another news service was closes when they compared it to the Palestinian’s intifadah:
“Fresh protests broke out in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa on Friday, with indications that what had until now been peaceful demonstrations had turned violent…Whatever the outcome, though, it seemed to be a turning point in the history of Tibet and perhaps also China. ‘This is massive,’ said one Tibet specialist who was in touch with many Lhasa residents, ‘it is the intifadah. And it will be a long, long time before this ends, whatever happens today or tomorrow.'” [C]
The BBC were slow to admit that people as well as property were being attacked. But there was little excuse for not knowing, as I found when I checked other Western news sources. Many people saw it or talked to eye witnesses. Ethnic Hans – the Chinese majority – were being targeted. So too were the Hui people, Muslims whose culture is similar to the Han and who have moved into Tibet as its economy developed.
“A Han girl who spoke to CNN from Lhasa said she had been beaten by a group of Tibetans.
“‘I am now in hospital with a bandage on my head,’ she said. ‘The trains are closed and I am not sure if I can take a plane back, or if I can reach the airport. All is chaotic now.’ [D]
“This is an eyewitness account of a foreign resident in Lhasa…
“‘The residents are very angry. 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 would say it’s a riot here but I think in the centre it’s worse. There’s a lot of smoke – we can see it where there have been burnings. I heard people saying the authorities were firing, using guns. We don’t know.
“Here we have seen people trying to stone anyone they can – Han and other minorities, not foreigners. The Tibetans had stones and knives. I saw Chinese people running away – there was nothing they could do…
“‘I saw three people assaulting a man – I was 050 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.
“‘I had to get away, there were people throwing stones.
“‘When I came back he was gone – I don’t know if he’s dead. Then I saw people who had obviously been beaten or stoned. There wasn’t blood on them but they were so shocked.
“‘This area used to be a place where Tibetans and the Chinese were friendly. [E]
“‘I am too afraid to go out,’ the resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said. ‘It is chaos out there.’ The resident, who is from the Chinese Han ethnic group, said he saw Tibetans attack two fire engines.
“‘I saw Tibetans throwing stones at the vehicles. They dragged drivers from vehicles, took off their uniforms and helmets, then beat them.
“‘The chanting mob beat up around five or six drivers who had to be carried away with blood on their faces … then they put a motorbike under the fire engine and set fire to it so the engine was burned.'[F]
“Patrick Conaghan, a tourist from St. Louis, said he had just stepped off a bus Friday afternoon when ‘all at once, black smoke. Police were blocking off streets and people running. It was just chaotic.’
“Conaghan said the protesters did not hassle him. ‘They were shaking hands with us and telling us to get the message out,’ he said in an interview as he got off a flight from Lhasa at the Beijing airport Saturday. ‘You know if I was Chinese, I would have felt like I was in a race riot in America. I would have been in . . . trouble.’…
“A regional government official defended police actions on Friday. He said that the police had not fired their weapons but rather had rescued more than 580 people, including three Japanese tourists, from burning buildings. He said many of the 10 dead were business owners who burned to death when their shops were set ablaze. He said Lhasa was not under martial law. [G]
“The violence was undoubtedly racial. Its prime targets were the Chinese merchants who have flocked to Tibet by road and on a prestigious new train across the roof of the world.
“The mobs were the losers of Lhasa – the poor who seethe with resentment, outwitted commercially by Chinese traders, out-gunned by the Chinese army and, many fear, ultimately to be outnumbered by Chinese migrants. [H]
“Swiss tourist Claude Balsiger told the BBC’s Charles Haviland in Nepal about the violence he witnessed in Lhasa…
“I was personally there when they [the crowd] started beating up an old Chinese man on a bicycle. They hit his head really hard with stones. And some old Tibetan people went into the crowd and made them stop.
“But after that it just went insane. It was mainly young people but the young people were in the action and the older ones were just supporting them with screaming. They were making a wolf sound, howling like wolves. [J]
“They described scenes in which mobs relentlessly beat and kicked ethnic Han Chinese, whose influx into the region has been blamed by Tibetans for altering its unique culture and way of life.
“Mr Kenwood said he saw four or five Tibetan men on Friday ‘mercilessly” stoning and kicking a Chinese motorcyclist.
“‘Eventually they got him on the ground, they were hitting him on the head with stones until he lost consciousness.
“‘I believe that young man was killed,” Mr Kenwood said, but added he could not be sure.
“He said he saw no Tibetan deaths…
“Mr Kenwood recounted another brave rescue when a Chinese man was pleading for mercy from rock-wielding Tibetans.
“‘They were kicking him in the ribs and he was bleeding from the face,” he said. ‘But then a white man walked up… helped him up from the ground. There was a crowd of Tibetans holding stones, he held the Chinese man close, waved his hand at the crowd and they let him lead the man to safety.'[K]
“Mr Kenwood also saw boxes of stones being supplied to Tibetan throwers.
“‘To me it was like it was planned,’ he said. Both men said a rumour spread that a group of monks arrested on Monday had been killed by the Chinese, and that this inflamed emotions.” [L]
Anyone who’d trusted the BBC would have been let down. But the BBC was designed to be Britain‘s voice, ‘Britain’ being taken to be the range of opinions expressed in Parliament. It seems that our current crop of MPs only get angry when the BBC mention inconvenient truths. They’ve imbibed the wisdom of Deconstruction and are full of a Post-Truthful Wisdom that tells them that facts are whatever you want them to be. They also failed to realise how this would look to ordinary Chinese, or to not-so-ordinary Chinese who might look to the West as a better alternative to their own system, but not on an issue like Tibet or racial attacks on other Han Chinese. Some ordinary non-professional commentators had no trouble making the link:
“What would happen if the ordinary English people vented there anger on the large immigrant populations in England by rioting and burning businesses and people?…Would the police and Army not try to stop it with force? Posted by John Jordan on March 16, 2008 9:37
“People have the right to protest, but do not have the right for violence. The killings of innocent bystanders by the rioters are criminal acts.” Tony, New York, US [M]
The attitude was classic racism. Han and Hui would be settling in Lhasa for much the same reason as Irish might be settling in London or Liverpool. Disputes between Beijing and the Dalai Lama have nothing to do with them. But though they are there legally, their right to be there is not accepted:
“The European traveller said he was hiding out with a Tibetan family but eventually got kicked out when he disagreed with their sentiment that all Chinese and Muslims should be removed from Tibet. A monk who was with the family asked him to leave, to avoid confrontation.” [N]
The BBC didn’t want to know facts like that, they preferred to be Post-Truthful. And have since been very puzzled at the growth of anti-Western sentiments among Chinese bloggers, the sort of people they’d ear-marked to be a useful 5th Column.
A minor defect of becoming a lying news service is that you lose your moral advantage over the official media of one-party states. And Beijing decided it was a good time to lift the long-standing blocks they had had on the BBC’s English-language websites. Let potential dissidents get a good look and discover that the BBC was very far from trustworthy.
Beijing meantime care not to inflame emotions. A Chinese television video documentary of events shows many scenes that closely match what individual Westerners saw. But it avoids racism, including positive images such as a Tibetan doctor injured while protecting a Han child from the mob. This was also reported in the news
“When the holy city of Lhasa was rocked by riot, many Tibetans and Hans chose to stand shoulder by shoulder to face the disaster.
“Lying in the People’s Hospital, Losang Cering had seven stitches on his face. His cheekbone was broken and the Tibetan doctor also suffered cerebral concussion.
“‘I didn’t regret helping the Hans,’ he said.
“Losang Cering went out with nurse Cejig last Friday to rescue the injured in the riot, when he saw a tearful father, whose name he knew later was Wu Guanglin, cuddling his son in front of a smoky house crying for help. The boy was trampled by rioters and suffocated.
“They performed artificial respiration for the six-year-old boy and drove him and Wu Guanglin to hospital. But the ambulance was intercepted within 10 meters by a dozen mobsters wielding knives and clubs or holding bricks, who asked for the Hans.
“Rebuffing their demand, Losang Cering clinched the boy to his chest and gave his safety helmet to Wu.
“‘I am a doctor. They won’t hurt me,’ he said.
“Although the doctor and the nurse were both injured seriously in the violence, he was glad the boy was saved.
“Talking about his story, Losang Cering didn’t appear proud at all. ‘It was my duty,’ he said, ‘when we are in trouble, I believe that the Hans would do the same.’
“Losang Cering was right.
“Feng Bixia might have to live with a long scar in her left ear for the rest of her life, but the two Tibetan children she tried to protect were returned home at last, safe and sound.
“It was at about 3 p.m. last Friday, when the businesswoman, who came from Shaanxi 10 years ago, heard noise from the street and planned to close the door of her advertising store. She suddenly found a boy and a girl weeping outside.
“Feng let them in, trying to comfort the scared children.
“About 20 minutes later, the girl’s father called her. ‘Papa wants me to be back,’ she said anxiously.
“‘It was too dangerous,’ Feng replied. She thought for a while and made up her mind. ‘I will go with you.’
“Several rioters rushed them when the shop owner let the two children out of the store. Feng was hacked in the chest and her left ear was pierced. Equipment in her store was smashed, and valuables robbed.
“‘Nevertheless, everyone with a conscience would do the same as me,’ she said.
“A Tibetan old lady in her 70s from Chengguan district took a family quivering in the public toilet back home, and accompanied them to a safer area at midnight.
“A monk hid a boy chased by rioters in the temple.
“The 65-year-old Dawa Cering left the door open amid the turmoil, saying to Han neighbors, ‘welcome to my home if you are in danger.’
“Unrest that broke out in Lhasa on March 14 led to the deaths of13 civilians, including both Tibetans and Hans who got hacked or burnt. More than 300 others were injured.
“The violence was widely condemned by people from all sectors.
“China Central Television (CCTV) carried a footage showing a Tibetan lady saying indignantly, ‘children can’t go to school; workers can’t work; it is them who spoiled our tranquil life.’
“The 11th Panchen Lama, Gyaincain Norbu, said on Sunday that the riot in Lhasa ran counter to Buddhist tenets.
“Baoluo, an associate research fellow with the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences, pointed out that according to archaeological and historical data, Tibetans and Hans are of the same origin, whose ancestors were lived in the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River 10,000 years ago.
“‘Any scheme wrecking social stability in Tibet and attempting secede Tibet from China would go against people’s will,’ said Tibet regional chairman Qiangba Puncog, ‘it is doomed to fail.'” [P]
That was from People’s Daily Online. Obviously they are being selective, taking steps to avoid a race-war of the sort that irresponsible reporting can easily spark. But they also detail incidents that were mostly ignored by Western media, who show no interest in discovering truths unfavourable to the Tibetan separatist cause:
“More than 100 citizens mourned five women victims of the Tibet riot in front of the shop where they died.
“Holding lilies and candles, mourners shuffled slowly forward in a queue. They put flowers and candles in front of the young women’s photos posted on the burnt wall of the shop.
“The five were sales assistants in a Yishion clothing store on a busy commercial street in downtown Lhasa. They were burnt to death in a fire started by rioters during the Lhasa riot last week.
“They were Cering Zhoigar from Xigaze, Han Xinxin from Henan Province, and Chen Jia, Yang Dongmei and Liu Yan all from neighboring Sichuan Province.
“‘We were surrounded by yelling and the noise of windows shattering sometime after 2 p.m.,’ said their 20-year-old colleague Zhoi’ma, the only survivor.
“The young women huddled together, shaking and crying, when the mobs broke in to smash up the shop, Zhoi’ma said. ‘We were too scared to even breath.’
“When flames spread upstairs, Zhoi’ma was the only one who squeezed through a small gap torn in the shop door by the mob.
“‘I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I see their faces whenever I close my eyes,’ Zhoi’ma said.
“‘I should have looked back. I shouted to them to follow me. I thought they were following me, but they didn’t,’ said Zhoi’ma, the only survivor. ‘If I had looked back, they would be with me now.’
“Chen Jia, 18 and the youngest of the five, sent a text message to her father at 3:42 p.m. on that fateful day, saying, ‘Mobs are killing people around my shop. We dare not go out. Don’t worry about me. Tell mum and my sister not to go out.’
“Ten minutes later, the shop was on fire.[Q]
Lots of people dislike having their way of life changed by immigrants. But the BBC takes a whole range of different attitudes, depending on where it might be happening. In the case of Tibet, violent race riots have been treated with undue sympathy.
[M] My selections from numerous comments at [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/talking_point/default.stm]
[N] Christian Science Monitor [http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0314/p99s07-woap.html]
[P] Facing riot, Tibetans, Hans side by side. [http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/90001/90776/90882/6378730.html]