In 2009, Kunga Tsayang — the imprisoned writer and environmentalist — wrote in a bold essay titled “Who are the Real Separatists?”: “China Television, Lhasa TV and others, while ignoring the truth, have excessively branded all Tibetans as separatists. This has caused an incurable communal rift between the Chinese brothers and sisters and Tibetans, leading to the Chinese disliking the Tibetans …” was Tsayang’s prescient analysis. This has proved to be true many times over, the latest case being the unprovoked attack on Tibetan students in Chengdu, the capital of China’s Sichuan province.
According to reports in China Digital Times, Qzone, and Woeser’s blog, on 14 December over 3,000 Chinese students from three large hostels of Chengdu’s Railroad Engineering School surrounded the 200 Tibetan students’ quarters and went on the attack. In the assault lasting the entire night, the Tibetans’ dormitory and classrooms were destroyed. Many Tibetan students were seriously injured and taken to hospitals.
After the police failed to control the situation, over a thousand riot police armed with teargas were sent in to disperse the students. The incensed Chinese students even attacked and smashed the police vans and teachers’ cars.
No one is absolutely certain why the attack took place. But judging by the slogans that the Chinese students raised such as “Beat the Tibetans! Get more credit!” a familiar pattern seems to be surfacing.
During the Cultural Revolution Mao let millions of students go berserk by commanding them to “Bombard the Headquarters!”, resulting in a decade of destruction and social disorder that nearly destroyed China as a nation. Years later China’s paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, chanted “To Get Rich Is Glorious” and the masses followed Deng’s catchphrase leading to over thirty years of unbridled economic growth causing irreparable environmental damage and creating an unequal society in which the rich dine on multi-course banquets while the poor labour long and hard for their daily bread. The orders of Mao and Deng were followed by more meaningless clichés such as Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents” and Hu Jintao’s “Harmonious Society”.
Over the last sixty years the Chinese people have been bombarded with a barrage of daily dictates which regimented every aspect of their lives. Furthermore, official propaganda and misinformation “generally about China’s past in tune with communist ideals, and particularly on Tibet and the Tibetans” were fed to the masses. Consequently, Kunga Tsayang wrote that “… an image is built in the minds of both the Chinese people and Tibetan brothers and sisters of the ’other side’ as someone who is to be scared of and to have hatred.” It is hence not surprising that Tibetans have been harassed and refused hotels when visiting China, especially after the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
The recent attack on Tibetan students at the Railroad Engineering School is the latest case in point. The driving force behind all these confrontational behaviours is Beijing’s policies to fuel an ultra-nationalism devoid of history and culture, and the lack of a larger global perspective. The creation of such intense but baseless nationalism is dangerous as it reinforces, writes Fran Dikotter, author of Mao’s Great Famine, “the portrayal of frontier countries, from Taiwan to Tibet, as ‘organic’ parts of the sacred territory of the descendants of the Yellow Emperor [Huangdi or the Yellow Emperor is a mythical figure who is hailed as the first ancestor of Han Chinese] that should be defended by military power if necessary.’ However, Tibetans are certainly not the only ones to be at the receiving end of this Han chauvinistic nationalism.
Every now and then, Beijing has let the people vent their anger against Japan for its past actions. A new film, The Flowers of War, about the Japanese occupation of Nanjing in 1937, starring Hollywood actor Christian Bale, is also a part of this dubious exercise. Critics say that the film, in which Beijing invested large sums of money, is little more than a calculated anti-Japanese propaganda film portraying them, according to The Wall Street Journal, “as monochrome monsters”.
Five years earlier, in 2007, an official communiqé after the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China stated that Hu Jintao had instructed all leading officials and party cadres to place “building a harmonious society” at the top of their agenda. But China today is not only an inharmonious country but also a terribly low-trust society, where the rich are fleeing to the West and the poor are openly revolting against Beijing as illustrated by the on-going Wukan uprising in Guangdong province.
It is clear that neither the promoting of ultra-nationalism, nor doling out of yuan as is being done to Tibetan monks in Tibet, can sustain this unjust rule. Kelley Currie, a China specialist at the Project 2049 Institute, told The Diplomat that the present system has dug a hole for itself and that political reform is the only way out.
This bleak scenario, perhaps, is an opportunity for the Tibetans to renew their passion, recalibrate their strategies, and be even more focussed in their struggle for a free Tibet. After all the Lebanese poet and painter Kahlil Gibran so movingly wrote “Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.”