Dear Tibetan friends ^-^
I am a Chinese reader feeling very depressed after reading about alleged unfair treatment to pro-independence political parties in the recent Tibetan election.
To pro-middle-way friends: please treat pro-independence Tibetans fairly, because any liberal democracy says that “let’s debate now, but after this debate, the minority should shut their mouth in the future, for the sake of social unity” will cease to be a liberal democracy and become a totalitarian state. A free Tibet, indeed a free China, must allow peaceful advocacy of any views including peaceful pursuit of independence by any region inside Tibet or inside China.
To pro-independence friends: please continue to stand firmly for Tibet’s right to have independence, but please separate “Tibet’s right to have independence” from “premature declaration of Tibetan independence” as two very different subjects. I personally believe that a promise to delay Tibetan referendum on independence by several decades, in exchange for the Chinese people’s (painfully slow, but genuine) recognition of Tibet’s inalienable right to vote on the subject of independence, will work better for the two nations in the long term.
Rangzen friends, please reject the cynical view that Chinese people living inside Tibet will always vote against Tibetan independence – in fact how do they vote will really depend on how successful Tibet will become as a tolerant, multi-lingual, multi-cultural open society that gives everyone a sense of “belonging/at home”. You can see the Chinese-speaking people of Taiwan choosing a new self-identity as “Taiwanese” rather than “Chinese”. You can see French-speaking people of Quebec identifying with Canada rather than with France. But you can also see examples of failures, such as what happened in eastern Ukraine and what happened under the partisan Shia government in Iraq and the nationalist government in Zimbabwe. China has utterly failed in making Tibetan inhabitants feel they “belong” to China, can Tibet succeed in making Chinese inhabitants feel they “belong” to Tibet?
The first few years after the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) downfall will be a very dangerous period, we must not allow nationalists on any side (Chinese, Tibetan, etc) to stir up racial hatred and kidnap all the nations into war and ethnic cleansing (committed by any side)! To avoid this, you – the Tibetan resistant movement, please refuse to be a mere “Mirror Image” of us – the Chinese oppressors. Fighting Chinese nationalism with Tibetan nationalism, fighting one version of “filtered” history with another version of “filtered” history, fighting “their intolerance” with “our intolerance”, replacing “their assimilation policy” with “our assimilation policy” may sound logical, even practical, but it is detrimental to the Tibetan nation and Tibetan culture in the long term. A new independent Tibet should not be built on the Tibetan blood bond (or in another word, race), but built on an idea, an idea that is an individualistic “multination-state” – different from the 19th century European “single-nation-state” model. The Tibetan struggle has been so far so successful – compared to, for example, the Uyghur struggle – is because you have fought Chinese nationalism with Tibetan individualism, fought idiocy and bigotry with an open mind and intelligence, fought intolerance with tolerance. As long as both the Tibetan and the Chinese sides use the “patriotism/nationalism” narrative, the Chinese chauvinists have an advantage in mobilising a population base that’s much larger than that of Tibetan’s (Chinese population size being 200 times of the Tibetan population). But by refusing to play the Chinese chauvinists’ nationalism game, Tibetans will deny the Chinese chauvinists a rallying point in manipulating the wider Chinese society, you will negate their advantage. Instead, you draw the Chinese people – not as an indistinguishable mass, but as unique, independent individuals – into supporting the Tibetan cause and isolate the Chinese chauvinists over time.
Please allow me to quote some words from the early 20th century Chinese independence advocates:
Sigh! My Han (Chinese) nation!
Isn’t it the Han nation who (should) soar over the ancestral realm!
Isn’t it the Han nation who (should) stand independently on the land of Asians!
Isn’t it the Han nation who (should) become great modern citizens!
Sigh! My Han nation!
May you repel the foreign evil who denied you sovereignty!
May you redeem your blemished history!
May your nation’s name be gazed in awe by humanity!
Your independence flag is now fluttering in the air!
Your liberty bell is now ringing on Yu’s earth!
Your independence hall is now dominating at the centre!
May the heaven clear!
May the earth clear!
May the thunder roar!
May the lion be awakened!
- from a millennium of slumber!
Let the revolution come!
Let the independence come!
Long live the revolutionary independence of the imperial Han nation!
------ The Revolutionary Army (1903) by Zou Rong who died in a Manchurian prison
Revise the (unequal) treaties! Restore the sovereignty! And regain complete independence!
Revenge the degradation! Resist the aggression! And rescue the civilisation!
------ A Sudden Look Back (1905) by Chen Tian-hua who deliberately drown himself at sea to “wake up” the Chinese to fight for independence
All Asian nations who believe in the spirit of independence, who would like to follow our steps, may we unite under this same pledge.
------ Constitution of The Asian Friendship Society (1907) by Zhang Bing-lin who invented the name The Republic of China
To progress through this path, we are sure that China can be delivered from its semi-colony status and become an independent country, standing proudly in the world.
------ Communique for The First National Congress of the Kuo-min-tang (1924)
The Chinese history in the past century was a history of China gradually losing its independence, and becoming a colony. Yet it’s also a history of the Chinese people struggling for independence and liberty for the nation…… China must become an independent country, a country that enjoys equal status with other major world powers.
------ Statement regarding the abolishment of unequal treaties between China, the USA and the Great Britain (1943) by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)
(Note: quotes are translated from Chinese texts by the author of this essay; original Chinese texts are available at the end of this essay)
The important task for us today, is not to be carried away by the passionate words and selfless sacrifices by the early Chinese independence advocates, but to reflect on the tragic and ironic fruit of their sacrifices, a fruit called the People’s Republic of China (PRC): a cruel, despotic, stifling, evil imperialist power that is in every bit contrary to the earlier revolutionaries’ dream. (Most ironically, within the borders of the contemporary PRC, “independence (獨立)” has become a dirty word of sorts that inspires fear and hatred, and is often deliberately miswritten in a pun form as “poison (毒立)”.) A key cause of this tragedy, I believe, is that the Chinese fought European imperialism with Chinese nationalism. Yet imperialism and nationalism are but two sides of the same coin, two edges of the same sword, two different manifestation of the same “collectivism”. Collectivism, no matter in its manifestation as imperialism, nationalism, or economic, gender, or religious classism, always treats individuals as nothing more than vessels and containers of a “collective identity”, and denies individuals as autonomous sentient beings who each has unique feelings, memories, experiences, and abilities to explore, to reason, and to learn from their unique memories and experiences. In the above quotes, we can observe a transition of tone from the earlier individualistic rebellion against European imperialism to a later signal of wanting to become a copycat of the imperialist powers (as shown in the last quote from the CCP’s statement in 1943).
I think the prevalent “Identity Crisis” in our time is a by-product of today’s world economic integration and increasingly larger scale of mass-production of goods and services, and the rocketing demand on natural resources (land and ocean). The pressure put by this process on marginalised nations, languages and cultures are huge. Their very (cultural and linguistic) survival (survival of their memories) are threatened.
I personally believe we must reform the 19th century European “single-nation-state” model to accommodate this new reality. To put my belief in a new “multi-nations-state” model very briefly:
(1) A free Tibet (and a free China) should have designated administrative regions for all languages, big or small – it means that the designated language must be used as the sole language for administrative, legislative, legal and commercial purpose in that administrative region. A free Tibet (and a free China) is not an “USA melting pot” where most minority languages eventually die, it’s a painter’s palette where all languages live separately, harmoniously, permanently.
(2) A free Tibet (and a free China) must avoid the situation “everyone learning the language of her/his blood-ties”, i.e. “Tibetan-blood individuals speak the Tibetan language only, Chinese-blood individuals speak the Chinese language only”, etc. Instead, it should promote “Tibetan blood individuals learn Hindi, Hindu blood individuals learn Chinese, Chinese blood individuals learn Uyghur, Uyghur blood individuals learn Tibetan”, etc. – this is not to be achieved by force, but by financial incentives to parents sending their children to schools teaching in another language, or similar incentives.
(3) Government officials must be multilingual. Highly paid professions – lawyers, accountants, doctors, etc – must pass multilingual tests. Multilingual tests scores must be considered in University-entry selection process.
(4) Free movement of individuals between language-designated-administrative-regions are highly encouraged, to facilitate females and males to travel to another language environment, to learn that language, to work there, and to find interracial marriage mates there, and to produce multiracial, multilingual, multi-self-identity children.
This is a model based on individualism, on the belief that an individual is not a chip or a cog on a machine called “the nation”, “the national language/ culture”, “the national history”. On the contrary, languages, cultures, histories, and memories are chips and cogs that make up an unique individual. Each individual owns a different combination of languages, cultures, histories, and memories. This, and especially how this individual uses her/his unique combination to discover and innovate, is what make an individual truly irreplaceable. The evil of oppressing a language, as China is now doing to the Tibetan language, is the oppressing of an individual’s right to observe the world through this unique language – an unique perspective, and her/his right to enjoy that unique view. Therefore individualism alone, is the most powerful propeller in fighting the evil of language oppression, and individualism alone, is the only boundless source of energy in preserving the Tibetan language and continuously creating Tibetan culture.
If we can successfully build an open society, rather than a “single-nation-state” in Tibet, then depending on what China were to do, there can be two outcomes: first is that China were to successfully do the same, to build a tolerant, multi-lingual, multi-cultural society, then the future referendum on Tibet independence (only people living inside Tibet vote) may fail to gain majority support. But that is okay. Because there can be a second, a third… referendum on independence in the future. The second possible outcome is that while Tibet successfully build a plural society, China were to fail to do the same, then the future referendum on Tibetan independence will probably win majority support and Tibet will become an independent country.
As the saying goes “the devil is in the detail”. If you, a Tibetan, and I, a Chinese, both love to live in a free open society, then we must build a well-thought-through political framework to nurture that freedom and openness, because no one else (CCP or the West) will do it for us. We must let Tibetan and Chinese people see a different vision, a vision of individualism, diversity, and infinite possibilities. Thank you ^-^
3 December 2015
Note: below are the original Chinese texts of the quotes