I just read a story in China Daily where they quote a German sinologist, Dr. Ingo Nentwig, who did research in Tibet. He says there is no cultural genocide happening in Tibet.
"The Tibetan culture flourishes and prospers in China," including "language, literature, study of oral literature, everyday life and traditional architecture," he said.
Have we framed this issue so badly? Was there a cultural genocide happening in Northern Ireland under British control? Was there genocide under Apartheid? (Hold that thought... there's a PS) Is there genocide in Zimbabwe? Was there genocide in East Germany, or the Soviet Union? Is that really why we want the CCP to improve their human rights record in Tibet and China?
Is this about genocide?
Firstly, on genocide:
1948 United Nations Genocide Convention
[G]enocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such;
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
(Poole, S. Unspeak, ABACUS, 2006)
The convention is concerned with preventing genocide, hence the "in whole or in part". In the case of Tibet, (a) and (b) have definitely happened. (c) is arguable. (d) and (e) are rumours at best. That's two out of "any" five. That would meet the international criteria for genocide.
I found an interview in German with Ingo Nentwig. My German is both rusty and rustic, but here's an excerpt:
Was mich in den letzten Wochen sehr bewegt hat, ist die Unverhältnismäßigkeit in der medialen Darstellung. Kein seriöser Mensch bestreitet, dass es in China Menschenrechtsverletzungen gibt. Niemand bestreitet, dass auch die Tibet-Politik Chinas verbesserungswürdig ist, und zwar in großem Maße. Aber wenn ich mir die Lage in Tibet realistisch anschaue, die Mythen der Exiltibeter beiseite schiebe und die Lage mit der Situation in anderen Ländern vergleiche - schauen wir doch einfach nur mal ganz wahllos über die Grenze nach Indien. Ich würde wagen zu sagen, dass Indien jeden Monat in Kaschmir mehr Menschenrechtsverletzungen begeht als China in den letzten zehn Jahren in Tibet. Sie brauchen nur in die Zeitung zu schauen, wie unterschiedlich die Darstellung ist. Das rechtfertigt natürlich nichts von dem, was in China passiert, und ich kritisiere das scharf. Aber die Verhältnismäßigkeit ist in der medialen Darstellung überhaupt nicht mehr gegeben. Da kann ich dann auch die chinesische Regierung verstehen, dass sie sich unfair behandelt fühlt, weil der Westen auf ihr in einem Ausmaß rumhackt, das sie wirklich nicht verdient hat.
In short (correct me if I'm wrong) he says:
Paraquotes: "No serious person would deny there are human rights abuses in China, and that China's Tibet-policy could be better... but one only has to look across the border, to India, and Kashmir specifically, where there were probably more human rights problems in the last month than in Tibet in the last ten years."
(Of course, China Daily didn't report this part of his opinion.)
I don't doubt he's right. But this brings me to the title of my post: clearly Dr. Nentwig didn't intend to support the Chinese government's propaganda about Tibet. He's just as forthcoming in his criticism of the Chinese government, as his criticism of our media-influenced views of Tibet. This seems to me a normal sequence of events in the Western polemics. We over-react, get all hot-headed about some issue, jump to conclusions, get all biased, and then, after a few weeks, we calm down and the liberal press starts bringing out comment pieces and in-depth analyses where we start talking to ourselves, discussing where we went wrong and why and generally compromising on some middle ground between left and right.
This is a discourse the "west" has with itself. It isn't perfect, and we usually end up getting it wrong again, but we do it anyway and eventually we reach a position of self-critical awareness. (We still get it wrong though, but we talk about it, is my point.) We don't just keep on insisting we are always right forever.
Unfortunately China (I mean the goons and thugs in the government, of course) know this and pounce on this. I don't doubt they're scouring the web for pro-China Westerners as we speak. (So to speak.) This week they've come up with Dr. Nentwig, who, because he's a decent fellow, felt culturally compelled to do an interview with China Daily, but ended up being abused by them to offer legitimacy to their cause.
Last week it was Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail in Canada, who woke up to find himself a hero in China. In that case the China Daily simply manufactured what they needed.
In Dr. Nentwig's case, he just handed it to them. Well-meaning, I'm sure, but missing the point by a lightyear.
The point, you might ask, is what exactly? It is this: why are the Tibetans so angry?
Here's how China Daily ends his interview:
Nentwig criticized some Western media for only reporting the voices of the former ruling class, namely, representatives of the old theocracy, the clerical and feudal aristocrats, who lost their power and can "no longer exploit the people at will," while ignoring the voices of the ordinary Tibetan people who "have a totally different story to tell."
Absolutely. Couldn't have said it better myself. I think we should go into Tibet right now and ask the ordinary Tibetans what story they want to tell. I'm packing my bags right now. Oh, right. Damn. Can't get into Tibet. Forgot about that.
PS. According to the Genocide Convention I'd say there was a genocide in South Africa.