2008 04 12
China and Tibet
Update: Go read Jamie instead (including his response to me in the comments), since unlike me he actually knows what he’s talking about.
I think that China’s conduct in Tibet (and elsewhere!) is awful, and that it’s been awful for a long time. But I’m not sure what to expect from China at this point, and therefore not sure what to protest for or against on those occasions when revulsion puts me in the mood to protest. That’s because I suspect that China is not faced with a choice, as many protesters seem to imply, between being a China that oppresses Tibet and being a China that doesn’t oppress Tibet. Rather, to put it too dramatically, I suspect that China is faced with a choice between being a China that oppresses Tibet and there not being a China for very long afterwards. Or to put it less dramatically, between being a China that oppresses Tibet and being a China under considerably increased internal strain. That’s because China contains not one restless minority group yearning to be free, but rather a number of such groups, all of whom are watching China’s handling of Tibet with considerable interest, and none of whom would stop their yearning if China granted Tibet the kind of freedom that its citizens would choose if they were given a choice.
That doesn’t excuse anything China does in Tibet, of course. And it doesn’t rule out all kinds of intelligent, constructive criticisms. It does mean, however, that a legacy of deep injustice has complicated matters past the point of easy resolution. This is one of the things that sucks about serious injustice. This is what it does. This is what it leaves behind in its wake. And I think it’s worth remembering that, whether I’m right in my understanding of the situation or not, the Chinese leadership may well believe something like (a more charitable version, presumably) what I’ve just suggested. They’re not just doing what they’re doing to Tibet to be evil, or because they’re bigoted (though many surely are). Some of their reasons, surely, have to do with the fact that, because they inherit a history marked with extreme injustice which has included conquest over other ethnic and religious groups, they now find themselves backed into a tight spot when dealing with any one group.
So here’s a tricky question: How do you recognize all that without proposing solutions that are complicit in the injustice? Or at any rate, that don’t concede too much to it? In an important sense I think Tibet ought to be granted real autonomy by China at the very least. But I also recognize that the consequences of doing so for China would extend far beyond Tibet. Criticisms of China that call for less than autonomy seem to me to risk being complicit in the original and ongoing injustice done to Tibet. Criticisms of China that call for actually just solutions require compromises on China’s part that have far-reaching implications for its long-term viability as a state.
I don’t really have a point in posting this, except perhaps to provoke a commenter to say something intelligent that helps me to see things more clearly.
Howls of outrage (3)