Date: Tue, 10 Oct 1995 18:02:00 -0400
From: "A. Chu" [email protected]
Subject: Re: China
Among Peter Harvey’s list of Week 2 issues, is this:
1. Bangladeshi oppression of Chittagong hill tribes
2. Chinese oppression of Tibetans
3. Vietnemese repression of Buddhists
A reasonable question is: What about the oppressed Chinese buddhists? Furthermore, not all Tibetans are buddhists. The reason I highlight this is not to nit-pick his list, but to illustrate the mechanical nature of the typical discussions that takes place when Rights Talk get around to the topic of China.
I highly recommend to everyone the article "New Age Orientalism: The Case of Tibet." by Donald Lopez Jr. in the Spring ’94 issue of Tricycle. He explores with great deftness how westerners have alternately exalted and debased Tibet, China, and India in turn. He concludes: "Fantasies of Tibet have in the past three decades inspired much support of the Tibetan independence. But those fantasies are ultimately a threat to the realization of that goal…"
Traces of such ‘Orientalism’ views may be readily found in Prof. John Powers’ article for this conference. Tibet is painted as an idylic land concerned only with the propagation of buddhism. Absent were the internal strifes, tulku succession intrigues(including poisoning), or the occasional tax revolts. The recent Rumtek incident should convince anyone that Tibetans are mostly unenlightened beings like you and I. ( Well, I’m sure about me anyway. %-) )
What brought us to the present mechanical nature of these discussions? I would suggest that much credit go to HH Dalai Lama whom I greatly admire for his consistently compassionate stance. He was able to elevate the fight for political independence of Tibet onto the world stage nonviolently. Also, much credit must go to the legacy of the cold war and the Reaganite vision of ‘The Evil Empire.’
Sadly, most US people remain blissfully unaware of the history of East Asia and the tremendous changes happening in China today. In one paper(*), Stephen Thomas analyzed China’s social, economic, cultural rights performance as well as the meeting basic social needs via the Physical Quality of Life Index for 1949-1982. He concluded that the except for the Great Leap Forward, China had respectable performances in social and economic rights. Her PQLI compared favorably to other equally poor or even more developed poor Asian countries. He concludes, "China’s most remarkable achievement during the last three decades has been to make low-income groups far better off in terms of basic needs than their counterpart in most other poor countries. They all have work, their food supply is guaranteed through a mixture of state rationing and collective self-insurance; most of their children are not only at school, but being comparatively well taughtl and the great majority have access to basic health care and family planning services. Life expectancy (…) is, at 64 years, outstandingly high for a country at China’s per capita level." Limited personal freedoms were part of the price for these achievements.
Starting about 5 years ago, China has been going through an incredible transformation socially and economically. Entrepreneurial undertaking have spread like wild fire. The changes in outlooks are so deeply rooted now that they will not be easily turned back. I count the UN Conference on Women to be an excellent indicator/motor of changes. Allowing so many foreign NGO activists running free and raising hell was unimaginable a mere ten years ago. According to one attendee’s report on the Usenet Newsgroup, the Chinese women were electrified by the confidence and power of the many delegates they met. Some obstructions to the conference was reported in the news. However, the NYT concluded that most of it appeared to be inadequate preparations and did not affect the conference significantly.
While the general population has gained much personal freedoms, there is still a long way to go, of course. In the realm of human rights in China, I would suggest that political dissidents, female infants, and faithfuls of all ethnicities all deserve our supports.
"Measuring Social and Economic Rights Performance in the PRC: A Comparative Perspetive Among Developing Asian Countries" by Stephen Thomas in ‘Human Rights: Therory and Measurement,’ Ed. D.L. Cingranelli