My Automatic Paper: Reply to A. Chu

Date: Wed, 11 Oct 1995 13:46:34 +1000
From: "John Powers" [email protected]
Subject: My Automatic Paper: Reply to A. Chu

A. Chu, accusing me of slamming China, writes,

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 tthe occasional tax revolts.

I respond: I don't paint any picture of Tibet. I do, however, report what both sides of a dispute claim. I report (accurately, as far as I can tell) what the PRC government claims, and then (again, I believe accurately) what the Dalai Lama claims, and then evaluate their arguments in light of available facts. I don't deny that there were problems in pre-PRC Tibet, but as this is not relevant to my analysis, I don't discuss it. The fact that Tibet, like all other human societies of which I am aware, had abuses of power, in no way justifies the current abuses of human rights in China.

Chu's linking of problems in pre-PRC Tibet with a justification of the present practices of the PRC government is absurd. Tibetans today are being systematically tortured and their culture is being systematically destroyed. Any past problems in their country in no way justify these things. The PRC often tries to justify its treatment of Tibetans by claiming that the old leadership was corrupt and barbaric. Even if it were, this in no way justifies the current barbarism of the PRC in Tibet. One act of barbarism never justifies another. Nor does the fact that there were problems in the selection of tulkus, rumors of poisonings, etc. in any way justify, for example, the torture of political dissidents who call for greater autonomy.

Finally, there is nothing "automatic" in my denunciations of these actions. My paper is based on research covering a wide range of sources on both sides of the debate as well as more neutral sources. The conclusions I reach and the ananlyses are documented. If Mr. Chu has counter evidence, I'd like to hear it, but please refrain from simply dismissing my comments by trying to paint me as a neo-Orientalist. If you have a case to make, make it; don't just resort to silly ad hominem remarks.

John Powers
Faculty of Asian Studies
Australian National University


Date: Thu, 12 Oct 1995 14:53:24 -0400
From: "A. Chu" [email protected]
Subject: Re: My Automatic Paper: Reply to A. Chu

Prof. Powers:

Before I reply, please read my message and your response again and consider: Are we engaging in a dialogue to further mutual understandings or reacting with personal indignation?

I was pointing to the attitudes of many advocates for Tibetan independence I have met in the US. Not being familiar with the situation in Australia and you in particular, I was careful to avoid any 'ad hominen' references. Futhermore, nothing in my message justified the violent acts and policies of the PRC government which we all deplore. I simply believe that a deep understanding of the causes and conditions leading up to the present situation will help us find the most effective way to reduce suffering.

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 ttthe occasional tax revolts.

I respond: I don't paint any picture of Tibet. I do, however, report what both sides of a dispute claim. I report (accurately, as far as I can tell)

From your article:
"Prior to the Chinese invasion, most of the power in Tibet lay in the hands of Buddhist teachers called lamas..."
"Tibet had no real army -- only small, poorly trained and poored armed local militias -- and no effective police force." "Because the major powers in Tibet were Buddhist monks whose pimary concern was the propagation of Buddhism, the people were by and large left alone if they did no interfere with this goal, although they were also expected to contribute to the Buddhist monasteris and practitioners."

From "Wind between the Worlds," by Robert Ford, a British radio operator who worked as a Tibetan official in Kham 1947-1950: "The rank of depon was just another stepping stone in the Tibetan hierarchy, and was reserved exclusively for members of the two hundred noble families that constituted the Tibetan official class." "(Chamdo) The town had a garrison of five hundred men, and there were another two hundre and fifty in Lhalu's boydguard. ...but the normal strength of the Tibetan Army was only ten thousand, and what could they do against Communist China?" (The largest monestary in Kham)"It was the biggest landowner in the region, and in Tibet a landowner owned the tenants like serfs. Before I could engage my boy Tenne he had to get a formal release from the owner of the estate on which he was born. The monastery housed two thousand monks, and they were supported by the three thousand people who lived in Chamdo. The monks did no work and did not even look after their own needs. ...." (Just think of the taxes necessary to support 40% of the population who were not engaging in material productions.)

what the PRC government claims, and then (again, I believe accurately) what the Dalai Lama claims, and then evaluate their arguments in light of available facts. I don't deny that there were problems in pre-PRC Tibet, but as this is not relevant to my analysis, I don't discuss it. The fact that Tibet, like all other human societies of which I am aware, had abuses of power, in no way justifies the current abuses of human rights in China.

Quite agreed in the area of human rights. In the political domain of Tibetan Independence, however, it is reasonable to weigh the alternatives: current situation, full independence, or real internal autonomy, etc. To compare these alternatives, one must understand the history, culture, and governance of Tibet to make estimates on how well each alternative rates in terms of suffering and human rights.

Chu's linking of problems in pre-PRC Tibet with a justification of the present practices of the PRC government is absurd.

I made no such linkage. Just reread the message.

A deep understanding achieved with equanimty can lead to more effective tactics than wagging one's fingers, I believe. Due to centuries of western colonialism, Japanese invasion, the British Empire's grab for Tibet in the Great Game, and US containment policies, the general Chinese populace and the PRC government are inordinately sensitive to actions which appears to 'carve up the motherland.' Thus, most monks and nuns arrested recently in Tibet were due to a perception of their 'splitist' actions. Torture of these people or use of force to assert territorial claim cannot be justified by fear. But the PRC policies are indeed well explained by fear. This points to some tactics advocates of human rights should consider: Tone down on the call for Tibetan independence. Focus on expanding rights in less sensitive areas. Ally yourself with Chineses who are also working to expand their rights and don't treat them as an afterthought. Given a little time, a new generation of PRC leaders without these legacies of fear will rise and they could be more amenable to even more autonomy in Tibet. Indeed, a group of ex-pat Chineses have been pushing for a Commonwealth model which might solve the political problem with Taiwan as well as Tibet.

I am happy to discuss in more details with anyone the situation in China so long as we strive for understanding and not slide into progagandizing. However, it may be more appropriate to do so outside of this conference.

Regards,

A. Chu