Sunday, April 13, 2008

Nick Kristof's "Calling China"

On March 30, 2008, Nick Kristof in the NY Times asked Chinese readers to respond to his column, "Calling China." Of the hundreds of posts, here's one that I found to be
an astute analysis of basic cultural misunderstandings regarding Chinese perceptions of the Dalai Lama by a Mr. Liang Jing who brilliantly outlines the root source of
Han Chinese ignorance about Tibet.

#342.
April 1st,
2008
10:03 am

The Dalai Lama’s Wisdom and Ignorance of the Han

On March 28 the 14th Dalai Lama appealed personally to Chinese people everywhere, especially to those in the PRC, hoping that they understand his sincere wishes for Tibetan autonomy and cultural rights only, without seeking independence for Tibet. This was to my knowledge the first time the Dalai Lama has gone over the heads of the Chinese government and leaders to engage the Han people’s understanding directly; its significance is far-reaching. No one, of course, imagines that this appeal will have a positive impact on Hu Jintao and the Chinese leadership as a whole. On the contrary, I believe that it can only further shame them into anger. If Hu Jintao has recently relaxed at all on the issue of dialogue with the Dalai Lama, it would not be due to this appeal, but more likely the result of pressure exerted by Western communities, in particular the United States. The only language understood by China’s mediocre rulers is that of power and interest.

The Dalai Lama’s appeal showed that he knows this, but more importantly, sees further that another huge and terrible force supports the truculence of China’s leaders, and that is Han ignorance. As long as the majority of the Han people cannot cast off their ignorance, Chinese leaders hardly dare face the Tibet issue rationally.

The ill-informed responses to western media reports of some overseas Chinese youth are most thought-provoking in this connection. They immediately relay these false reports back to China as ironclad proof of Western ill will, and gain a strong response among domestic internet users. Chinese residing overseas should not be surprised that Western media, faced with fierce commercial competition, often report things inaccurately. However, they have not hesitated to politicize such false reports, and what they actually expose is their own prejudice. Why don’t they use this to demand that the Chinese government adopt a more open policy toward the media at home and abroad? Was it not the Chinese authorities’ comprehensive blockade of the media that created an opportunity for these false reports?

Nationalism poisons the intelligence of mankind, using the traditional weaknesses of various civilizations to enlarge the common weaknesses of humanity. The concept of an authoritarian grand unity that has dominated Chinese civilization for more than 2,000 years has left a deep imprint in the culture of the Han. Two pathologies thus formed among them—cultural arrogance, and the mentality of power and interest. These two are the root causes of the disease of ignorant thinking among many Han Chinese.

Of course, the culture of arrogance, and the pathology of playing up to the powerful are not unique to the Chinese. Western cultural arrogance in particular, bloated thanks to its technical, military and overall economic strength, has brought great harm to humanity.

China was one of the most serious victims of Western cultural arrogance. Were it not for the ferocity of Marxism-Leninism would China’s modernization have killed so many people? But a major reason for China becoming a serious victim of Western cultural arrogance, was the Han predilection for power and interest. When stubborn cultural arrogance incurred comprehensive humiliation, China’s Han people not only rushed to cut off the queues he Manchust had forced them to wear, they set about indiscriminately purging their own cultural traditions. It was not good enough to “smash the Confucian shop” — without understanding what the October Revolution was all about, they concluded that they had to “follow the Russian path.” Compared to the Han people’s destruction of tradition and fratricidal rush to catch up with trends, the Dalai Lama may look like an out of touch, stubborn fool. To safeguard the autonomy of a mere few million Tibetans rights and protect their obviously backward culture, he has dared to set itself against the more than one billion Han Chinese.

Everyone, however, from Jiang Zemin on his visit to the US to the “indignant youth” on the Internet today, is puzzled by the same question: how can a monk in exile not only gain Western political support, but, even more inconceivably, be pursued by Western celebrities, gaining wide appreciation and support from Western cultural and religious elites? With the strength of but one man, the Dalai Lama has outdone thousands of Chinese diplomats overseas, and has overwhelmed the favor the Communist Party has spent millions on currying with Tibetans domestically. Could it be he really does have superhuman intelligence?

The wisdom of the Dalai Lama, so difficult for Chinese to understand, benefits from his Buddhist beliefs, from the ancient sagely wisdom concentrated in Buddhist culture. This is not only gives him the self-confidence for dialogue with Western culture as an equal; through meeting him, many of the Western cultural elite become convinced of the stupidity of Western cultural arrogance, and recognize that every culture, as every life, has unique value, regardless of how powerful it is. The Dalai Lama’s great wisdom not only to enables him to win dignity for the Tibetan culture, but also makes him the embodiment of equal cultural rights, which is a universal value.

Lao Zi said, “By not contending, none in the empire will be able to contend with you.” The Dalai Lama’s wisdom shows us the true meaning of this great idea: someone who upholds the principles of mutual respect can be invincible, and because he is in fact maintaining common human dignity. The reason the Dalai Lama does not contend for sovereignty over Tibet yet insists on Tibetan autonomy, is because he is convinced that without national autonomy the cultural rights of Tibetans cannot be preserved, or their dignity maintained, and without dignity for the Tibetans there cannot be any for the Han either.

The ignorance of many Han lies in the fact that devotion to power and interest has rendered them incapable of understanding this reasoning: that when the Han deprived Tibetans of their autonomy, they deprive themselves of their own rights to democratic self-government, and thereby to give up their dignity in the face of all humanity.

— Posted by Liang Jing

No comments:

Post a Comment