Wednesday, March 19, 2008

a quick rant

I have a day off. I am not driving anywhere, except probably to the grocery store once our new couch is delivered. It is raining. And so there's some time to make a few oblique comments about the state of affairs in Tibet.

The BBC Radio 4 Today programme had an interview with (Visiting) Associate Professor Barry Sautman of Hong Kong University of Science & Technology about the state of affairs in Tibet... presumably because Prof. Sautman's opinion runs counter to those of us with a strong, liberal tendency to dislike large totalitarian regimes that invade other sovereign nations. The podcast with the interview can be found here. Sautman makes the outrageous statement that"no state has ever recognized the independence of Tibet." This is simply fallacious -- even if one restricts oneself to 20thC history. Mongolia negotiated treaties with Tibet explicitly in collective support against China in 1914; even if the purpose of the Simla Treaties was to accede part of Tibet to China, Britain also formally recognized Tibet's suzerainty in 1914.

To Sautman, first: you can keep your job at a Chinese state university, just don't sell out an entire nation to do it. Seeing as you appear to have a flawed sense of 20thC history as is, you are probably unaware of what it means to be called 'quisling.'

I am not naive enough to imagine that the world is a quiet, static place where if we could just return to a peaceful, pre-modern state everything would be lovely. But I do get upset by hypocrisy. There are obviously at least two sides to every story -- but if we really wanted to upstream even further from the dubious claim that Tibet fell under Chinese 'rule' during the Manchu period (1644-1911), then Mongolia gets a decent claim to sovereignty at both countries. However, arguably, neither 'Mongolia' nor 'Tibet' or 'China' existed in the same geo-political ways that we understand them today. Mervyn Goldstein wrote an interesting piece for Foreign Affairs back in 1998 that summarises the modern history of Chinese-Tibetan relations.

One of the reasons Sautman pisses me off is because he seemingly fails to understand why wanting to keep his job and nobody recognizing Tibet on the international stage are related. The Western world is as nervous, if not scared, by modern China in 2008 as it was in 1951. And yet, the CIA funded, trained, and inserted Tibetan resistance fighters into Tibet from 1957 until 1968 -- as documented in John Kenneth Knaus's Orphans of the Cold War. (Here is a New York Times review.) And then the United States bailed out. If this sounds like Afghanistan or Iraq forgive me. (And sadly, this is still a more glorious history than anything my home-country of Britain can claim.)

A Tibetan student and friend of mine, Thupten, once asked me how I knew something about Tibet. And after mulling around in my head for some time, I figured out what had caused the spark. The image in this post is from the book I read as a kid, presumably in the late 1970s, that first got me interested in Tibet. After two years of looking, I finally found a copy about two years ago. The book, incidentally, is primarily about a teenager's coming-of-age in the late 1940s -- resistance to the Chinese incursion only occurs in the background (in much the same way that the Civil War frames Louisa May Alcott's Little Women without actually featuring any battlefield scenes).


George Walker Bush, however, has been expressing his own romantic notions of serving on the front lines in the war against terror. He seems woefully unaware of how he insults the very men and women he ordered into combat at the same time that he tries to compliment them.


Shawn K. Wayment, DVM said...

Cool Blog!

Shawn K. Wayment, DVM said...

Very cool blog. The "Upland Equation" is one of my favorites too!

Steve Bodio said...

Good rant, and quite true.

The Khampas were raiding into China from Nepal later than '68. Libby and Peculiar's late father Harry camped with them just inside the border near a "low" pass there in the 70's. Email and we'll send a pic-- I think I may have mentioned it in the blog.

The Chinese believe they have a right to East Turkestan (Xinjiang) which they currently control, and Mongolia which they don't The Mongolians are aware of the fact.

Andrew Campbell said...

Steve: thanks for the comment. I will probably write a little more on the subject soon. As I'm sure you know, for all the Chinese that are immigrating to Mongolia, there is a strong nationalist movement in Mongolia that is strongly Sinophobic. Next time you go to Ulan Baatar, go to the Children's Park on the south side of town and check out the graffiti. Sadly, I only got pictures on an old (and now sadly defunct) cell-phone -- but it's fairly explicit.