Author’s Note: My articles on related subjects recently published in The Statesman include “Understanding China”, “China’s India Aggression”, “China’s Commonwealth”, “Nixon & Mao vs India”, “Lessons from the 1962 War”, “China’s force & diplomacy” etc
China’s India Example: Tibet, Xinjiang May Not Be Assimilated Like Inner Mongolia And Manchuria
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article March 25 2008,
Zhang Qingli, Tibet’s current Communist Party boss, reportedly said last year, “The Communist Party is like the parent (father and mother) of the Tibetans. The Party is the real boddhisatva of the Tibetans.” Before communism, China’s people followed three non-theistic religious cultures, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism, choosing whichever aspects of each they wished to see in their daily lives. Animosity towards the theism of Muslims and Christians predates the 1911 revolution. Count Witte, Russia’s top diplomatist in Czarist times, reported the wild contempt towards Islam and wholly unprovoked insult of the Emir of Bokhara by Li Hung Chang, Imperial China’s eminent Ambassador to Moscow, normally the epitome of civility and wisdom. In 1900 the slogan of the Boxer Revolts was “Protect the country, destroy the foreigner” and catholic churches and European settlers and priests were specifically targeted. The Communists have not discriminated in repression of religious belief and practice ~ monasteries, mosques, churches have all experienced desecration; monks, ulema, clergymen all expected to subserve the Party and the State.
For Chinese officials to speak of “life and death” struggle against the Dalai Lama sitting in Dharamsala is astounding; if they are serious, it signals a deep long-term insecurity felt in Beijing. How can enormous, wealthy, strong China feel any existential threat at all from unarmed poor Tibetans riding on ponies? Is an Israeli tank-commander intimidated by stone-throwing Palestinian boys? How is it China (even a China where the Party assumes it always knows best), is psychologically defensive and unsure of itself at every turn?
The Chinese in their long history have not been a violent martial people ~ disorganized and apolitical traders and agriculturists and highly civilised artisans and scholars more than fierce warriors fighting from horseback. Like Hindus, they were far more numerous than their more aggressive warlike invading rulers. Before the 20th Century, China was dominated by Manchu Tartars and Mongol Tartars from the Northeast and Northwest ~ the Manchus forcing humiliation upon Chinese men by compelling shaved heads with pigtails. Similar Tartar hordes ruled Russia for centuries and Stalin himself, according to his biographer, might have felt Russia buffered Europe from the Tartars.
Chinese nationalism arose only in the 20th Century, first under the Christian influence of Sun Yatsen and his brother-in-law Chiang Kaishek, later under the atheism of Mao Zedong and his admiring friends, most recently Deng Xiaoping and successors. “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” is the slogan of the present Communist Party but a more realistic slogan of what Mao and friends came to represent in their last decades may be “Chinese nationalism with socialist characteristics”. Taiwan and to lesser extent Singapore and Hong Kong represent “Chinese nationalism with capitalist characteristics”. Western observers, keen always to know the safety of their Chinese investments, have focused on China’s economics, whether the regime is capitalist or socialist and to what extent ~ Indians and other Asians may be keener to identify, and indeed help the Chinese themselves to identify better, the evolving nature of Chinese nationalism and the healthy or unhealthy courses this may now take.
Just as Czarist and Soviet Russia attempted Russification in Finland, the Baltics, Poland, Ukraine etc., Imperial and Maoist China attempted “Sinification” in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia as well as Tibet and Xinjiang (Sinkiang, East Turkestan). Russification succeeded partially but backfired in general. Similarly, Sinification succeeded naturally in Manchuria and without much difficulty in Inner Mongolia. But it has backfired and backfired very badly in Tibet and Xinjiang, and may be expected to do so always.
In India, our soft state and indolent corrupt apparatus of political parties constitute nothing like the organized aggressive war-machine that China has tried to make of its state apparatus, and we have much more freedom of all sorts. India does not prohibit or control peasant farmers or agricultural labourers from migrating to or visiting large metropolitan cities; villagers are as free as anyone else to clog up all city life in India with the occasional political rally ~ in fact India probably may not even know how to ban, suppress or repress most of the things Communist China does.
Hindu traditions were such that as long as you did not preach sedition against the king, you could believe anything ~ including saying, like the Carvaka, that hedonism and materialism were good, spiritualism was bunkum and the priestly class were a bunch of crooks and idiots. Muslim and British rulers in India were not too different ~ yes the Muslims did convert millions by offering the old choice of death or conversion to vanquished people, and there were evil rulers among them but also great and tolerant ones like Zainulabidin of Kashmir and Akbar who followed his example.
India’s basic political ethos has remained that unless you preach sedition, you can basically say or believe anything (no matter how irrational) and also pretty much do whatever you please without being bothered too much by government officials. Pakistan’s attempts to impose Urdu on Bengali-speakers led to civil war and secession; North India’s attempts to impose Hindi on the South led to some language riots and then the three-language formula ~ Hindi spreading across India through Bollywood movies instead.
China proudly says it is not as if there are no declared non-Communists living freely in Beijing, Shanghai etc, pointing out distinguished individual academics and other professionals including government ministers who are liberals, social democrats or even Kuomintang Nationalists. There are tiny state-approved non-Communist political parties in China, some of whose members even may be in positions of influence. It is just that such (token) parties must accept the monopoly and dictatorship of the Communists and are not entitled to take state power. The only religion you are freely allowed to indulge in is the ideology of the State, as that comes to be defined or mis-defined at any time by the Communist Party’s rather sclerotic leadership processes.
During China’s Civil War, the Communists apparently had promised Tibet and Xinjiang a federation of republics ~ Mao later reneged on this and introduced his notion of “autonomous” regions, provinces and districts. The current crisis in Tibet reveals that the notion of autonomy has been a complete farce. Instead of condemning the Dalai Lama and repressing his followers, a modern self-confident China can so easily resolve matters by allowing a Dalai Lama political party to function freely and responsibly, first perhaps just for Lhasa’s municipal elections and gradually in all of Tibet. Such a party and the Tibet Communist Party would be adequate for a two-party system to arise. The Dalai Lama and other Tibetan exiles also have a natural right to be issued Chinese passports enabling them to return to Tibet~ and their right to return is surely as strong as that of any Han or Hui who have been induced to migrate to Tibet from Mainland China. Such could be the very simple model of genuine autonomy for Tibet and Xinjiang whose native people clearly do not wish to be assimilated in the same way as Inner Mongolia and Manchuria. India’s federal examples, including the three-language formula, may be helpful. Once Mainland China successfully allows genuine autonomy and free societies to arise in Tibet and Xinjiang, the road to reconciliation with Taiwan would also have been opened.