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.