Posts Tagged 'Tibet'

Political Softball in a Hard World

photo by Matthew Bradley

NANCY PELOSI TALKS TALL. When the democrats won control of congress in 2007 she made a lot of noise about how the newly-empowered left would flex its political muscle and get things done. Since then the House has passed some stuff, notably the minimum wage bill — which stalled and sputtered and then passed after major revamping — but mostly it’s been hot air. America cried for change, and Pelosi’s democrats responded with a tepid murmur.

And now she thinks she can make a difference in China?

I rarely digress into political tirades on this blog, but when I read today that the speaker of the House wants President Bush to skip Beijing’s opening ceremonies, I cringed. Here’s someone who has called herself “firm and strong,” but who has repeatedly shot down moves to impeach the president over the Iraq war — someone who has pussyfooted around efforts to withdraw troops, and who has ignored the general sentiment of the American people.

But Pelosi’s apparently beyond all that now. She’s international, man. She’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, pushing for human rights and freedom in Tibet. And as lofty as a cause as that is, coming from her it’s total bullshit.

At her meeting with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, Pelosi said: “If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China’s oppression and China and Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world.”

It almost as if she thinks — after we invaded a country on a false premise, refused to hold anyone accountable and then turned a blind eye to illegal torture — we had the “moral authority” to do so in the first place.

The thing is, I’m not sure Pelosi is thinking at all. She’s just playing political softball, trying to make herself look good by taking a “hard line” with Bush, calling for some vaguely symbolic act which she knows he won’t deliver on. She’s wasting our time — and the Dalai Lama’s for that matter.

For all the press flurry that Pelosi’s stance has generated, her words ultimately mean nothing to China (except a nuisance) and nothing for Tibetans. We know this because we’ve heard it all before. All that big talk just trailed off into nothing, and left us with very little we could see.

This Week’s Wandering News

  • In a recent letter to The Morning News, Rosecrans Baldwin tells readers that Paris is bummin’ him out…and, you know, trying to kill his wife.
  • South Korea is worried about the price of booze — more specifically, soju. In a battle to keep low-income families afloat amid inflation, the government released a list of 52 items that it will price monitor; the potato-based distilled beverage made the cut.
  • Guidebook author Alastair Sawday talks about the Slow Travel movement over at the Guardian, and gives his picks for meandering around Britain.
  • The International Herald Tribune gives a public face to the five women who died during Tibet’s riots: He Xinxin, Chen Jia, Li Yuan, Cirenzhuoga and Yang Dongmei.
  • And finally, all this news might hardly matter if earth is eaten by a black hole.

For more links, check my del.icio.us.

Madison’s Tibetan Community Rallies

Tibetan monastery in Zhongdian, Yunnan. China, May 2006. Photo by Zara Jarvinen.

MADISON, Wis. – Roughly 100 people protesting the Chinese occupation of Tibet converged on the Capitol Square Monday morning, chanting angrily into megaphones and waving signs that read “Free Tibet” in English, Tibetan and Chinese.

The demonstration marked the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan Uprising, when tens of thousands of Tibetans revolted against annexation. Protests around the world commemorated the date, and had an added potency this year because of the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing.

Tsering Kunga, a Madison resident and Tibetan who held a banner towards the back of the procession at the capitol, said he doesn’t feel China deserved the Olympic nomination because of the country’s human rights record and lack of religious freedoms.

“We really don’t have any freedom,” Kunga, who has lived in Madison for two years, said of his home country. “Especially the freedom of religion is not at all in China, so this is the main thing that we are uprising against.”

A monk marched out in front of the protesters as they rounded the capitol. A man draped in a Tibetan flag shouted into a megaphone, leading the crowd in call-and-response. “China Lies,” he yelled. Protesters boomed back like an echo, “People die.”

Read more at The Capital Times.

‘Lost Horizon’ and Tibetan Kitsch

THE MUCH MUSED UPON Shangri-La is no more – if indeed it ever was. The Christian Science Monitor reports on how the town of Zhongdian has transformed from “heaven on earth” to “a high-altitude hell, choked by tour buses and overwhelmed by outsiders.” The community, once steeped in tradition, has now become little more than a shameless tourist trap (via China Digital Times):

“I remember it as a heavenly place,” Tibetan musical entrepreneur and local cultural icon Xuan Ke says of his birthplace. Living simply beneath the eternally snowy peaks of jagged mountains, “the people were very honest, kind-hearted, and rustic,” he says. “Now they have completely changed. The original spirit has disappeared.”

In the 1933 bestseller “Lost Horizon,” by James Hilton, Shangri-La is a secret and idyllic spot near the Himalayas. Many regions have claimed to be the inspiration for the imagined abode of the blessed, but China’s government officially endorsed the town then known as Zhongdian, in Yunnan Province, in 2001.

Ever since, the authorities in this town on the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau “have tried to build Shangri-La’s tourist brand,” explains Ren Jianhua, deputy director of the region’s tourism office. “We want to present it to the whole world.” [...]

That approach has transformed a small village of wooden homes tucked along muddy lanes into a town covering 12 square miles and boasting more than 100 hotels. The so-called “old town” is not old at all: only one house has not been completely torn down and rebuilt in the past few years, residents say. [read full]

While in the rest of the world such cultural fakery is restricted to a street or tourist district, the watering-down of Tibetan culture into pseudo-spiritual kitsch is now pervasive throughout its lands.

Outsider political influence has had a hugely detrimental effect on the local religion, and to adapt the Dalai Lama has made a monumental change to a centuries-old tradition; to thwart any possibility that Beijing would prop up a pro-government successor, the 72-year-old Dalai Lama has said he will designate his successor while he is still alive (JoongAng Daily).

As travelers, are we contributing this mess by even setting foot near Lhasa? Even as we may seek an appreciation of one of the world’s oldest cultures, how do we save it from vanishing amid the crush of a shrinking world?

Pleasing China

WHEN CHINA WARNED THE U.S. not to honor the Dalai Lama with the Congressional Gold Medal – which he is set to receive today – their language was ludicrous [IHT]:

The Chinese officials, speaking at a Foreign Ministry briefing and on the sidelines of the Communist Party’s 17th National Congress, condemned the Dalai Lama as a separatist and said foreign leaders must stop encouraging him.

“We are furious,” the Tibetan Communist Party leader, Zhang Qingli, said during the congress. “If the Dalai Lama can receive such an award, there must be no justice or good people in the world.”

But apparently saying ridiculously inflammatory shit gets you places these days. Following George Bush’s 30-minute meeting with the spiritual leader yesterday, White House aides refused to disclose details and would not release a photo of the two. Despite this sheepish behavior, Bush is apparently fighting on Tibet’s behalf [IHT]:

The Dalai Lama’s envoy, Lodi Gyari, who attended the meeting, said Bush described his efforts with China’s president, Hu Jintao, on the Dalai Lama’s behalf: “The president said he has been telling the Chinese president that you need to meet with this man, you should trust the Dalai Lama, I know this man and I trust him and you must not hesitate to meet with his holiness.”

Right.


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