The Specter Beijing loves to hate

Punk's Not Dead

Punk's Not Dead

The state-run “China Tibet Information Center” has said that a recent statement by the Dalai Lama describing himself as “son of India” showed he had become subservient to his “Indian masters” while trying to deny his Chinese citizenship, reports the Times of India. It was a rare occasion when an official organ described him as a Chinese citizen.  Chinese leaders have been worried that the next incarnation of the Dalai Lama will take place outside China and far from its control, writes the Time of India’s Beijing Bureau Chief  Saibal Dasgupta, but this was the first time that the government had openly elaborated on its worries that the Tibetan leader might actually change his citizenship.

Victory messages about economic growth in Tibet are lavishly aired these days, and Jia Qinglin (贾庆林), chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, announced that ethnic unity has been enhanced and major successes achieved in the fight against separatist activities in Tibet. The latter may refer to great victories such as against Phurbu Tsering Rinpoche, in  something which appears to have been a travesty of a proper trial. To be fair, there seem to have been Han Chinese people who actually did something useful for multi-national harmony – a handful of attorneys volunteered to defend the monk, so that he would be treated like a rightful citizen of the PR China. But that was hardly the kind of harmony the CCP has in mind. The CCP has nothing against defenders in a trial. The dictators only want to make sure that such defenders won’t spoil the desired verdict.

A Tibetan breakaway from China is highly unlikely. This isn’t necessarily so because most Tibetans would love the status quo – you can’t conduct surveys in Tibet to find out about the general mood. But independence would only be – theoretically – thinkable if Tibet was mainly inhabited by Tibetans, or at least by a Tibetan majority. That is probably no longer the case.

But despite Beijing’s propaganda, there is still a counter-public to the one the CCP has tried to establish in the past decades. This alternative public’s center is in Dharamsala, India, and its main protagonist is Tenzin Gyatso himself,  the 14th Dalai Lama. He is essentially powerless when it comes to the daily lives of the Tibetans inside their old country, but when he speaks about his native land, he speaks with authority all the same. And what he says, doesn’t leave China’s dictators cold.

In March last year, during his annual press conference, China’s chief state councillor Wen Jiabao (温家宝) told a Figaro correspondent that

when we say that the Dalai Lama is not a simple religious figure, and he is actually a political exile, this is absolutely justified. The so-called exile government situated in Dharamsala is actually a combination of politics and religion, and this illegal government is under the direct control of the Dalai Lama.

It’s true – the Dalai Lama is a very political figure. But the blame for that shouldn’t be placed on this political exile. Within China’s borders, and seen from there, everything is political, and Beijing even accroaches the function of defining what should mean to be Tibetan.

That is exactly what makes the Dalai Lama so important after all. He keeps reminding the world – and above all, his fellow Tibetans – that to be Tibetan may still mean something else. Even if independence was his actual goal – and not even every old friend of Beijing believes in that piece of CCP propaganda -, he wouldn’t achieve it. As much as Beijing may dwell on the dangers of separatism, almost like if the Communists didn’t want the specter to go away and leave them alone with their booty: Tibetan  independence is out of date. But any counter-public, no matter how powerless, is an insufferable insult to a totalitarian government. The counter-public keeps exacting the natural price for legitimate rule: the approval of the governed.

That’s why the current Dalai Lama probably won’t be the last “simple monk” in the spiritual lineage. Whichever road will be taken to find a successor, there will be one. But between the era of the 14th, and the 15th Dalai Lama, there may be years of turbulence. The concept of a Middle Way might become questioned. And its hard to think to imagine a more powerful powerless figurehead than Tenzin Gyatso.



“Ridiculous Indian Heart”,, January 24, 2010
Phrasebook: yī jùn zhē bǎi chǒu, January 24, 2009
“Reflecting the Diversity”, November 4, 2009
“Serf Emancipation Day”, March 28, 2009

10 Responses to “The Specter Beijing loves to hate”

  1. Good piece, frames the DL’s position exactly right.


  2. India will crush china this time.


  3. In which ways, vasanth? With a nuclear bomb? In a game of cricket? And why should India crush China at all? Crushing 1.something billion people isn’t a nice idea.



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