Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Wednesday, December 01, 2010


Nell has started to hold lectures at the Bridge Cafe on Tuesdays. Last night's subject was "Nationalism and Politics in China." I was a little surprised by the title, because I thought the question of Chinese nationalism would be a little sensitive. In fact, the lecture was not about Chinese nationalism vis-a-vis the rest of the world, but about "nationalism" among minorities in China. That being said, the professor (from Peking University) was quite open and straightforward. I had met him before because I was on a panel with him last year when we did a presentation on the development of religious freedom in China.

He said that when he talked about Chinese nationality, he was referring to Zhongguo (the country) Nationality, not Han (the main "Chinese" ethnic group) nationality, but I said to him that in my experience, Zhongguo nationality becomes Han nationality, because the Han people have the power. I still think that is largely true, but he did tell me that his research showed that 40 per cent of Uighurs identify themselves as Chinese first and Uighur second. That is higher than I would have expected. But it still shows, I think, that most Uighur do not think of themselves as Chinese. That's a problem for the country as a whole. But the larger problem, in my opinion, is that when most Chinese people express their feelings about how China is viewed in the world, they don't always see that it is not a reaction to China as such, but to the Han people themselves, and their treatment of minority people in China. The government seems to think that what they are doing is good, because they are taking care of minorities, and to a certain degree, that is a valid point. Minorities in China get special preferences in China just like they do in America. But the problem with that is that human beings do not like to be taken care of. Dogs like to be taken care of. But human beings prefer to take care of themselves. It is just a fact that minorities in China are not treated like normal Chinese citizens.

Several times on CCTV, I have heard the statement that China (under the New China government post 1949) entering Tibet constituted a freedom for the Tibetan people from the serfdom of the monks. There is considerable truth to this. Life for the common people was not better under the monks. Many of them were taken advantage of. But the statement (on CCTV) that follows always irks me: "This was the beginning of Tibet's democratic reform." This in nonsense. Yes, the Tibetans as a whole probably have a better life under the current Chinese government than under the monks. But no, they most certainly do not have democracy or anything like it. This is the paradox of Tibet. American idealists, like actor Richard Geer (a Buddhist), seem to think that Tibet given back to the monks would be Heaven on Earth. I do not concur. Life for the common people was oppressive under the monks (I mean when the monks were political leaders, not just religious leaders). But the Chinese position seems to be that the Tibetan people should be thankful to be taken care of. But the Tibetan people and the Uighurs and others don't just want to be taken care of. They want to be treated like human beings. And all the propaganda notwithstanding, minorities in China do not have the same freedoms as Han people. For example, any Uighur will tell you that it is much harder for a Uighur to get a passport than for a Han person to get a passport.

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