I don't understand Tibet. I could talk for weeks about Beijing and different landmarks or "historical sites" that few know, I could talk for days about Chinese soccer and one painful event after another (most recently the 3-3 draw against Thailand, great prep for the Aussies!), I could even sit you down and talk for hours about politics and law, the tough cases and campaigns, the big victories, the bitter losses. I cannot talk to you about Tibet. I love music, I love fashion, but I have very little understanding of them, using Justice Blackmun's famous words "I know it when I see it", I know what I like, but I can't really tell you why. With Tibet, I have no idea where to begin.
There are only so many hours in a day and my brain can only hold so much knowledge, on Tibet, I'm indifferent. China is an interesting, huge country and there is a lot to see, for whatever reason, I've never really had an interest in going to Tibet. It's far, its high, its a pain to get to, its expensive, and as a foodie, its boring, yak this and yak that. If, one day, friends or relatives want to go there, I'd join them, but for me, I'd much rather go to Xinjiang, to Gansu, to other places. If not for Sabriye Tenberken and her work, I'd be even more indifferent to the situation there.
I went to university in a small, midwestern town which was unique in that the school is the US' preeminent university for Tibetan studies, the DL's older brother was a former professor and Eliot Sperling is one of the country's most respected scholars on Tibet. I came in knowing about Princess Wencheng and the Tang, about the Yuan, the connections between Tibet and the Ming, the Qing garrisons, the then DL sending representatives to the Nationalist government. The class was full of "Free Tibet" types who idolized Sperling, I came in looking for a fight, but the result was disappointing. I came out feeling even more confused about Tibet, on one hand, Chinese do have a legitimate claim, at the same time, Tibet also has a legitimate argument. Sperling was an excellent teacher and tried to play things right down the middle, the question really breaks either way, though he obviously leans toward the Tibetan side. It's all about a lack of understanding, if the Communists went into Tibet shortly after taking power in '49 and only set up the military there, or even just pushed their reforms only on citizens, instead of monks, things may have been different (then again, the Cultural Revolution would probably have broken the peace).
Tibet's just not black and white, it wasn't before 1949, it wasn't in 1959, it wasn't in 1989, and after these protests in 2008, it still isn't. I never really thought China had an "original sin", like the US and slavery, and while the effects of slavery are far deeper in the US, is the Tibet issue China's "original sin"? It's certainly a major volcano that is constantly simmering, but rarely explodes. I still don't understand how different Tibet and Hawaii are and I like what Jeremiah said at one point (I believe on Peking Duck), China should just give up the historical claims to Tibet, no matter how strong or weak you think they are, and say, screw it, it's ours, period. If they treated the monks better, if they weren't insistent on such strict control of the religion, most civilians and even some of the monks would accept the situation. It sometimes feels like the government is waiting for the DL to just die, but this situation needs to be taken care of before that, if the government forces a successor, that could be the tectonic shift that causes the volcano to erupt.
I come from a family of cadres and soldiers, of Party members since before the Party took over "New China." Yes, I'm more likely to take the side of the Party, but I won't do it blindly. There is enough historic evidence that claiming Tibet as a part of China is nothing overly radical. At the same time, Tibet as cause is all about Hollywood liberals (I shouldn't be so hard on them, they were often the best contributors to campaigns I worked on), hippies, and new agers who are just looking for a cause celebre, are looking for something "new." They like to think about Tibet in black and white terms, they like to look at the DL and his talks of peace and think about the "suffering of poor Tibetans", ignoring how a previous DL massacred fellow Tibetans so one sect could take over. The DL is a religious leader, but in the West his connection to the religion and what that means is ignored. Instead, hippies (and neo-hippies) and people like Richard Gere have turned him into an innocent, new age self help guru who goes around wearing a gold Rolex, not the leader of a major world religion. I can't understand, I simply cannot understand the "Free Tibet" people. How can it be wrong of me to take the side of the Party, when the flock on the other side blindly believes in something that many Tibetans in Tibet don't fully support.
If there is one thing I learned from Professor Sperling, it's that this issue isn't black and white, the real answer needs to come from China and the DL, Han and Tibetan trying to work things out together, protests will not lead to a solution, but only more misery and embarrassment.
Postscript: Sometimes I don't even know why I keep this blog. I've been thinking about how to write this post since last night, got up extra early, beat the sandstorm that has enveloped Beijing, and started writing. I clicked send and started looking around the web, only then did I find out that China Law Blog basically said what I wanted to say, did so more clearly, and in fewer words.