Tibetan-Chinese are not American Indians
December 02, 1999
History according to Hollywood
Humanitarian Interventionists and Benevolent Global Hegemonists, most of whom lack even a rudimentary understanding of China’s long and complex history, share a particularly nasty trait. Many of these Globocops imagine because they have downloaded a few pages of separatist propaganda from tibet.org, and shed a tear or two while watching “Seven Years in Tibet,” that qualifies them as China experts. They believe this qualifies them to pass judgement about whether China “deserves” to remain intact or be forcibly Balkanized by the World’s Only Remaining Superpower. Their attitude rivals that of the most contemptible 19th century imperialists.
I have seen Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart” once in the theater and several times on cable, and I never cease to be deeply moved by what screenwriting teachers term “a good story, well told.” The same holds true of Neil Jordan’s political biography “Michael Collins,” about the famous, or infamous Irish revolutionary of the same name.
I do not however assume merely because I have enjoyed a well scripted and well produced two hours of entertainment that I have necessarily learned anything substantive about English, Scottish or Irish history. I retain enough presence of mind to recall Hollywood’s record of playing fast and loose with historical facts, motivated by either commercial considerations or the filmmakers’ political biases.
I certainly do not leave the theater convinced of either the rightness or wrongness of Scottish secession. Instead I remain scrupulously neutral. The issue of Scottish secession is one for the English and the Scots to settle between themselves. Why should I, who am neither an Englishman nor a Scots, behave like a damned busybody and stick my nose into something which is none of my business?
Now if only the Globocops would have the decency to do likewise after watching “Kundun” or “The Wind Horse.”
China’s West is not the American West
One especially disturbing aspect of the Tibet crusade in America is that Hollywood, academia, New Agers and the Washington establishment have drawn patently misleading parallels with American history. These comparisons of European immigrants to Han Chinese, and American Indians to Tibetan Chinese, have led to a grotesque collective misunderstanding.
This dangerously egocentric, even narcissistic way of experiencing the world may get America into deep foreign policy hot water. In fact, it has. When such historically irrelevant parallels are drawn what non-Chinese get is worse than ignorance. What non-Chinese get is the illusion of understanding.
Unfortunately most of what is readily available in English on the web regarding contemporary Tibet is predictable PC orthodoxy. The few rebuttals which are available in English are summarily dismissed by the intellectual orthodoxy as not credible simply because they are posted by Chinese or ethnic Chinese sources and do not support the “correct” conclusions.
Tibet is a region of China. It has been since the 13th century. Obviously one needs to refer to Chinese history and Chinese historians to learn about it. Most of that data is obviously going to be in Chinese. Yet it is only virulently anti-China Tibetan secessionist propaganda written in English which is automatically accorded the status of unassailable truth. The China bashers’ attitude reeks of colonialist arrogance.
Far better to not know anything, and retain the humility that accompanies such ignorance, than to imagine that one knows all one needs to know to pass moral judgement and demand military intervention. As the old saw goes, “the problem isn’t what people don’t know, it’s what they know that just ain’t so.”
Tibetan Chinese are not American Indians
For example, projection of “collective guilt” over the mistreatment of American Indians is with little doubt the psychological root of most pro-Dalai activism. Unfortunately the pro-Dalai faction has confused its own internal psychology with a foreign nation’s history. Just because they feel “liberal guilt” about America’s Indian minority does not mean that China’s history actually conforms to their internal guilt and historical misunderstanding.
This is why so many western sympathizers of Tibetan independence are taken aback, stunned even, when they discover that most Tiananmen pro-democracy leaders do not support, and in fact vehemently oppose Tibetan and Taiwan independence. The sympathizers’ projection has been so extensive that they are trapped in a “virtual reality” of their own making.
The relationship between majority Han-Chinese and minority Tibetan-Chinese does not historically parallel that of European-Americans and Native Americans. The territory of modern China includes Tibet not because “the Han-Chinese conquered Tibetan-Chinese” the way European-Americans conquered American Indians and Hawaiians. (E.g., “Dances with Wolves”)
Instead both Tibetans and Hans were conquered by the Mongols under the leadership of Genghis Khan and grandson Kublai Khan in the 13th century. Tibet’s Lamaist theocracy colluded with the great Mongol Khans, helping them conquer and later administer predominantly Han territory. When the Mongol or Yuan Dynasty collapsed a century later, it was supplanted by a Han dominated Ming Dynasty, which inherited jurisdiction over the Mongol empire, including the Tibetan region. This is how Tibet, and of course Mongolia, became part of China.
Those who insist on “victim-victimizer” dichotomies might be tempted on leap to yet another equally simplistic conclusion, that “both Tibetans and Hans were victims of Mongol aggression.” This ignores the fact that both “victims” and “victimizers” subsequently intermarried extensively, not under duress, but of their own volition, rendering the issue of victimization moot and irrelevant.
The bottom line is that Tibet was not “invaded” or “annexed” by China in 1959. Because by then the Tibetan region had been part of China for seven centuries, five centuries longer than these United States of America have even been in existence. One does not “invade” or “annex” what is already one’s own territory. Beijing dispatched troops to prevent secession by the serf-owing elite which objected to the abolition of slavery, not to implement annexation. Hardly the same thing.
One can argue the merits or demerits of secession, but that is another issue entirely. Rather than debate the issue honestly however, the Dalai Lama and his Hollywood camp followers prefer to lie about history. They are counting on popular ignorance of the details about exotic and distant Cathay and Shangri-la, calculating that the general public will believe whatever is fed them if it is presented in a convenient and satisfying Manichean “good versus evil” framework.
Reds, not Red Herrings
The false equation of Tibetan-Chinese with American Indian has predictably led to the false attribution of racist motivations to Beijing’s abolition of serfdom and crushing of Tibetan secession. Beijing’s Tibet policies are being falsely equated with everything from Nazi genocide of Jews to Nato’s allegations of Serbian “ethnic cleansing.”
If one is determined to force the Chinese experience into an American mold, one could perhaps equate the militarily powerful Mongols with one of the aggressive, nomadic tribes such as the Comanche, and Tibetans and Hans with less aggressive, agrarian tribes such as the Hopi or Navahoe. The point is that all of China’s major ethnic subcultures are native Chinese, including so-called Hans.
Now that communism is dead, sympathizers of the Dalai Lama, many of whom were sympathizers of Mao Zedong, seem to have forgotten what communism was all about. Communism was a political ideology obsessed with economic equality. Communism adjudged who was good and who was bad on the basis of its fatally flawed economic theory. To communist true believers the relevant question was to which economic class do you belong. Are you a capitalist victimizer or a proletarian victim? Ethnicity to communism was always irrelevant.
The Chinese Communists were no exception. They committed their atrocities because they were fanatical radical egalitarians, “coercive egalitarians.” The Lamaist theocracy was targeted because it engaged in the economic exploitation of Tibet’s serfs.
When Red Guards vandalized monasteries in Tibet they were doing precisely the same thing to Zen Buddhist monasteries, Taoist monasteries, Christian churches, Jewish synagogues all over the rest of China. They were not doing anything so narrowly parochial as singling out the Tibetan subculture for “cultural genocide.” Rather they were motivated by disgust for what they perceived as vestiges of unjust economic systems throughout China.
The Dalai Lama’s allegation that Chinese Communist violence against Tibet’s serf-owning elite was racially motivated ethnic cleansing is a red herring. Chinese Communists deserved condemnation because they were coercive egalitarians. Chinese Communists were never racist.
If this be Genocide, make the most of it
In fact if the Chinese Communists had really been racially motivated, they could have deliberately and cynically left Tibet’s Ancien Regime in place. Traditional Tibet’s theocracy imposed a policy of “er xuan yi” (from two choose one) and “san xuan er” (from three choose two) on the Tibetan people. They dragooned enormous numbers of hapless Tibetan boys into the priesthood, where they would remain celibate for life. This draconian policy resulted in an alarming decline in Tibet’s population in recent centuries.
Adherence to a religious practice of strict celibacy led to the eventual extinction of the Shaker sect in America. Chinese Communist Party failure to intervene in China’s Tibetan region would have, by default, abetted a similar process of Tibetan self-extinction. CCP intervention has instead led to a population increase. Beijing emerges an unlikely hero in this respect. Yet Beijing is ritually and reflexively accused by self-styled do-gooders of “genocide,” both “cultural” and racial. Ironies abound.
Genghis Khan and William of Normandy
The fifty-six officially acknowledged ethnic groups in China, including but not limited to Tibetan-Chinese, Moslem-Chinese, Mongolian-Chinese, Manchurian-Chinese, and Han-Chinese, would be more instructively compared with certain ethnic groups in the west and not others. The relationship between Mongolian-Chinese and Han-Chinese, and Manchurian-Chinese and Han-Chinese in particular, parallels that between English of Norman descent and English of Saxon descent following the Norman Conquest.
What made me think of this was a corny old Hollywood movie which I had seen before, but which just ran again on cable here in Taipei — “The Black Rose,” 1950, starring Tyrone Power, Jack Hawkins and Michael Rennie.
The Black Rose
… The hero, Walter of Gurney (Tyrone Power) is the illegitimate son of a Saxon Lord denied his inheritance and birthright by the Norman King Edward (Michael Rennie.) Embittered, Gurney abandons England, which he feels is no longer his country and journeys to the middle-east, joining Kublai Khan’s army which is about to invade China. He meets the title character “The Black Rose” who is not a flower, but a woman named Maryam, a teenager played by an 18 year old actress who didn’t look a day over 13. Tyrone Power and sidekick Jack Hawkins rescue her from life as a concubine in Kublai Khan’s harem. She falls in love with the hero and a typically chauvinistic 1950’s type relationship follows in which he treats her like a mere “wench.”
At the beginning of the film the Tyrone Power character vows undying enmity for intolerable Saxon victimization under Norman rule. By the end of the film however he is reconciled to a future in which Saxons and Normans live together in peace. What is intriguing to me is how the events in Britain and China occurred at very nearly the same time, the 12th century, making the Marco Polo-ish linkage chronologically consistent and unintentionally underscoring the parallelism, at least for me.
The aspect of the film that intrigued me was not the pyscho-sexual “Lolita” subplot, but the Norman-ruled Britain parallel to Mongol-ruled China. Let me stress that the historical parallel with China was not something the filmmakers intended, but merely a connection I made in my own mind.
Normans and Saxons, Mongols and Hans
Both settings are virtually cliches in swashbuckler action adventure movies. Just as “The Black Rose” and countless Robin Hood related tales center on the conflict between Norman conquerors and Saxon conquered, so countless Taiwan and Hongkong swordfight swashbucklers set in the Southern Sung dynasty and late Ming dynasty deal with Mongol and Manchu conquerors and Han conquered.
Just as these once powerful animosities are “ancient history” in modern Britain, so they are in modern China. Is there any Anglo-Saxon Englishman alive today who actually nurses animosity toward “Normans” for the Battle of Hastings? Is there any “Han” Chinese (good luck finding a “pure” Han Chinese by the way) alive today who actually nurses animosity toward “Mongols” or “Manchus” for the fall of the Sung and Ming dynasties?
Remember the British commander during the Gulf War? He was Sir General Peter de la Billiere. Remember the writer/director of the Emmy award winning British mini-series “Prime Suspect”? She was Lynda LaPlante. Do westerners agitating for Tibetan/Uyghur/Mongolian independence realize why these prominent British subjects have French names?
Remember the pajamas clad student leader of the Tiananmen protest movement who demanded and got a conference with Li Peng? He was Wu Er Kai Xi, a Uyghur. Do westerners agitating for Tibetan/Uyghur/Mongolian independence realize why he and millions of Chinese have Tibetan, Uyghur, Mongolian names?
Americans and Europeans who know nothing of Chinese history, yet shrilly demand that Tibet, Xinjiang, or Mongolia be carved out of China, do not realize how crazy and laughable their demands are. Imagine modern day Chinese wringing their hands and criticizing Britain for imposing the Anglo-Saxon tongue on Englishmen of Norman-descent, characterizing that as “cultural genocide?” Should Englishmen with Norman surnames secede from England? Crazy? Laughable? You bet. If only they knew how crazy and laughable.
The animosities between Normans and Saxons were quite powerful at the time, as they were between Mongol and Han and Manchu and Han. Yet Normans and Saxons did not form separate kingdoms, nor did Mongol, Manchu and Han. If putting behind historical grievances and intermarrying was possible and desirable for Normans and Saxons in Britain, why do western acolytes of the Dalai Lama deem the identical process of reconciliation and integration undesirable for Hans and Tibetans in China? Their sanctimony is both historically ignorant and morally inconsistent. If their folly weren’t so widespread, and hence, destructive, it wouldn’t even deserve the time and effort needed to rebut it.
America was not the World’s only Melting Pot
Modern China looks ethnically homogeneous not because of “Aryan racial purity,” but because of millennia of what Ku Klux Klansmen and neo-Nazis denounce as “mongrelization of the races.” China ranks among the most “mongrelized” nations in the world. Even China’s so-called “Han” majority is in fact comprised of numerous Asiatic tribes which began intermarrying as early as the Shang dynasty.
Jews who emigrated to Kaifeng one thousand years ago are so thoroughly assimilated they are indistinguishable from “native” Chinese. Jews in Europe and even America remain physically distinct due to incomplete assimilation.
Tibet is part of China. Get over it
Tenzing Gyatso, aka the Dalai Lama, rather than rejecting his identity as a Tibetan-Chinese and demanding Tibetan racial purity along the lines of his Nazi mentor, SS Captain Heinrich Harrer, should instruct his band of reactionary theocrats huddled in Dharamsala to forsake their quixotic dream of “restoring” a “Shangri-la” that never existed, return to Lhasa, and shoulder to shoulder with fellow Chinese, help illiterate serfs they once exploited become the Andy Groves and Bill Gates of the 21st century.
China Threat theorists, meanwhile, should get over their obsession with “dividing and conquering” China. Their insistence on seeing the Chinese people not as fellow human beings, but as an insidious “Yellow Peril” to be exterminated, merely reveals their own paranoia and racial bigotry.
Appendix: William the Conqueror
See: William the Conqueror
William (as invaders go) was a bit of a lad quite accomplished in warfare, conquest and other kingly activities. He came from France (Normandy) and was a Norman but rather confusingly the term Norman means “men from the North” and they were originally Scandinavian. The irony here is that when he stomped all over England he was at least in part in conflict with earlier Scandinavian invaders such as the Vikings. It’s a funny old world!
Bill was not altogether a nice guy. After he had invaded England he got a bit miffed when the North refused to accept his dominion. Being a touch peeved he sent forth an army to subdue the rebels with instructions to “lay waste” the land from roughly York to Newcastle. Farms were to be burnt and everyone killed, man, woman and child. They did a pretty good job the legacy of which shaped the region for centuries to come (but hey this is just a personal observation).
byname WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR, or THE BASTARD, or WILLIAM OF NORMANDY, French GUILLAUME LE CONQUERANT, or LE BATARD, or GUILLAUME DE NORMANDIE (b. c. 1028, Falaise, Normandy–d. Sept. 9, 1087, Rouen), duke of Normandy (as William II) from 1035 and king of England from 1066, one of the greatest soldiers and rulers of the Middle Ages. He made himself the mightiest feudal lord in France and then changed the course of England’s history by his conquest of that country.
Effects of the Conquest
The effects of the Conquest were numerous and ran deep. One of the most immediate and most serious was the almost complete transfer of power at the top of society from Saxon to Norman hands.
William consistently sought ways and excuses to remove Saxons from power, but the Saxons themselves were most obliging. Many went into exile. Many were killed in the invasion and later rebellions. Many more were simply dispossessed. By 1086, 80% of the fiefs were in Norman hands (some held by Flemings and Bretons).
William brought with him the centralizing tendencies and techniques he had followed in Normandy. William as king held one-fifth of all land in England; this was a far greater estate than held by any French king. A quarter was held by the Church. Half the fiefs belonged to Norman lords, but their holdings were scattered rather than concentrated, so they could never become rivals to royal power. William was quite careful about this–he did not want to create another Earl of Wessex to rival the king.
One element in William’s control of England was a military innovation he brought with him from France: stone castles. England had few, if any, stone castles before the Conqueror. After him, the landscape was transformed: 84 built by 1100. These castles were always given to Norman lords and many were built in areas prone to rebellion. The castles were all but impregnable and served as Norman anchors in a Saxon sea.
A long-term change was the change of language. The Normans spoke French, and French now became the language of government and the nobility. It remained so until the 15thc. Henry II, Richard the Lion-Hearted, even Edward Longshanks, all spoke French. Language was a barrier and a divide between the Norman lords and their Saxon subjects.
The Robin Hood legend has strong echoes of the division. Remember, all the bad guys in the legend are Normans, while all the good guys are Saxons. Never mind that the ultimate hero is Richard Lion-Heart, whose father was born in Anjou; the legend is filled with anachronisms, like any good legend. But the antagonism between Norman and Saxon in the Robin Hood stories reflected a real one that lasted long after the death of the Conqueror.
History of Western Civilization
Dr. E. L. Skip Knox
Boise State University