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Overheard and Observed in China: Part 2: The Dalai Lama

There is something surreal about opening the morning newspaper at the breakfast table in your hotel each day and reading a polar-opposite, diametrically opposed point of view on an issue that perhaps you haven’t given much thought to–at least I hadn’t–but that you already know the answer to because it is so universally accepted in the media pool in which you swim.

One topic that jumped off the pages of the China Daily (the national English language newspaper of China) with a clang and a bang for me was the different perspective on the Dalai Lama, who is also on the front page of many Western newspapers, particularly in the wake of protests that accompany the Olympic Torch each step of its trek to Beijing for opening ceremonies. Oh, and that March 14 riot thing in Lhasa, Tibet, which included monks. Maybe. (Not “maybe” on the riot but on whether the monks were monks or soldiers dressed as monks.)

Here are just a few of the juxtapositions:

Western View: Tibet was a free country since a treaty that ended 200 years of fighting was ratified in 821 A.D., but was forcibly seized and annexed by China as part of Mao Zedong’s 1950 invasion with the People’s Liberation Army that was ratified under coercion in 1951. China View: Yes, Tibet and China separated in 821 A.D., but Tibet became an intrinsic part of China between the 13th and 15th Centuries in response to Mongolian invasions; China was granted formal sovereignty in 1751 to protect Tibet from the Nepalese Gurkha invasions.

Western View: The Independent Tibet movement rectifies historical injustices by returning sovereignty to the Tibetan people. China View: There is no historical validity to a Greater Tibet, administratively, religiously, and especially ethnically–at least 10 other groups have been living on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau for generations, including Han, Hi, Mongolian, Tu, Monba, and Lhoba.

Western View: China wants to suppress religious expression in Tibet. China View: China has shown more than 50 years of restraint and respect on Tibetan culture, particularly in regards to religion. In fact, all of China is prospering and experiencing new freedoms, including speech and religion, to a much greater degree than Tibet, with its theocratic leanings.

Western View: The Dalai Lama is a man of peace and goodwill. China View: The Dalai Lama is a political operator–and sometimes instigator–who was part of theocratic feudal regime that enslaved and impoverished the Tibetan population; nobles and senior monks owned and controlled 90% of the land.

Western View: On March 14, awakening echoes of Tienanmen Square, the Chinese government once again crushed a peaceful demonstration of people who seek freedom. China View: The Tibetan Government in Exile, with the fundraising savvy and organizational skills of the international “Dalai clique” orchestrated a violent riot that resulted in $35 million (U.S.) in damage.

I spoke with one U.S. businessman who has lived in Hong Kong for a number of years and he commented:

Maybe I’ve lived here too long and have been brainwashed, but I’m no longer convinced that the Chinese government is all wrong on this Tibet issue and, in fact, may do more for the everyday Tibetan people than the separatist movement. For example, the government in exile has no plans on accommodating a multi-ethnic population.

So has he been brainwashed? The obvious answer is, yes, of course he has–and it’s tied to the simple notion that the official Chinese media can’t be trusted to produce anything more than propaganda. I’m glad that I don’t have to worry about that danger in America because I have objective, reliable, and trustworthy news sources like The New York Times to protect me. Okay, cheap shot. But there is a strong resentment in China that they aren’t getting a fair trial in the international court of opinion. A Western expatriate made this statement:

The official Chinese media may be clumsy, but at least they are not as hypocritical as the Western media which always claims to be impartial, yet are actually biased on many issues related to China … and in their own countries!

Well, I’m no expert on Chinese politics, but this exercise has helped me come to one iron-clad conclusion: to fight media bias on the issues near and dear to my heart, I’m going to hire the PR firm the Dalai Lama uses, not the one the Chinese government has on retainer.

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Overheard and Observed in China: Part 3: Odds and Ends

Time to move on to topics I’m less ignorant on, but after one more quick glance at my pictures and journal from China, I thought I’d throw a few odds and ends for your consideration.

1. Just a few miles from Hong Kong, part of the same country but a full border crossing away, stands Shenzhen. A fishing port of 300 thousand, it was singled out by Deng Xiaoping in 1979 as China’s first Special Economic Zone. Since then, 30 billion (U.S.) has flowed into the city and the population has grown to more than 10 million residents–with commuters and “invisible” people” causing estimates to fluctuate up to as many as 15 million)–and still growing. It is the most densely populated area of China. And you thought overcrowding was a problem in your city?

2. The level of “deferentialism” extended to American and other foreign business visitors to China is almost overwhelming. It’s hard to carry your own briefcase from the car to the meeting area without a young lady who probably doesn’t weigh 90 pounds wanting to lug it for you. We all like to be treated with courtesy and respect–and much more so when we are in a new environment–but the amount of attention given to helping one with their every move can create feelings of guilt. I’m over the guilt, however, so I’m not complaining–just observing!

3. In Shanghai, I’m pretty sure there is a ratio of one billboard for every resident–and visitor. And maybe for each panda, too!

4. Speaking of billboards, I was surprised that most of the signage in Hong Kong depicted Western models. The rule of thumb in advertising is that you strive for cultural relevance. I do have one idea on why the city’s signage looked a lot like New York City’s. Since Brand America is still the icon of wealth and prosperity, ad agencies in Hong Kong have played the “aspirational” card to the hilt. Of course, if the U.S. dollar drops any further, there may be job openings for billboard hangers in the near future!

5. China has long been viewed as a homogeneous people, which has probably always been a myth. If you look a the under-20 fashion statements even on the Mainland, China is rapidly becoming a diverse country.

6. I had dinner at the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong. A fleet of about 15 Rolls Royce Silver Shadows are arrayed in front to whisk guests to shopping and tourist destinations. I still haven’t figured out why my company’s travel manager didn’t book me there.

7. I talked to several business people there and in route who have a very strong non-financial motivation to doing business in China. It goes like this. China is not open to Christian missionary work. China is very open to Christian business men and women (and teachers). Once in China, there is plenty of freedom for religious expression (more so for foreigners but increasingly for the entire population as long as the topic isn’t Thailand or Tibet) combined with a keen interest in people from other countries, with America at or near the top of the list. Who knows how many “tent makers” are doing a good work in sharing their faith in China.