Thursday, 17 April 2008

Opinion - Bill Mathew, Parkville (Vic) - 'Tibet: it's about economic equality, not religious freedom', 15 April 2008

--------------- note from Dean ---------

I'm posting this item from Tuesday's The Sydney Morning Herald because it's a rare view to a side of a debate we perceive as essentially black and white.

News showing China's 'recalcitrance' (to use a hoary - for an Australian - term) is a debased currency here, and pretty much everywhere a 'free' press operates.

Let me state firmly: this is not an apologia in favour of an autocratic and manifestly corrupt regime. It is a Leunig moment (if you like), a tool for making a slight gap in the endlessly extruded matrix of liberal orthodoxy.

When I showed the item here to a friend who is Chinese but who has first-hand experience of the dolours concomittant with group-think (her grandfather lost his mind, her father was hindered at every step, her own childhood has a dark-toned colour), her immediate reaction was "That's what we've been saying".

'We' meaning the thousands of Chinese residents of Western countries who gathered this week to protest perceived bias in the media. Sure, the mindset is in synch with the Party's media unit. But total media silence greeted the demonstrations in Australia.

This is surely bias.

--------------- back to Bill --------

In the late 1950s and early 1960s I worked in a Christian missionary school near the Tibetan border in north India, where refugees were entering in their thousands. A number of my students were Tibetan children. Talking to the refugees and my students, I learned about Tibet and its people before and after the physical occupation by China.

There were three classes of people in Tibet: the feudal landlords who owned all the land, monks who spent their time reading scriptures and begging, and serfs who worked the land for the feudal lords. The Dalai Lama presided over the whole life of Tibetans as god-king.

The landlords treated the serfs with the same ruthlessness as the landlords of the Dark Ages in Western Europe. There were no roads, no hospitals and no modern schools in Tibet, no human rights, and no democracy. Outsiders were banned during the Dalai Lama's time. The refugees did not speak of a genocide of Tibetans by the Chinese. The refugees who came to India were mainly the feudal landlords with their wealth in gold, their servants and some monks, together with the Dalai Lama.

The Chinese takeover changed the face of Tibet. They built roads, schools and hospitals and other infrastructure necessary for an acceptable modern life. They instituted land reforms and gave dignity in life to the serfs. That the monks still comprise a sizeable population in Tibet is significant, and makes me wonder how much the spiritual life of Tibetans has been affected by the Chinese.

Lindsey Hilsum, China correspondent for Britain's Channel 4 News has given an interesting perspective on the unrest in Tibet. In the New Statesman (March 19) she wrote that the unrest in Tibet is caused by the economic disparity between the Tibetans and the Han Chinese and Hui Muslims who own the majority of shops and businesses.

These Chinese minorities, with their better business acumen, have benefited most from the upturn in the Tibetan economy. This has fuelled the resentment of Tibetans against its Chinese minorities. Freedom of religion has very little to do with what is happening in Tibet now.

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