Saturday, 6 December 2008

Tibet: Education, Foreign Language Press, Beijing (ISBN 978-7-119-05248-9), begins where Michael Parenti and Bill Mathew stop. On page 1:

There wasn't even one formal school in the modern sense in all Tibet before liberation. The illiteracy rate reached 95 percent and the school enrolment rate only 2 percent. Through efforts of more than 50 years, a comparatively integrated education system, elementary and secondary education, higher education, vocational education, special education and adult education, has been shaped.

The figures continue on page 4:

The enrollment rates of primary schools, junior and senior high schools and institutions of higher learning reached 98.2 percent, 90.7 percent, 42.96 percent and 17.4 percent, respectively.

They say that the truth will out but in this case, apart from Mathew (a letter writer whose letter was published, at the height of the pre-Olympics ruckus, by The Sydney Morning Herald) and Parenti (a U.S. journalist and writer) the only credible voice I've heard speaking about Tibet has been - occasionally - the Dalai Lama's.

Beijing cannot fault Western commentators and journalists for bias. If Beijing were to open up the country to free media the problem of Tibet might - eventually - die away.

As it is, as long as Beijing stifles debate bias will remain in Western media. Western media are, we all should know, run by people of a mainly liberal mental cast who are also prone to beleaguer their vocation's susceptibility to the action of capital. So they are not likely to let up on China as long as they are allowed to give tongue to uncomfortable truths, in terms even of their own employers.

In the 'Press and Publication' section of Tibet: Education we read that "the publishing sector in Tibet realized sustainable, fast, healthy and orderly development" "centering on medicine, folk handicrafts, animals and plants on the plateau, environmental protection and economy".

Given the lack of books or periodicals 'centering on' politics or history, for example, it's hardly surprising that Western journalists take little notice of such 'development'. It's not enough, I would hazard, to feel proud of the fact that newspaper sheet printing increased by 50.6 percent over 2006, nor that magazine printing increased by 45 percent.

It's not the capacity of the vehicle that counts we would want to say to Chinese administrators. It's what they carry.

The Foreign Language Press' booklet comes with more than just facts and figures such as these. The frequency of photos of smiling children, happy women with mobile phones, and whirling 'traditional' dancers, is not something we can easily tolerate. Even given that pre-"liberation" Tibet was a feudal society where the only education was that provided by the Buddhist Church.

It's not good enough, and the Chinese authorities know it. On the other hand, Western journalists should try to convince editors to allow stories that do not call for an accompanying photo of the current Dalai Lama. Balance is required from both sides if we are to really progress.

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