Police in Sechuan's Aba county on Dec. 11 detained two Tibetan men—a monk at the local Kirti monastery and his nephew—on charges of "inciting" self-immolations. Four days earlier, the self-immolation of a 17-year-old girl at Rebkong monastery town in Qinghai brought the total number of such cases to 95. Chinese authorities again accused the Dalai Lama of encouraging the practice. (The Hindu, Dec. 11) The following day, the New York Times ran an op-ed, "Tibet is Burning," by prominent human rights lawyer Xu Zhiyong, who has defended peasants struggling to keep their lands before China's onslaught of "development." Xu writes about his journey in October to pay respects to the family of Nangdrol, an 18-year-old self-immolation martyr. Paraphrasing the note left by Nangdrol, Xu calls the current situation in Tibet "scarless torture." He writes about his fellow passengers on his ride in a car packed with locals to Nangdrol's hometown of Barma in northeast Tibet:
"Pardon me, but do you hate the Hans?" I asked them because Nangdrol had used the term "Han devils" in his suicide note. They'd heard about Nangdrol. When I told them I was there to visit Nangdrol's parents to express my sadness, they told me more.
They said they’d been to the site, as hundreds of Tibetans had. People had set up white tents at the intersection where he died. "He is our hero," one said.
It was dark when we arrived in Barma. At a lamppost, one of my fellow passengers asked a man for directions but was waved off. At a crossroads, he asked two men on motorcycles and an argument broke out. A monk came to the window to examine me.
"Sorry," my fellow passenger said, "they scolded me for taking you here." A minivan approached. Two men jumped out of it and upbraided him indignantly. Fear and hostility shrouded the place like night.
"We are Tibetans," he said all of a sudden as we left Barma in silence to spend the night in a nearby town. "We are Buddhists, but we can’t go to Lhasa without a permit." Years ago, you could see many Tibetans on their pilgrimage to Lhasa, but not anymore…
I am sorry we Han Chinese have been silent as Nangdrol and his fellow Tibetans are dying for freedom. We are victims ourselves, living in estrangement, infighting, hatred and destruction. We share this land. It’s our shared home, our shared responsibility, our shared dream — and it will be our shared deliverance.
China Digital Times notes Xu Zhiyong, co-founder of Open Constitution Initiative (Gongmeng) legal advocacy group, was arrested and charged with tax evasion in 2009 before the case was dismissed. His work on behalf of China's besieged peasantry is instructive. As we have observed, one reason China's rulers are so intransigent on Tibet could be the potential for an alliance between the Tibetans and Han Chinese workers and peasants against the Beijing bureaucracy. And, as we have noted, there have been some encouraging (or ominous, depending on your POV) signs of this, at least among China's intelligentsia—in 2008, pro-democracy activists, led by writer Wang Lixiong and dissident Liu Xiaobo, publicly urged the government to open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama. Wang Lixiong and his wife, the Tibetan writer Woeser, have also spoken out in support of civil rights for the Uighur people in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.
But the peasant unrest (probably perceived as a greater threat by the Beijing bureaucracy than the Tibetan and Uighur ethnic struggles) raises questions about the free-market assumptions of some of the dissidents, at least—notably Liu Xiaobo, who poses "property rights" as central to pro-democracy demands. As we've stated before:
In the '30s and '40s, when the peasants were essentially serfs under an oppressive land-owning class, their demands for land security—which were at the heart of the Chinese Revolution—naturally assumed the vocabulary of nationalization and expropriation. Now that the peasants are essentially serfs under a corrupt one-party state which officially owns all the land, their demands for land security naturally assume the vocabulary of local "ownership rights." Their fundamental demands have not changed. But their aspirations could end up being grotesquely betrayed if free-trade "reform" is successfully proffered as the answer to their grievances.