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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Buy Stomachs, Win Hearts

April 17, 2009

By Thubten Samphel
April 16, 2009

The Chinese government has convinced itself that
it has "liberated" Tibet. To drive home this
conviction to the rest of the world it has bought
advertisements in newspapers from Malawi to India
to declare the happy news of Tibet’s serf
liberation day. In Tibet, the authorities tried
outright bribery so that the “liberated” serfs
willingly join in the celebration. How successful
the authorities were in this effort is captured
by The Economist’s headline on this event: “Damn You, Rejoice.”

Unlike the rest of the world which is going
through a period of belt-tightening because of
the ongoing financial tsunami, China is awash in
cash. Like any nouveau riche, China throws its
weight around the world and in the neighbourhood
block. In Arunachal Pradesh, China stops a $60
million development project to be financed by the
Asian Development Bank. In New Delhi it buys a
four-page spread in The Hindustan Times to say
that the “serfs” on the other side consider
themselves “liberated.” Like America from a
different era, China thinks any problem will
solve itself by withdrawing or throwing money at it.

The Tibetan people have their distinct viewpoint
on the debate on "liberation." They feel agonizingly enslaved.

What about the Chinese? What do the Chinese
people think about their "liberation"? Here too
there are two views. Those who are enriched by
socialism say they are truly liberated. They say,
Marx is great, socialism is great, the Chinese
Communist Party is greater because we are rich
and we cannot get enough of it in communist China.

What do those at the bottom of the Chinese pile
think? There must be as many different viewpoints
on this as there are Chinese in the world. More
than 1.3 billion at the last count. One
particular Chinese has his passionate view on the
issue and the way he puts it reflects the
enormous capacity of the Chinese people to "eat
bitterness." It is recounted in a remarkable new
book, China Road: A Journey Into the Future of A
Rising Power by Rob Gifford. This book was
published a year before the world was struck down
by the financial crisis. Before he left his
National Public Radio post in Beijing, Rob
Gifford, a veteran reporter, who had studied in
China and speaks the language like a native, took
to the road, from Shanghai to the very edge of
Xingjiang to the border of Kazakhstan. When he
entered Xingjiang, Rob Gifford encountered Lao
Zhang, a Chinese who ran a noodle restaurant in
Xingxingxia. Here’s the encounter as narrated by the author..

"I stand beside the open window and simply ask
him how life is. My question opens a floodgate.

"How is life? How is life? Life is not good. Do
you know why? Because the officials have sealed
up our well. The well that has given water to
Xingxinghai for centuries has been sealed up with concrete."

"He looks up from his blackened wok, then
splashes soy sauce into the stir-fry, which
sizzles as he tosses it. "The officials here are
so evil, so incredibly immoral, it almost defies belief."

"’But why on earth would they want to do that?’" I ask him.

"Because..." He pauses again and steps back from
the stove., wok in hand, to look at me. "’Because
they run the local water company, and they want
to force everyone to buy their water.’

"Even when you think you know something of the
venality of the Chinese officials, stories like
this can still take your breath away. Lao Zhang
says he remonstrated with them, but they would
not listen. He says they used the classic
post-9/11 argument of the government officials in
Xingjiang. "They said if I kept on protesting,
they would arrest me as a terrorist."

"So is there nothing you can do about it,’" I ask him finally.

"Endure. That is all we can do. We can and must
endure. That is all we have ever been able to do.’

"I stare at him and slowly shake my head. He has
just summed up thousands of years of Chinese
history. Endure is all that Old Hundred Names
have ever been able to do. For all the progress
in the wealthier parts of China, endure is all
that hundreds of millions of common people in the
poorer countryside and the western regions ever
see themselves doing in future."

Rob Gifford records another opinion. On his way
to X’ian, the starting point of any journey from
China on the Silk Road in ancient times, the
writer boards a bus and is immediately accosted
by the ticket collector, who asks him where he is
from. The traveller tells him. The ticket
collector responds, "Hong Kong is good, because you guys governed it."

"One row in front of me, on the other side of the
aisle, is a youngish-looking Chinese man with a
buzz cut and very shiny shoes. He looks as though
he might be an off-duty soldier, and he takes
exception to what the ticket collector has said.

"’So you think Britain should just govern the whole of China, do you?"

"Sure. They couldn’t do a worse job than this bunch.."

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