We are All Sinners for Tibet – including the West
There is now a vicious circle for Tibet: No Chinese or Tibetans in China would wish their names shown in any journalism stories that touch the serious challenges of Tibet, because they know any stories about Tibet would be politicized even if they just want to talk about environment; Since there are only voices of “human rights activists”, foreigners, exiles in existing journalism stories (mostly on western media) on Tibet’s problems, each story coming out makes the issue get more politicized and more intimidating for people inside China to be involved.
How can you solve the problems if the really stakeholders are outside of conversation?
As a Chinese environmental journalist who has two years’ personal involvement in bridging the communication gaps on this issue, I see huge imbalance that jeopardizes the understanding of Tibet’s challenges, not to mention resolving.
One side is extremely silent, even though they are the real stakeholders who have important insights or real influence: Tibetans inside China are silent on Tibet issues, even if they have important information that they wish to share; Chinese people inside China are silent on Tibet issues, even if they are extremely concerned about Tibet.
The other side is extremely noisy: the “Free Tibet” exile communities many of who have not even been to the modern Tibet; the westerner journalists who are banned to enter Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) but still write based on their limited access and pre-existing ideology; and us, the readers, who become suddenly politically active when talking about how poor the Tibetans are deprived of their human rights and how awful the Chinese Communist government is.
However, indeed the noisy side is who makes the silent side silent — the noisy side is the sinner in making Tibet’s many challenges untouchable while they do not have to be so, like environmental problems.
As said in my recent story, Tibet’s environmental challenge is not at all special in China, and the real sinner is not the Han Chinese, but the global commercialization, although it entered through the influx of Han Chinese. Therefore, many problems are common for all Chinese, who ask for clean air, clean water, and basic rights to have a healthy life without necessarily demanding a western type of democracy.
While environmental problems are seen by Chinese journalists, civil societies as an area that is not very politically sensitive and where they could make difference, while many problems like pollution, hydropower, mining could be discussed, why Tibet is different?
It is different because many westerners do not want to compromise their “moral principles” “professionalism” for some people to have real benefits — “I only pursue great journalism, never think of the influence is constructive or not”, said many great western journalists friend of mine. The western journalists feel satisfied when they wrote things like “authoritarian regime” “human rights” “The hardline policy on Tibetans”, but they never consider what their stories would bring to the problems and the people in the problems. They do not want to not talk about the untouchable pains for the central Chinese government, such as some mistakes in modern Tibetan history, even if that could save the face for the central government and make it more capable of self-adjusting to fix some fixable problems at least. A more concrete example is westerner journalists’ obsession in pursuing real names in stories, which made them less likely to have voices from Chinese and Tibetans inside and more likely to have voices from people outside and sometimes with extreme political views.
It is different because ideology participates wrongly — ideology like western democracy, human rights usually exists in the journalism stories written by western journalists, even they all claim to be objective. Those words do not have to be present in the articles. However, through the narrative, those ideologies are implanted in the stories and every story about Tibet, about China becomes a “democracy” story or a “human rights” story, which is not only not appealing but also annoying to not only the Chinese government, but also many Chinese people, including myself. Even for people like me, justice is a universal concept, love is a universal concept, but “human rights” is a narrative under ideology, and “democracy” is a narrative under ideology. The westerners do not have to believe so, but they should be aware that if you can’t put your pre-existing ideology aside, they are disconnected with a major part of China’s realities.
The question is what is more important, the starting point, the moral principles to self-satisfy, or the results?
There are three simple things for us — people outside China — to contribute to Tibet’s future:
Discuss Tibet’s concrete problems like environmental problems on their own, put aside ideology like human rights and democracy, do not politicize the problems and generalize the problems into “China problem”;
Prioritize the influence on the issue, rather than your self-satisfaction or any professionalism;
Adjust your attitude, instead of criticizing, be constructive and think about feasible solutions, work with the Chinese government rather than be against it.