Twofish's Blog

May 12, 2008

Great articles on Tibet

Filed under: china, dalai lama, tibet — twofish @ 5:10 am

The great thing about the internet is that you can find in-depth, thoughtful articles that tell you thing that you didn’t know before. The bad thing is that you have to go through a lot of trouble to find them. Anyway here are two articles.

Trying to understand what is going on is like putting together pieces of the puzzle. The reason I like these two articles is that they “fit” into pieces of the puzzles that I already know about. I don’t know that much about Tibetan exile politics, however I do have first hand knowledge of Han Chinese exile politics, and what it’s like on in the inside of a Buddhist temple. I’ve also met people from the National Endowment for Democracy (and been highly unimpressed). A few comments:

  • happy people do not become Buddhist monks or nuns. People who are content with their life and satisfied with their material standard of living, just don’t become Buddhist monks. People who do become Buddhist monks and nuns tend to do so because of some huge trauma. I’m guessing that as a result Tibetan monasteries are filled with angry young youths.
  • I’ve also seen how devoted people can be to their Lamas. I’m pretty sure that any efforts by the Tibetan regional government to try to reduce the connections between monasteries and the high Lamas are going have a rather bad counterreaction.
  • Finally, one of the interesting parallels is between religion and language. I’m pretty sure that in a generation or two, most of the Tibetan exiles in India would have melted into the general population, but religion is one area were you can keep a culture alive. The reason this matters to me is that one reason I’m trying to make sure that my kids are Buddhist is so that they maintain knowledge of Chinese growing up in the United States, so naturally I’m sympathetic to a Tibetan parent who is trying to keep their kids interested in Buddhism so that they keep the culture in either China or India. One group of people that I’ve studied where this has been successful are the Amish, who have managed to keep alive Pennsylvania Dutch since this the language they use to separate themselves from the outside world, which they call “English.”
  • I’m also fascinated with “priesthoods” and the point that you just don’t become a high lama by reading books makes sense to me. The reason why is that physicists form a “priesthood” and you have the same sort of dynamics among scientists and mathematicians that you have among high lamas. When you get a Ph.D., you don’t merely learn a skill, you become in a very real sense part of a “priesthood.”

One piece of the puzzle that I’m missing is interviews with people from within the Tibetan regional government. Particularly ethnic Tibetan officials. There are two assumptions that people seem to be making with regard to Tibet. One is that the ethnic Tibetan officials in Tibet are “puppets” of the central government, and second that the anti-Dalai Lama impulse is coming from Beijing. Based on similar situations, I suspect that the actual reality might be much more complex. One thing that was the case with Soviet officials is that it turned out that the regional officials actually did have quite a bit of power, and second that non-Russian officials in the Soviet Union tended to try to be “redder than red” and “more Russian than Russians.”  This also seems to be the case with African-American Republicans, and looking at Tibet, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a “Clarence Thomas effect” among ethnic Tibetan officials in the Communist Party. Again, this is all guesswork, but part of the purpose of making up these hypothesis is so that you can see where your preconceptions are wrong if you do manage to get some new hard evidence.

One other thing to point out that people have missed. There is this idea that Chinese have been brainwashed by the Communist Party and those outpouring of nationalism is an example of people mindlessly repeating government propaganda. The trouble with this explanation is that I haven’t really seen any Han Chinese who hate the Dalai Lama and think that he really is this evil demon that the People’s Daily makes him out to be. The hatred and anger has been directed at the Western media (particularly CNN), the anti-Olympic demonstrations, but not so much at the Dalai Lama. The worst thing that I’ve heard anyone say about the Dalai Lama is that he is a puppet of American intelligence agencies, but even there, the anger is directed at the CIA.

Also, you have to approach politics with a sense of humor and irony if you aren’t going to go insane. One thing that amused me when I read the article on Tibetan exiles was the degree to which the monasteries in India have been funded by overseas Chinese. This is funny to me, since I’ve given not a small amount of money to Buddhist charities, and I’m amused by the thought that I may have given more help and money to the Tibetan independence struggle than the CIA has.

April 11, 2008

Quick question about the olympics

Filed under: china, tibet — twofish @ 4:50 am

So how many world leaders attended the opening ceremony of the 1996, 2000, and 2004 Olympics?  It seems to me that drawing a lot of attention to world leaders not attending the opening ceremony creates the impression of a boycott when in fact people were planning not to attend anyway.

The only thing I could find is this….

April 10, 2008

Thoughts on the olympic torch – The real reason behind the protests

Filed under: china, tibet — Tags: — twofish @ 1:54 am

I don’t really think that it is much of a public relations disaster.  People who call it such seem to have this notion that there weren’t any protests that maybe the “free Tibet” and “human rights” crowd would suddenly realize the error of their ways and start singing the praises of the Communist Party.

Yeah right.

People are going to end up believing more strongly what they did before. The problem for the “human rights” crowd is that these protests are just going to strengthen the idea that “human rights” means “anti-China.”  But on the other hand, that battle was lost a decade ago when you had major Western NGO come out against China joining WTO.  That destroyed what existed of the overseas Chinese democracy movement, and at this point, it’s pounding rubble.

So why do people really demonstrate, if it actually hurts their cause, as it is doing in this case.

The conspiracy theorist would see all sorts of evil underhanded things happening.  But the reality is more prosaic.  Non-profits tend to be extremely underfunded, and they are always fighting against apathy.  If you have to “do nothing” then people just stay home and watch television, and the movement dissolves.  Whereas if you have a good old-fashion demonstration, you get everyone together “doing something” and that helps keep up morale.  The olympic torch is a convenient focus for all of the groups that have a problem with the Chinese government to get together and have a party.  The danger in these sorts of movements, is apathy and boredom, and most of all, of being totally ignored.  So getting people together to “DO SOMETHING” is something of a team building exercise, the fact that what you are doing might be useless or worse counterproductive to your stated goals isn’t all that important.  What is important is that you have something to do, and if you are lucky, you get noticed by the press, rather than being ignored.  And being ignored is the worst thing that can happen to a non-profit.

Which makes me wonder about these news article, about Tibetan monks once again protesting during a scripted Chinese government tour of Tibet.

It seems like a public relations disaster.  After all, the world thought that the Tibetans were happy under PRC rule, but surprise, surprise, Tibetan monks are complaining about freedom of religion and the Dalai Lama.  It makes you wonder why the Chinese government took foreign journalists to see this, unless they figure out that the first time it happens, it’s big news, the second time it happens, it’s less big, pretty soon you’ll have the Chinese government taking journalists out to see the monasteries with the expectation that there will be protesters, and at that point, it’s not news anymore.

This points out something about freedom of speech.  There is a lot of freedom of speech and a high degree of tolerence for demonstrations in major democracies, because most of the time it really doesn’t matter.  There are thousands of protests with hundreds of people that happen, and these are mostly ignored.  If you have a protest with tens of thousands of people, then it won’t get ignored, but if you can mobilize this amount of support, its in your interest to become part of the system rather than overthrowing or changing it in any fundamental way.

April 1, 2008

Really good article on Tibet

Filed under: china, tibet — twofish @ 10:50 am

March 29, 2008

The problem with summits….

Filed under: china, politics, tibet — twofish @ 5:30 pm

When people think about dialogue between leaders they often think of people shaking hands in public in some media event.  The trouble with these sorts of summits is that they happen at the *end* of discussions not at the beginning of them.  You just can’t do any real sort of discussion while you have a camera pointed at you, and any real discussion and dialogue usually happens between aides of the leaders in a way that both sides can deny that they ever met each other.

Ma Ying-Jeou made it a point of saying that he would not be meeting Hu Jintao during his first four years in office, and that’s really not a bad thing since he also pointed out specifically that these handshakes are media events.

What matters is not if Hu Jintao gets to shake hands with the Dalai Lama, but rather whether or not there are messages being sent back and forth between the people or not.

The other problem with these meetings is that what is the point of dialogue if you have nothing much to say or if you are papering over the real difficulties and disagreements.

Weird things are going on….

Filed under: china, tibet — twofish @ 9:45 am

Weird things are going on…..

Yesterday Xinhua was saying all of these nasty things about the “Dalai Lama conspiracy”.  Today you have Xinhua and the People’s Daily talking about the life of the Dalai Lama in ways that aren’t too negative.  There is a video of him meeting Mao Zedong and how he met Zhou Enlai in India and about his childhood.  It’s not necessarily a positive depiction of the Dalai Lama, but the fact they have child pictures of him, and don’t show him as evil incarnate probably means something.


My theory is that there is a big bureaucratic battle between the Central Government and the Tibetan Regional Government about how to handle this.

Notes on the Dalai Lama’s Appeal to the Chinese People

Filed under: china, dalai lama, politics, tibet — twofish @ 8:56 am

Communications is difficult. As someone who lives on the border between many cultures, I realize how difficult it is too communicate. What sounds to someone like a gentle statement can sound to like a threat or worse.

I was thinking about that as I was reading the Dalai Lama’s statement. I’m sure he meant well, but he actually said all of the wrong things, and to someone within the Chinese government, this letter seems to confirm all of their paranoid suspicions about the Dalai Lama.

I’m reminded of the appeals that the PRC government made to Taiwan in the late-1990’s. They said all of the wrong things, and ended up making people in Taiwan mad. One thing that happened around 2003, is that when the Communist Party and the KMT started talking, people from Taiwan were actually able to help the CCP not say things that would offend people in Taiwan, and in most cases this meant saying nothing at all.

What is a little disconcerting about the Dalai Lama’s letter is that its obvious that he doesn’t have any communication with Han Chinese that would help him shape his message to avoid offending people.

The first problem is that the letter is in English. This is a problem since most Chinese do not read English. This an even bigger problem in that there are many different terms for Chinese in Chinese and it is vitally important that you use the right one. When he uses the term Chinese, does he mean “han zu”, “hua ren”, “zhonghua minzu”, or “zhong guo ren”? When he uses the term peoples, does he mean “min zu,” “zong zu”, or “ren min”?

Coming up with your official translation is important since if you rely on someone else to do the translation they are going to use any ambiguities to make you look good or bad. By using different Chinese words for “Chinese” and “people”, I can make the Dalai Lama look like a wonderful saint or an evil racist. If the Dalai Lama publishes the letter in English, and the Chinese government translates it, guess which words they will use…..

Also if you try to write in Chinese, you *have* to make these sorts of decisions which makes you think about what you are trying to say. The Dalai Lama is trying to say “I am not a separatist” but if you try writing the letter in Chinese, you have to think about how exactly “I am not a separatist” and I think someone who tries this exercise will quickly discover that he letter makes no sense at all in Chinese….

The first thing I would do is to change the title and make it “An Appeal to the citizens of the People’s Republic of China” The problem with appealing to the “Chinese people” is that it brings up the issue of whether Tibetans are Chinese or not, where as talking about PRC citizens avoids that issue.


In the light of the recent developments in Tibet, I would like to share with you my thoughts concerning relations between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples, and make a personal appeal to all of you.

Game over.

The view of most people in China is that there is one Chinese “tribe” (zhonghua minzu), and that Tibetans and Han Chinese are member ethnicities of that tribe. The second you talk about “Tibetan and Chinese peoples” most people in China will think “yes the government is right, the Dalai Lama is a splitist. It’s basically like saying “the Navaho and American people” or worse yet saying “I want a dialogue between Blacks and Americans”

Now obviously, I don’t expect Tibetan nationalists to accept this view of things, but if you are trying to make an “appeal” then its a bad idea to offend people in paragraph one. The reaction of most Chinese reading this would be “yep, the government is right all along about the Dalai Lama.”

The way I would phrase it would be to make an “Appeal to the Citizens of the People’s Republic of China” and start by quoting the PRC constitution that all nationalities within the PRC are equal and deserve cultural protection. While one can get into disputes about whether “Tibetans are Chinese” one can avoid the issue by saying that most Tibetans are citizens of the PRC and deserve the rights of PRC citizens.

Also, once you argue that “Tibetans” and “Chinese” are separate “peoples” then the “right of self-determination” takes over, and it is hard to argue that Tibet shouldn’t be independent.

I am deeply saddened by the loss of life in the recent tragic events in Tibet. I am aware that some Chinese have also died.

Wow. I’m four sentences into this statement, and he has already offended the people he is trouble to appeal to twice, and already confirmed himself as an “evil splitist.” The statement should have read:

I am deeply saddened by the loss of life in the recent tragic events in Tibet.


He goes on

Chinese brothers and sisters, I assure you I have no desire to seek Tibet’s separation. Nor do I have any wish to drive a wedge between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples.

These two statement are contradictory within the framework of the people reading it. If Tibetans and Chinese are separate peoples, then by the right of self-determination, you *are* seeking separation. This can be rewritten to read

I have no desire to seek Tibet’s independence from the People’s Republic of China, nor to I have any wish to undermine ethnic harmony between the different nationalities (min zu) within the People’s Republic of China.


This statement

I urge the Chinese leadership to exercise wisdom and to initiate a meaningful dialogue with the Tibetan people.

should be rewritten

I urge the Central Government of the People’s Republic of China to exercise wisdom and to engage in dialogue to guarantee the rights of the Tibetan people (min zu) as stated in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China.


This statement

The state media’s portrayal of the recent events in Tibet, using deceit and distorted images, could sow the seeds of racial tension with unpredictable long-term consequences.

should be deleted. It just gets you into an argument that detracts from the main point.


He then goes into a discussion of history. Probably not a good idea. Again you just get into an useless argument with the people you are trying to convince.


This is a particularly bad statement:

In 1974, following serious discussions with my Kashag (cabinet), as well as the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker of the then Assembly of the Tibetan People’s Deputies, we decided to find a Middle Way that would seek not to separate Tibet from China,

Very, very bad idea since it implies that the Tibet Government-in-Exile is a legitimate government.

In 1974, following discussions with my advisors and representatives of the Tibetan exile community, we decided that it would be futile to promote Tibetan secession.

The problem with this statement is, what happens in 2014 if you change your mind. Also, “middle way” between “what” and “what”?


This statement

My representatives met many times with officials of the PRC. Since renewing our contacts in 2002, we have had six rounds of talks. However, on the fundamental issue, there has been no concrete result at all.

It’s unclear here what is the fundamental issue.


This statement

I had hoped President Hu Jintao’s recent statement that the stability and safety of Tibet concerns the stability and safety of the country might herald the dawning of a new era for the resolution of the problem of Tibet. It is unfortunate that despite my sincere efforts not to separate Tibet from China, the leaders of the PRC continue to accuse me of being a “separatist”.

I know the Dalai Lama means well, but this letter confirms exactly why people within the PRC view him as a separatist. He sees the “Tibetan people” and the “Chinese people” as separate, and once you view the two as separate, the independence is the natural, logical result. If you translate the letter into Chinese, then you end up offending a lot of people that he is trying to appeal to, and confirming most of the invective that the Chinese government has been directing toward him.



Chinese brothers and sisters – wherever you may be – with deep concern I appeal to you to help dispel the misunderstandings between our two communities. Moreover, I appeal to you to help us find a peaceful, lasting solution to the problem of Tibet through dialogue in the spirit of understanding and accommodation.
The big misunderstanding here is the term Chinese. Most Chinese see the term Chinese (“zhonghua minzu”) as a broad term include many different nationalities of which Tibetans are one. This entire letter implicitly and explicitly challenges that view, and if you challenge the view that “Tibetans are Chinese” then you lose the support of people like me. My own view is that “Tibetans are Chinese” in the same way that “Navaho are American” but I have this personality quirk in that when I get offended, I can remain calm enough to explain why I’m offend. Most people will just start screaming at you.
Rather than challenging this view, my advice to the Dalai Lama is to make sure that any appeals that you give are neutral to this issue, and then invoke the idea that “since most Tibetans are citizens of the PRC they are entitled to the rights under Article 4 the Constitution of the PRC including the right to “to use and develop their own spoken and written languages, and to preserve or reform their own ways and customs.”
The trouble with this letter is that it *confirms* the statements of the PRC government. Although the Dalai Lama says he opposes political secession, he does see Tibetans as “separate” from the Chinese national community. The trouble with this view is that people in China think (with good reason) this sort of separate identity is going to lead to political secession eventually. I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way, but the fact that he signed his name to this means that he clearly has not been talking to the people he really needs to convince.

March 22, 2008

Notes on Taiwan elections

Filed under: china, politics, taiwan, tibet — twofish @ 4:49 pm

It seems that all of the talk about Tibet affecting the Taiwanese elections turned out to be wrong.


China Tensions Could Sway Elections in Taiwan

Ma won 58% to 42%. It’s interesting one factor as to why the newspapers got it wrong. Newspapers usually deal with “spin” by interviewing multiple people that try to spin in different directions. So when the NYT interviewed someone from the DPP, it was about how they thought that Tibet would cause the elections spread to narrow. When the interviewed someone from the KMT, they probably got the same story about how they thought that Tibet would cause the election spread to narrow.

However what the real situation was was that Tibet didn’t change people’s opinions. If people’s opinions don’t change then you win by turnout, and if you are ahead, your big danger is that people will think that you will win and stay at home, and telling people that the election spread is narrows gets people to vote.

This is different from the typical US primary election. In this case you want to argue that you are winning, because if people doubt that you are winning then the money starts running out.

This statement shows a lack of background

Both parties’ polls showed an increasingly close race in the final days of campaigning, in contrast with the last polls by media organizations nearly two weeks ago, which showed Mr. Ma ahead by 20 percent.

This is likely true but misleading.  Media polls in Taiwan are always biased toward Blue candidates.  There are a number of reasons why this could be.  Language plays a part.  If the poll taker speaks in Mandarin or Taiwanese this greatly affects the degree to which the respondent is willing or able to answer questions about their politics.  The likelihood that you reach someone with a phone also affects the numbers.  Finally because the DPP started out as an illegal party in a one party state and the KMT started out as the ruling party in that state, people who support the DPP are just less likely to tell strangers that they are voting for DPP.

The formula that I use is to subject 10% from the lead of the KMT.  The formula which ESWN uses is to assume that 70% of people that are undecided will vote for DPP and 30% will vote for KMT.

My theory as to why the internal polls indicated a narrowing spread is that as you get closer to the election, people who vote DPP are more likely to admit that they vote DPP.  I’m sure that both the DPP and the KMT knew that this was happening, but they weren’t about to tell the New York Times this, and they both had reasons to talk how Tibet could be affecting the elections.

The other issue was Tibet has been a high priority for Western reporters last week, and it’s natural (and wrong) to assume that if you care a lot about something, someone else will care a lot about it. People mentioned Tibet, but it wasn’t a large factor in the elections, because most people in Taiwan care about Taiwan and they don’t care that much about events in Tibet. You can get them to care about Tibet if you link Taiwan and Tibet, but that takes more than a week.

What was interesting is how politically adept the KMT was. Over the last few weeks there were some character attacks against Ma Ying-Jeou, and the KMT dealt with that by saying that they were worried about a “last minute dirty trick”. This caused people to remember the events of 2004 when President Chen was shot a day before the election. One fun game was “guess the dirty trick” and people were guessing about the last minute revelation that would throw the election. Ma Ying-Jeou was gay. He had a mistress. He had a secret son. He was getting money from the CCP. Etc. Etc. It was actually a very fun game. This had the effect of neutralizing any of the attacks against Ma, specifically the idea that he was a permanent resident.

The DPP was handicapped by several things:

1) Martial law is over. The KMT was a nasty and somewhat brutal one-party state, and most of the core leaders of the DPP started out as rebels against the authoritarian KMT. The trouble for the DPP is that anyone who is less than 20 was born after martial law, and lived at the time in which the DPP ran the government. Thus while martial law is an emotional issue for people within the DPP, it means absolutely nothing to younger people.

2) Beijing is not run by marketing idiots. The DPP would have loved to run against Beijing, but over the last few years Beijing has learned to keep its mouth shut. The other significant fact about younger voters in Taiwan is that they were born or raised Tiananmen. Increasingly, the Mainland is “the place you make money” rather than “evil, nasty dictatorship threatening the homeland.”

The big person responsible for the mess was Chen Shui-Bian. He was running a very, very bad campaign. He stopped after the massive defeat in January, but that didn’t leave enough time for the DPP to develop a new message. In fact, I really have no idea what the DPP message is.

Frank Hsieh however was much more graceful in losing than Soong was.  One good thing about Taiwan is that as time passes, both sides are learning that losing an election is not the end of the world.  I know what people in the DPP are feeling because I felt exactly the same thing in 2000 and 2004, and I will no doubt be on the losing end of a campaign many, many more times in my life.

At some point the KMT will be hopeless corrupt and will need a stern reminder of who is in charge.  My role as a KMT support is to make sure that this happens in 20+ years rather than in 20 days or 20 months.

This is why a constitutional democracy is different from a revolutionary democracy.  In a revolutionary democracy, you overthrow the bad, evil guys and then hold power forever.  In a constitutional democracy, you win or lose an election, and you adapt for the next election.  The people on the other side of the aisle, aren’t bad or evil, they just think that they world should run in a different way than you do, and you have to deal with them.

Anyway enough about the election, now comes the hard part….. Governing….

March 21, 2008

Less then 24 hours to go before the Taiwan election….

Filed under: china, tibet — twofish @ 6:31 am

Nervous as heck with all of the news leaks that the gap between Ma and Hsieh is narrowing.

I have a theory about what is going on that is a little scary, but I’ll share it tomorrow after the results if I’m not too depressed.

March 20, 2008

Maybe not so serious concerned after all….. / Olympic torches

Filed under: china, politics, tibet — twofish @ 3:22 am

Western press reports have the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang saying that he is “seriously concerned” about the Dalai Lama’s visit to Britain.

The curious thing is that I can’t find any trace of that quote in any Chinese source. I don’t doubt that Qin Gang said it, but it is interesting that you don’t have that quote or others like it in the Chinese media. Nor do you have the standard screaming. It’s not a time issue. There is quote from the 3/19 press conference specifically about the Dalai Lama

What I think happened is that Qin Gang was reading from a script, and the script changed drastically.

Now here is the *really* interesting thing, and this *proves* that there is a lot going in under the surface.

At the same day we have talk of the Dalai Lama meeting Brown, we have a lot of news that the Olympic torch route will go through Nepal then Everest then Tibet as originally planned. At Chinese request, Nepal is planning to close the south side to Everest between May 1 and May 10 to climbers. This was announced right in the middle of the protests.

***So why are people talking about closing Everest on 5/1-5/10, if the original plan was to have the torch pass through Tibet in late June???***

Now the answer is that it may be possible to change the path of the torch so that it enters China through Tibet. The reason that becomes diplomatically significant is that the late-June original route was controversial because it showed that Tibet was an integral part of China sandwiched between two other provinces. If you put Tibet at one end of the leg, then it becomes possible to argue that Tibet is a separate country if that is your view of the world, or not, if that is also your view of the world. This was actually a big deal when people were talking about the route through Taiwan, and the route went through Hong Kong precisely so that you can argue that Taiwan is or is not part of China depending on your world view.

One problem with diplomatic messages is that you need to be able to deny that you are sending a message if you need to. Everest weather is better in May than June so the changes have nothing to do with politics, if that is your view of the world.

As far as  Taiwan goes, if Hsieh wins the election, then the torch isn’t going to pass through Taiwan.  If Ma wins the election on the basis of “one China, different interpretations” then there is no need to beat around the bush, by late June Ma will be in office, and passing the torch through Taiwan after going through Hong Kong in late June will be a way of demonstrating “one China.”

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