China, Tibet and A Tale of Two Women

( – promoted by undercovercalico)

There is still no word regarding the whereabouts of Jamyang Kyi, the Tibetan journalist, singer and author who has been detained by Chinese authorities according to her husband:

Her husband, Lamao Jia, told The Associated Press she was first detained on April 1 and has not been seen since April 7. He said he didn’t know who had taken his wife into custody.

link: http://ap.google.com/article/A…

Described as “apolitical”, Jamyang Kyi focuses on the issues of Tibetan culture and women’s rights. This YouTube gives on a flavor of the type of creative work she produces:

Reporters Without Borders has issued a statement calling on the European Union to intercede on her behalf: http://www.rsf.org/article.php…

While Jamyang Kyi uses the language of song to try to build cultural understanding, Duke University student Grace Wang, from Qingdao, China, attempted to use the language of reconciliation and understanding to bridge the gap between pro-Tibet and pro-China groups on campus.

She is now the victim of a vicious online attack for speaking out.

In an essay published in Sunday’s Washington Post, Ms. Wang explains the events that lead to her trying to mediate between these two groups:

As I left the cafeteria planning to head to the library to study, I saw people holding Tibetan and Chinese flags facing each other in the middle of the quad. I hadn’t heard anything about a protest, so I was curious and went to have a look. I knew people in both groups, and I went back and forth between them, asking their views. It seemed silly to me that they were standing apart, not talking to each other. I know that this is often due to a language barrier, as many Chinese here are scientists and engineers and aren’t confident of their English.

I thought I’d try to get the two groups together and initiate some dialogue, try to get everybody thinking from a broader perspective. That’s what Lao Tzu, Sun Tzu and Confucius remind us to do. And I’d learned from my dad early on that disagreement is nothing to be afraid of. Unfortunately, there’s a strong Chinese view nowadays that critical thinking and dissidence create problems, so everyone should just keep quiet and maintain harmony.

A lot has been made of the fact that I wrote the words “Free Tibet” on the back of the American organizer of the protest, who was someone I knew. But I did this at his request, and only after making him promise that he would talk to the Chinese group. I never dreamed how the Chinese would seize on this innocent action. The leaders of the two groups did at one point try to communicate, but the attempt wasn’t very successful.

link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/…

Then, when things had heated up, the anger of some of the Chinese protesters vented itself against Ms. Wang:

At the height of the protest, a group of Chinese men surrounded me, pointed at me and, referring to the young woman who led the 1989 student democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, said, “Remember Chai Ling? All Chinese want to burn her in oil, and you look like her.” They said that I had mental problems and that I would go to hell. They asked me where I was from and what school I had attended. I told them. I had nothing to hide. But then it started to feel as though an angry mob was about to attack me. Finally, I left the protest with a police escort.

As a follow up after the crowds dispersed, Ms. Wang went back to her dorm room and attempted further peaceful dialogue online:

Back in my dorm room, I logged onto the Duke Chinese Students and Scholars Association (DCSSA) Web site and listserv to see what people were saying. Qian Fangzhou, an officer of DCSSA, was gloating, “We really showed them our colors!”

I posted a letter in response, explaining that I don’t support Tibetan independence, as some accused me of, but that I do support Tibetan freedom, as well as Chinese freedom. All people should be free and have their basic rights protected, just as the Chinese constitution says. I hoped that the letter would spark some substantive discussion. But people just criticized and ridiculed me more.

And that’s when the serious attacks – online and in the real world – started happening:

The next morning, a storm was raging online. Photographs of me had been posted on the Internet with the words “Traitor to her country!” printed across my forehead. Then I saw something really alarming: Both my parents’ citizen ID numbers had been posted. I was shocked, because this information could only have come from the Chinese police.

I saw detailed directions to my parents’ home in China, accompanied by calls for people to go there and teach “this shameless dog” a lesson. It was then that I realized how serious this had become. My phone rang with callers making threats against my life. It was ironic: What I had tried so hard to prevent was precisely what had come to pass. And I was the target.

Her parents in China have gone into hiding. Ms. Wang writes that she only exchanges short email communications with them, as her mother has instructed her not to use the telephone to try to reach them. She reports that a photo has been posted online of a bucket of feces which had been emptied on the doorstep of her parent’s apartment.

Writing in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof had this observation:

But this kind of Internet bullying seems more common in China – there have been many such cases – than in most other countries, and it has shades of the Cultural Revolution in it: The mob of crazed students clinging blindly to an ideology, denouncing a cosmopolitan intellectual as a “stinking No. 9? and demanding that he or she repent to the crowd. This kind of nationalism is blinding, just as Maoism was in 1967, and it’s not good for China or for the world.

link: http://kristof.blogs.nytimes.c…

Now, before all of us start pointing fingers let me remind my fellow American progressive bloggers that even among us we’ve had our own challenges in being civil to each other online. Anyone who’s been following the candidate wars will recall Alegre’s diary on Daily Kos, mentioning that she was calling for a boycott of the site by Clinton supporters because – among other things – another pro-Obama blogger had suggested that their group do an “in the flesh” search to “out” the names and private information of the pro-Clinton bloggers on that site.

That blogger apologized, thankfully, and no such outting of the private information of pro-Clinton bloggers was ever done. But this is just an example of how inflamed passions can become online if we don’t strive to keep them in check.

As much as these group dynamics can take over reasonable discourse, making each side vilify the other and threaten action both online and offline, this only gets worse when the fires are stoked by a government propaganda machine. Recently recognizing this, the Chinese government has issued a statement praising the displays of nationalism but asking folks to tone it down a bit: http://afp.google.com/article/…

However, how seriously can someone take this request when, in Tibet, a new “education drive” is underway:

The campaign to “fight separatism, protect stability and promote development” would focus on “unifying the thinking and cohesive strength of officials and the masses, deepening the struggle against separatism, and counter-attacking the separatist plots of the Dalai clique,” said the paper.

Party members and officials would be assessed on their “performance” in the two-month drive, which will include television programmes and organised denunciation sessions.

link: http://www.reuters.com/article…

When the government itself has “organised denunciation sessions”, how, then, can it really ask its citizens to stop the online denunciations against those to appear to be speaking out against the Party line? When the government itself uses violence to quash dissent, how can it ask its citizens not to follow its example?

Please keep all sides of this conflict in your thoughts, prayers and meditations.  

6 comments

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  1. about the arrest of Jamyang Kyi?

    • Benny on April 21, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    coming from the State Department either.  

  2. for keeping on top of the Tibet/China struggle and reminding us it is a rather complicated thing.

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