Thursday, March 27, 2008

Powerful Words from Women Writers on the Olympics

This blog entry is little more than a referral to two thought-provoking articles that I particularly enjoyed reading. And I think it makes very good sense to read them in the order in which they were published.

The first is by Anne Applebaum, Op-Ed Columnist for the Washington Post, "Olympic Fallacies." March 25, 2008.

The second is by Sally Jenkins, Sports Columnist for the Washington Post.  The title of her essay is "IOC Needs to Step in or Perhaps Move on." March 26, 2008.*
{*Update of April 21:  For another amazingly strong column by Sally Jenkins, entitled "A Torch Job to Liberty," see Washington Post, April 18, 2008.}
I'll let these two women speak with their own voices.  Loud, articulate, clear, thoughtful and fearless in the face of their opponents. Sportsman-like, truly.

The second article makes an interesting case for moving the Olympics to one of the cities that has already sponsored the games in recent years.  Something to consider, really.  They already have the necessary infrastructure.  The light of Truth is so much more important than who gets the Torch this time.

* * *

And lastly the latest welcome development:   Go here for the open letter to Hu Jintao drafted and signed by a group of academic Tibetan studies specialists.  In a word, Tibetologists.  This I am overjoyed to see.  They are asking that only professional Tibetologists with teaching and research positions, as well as graduate students in Tibetan studies, sign it, and then only if they agree with what it says.  People who do not fit the description should be able to find other petitions to sign.*
{*Update:  Chicago Public Radio, on April 1, 2008, did a story about the open letter, including an interview with Matthew Kapstein, Professor at University of Chicago and the Sorbonne.  The audio file is here.}

* * *

And one more thing.  This has just come in this very moment from the President of the IATS:

It is a cause for profound regret that tragic disturbances have shaken Tibetan regions in recent days, and that injuries, loss of life, and curtailments of freedom have ensued.  As an organization representing international scholarly cooperation with respect to Tibet, IATS has maintained a position of political neutrality since its inception in 1979, and this neutrality should be maintained in the present circumstances.  By the same token, the right of all members and officers of IATS as individuals to hold and to express opinions concerning these tragic developments should be affirmed, and members are strongly encouraged to make their voices heard.

Charles Ramble,
Oxford University

Hear, hear!

POSTSCRIPT: For still another of the few but growing number of intelligent analyses of the Tibetan situation, this one from a Tibet scholar with plentiful local experience to back him up, see Robert Barnett's "Seven Questions: What Tibetans Want," posted on the web exclusively, at the website of the journal Foreign Policy.  Among other things, he makes a clear distinction between the political demands of the global  exiled community, and those of local inhabitants in the Tibetan plateau, making a further distinction between Lhasa and the Tibetan countryside. All of it great thought food.  Read slowly and enjoy every bite. You don't know when you'll get another meal as good as this one.  Leaves me hungry for more.* 
(*Sorry about the food metaphors, but for some reason I can't get those starving monks out of my mind.)

PS of April 13, 2008:  Now we have to add a third powerful voice, that of Catherine Bennett, writing for The Observer: "At Least the Torch Tour Shone a Light on Olympic Hypocrisy."


  1. Re: the IATS statement

    Where was it published? I fail to find it on the web.
    At least something, albeit too carefully phrased. But I guess that's the job of a president? Neutrality might be useful, at least in view of securing future research visa and permits. DaimlerChrysler is always very neutral too, otherwise the PRC might shut their plants.

    As for the open letter, I have great respect for all those doctoral candidates who signed it. For some of them the looming impossibility of obtaining a visa for the PRC and Tibet from now on might be damaging to their research.



  2. Dear Arno, I think you yourself made the case for "institutional" neutrality when you pointed out statements by IATS members within the TAR/PRC made to speak in favor of the new and coming wave of repression. While the rest of us have considerable freedom to speak, they speak under extremely heavy constraints. Nobody would expect all to speak with one voice when the conditions for speaking are so much different. I imagine I can see clues in what they say, as for instance when while giving the straight version... [self-censorship, self-censorship]. Thanks for writing. You've made the blogging so much more interesting. Yours, Dan

    PS: Oh, sorry. I see I got carried away and forgot to answer your question. I think the presidential statement has not been published yet. I have my sources. You can check to see if it's a valid document or not by approaching the president himself. I think he's approachable, don't you? So what if he's president? That doesn't mean he can't hear our complaints. I'd say that's why he's required to. Because he's president! Which is so totally not the case with you-know-Hu.

  3. So Robert Barnett is such an authority that he can can speak on behalf of the Tibetan people? My thoughs areplaced in parenthesis.

    "Foreign Policy: What does the average Tibetan want? Is it independence, or a greater share of Tibet’s modernization and economic growth, which has been dominated by Han Chinese?

    Robert Barnett: Not really either of those things. (really???) We have to be very careful not to confuse exile politics, which is a demand for anti-China this and anti-China that, with internal politics,(so the demand for independence is just the ill-informed and baseless rantings of an exiled Tibetan Diaspora, eh Robert??????) which is much more pragmatic, complex, and sophisticated.

    A very important sector of Tibetans have become very wealthy because China has poured money into creating a middle class in Tibetan towns, (is that a fact Robert, or your assertion, as the evidence of those who travel inside Tibetan towns highlight general economic poverty and diparity for the vast majority of Tibetans) though there hasn’t really been a dividend for the countryside and the underclass. So, we can’t explain this as just economic modernization (which Robert did only a few days previously on the BBC World Service website!) We could explain the violence against the [Han] Chinese in that way. It could have to do with that. But the violence is present in just one demonstration out of 50 in the past two weeks.

    These protests are really about two things: A huge sector of the rural population has said, “Tibet was independent in the past. We reassert that belief. That doesn’t mean we demand that it be independent again..." (So Mr.Barnett reads the minds of Tibetans and asserts as a fact, that their sacrifices are not actually for a return to Tibetan political and territorial sovereignty, but simply for the purposes of articulating the statement of belief itself. Incredible!)

    What sort of obstuse and arrogant sophistry is this?

  4. I'll agree there are some generalizations there. But I'd like to see *you* try and encapsulate the subtler differentials in the range of Tibetan positions in 4 minutes or less. Ready to give it a try? It would be more impressive if you were less anonymous. I'd just say that in terms of intellectual sophistication, personal experience and learning, as well as his very close following of internal Tibetan politics and events over the last 20-some years, I'll trust R.B. over just about anybody. Which might even include you, Mr. Anon. Thanks for making the comments section a more interesting place to be. I was wondering why I wasn't getting more of those angry young PRC super-patriots. Not that I'm eager to hear more from them. I prefer you, really. You seem like a reasonable enough person. And I too would think that last quote slightly incredible if it was supposed to represent something he had actually heard any Tibetan say. But that's not how I 'read' it in its context, although I think I do understand you on this point, since I think I heard it the same way at first... The problem of 'adequate representation' is one that we all stumble over. It is extremely important, especially here and now. We're getting so much inadequate representation of Tibetans, that it would seem mean spirited to trample on every person who gives it their best try. If you want to call it arrogance, I challenge you (and not just you) to do your humble best.


  5. "Best try" is one thing, a deliberate and cynical prostitution of the facts is entirely a different matter. Take for example Robert Barnett's remark in the aforementioned article that

    "I think we have to get over any suggestion that the Chinese are ill-intentioned or trying to wipe out Tibet"

    Such curious comments bear a worrying similarity to the fiction peddled by Xinhua, Beijing's propaganda machine.

  6. I do understand your point on that one. There are certainly ill intentions behind those evil actions or my name isn't Dan.

    But really, I'm even more concerned about the closing statement that comes very soon after, "All the party cadres are going to be sent to the countryside areas to listen to the Tibetans’ complaints and find out what has gone so wrong with the policy machine in China."

    The very idea that party cadres are going to listen to the complaints of Tibetans in the countryside and try to do better! Let's see, maybe the conversation would start like this, 'Dear comrade nomad, how may we better make you rip up pictures of the 'Dalai' or how may we rough up the monks you most admire without making you so upset as we did last time?'

    Armed with the new ideas obtained from the nomad, presented at the next CP congress and approved, perhaps the repression could go ahead without provoking as much opposition in the countryside next time?

    You might say my scenario is entirely imaginary, but then, well, so is Robbie's.

  7. Dear everybody,

    I just would like to report that more discussion about these very same statements of Robert Barnett that have just been discussed may be found at the Columbia University Press blogs:

    Have a look! Especially of interest, as always, are the comments by Tibetans.


  8. Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Powerful Words from Women Writers on the Olympics":

    Dear Dan,

    This is Arno, still Nym to boot.
    I have not been following your blogs very closely lately, so apologies if what I am writing is already there somewhere. Late as I am, I still think it might be worthwhile including a reference to yet another open letter of 22 March 2008, not only for the sake of completeness but also since the signatories are brave people too:

    Twelve Suggestions for Dealing with the Tibetan Situation by Some Chinese Intellectuals

    Official Chinese version found here.

    This letter is even more remarkable than the open letter to Hu by the foreign academics, won't you agree?




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