- If there is one promise that the Chinese Communist Party keeps, it is not to tolerate the slightest dispute and to repress without argument. Those who signed the ambitious Chart 2008 for a democratic China are now paying the cost; more than a hundred have been arrested, harassed or assigned to residence. Others who dare to protest – parents of the children who are ill from melamine contamination, workers not paid for months on end, migrants sent back home with empty hands – are no better off; ancient restrictive measures have been dug up, new ones adapted to technological evolution, and opacity reigns in the case of secret or hidden trials, with the accused dragged out of jails, ghosts that no-one knows of or recognises the existence. Day-to-day “Guantanamos”, Chinese version.
As for repression, it is doing well since the beginning of the year; sixty arrests were officially announced in Lhassa, “for having spread rumours”. Unofficial abductions, of which the victims reappear (in the best of cases) much later, far from their homes, severely beaten or tortured. There are sometimes unexpected liberations – with the “happy” beneficiaries in such a bad state that the prison authorities are afraid that they will die in detention, and prefer to be rid of them before that happens. Well yes, because when questioned by the United Nations, the official Chinese representatives confirm that “torture does not exist in China, because it is forbidden by law"; without speaking of the programmes carried out manu militari of the settling of nomads or the relocation of entire villages (for example, along the new railway leading to Lhassa); “to civilise them.”
Propaganda is alive and kicking– even the “specialized services” have been re-baptized “publicity”. There was another promise kept by the regime, which last year launched an enormous campaign destined to make known “the truth about Tibet”. Following the publication of the “White Paper” last autumn, the official Press Agency announced the publication of a book entitled “Tibet Unveiled”. Oh, because it was “veiled” until now? Commissioned functionaries and home-made “Tibetologues” are sent on mission in various Western countries to meet well targeted interlocutors; the Press, historians, specialists, and representatives of cultural or charitable organisations, to carefully explain the Chinese version of Tibet, today and yesterday. The images of March/April 2008 create disorder in the official saga, and it remains urgent to have them forgotten, to delete the memories, as if they had never happened.
But, precisely, these images cannot be deleted. They are even more present as the 50th anniversary of the people’s revolt against the foreign presence in Lhassa in 1959 comes into view; revolt against the beginning of exile, and a half-century is a very long time to bear even more nostalgia for the ancestral soil. Shortly afterwards, there will be a Great Mass of the Chinese Communist Party in Pekin, confronted with numerous serious challenges presented by a population that is stirring. Then, in June, remember, it will soon be twenty years after the events of the Tiananmen Square, perhaps not remembered by the collective memory of young people “born afterwards”, but which has crystallized growing hopes like the phoenix and its ashes.
In short, a promising Year of the Earth Buffalo …
Claude B. Levenson, January 2009