Tsering Woeser is a Chinese poet and essayist.
Beijing, China. After the events that occurred in Tibet during March of last year, the international community paid close attention, and for the hard-pressed people of Tibet this attention was 'like a gift of charcoal when it's snowing.' It was because of international appeals and protests that the Chinese government's eventual settling of scores was somewhat restrained.
We know that the term “international community” refers to the population of all the nations rather than their governments. Democratic societies attach importance to the will of the people; this is the big difference between them and authoritarian societies.
Governments have acted in a way that reflects the broad popular support for Tibet. We owe a debt of gratitude, therefore, but it is to the peoples of the world rather than to their governments. Governments are always fickle. When the Beijing Olympics were due to start, VIPs from governments all over the world seemed to have forgotten the events in Tibet. These days, Chinese Communist officials are still pursuing a hard line in what they proclaim is "a fight to the death with the Dalai Clique." An enormous wave of migrants from inland China continues to flood Lhasa and other Tibetan areas, and they are still grabbing the lion's share of economic opportunities. The majority of Tibetans are still marginalized and continue to lose their ethnic character amid a crude process of Sinicization. And in all the monasteries of the Tibetan region, a campaign of “Patriotic Education” is still being carried out in which monks are forced to deny their faith and revile the Dalai Lama. Everything is as before, and the enormous sacrifices endured by so many Tibetans either were drowned out by the noise of the Olympics or got lost in the financial crisis.
There are China specialists and other notable people who think that if the international community exerts pressure on China, that will actually make the duty of Tibetans worse. I disagree. The history of the last fifty years shows that the circumstances of Tibetans have never been good. The Cultural Revolution left little more than ten monasteries standing in Tibet, where before there had been well over six thousand. During those years, was the international community putting any kind of pressure on the Chinese government?
It's true that foreign pressure is not going to make the Chinese government stop doing what it's doing. Of course the government may relent, slightly, on account of temporary needs; but once those needs have been met it will crack down again. Thus last year it was because of the Beijing Olympics that the government, in the face of international pressure, made a show of negotiating with the special envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama; but as soon as the Olympics was over the government suddenly turned hostile and broke off the talks. Moreover, the punishments meted out to Tibetans who were arrested have been exceptionally harsh; most have been sentenced to ten years or more, even life imprisonment.
Even so, I do not mean to say that intervention from the international community has been to no avail. Actually, the best results probably come from people-to-people contacts, from working together in many ways. For example, such collaboration has brought legal aid and pleas for humane treatment on behalf of Tibetans who are in detention, and these efforts have recently had some effect. What has been demonstrated is that not only Tibetans (both at home and in the diaspora) are continuing to pay attention, but even lawyers from China are getting involved, in addition to the reports filed by international media and the appeals made by international human- rights organizations.
Another thing: political pressure is not the only way to provide Tibetans with effective help. Culture, the arts, public health, education, and environmental protection are some of the many other avenues for improving the conditions under which Tibetans live. For a long time, now, many international NGOs have made an extremely valuable contribution in the Tibetan region and quite a few Tibetans are better off thanks to their work. Future efforts should be continued in this direction. There is a Buddhist saying that karma is like a seed: a good deed planted today will someday bear fruit in a tremendous reward. In regard to the Tibetan people, a trickle of kindness shall be recompensed with a bubbling fountain.
Woeser wrote this piece for Ny Tid.