aim with the release of the white paper on Tibet entitled "Regional Ethnic
Autonomy in Tibet" was to make the parameters of any future talks extremely
clear to all Tibetans, especially the Dalai Lama.
What the white paper also did was define the two separate views of what Tibet
is and should be – according to a modernist perspective: a "medieval theocracy"
on the one hand, and "market socialism" on the other. As with most issues in
China, the government tends to point to the rising per capita income over the
past 15 years in Tibet and Xinjiang to defend itself against human rights
groups: holding poverty alleviation and economic growth as the standards
by which the general well-being of a folk is measured.
In Xinjiang, vast mineral, wood, oil and gas resources make "poverty
alleviation" a matter for huge companies like Sinopec and KunLun – local farmers, herders and
townspeople must find ways to do business in the cities that grow around these
companies' efforts. Trade with Central Asian states has huge potential – Urumqi
has become one of the most cosmopolitan cities in China, with the all the
nations bordering Xinjiang present, along with Taiwanese, Hong Kong businessmen,
Singaporeans, mainlanders from all over and a smattering of Westerners.
But poverty alleviation is a tricky and complicated process, especially in
China and even more so in one of the most remote corners of this huge country.
Sichuan and Gansu are considered "The Wild West" by Shanghainese – so what is
Xinjiang, separated from Gansu by miles of deserts?
Uigher, especially in the underdeveloped south, have it tough in this new
modern style of deal-making. The vast majority of southern Uigher consider
Kashgar their heart and soul – they are Muslim, speak, read and write Uigher
(Uigher is written in an Arabic script) and learn English faster than they learn
Chinese. Vast numbers of settlers from out East come in to "make the world China" and
manage to get bank loans and assistance from the government – in the case of
persons displaced by the Three Gorges Project, many Han show up in Kashgar with
a bag full of loot and the need to start a new life.
Aside from the social difficulties of a (now) minority trying to make ends
meet, the growing majority of Han settlers and foreign traders are bringing with
them ideals and values that clash with traditional Uigher life, especially
Islam. The locals have always adapted, although Islam condemns those who charge
more than they should or demand interest; after dealing with shifty Chinese and
Pakistani businessmen for a thousand plus years, the Uigher have their own
techniques for wringing out a few extra pieces of silver.
The difference before, when Kashgar was the seat of kings and caravans loaded
with goods and sly merchants creaked on through the deserts, was the security of
the local culture and identity.
In this new, modern world identity can be the first casualty of an ethnic
minority with "medieval, theocratic" traditions. Past cultures did not have to
face globalization at its peak – now mass media can reach anyone, anywhere.
Desert Uigher have TV sets …
Tibet, unlike Xinjiang, does not offer easy access to its equally vast stores
of water, mineral and wood resources.
What Tibet does have is an already strong and growing tourism industry.
People have always been fascinated by the Buddhist kingdoms of the Himalayas and
they most likely will continue to be for the near future. Tourists, as
benevolent as they might be, have a serious effect on the locals whom they
record for posterity in photo albums and diaries.
article in the China Daily shows that Beijing too has considered
tourism to be a double-edged sword for regions such as Tibet. The concern of the
center for the cultural identity of some herders in the middle of Tibet may be
sincere, but on the ground, concern means nothing.
Qinghai-Tibet expressway and the Sichuan-Tibet
expressway are lined on both sides with noodle shops, inns, massage parlors,
bars and various fix-it sheds – almost all of them run by non-Tibetans (most of
these from Sichuan – anywhere in China there is a Sichuanese diaspora).
These people make a living off of tourism as much as any Tibetan sheepherder
and their main goal in life is to get in on the huge white-tiled five-star
glowing monster hotel under construction in their district. In Songpan, in
northwestern Sichuan, the population is a healthy mix of Hui Muslims, Qiang,
Tibetan and Han. All of them sell Buddhist robes, rings and charms, ivory
bracelets, horse treks and whatever else tourists want.
In Jiuzhaigou, a major tourist destination and, like Songpan, once a part of
Greater Tibet, the stalls have been handed over to Tibetans. The locals make
their living off of bracelets and hats, while the Han run the hotels. In the
small towns that lead from the Sichuan basin through the mountains into Tibet,
it's a free-for-all and Tibetans, Hui and anybody else who happens to be in the
area will drop their shepherd's crook, strip off their monk's robes and jump
into market socialism if they have the chance.
China, and most definitely Han China, has joined hands with the U.S.A. and
proclaimed the next century to be the playground of the merchant. In the past,
the merchants were no less powerful vis-à-vis their neighbors, no less hated and
envied by those they cheated or exploited – the difference today is the speed
with which a merchant will strip you of your wealth and leave, headed along the
Information Superhighway to another opportunity.
According to this writer, the
growth of science fiction in China and the enormous popularity of online
role-playing games and Neuromancer proves that China has urbanized and
industrialized enough to begin creating science Gods. Maybe the shattering of
the laws of Chinese poetry is next …
Places like Tibet and Xinjiang in China have a struggle ahead of them. As
with all previous and all future countries aspiring for power beyond their own
borders, China will brook no domestic dissent and will put the reins in the
hands of trusted and loyal servants of the crown – this excludes most Tibetans
and Uigher. And the more the world begins resembling modernity as China and the
U.S.A. see it, the more power and influence the merchants gain, the less
ridiculous the definition "medieval theocracy" will sound to the young people in