Multiple Culture Experience in the Miniature China
Growing up in Taiwan, the miniature China, was a pleasant multiple-ethnic experience. It was akin to sitting in a big party, and learning about each of the guests at the party. The people I grew up with all knew how China was formed. It was a coming together of tribes in the huge land of China. In third grade my school held a talent show; the teachers taught us kids to perform Han, Mongolian, Tibetan, Xinjiang, and Taiwanese aboriginal dances. I can still sing the songs written by a famous Mongolian songwriter: "A Place In the Far, Far Distance". In fifth grade a male substitute teacher, who was a writer, spend a whole period of class telling us a tragic love story he wrote about a Xinjiang couple.
When I learned calligraphy by copying a classical work done in an ancient dynasty by a calligraphy master, titled "Hundred Family Surnames", I found the book began with the most common names such as Li and Wang; but before one hundred surnames was up, many minority surnames showed up, including my own. When I fell into a period of feverish reading of martial arts fantasy novels, I read about Tibetan monks who had their own brand of kungfu in the Qing, Ming, and Yuan dynasty-based fantasies.
The Han never mistreated me because I was a minority, or that my ancestors had treated them badly. Their view was one of awe and respect for Genghis Khan. Whenever I mentioned my heritage, I was greeted with awe.
Han, Manchurians, Mongolians, Tibetans, and Moslems are only the five major ethnic groups in China among a total of 56 ethnic groups. In Yunnan province alone there are 23 indigenous ethnic groups. Mainland China, on the other hand, designed her flag to have 5 stars to symbolize the unity of the five major ethnic groups. Some academic sources claim that the minorities consist of 6% of the population in China. Unfortunately that is misleading, and incorrect. It's customary for the people in China to register ourselves as the residents of provinces where we live, many of our heritage roots are never shown in a census.
Take, for example, my first grade class in Taiwan. Even though I'm Mongolian, my family was registered as from "Guangdong"; my Manchurian teacher was registered as from Beijing; and a Miao girl in our class was registered as from "Fujian". That was a class of 30 students;and three people were of minority ethnicity. My personal observation is that around 10% of the population in central China are of minority descent. In general, it is quite often for us to hear someone saying, "My family is [Mongolian, or Manchurian, or Tibetan]." There is a Tibetan-Mongolian Association in Taiwan.
The Chinese people have always regarded their integrated culture as shared by all. Currently the most popular TV series in Taiwan, China and Hong Kong is "Huan Zhu Ge Ge", about a Manchurian princess. "Ge Ge" is the term for a Qing Dynasty royal princess. The show is such a success that more sequels about other Ge Ge's are in the wings.
In the film industries in China, if an actress played Concubine Zhen Fei, the love of the tragic Manchurian emperor's life, she is a heavy favorite to win the best actress award. If an actor played Genghis Khan, he has landed a great leading role. These historical figures are not considered "foreigners". The history of Mongol invasion is now part of the history of the integration of China. Genghis Khan is now dear to the Chinese people as their heritage. I grew up knowing all of them because they were ever present in the Chinese popular culture.
When I was a kid in Taiwan, everywhere I turned, there were bits and pieces of multiple cultures to be found, which made growing up in the Chinese culture an adventure of discoveries and learning. If one walked through a train station at night, there would be a blind beggar playing Taiwanese folk songs, Mongolian folk songs, along with Han ones on his flute. Learning folk dance meant learning all the minorities' dances.
China is a multiple-culture country. It is also traditionally a Buddhist country. Tibetan Buddhism was therefore quite revered, along with the Dalai Lama. After I began to pay attention to the Tibetan issue, my best friend, who is now in Canada, told me one of her best friends had been the Tibetan representative in the National Assembly in Taiwan. Once the Dalai Lama visited Taiwan, and people lined up along the streets welcomed him. The newspapers heralded him. We considered him part of our great multiple ethnic heritage. The Dalai Lama is one of the highly revered public figures in traditional China.
How I found out about the Tibet Movement
Taiwan was very anti-communist. In fact, my family as well as many other families escaped from the mainland to seek refuge in Taiwan when KMT and the communists got into a civil war. Life as refugees was painful. We were told the "commie bandits" robbed all the lands, and were oppressing people on the mainland. In fact, my experience of growing up in Taiwan as a refugee was very similar to the Tibetan refugees in camps of India. My mother never saw her parents alive again after our escape to Taiwan. We lived in a muddy alley, and had to hand pump water and carry buckets to our house. One of my neighbors' dwelling was nothing more than corrugated tin boards and a bamboo roof anchored to one wall of our tiny, rat-infested house.
There had been days when I'd awake in the morning and find bits of skin missing from my toes. I could never discern whether it was the rats, or cockroaches that had bitten me during the night. I also remember waking up with grains of termite waste over my arm - I had slept on the bottom section of a bunk bed, and the termites infested the upper bunk frame.
My family immigrated to the U.S. in 1966. Gone were the backward living conditions. I was now a teenager in America. I went through college, a job, raising a family in the next two decades.
Given how the Dalai Lama was one of the highly revered people in China, when I heard the Dalai Lama was fighting for human rights around the world, I assumed he was fighting for all of the Chinese people. I had admiration for him, and hoped that he, with his international fame, would be able to do something for all the suffering Chinese people. I went on with that assumption for years. I was one of those people who never paid much attention to politics. I confess, I usually skipped the front pages of my newspaper right to the entertainment section.
It wasn't until when Jiang Zemin visited the U.S. in 1997 that I happened to glance through the pages of my local newspaper, and saw an interview with a Tibetan refugee. This refugee, a woman, told the journalist that "Tibet is not part of China", that "the Chinese school system lied". She said that she herself had been fooled because she had grown up in central China; but one day, when she returned to Tibet for a visit, a village elder told her the truth: the communists made their school systems lie to cover up a 1950's invasion. Reading this article, I was taken back with surprise. I thought to myself, why had I learned the same history that Tibet is part of China? Did the Taiwan school system lie? Why would the Taiwan government lie, since the Nationalist government certainly did not invade Tibet in the 50's.
Was there something I didn't know? I was baffled, and thought about it for days. Then it came to me. This woman said she had grown up in central China. How did a Tibetan end up in central China? The fact that she was born and raised there showed there is integration in China.
Why then, did she subscribe to the theory that the school system lied?
My own growing up experience showed me there was no way a school could lie so easily. Most of us, even kids at age 9, shook our heads at the Nationalist government's claim that we would one day recover the mainland from communist control. I distinctly remember a girl in my 3rd-grade class saying, "How are we ever going to take the mainland back? Mainland is so huge; Taiwan is tiny." I myself was skeptical enough to ask my mother when I was 9: "Are the Americans and communists real? Or are they just made up by grownups, like the fairies and witches in a fairy tale?"
The reason I asked was because I'd never seen a real American, or a real communist. However, never in my life did I doubt how China came about. I had ample real life evidence around me. The way everyone enjoyed our multiple-ethnic culture, and the coming together of the tribes of people in China to form a nation. But this Tibetan woman discarded her own growing up in central China in a moment's word form her village elder. She chose to ignore herself as a living proof of China's integration.
She was lying to the reporter. I came to the conclusion. But why did she say the Chinese school system lied?
It dawned on me her real purpose. She was trying to spread a lie to the Americans, but discredit the 1.2 billion Chinese people at the same time. This was my first exposure to the lies of the Tibet Independence movement.
My struggle to tell the Americans the truth
I immigrated to the U.S. back in 1966, at the age of 15. When I first came to the country, I stepped right into the height of the Vietnam war. One of my most vivid memories of being in high school in America in 1968 was a debate in our social studies class on the Vietnam war. While some intellectual type kids argued against the war, one football player smiled, put his hand over his chest, and said, "I don't care what you all say. I will serve my country." Till this day I remember the glow on his face, the ease of his smile.
Many Americans were compassionate and wanted to help Vietnam. In the end, the Vietnam war became costly to America. As a child who had grown up in Taiwan, I appreciated very much how the Americans had helped to fight communism, yet I saw the price of the fight, the pain and anguish to families who lost their sons. To me, America was the most compassionate country in the world, but she needed to gage facts carefully.
As I discovered now, 31 years after my immigration - in 1997, that the Tibetan movement was lying to the American public, a part of me became very concerned. I know that Tibet is indeed part of China. But if the Americans are misled to support a Tibet independence movement, China will never back down. Why?
The Chinese people have always viewed China as a traditional country with a 4000-year-old history. Just as Princess Di once said she wished to be "the People's Princess", there is a "People's China". This "people's China" transcends any current government. There is an old saying in China: "The dynasties change, but the generations stay eternal." To most of the Chinese people, the communists are the current government, but China will remain even if the communist government falls. To these very same people, the multiple ethnic nature of China is eternal. It is the soul of China, part of her 4000 year old culture.
Since the 19th century, China had suffered through the Opium War, the humiliation of having European colony areas on the Chinese soil, the Japanese invasion, and a puppet Manchurian state goaded by the Japanese that collapsed shortly thereafter. Her people embrace the multiple ethnic culture, and are now very much on guard against losing it. If China sees the West as threatening the soul of her culture, she will confront the West to the highest extreme due to her past sufferings.
Attempts to misrepresent her culture, and her legal boundary established for over 300 years during the Qing Dynasty, are not looked upon kindly by most of the Chinese people. The legality is such that Hong Kong is returned to China after the Qing Dynasty signed a treaty to lease Hong Kong to the British. As I pondered the Tibet issue, it became clear to me that either the West will understand China, or she may go to war defending her land.
As the days went by, I saw many of our students affected by the Tibet Freedom concerts, and joining the Students for A Free Tibet organizations. Thoughts came to me as I watched the high school graduation of my son, and the sunlight washed over the youthful grads: They all looked so happy now. What would the 21st century be like if there is a war between the U.S. and China? How many of these kids will die? How many will live?
I became concerned on how the Tibet movement may affect world peace. So I started to post online to tell my fellow Americans about Tibet is truly part of China.
To my surprise, many derided me. I was told "your school system drummed into your mind" you are part of China. I was called a "communist spy spreading PRC propaganda". Me, from a bastion of anti-communist Taiwan. Me, now an American citizen saying something to my own fellow Americans.
When I asked my fellow Americans not to believe everything some foreign monks tell them - one devoted Buddhist told me, "You are an immigrant attacking the Dalai Lama. You are abusing the freedom of speech that was hard won by American soldiers." This - when I only donate regularly to two charities: Disabled Veterans of America and the American Lung Association. The former due to my feeling that veterans helped protect the democracy for our country, and the latter due to my undying concern for clean air.
Initially, I was in shock, and a bit hurt by these accusations hurled at me by the pro-Tibet independence people. Having lived in the U.S. since 1966, I had never encountered this type of attack against me. Then I began to realize the tactics of these people. They were trying to blame everything on a supposed invasion by the Chinese. One of their major theme is the Chinese school system lied, and that anyone trying to say otherwise is most likely a communist agent. Many Americans had taken this propaganda to heart, and are highly resistant now to the truth.
The Tibet movement has another major theme: The Tibetans are an unique race, different from the Chinese. A recent campaign letter published by the official web site of the Dalai Lama, for example, talks about "China's hidden agenda to assimilate minority nationalities into the mono-ethnic Chinese Nation-State".
Their general claim is that China is a Han-only country, out to invade all the minorities around them.
I began discussing Tibet with people on the AOL board. One poster wrote to me:
<< Reports form western journalists indicate that the Tibetan culture and people are inexorably being overwhelmed by the influx of Chinese.>>
And my answer was:
Who are the Chinese? Each time I hear the Tibet Independence people and the western press talk about "the Chinese", I wonder. What are the Chinese but Han, Mongols, Tibetans, etc. who all made up that country. People must be naive to not realize that if, in less than 300 years of history, the U.S. already has many inter-ethnic marriages, the same has happened to a much higher degree in China in the 800 years since the Yuan Dynasty. All the neighboring minorities have members that migrated to the central areas, where a beautiful multiple-ethnic culture of so many interesting bits of experience exist. China is very complex in its vast size and integration over thousands of years. The foremost poet in China was a Turk. There are even Islamic Chinese people. There were also a colony of Jews who settled in China during the middle ages, mostly congregating in the city of Kaifeng. The majority of the Chinese people LOVE this complexity. It is what makes the Chinese culture delightfully rich for us. Now the Tibet Independence people are trying to reduce it to Han alone?
Unfortunately, the Tibetan Movement has convinced many people in American that China is a mono-ethnic country. This is what saddens me. For the first time in my life, I realized what had been day-to-day reality to me was very unknown to my fellow Americans. Most of the Americans had no experience living in an integrated China. Their lack of understanding of the vast Chinese culture handicapped them, despite their quest for facts.
How is an innocent, compassionate American not to buy into the massive propaganda? The amount of lies spread by the Tibetan Movement out in the West is atrocious. I saw an ad for the Tibetan Freedom Concert, where "freedom" is used as a beautiful word to invigorate people into joining this movement. While the banners claimed: "A culture is being destroyed! Buddhism is dying!"
How is Buddhism dying when it thrives in Japan, Korea, and many other countries? (The scope of this lie amazed me.) How is the Tibetan culture being destroyed when people lined up in the streets to welcome the Dalai Lama? In the traditional China, the Dalai Lama was one of the most revered figures. Why did his web site now contain information that Tibet is not part of China? I was very baffled. Then I realized the truth. He and his group had abandoned the rest of the Chinese people. Not only will they no longer admit that they are Chinese, they now want the world to think China is comprised only of Han.
Why? They were oppressed by communism, just like those of us who had escaped to Taiwan. Except, for them, the way out is to dump everyone else in China, like a drowning man vying for his own life by stepping on the head of the guy next to him, who was also drowning.
I felt a great sense of having been betrayed. My hope and illusion that the Dalai Lama had worked for all Chinese people dashed. I could not believe, with his world-renowned reputation of a peace-loving religious leader, and a Nobel prize winner, he was doing this to his fellow Chinese people.
The Tibetan Movement claims that 1.2 million Tibetans were killed by "the Chinese". The reality is, not only did they exaggerate the number of deaths; the violence had happened during the Cultural Revolution. Many of the people in Taiwan and mainland China lost family members in those bloody years. Many people on the mainland with Confuciun books in their houses were killed. Yet the Tibetans decided to call that tragedy ethnic cleansing. They would only tell the west about their Buddhist scriptures burned.
An AOL posters asked me:
<< That their religion is carefully supervised and proscribed.??>>
And my answer is: Aren't all religions all over China? The Han Buddhist temples were burned down as well. More Han than Tibetan temples were destroyed.
What had happened in China was a class struggle. Millions of peasants chose communism to revolt against the landlords. This revolution was across China. Ethnic cleansing was never its purpose.
I have done research. An informative book is "The Struggle for Modern Tibet, the Autobiography of Tashi Tsering", by one of the foremost American scholars on Tibet, Melvyn Goldstein, and William Siebenschuh, and Tashi Tsering. In the book, Tashi Tsering talked about how, as a serf in the traditional Tibetan system, at the age of ten, he became his village's tax to the Dalai Lama's ceremonial dance troupe. He said, "In our village everyone hated this tax, as it literally meant losing a son, probably forever."
Tashi Tsering was physically beaten and sexually assaulted by monks in the monastery that schooled him to dance. He said, "The incident reawakened my ambivalent feelings toward traditional Tibetan society. Once again its cruelty was thrust into my life. I wondered to myself how monasteries could allow such thugs to wear the holy robes of the Lord Buddha. When I talked to other monks and monk officials about the dobods, they shrugged and said simply that that was the way things were."
Tashi was not the only one suffering. The old China was a feudal society with many landlord taking advantages of the poor peasants. And the peasants across China revolted, misguided by Mao to participate in what they thought would help them: The Cultural Revolution. Tsering eventually became a Red Guard, like millions of other Chinese did. The first inquisition Tashi participated in was the Tibetan students in his school made the Han teachers and principal kneel. This was condoned by the People's Republic of China. There were other Tibetan Red Guards who beat up fellow Tibetans. As Tashi put it, "The Cultural Revolution was ethnic blind".
Many Americans seem to equate Tibetans "sufferings" with the "Native Americans'" sufferings. The problem with this is they then project the type of slaughter done to the Native Americans as equivalent to what is happening in China. They become lost in their psychic of vicarious repent. Unfortunately, what happened in China during the Cultural Revolution was happening across the entire country. Many more Han died than Tibetans. It was a class struggle that became as violent as the French Revolution; it was also an inquisition against the Chinese traditions, which were now viewed by the peasants as evil - as vicious as the Spanish Inquisition. But it was not an ethnic problem at all.
While growing up as a Mongolian Chinese in Taiwan, I have found the Hans to be kind and gentle toward minorities without exception. There was not a single time I felt any prejudice, only good-natured surrender to our "superior Mongol military". We were like brothers having a playful time. One of my Han friends might act as if he was fearful, and duck from me, shielding his head with his arms. In reality, we view what had happened in the past between the tribes as ancient history. Now we were a united people. We were all Chinese. For the same reason, the term "flower monk" isn't even used in its old meaning. These days the Han hold no animosity over the rapes of their women centuries ago. Now they use "flower young man" as "playboy".
I feel it is an injustice to portray the Han as invaders. Historically, they are the only tribe of indigenous people in mainland China who had been invaded by the neighboring minority tribes. They lived on the most fertile land. They had very little inclination to even move to the border regions. This is why the border region people had autonomy even after China formed with the merging of all tribes in China.
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