Multiple Culture Experience in the miniature China
Growing up in Taiwan, the miniature China, was a pleasant multiple-ethnic experience. 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.
The Han never treated me badly because I was a minority, or that my ancestors had treated them badly. Their view was one of awe and respect for Genghis Khan. If I ever mention my heritage, I was greeted with awe.
The Chinese people have always regarded their integrated culture as shared by all. In the Chinese film industry, 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.
Everywhere I turned, there were bits and pieces of multiple cultures to be found, which made growing up in the Chinese culture diverse and fun. 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. On any holiday, or school graduation, people would perform dances from all major ethnic groups. Learning folk dance meant learning all the minorities' dances.
China is a multiple-culture loving 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 to welcome him. The newspapers heralded him. We considered him part of our great multiple ethnic heritage. The Dalai Lama was 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.
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 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 had 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. 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 spreading lies, 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. A war is the only outcome. I became concerned on how this movement may affect world peace.
I started 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 an ultra anti-communist Taiwan. Me, now an American citizen saying something to my own fellow Americans. Then I began to realize the tactic of these Tibet Independence 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 bought this propaganda, 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, called China "a mono-ethnic China nation state". [ Link] 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 TI 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. 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. The majority of the Chinese people LOVE this complexity. It is what makes the Chinese culture diverse.
Now the Tibetan Indepence 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 why I feel bad. 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 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 felt 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 only 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 imagination 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 Confucius 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. Even more than the Tibetans.
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 some research. One great book is "The Struggle for Modern Tibet, the Autobiography of Tashi Tsering", by one of the foremost American scholars on Tibet, Melyn 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 eventually became a Red Guard during the Cultural Revolution. The first inquisition Tashi participated in was the Tibetan students in his school beating up the Han teachers and principal. 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. This is not true. What happened in Tibet during the Cultural Revolution was happening across the entire China. Many more Han died than Tibetans. It was a class struggle that became as violent as the French Revolution. But it was not an ethnic problem at all.
While growing up as a Mongolian Chinese in Taiwan, I have found the Han 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 "hua hua gongzhi" 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.
My concerns about the Free Tibet Movement
I hope this article will help some western readers who have never grown up in China as a minority to understand what it is like. One of my foremost concerns is for the Tibetan Chinese children who live in central China. They are akin to me, because they are the real minorities as far as their number in the local population. When I was growing up, I used to enjoy looking at the map of China while sitting in a geography class in China. I smiled when I saw how big my part of the country was. I saw Mongolia as a home base for my ethnicity, and looked forward to going there to meet all my fellow Mongolians.
Then, Outer Mongolia became independent under the Russians' engineering, and nobody in the world realized what it did to me. I was saddened, sitting in my classroom, feeling my part of the country just became small. Had Inner Mongolia left China, too, I can't imagine how lost I would have felt. Would my friends around me look at me as one of them anymore?
We must realize, the Tibetans and Mongolians living near China's border regions are much more massive in numbers. But the Tibetans and Mongolians in central China are scattered, and sometimes isolated. These people need all the support they can get.
I find it sad that while the Han revered Genghis Khan, and encouraged my heritage, the Tibet Movement denies minorities even exist in central China. It finally came to me what is going on. There is something very wrong here. The minorities in central China are the real minorities in terms of local population. But they are forgotten.
The term "minority" is used for the independence drive for a group of people who are the majority in the bordering regions. They take advantage of the term, and kick the real minorities into oblivion by saying to the world that China is all Han, a mono-ethnic country. They care little what will happen to the real minorities in central China.
As an American now, married to a spouse with Native American blood, with two children, and looking forward to grand children, I love with this country. I'm deeply disturbed by two things:
1) How does this negative portrait of the Chinese as "mono-ethnic Han invading their neighbors" affect the self image of the young Chinese Americans? I think it is tragic if a young Chinese American is seeing posters for a Free Tibet, and feeling negatively toward his/her own heritage. It is important for the second generation Chinese Americans to know their own heritage is one of multiple-ethnic, and a beautiful, complex and rich culture that embraces many tribes of people.
2) I've discovered a very sophisticated propaganda/PR campaign by the Tibetan Movement to gain the support of many American people. I'm worried by how a politically motivated foreign minority group can mislead so many Americans. That is a whole other subject: the infiltration of the American minds. While we are worried about how the Communist China may be spying on us, we are letting our guards down with other foreign groups.
I don't believe I could have seen through the highly sophisticated Tibet Independence propaganda myself, if I never had the experiences of growing up as a Mongolian Chinese in Taiwan. I will write another article about this propaganda campaign, and hope it will serve as a guide on how we may combat other propaganda levied at our nation. I hope the Americans will pay attention to it, so we don't become victims down the road. I think it is a very important issue for our nation's future.