Monday, February 20, 2017

Tibetan Slavery

(This post is going to be quick and to-the-point because I had a longer, developed post on this topic that my computer caused me to highlight and delete and then Blogger immediately saved the deleted version.)

A former student of mine from China is now a university student in the United States. He posted something about the Dalai Lama supporting forced labor and China's occupation of Tibet being a humanitarian mission to save the Tibetans from slavery. I asked for clarification if he thought China was opposed to forced labor and if he thought Tibet would experience more forced labor as an independent country, and he said yes to both questions.

That's just insane to me. The sources of information on China's use of forced labor are wide and varied. For instance: American citizen Charles Lee was imprisoned and made novelty slippers. Periodically Americans find pleas for help shoved into the packages they open. It can't be said this is a Western conspiracy to discredit the Chinese government because that ignores the breadth of agreement in non-Chinese sources; much of Western media is controlled by those sympathetic to state-run socialism. In the past, these people would have been called "fellow travelers" (or "useful idiots"). If this is indeed an anti-China conspiracy then it stands alone as the ONLY thing that EVERYONE outside of China can agree on. Remember, for years claims of a Soviet Gulag were said to be hysterical, and then they were shown to be pretty much spot-on.

In 1999, I started a personal boycott of items made in China. This was because of the structure of Chinese exports, where export companies are branches of the People's Liberation Army, so a cut of every item purchased from China goes to their military. That wouldn't necessarily be terrible, except I'm from Los Angeles, so the periodic Chinese threats to destroy Los Angeles with nuclear weapons are disagreeable to me.

My personal boycott ended in 2001 because 1) it became impractical as China replaced nearly all other sources of manufactured goods sold in America, and 2) I got married and my wife wasn't as dedicated to the boycott as I was. My father gave me a pair of Homer Simpson slippers and jokingly blacked out the tag where it noted their Chinese origin. A few years later I read that Charles Lee spent his prison sentence making this exact style of slippers. I could no longer wear them.

Now, Tibet was a feudal society before the 1950 invasion, and there's not much difference between a serf and a slave. So the argument can be made that the Dalai Lama was a slaveholder and that Tibet had widespread slavery before 1950. But the idea that China brought liberalization with them is wrong. The Danwei system was as all-controlling as serfdom, and its phasing out didn't start until the 1980s. Some aspects of illiberalism persist today, such as the two-child policy. (Serfs and slaves don't need government approval to reproduce.)

What's more germane to this argument, though, is whether a Dalai Lama ruling over an independent Tibet would return the nation to pre-1950 feudalism. Given the nature of the modern world, I just don't see that happening. Of course, we can't know right now, but there's no indication that Buddhism requires it, as the world's predominantly-Buddhist nations aren't feudalistic.

My former student had a number of friends who attacked my post, telling me that I can't know the truth because I can't read the Chinese sources they can read, and that I was disrespectful for attacking China. I didn't respond, as it wouldn't change their willingness to accept the story they've been told by their government, and it would only hurt their credit scores. But Occam's razor would lead us to believe that arguments which require a conspiracy of all non-Chinese media personnel should be disbelieved. There's nothing we in the West can do to discredit the Chinese government more than what the Chinese government already does itself.

1 comment:

Nancy said...

Hey, to my credit, you BARELY mentioned this boycott of China to me. I think I only heard about it in passing when we started receiving wedding gifts and your dad commented on your China boycott, and your dad constantly writing Made in China LAKE on all your stuff.