27 April 2007

There has been a repeated rejoinder to my post Free Advice to the Free Tibet Crowd, that has been phrased as such: “It’s one thing to argue that Tibetans should take their case to the Chinese people; it is quite another to actually do it. How would you go about it?” and “A valid point in general, but engaging the Chinese population when such strict information controls, particularly political information, exist is easier said than done. Perhaps an answer to this question could elevate your argument.”Fair enough, and so I give you…

A Quick and Dirty Primer to Directly Involving the Chinese People
in Tibetan Causes
(or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Chinese)

Step One: Recognizing Chinese People are Involved Already

Chinese people constitute some 98% (or some other ridiculous majority I can’t be bothered to look up) of the People’s Republic of China, which Tibet is a part of whether you like it or not. I am not talking about the government. I’m talking about individuals. If democracy is important to you, perhaps popular opinion is as well.

“Initiative must come from individuals. Unless each individual develops a sense of responsibility, the whole community cannot move. So therefore it is very essential that we should not feel that individual effort is meaningless. The movement of the society, community or group of people means joining individuals. Society means a collection of individuals… the ultimate agreement or solution must be found by the Chinese and Tibetans themselves. For that we need support from the Chinese side, I mean from the Chinese people’s side; that is very essential.” - The Dalai Lama

“I think you should keep in mind compassion with wisdom. It is very important to utilize one’s faculty of intelligence to judge the long-term and short-term consequences of one’s actions.” - The Dalai Lama

Step Two: Learn to Communicate with Chinese People

Learn Chinese.

“Nonviolence, on the other hand, means dialogue, it means using language to communicate.” - The Dalai Lama

Step Three: Understand That Chinese People Form Their Own Beliefs and Have Self-Respect

Chinese people are not programmed robots. They actually form their own opinions, and they don’t believe they are stupid. It is not enough to learn the language; you must listen to their perspective and respect them as fully formed human beings who believe it sincerely. If all you do is harass them about being genocidal maniacs and mindless Communist zombies, they won’t listen to it. Because you’re being a jerk, and they don’t deserve personal blame for the actions of their government. Just like it’s not my personal fault as an American that thousands of Iraqis are dead, and if some Chinese guy starts telling me it is, I don’t listen to him either.

“And dialogue means compromise: listening to others’ views, and respecting others’ rights, in a spirit of reconciliation.” - The Dalai Lama

Step Four: Some Chinese People Use the Internet

… they read alot more Western stuff than you might imagine, and they even make their own proxies. Or why don’t you try making some MySpace friends*? Or how about diverting all that money for lobbying on Capitol Hill to some communications initiatives? How about bridge blogging? Hey, there are some Chinese people who read this blog, and I’m not even smart enough to blog in Chinese. I would if I could, though. I’d recommend the Handbook for Cyber-Dissidents, but unfortunately that only teaches those living in restricted societies - not how to speak to those people from outside and find common ground and friendship, which is a skill for which there ought to be a handbook (paging Rebecca MacKinnon, book idea). It’s difficult work demanding the empathy, wisdom and patience of… how do I put this… a bodhisattva.

At the very least, for crying out loud, make some decent Chinese banners and Chinese versions of your websites. At the very, very least.

*Act fast before supplies run out.

Shorter Primer: Try paying attention to what Buddhism and the Dalai Lama actually say before embarking on some arrogant self-righteous crusade - that’s been going nowhere fast for a long, long time.

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