Posts Tagged ‘tibet’

Happy Chinese New Year!

February 27, 2015

And in its honor, a primer to understanding China’s international relations:

Let’s say I’m China, and I have this delicious cake. It’s fluffy and moist, covered in all the flair with like chocolate flakes and candied rose petals and stuff. Written on top in pretty floral icing are the words “China’s Territorial Integrity.”

Along comes Britain who says “give me some of that cake.”

I ask why, and he says that it’s for free trade. I am reticent, and he wants to compromise. I ask what I get out of this compromise, and he says that I get to keep the part of the cake that I already own.

I do not think this is a good deal. He pulls a gun on me and cuts himself a slice anyway.

We will call this the Treaty of Nanjing.

Emboldened by Britain’s example, others – France, Russia, Portugal, Japan, the US, etc – do the same thing. Tientsin, Whampoa, Peking, Shimonoseki, Boxer Protocol, Twenty-One Demands, etc, etc, etc.

At one point, the US decides that, as one of the “compromises”, everyone gets to share equally in the cake. Everyone, that is, except me, who actually owned the cake in the first place.

We will call this the Open Door Policy.

Finally, when I’m left holding a tiny slice of what was originally left of my cake, I decide I’m done.

I buy a gun, I take some tactical classes, and the others are weakened due to fighting amongst themselves.

I start reclaiming my cake. It’s not a perfect process, and the icing got smudged or had bites taken out of it, but by and large it’s starting to look like the way it did before.

And then, the thieves that stole my cake in the first place have the gall to set themselves up as the arbitrators of whether this is correct and proper.

They’re standing there, wringing their hands that formerly held pieces of my cake that they took, making anime eyes at me and whining about my “saber-rattling” and my “territorial ambitions” that threaten to “destabilize the region”, asking why won’t I find a “peaceful way to reach compromise.”

And I’m just standing here, going “you have got to be kidding me.”

I’ve seen what your idea of compromise looks like.

There’s two definitions to that word, one is to actually meet in the middle, and the other is to concede, and it’s real obvious which one is meant whenever they say China needs to “compromise”.

(Original credit for the cake analogy goes to LawDog, whose original version I also agree very strongly with)


The Real China-Tibet Story

August 3, 2011

I visited Lhasa from the 24th to the 29th of June, seeing the city as well as Namtso Lake, and conversed with a friend who has been working there since May. The previous post was about the unique and interesting things I saw, but now I feel the need to post something serious.


This post is about the extraordinarily skewed account of the history between China and Tibet presented by Western media, one brought about due to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan independence movement’s ability to tell a story that resonates deep within the Western psyche, such that any counterargument is readily dismissed as Chinese propaganda. I myself have first started paying attention to the issue back during the March 14th 2008 riots that brought Tibet to the center stage of international affairs. Doing research of my own, comparing sources from both China and the West, I had reason to doubt much of the accounts of the Free Tibet movement, as well as the fact-reporting methodology of the western media in this case (note to any prospective journalists reading this: if there are two sides to a story, and one side refuses to comment, the proper response is not to present the other side’s account as fact). But it was visiting the area that allowed me to see just how badly the media failed at presenting a fair and balanced account in favor of a good story, one that sounds like:


“Tibet was its own country, an idyllic utopian Shangri-La before the Chinese invaded in 1951. Now the Tibetan people’s culture is being erased, they are not allowed to practice their religion, and the influx of Han migrants is forcing them to become second-class citizens in their own homeland, oppressed by the government.”


Allow me to deconstruct this line by line.


Caveat: the facts I present below are either a matter of public record, received from my friend who works there, or derived from my own observations, and the conclusions drawn from these facts. As this is not a scholarly article, I’m not exactly going to go all MLA citations up in here; a good chunk of them will consist of “talked to this guy” or “visited this place” anyway, and you can Google the rest for yourself.


“Tibet was an independent country before the Chinese invaded”


Technically true…back in the 7th century, when the Tibetan king Songtsan Gampo entered in a political alliance via marriage to the Tang Dynasty. Move forward in the timeline to the Qing (1644-1911), and you will find this was not the case. After the dynasty of Tibetan kings fell Tibet entered a period of disunity that ended when the 5th Dalai Lama, with military support from the Qing emperor Shunzhi, consolidated control over the region of U-Tsang, which is what is now the Tibet Autonomous Region. In fact, the title of “Dalai Lama” was one bestowed upon the 5th by the Qing emperor. This is why there is very little heard about the 1st-4th Dalai Lamas, because the title was applied retroactively to them, back when they were just one of several holy men and not The Holy Man of Tibet. In addition, the central Qing government in Beijing has always had the power to “confirm” candidates for reincarnation of Dalai and Panchen Lamas, and the Snow Lion flag that the current Free Tibet movement uses was originally the army flag of the Qing garrison in Tibet. A free Tibet nation-state has not existed since the Qing.


All in the past, right? Who cares? Sure, I’ve established that Tibet used to be part of China, but the US also used to be part of Britain, and we all know that it’d just be plain silly for Britain to claim ownership of the US now, right?


The PRC bases its claim to Tibet not just on a simplistic “this used to be ours, so it should still be ours” as the Free-Tibet movement likes to claim; rather, it is on the established principle of the Succession of States, which basically means that when a country changes governments, all land that belonged to the old government by default is transferred to the new government to do with as it sees fit. This is why the map of the United States does not change with every presidential election; just because we switched from Bush to Obama does not mean Texas is no longer part of the Union due to it voting for McCain. As for what determines land ownership, that is a mite fuzzier, but a good rule of thumb is international recognition. If a hostile nation recognizes a piece of land as belonging to you, then there’s little ground for a third party to argue that it isn’t.


One can find many foreign maps of the Qing that put Tibet squarely within its borders (the Perry-Casteneda Library at the University of Texas has one, last I checked). When Sun Yat-Sen overthrew the Qing and established the Republic of China, ownership was transferred to the RoC, as can also be established by foreign maps of the era. Thus, when Mao Zedong overthrew the RoC and established the PRC, ownership legally speaking transferred to the PRC. The key here is an unbroken line of internationally recognized ownership. The US may have been part of Britain, but the US also successfully launched a war for independence against Britain resulting in international recognition of the US as a sovereign nation. Nothing similar ever happened in Tibet.


One can bring up Younghusband’s expedition that seemingly repudiated Chinese suzerainty over Tibet, but that opens up another can of worms. First off, Younghusband’s expedition was undoubtedly one of imperialist shenanigans. The fact that he (and by extension the British) had to launch an expedition confirms that Tibet rightfully belonged to the Qing as a matter of international law. Second, if we are to hold the results of imperialist intervention by a foreign power as valid, then we must also hold the subsequent Communist invasion of Tibet as equally valid – possibly more so, as the CCP can be argued to be reclaiming territory taken from China, while Younghusband’s expedition was more or less naked imperialist aggression. You cannot have it both ways; if Younghusband’s expedition was valid, then so is Mao Zedong’s; if it is not, then Tibet still belonged to China by the succession of states.


One can argue that Tibet enjoyed de facto independence under the Qing or the RoC. One may also argue that territories should have the right to secede. These are all irrelevant to the fact that, as a matter of international law, Tibet has been a part of China since the 1600s and is legally part of the PRC.


“Tibet was an idyllic Shangri-La”


There is a trope in fiction called the “Noble Savage”. It refers to the tendency in modern humans to look at primitive peoples and romanticize what they perceive to be the positive aspects (freedom, the idea of living by the strength of one’s own arms, spiritualism) and downplay or ignore the negative ones (short lifespan, little to no medicine, horrid sanitation). This has been very much applied to Tibet. Nowhere can this best be seen than in the sheer amount of mineral resources used in construction and still available for mining.


The “spirit tower” for the 5th Dalai Lama (tower under which he is buried) is constructed out of 3721 jin (half that number in kg) of gold, with many precious stones (turquoise, coral fossils, amber, etc) inlaid. The towers for the other Dalai Lamas are of similar construction, along with the many temples and Buddha statues, all of gold and precious stones. The paints used for wall paintings and thangkas are also made of such materials, gold from gold dust, blue and green from ground turquoise, red from powdered coral fossils, etc. To this day, there are still mineral deposits sitting on the surface, visible to passer-by.


What does this mean?


The presence of so much gold being used for nothing but religion indicates they have no trade, and that their production possibilities frontier is extraordinarily skewed and extraordinarily small. They enjoy none of the benefits of trade that one learns about in high school economics, none of the opportunities that trade and a diversified economy brings. This includes things like consumer goods that are not yak or barley products. This also includes things like widespread education and medicine – the average life expectancy for Tibetan commoners was somewhere around the mid-thirties, compared to the mid-sixties for Tibetan nobles or religious figures. Tibet was highly isolated before the CCP came in 1951, and their holy men did very little to fix that.


Speaking of which, there is very little to indicate that these people were any good at ruling. Consider a theocracy in which the method of succession was finding the child who happened to fit the signs of being the reincarnation of the previous leader. Consider all the political intrigue that would surround any succession. Now consider the fact that the 9th-11th Dalai Lamas all died extremely young, in their teens or twenties, all due to “ill health” and that it was around this time that silver became very popular among Tibetans due to their supposed poison-detecting properties (in actuality, silver is highly reactive with arsenic, and has properties that inhibit bacterial growth). Also consider that, while those in power were sitting on their vast lodes of gold and silver and stones, there were very few attempts to use that to build roads and infrastructure to expand the domestic economy and create more opportunities for the Tibetan people. What conclusions might one draw from these trends?


Tiny PPF and theocratic rule aside, were the Tibetan people happy? Perhaps, but it is doubtful whether they knew a better life was possible, especially given a Buddhist culture that reinforces the idea of a bad current life is punishment for sins of the previous life, while performing according to one’s station in this life leads to reincarnation into a better next life. Other sources – and not just CCP ones – describe them as serfs. It is not my objective to argue the truth of this; merely to demonstrate that life before the CCP was not sunshine and bunnies under the enlightened rule of the Dalai Lamas.


“Tibetan culture is being erased, and the people are not allowed to practice their religion”


It really doesn’t take actually going there to figure the falsehood of this one. Currently, Tibet is a money sinkhole for Beijing. Tourism, comprised largely of people who want to see Tibetan Buddhism and people who are adherents of Tibetan Buddhism, is a major part of Tibet’s economy. More tourism = less of a money sinkhole = financial incentive for Beijing to help preserve Tibetan culture. Yes, some things are gone, but mainly the theocratic parts and the parts that naturally go away due to modernization (for example, yak butter churned by machine rather than by hand). The essence, the art forms, the prayers, the principles for living life, they still remain for those who want them.


Going there, though, really helps hit it home. Temples all over the place. Yak butter for Buddha lights all over the place. Worshippers all over the place – and from what I understand, it’s hard to avoid accidentally stepping on them during religious days. Lots of praying people. And lots of shrines dedicated to Dalai Lamas 5-13.


Wait, what? Dalai Lamas? Aren’t they not allowed to worship that guy?


Well, not exactly. It is only the current Dalai Lama, the 14th incarnation, who is not allowed to be worshipped. And even then, it is purely a political issue, not a religious one, centered on China perceives to be the current Dalai Lama’s separatist agenda. The 14th claims to have shifted from wanting Tibetan independence to “greater autonomy for the area of Greater Tibet” – however, Greater Tibet is an area that encompasses the Tibet Autonomous Region as well as significant portions of Qinghai and Sichuan (Amdo and Cham). The problem with the latter two areas is that those were never under his jurisdiction in the first place. The Dalai Lama traditionally had control over U-Tsang, and the Panchen Lama control over Amdo and Cham, which makes the desire for “Greater Tibet” seem less like altruism and more like a land grab. The rationale for outlawing worship of the 14th Dalai Lama has everything to do with policy (anti-separatism, secularism in government) and very little if at all to do with religion.


The other problem is that he and his supporters make claims that are either patently untrue or intellectually dishonest. He claims “cultural genocide” – however, the Tibetan population has been climbing steadily since CCP rule, and Tibetans themselves are exempt from the One-Child Policy; if this is genocide, then it is quite the most unsuccessful genocide in history. Their culture – minus the parts that says Tibetans are supposed to live in a theocracy – isn’t so much being eroded as changed over time as all cultures do. Yes, the Cultural Revolution did happen, but that was an act that harmed all Chinese, Han, Mongol, Hui, Uyghur, Bai, Tibetan, and otherwise; Tibetans were not singled out which makes the “genocide” label untrue. The 14th Dalai Lama makes promises of democracy and laughs at the idea that he might reimpose religious rule – but it is the CCP coming in with their modernizations and technology and trade that showed Tibetans the possibility of a different life and made it impossible for them to go back to theocracy. A promise of democracy costs the Dalai Lama nothing, and it is a promise he could make only because of the CCP.


If the Dalai Lama was to come back and take up his role as simply a religious leader, China would be fine with him. As he and his supporters seem unwilling to give up their political power, reconciliation is unlikely – but to blame only China for this is nought but favoritism.


“Influx of Han migrants causing Tibetans to become second-class citizens”


There is an influx of Han migrants, as is generally the case when large development projects occur. However, the “second-class citizens” part is not true. From my friend, I learned that of the landowners – by which I mean the people who hold the 30/50/70 year leases on land meant as a temporary measure until the CCP figures out how to reconcile private land ownership with socialism – most are Tibetan. Sure, there are still plenty of impoverished Tibetans, but there are also plenty of impoverished Han Chinese. The important part is that Tibetans do not seem to form a disproportionately large subset of “poor people”, but they do form a significant proportion of “holders of capital”.


In addition, having already established that Tibet is legally part of China (again, unrelated to whether you personally think Succession of States is valid or secession is a right), it also follows that there is nothing inherently wrong for a Chinese citizen to move legally within China’s borders. Lots of Sichuanese workers moving in and undercutting Tibetans? That’s merely a market economy at work. In the US states are not allowed to enact protectionist policies against other states, so why should China further restrict Chinese movement from other provinces into Tibet?


“Tibetans are being oppressed.”


Are they?


For the most part, given a little thought, they do not seem like an oppressed people.


It would be easy to think that, especially if you had a camera and took pictures of military police stationed around Lhasa, especially if you went to get all the right angles and the right lighting and the right caption. Such a photo might win you a Pulitzer – the Chinese soldier, armed and impassive, staring intently into the masses of Tibetans he is supposed to oversee, looking for any sign of discontent, be it a Snow Lion flag or a small photo of the 14th Dalai Lama, while Tibetan beggar children pray in front of their collection bowls – and it would have been worthy an award named after man who started a war between the US and Spain based on utter lies.


Based on personal experience, both my own and my friend’s, the MPs are easy to ignore. My friend adds that they are also very good about giving road directions.


Based on the general experience of past rulers of all empires in the world, quashing the local culture in an area where you are the minority has never worked out well. The CCP is many things, but retarded isn’t one of them.


According to my friend, among the older generation of Tibetans – the ones who grew up when the Dalai Lamas were still in power – many do have the feeling that they were invaded and conquered by the CCP. And there are some who view Han Chinese with hostility, even enmity. But the younger generations generally do not care so much, as they know life is much better now than it once was. Their society is much more mobile, they are finally connected with the world, they can have fruits and vegetables grown in the plateau, their culture and experiences are now more diverse, they have opportunities beyond herding yak and growing barley – all in all, they can do so much more than their ancestors did.


My tour guide to Namtso was in Lhasa when the March 14th 2008 riots started. People were not allowed out into the streets while the military police maintained order. He and his non-Tibetan neighbors soon ran out of food in their apartments. Their Tibetan neighbors saw this, boiled their rice into gruel, and shared it with their Han neighbors. They did not have to do this, and it would have been perfectly justifiable for them not to do it, yet they did anyway.


Does this seem like the behavior of a recently conquered people to their oppressors?


One of the restaurants I went to, Accordion Bakery, is owned by a Tibetan-Han couple, and while it is somewhat noteworthy, there is no stigma attached to it. Consider their example, and consider the look that, say, a mixed black-white couple might still get in the US today.


In what oppressive society does the dominant class marry into the dominated class?




Again, as I must mention once more, set aside your notions of whether succession of states is valid or whether secession is a right or whether the Dalai Lama is really all that important to Tibetan Buddhism or whether all facets of an ancient culture must be preserved at whatever cost or any of the other values-based arguments you may have. I aim not to change anyone’s worldview. I do aim, however, to possibly change the conclusions you may have drawn about Tibet by adding new information to the fact pattern.


The conclusions I have drawn, aside from confirmation that the PRC has a legal basis for its claim of ownership over the Tibet region, is that objectively speaking, life for Tibetans as a whole have improved under Chinese rule. If, at some point in the future, the Dalai Lama comes back, or if Tibet manages to become independent and a successful nation-state, most if not all of the credit must go to the PRC in its efforts to develop the region from nothing. Imagine the mountains of gold and silver not being used to build infrastructure, but solely for religious icons. My tour guide to Namtso was an ethnic Hui who one day asked his Tibetan friend “who do you believe in more, the Dalai Lama or the Chinese Communist Party?” His friend thought for a while and replied, “I believe in the Dalai Lama, but life is better now.” Due to Chinese rule, the Tibetan people now know to separate church and state.


I personally find it distasteful that when the US Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” it is “separation of church and state,” but when China does the same, it’s oppression. With regards to free exercise, my observations lead me to the conclusion that limits to the free exercise of Tibetan Buddhism are little more than similar limits on the free exercise of Hinduism’s caste system or Christianity’s stoning punishments. It seems less important whether they are allowed to worship the 14th Dalai Lama and more important whether they have choice in to what degree they allow the traditional Tibetan Buddhist ways to influence their lives.


I welcome intellectually honest and well-thought-out debate and critique of my facts or logic. Arguments based on values (basically, anything with a “should”) will be ignored and occasionally mocked in private to my friends.


A good site for “intellectually dishonest debate tactics”. Use this checklist if you wish to opine. I do realize that technically “I heard it from a friend who works there” counts as hearsay, in which case your burden of proof rests on disproving my friend’s credibility, not simply shouting “hearsay!” and denying everything else in this post.


Tibet Tidbits – random trivia from my trip there

July 13, 2011

Tibet Tidbits – stuff I learned on my Tibet trip

Tibetan Mastiff – 藏獒 – are more or less Astartes dogs. Not only are they frickin’ gigantic compared to any breed that’s not a Caucasus Shepherd, but they’re fierce and regularly take on wolves and leopards. And according to tour guide story, the process to create a supposedly “pure” mastiff is definitely worthy of the grim darkness of the 41st Millenium where there is only war: one takes a litter that’s just been weaned off milk, digs a hole, sticks them in the hold, then closes it up; the pups eventually have to start fighting and eating each other, and the sole survivor then has to break out him/herself to be counted as a “true” mastiff. Of course, this raises the question as to why the remaining dog would be loyal to their owner in the first place, but still – if true, then ancient Tibetans were totally hardcore.

Tibetan Feng Shui – the Jokhang Temple was built to house a statue of Shakyamuni brought by the Nepali princess married to Songtsan Gampo. However, most auspicious site for construction happened to lie on a lake, so no one knew what to do until the Nepali princess had a dream about that told her the answer was goats. So the next morning, she gathered up 1000 mountain goats to haul enough earth to fill the lake, creating a foundation for construction. However, the temple kept falling down for no reason, so the Nepali princess asked Princess Wencheng, who was known for being good at geomancy, what was going on. Wencheng did some magical cosmic mumbo jumbo and concluded that the site was the heart of a demoness, and needed 12 pillars of wood driven into it to suppress the demonic energies enough for a Buddhist temple to be built. Those pillars are still there to this day. After Jokhang was finished, the city of Lhasa was built around it.

Tibetan Feng Shui, part II – originally, Jag Pori Hill and the Red Hill (upon which Potala Palace sites) were connected as a single ridge, forming a leyline through Lhasa. A later Tang princess who was married over to Tibet bore the Tibetan king an heir, but the child was “disappeared” due to court intrigue. In her grief, she ordered the leyline broken. To fix this, three white towers were constructed between Jag Pori and the Red Hill, then a metal wire was threaded through the towers and the hills, upon which hung many prayer bells. Thus the leyline was reconnected, and the main white tower became the main gate for Lhasa.

Thangka – Tibetans are Buddhist, so they need Buddha statues all the time. However, Tibetans are also nomadic herders, so they can’t exactly be hauling around big hunks of metal or stone or wood. So what’s a devout Tibetan to do? Why, paint Buddhas on scrolls that can be rolled up for transportation, of course. Now, this is Buddha we’re talking about, so plain old paint just won’t cut it. Instead, the paint gets its pigmentation from ground up precious materials. Red? Ground up red coral fossils. Blue/green? Turquoise. Yellow? Amber. The shiny lines? Silver and gold. These guys were frickin’ loaded.

Yak – the default cattle of Tibet. Generally, when “beef” is spoken of in Tibet, they really mean yak meat. It goes into everything, from dumplings to meat pies to soup noodles. It also finds a place in steakhouses (there are actually quite a lot of foreign cuisine restaurants in Tibet to cater to the many many foreign tourists that contribute so greatly to the local economy). I had yak steak once. It was like beef, except it had more of a gamey taste like lamb, so all in all it’s kind of a happy medium between the two.

Security – Tibet is a border region of high strategic value. It was also the 60th Anniversary of the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet when I went, so the authorities were understandably worried about separatist elements planning something on such a sensitive date. Military Police deployment seemed fairly professional, with a pair on each intersection. Half-squads (5 guys) periodically patrolling walking areas like foot-streets (where cars can’t go) or the plaza in front of the Jokhang Monastery, and there are also stations where more half-squads are standing guard. At especially sensitive places like the Potala Patalce, the deployment is one every 20-30 meters. Pairs of MPs are usually armed such that one has a shotgun and the other has the ammo belt. It had a very Enemy-At-The-Gates feel to it, and begs the question of why don’t both of them have shotguns and ammo belts. Half-squads generally have one shotgun or SMG among then, and the rest have batons. At Potala, all MPs are armed with shotguns or SMGs. From what I hear though, they’re actually pretty nice fellas, and are quite good about giving directions.

Traditional Tibetan Medicine – as a man of science, I generally have great disdain for “alternative medicine”, due to their intellectual dishonest debate tactics and their general ignorance about what science means. Thus, this section isn’t about what their traditional medicine is (a bunch of herbs and animal body parts that, while we can establish has some use, requires further scientific testing to establish utility above that of a placebo). Rather, it is merely to highly their “Medicine Buddha”. Traditional Tibetan Medicine was formerly only accessible to priests and nobles. The common people had to rely on pu’er tea and prayers to this Medicine Buddha. Unsurprisingly, the upshot of this was that Tibetan Nobs and Priests had an average life expectancy in the 60s, while the commoners had one closer to the 30s.

Dalai Lamas – this will also be touched on by my last piece on Tibet. Basically, the current Dalai Lama has done a very good job of educating the West that historically, the Dalai and Panchen Lamas were the wise benevolent rulers of the Tibetan people, leading them in their harmonious society. Further study indicates this was…not the case. The first Dalai Lama to hold the title only did so when military aid from the Qing Emperor Shunzhi backed him up in a bid for power that cemented the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism as the one school to rule them all in Tibet, after which Shunzhi gave him the title of Dalai Lama. This guy was actually the fifth in the incarnation cycle; the title of Dalai Lama was applied retroactively to him. After his death, his regent kept news of this development hidden, enjoying years of power before the next incarnation was finally found. The regent then kept the child at his side and secluded him from chances to learn how to govern. The 6th Dalai Lama took power quite late into his life, such that he was never known for having contributed to the building of Tibet, only for writing rather decent love poems and songs. He was also known to be a womanizer, such that in the neighborhoods around the Jokhang Monastery, a household raising a yellow lantern signified that the Dalai Lama was “spending the night” there, so to speak. The 9th, 10th, and 11th Dalai Lamas all died extremely young, and it was around that time that silver became highly popular due to its reacting easily to arsenic and its propensity to react with other ions in a way that becomes toxic to bacteria but safe for humans – in short, because silver does actually help detect poison. Aside from this, there was also the issue of serfs, and the fact that while the Dalai Lamas were sitting on piles of mineral wealth, they never used it to open up the region to trade, expand their PPFs, and improve their peoples’ lives. So, yeah – the Dalai Lamas were holy men, but it seems that the society ruled by these holy weren’t all that different from every other society was ruled by holy men with divine right, be it Saudi Arabia, the Aztec Empire, or Crusader Europe.

Norbulingka Zoo – Norbulingka was the summer palace for the Dalai Lamas. The 7th Dalai Lama had a zoo built there, and the 13th had it expanded to accommodate more species. It is extremely depressing because all the accommodations were built before people knew how to properly take care of animals, so the cages are way to small to hold what they were supposed to. You have what basically amounts to an apartment bedroom holding a bear or a tiger or a single Tibetan wolf (horrid, because wolves are pack creatures who really shouldn’t be isolated). The cages also have to be crisscrossed with wire to prevent people from sticking their hands into them; I find myself wondering whether they were there from the start or whether it was deemed to be necessary due to someone thinking tigers are harmless and coming back ‘armless.

Namtso Lake – OMG THIS IS LIKE THE PRETTIEST LAKE EVER. If someone told me the sky is blue because it reflects from the waters of Lake Namtso, I’d believe them. You know what Cozumel looks like, or the lovely beaches of Florida? This is just like that, possibly prettier, except it’s not hot enough to melt the balls off a brass monkey, and it’s got snowy mountains surrounding it, and it’s over 4 km above sea level. Like, srsly, I went on a tour group there; one of the places we stopped at inside is actually 5190m above sea level, only 10m short of the elevation of Everest base camp. The most prominent mountain surrounding the area is called Nianqingtanggula, who the locals revere as spirit of the mountain and a protector god, and Namtso is supposed to be his wife.

Oxygen deprivation – this works itself into pretty much any conversation about traveling to Tibet. I myself flew over there from Beijing. Upon landing, I had a very slight dizziness and nausea in my stomach, though I suspect the latter to be due to the horrid horrid airline noodles that tasted of jet fuel and plastic. That first night, I woke up two or three times with a pounding heart and a pounding head, but a couple deep breaths fixed that enough for me to go back to sleep. The next morning my bones all ached and my legs felt like they had no strength, but talking around fixed this. That night I woke up once. After that, everything was good, although breathing does get difficult if I am in the vicinity of smokers or fuel-inefficient cars, due to my lungs getting used to drawing oxygen at its normal use level, but not at compensating for excess tobacco or gasoline particles in the air. I suspect that a large part of the High-Elevation Effect may actually be psychological; I bought an oxygen canister but never finished it in the four days I was there. Now, I am in relatively good shape due to wushu, but it’s also said that people who exercise regularly should have it the worst due to their bodies needing more oxygen, so…take that as you will.

Real Men of Genius – Mr. Internet Crusader for Human Rights

August 8, 2008

Real Men of Genius – Internet Crusader for Human Rights


____ presents: Real Men of Genius

Real Men of Genius!

Today we salute you, Mr. Internet Crusader for Human Rights

Mr. Internet Crusader for Human Rights!

Some people do research before committing to an action. Others make cost-benefit analyses. But not you. The moment you hear a slogan with celebrity endorsement and the word “freedom” in it, you’re up and ready to fight the good fight from the safety of your keyboard.

If nothing else, you’re raising awareness!

It’s wartime, there’s civil unrest in the border regions, and the economy is shaky, but that’s no reason to install cameras at traffic lights or to imprison looters and arsonists.

We’re jumping off a slippery slope here!

Sure, you have no idea how to build a functional government and economy from scratch. And you’re really fighting for a small disgruntled minority that no one cares about. But thanks to your efforts, at least the people are free…to complain about their lack of food.

MLK would be proud!

So here’s to you, oh helper of the helpless, oh champion of the oppressed. Just remember: only YOUR beliefs and standards of ethics and morality are correct, and anyone who says otherwise is a goddamn Nazi.

Mr. Internet Crusader for Human Rights!


The Olympics start in less than a day. All the Internets arguing (some of which I’ve engaged in) will soon be meaningless. This is a little something I wrote and recorded, inspired by all the insipid things I’ve had used on me, mostly the following.

Complaints against HR people:

Don’t do research.

Don’t acknowledge alternate viewpoints caused by cultural differences.

Don’t account for factors such as war and civil unrest that necessitate some restrictions of rights.

Don’t consider that the cure might be worse than the disease.

Overly idealistic, leading to proposed “solutions” that are unrealistic at best and mess up the situation even more at worst.

Arrogant as fuck.

Often support vocal minority against the interests of the majority

Musings on Tiananmen

June 6, 2008

So, yesterday (June 4th) was the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Incident. Amidst the memorials and the calls for improving human rights, the facts often get lost in the noise.

You see, what happened was that the government tried to negotiate. Due to the disorganized nature of the protesters (academic elites calling for democracy and disgruntled workers calling for more communism*), it’s little surprise that negotiations didn’t go well. They then sent in unarmed and lightly armed soldiers to disperse the riot. Which, in and of itself, isn’t anything to get the panties in a bunch over. “Civilized” countries do this all the time. Even in America, if you want to hold a demonstration, you have to clear it with the authorities.

What turned it into a clusterfuck was when those soldiers got attacked. Violently. As in pelted with stones and Molotovs. As in destroyed vehicles. As in dragged out of their APCs and beaten to death. As in corpses strung across the sky bridges. More dangerously, weapons were taken from those soldiers who were lightly armed.

I don’t care what your goals are. When you instigate violence, you deserve an ass-beating. An eye for an eye may make the world blind, but justice is blind, so what’s your point? Since when did instigating violence against military personnel become a “civil liberty”? And since when did military personnel defending themselves and maintaining public safety become “oppression”? My sympathies for the June 4th crowd stopped when I came across those papers at the top of this article. They now lie for only two groups of people: the random bystanders who got lumped with the protesters due to battlefield conditions not permitting a person-by-person inquiry, and the 人民子弟兵, the brave PLA personnel who died not to an enemy’s bullet, but to the sticks and stones of some young punks.

Yes, the government overreacted. But hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. Given how the last time something like this happened was the Cultural Revolution, and how that was ended by the PLA laying a whipping on the out of control Red Guards, it’s hardly surprising, no?

*Surprised? Quite understandable when you realize that Deng’s liberalization campaign resulted in many communes being closed down because they weren’t competitive. These communes formerly employed many workers who were now out of a job. Also, because most (if not all) communes were subsidized, they didn’t have much incentive to invest in modern methods. Between liberalization and starvation vs communism and food, that’s not a hard decision to make.

Addendum: Just looked up Jack Nicholson’s speech at the end of “A Few Good Men,” and felt it was relevant to this topic.

You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You?! You, Chai Ling? You, Wei Jingsheng? You, Tank Man? The CCP has a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for the protesters and you curse the PLA. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what they know: that the crackdown, while tragic, probably saved lives. And the CCP’s existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives! You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want the PLA on that wall! You need the PLA on that wall! We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline! I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very economic opportunity, public safety, and societal stability that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said, “Thank you,” and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to!