Tibet: The Jealousy, Rage and Bitterness of a New Generation That Fuelled Deadly Riots

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In Lhasa during the recent riots, a tourist who requested anonymity took this photo of Chinese goods being burned. Source: The New York Times.

The Times looks at the generation behind the recent Lhasa riots and their discontent:

Beijing has poured billions of dollars into the region over the past three decades to try to develop one of its most backward – and strategically important – corners. The economy has grown at more than 12 per cent for seven years and hit 14 per cent last year – higher even than the national rate. Incomes too have risen: up 13 per cent in 2007 for Tibet’s many nomads and farmers and a stunning 24.5 per cent for urban residents.

But there are those who feel left out. Young Tibetans who speak poor Mandarin – the official language of China and crucial to finding a job. Others are accustomed to a more rural way of life and their education, like others in China’s vast countryside, leaves them ill-equipped for the rough and tumble of a market economy…

Many Tibetans chafe under the restrictions imposed two years ago by the regional party boss that ban Tibetan Government servants from religious activities. Others are keenly aware that scarcely a single Chinese official in the regional government can speak Tibetan. That ethnocentric Han approach only intensifies the ethnic divide and cultural misunderstandings. No ethnic Tibetan has ever held the job of Communist Party boss – a potent signal of Beijing’s lack of trust in this deeply Buddhist people who still revere the Dalai Lama.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that “Protests May Only Harden Chinese Line.” The New York Times looks at the police failures that allowed the riots to get so violent so fast:

What happened? Analysts wonder if the authorities, possibly fearing the public relations ramifications of a confrontation before the Beijing Olympics in August, told the police to avoid engaging protesters without high-level approval.

Timing also may have contributed to indecision; Tibet’s hard-line Communist Party boss, Zhang Qingli, and other top officials were attending the National People’s Congress in Beijing when the violence erupted.

The full explanation could take years to emerge from China’s secretive Communist Party hierarchy. But the Lhasa unrest, not entirely unlike the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests of 1989, may be remembered as much for poor police work — faulty crowd control and political indecision followed by a large-scale response — as for the underlying grievances of protesters.

March 23, 2008 9:19 PM
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Categories: Politics, Society