Bao Tong: Talk To The Dalai Lama


2008.03.26
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Bao Tong gives a rare television interview. Photo: AFP

A former top official in China’s ruling Communist Party has called on the Chinese government to open talks with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, as a matter of urgency. Bao Tong, former aide to ousted late premier Zhao Ziyang, says both Tibetans and Han Chinese have suffered at the hands of a Maoist political philosophy. He wrote this essay, broadcast by RFA’s Mandarin service, from his Beijing home, where he has lived under house arrest since his release from jail in the wake of the 1989 student movement :

Take harmony seriously; talk to the Dalai Lama

by Bao Tong

The Lhasa incident has caused massive grief for all the Tibetan people and all of China. Anyone who has ever been through a great historical tragedy will understand its significance. The Chinese government spokesman said the whole thing was orchestrated by the Dalai Lama — a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize — from behind the scenes. However, as a reader from Europe put it: “Nobody here believes what the Chinese government says.”

That one phrase is more eloquent that 10,000 words. It renders the spokesman’s words meaningless. Because it shows how ordinary readers are quite capable of making their own considered and independent decision not to believe what the Chinese government says, but instead use their own experience as a basis for deciding what to think.

Only recently, the government issued a statement saying that the exercise of political power should take place in daylight.

This has happened because the Chinese government already has a track record of denying responsibility for major historical events. In the first Tiananmen incident [of April 5, 1976], Deng Xiaoping was judged to be the villain responsible for the disaster. In the second Tiananmen incident [of June 4, 1989], Zhao Ziyang was the fall guy. Now, the Dalai Lama is to take the rap for the Lhasa incident. It is very hard for people not to make the linkage in their minds with this practice of upholding wrongdoing.

The Chinese government is very closed, which is another reason for people to mistrust it. Of course there are reasons why they react in this way, shutting off the flow of information, monopolizing news, always behaving as if they are fighting a formidable enemy. Why have they prevented foreign journalists from carrying out interviews freely? Why was it necessary to force all the journalists to stop gathering information and opinion and to leave immediately?

Dialogue should be Plan A

Only recently, the government issued a statement saying that the exercise of political power should take place in daylight. No sooner than it was uttered, the authorities once more withdrew from this line, somehow compelled to bring newsgathering back into the shadows again, and to stuff the whole affair into a big black box.

Harmony means that you have to beat swords into ploughshares. It cannot flourish in a closed society, and it cannot be built by force. It should be an urgent priority to open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama. This should be Plan A. With his commitment to pacifism, the Dalai Lama is the only Tibetan leader with the ability to bring about a conciliatory agreement between the Tibetan and the Han Chinese peoples.

In the 1950s, the Communist Party secretary of the northwest China bureau, Xi Zhongxun, focused all of his experience gained from rallying various ethnic groups in Qinghai into a stinging criticism — delivered by Xinjiang branch bureau secretary Wang Zhen — of Han chauvinism. This had a big impact on a lot of people’s thinking.

The Tibetans and the Han are relatives by marriage who have been injured by a common enemy: this lethal Maoist philosophy of political struggle.

The villain of the piece this time was Mao Zedong and his philosophy of political struggle. That was an evil thing, which brought disaster upon the heads of the Tibetan people, as well as destroying normal life for the Han Chinese themselves. From this point of view, the Tibetans and the Han are relatives by marriage who have been injured by a common enemy: this lethal Maoist philosophy of political struggle.

I do not want to see a Chechnya-style tragedy re-enacted in Tibet in pursuit of a Stalinist obsession with unity. The central Party leadership in Beijing has made “harmony” their mission. I believe that the philosopher’s stone will be revealed to those who are sincere.

All the central government has to do is sit down with the Dalai Lama and talk to him; to show a little wisdom, and with vision and determination, the Lhasa incident can be resolved in an appropriate manner. A little hard work now could win us a peaceful future, heralding a new era of cooperation between the Tibetan and Han Chinese peoples.

Written by Bao Tong for RFA's Mandarin service. Service director: Jennifer Chou. Translation by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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