Also, a favor: if you do call, fax or email the Chinese government or Olympic organizers to express your concern, using the contact info below, will you please let me know in a comment or by email? Thanks!
Background: For hundreds of years, Tibet -- a nation located north of India and west of China -- was an independent nation. Protected by the almost-unpassable Himalaya mountains to the south and its sheer distance from other major cultural centers, it developed a culture and religious tradition unlike any other in the world, remaining largely immune from modernization. Its most famous son is Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama ("Ocean of Wisdom"), who is considered by Tibetan Buddhists to be the earthly embodiment of compassion (a belief borne out by the Nobel Peace Prize awarded him in 1989). (UPDATE, MARCH 18: The Dalai Lama is threatening to resign his political (but not spiritual) role in the Tibetan government-in-exile if protests continue, which raises complex issues of generational politics and puts significant pressure on the Chinese government, if they're wise enough to see it, to cut a deal with a moderate and peace-loving leader instead of having violent resistance grow in his absence.)
Maoist China, hateful of any beliefs that contradict its own sense of cultural and ideological superiority and needing room to house an expanding population, claimed that Tibet was actually part of China (as Hitler claimed Austria and Poland were properly part of Germany), and throughout the 1950s asserted increasing control over Tibet, culminating in a violent 1959 invasion of the almost defenseless Buddhist country. The Dalai Lama fled to northern India, and the Chinese government has done everything it can to dilute and destroy traditional Tibetan religion and culture. (The movies Kundun and Seven Years in Tibet are beautiful overviews of pre-Chinese Tibetan culture, Chinese arrogance, and the destruction of a unique and ancient culture.) And the violence has not ended, as proof of Chinese violence has leaked out from time to time (such as this video of Chinese soldiers shooting Tibetan refugees near Mt. Everest in 2006).
The Chinese are responding as they always respond to such challenges: with overwhelming force, and while communications were shut down two minutes after the protests began, it appears that Chinese riot police and Army troops are out in force, with automatic weapons, and that at least two Tibetans have been shot and killed in the crackdown. UPDATE, 3/15: Chinese authorities now say 10 Han (ie, ethnic) Chinese also have died in the violence -- which (they don't report) started when the police forcibly stopped a nonviolent protest by Tibetan monks, apparently killing 2. Many ethnic Tibetans are angry at Han settlers, who are viewed in something like the same way Native Americans viewed Anglo settlers or Palestinians view Israeli settlers -- though it's the Chinese government that's trying to dilute Tibetan culture and even ethnic identity out of existence in a sort of slow genocide; the Han settlers the government subsidizes generally are just looking for good lives, albeit in a place they're not welcome.
The links above are to various news stories providing good detail. CNN also has several good stories: on immediate events (and a video report), a timeline of recent protests, an overview of tensions in Tibet, video on parallel protests in India and the dilemma this presents for India.I'll post more here as events develop. UPDATE: also good articles from the Washington Post here and here. UPDATE, 3/15: Good photo gallery (some of which also are below) here.
(Update, 3/21: And Bush, damn his black soul, says the Olympics are just a sporting event, and plans to attend no matter what happens in Tibet.)
Take Action: We can't force China to leave Tibet. We can, however, tell China that the world is watching, and that the world cares about what happens in Tibet. And China will care about that, because it is hosting the upcoming Beijing Olympics and is desperate to cultivate an image as a safe, free, humane country that tourists should support with tourism dollars. China needs Westerners to like it right now -- so let's tell China that actually, no, we don't, and we want it to leave Tibet alone.
Here's contact info for key Chinese embassies and consulates -- and I'll be adding more, so please check back; there's no reason why one person can't make more than one call, each to a different office. BE POLITE -- NO OBSCENITY OR SHOUTING!! -- BUT FIRM ABOUT THE FACT THAT YOU'RE PAYING ATTENTION AND WANT CHINA TO ALLOW TIBETAN CULTURAL FREEDOM, IF NOT TRUE INDEPENDENCE:
Chinese Embassy, Washington D.C.:
Chinese Consulate, New York:
Telephone 212-244-9392 or 212-244-9456
Chinese Consulate, Chicago:
Chinese Consulate, San Francisco:
Overseas Affairs Office Telephone: 415-674-2917
Cultural Affairs Office Telephone: 415-674-2961
Public Affairs Office Telephone: 415-674-2946
Chinese Consulate, Los Angeles:
Chinese Consulate, Houston:
Contact info for people running this summer's Beijing Olympics here!
UPDATE 2: Tibetan exiles are protesting worldwide -- good Washington Post overview here -- and their adoptive governments are suppressing their protests instead of assisting them. Sometimes the governmental opposition is nonviolent but gutless, as in Hamburg, Germany, where Tibetans were forbidden to raise Tibetan flags during a soccer match against China, to Dharamsala, where the Indian government is trying to stop Tibetan protesters from publicly marching back to Tibet and reportedly has arrested 100 to stop them; to Nepal, where a government fearful of China's military and economic power (and of China-backed Maoist insurgents) is using violence against Tibetan protestors. AND IN THE MIDDLE OF ALL THIS, THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION HAS DELISTED CHINA FROM ITS LIST OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATORS! It's a travesty of justice and simple ethics, and shows China's power and the dominance of economic interests over moral ones. New pictures tell the tale. Top two: New Delhi; New Delhi again. Next two: Kathmandu, Nepal; Kathmandu again. Bottom: Mt. Olympus, Greece, where the Olympic flame will shortly begin its journey to Beijing.
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