By Tenzin Nyinjey
I was deeply moved by Taiwan Solidarity Union, a political party sitting on opposition in Ma Ying-jeou’s government, expressing support to the Tibetan people.
Phayul reported that the party would propose to observe a “moment of silence” before the next legislative session to pay “tribute” to self-immolating Tibetans.
It even called for the cancellation of religious ties with Beijing–an expression of strongly condemning China’s persecution of Tibetan people, especially monks and nuns.
I genuinely applaud this gesture. While some might argue that the party is simply using Tibet to bash the ruling government, which might not be untrue, I am not that cynical to think that the fiery images of Tibetan self-immolations do not disturb politicians.
However, one thing that concerns me is this. By such a gesture, Taiwan Solidarity Union could unconsciously reinforce the half-truth that the Tibetan struggle is concerned only with religious freedom—as if and when Beijing allows Tibetan monks and nuns to worship, Tibetan struggle would come to a peaceful resolution.
One legislature tried to express it better though. Lin Shih-chia said that the ‘issue went much beyond religion, it is also about human rights and ethnicity.’
There is no doubt that Tibetan struggle is about human rights. Such a narrative, powerful and universal, however, might also become too vague to define our struggle. It could even potentially hijack it. For portraying it as merely that of ‘human rights and ethnicity’ falls short of acknowledging the real nature of Tibetan struggle.
This is because struggle for human rights and ethnicity does not necessarily constitute a struggle for nationhood. We know that even economically-and-politically-marginalized Americans in the US are struggling for human rights and economic equality. But as citizens, they are fully integrated into American union and in no way demand for a separate nation.
The truth is Tibetan people are struggling for nationhood and self-determination; they are resisting a foreign occupation and demanding for freedom (and independence) as some of the self-immolating Tibetans made it clear in their protests. Monks, nuns and lay Tibetans, carrying Tibetan national flags and the portrait of Dalai Lama, for which they are shot to death, also bear witness to this.
So, it is a bit annoying to see Tibet experts on television giving vague answers to the seemingly-plain-but-condescending question ‘what do the Tibetans really want?’
Doesn’t this question reminds us of a white journalist asking Malcolm X ‘what do the blacks really want?’ during the heydays of black civil rights movement in the United States in 60s. And Malcolm, being the no-nonsense guy he was, reported to have said, ‘there’s nothing mysterious about black people’s wants. Black people want what white people want. White people want to fall in love, so do black people; white people want security for their children, so do black people. White people want dignity, so do black people; don’t put us in a different category.’
I am absolutely in favor of reaching out to Chinese people. But one fundamental thing that we cannot deny to ourselves is that true reconciliation is impossible unless both Tibetans and Chinese come to terms with our past. In other words, unless our Chinese brothers and sisters around the world, including those in Taiwan, first acknowledge Tibet’s history, both as a people and nation, we cannot move forward to a durable future.
And that is a long and hard battle for Taiwan Solidarity Union and Taiwanese people; after all it demands a revision of their nation’s constitution, which denies Tibet’s history as a distinct nation.