By Wang Lixiong
The statistical analysis of the self-immolators’ last-words reveals that “self-immolation as an action” has the highest weightage; the highest frequency of self-immolation cases around the 18th Party Congress of CCP too shows that the self-immolators expected their actions would persuade for a resolution to the Tibet Issue. We should also see from this that for Tibetans, self-immolation itself was not their objective, it was related to not knowing what else could be done except self-immolations by those who wanted to act. So, had there been a course of action that involves the participation of each and every ordinary Tibetans and that would bring concrete results, no more Tibetans would see the need to continue self-immolating.
Change to the ethnic policy, realizing Middle Way, struggle for independence, etc, these lofty goals can hardly have the participation from the ordinary people on daily basis. Popular people’s movements require large-scale social coordination networks, an authoritarian country wouldn’t allow to establish such networks. To realize such lofty goals, there has to be equally large coordination networks, otherwise, the scattered actions of the people would be easily crushed by the regime. Therefore, in the absence of such a coordination, people have to either wait passively for the elites to command, or to “intensify their own acts” – such as self-immolations – to let their individual actions to come out to the fore.
The Dalai Lama’s Middle Way hasn’t gained any progress for so many years, the consequent frustration among Tibetans made independence to increasingly gain significant grounds – if compromise doesn’t work, then do the opposite to fight, thus at least there would be dignity. There is no nation in this world that doesn’t want to be independent, but the question is how to succeed? The only obstacle to the Middle Way is the government, but to independence, obstacle expands to more than a billion Han Chinese. The government as an obstacle will be eliminated with Chinese democratization, but the Chinese people as an obstacle will become even stronger with democratic system under which majority rules. Therefore, I don’t object the rights to national independence, but from the point of view of avoiding the massive expense and sacrifice, I don’t think that’s the most suitable solution to the Tibet Issue. Slogans will not lead to independence, even after paying a heavy price of sacrifice, with the huge disparity in power between the Tibetans and Chinese, Tibetans may still fail to realize independence. Dying for independence is worth respecting, but getting freedom and not dying is better – this is exactly what the Dalai Lama has opted for.
Struggle for independence of Tibet is a long journey, but fight for freedom can begin right from here and now. The Dalai Lama’s goal of genuine autonomy for Tibet, when seen as a lofty goal looks distant, but when this goal is decomposed into smaller goals like pursuing for the autonomy for each village, it is not that distant. As per current Chinese law, village autonomy is legal. Although an authoritarian regime wouldn’t enforce law, but when village autonomy is set as a goal, the requisite coordination networks and the network of the social lives of the villagers overlap and thus no need to build anew, the authoritarian power cannot block it either, all villagers can participate and be drawn into action. When all the villagers reach a consensus through the internal coordination network within a village and rise up to common action and institutionalize it, village autonomy can be realized.
Since the smaller goals are composed by decomposing a bigger goal, realizing the smaller ones means doing the same to the bigger ones. In the process of realizing the smaller goals, everyone can take part in them and can always see the efforts bringing results, realization of every small goal is a step towards the bigger goal, when all the realized small goals are put together, it is a big step towards the big goal.
The Dalai Lama’s goal is to realize genuine autonomy for Tibet. If this autonomy for the entire Tibet is sought outright from the start, it is only upto the government’s consent which is already proven an illusion with so many years of effort. However, the coordination network village autonomy relies on is naturally formed and the authorities cannot control or block it, village autonomy determined by the villagers doesn’t require consent from the government as long as the villagers themselves can persist with their own decisions. Power, after all, is a question of being agreed on. The power of a village is vested with what the villagers agree. When the villagers don’t agree with power of the government, don’t obey the authorities dispatched and appointed by the government, and only agree with their own autonomy, obey their own elected leaders, power of the village would eventually be vested in their own hands.
Of course, this will not be a process without problem. Government suppression is known; especially the initial phases will be full of obstacles and difficulties. However, village autonomy conforms to the Chinese law, so legitimacy will be on the villagers’ side, it will be suppression that’s illegitimate. The only way the authorities can respond that we can guess would be arresting the village head and the village committee members. But that lacks legal basis and so how will they be convicted? How severe will their crimes be? Thus, comparatively speaking there is less risk in fighting for village autonomy and so can withstand with certain amount of courage. After arresting, the coordination networks would enable the villagers to quickly convene and elect new leaders to keep the village autonomy undisturbed. Authorities may arrest again, and the villagers will elect again – this is the actual practice of “fill the prisons” of the non-cooperation tactic of non-violence. The effect of such games is to see which side can hold longer. Unless the authorities have enough prisons for the entire villagers to be locked up, otherwise, as long as the villagers can persist, village autonomy can survive.
If multiple villages do this simultaneously, it has to be first the authorities that cannot hold. How many prisons are required to accommodate all the villagers? How shameless they have to be to withstand the consequent scandalous reports by the global media? At such times, as long as the villagers can adhere to their own resolve, never give up, never back down, it has to be the authorities that have to concede in the end like what happened in Wukan Village in Canton.
Indeed, courage is a key. People would say that it’s risky, what Chinese can do cannot be done by Tibetans, who would be charged with “separatism”. But the question is – is that the reason not to do anything at all? Unless not doing anything, there would be suppression otherwise. Even in the case of self-immolations, haven’t the authorities already started arresting and sentencing? However, having said that, the Tibetans also have certain advantages over the Chinese, they have more courage – not even afraid to self-immolate, how come afraid of the suppression resulting from fight for village autonomy?
Currently, the Tibetan government-in-exile expressing solidarity, holding prayer ceremonies and engaging in different activities, are good but not exactly the need of the time. Those do not constitute an overall impact on the Tibetans in Tibet, who actually want the exile Tibetans to thoroughly research and prove theories by carefully experimenting and deducing mature tactics; by organizing and training volunteers to promote and propagate these tactics. It is not possible for Tibetans in Tibet to do these preparations under repression but the exile Tibetans have organization, base, resources, freedom, knowledge, associations and media, and also international support, the foundation that the Dalai Lama has established all his life should now be built upon. This is the most effective start-up and implementation of the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Policy.
In the past, the exile Tibetan government used to hesitate to participate in activities inside Tibet, fearing that the Chinese government would blame them for instigating hostility between the Tibetans in Tibet and the Chinese government. For promoting village autonomy, they can get out of this kind of blames, as whatever they do regarding village autonomy – research programs, experimentation, training, promoting inside Tibet – all are helping China to implement its own laws, cooperating with the Chinese government and not opposing it. Certainly, we cannot expect the government to be grateful of this, but at least it cannot find excuses; meanwhile, Tibetans will gain sympathy and support from the Chinese people, because they are also fighting for the same autonomy.
Starting with promoting village autonomy inside Tibet has another benefit – as the decomposed smaller goals are not directly related to the big question of nationality, each village will deal with specific local issues and thus can also bypass the nationalist differences which can easily be manipulated and become hostile to each other. Common pursuit of village autonomy and joint safeguarding of rights and interests will enable the Chinese and Tibetans to unite and blend into a democracy movement or human rights movement, thus will get the support from the general Chinese public and also draw Chinese people into the struggle for Tibet’s freedom. This will not only help realizing village autonomy for Tibetans and expanding their freedom, but also paving way for resolving the Tibet issue, understanding and reconciliation among nationalities after Chinese democratization.
Real autonomy should start from the grassroots level. From village autonomy to regional autonomy and then to national regional autonomy, are combinations with different scales and upgrading the levels – When majority of villages in a township attain village autonomy, the elected village heads can come together and form township committee to involve in decision-making and elect a chief for the township to realize township autonomy; when majority townships in a district achieve autonomy, the township heads to form Township Committee to make decisions and elect district head to achieve district autonomy …… till national regional autonomy is realized. Of course, completion of this entire process depends on historic opportunities and also the process of China’s democratization, but, village autonomy is exactly the foundation and starting of this process and besides, it can be started outright from now.
Editor's NOTE-- Wang Lixiong is a popular Chinese writer and scholar. The above article is translated by Ogyen Kyab, an independent Tibetan translator currently working with one of the international companies in India. Click here to read the original version in Chinese