Sunday, April 18, 2010

Political Quake After the Earthquake: Why We Should Stay Out of It

Child rescued by Chinese workers, given over to Tibetan monks for care.

The region impacted by the recent earthquake has been a thorn in Beijing's side for many years now. As recently as 2008, there was rioting, which caused a permanent deployment of paramilitary police to keep close watch on restive monks. Let us be very gentle and say that the religious institutions in the region are not fond of Han China, and Han China is not fond of them. 

The Dalai Lama is asking China's permission to travel to the region, to offer comfort to the victims. Nobody expects permission to be granted. There have already been clashes between Tibetan monks and Chinese relief workers. Why compound what is already an extremely tense public order situation?

The Chinese are well aware they have a powder-keg on their hands, and are taking pains not to exacerbate the situation. "Solidarity" is the watchword of the day.

The British Guardian ran with a story including these pull quotes: "The Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, chose the ruined monastery at Taklung for his second surprise visit to the quake zone – clambering up the rubble, before addressing the crowd gathering in its courtyard. 'In these rescue efforts, monks have shown a great performance; on many occasions I have seen them saving people,' He said: 'Please be assured we will not only save people and restore houses, but will do a good job of restoring your monastery.' " 

Oh, really?

Already, Beijing is signaling through diplomatic channels that they are preparing to resettle 100,000 people in the wake of the earthquake. Jyekundo is destroyed. The 1,300 year old Thrangu Monastery is destroyed. If you weigh what it costs to rebuild against what it costs to resettle, and you add in the political factors, you are left with one question: what possible incentive does Beijing have to allow this area to rebuild?

If we, in the West, start up with our usual refrain, it is only going to add fuel to the fire. I hate to say this, but if we start clamoring to throw foreign money and manpower at this situation, all we are going to do is cause the Chinese to dig in their heels. They are already refusing aid from Taiwan,  a big-hearted Buddhist nation which has considerable expertise in disaster management. What makes anyone think they want, need, or will welcome help from the West?

However, if we back off just a notch, and find ways to encourage Beijing in the direction of a hearts and minds operation in the area -- one that will allow the people to rebuild, one that will allow the monasteries to rebuild -- it is most definitely going to be better in the long run.

Just an idea.

Note: We are continuously updating links to earthquake coverage at our consolidation page, here.

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2 reader comments:

Unknown said...

Actually letting Chinese to rebuilt is dangerous. I have recently visited Wutaishan mountains in China - famus piligrimage place where Tibetan Mongol and Chinese buddhists meet to pay homage to Buddha Manjusri. Last year it became UNESCO heritage site. And now it is just another tourist place, where everything is made for tourist business. I hardly doubt if there is at least one real monk. They have locked the biggest prayer hall, because too many piligrims were coming - piligrims usually bring less money then tourits..

If Chinese will rebuilt this 1300 years old monastery, there is a very serious danger of making it buddhist style Dysneyland for tourists, where will be no place for Buddhism any more. My Tibetan friend from Labrang told me that they were stealing humanitary aid after the earthquake in Sichuan in 2008, why they should be different this year?

Or another thing.. Chinese are now building many new monasteries in Tibet - New Kadampa monasteries.. Even on Milarepa cave, which is on the way down to Nepal, they have built a New Kadampa monastery.. And believe me, comparing with what it was like in 2005 - place of abiding loving kindness, where I have met woundeful children who took my hand and guided me to the cave, in 2009 it was looking terribly - deserted monastery buildings with wind or deamons wizzling inside the locked door.

I never encourage political debates. But I am far less optimistical about the Chinese rebuilding the monasteries. The less political attention from the higer governmetal officals it will involve - more easy it will be to rebuilt Buddhist monasteries. I mean the real monasteries, not the tourist attractions.

Editor said...

Tashi, I have also personally seen exactly what you are warning against, and yes, it is a very real concern. However, as a realistic issue, this area has very poor logistics, so any rebuilding is going to require significant Chinese cooperation and support.