Beijing's Crackdown Gets Strong Domestic Support

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By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, March 17, 2008

BEIJING, March 16 -- In the West, the name Tibet has long evoked unspoiled Himalayan landscapes, cinnamon-robed monks spinning prayer wheels and a peace-loving Dalai Lama seeking freedom for his repressed Buddhist followers.

Here in China, people have embraced a different view; they regard Tibet as a historical part of the nation and see its sympathizers in the West as easily fooled romantics. Thanks to government propaganda, but also to ethnic pride, most Chinese see the Dalai Lama and his monks as obscurantist reactionaries trying to split the country and reverse the economic and social progress that China has brought to a backward and isolated land over the past 58 years.

The violent protests by Buddhist monks and other Tibetans that exploded in Lhasa on Friday, therefore, have generated widespread condemnation among the country's majority Han Chinese. In street conversations, Internet discussions and academic forums, most Chinese have readily embraced the government's contention that the violence resulted from a plot mounted by the Dalai Lama from his exile headquarters in India.

Against that background, the Communist Party has met with broad popular approval in vowing to crack down on the rioters -- most of whose victims were Han Chinese -- and in qualifying the "impudent" Dalai Lama as a "master terror maker" who has hoodwinked the West with his appeals for peace. While the rest of the world invokes the Beijing Olympics and advises restraint, Chinese specialists and the public have urged the government to move decisively -- and gamble that the Olympics will not be spoiled.

"The riot in Lhasa was caused by the Dalai Lama," said Zhang Yun, a professor at the government-sponsored Chinese Center for Tibetan Studies in Beijing.

"The monks are very easily influenced by their religious leader, so they are irrational compared to other types of people," he added. "I don't believe any country in the world would allow anything that would destroy social order and ruin people's lives. There is a lot of prejudice against the Chinese government. People believe all that stuff about the Dalai Lama, and that the Chinese government is all wrong. But actually, the reality is not like that."

Jorge Chiang, a stylishly dressed Hong Kong businessman on a trip to Beijing, said he, too, believed the bloody rioting was set off on orders from the Dalai Lama. Now, he predicted, the Chinese government will use the violence as a reason to round up the most prominent activist monks and "tighten its control over Tibet."

"I believe the government is capable of resolving this situation," said a young woman walking in central Beijing on a brilliant spring afternoon. "It's not the first time this has happened."

An Internet commentator who identified himself as Roomx said Buddhist monks have no more right than anybody else to torch shops and kill the Han Chinese businessmen inside. "They are all Chinese citizens," he added. "The monks who are connected to this conduct have to be arrested. Otherwise, it is not in conformity with rule by law."

Dramatizing how broadly such views are held even among the computer-savvy young generation, similar outrage exploded on the Internet after the Icelandic pop singer Bjork capped a concert in Shanghai on March 2 by shouting "Tibet! Tibet!" after a song about independence. Censorship officials huffed about how her gesture was out of place and pledged to tighten controls over foreign performers in China.

The Tibet Autonomous Region's local government issued an announcement after the riots saying the Dalai Lama and his followers instigated the violence "intending to break Tibet away from the motherland." Their allegation reflected China's long-standing complaint that the Dalai Lama, although he preaches limited autonomy, in fact has not abandoned his campaign to make Tibet and its 2.8 million residents fully independent from China.

For those with long memories in Beijing, that has always been the situation. The Dalai Lama, now 72, led a violent uprising with help from the Central Intelligence Agency after Chinese troops reimposed rule from Beijing in 1950. The subversion campaign failed, and he was forced in 1959 to flee on horseback to India, where he has lived in exile for half a century. It was to mark the anniversary of his dramatic flight over the Himalayas that anti-China demonstrations in Lhasa got started last Monday.


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