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What to do about Tibet?

By Graeme Mills - posted Friday, 4 April 2008

In the last few weeks I have tried to present another perspective to the current protests in Tibet. I have tried to argue my case in a consistent and respectful way. Having presented another perspective, I would now like to suggest a way forward and answer my friend's question, "What would I do about Tibet?"

I watched the television coverage of the joint media conference by President George Bush and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Their respective answers on the issue of Tibet were informative. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, in a measured and articulate response, called on the Chinese Government to recognise the concerns about human rights abuses and suggested that discussions with the Dalai Llama would be productive. President George Bush then said that he had rung Hu Jintao and told him the same thing. He then praised Kevin Rudd’s obvious expertise on China.

The tone of Kevin Rudd’s response was respectful and measured. The tone of George Bush’s response was self-satisfied with a touch of arrogance.


This morning I talked to my wife Xiaosui (degree, teacher, historian, successful businesswoman, mother, born in 1966, father branded a counter-revolutionary so the entire family suffered during the Cultural Revolution) and asked her how the West could best approach the Chinese Government on this issue.

I did this because I have come to realise since meeting and marrying Xiaosui that my knowledge of China is basic to reasonable, but more importantly, my understanding of the Chinese mind is rudimentary at best.

The following is based on her response. She could do it herself in Chinese, as she is an excellent writer and highly articulate. However, most of the readers could not read it. She does not feel that she could do justice in her second language, which she has only been using for a little over one year now.

In the West we hold proudly to the notion of “freedom of speech”. This allows vociferous fringe elements to loudly voice their opinion, usually with personal verbal abuse. Heaping disrespect and verbal abuse on our politicians is a time-honoured sport. It is the way we do things. In our societies it works. It is robust and brings out the issues.

Xiaosui points out that in China for most of their history, arguably until 1979, China has been ruled by one person; a King up until 1911, then Mao as a dictator from 1949. The usual response, throughout Chinese history, to dissent or personal criticism of the King was to have the entire family killed. Xiaosui points out that this notion is held deeply within the Chinese consciousness.

Mostly people learned, assiduously, to mind their own business. The way to have wrongs re-dressed or things done was to petition the King. It was still fraught with danger, particularly if you by-passed a powerful Governor, but it was available. Naturally, it had to be done respectfully and be well supported.


Xiaosui points to recent history where the Governor of the Guanxi Province was executed for fraud and corruption. People in Guanxi petitioned the Government in Beijing. The Governor was investigated and found guilty. The system may not work perfectly, but how perfectly does it work in the West?

Freedom of speech was not possible under Mao. Criticism of Mao or the government was met with severe punishment. Deng Xiaoping loosened the shackles and allowed criticism of the government and open discussion. People in China are slowly warming to this idea. Small peaceful demonstrations, in a park or a government building, are allowed without a permit. Large Demonstrations are now allowed with a police presence and government permission.

It may not be as open as the West, but it is happening. If the demonstration is peaceful then there is no intervention. If it is not and there is danger to people and property, then the police step in. Permits are required for large demonstrations mainly for the purpose of traffic control and police presence, similar to the West.

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About the Author

Graeme Mills was born 1955 in a country town. He left for Sydney to go to university and lived there for 20 years before retiring back to the same country town where he now lives. His was mainly in property, finance and development. Graeme holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree (majors in English and History) and a recently acquired Law Degree. He has written two books, both unpublished which he is investigating publishing online. He now has an extended family in China which has given him a whole new focus to life. He set up the BLOGs Dialectic Blue and Kaixin to give vent to this new direction.

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