Schrei on the Tibet Quake & Dying with Dignity

Josh Schrei has an important piece up at Huffington Post in response to yesterday’s earthquake in Jyekundo, Kham, Tibet. Schrei details the history of Kham and Yushu, making clear it’s a part of Tibet, occupied by Tibetans. More importantly, Josh then explains what is happening now and the potential for this earthquake to challenge political stability of Chinese control in Kham.

A tragedy is, of course, a tragedy, beyond any political and historical squabbling. But the political and historical backdrop to this horrible quake is important, as it informs how events will take shape over the days to come. As Lindsey Hilsum reported on World News Blog, the fact that this disaster took place in historic Tibet makes it not just a disaster, but an issue of extreme political sensitivity for China. This is a region that does not look favorably on Chinese rule. It is a region that saw widespread independence protests in 2008, including thetakeover a Chinese police station by Tibetan protesters mounted on horseback. And the last thing the Chinese government wants is to bring any international attention to this restive area or give the local people any further reason to protest.

Public gatherings are banned in this part of Tibet, and from all on the ground reports it is already clear that the Chinese soldiers that have been trucked in Jyekundo are there to serve two purposes. They are there to help remove victims from the rubble, and they are also there to make sure that Tibetans — homeless and freezing and distraught — do not begin to demonstrate or make political statements. Wen Jiaobao, when outlining the plan for disaster relief yesterday, made sure to mention that efforts were being made to “safeguard social stability.” In other disaster areas, this would translate as preventing looting and crime. In Jyekundo, it means preventing the locals from political agitation. As of yesterday, Tibetan monks and PLA soldiers were unified in their efforts to rescue schoolchildren from the quake’s rubble; but more monks are on the way from neighboring monasteries, and the more days go by in which Tibetans are forced by circumstance to live in miserable conditions under the watchful eye of the PLA soldiers whom they already despise, it is highly likely Jyekundo will turn into a powder keg. And that’s when China will kill the switch on any shred of media openness.

That’s the political reality now. But what of the Tibetans who lost their live in a disaster in which the world denies who they are and where the quake took place?

This amounts to a second tragedy to this tragedy — the death of the true story. Quite simply, the people of Jyekundo are not Chinese. They are Tibetan. And the Tibetans that died in Jyekundo had the right to die as Tibetans and not Chinese. They had — and have — the right to have their story told correctly and justly. It is a story of a fiercely independent people, of nomads and warriors, herders and farmers, tradesmen and monks, and artisans and craftsmen. It is a story of a people invaded — not liberated — by an occupying force and of two generations under foreign occupation. It is a story of a people who struggled to maintain their Buddhist faith and their cultural traditions during the horror and mass starvation of the cultural revolution, who picked up arms and then were silenced, and who have borne the weight and humiliation of occupation with what can only be called grace. The victims of Jyekundo were and are a distinct people. They are not Chinese, they are Tibetan, and they had a right to die with dignity, in their own land.

This is exactly correct.

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