Every Colin Thubron travel book is guaranteed to have more than one quotation which burrows into my mind and remains there for years afterwards. Even brief essays, such as was his contribution to Great Journeys, an anthology which accompanied the BBC television series of the same name, offer gems of quotations.
The title to this blog missive was his observation on arrival at Jiayu Pass, the last major structure on the Great Wall of China before this slowly merges with the sighing sands of the Kumtag Desert before finally expiring at Lop Nor.
(Copyright Asian Exposure.)
Jiayu is located in Gansu province, nestled between Qinghai and Inner Mongolia provinces and now over 90% Han Chinese. Less than 150 years ago, however, it was predominately Hui Chinese who, although closely related linguistically and through inter-marriage to Buddhist Sino-Tibetan cultures, were almost exclusively Muslim. According to Chinese History 101, although a majority of Chinese Muslims speak Indo-European or Turkic languages, the word Hui is used interchangably with Muslim: similar, I assume, to Arab or Asian in the United Kingdom.
The last great expansion of the Chinese Empire occurred between the 16th and 19th Centuries, during which more than 50% was added it its landmass. During this period, bloody wars are estimated to have resulted in the deaths of some 10 millions Hui and other Muslims in Gansu and adjacent regions. Indemnities demanded of the Qing Dynasty by the British Empire, and others, after the Opium Wars of the 1840s and ’50s, as well as the beginnings of industrialization of China required finances: one way was exploting tin-mines and other resources in Gansu.
Ethnic and political tensions came to a terrible head in the 1860s and ’70s with the Hui-led Dungan Revolt which the Qing Dynasty eventually suppressed with the deaths of unnumbered millions of soldiers and civilians.
With the brutalities and excesses of European Empires rightly remembers and firewalled from any self-congratulation, one would think such extraordinary brutality would be similarly reviled. That is not, in the popular imagination, points to a basic moral crapulence and complete lack of any human feelingness in the “anti-imperialism” narrative.
After all, the concept was championed by the likes of Lenin and his Bolshevik menance which, in February 1918, this sacked the Uzbek city of Kolkand which a loss of life which rivalled anything which Elric did when the fury overcame him; and definitely dwarfed the British-led Jallianwala Bagh Massacre the next year, which was bad enough.
Andy Newman, over the Socialist Unity, can also be guaranteed to excuse the Chinese Empire. During the riots in Lhasa in June 2007, he said:
Tibet has been legally part of China since the sixteenth century. Under military and diplomatioc pressure from Britain China was forced to give autonomy in 1913, but no Chinese nationalist, not Sun Yet Sen, nor Chaing Kait Shek, nor Mao have ever recognised the 1914 Treaty of Simla -0 as it was imposed upon them by Britishh imperialism.
To this day Taiwan also claims Tibet.
Under the rule of the Dalai lama between 1913 and 1959 – so beloved of western liberals, Tibet was the most appalling obscurabtist theocracy, and widespread and chronic famine reduced the populatioon to less than two million. The country was based upon slavery, and serfdom, including appaling institionalised child slavery and abuse. Illiteracy and dirt poverty blighted every tibetan excet for the theocrats and the landlords. I am sure it gives libeerals wet dreams, but autonomus Tibet was a descent into the darkest pit of hell for the Tibetan slaves and serfs.
Under japanese occupation nothing could be done to liberate tibet, but once independence from japan was won, and a national government was consolidated in 1949, it was a natural next step to address the appalling plight of Tibet, and they started to intervene in 1950.
I repeat that Tibet was always part of China, but the disatrous autonomous reaction of the Dalai lama was fortunately ended in 1959. This involved a great deal of fighting between Tibertan as slave owners and landlords fought against the slaves and serfs who sided with the Red Army.
Under Communist rule famine was abolished, slavery was abolished, serfdom was abolished, illiteracy was eliminated, child mortality fell from just under 50%% to less than half a per cent, agricultural reform ended the dirt poverty, and the disastrous decline of the ethnic tibetan population was reversed, there are now three or four times as many ethnic Tibertans as there were in 1959, reversing over a century of falling population due to famine and diesease. What bastards those Chinese are.
Now the Free Tibet obscurantists who want to retore the theorcracy (we can see this because they tout round the latest “incarnation” of the Dalai lama) play fast and lose with the statistaics by claiming a Greater Tibet, including a number of Han Chinese provinces like Xinang that have never been autonomous and are nealy all Han.
The government of the PRC has encouraged immigration into Tibet, but has also fostered and developed the Tibetan population – and to be quite frank the period since 1959 has been the most enlightened and liberal government the Tibetans have ever known.
Tibet has of course suffered terrible crimes and excesses, but no more so than the rest of China who all suffered from the lunacies of Maoist rule.
There is no national libratioin movement in Tibet, and Tibet has never been a nation in the modern sense. Now you may think that the restoration of theocratic autocracy, and driving the tibetan society back 1000 years or more into darkness is something worth campigning for., I don’t. And most noticeably no-one in Tibet seems to want that either. There is no national liberation movement.