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Xiang Songzuo, December 28, 2018
On Dec. 16, Prof. Xiang Songzuo (向松祚) of Renmin University School of Finance and former chief economist of China Agriculture Bank, gave a 25-minute speech during a CEO class at Renmin Business School that was apparently applauded by the audience but immediately censored over the Chinese internet. Singling out 2018 as the year when China comes to a large shift unprecedented over the past 40 years, the speech can be seen as a landscape survey of Chinese economy, and obliquely, also of politics. Just as Tsinghua law professor Xu Zhangrun’s (许章润) broadside “Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes”, which was superbly translated and widely talked about among China watchers, Prof. Xiang’s speech is another rare burst of Chinese intellectuals’ discontent with the direction the country is taking under Xi Jinping. With this unauthorized translation of the speech, China Change wishes our readers a happy New Year! — The Editors
I want to share two characters with my fellow alumni here. I hope that everyone present, every entrepreneur here, can reflect together with me. These two characters are fan si (反思, reflect). What do we reflect on?
China’s economy has been going downward this year, as everyone knows. The year 2018 is an extraordinary year for us, with so many things taking place. But the main thing is the economic slowdown.
How bad are things? The number that China’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) gives is 6.5 percent, but just yesterday, a research group of an important institution released an internal report. Can you take a guess on the GDP growth rate that they came up with using the NBS data?
They used two measurements. Going by the first estimate, China’s GDP growth this year was about 1.67 percent. And according to the other calculation, the growth rate was negative.
Of course, my main point here is not about the accuracy of these calculations, or which one is more credible. But this year, there have been three issues regarding China that we either failed to consider, or about which we have made serious misjudgments.
First, the trade war between China and the U.S.. Did we make some inaccurate assessment? Did we underestimate the severity of the situation? Let’s recall some slogans from the mainstream media at the beginning of the year: “In the trade war between U.S. and China, the Americans are lifting rocks only to smash them on their own feet, China is sure to win.” “China will win the trade war without a doubt, be the battles big or small.”
What’s behind this kind of thinking? To this day, we keep suffering from a cognitive dissonance between our understanding of the Sino-U.S. trade war and the international reality. This calls for deep reflection.
Second, what was the cause for the economic downturn? Why did private enterprises suffer setbacks in 2018? Looking at the data, investment by private businesses has dropped substantially, so what made private business owners lose confidence? On November 1, the national leaders convened a high-profile economic conference, which some interpreted as a signal that the government wants to win back the confidence of private businesses as the economy worsens.
Since the beginning of the year, though, all kinds of ideological statements have been thrown around: statements like “private property will be eliminated,” “private ownership will eventually be abolished if not now,” “it’s time for the private enterprises to fade away,” or “all private companies should be turned over to their workers.” Then there was this high-profile study of Marx and the Communist Manifesto. Remember that line in the Communist Manifesto? Abolition of private property. What kind of signal do you think this sends to private entrepreneurs?
This is why we need to reflect on China’s economic downturn, the pressure on Chinese economy, and the trade war between the U.S. and China that is escalating with every passing day. We need to reflect on what we did wrong, on how to revive the economy as we walk into the future, and what steps we should take to ensure that China’s economy maintains its steady rate of growth.
You might not agree with what I say, and please feel free to give your opinions. But I hope that you can think in a sober manner after we finish today’s seminar. Why do I say this? Because the problems that we face are our own doing, and there are a lot of them. But many of them have been addressed in superficial terms only.
At the symposium on the private sector, General Secretary Xi Jinping talked about six issues. Among them I am most concerned about the sixth: the protection of personal safety and property. Think about it. In a country with robust rule of law, where everyone is equal before the law, shouldn’t these basic rights be properly guaranteed for everyone, entrepreneurs and commoners alike?
It has been four decades since the reform and opening up, yet the General Secretary still feels a need to specifically promote entrepreneurs’ rights to personal safety and the security of their property. This reflects the gravity of the issues facing the governance of Chinese society and state. In my view, China’s economy will face six internal challenges that deserve our serious consideration. Due to time constraints, I won’t be able to get through all of them.
In addition to this, there are three major external challenges. The first is the trade war, which is in fact no longer a trade war but rather a clash between two opposed value systems. It can be said with certainty that the Sino-U.S. relationship has come to a crossroads right now and faces significant historic challenges. What are we to do? To be honest, I don’t think we have really found much of a solution.
You are aware that Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou was recently detained in Vancouver. In the past two days, mainstream media such as BBC and CNN have been reporting on how the U.S. is going at Huawei on all fronts. What this tells us is that this issue is not simply about trade or economics.
We used to speak of “China’s period of strategic opportunity for economic growth.” Does this period of strategic opportunity still exist? Personally, looking at the international situation, I think this period of strategic opportunity is fading quick.
Let’s think about what “international period of strategic opportunity” means. It means that in the past, international regulations have been favorable to us; we had open access to technology, capital, talent, and markets. Because of the imminent changes we face on the domestic and international fronts, I have titled today’s speech “the great shift unseen over the last forty years.” (四十年未有之大变局)
Have we really given the problems due consideration? Of course the short-term problem we are looking at is economic decline; the preponderance of data demonstrating this point needs no introduction here. Data concerning performance in November hasn’t been released, but you can extrapolate based on the October figures: there’s been a decline across virtually all sectors, from consumption in retail, autos, or real estate. Just look at China’s exports. Who can say that the trade war didn’t impact China and that China is sure to win the war no matter how big it is? Why don’t the people who were saying this kind of thing in April and May stand by their words now?
Why did we made such mistakes in assessing the international circumstances?
Look at these numbers. That China faces a long-term economic downturn is not a problem by itself. But you may have noticed that the consumption and the service sectors now make up 78.5 percent of GDP. Going by the government’s logic, this should be a good thing, since it means the economic transition to a consumption economy has been successful: we used to rely on investment and export, now we rely on consumption and the service sector. This sounds reasonable, but think about it: in a country like China, as investment slows dramatically, how can we maintain economic stability by solely relying on consumption?
The fact that consumption and services comprise 78.5 percent of GDP may be good news to some extent, but is far eclipsed by the negative implications. Take a look at investment. More importantly, can consumption alone support faster economic growth?
In the four decades following the economic reform, we have undergone five phases of consumption. The first was to solve the food problem, the second was the “New Big Three” [新三大件, short for refrigerator, color TV, and washing machine], the third was the consumption of information, the fourth was automobiles, and fifth was real estate.
But these five waves have essentially all come to an end. Car sales have dropped sharply and real estate spending is also substantially decreasing, so we are facing serious problems. This is the crux of the six stabilities called for by the Politburo [stable employment, stable finance, stable foreign trade, stable foreign investment, stable investment and stable expectations], or as some internet users have joked, the six “tender kisses” [吻, kiss, is a homophone for 稳, stability].
Now, let me give you three more “kisses”: stable reserves, stable exchange rates, and stable housing prices.
It should be fairly obvious that these stabilities are difficult to achieve. For now it looks that “stable foreign investment” and “stable foreign exchange rates” shouldn’t be a problem. Foreign investment is basically stable. But how can you stabilize investment, exports, real estate market, and employment? The reason that I want to share the word “reflect” with everyone today is that we need to reflect on why this happened, and on how to find an appropriate solution.
As economy slows, financial risk escalates and shadow banking shrinks rapidly. Some say that the president of China’s central bank has come out to apologize, saying that their prior policy was not well thought out, lacked coordination, and wasn’t properly implemented, that these, coupled with the effects of overbearing regulations, caused credit to recede. This is certainly an important reason, but it’s not the fundamental issue.
We can see that the direct financing market, whether the bonds or stock market, has been cut in half in 2018 and that many companies have defaulted. Total debt due to default has exceeded 100 billion RMB ($14.5 billion) for the first three quarters.
According to data provided by the government, the corporate debt default could exceed 120 billion RMB, and many businesses have gone bankrupt. As Cao Dewang (曹德旺) put it, companies are collapsing in droves; not even state-owned enterprises are spared this phenomenon. Bohai Steel, once listed in the Fortune Global 500, was 192 billion RMB in debt when it bankrupted; the real number could be as high as 280 billion RMB.
Local debt is a big problem in China’s financial market. As for the actual number, the National Audit Office claims it to be about 17.8 trillion RMB, while He Keng (贺铿), vice director of National People’s Congress Financial and Economic Affairs Committee, thinks it’s over 40 trillion RMB. Worse yet, not one local government intends to pay back its debts.
So this is the larger context. Then there’s also the stock market crash. My friend Mr. Jin Yanshi (金岩石) will share with you shortly his thoughts about an impending stock market rebound, but in my opinion, it’s far from forthcoming. You can look at the history: only the Wall Street Crash of 1929 can compare to the steep decline that the Chinese stock has experienced this year. Many stocks are down 80 or even 90 percent.
So here’s a problem that we need to think about today: we know China’s stock market is feeling the pain, but what exactly is hurting?
Some people blame the securities regulators, Chairman Liu (刘主席), or this and that, but I think they are going after the wrong people. The problem lies in regulatory policy, which I fear may be lacking. The absence of comprehensive stock regulation might be an important issue, but it’s not the crucial one.
Look at our profit structure. To put it plainly, China’s listed companies don’t really make money. Then who has taken the few profits made by China’s more than 3,000 listed companies? Two-thirds have been taken by the banking sector and real estate. The profits earned by 1,444 listed companies on the SME board and growth enterprise board are not even equal to one and half times the profit of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. How can this kind of stock market become a bull market?
When we buy stocks, we are buying the profits of the company, not hype and rumors. I recently read a report comparing the profits of China’s listed companies with those in the U.S. There are many U.S. public companies with tens of billions dollars in profits. How many Chinese tech and manufacturing companies are there that have accomplished this? There is only one, but it’s not listed, and you all know which one that is. [Xiang is referring to Huawei, the Chinese tech company.] What does this tell us? As Yale professor Robert Shiller said: stock market performance may not work as a barometer of the economy in the short run, but it does for sure in the long run.
So I think that the terrible stock performance only demonstrates one thing, which is that the real economy in China is in quite a mess. Where is the stock market rebound? I think it’s obvious that investor confidence has yet to recover.
A number of policies came out on October 19 and 20, and Vice Premier Liu He (刘鹤) personally gave a speech to pledge results, but what of it now? The SSE Index fell to 2600 points by last Friday, and just stayed there, barely alive. When is the market rebound coming? Real estate is not showing much cause for optimism right now, but I won’t go into details for lack of time. You can take a picture of the data for your reference.
That’s why China wants to fight the three tough battles. China’s economic decline indicates that there is a major issue with the focus on expansion and growth: It has deviated from the fundamental and moved to speculation. These are the words of former chief of China’s central bank, Zhou Xiaochuan (周小川).
What are our current financial risks? They are hidden, complex, acute, contagious, and malevolent. Structural imbalance are massive, and violations of law and regulations are rampant. There are black swans to prevent, and gray rhinos to stop. A reporter once asked Zhou, “Where are the black swans? Which ones?” Zhou smiled and did not answer.
The black swans are right next to you. The P2P lending, blockchain, Coin Circle, aren’t all these black swans? But you can’t see them. As for the gray rhinos, they can charge at any time. The biggest of them is real estate.
We have rampant speculations everywhere, in too many aspects. In short, it’s arbitrage.
During the national finance work conference last year, the General Secretary and the Premier strongly criticized the Chinese financial sector with a pile of literary-sounding polemics, saying that they were entertaining themselves without the slightest consideration for reality, and that the financial sector was in chaos and was a horrible sight to behold.
Apart from this financial arbitrage, what do most businesses do with their money? Forty percent of it goes to the stock market, speculation, and buying stocks of financial companies, but not investment into primary business. Then can this be considered a good situation for listed businesses? You can say goodbye to the equity pledges, game over. As an economist, I am opposed to the government bailing out the market. If stock pledges collapse, let it be: what’s the point in bailing them out? What are you doing using stock pledges for other purposes anyway? What did you do with the loans you get from stock pledges?
I’m acquainted with many bosses of listed companies. Frankly speaking, a large part of their equity pledge funds did not go into their primary business, but used on speculation. They have many tricks. They buy financial products; they buy housing. The government said listed companies have spent 1-2 trillions on speculative real estate. Basically China’s economy is all built on speculation, and everything is over leveraged.
Starting in 2009, China embarked on this path of no return. The leverage ratio has soared sharply. Our current leverage ratio is three times that of the United States and twice that of Japan. The debt ratio of non-financial companies is the highest in the world, not to mention real estate.
Having shared all this data with you, shouldn’t we be arriving at a conclusion now?
“The swallows come back every three years.” [This is a reference to the three years of RMB growth between 2005 and 2008.] Now they are back again. The economic decline has created a lot of pressure, so now the government brings back its old set of tricks: relaxed currency regulations, aggressive monetary policies, relaxed financial policies, and aggressive capital financing policy.
But now I want to ask a question. Everyone in the audience is an alumnae of Renda business school and capable of thinking independently, so give it some thought: Will these policies work? Can they solve China’s fundamental problems? It’s not that our currency regulation this year was not relaxed enough—we released 400 billion yuan in liquidity, 2.3 trillion yuan in hedging or medium-term lending facilities. 2.3 trillion times the money multiplier is about a dozen or so trillion.
Three monetary policy “arrows” have been fired, also known as “Bank Chief Yi’s three arrows.” The first is loans, the second is issuing debts, the third is to solve the problem of stock pledges. Even more mind-blowing was the “125 Target.” [Guo Shuqing (郭树清), CCP committee secretary of the People’s Bank of China and chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, said in November that banks’ lending to private companies need to meet the “125 Target,” which means that in new corporate loans, the big banks should issue no less than one-third of the loans to private firms, medium and small banks should issue no less than two-third of the loans to private firms, and in three years the goal is for banks to lend no less than 50 percent of its loans to private enterprises among their loans to new companies.]
We recently went to the Pearl River Delta and some other regions to conduct field research, and locals told us that the local officials invited the bank chiefs over to meetings and told them which banks to turn to for loans. What is this nonsense?
So we need to reflect on our current problems: can these policies of ours solve the deeper issues?
As for the debt-for-equity swap, the capital market has issued many policies but I don’t see any of them will really be useful. It’s been another two months since October 19, have they been effective? So we have to ask ourselves: What has really gone wrong with our economy?
My own reflection has reached its conclusion: The problem with the Chinese economy is no longer speed or quantity, but quality.
The official report of the 19th Party Congress is an excellent report. So is the report of the Third Plenum of the 18th Party Congress. All of these major decisions were beautifully written and made all the right points. Sadly, they have not been followed through. The structural problems we face as a country, the “Six Big Imbalances,” are not sufficiently addressed. Think about it, entrepreneurs and alumni of Renda business school in the audience, can any radical credit policy or monetary easing solve these problems?
Moreover, these credit and monetary policies can only make short-term adjustments that are incapable of fundamentally solving the “imbalances” I mentioned earlier. We are still trapped within the box of the old policy and the old way of thinking. The key to whether transformation will be successful is the vitality of private enterprises—that is, whether policy can stimulate corporate innovation.
We have been making a game of credit and monetary tools for so many years. Isn’t this the reason we are saddled with so many troubles today? Speculation has driven housing prices sky-high.
The problems that private business actually faces are not difficulties in financing. What is it then? They are afraid of unstable policy and the government not keeping its word.
The leader of the State Council said it clearly in a meeting of the Standing Committee: in China, the government is what can be least trusted. Therefore, in order to solve the debt problem, first, the government has to pay back debts it owes businesses, the state-owned enterprises have to pay back debts they owe private enterprises, and large private enterprises have to pay back debts they owe smaller ones. The three costs keep going up [production cost, transnational cost, and systematic cost], therefore tax cut and fee reduction is the primary appeal.
My basic assessment of the overall issue is that these short-term monetary credit schemes are wholly incapable of solving the problem. For the Chinese economy to continue growing in a truly stable fashion, and extricate itself from its present quagmire, it must implement the following three essential reforms: tax system, reform in the political structure, and reform in state governance.
How to reduce taxes and fees? The structure of the government must be streamlined by cutting large numbers of staff. Personnel must be let go and expenditures have to drop, which means that structural reforms have to be carried out.
Professor Zhou Qiren (周其仁) of Peking University is someone I respect and admire deeply. All these years, he has been saying: what is China’s biggest problem? The costs of societal administration are too high.
Then there are the matters of governmental reform and reforms in the structure of state governance. Of course, there’s also reform of academia and research.
I hear that the day after tomorrow, there’s going to be a grand conference to mark the 40th anniversary of the “reform and opening up.” I sincerely hope that we’ll hear something about further deepening of reforms at that conference. Let’s wait and see if any real progress can be made on these reforms.
If this doesn’t happen, let me conclude on these words: the Chinese economy is going to be in for long-term and very difficult times.
More information about Prof. Xiang Songzuo can be found here.
Yaxue Cao, October 18, 2018
Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, is a small liberal arts college with around 2500 students. The Campus Center is the central meeting place with a bookstore, a cafe, a post office, computer terminals, a small auditorium, lounge areas and art exhibit space. On October 1, a photo exhibit was mounted along the hallways of the center. It is called, adopting a well-known Mao Zedong quote, “Weightier Than Mount Tai, Lighter Than a Feather: Human Rights Experience of Chinese Contemporary Art.”
Featuring ten artists (all but two lived in China), the exhibit includes photographs, conceptual compositions, negative images of Tiananmen Square in 1989, and photographs that depict a wide range of life in China: the student movement in Beijing, migrant workers in the slums outside Beijing, prostitutes and homesexuals. Photographs of the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong in 2014 and the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan the same year are also on display. It is a traveling exhibit and was first shown at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. It ends on October 19 at Bard.
On October 3, Siyuan Min (闵思渊), who goes by the name ‘Frederick S. Min,’ a political science major and chair of the Chinese Student Organization on campus, wrote a long letter to one of the two curators of the exhibit, Patricia Keretzky. Keretzky is Oskar Munsterberg Lecturer in Art History and author of more than 10 books about Chinese art, religious and secular, medieval and contemporary. From his letter, we gathered that the exhibit stirred quite a bit of sentiment from a WeChat group that consisted of current Chinese students at Bard, recent graduates and visiting scholars from China. In his letter to Ms. Keretzy, Mr. Min summed up this “vibrant and highly intellectual conversation” on WeChat, China’s popular but heavily censored and surveilled online messaging platform.
The community of Chinese students (currently over 100) and scholars at Bard took issue with the exhibit on three points: the topic, the date and the offensiveness of it.
They objected to the sensitive nature of the topic, singling out “the images of protests,” “an armed person waving a gun in front of Mao Zedong,” and “a Statue of Liberty photoshopped to be on Tiananmen Square where the Monument to the People’s Heroes actually stand(s),” the last of which implying that the two symbols of struggle contravene each other.
They took issue with the date. Why launch the exhibit on October 1, our National Day, “the equivalent of July 4th”? When “a rather reckless man insisted on attending a military drill” on the Serbian national day, he said, a diplomatic crisis ensued causing World War I. He then walked back a little bit from the parallel between Archduke Franz Ferdinand causing World War I with his assassination and the two curators provoking Chinese students at Bard, but we get the idea: it’s a grievous provocation.
Mr. Min went on conveying how Chinese students felt: they feel ‘ambushed’ by such an exhibit at the student center; they feel embarrassed when asked questions by their curious American friends; their pride in their nationality is hurt; they feel “a certain sense of betrayal” because at Bard the atmosphere has been “pluralistic yet always respectful.”
So the photo exhibit is a deviation from the pluralistic and respectful atmosphere at Bard according to this junior. When Chinese students at the University of California San Diego opposed the Dalai Lama giving the commencement speech, they applied the same awkward, brain teaser logic.
Because of the exhibit, the Chinese students and scholars feel, Min went on, judged by “our nationality, our ethnics, the history of our country or the policies of our government.”
But isn’t it the case that the Chinese students and scholars have all these hurt feelings precisely because they themselves identify with the repressive regime, with the policies of the Chinese government and its political sensibilities? They do not seem to recognize that each and every Chinese citizen has the right not to identify with the government. As a political science student, young Mr. Min should know better.
In reply, Ms. Keretzky invited the junior and the Chinese students to come to the screening of dissident films by Chinese artists and a roundtable discussion afterward on Saturday at the Campus Center. None of them came. She also ask Mr. Min to post her response on WeChat. I don’t know whether this has been done. I doubt it, because the words ‘human rights’ and the name ‘Liu Xiaobo’ will not pass through the censorship, even if Min tries to. I doubt he would try in the first place.
“I want to have a dialogue with the Chinese students on campus,” Wu Yuren (吴玉仁), a participating artist, said on Saturday at Bard. “This is a serious exhibit. In 2015, Patricia met with us in Beijing and we had a discussion about it. We know why we do this. Today’s China is undergoing a massive transformation, and artists have the acutest sense it. As freedom of speech is being choked off and art creation faces more and more restriction, it’s only natural that artists are going to express such repression.”
I asked Mr. Wu what would happen to these artists living in China, he said, they are used to regular police summons known as ‘drinking tea,’ forced evictions, and shutdowns of exhibits. “Under dictatorship, artists who explore its manifestations face big dangers.” Wu Yuren himself was detained for ten months in 2010 for using what they called the “rights defense performance art” to oppose forced demolition of art districts in Beijing where he and hundreds of artists had their studios.
“By the way,” he said at Bard, “I want to state a common sense here: October 1st is not the birthday of our motherland.”
Yaxue Cao edits this website. Follow her on Twitter @yaxuecao, or follow China Change @chinachange_org
China Change, October 8, 2018
This weekly bulletin is NOT a news summary of the week, but a reading of ‘signs’: signs of quickening changes and shifting ground. Not every new development is suited to a fully fleshed-out analysis, and as with so much in China, many reports cannot be immediately confirmed or properly evaluated. Nevertheless, while each individual brush stroke may not be decisive, we hope that upon stepping back a fuller picture would emerge. Sign of China catalogues and contextualizes these items so as to grow an awareness and keep a record of sort. As incomplete as it is destined to be, we hope the series is edifying and useful. — The Editors
Pence’s Speech and Two Emblematic Chinese Responses
On October 4th, during the ‘golden week’ of the National Day of the People’s Republic of China, the U. S. Vice President Mike Pence delivered a speech that laid out in full the Trump administration’s views of China and the Chinese communist regime. You should watch it in full, but the editor of China Change has offered a crude summary of the speech: “Pence’s speech in a few words: the United States has done nothing to hurt China for more than 100 years. If it weren’t for America’s help, where would China be today? Not only do China’s leaders seem ignorant of what’s good for them, but they repay these favors with low and despicable acts in order to walk all over us and squeeze us dry. This is just asking for a good beating.”
One academic tweeted: “This one is going down in the history books. Not because of any soaring feats of oration or anything like that. But this marks a fundamental shift. Four decades of American policy has been overturned. Today is the end of an era.”
“The Sino-U.S. trade war has gotten to the point where America’s president and vice president have both stepped out to speak. All the while, the Chinese side has left the matter to just three spokesmen from the departments of defense, trade, and foreign affairs.”
“In the past, whenever the U.S. and China had some conflict, Chairman Mao himself would confront the other side. Today the American vice president Pence has come knocking at our door; can’t we find a leader of our own, someone a bit higher in rank than a spokesman [to come out and say something]?”
“Comrade Zhang” had observed the conspicuous absence of his country’s leaders in the diplomatic arena and felt something amiss. It’s a feeling the censors didn’t want him to have.
A Chinese human rights lawyer, disbarred by the authorities earlier this year, said after Pence’s speech, “Our prevailing attitude is silence. Going back a few years, you may have been able to find throngs of people filled with indignation at America’s actions. Such is the change.”
The Curious Case of Meng Hongwei
Sometimes in late September, Meng Hongwei (孟宏伟), president of Interpol and the Deputy Minister of Public Security, boarded a plane in Stockholm and returned China. Three days ago his wife reported him missing to French authorities. She had been receiving threats via phone and other venues. On Sunday, within an hour after Grace Wang gave a press conference in Lyon, the Chinese authorities announced that Meng was “under investigation by the National Supervision Commission for alleged violation of the law.”
Meng’s Interpol presidency was a cherished prize for China, representing China’s attempt to use the international organization for its own political purpose.
Meng’s term as Interpol chief expires in November 2020. The fact that the Chinese leaders were compelled to take down Meng at the steep price of ruining their credibility indicates the emergent nature of the matter involving Meng. It’s clear that Meng knew his trip back to China was an ominous one, and made arrangements with his wife that deviated the Party’s protocols: to publicize his disappearance and appeal to international help, instead of staying silent and “trusting the Party” (相信党). What Meng did is no less than to betray the Party. Maybe it is a matter of problematic loyalty. A Deputy Minister of Public Security knows too much and is involved in too many high-stake issues. His allegiance became questionable, and therefore he had to be pulled back at all costs. This is the only reasonable explanation we at China Change can come up with.
We will refrain from wallowing in the rich irony and absurdity of the event, but there are a few points to register:
- People who hold positions in international organizations, regardless of their position or nationality, should perform their duties as independent individuals, rather than as representatives of their respective countries. But the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) affords none of its members such independence, Meng Hongwei among them. As far as the CCP is concerned, he is the Party’s man above all, and the Party can sanction him at any time as it sees fit, even during his Interpol term.
- It follows that Meng Hongwei, in his capacity as Interpol chief, was inevitably subject to the Party’s directives and control.
- Meng Hongwei’s mafia-style abduction sends a stark message to the international community: totalitarian China does not conform to international procedures and is incapable of participating in world affairs as a normal country.
- Almost exactly a year ago, Xi Jinping attended the 86th Interpol general assembly in Beijing and delivers a keynote speech emphasizing “cooperation, innovation, the rule of law and win-win results and build a universal and secure community of shared future for mankind.”
The next time Xi Jinping, or any Chinese leader, speaks at any international event, whether at the UN, the Davos Forum, or at international and regional summits, about globalization, climate change, free trade, world peace, think of what the Meng Hongwei episode says about China and just laugh .
In another report, RFI quoted the Japanese-language edition of Business Journal, which on Oct. 1 said it had found via CCP diplomatic channels that the Party elite had given up on resolving the Sino-U.S. trade frictions in the short term. From internal documents it was revealed that the children of senior Communist Party officials have been ordered not to study in the United States, and those already in the U.S. will be called back to China.
One analysis offered by the Business Journal of the order is that the Chinese government is worried that the high-ranking children could be held hostage by Washington. Another speculation is that the CCP has recalled its cadres’ children to shore up their loyalty — officials whose offspring and assets are in the territory of the United States may not have the Party-state’s best interests in mind. The CCP may wish to avoid the Three Kingdoms-era conundrum of “being present in the Cao camp while serving the Han at heart.” (身在曹营心在汉)
Former President of Xinjiang University Sentenced to Death
According to Radio Free Asia Uighur service, former president of Xinjiang University, Professor Tashpolat Tiyip has been sentenced to death with two year reprieve for ‘separatism.’ The two sources cited by the RFA report, one was the political director of the Federation of Literary and Art Circles in Xinjiang and the other from a police station in Kashgar Prefecture, learned the sentence of Professor Tashpolat Tiyip from a 90-minute internal, ‘cautionary’ film.
According to Baidu encyclopedia, Professor Tashpolat Tiyip was born in 1958, a scientist in geoscience and remote sensing, and enjoyed a special allowance for experts by the State Council. He was dismissed in March 31, 2017, and that probably was also the time when he was arrested.
Another report has it that Kurban Mamut, the 68-year-old retired editor-in-chief of Xinjiang Culture magazine, was taken to a “re-education camp” in February 2018.
In a 4-minute video, Torchlight Uyghur Group compiled an incomplete list of Uighur public figures who have been given staggering sentences or sent to camps, including scholars, scientists, intellectuals, writers, artists, educators, and businessmen.
News from Xinjiang continue to roll in daily: grim, bleak, and desperate. Journalists noted (here and here) that, on government websites, officials’ resumes have been altered to remove their positions at “vocational schools.” By inference, the city of Atush alone, with a population of 200,000, has at least seven such “schools.”
Two weeks ago, we wrote in the second issue of Signs of China that the Uighurs detained in concentration camps were being transferred to other parts of China. There were only bits and pieces of information available at that point, but now the news has been confirmed via various sources.
The situation is developing on a large scale and with shocking speed. Radio Free Asia reported that since the beginning of September, the Xinjiang authorities started deporting Muslims held in so-called “deradicalization education centers” and “vocational schools” to other regions. According to a number of Muslims in Xinjiang who spoke on condition of anonymity, the transfer has targeted Uighurs in Kashgar, Hotan and other places in southern Xinjiang, as well as Kazakh communities in the Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture in the northern part of the province. The number of people being moved could be as high as 200,000 or 300,000.
Police Given Authorization for Unlimited Access to Internet Privacy
China’s Ministry of Public Security recently released its “Public Security provisions on public Security organs internet security, supervision, and inspection,” effective Nov. 11.
According to the Provisions, the public security organs are cleared to inspect companies that provide internet access, internet data centers, content distribution, domain name services, online information, and the like.
Reasons for inspection include looking into whether or not the company has taken measures to follow laws pertaining to the recording and retention of user registration and login information; whether it is taking relevant preventative measures to control the publishing and transmission of information prohibited by law or administration regulations; or whether they have recorded the user data in hosting or virtual space leasing.
In other words, Chinese police are now authorized by government regulation to walk into any internet firm and copy everything on their servers at will. They have had such unfettered access to domestic internet companies already; now it’s every company without exception. Even foreign companies like Apple and Amazon have handed over server access to their Chinese partners after China’s Internet Security Law was promulgated June 1, 2017.
Growing Industrial Pepper: For Hot Pot or for Pepper Spray
Starting in the spring of 2018, in dozens of towns and villages across Guizhou Province, farmer started receiving instructions and training from commercial technicians teaching them how to plant a new kind of industrial pepper, RS-3. It is currently the hottest pepper that can be produced as a crop, and it is reportedly best cultivated in Yunnan and Guizhou, where there is dry soil and ample sunlight.
The county of Zhenning (镇宁) has planted about 10,000 mu (about 1,500 acres) of RS-3 with assistance from the Guizhou Red Star Development Company (贵州红星开发公司). A total of 100,000 mu are planned. The county’s Party secretary personally inspected a number of planting “bases” to ensure that the crop had reached or exceeded the issued quota.
In the city of Panzhou, the Guizhou Huikangyuan Agricultural Technology Co., Ltd. (贵州汇康源农业科技有限公司) reached an agreement with farmers in several townships to cultivate 21,000 mu of the industrial pepper. It is also being grown in Puding.
One mu of land can produce 3,000 to 4,000 kg of RS-3 pepper. The developers are covering initial investment costs for the farmers, and will also purchase the crop at a fixed price. Agriculture materials such as seedlings, fertilizer, fluorescent films, and pesticides are being provided by county governments.
The neighboring province of Yunnan is also growing a variety of industrial pepper — 150,000 mu and still expanding, per one report. The province first began growing them in spring 2017.
These peppers are too hot to be consumed by people or animals. Farmers picking the crop must wear protection to avoid touching the pepper directly and causing damage to their hands. If the fruit is broken and the juice comes into contact with skin, it will cause burning that lasts four to six hours.
Speaking with the Chinese state media, one technician claimed that industrial peppers are widely used in the food industry. But netizens were quick to point out one particular usage: “More importantly, industrial peppers are of great use in military and defense application, such as counter-terrorism and riot prevention.”
According to one report, China “gets almost all of its red pepper, chili oleoresin, and capsaicin from India. India is the world’s largest pepper producer, and is at the forefront in industrial pepper extraction technology.”
Chinese Staple Crop Production Takes a Sharp Dip
According to the Weibo account of the China National Grain and Material Reserve Bureau, as of Sept. 25, total purchases of grain in major producing areas — Hebei, Jiangsu, Anhui, Shandong, Henan, and Hubei — amounted to 48.139 million tons, a year-on-year decrease of 22.406 million tons.
Major rice producers of Zhejiang, Anhui, Fujian, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan, and Guangdong reported total acquisitions of 7.689 million tons of long-grained rice, a 1.155-million ton decrease compared with the same period last year. Total production of rapeseed was 1.104 million tons, a 137,000-ton decrease. (Thanks to Tian Beiming [田北铭] for providing this information on Twitter.)
In July, the General Office of the State Council issued a notice to deploy a nationwide inspection of the quantity and quality of policy food stocks. The scope of the inventory includes central reserve grain, minimum purchase price grain, national temporary storage grain, national one-time reserve grain, local grain reserve, and the quantity and quality of commodity grain stored in policy food enterprises. The purpose is to verify “the true reliability of these stocks.” March 2019 will be the statistical reporting date of the food inventory inspection.
Disgruntled PLA Veterans Clash With Military Police in Shandong
During the National Day celebrations, hundreds of veterans waving flags of the PRC and the Party gathered in Pingdu, Shandong Province, to protest the police brutality and the blockage of their attempts at appeal. They prepared wooden sticks in advance for each man to defend himself with.
On Oct. 5, the veterans occupied the Pingdu Agricultural Technology Market and spent the night there. On the 6th, their representatives met with government officials. Negotiations apparently failed, since in the afternoon, the police violently clashed with the protesters. The police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowd, while the veterans fought back with fire extinguishers and their sticks. Over a thousand more special policemen were deployed, and the veterans were effectively routed that evening. Only about a dozen of them remained in the square. Surrounded by large numbers of police, they too were forced to leave as darkness set in.
On Oct. 7, veterans from other regions arrived in Pingdu. News reports indicate that Shandong Province has mobilized police and even contracted security personnel from all over the country to confront them. Newly shipped riot gear, such as batons and helmets, have been unpacked and put into use on the streets. The situation is still in progress.
On Oct. 11, 2016, nearly 10,000 veterans surrounded the Central Military Commission building in Beijing, demanding the government give them fair benefits and treatment, shocking the Party elite. This incident led directly to the establishment of the Ministry of Veterans Affairs on April 16, 2018. The Chinese government’s response seems to be a combination of placating them with money and arranging for a number of them to receive public employment.
Many observers believe that these PLA veterans are defenders of the system. Provided their immediate wishes are satisfied, they wouldn’t hesitate to become the regime’s thugs.
Live video footage of the protests are currently available on WeChat and other video sharing platforms. While having confirmed the authenticity of the events from other sources, we appreciate the comprehensive reportage provided by Twitter user @lifang072.
A Reality Check on October 5
Lest we forget the nature of political life in China, this WeChat post directs our attention to two events, both of which occurred decades ago on the 5th of October.
The first were the famous “five regulations” issued in a document by the CCP Central Committee and the State Council on October 5, 1993. These regulations stipulated that Party and government leaders at or above the county (division) level were not allowed to operate business enterprises or use their powers to benefit spouses, children, or other relatives and friends; in addition, officials were not allowed to work part-time and receive any remuneration in economic entities, buy or sell stocks, receive monetary gifts or securities at official events; or use public funding for entertainment.
Today, 25 years later, there are no officials in China who are not corrupt, and the country has all but set the curve for corruption worldwide.
Second, the People’s Republic of China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights at the United Nations on October 5, 1998. Today, 20 years later, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate has died after a long period of languishing in prison; political dissidents have been jailed and sentenced to severe punishment; human rights lawyers are disappeared and tortured; civil society organizations’ public welfare activities have been brought under strict control. Millions of Uighurs and other Muslims have been locked up in concentration camps; house churches have been suppressed or forced to disperse. The words and actions of virtually every citizen are subject to the eyes and ears of an omnipresent panopticon.
As with the case of Meng Hongwei, we are seeing increasing use of enforced disappearance, torture, and unnatural death as means of solving internal power entanglement.
There are those who are, ostensibly, trying to determine whether the problem lies with Xi Jinping or the system itself. We think they’ve had more than enough time to reach a conclusion.
Signs of China (1), September 16, 2018.
Signs of China (2), September 22, 2018.
Signs of China (3), September 30, 2018.
September 4, 2018
The Governments of Australia, Germany, Japan, Taiwan and the United States, and the European Council:
We are a group of students, scholars and professionals from China and Chinese-occupied territories. We call upon you to urge China to release the well-regarded Uyghur human rights leader Prof. Ilham Tohti, amid reports of students, scholars and professionals disappearing and dying in concentration camps and prisons in the occupied region of East Turkestan (known as Xinjiang in Chinese).
The Chinese occupying authorities are cracking down on Uyghurs with the use of widespread surveillance, language restrictions, elimination of cultural and religious expression, forcible political indoctrination, family separation, and mass incarceration. Prof. Ilham criticized oppressive policies such as these, and called for dialogue, reconciliation and the regional autonomy China promised. Serving a life sentence now, he has suffered physical abuse and been banned from corresponding with his family.
The Chinese occupiers have kidnapped Uyghur intellectuals, including Prof. Halmurat Ghophur, a prominent medical scientist, and Prof. Rahile Dawut, a respected specialist on Uyghur culture. In China’s camps and jails, notable detainees have been tortured to death, including Imam Muhammad Salih Hajim, the first scholar to translate the Quran into Uyghur, and at least two students who had been forced to return from Egypt. Such disappearances and deaths make us extremely worried for Prof. Ilham’s life.
To save Prof. Ilham from the most systematic and large-scale ethnic cleansing taking place in the world today, we appeal for you to exert intense pressure on the Chinese regime. We look forward to the international community’s moral courage facing China — the same that it showed in the face of the Nazi menace.
Initiated by (发起人):
Lebao Wu (吴乐宝, student, Australia, Twitter: @MerlotN)
Sulaiman Gu (苏莱曼·古懿, student, United States, Twitter: @slmngy001)
Co-signed by (联署人):
Biao Teng (腾彪, lawyer, United States）
Ismail Cui (伊斯梅尔·崔浩新, poet, China）
Memet Emin (买买提·伊明, researcher, United States)
Lihua Mo (莫莉花, writer, Sweden)
Zhengming Fu (傅正明, writer, Sweden）
Salih Hudayar (萨利赫·胡达亚尔, student, United States)
Chuangchuang Chen (陈闯创, United States)
Tsundu Oser (宗都奥色, editor, Australia）
Ismail Ma (伊斯梅尔·马聚, United States)
David Yeliang Xia (夏业良, researcher, United States)
Ümit Hamit (玉米提·哈米提, therapist, Germany)
Suk-fong Choi（蔡淑芳, journalist, Hong Kong）
Tahir Imin (塔希尔·伊明, researcher, United States)
Nicholas Liou Kiyokawa (刘耀元, student, Japan)
Abduweli Ayup (阿布都外力·阿尤布, poet, Turkey)
Yonglin Chen (陈用林, activist, Australia)
Aynur Mehmet （艾努尔·买买提, student, United States）
Usmanjan Zhang (奥斯曼江·张龙，engineer, United States)
Jurat Sadik (居来提·萨迪克, student, Japan)
Yijiang Liu (刘奕江, United States)
Mihray Abdilim Abral (米拉依·阿布迪里木·阿布拉力, journalist, United States)
Gheyret Toxti (海拉提·土赫提, engineer, Turkey）
Francis Liu (刘贻, pastor, United States)
Anwar Nuruz (安瓦尔·诺鲁孜, journalist, Germany)
Qianyi Li (李谦宜, Australia)
Zumret Tursun (祖木热提·吐尔逊, analyst, Norway)
Angela Margya (杨思婷, student, Canada)
Tsolmon Tsoggerel （朝勒蒙·朝格勒, student, Mongolia）
Akbar Kasim (阿克巴·卡辛, student, Germany)
Tao Zhou (周涛, student, Canada)
Mahmut Barat (马哈提·巴拉提, teacher, Norway)
Nijat Kader (尼加提·卡德尔, researcher, United States)
Economics Professor Expelled for ‘Politically Harmful’ Expressions, Including Estimate of Staggering Cost to Maintain the Communist Party Apparatus
China Change, August 21, 2018
Yang Shaozheng (杨绍政), a couple of months shy of 49, was for 11 years a professor of good standing in the College of Economics at Guizhou University. He taught game theory and advanced microeconomics, focused his research on optimization theory and mechanism design theory, and managed numerous provincial- and state-funded research projects. On August 15, however, Guizhou University made a decision to expel him for “long-running publication and spreading online of politically mistaken speech, writing a large number of politically harmful articles, and creating a deleterious influence on campus and in society.” He was also guilty of “being unrepentant” and refusing to accept “educational help.”
Prior to this, last November, Yang was suspended from teaching and banned from advising graduate students. According to a personal statement he published online, Yang repeatedly approached the administration and the university’s Party Office to demand a formal statement of reasons for the sanctions. In each case he was fobbed off or refused. His written appeal to the university president was ignored.
Around the same time, Yang’s WeChat account and his blog were shut down, leaving him cut off from all public communication channels to express his views.
Last November, Yang submitted to New Tang Dynasty Television, a station affiliated with Falun Gong, a persecuted spiritual practice, a short article titled: “Can We Really Leave the Party Out of Our Economic Research?” (《我们经济研究中政党真的可以被忽略？》) The essay said: “Party personnel as well as the staff of some non-Party mass organizations are sustained by the taxes of the citizenry plus the state’s revenue. They are across the government, the military, mass organizations, state enterprises, educational and cultural institutions, and the organs responsible for Party Affairs. Their number exceeds 20 million; the cost to maintain them, including the loss of wealth caused by maintaining them, is estimated at 2 trillion yuan annually, with every Chinese carrying a burden of roughly 15,000 yuan each.”
Yang published the more detailed analysis, with the full title: “How the Estimate of All of Mainland China’s Government, Party, Mass Organization and State Enterprise Annual Costs Coming to 2 Trillion Was Calculated,” though it has since been deleted from his Sina blog.
In the article, he wrote that in two different economic systems — with all else being equal — one of them that had to “provide for that many regime officials would become increasingly impoverished. As long as nothing changes, the society that has to sustain the more government officials will ultimately collapse.”
Yang Shaozheng pointed out that despite the problem being so important for the future of the country, in China it is a forbidden area of enquiry and a blindspot in the public realm. Interestingly, in the article Yang described how several scholars pointedly avoided the topic at an academic conference he attended on political economy. During the tea break he brought up the question of Party expenditures to other scholars. Fudan University professor Zhang Jun (张军), gave no response; Zhejiang University professor Zhang Xukun (张旭坤) said he was worried that there may be State Security (国保) officers on site; Chongqing University professor Pu Yongjian (蒲勇健) said: “You understand what’s going on. If you’ve got the courage, go research it.”
In 2005, a researcher named Mu Zhengxin (穆正新) published an essay, which was widely disseminated, titled “The Chinese Communist Party is the Most Expensive Political Party” (《最昂贵的政党是中国共产党》). Mu calculated the expenditures on maintaining the Party apparatus, which he narrowly defined as Party organs and projects that have been set up just for the Communist Party and that are operated with funds from state revenue. The organs included in his calculations are: 1) The Party Committees, disciplinary committees, and consultative conferences at every level of government; 2) The specialized Party organs in schools and universities; 3) Organizations set up by the Communist Party, including the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the All-China Women’s Federation, the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, as well as the Party’s youth organizations and numerous, countless other variants; 4) Party organs in police, military, and paramilitary systems, as well as courts and procuratorates; 5) The Party Affairs units inside state-owned enterprises; 6) The Party organs and expenditures for propaganda projects that go on inside Party mouthpiece media; 7) Overseas united front and propaganda work.
Mu Zhengxin’s calculations indicate that the Party’s annual expenditures on the above, just to sustain the Party, came to about 226 billion yuan. Ten years later, all signs indicate that such expenditures have, rather than decreasing, expanded enormously, possibly well beyond that dedicated to the educational system — and certainly far outstripping the budget dedicated to healthcare. Inquisitive readers are invited to examine the Chinese government’s budget for themselves.
Yang Shaozheng’s figures included not merely the costs of sustaining the Party apparatus, but also the loss associated with the constant drain of these costs (including the massive corruption that takes place).
As to Communist Party expenditures, in 2012 the Peking University professor of law He Weifang (贺卫方) wrote on Weibo: “The Party’s treasury cannot be confused with that of the country. Party cadres cannot derive their income from the national treasury, and instead should be supported by the Party’s own fees. Taxpayers pay their taxes to a secular national government, not a Holy Party.” (Professor He’s original post has likely been expunged entirely; the only online traces of it are in forwarded messages like this.) On March 27, 2016, He Weifang proposed on Weibo that national budgetary support be withdrawn from the Communist Youth League.
These demands are of course feeble without a transformation of the political system. The effect they do achieve, however, is to remind the public and the scholarly community to consider these issues. We look forward to Professor Yang Shaozheng and other Chinese or foreign political economists engage in detailed studies and calculations on this issue.
Prior to the Communist Party’s 19th Party Congress in October 2017, Yang was twice called in for ‘chats’ by the Public Security Bureau in Guizhou Province. He told Radio Free Asia in an interview: “The first was on September 19. They said that during the 19th Party Congress I had to keep my mouth shut. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t write anything online, and couldn’t say anything political during class. I said to them at the time: what you’re doing here is illegal according to our national constitution. The second time they came to me was the very evening of the opening ceremony of the 19th Party Congress, at about 9:00 p.m. They first accused me of spreading rumors. I asked them where I was supposed to have spread rumors and demanded that they present the facts. They had no facts to present. In the end they told me explicitly that I had to shut up, and then asked whether I’d do so or not. I told them clearly that I wouldn’t be quiet. They froze my Weibo account. I told my students about what happened.”
Yang Shaozheng’s writings on websites inside China have been blocked or purged, and now only a few of his articles are available on some sites outside the country. In 2012 when Yang’s personal page “Statecraft for the People” (经世济民) on KDNET, a popular Chinese-language website, was deleted without prior notice, he wrote to the website administrator: “Today it was my website that was unconstitutionally disappeared; tomorrow I myself may be, unconstitutionally and without reason, also disappeared; and you, among many others, may also have their websites or books disappeared, or be disappeared yourselves.”
An overseas human rights activist told China Change that, over the weekend, Yang Shaozheng and his family were attempting to travel to Hong Kong when they were intercepted at the border. China Change has been unable to contact Yang so far.
Over the last few years, numerous university professors have been expelled, pulled from classes, sacked, or had their Party memberships rescinded, among other punishments, for their transgressions of thought and speech. A sampling of such cases over the last two years includes:
- Deng Xiangchao (邓相超), the vice dean of the School of Art at Shandong Jianzhu University, who was forced to retire in January 2017 after he forwarded a number of posts making fun of Mao Zedong on Mao’s birthday;
- Zhai Jiehong (翟桔红), associate professor in the law school at the Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Wuhan, who in May 2018 had his Party membership cancelled and was suspended from teaching after criticizing the constitutional amendment (to remove the tenure limit on the head of state in China);
- You Shengdong (尤盛东), a professor of international trade at Xiamen University, who in June 2017 was sacked after being informed on by students for making statements in class that were “opposed to the socialist value outlook”;
- Li Mohai (李默海), an associate professor and director of the political department in the political-law school of Shandong Institute of Business and Technology, who was sacked in July 2017 for “publishing incorrect speech online”;
- Shi Jiepeng (史杰鹏), an associate professor of classical Chinese at Beijing Normal University who in August 2017 was expelled for “publishing incorrect views online over a long period of time,” “crossing the red line of ideology management, violating political discipline, and causing severe damage to the reputation of the university”;
- Xu Chuanqing (许传青), an associate professor at Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture who in September 2017 was subject to administrative punishment after being informed on by students in his Probability Theory class for “making inappropriate comparisons between Japanese and Chinese people and giving free reign to his personal dissatisfaction.”
Liu Shuqing (刘书庆) and Zhang Xuezhong (张雪忠), two university professor who are also human rights lawyers, were also deprived of their teaching qualifications. Liu Shuqing was disbarred from practicing law, and while Zhang Xuezhong has managed to keep his license, he’s been unable to practice due to the university’s concerted interference. Recently Zhang, a law professor, received a harsh warning from the police for publishing a proposal for drafting a new constitution by citizens that aimed to help create a modern political system in China.
In July, the Tsinghua University law professor Xu Zhangrun (许章润), in Japan as a visiting scholar, published a lengthy essay titled “Imminent Fears, Immediate Hopes” which carried out a thoroughgoing critique of — and expressing his deep concern about — Chinese political and social life. In writing the essay, he seemed to have made preparations for whatever would come to him, again showing that in China today, the freedom of expression of intellectuals is deeply imperiled.
In early August, Sun Wenguang (孙文广), a retired professor from Shandong University was set upon and dragged away by half a dozen police officers, who barged into his home while he was in the middle of an interview with Voice of America. The recording cut off live as he was hauled off. He was illegally detained for several days before being allowed to return home, and since then hasn’t been able to speak with journalists. A VOA journalist and news assistant who visited him previously were also temporarily detained.
In September 2017, Professor Yang Shaozheng, no place to publish, no blog to write, and unable to have a social media account inside China, came to Twitter. Few knew who he was. He posted screenshots of his writings and published them on his feed as though speaking to himself. His inaugural tweet reads, “The more I think, the more distressed I become. It’s hard to pursue the truth; it’s hard to speak the truth; and it’s hard to be a truthful person. Being able to freely express ourselves, without terror, is our dream.”
Xu Zhangrun’s China: ‘Licking Carbuncles and Sucking Abscesses’, China Change, August 1, 2018
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Tang Danhong, translated by Anne Henochowicz, January 26, 2018
Elliot Sperling died in his sleep at the end of January, 2017 (the Wikipedia entry puts the date of his death on January 29, 2017). In our unabating sorrow of losing a dear friend, China Change presents a full translation of Ms. Tang Danhong’s interview with Elliot. Ms. Tang (唐丹鸿) is herself a prolific writer about Tibet, and now lives with her family in Israel. The interview was conducted in Chinese on July 27, 2014, in New York City. Ms. Tang published it for the first time in February, 2017. — The Editors
“When I got to Greece, someone said to me, ‘You know, the road doesn’t end in Greece. You could go on, to Turkey, Asia, India…’ I said to myself, ‘Huh, why didn’t I think of that?’”
Tang Danhong: Dgenlags [teacher], let’s start where you began. How did you choose to study Tibet and China?
Sperling: My interest in Tibet wasn’t academic in the beginning. America had the Beat Generation in the 1950s and the hippies in the 1960s. I was 17 in late 60s, growing up in New York, and I lived in the midst of these movements. New York is an international city, and these changes were going on all around me. It was counter-culture: we made a new kind of music, and our thinking, even what we wore, were all part of our rebellion. And a lot of people smoked marijuana and took LSD. We thought we could reach an altered state of consciousness, just like a religion. Young me was so innocent. I yearned for a huge transformation in our consciousness. I read a lot of the Beats: Ginsberg, Kerouac. Psychology, for instance Carl Jung, also had a huge influence on me, and because of Jung I started to learn about the East. I took interest in Eastern culture, Eastern philosophy and so on. The East became more and more interesting to me. For me, it was a new world.
When I got to college I didn’t know what to study. Despite my interest in the East, I hadn’t yet thought of it as a specialization. At the end of my freshman year, a friend and I hitchhiked from New York to California just like Kerouac. We were on the road for many weeks. I thought it was so “beat,” ha ha. I did the same thing after sophomore year, this time in Europe. I flew to London, then hitchhiked from there to Greece. I’d think about what to major in from time to time. The good thing about travel for me was that my thinking was more open in new environments, so I could really mull over just what I wanted to do.
When I got to Greece, someone said to me, “You know, the road doesn’t end in Greece. You could go on, to Turkey, Asia, India…” I said to myself, “Huh, why didn’t I think of that?”
I went back to the US that time, but I decided I would take that trip. Of course my parents weren’t thrilled. I went to class during the day and drove a taxi in the evenings. After one semester I’d made enough money, so I flew to Europe and quickly got to Greece. In Greece I found out there was no need to hitchhike in Asia. Transportation was cheap there, and besides, hitchhiking was a little dangerous. So I hitchhiked from Greece to Istanbul, then took trains and buses to Tehran. I took another bus from Tehran to Mashhad, and from there entered into Afghanistan. I took all kinds of transportation in Afghanistan, even horse-drawn carriage. I went to Herat, to Kandahar, and then to Kabul. From Kabul I took a bus to Peshawar, Pakistan.
People are scared of Afghanistan and Peshawar now, but at that time the people in Iran and Afghanistan were really polite. I don’t know if they were polite to women, but if you were a man they were extremely hospitable to you. I only stayed in Pakistan for a day. I went from Peshawar to the border at Lahore, then crossed into India.
In north India I first got to New Delhi. To answer my travel questions, like where to find a cheap hotel, I had to find my fellow hippie drifters. Back then there were a lot of hotels that were more like dorms, with lots of beds in one room. In Delhi I found a bargain room for less than 50 cents a night. One of the guys in the room was getting ready to head back to the US and passed on to me some of his travel strategies. He said there’s a place in Delhi I would definitely like, called the Tibet House.[i] I went there, where I met Tibetans for the first time. I had no idea of the connection my fate and my future would have with their country.
After that I left Delhi and went to Varanasi, then on to Kathmandu [Nepal]. There were a lot of Bodpa [Tibetans] there, and my fascination with them started. I already had some interest in Eastern thought. I had read some books about that, and also about Buddhism, and I had been to a Japanese Zen center. I was most attracted to Tibetan Buddhism and went to a Buddhist temple in Kathmandu. In the course of my time there, I leaned farther and farther away from religious faith. My interest in Tibetan religion weakened, while my interest in their country, history and society was kindled. I paid more and more attention to the fate of the Tibetans, instead of their religious images.
After I left Kathmandu I went to Darjeeling, to Gangtok and onward. After two or three months of travel, I arrived at Dharamsala. In the 1970s, Dharamsala was an ideal place for a traveler in India. There weren’t many tourists, and few foreigners. There were hardly any Indians in McLeod Ganj. There were basically only Bodpa. Dharamsala was quiet and lush. There were only a few hotels. Foreigners stayed at Hotel Kailash. It’s still there today, but now McLeod Ganj is full of hotels with all the amenities. It’s not like in the old days. Before there were only five buses into Dharamsala every day, and you never saw a private car. Maybe at most the office of the Dalai Lama had a car. If I hadn’t been there in the 1970s and only visited Dharamsala today, I could never have imagined how idyllic and peaceful it used to be. So as soon as I got to Dharamsala, wow! This place is great! The Bodpa are wonderful! It’s then, I realized, that my curiosity about the history and people of Tibet really blossomed.
Back then, I knew a little about India’s long history, and about China’s long history. But Tibet was a big question without an answer: Where did they come from? What was their history? I knew nothing. I started reading and talking to people…
After that I came back to the US and decided to specialize in Tibet studies. Queens College didn’t have Tibet studies, but they did have East Asian studies. At the time East Asian studies really meant China studies. They didn’t even offer anything on Japan. My first Chinese teacher is still alive and well. He’s at least 90 now, living in New York. I just visited him about a month ago. I started in China studies. I took two years of Mandarin and one year of classical Chinese. I also took the electives Eastern thought, Chinese philosophy, East Asian economics, history, and so on.
Back then you couldn’t go to the mainland. China was in the midst of the Cultural Revolution. Nixon had visited, but US-China relations hadn’t been normalized yet. Maybe the US had an office in China, but not an embassy. After I graduated, I decided to go to Taiwan to improve my Chinese. Before I got to Taiwan, I visited India and Dharamsala. I stayed in Taiwan for about a year-and-a-half, then went to India and studied Tibetan there. It was at McLeod Ganj that I got to know Jamyang Norbu.[ii]
I also wanted to earn my Masters and my Ph.D. I already knew that religion interested me, but not in an academic way. I wouldn’t be a Buddhist, and I wouldn’t be a scholar of Buddhism. The first time I went to India, I realized I wouldn’t become a Buddhist. I know that some people think they believe in Buddha or something, but I wouldn’t dare say that myself. Belief involves a religious experience, an experience in your heart, but I understand religion with my mind. The two aren’t the same. Instead, I’m really interested in Tibetan history, society and culture. Where could you pursue advanced study of Tibet in the US at that time? There were only two places to study Tibet history: the University of Washington, in Seattle; and Indiana University. In the end I chose Indiana.
Tang: The Dalai Lama’s oldest brother, Taktser Rinpoche, is a professor at Indiana. Were you his student? Could you talk a little about him?
Sperling: We had several teachers at Indiana, including Taktser Rinpoche, whose full name is Thubten Jigme Norbu[iii]. Professor Norbu was an extraordinary person, a very good person. A lot of students wanted to take his classes just so they could brag, “Oh, I’m Thubten Jigme Norbu’s student.” Some of them didn’t work hard and had nothing to show for it. Thubten Jigme Norbu didn’t bother with them. He simply said that if you took a class with him and want to work hard, he will do everything he can to help you. If a student wanted to read more Tibetan sources, no matter how many, or wanted to learn Mandarin, he would put his heart and soul into you. This is why I had Taktser Rinpoche as one of my two advisors.[iv]
Four-and-a-half years later I had passed my exams, but hadn’t started writing my dissertation. When I embarked on my research, I thought I ought to go back to India. I spent over a year at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives in Dharamsala. I had a good friend, Kun’bzang Phun’tshogs, who didn’t have very good English but who did have excellent Chinese, since he had been at the Central Ethnic University (中央民族学院) in Beijing in the 1950s and 1960s. At that time it was extremely rare to find a Tibetan who could speak Chinese in Dharamsala. There must have only been three or four of them at most. And I’d all but forgotten my Tibetan. So he and I spoke to each other in Chinese. At McLeod Ganj I saw Jamyang Norbu again, and we became good friends. We’re friends to this day.
Tang: What was your research project then? What was the main focus of your work?
Sperling: My dissertation was about China-Tibet relations during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). I wanted to learn when China-Tibet relations had started, as well as the nature and substance of this relationship.
I knew that Tibet was on Manchu Qing maps, and on Mongol Yuan maps, too. But the more I read the more I realized that this relationship wasn’t at all like what the Chinese government claimed. It’s apparently very difficult to explain this to Chinese people. Chinese people today think that everything belongs to them, in large part because of the new historical viewpoint in China. But we believe that the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) was part of the Mongol empire, and the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) the Manchu Qing empire. We consider these two to be “conquest states.” If Tibet is really a part of “China,” then we should have a look at the Ming. The Ming was not a conquest state. The Ming attitude toward the Mongols is also really interesting. They didn’t consider the Mongols to be a “brother nationality” at all.
As I continued my research, I found that Ming dynasty China-Tibet relations were basically that they didn’t have relations. The Chinese think the Ming was the heir to the Yuan, a changing of the guard; but Genghis Khan and Kublai Khan, they did not consider themselves the emperors of China. They considered themselves emperors of the world. How can you simply say that the Ming were the inheritors of the Yuan?
When I was at Indiana I did some research of Chinese and Tibetan sources from the Ming era. My masters thesis was about the Fifth Karmapa [Lama] (1384-1415), who received an invitation from the Yongle Emperor to visit Nanjing. I read the biography of the fifth Gyalwa Karmapa in Tibetan, as well as Chinese texts, and nowhere did I find evidence that China controlled Tibet. I didn’t find any primary texts about Ming control of Tibet. There were none. I didn’t find any in a year at the archives in Dharamsala, either. The interesting thing is that I looked at how Republican China dealt with this, and found that no one at that time was saying that Tibet was a part of China since the Ming. At best they would say “Tibet was brought within China’s border during the Qing.” Now China says Tibet was a part of China during the Ming. It’s nonsense.
Then I came back to the US and took about two years to finish my dissertation. It was about China-Tibet relations during the Ming, titled Early Ming Policy toward Tibet: An Examination of the Proposition that the Early Ming Emperors Adopted a “Divide and Rule” Policy toward Tibet.[v] My conclusion was: they didn’t have any. During the Ming, Tibet was divided by competing regimes among the Tibetans, and continued that way until the Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682). But this had nothing to do with Ming policy; this was internal to Tibet. The Ming emperor’s interactions with Tibet were religious at most, about benefactors and lamas.[vi]
I focused on history. I published “The Tibet-China Conflict: History and Polemics,”[vii] and several articles in academic journals, such as “Tibet and China: The Interpretation of History Since 1950.”[viii] I’ve also written articles [for a general readership]. Some have been translated into Chinese, including “Incivilities,” “The Body Count,” and others.
Tang: As the Chinese government describes it, China has had sovereignty over Tibet since the Yuan dynasty. Chinese people today also see the Manchu Qing dynasty as a Chinese regime, and insist on China’s rule over Tibet by dint of Qing political control there. From a scholarly perspective, how do you view this question? How do Western scholars see it generally?
Sperling: In the common view of Western historians, there was a Great Mongol Empire and a Great Manchu Qing Empire. The Mongols considered both Tibet and China as part of the Great Mongol Empire. China says that Tibet became part of China during the Yuan dynasty, but if you ask Chinese scholars “when during the Yuan dynasty?” each will give you a different answer, because there is no one document, including any imperial edict, that proves that “Tibet belongs to China.” There is none. Tibetan sources are full of evidence that Tibet belonged to the Mongols, but not one document shows they belonged to China. What they showed allegiance to was the Mongol empire. Since the Mongols already controlled Tibet, why would they put Tibet inside the border of “China”? There’s no good explanation for it. So I wrote an article about when Tibet started “belonging” to China.[ix] According to my research, my view is this: the historical record proves that it is incorrect to say that “Tibet came within China’s borders during the Yuan dynasty. It is illogical to say so, and the reasons for my argument are clear.
The Manchu Qing was also a conquest dynasty. The Great Manchu Qing Empire was not at all the same thing as China. China was merely a part of the Great Manchu Qing Empire. The Manchu Qing, through to its final days, used the terminology of imperialism and colonialism in its Tibet policy. For example, at the turn of the 20th century the Manchu Qing official Zhao Erfeng (趙爾豐) proposed that they ought to deal with Tibet the way that Britain dealt with Australia, France with Vietnam, and the US with the Philippines. This language in and of itself proves that it was 100 percent colonialism. These materials from Zhao Erfeng are all in Chinese. You can see from books published in the mainland. Chinese scholars can see immediately that this is an imperialist, colonialist way of thought. Today people think of “empire” as a bad thing, but in Zhao Erfeng’s time “empire” wasn’t a pejorative. All it meant was “we conquered you, you lost to us, and now you must submit to us.” Back then “empire” signified greatness. So there was no need for acrobatics, like “we are a great Chinese nation” or “we’re one big family.”
At the turn of the 20th century, the British and French sailed on the Pacific to China. The Manchu Qing officials they met along the coast had already become Sinicized, and everywhere they saw “Great Qing” written in Chinese, so foreigners didn’t understand the difference between the “Manchu Qing” and “China.” But in Inner Asia, the Great Manchu Qing Empire was what it was. The Russians for example knew the difference between the Great Manchu Qing Empire and China. Since the Manchu Qing managed relations with Russia as well as with Mongolia and Tibet under the same ministry, the Ministry of Minority Affairs (理藩院), you can tell that it was an imperial mechanism. But the British and the French didn’t get it. They refer to the “Chinese Empire” in their official correspondence and treaties and so on, and the Manchu Qing emperor approved of this formulation.
But the Manchu Qing Empire was not China. This is indisputable among Western academics. Many scholars outside of China, including some Sinologists, call their studies the “New Qing Studies” (新清史). Fundamental to “New Qing Studies” is the recognition that the “Qing dynasty” was an “empire,” the Manchu Qing Empire. But the scholarly community in China is unwilling to accept this point. This is a denial of history; it is a false history.
Tang: Have you discussed the issue of Tibet and the Manchu Qing with Tibet scholars in China? What do you think are the differences between the Chinese and Western approaches to historiography?
Sperling: Because of current ideology, Chinese scholars not only cannot say that “the Manchu Qing is not the same as China,” but also must say that “China has been a multi-ethnic, unified country since ancient times,” that “they are all the Chinese nation,” etc. About four years ago, China went back to a theory from the 1980s, that is Tan Qixiang’s (譚其驤) theory. Tan compiled the Historical Atlas of China, and is perhaps viewed by officials as the greatest authority on Chinese historical geography. He wrote a paper on China’s historical territory arguing that China’s historical map ought to be based on that of the Qing dynasty at the height of its reign.[x] What this means is taking the map of the eighteenth-century Manchu Qing’s greatest territory to be “China since ancient times.”
Now if that’s so, shouldn’t Britain also be able to claim India, Australia and so on as its own? Western scholars generally acknowledge that historical territory changed, that it was once this way and is now that way. But not China. They count the Qing dynasty’s largest territory as theirs since time immemorial. As for when Tibet became part of Chinese territory, Tan Qixiang said, “Tibet has been China’s ever since there was human activity on the Tibetan Plateau.” He also had an explanation for the facts that Tibet didn’t belong to Yuan China and that instead they pledged allegiance to the Mongol Empire. The gist of his argument was: we shouldn’t speak of dynasties, for example that the Tang dynasty didn’t control Tibet. Instead, we should say that Tibet and the Tang are both China’s! We should say that the Northern and Southern dynasties, the Tang and Tibet, the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms, the Jin, the Liao… all belong to China! So he already warped the conventional conception of history. What a joke! Not one scholar outside of China would agree with this. I have never encountered this stance in the English-speaking world. But China pushes this stance, this bravado, this narcissism. I refuted this theory.
Furthermore, Western scholars don’t think ethnic identity is fixed. It can also change. For instance, what is the nationality of the French? The same goes for Americans. Since national identity is a product of history, it is also a product of human beings. We’re in Central Park right now. I see the people around us—people with different skin colors, of different races—as American. This is the American identity created by history and by people. But if you were to say that Asian people who arrived in America 200 years ago were also American, no one would agree. But China created the new identity of the one “Chinese nation” out of current political exigency, then stuck the historical background onto the Chinese nation. That’s a distortion of history. In Chinese academic circles, if you doubt the official position on the national identity of the Tibetans, you have separated yourself from the concept of the “Chinese nation,” and that’s a serious problem. When I was in China in 2001 a rather prominent Chinese scholar said, “Foreigners can say that, but not us. We don’t accept it.” Chinese academics are relatively progressive and open in other fields, like comparative literature and philosophy. They can have all kinds of theoretical debates. But not so in Tibet studies. You cannot argue about Tibet’s historical status. Because it is extremely sensitive, you aren’t allowed to have a theoretical debate. I have yet to meet a Chinese scholar who publicly denies the identity of the “Chinese nation.”
There have been great achievements in Tibet studies in China, and some really good scholars. But if you’re talking about the Tibet issue, they’ll go on about “restoring the great Chinese family” and such. If you’re talking about national identity, or historical identity, the Chinese have all kinds of untruths. It’s the same as it was in the 1950s. Yet this 50s scholarship still hasn’t decided on a pretext for [its version of] Tibetan history. There were also people in the 50s who said that Tibet became Chinese territory during the Tang dynasty, that Tibet has been a part of China ever since Princess Wencheng (文成公主) was married off to Songtsen Gampo. Of course Chinese scholars in the 1950s didn’t have much knowledge, and they didn’t really understand the Tibetan language. The argument that “Tibet became Chinese territory under the Yuan dynasty” came later. When I was in China last year there were still scholars saying that Tibet became a part of China under the Qing.
In 2011 I went to China to participate in a closed door meeting about “the Tibet issue and the image of the Dalai Lama.” You may have seen my lecture “Talking about the Tibet issue with Beijing.” When I was done there was a lot of excitement. They said, “We agree with some of Sperling’s points, but not this, not that… I thought about what they said. Yeah, maybe they agreed when I said, “Hi! I’m Elliot Sperling,” and “Thank you for inviting me to participate in this conference.” They may have agreed with me on those points. Otherwise, I don’t think we agreed on anything else. They asked me questions for two hours, but they weren’t real, challenging questions. In fact, you could say it was a struggle session. For instance, someone said, “I don’t accept your comparison of the Dalai Lama with Gandhi.” It was all questions like that.
China does, of course, have some really brilliant scholars. The Tibetan and Chinese sources I’ve mastered, they’ve read them, too. Obviously the books I’ve written about Zhao Erfeng and Tibetan historical geography can’t be openly published in China, but I know they’ve been translated for internal use by officials. They’ve definitely read them. But I’ve never seen anyone address or refute my position in academic journals.
I’ve also talked about Said’s Orientalism. In principle, Said’s theory of Orientalism is useful for China, since mainland scholars like to use “Orientalism” to counter Western criticism, to cast Western criticism of China as Orientalist. Said’s book Orientalism is published in China. Mainland Chinese academics also use Donald Lopez’s Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West to chastise Western scholars for their “Shangri-La-ist” view of the Tibet problem. But Prisoners of Shangri-La can’t be published publicly in China. It’s also only circulated internally. Why? Because in his book, Lopez also criticizes China for what he sees as ruthless domination of Tibet.
Autocracies don’t tolerate dissenting opinions. They use the police and the courts to control dissent. Scholars within China’s [party-state] system can’t just speak on the Tibet issue whenever they like. It’s too sensitive. Different voices—Ilham Tohti, Tsering Woeser, Wang Lixiong and other dissident scholars and writers—could topple the great tower of rewritten history and historical theory that China has built.
Tang: You studied Chinese in Taiwan. Have you had any connections with Taiwanese scholars of Tibet? How do they see the issue of Tibet’s status?
Sperling: I haven’t been to Taiwan in over 20 years. My impression is that there are some Tibet scholars there whose Tibetan is fairly good, but they’re mostly focused on religious studies. The people studying Tibetan history and the Tibet issue mainly use Chinese sources. I was in Taiwan in the 1980s, when the country was still under the authoritarian rule of the Kuomintang. The KMT’s view of the Tibet problem is the same as the CCP’s. The KMT has different policies and handles Tibet differently, but in terms of Tibet’s historical status, they are in agreement with the CCP. Taiwanese history books generally say, “Tibet became Chinese territory during the Qing dynasty.” This is the official KMT line. They still want Tibet to be “a part of China.” The KMT still has a Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs Commission.[xi] They still haven’t gotten rid of it, because they need it as evidence of “one China.” If they dissolved the commission and then Tibet wanted independence, it would no longer be Taiwan’s concern. I think the mainland doesn’t want the commission to be dissolved either, lest Taiwan take one step closer toward independence. The mainland used to call Chiang Kai-shek “Chiang the Bandit,” but now they praise him. The mainland government would rather the KMT keep its policy of “unification.”
Tang: Could you talk about any work you’ve done with the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala? Did the government restrict your research, or offer you support.
Sperling: I also disagree on some points with the government-in-exile. They say that the Manchu Qing didn’t control Tibet, the Mongolians didn’t control Tibet, that these were simply “priest-patron” relationships. This priest-patron relationship I’ll admit, but what exactly is it? These days a lot of Tibetans says that the emperor found Buddhism was a wonderful way to cultivate the mind and the spirit, as if the emperor were just a normal person studying Buddhism. Actually, it wasn’t like that at all. The emperor understood how to use Buddhism for control, for warfare, how to use the “gods” to defeat the enemy. It’s from this angle that I studied how the emperor observed Buddhism. During the Mongol Yuan, Kublai Khan had the same interest in Buddhism, a conqueror’s interest. Of course he thought he could use Buddhism as a means of subjugation. Besides, Buddhism had already spread to the nations under his occupation. I began to research the Western Xia (1038 – 1227) because the Mongols had learned from experience. Before the Tanguts were destroyed, lamas from Tibet came to the Western Xia capital. Tibetan documents record their activities, and I’ve read these sources. The emperor asked the lamas to perform a Mahākāla (Daheitian) kalpa (ritual), to use Mahākāla to resist the Mongol invaders. And it worked: after the kalpa the Tanguts defeated the Mongols in their first battle. This is recorded in both Tibetan and Chinese documents, and the Tibetan ones are more detailed. I’ve written about this in articles on the origins of Sino-Tibetan relations.
I’ve also contributed to the website Rangzen Alliance, like my article “Incivility.” These aren’t academic papers; they’re “good citizen” articles. A good citizen should have a critical eye towards society. I’ve criticized both the government-in-exile and the CCP, but the consequences haven’t been the same. If I go to Dharamsala and criticize the government-in-exile, no one will be hurt or killed. There’s no comparing the Tibetan government and the Chinese government. They’re completely different. But there are aspects of the Tibetan government-in-exile that need to be criticized. There are also Tibetans who say, “Why is he always criticizing the government-in-exile? Why doesn’t he call out the Chinese government?” Actually, I criticize them both, but the way I criticize each one is different. Also, the government-in-exile can’t restrict me in any way. It’s a government-in-exile. It has no sovereignty in India, so it can’t limit me. As soon as I get to Dharamsala I can use the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, as well as the Amnye Machen Institute, an advanced research institute. It’s private, non-governmental. The government has never given me any trouble in Dharamsala; I’ve also lectured there and in the Delhi Tibetan exile community. The government-in-exile never restricted me. As long as someone had invited me to speak, I could do it. Two or three years ago, I went to lecture at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, it was fun: when the library director introduced me, he said, “Last time he slammed us, he really slammed us! Hahaha.”
I’ve also criticized the Dalai Lama. There are some Tibetans who aren’t happy about this. I think if I were a Tibetan exile, this would pose a bit of a problem, but in the eyes of Tibetan exiles I’m a foreign scholar. There really are some Tibetans who don’t like me. But they don’t hinder me — it’s not like the Chinese government not letting me into the country. They’ve never kept me from visiting Dharamsala. They know I won’t live there permanently. After a few weeks or a month or two I’ll come back to America. I can’t say I’m a “veteran” foreigner in Dharamsala, but there are very few foreigners who have maintained ties with the government-in-exile from the 1970s to today. I guess I’m one of them. Anyway, they are happy when I criticize the Chinese government, but they aren’t when I criticize the government-in-exile. That’s about how it goes, heh heh. I call things as I see them, but a lot of people don’t like that. They think: well, you could be a little more diplomatic, a little more polite; you could change your wording here, correct that there. But keep doing this, you won’t even know what you believe anymore.
Tang: What’s your take on the “middle way” policy?
Sperling: The Dalai Lama is a great man, but in the end he is only human, who can make mistakes in his judgement like anyone else. In terms of the “middle way,” I really think he’s wrong. It’s just that a lot of people aren’t willing to come out and say so. I think because of the “middle way” policy, a lot of Tibetans in exile have given up hope. They won’t admit this hopelessness to anyone, so they have given up resisting and sought personal happiness. They think of ways to get an American green card, they think of ways to immigrate to Western countries. A lot of exiles are like this now. They say, “China is now the fantasy-China of the leaders in exile, the Tibet of the future is the fantasy-Tibet of the leaders in exile.” That is, a free Tibet cannot exist under communist rule that respects no human rights. They all know this, and I think that the exile leaders, in their heart of hearts, know this, too. The fight for a free Tibet is a just one, but now the exile leaders are making it pathetic.
Tang: Since 2008, a lot of overseas Chinese people have supported the “middle way.” What do you think about this?
Sperling: I think the factor that makes many Chinese support the “middle way” is the same one that makes the Bodpa support the “middle way.” It’s because the “middle way” is the Dalai Lama’s idea. In China a lot of people know who the Dalai Lama is. Although politically China condemns him, many people still view him as a “living Buddha.” I don’t like this title of “living Buddha”— there are a lot of Chinese people of blind faith. They say the Dalai Lama stands for the “middle way,” so they stand for the “middle way.” But they haven’t considered how illogical the “middle way” is. If they really thought about it, they ought to realize that the “middle way” can’t happen in China. It just can’t. The Chinese authorities really want the Dalai Lama to keep faith in the fanciful, hopeless, impossible “middle way.” They’re happy to see the Dalai Lama go on and on about the “middle way” with the international community, with people on all sides, because to them this is the ideal way for the Dalai Lama to waste time. They’re just waiting for him to die. Even though there are a few naive Chinese people who support the “middle way,” they aren’t the vast majority of Chinese. The vast majority of Chinese don’t think about the Tibet issue at all. There are some overseas Chinese who support the “middle way” not with regard to the Tibetans inside China, but to the Dalai Lama. They’re just like some of the Tibetans outside of China and some foreigners. What they support is not Tibet, but the Dalai Lama, they echo the Dalai Lama. They’re willing to see him as a god. And there are some people who support the Dalai Lama for their own kind of vanity. They use the Dalai Lama’s name to make themselves look good. These people aren’t just among overseas Chinese. There are Westerners like this, and leaders of the government-in-exile, too. They want to use the Dalai Lama’s name, so of course they “support” him. So it’s a sad situation.
The Dalai Lama and some Tibetans in exile say, “We have a lot of friends in China. The Chinese understand our position more and more.” I think this is completely wrong. Some people ask me, “What do the Chinese think about the Tibet issue?”I tell them that the average Chinese person doesn’t even think about the Tibet issue. It doesn’t cross their minds. But if something happens in Tibet, they just listen to what the government tells them. They say, “Didn’t we liberate Tibet? Then why are they betraying us? Why aren’t they grateful?” There are also plenty of people who will add, “The Tibetans are backward and savage. They haven’t developed.” The average Chinese person will only get angry at the government if the government’s interests conflict with their own. They have no civic awareness. If it doesn’t concern them, they don’t think about it, or else they’re afraid to get involved. They won’t think, “Why are there all these clashes between ethnic minorities and the government? Maybe these minorities have a point? In 2008, a lot of Bodpa had this experience in China: some Tibetans in Beijing faced all kinds of insults. Beijing cabbies would refuse to pick them up as soon as they saw they were Tibetan, and would even curse at them. There were hotels that wouldn’t let them in and told them “you aren’t worthy of the kindness the Party and the country has shown you.” Ordinary Chinese know in their hearts that it’s an authoritarian regime, but they refuse to listen, they refuse to think. It’s the same situation in Xinjiang. It’s the same for the Uighurs.
Tang: Whenever the Israeli-Palestinian conflict flares up, there’s a big reaction from the international community, and sharp criticism of Israel. But it seems like there isn’t strong condemnation of China’s Tibet and Xinjiang policies. Do you think that’s so?
Sperling: Yes, it’s not that strong. I think at least it’s for this reason, that when the Dalai Lama says “we seek autonomy, not independence,” Westerners get confused and lose the direction or focus of their support.
Tang: There is a popular view among Chinese dissidents: they believe the Tibet issue has to do with the Communist Party, with human rights. Without democracy in China, Tibet can’t be free; but if China democratizes, the human rights issue would disappear, and Tibet would have no need of independence. What do you think of this?
Sperling: I think it’s still a “Great China” way of thinking. If the Tibet issue is “between the CCP and Tibet,” then how come the 13th Dalai Lama didn’t recognize Tibet as a part of the Republic of China? He fundamentally rejected the notion of Tibet being a part of China. The Tibet issue was influenced by the CCP later on, but at its root it’s not about the Party, it’s a “Great China” problem, a problem between China and Tibet. After the destruction of the Manchu Qing, the revolutionary party and the republic wanted to maintain the empire. They just changed the words they used: “We’re not an empire, we’re a multi-ethnic country.” This is Chinese chauvinism, the idea that the “Middle Kingdom” controls “all under heaven.”
Also, by emphasizing that the Tibet issue is a “CCP vs. Tibet issue,” doesn’t that upset the Dalai Lama? The Dalai Lama often says that he’s a Marxist and that he likes communism. So it’s contradictory for the Tibet issue to be an issue “with the CCP.” On the other hand, the Dalai Lama doesn’t really understand Marxism. When you hear him talk about it, it sounds like some kind of Christian movement that helps the people and so on. He doesn’t understand the Marxist view of history, he doesn’t understand dictatorship, class struggle — this is all Marxist theory. Of course, Marxism differs from Maoism. Marx’s theories are really interesting, but there are huge problems putting them into practice. All of the administrative systems in the world that call themselves Marxist are authoritarian, and none have any regard for human rights. Now the Dalai Lama says he’s not against Marxism. Even Lopsang Sangay has said that he doesn’t oppose communism or communist rule. If you’re not opposed to communist rule, does that mean you accept limits on human rights? Communism is not communism if it doesn’t strip human rights.
Tang: Do you think China’s denial of Tibet’s sovereignty is related to natural resources in Tibet and East Turkestan?
Sperling: I think at first it’s because of their view of history. The Chinese didn’t think about the issue of natural resources during the Xinhai Revolution [in 1911]. They just thought that they belonged to China. Even though they often said that “China was a semi-colony” etc. etc., they themselves fought for the largest colonial boundaries. India wasn’t a semi-colony, it was an actual colony. But they recognize their own history and acknowledge the changes to India’s historical borders. China’s colonial “wounds” were inflicted by other countries controlling Chinese territory, like the British in Hong Kong and Japan’s occupation of Manchuria. So China wants to recover all of its imperial territory!
Tang: I knew of you before as a Tibetologist and Sinologist. Recently, I learned that you’ve put a lot of effort into trying to rescue Uighur professor Ilham Tohti. Then, have you also done research on the “Xinjiang problem”? Could you introduce the work you’ve done on Xinjiang?
Sperling: I’m interested in China’s policies towards nationalities and the situation of ethnic minorities, but I’m not an expert on the Xinjiang issue. Ilham Tohti is a very important person. Look at Ilham’s website, “Uighur Online.”[xii] A lot of information about the Uighurs and Xinjiang was there. I first noticed him in 2009. Public Security had him and no one knew where he was being held, so I signed an open letter calling for Ilham’s release. But I didn’t meet him face-to-face until 2012. It was a truly happy occasion, and we became friends. I invited him to the US, to come to Indiana University as a visiting scholar in 2013-2014, for one year. But, as everyone knows, he was stopped at the airport and wasn’t allowed to leave the country. He’d already been under house arrest several times. He was detained this January . From that point until now, only his lawyer has seen him, and only once.[xiii] He’s in a terrible situation. They’re rough on him. Of course I’m worried about how they’re treating him. Ilham and I have talked a lot. I know he doesn’t support East Turkestan independence. Besides, he writes in Chinese. His Uighur is excellent, but he writes in Chinese. He wants his website and his writing to help Han people in China understand what’s happening in Xinjiang and what the Chinese government is doing there. He wants dialogue. It’s just like Wang Lixiong said: among Uighur intellectuals, Ilham is probably one of the few who doesn’t support East Turkestan independence. He wants dialogue, but have you seen how the Chinese government treats him? They say he’s a separatist, that he praises terrorist activities, and on and on. If this is how they treat someone who’s willing to have dialogue and compromise, then there’s no hope for the Uighurs.
Tang: Even though you’re not a Xinjiang expert, I still want to ask: what’s your general sense of China’s claim that “Xinjiang has been a part of China since ancient times”?
Sperling: First, this is how I see it: since 1949, so much blood has been shed in Tibet and Xinjiang. They’ve been under such brutal rule. Having gone through this, they should decide their future for themselves.
When people ask me if I think Tibet should be independent, I say, “It’s not for me to decide. It’s for the Tibetans to decide.” Of course I still imagine that if Tibet did gain independence, my greatest wish would be for Tibet and China to be equal, to have friendly relations. I hope they would both be democratic countries. And I hope that Chinese people would continue to go to Tibet, not of course to control their economy, but to travel, to study Buddhism, to help Tibet develop. I hope that Bodpa would go to China, too. I hope the Nationalities University would continue to exist. That the two countries would have a relationship of mutual benefit, and that they would both have seats at the United Nations. I don’t want hatred to linger between them. This is my sincere hope. I believe the future of Tibet should be decided by the right of national self-determination. Tibetan history is a great tragedy. Just based on this alone, the Tibetan people have the right to decide what kind of future they want.
Xinjiang is the same. They’ve been under the same kind of brutal rule. These people must freely express their own will. Without the pressure of an authoritarian system on them, they ought to speak freely. It’s their right. As for saying that Xinjiang is historically a part of China, obviously that’s twisting history. China says that artifacts from the Han dynasty have been found in Xinjiang, which proves that Xinjiang belongs to China. But you can find anything on any kilometer along the Silk Road. They’ve also found ancient Chinese coins in Rome. Does that mean that Europe belongs to China? That doesn’t make any sense. It’s the same as China declaring its right to the South China Sea, but in Xinjiang they’re even crazier. Over the past few centuries, Xinjiang has been most closely tied to Central Asia historically, culturally and politically. They didn’t have any connection with China. The Central Asian peoples were made a part of Czarist Russia, then the Soviet Union, and now, they’re no longer within Russia’s borders. Xinjiang’s history is complicated. You can’t say it’s belonged to China since ancient times. That’s Tan Qixiang’s “historical method.” History is always changing. The map we see today isn’t necessarily what it will be 100 years from now.
China labels the peoples of the territories as Chinese “ethnic minorities” just because China ruled over them for a few years or a few decades in the past. But this identity of “ethnic minority” is really problematic. “Ethnic minorities” were created by China alone. It’s not a natural classification. What is an “ethnic minority”? What are their characteristics? In fact, each group is different from the other. But if you look at sources from the 1980s about “ethnic minorities,” all they say is that they’re “good at song and dance” and are “colorful.” Besides this, for example the Tibetans, the Zhuang, the Yi, what connects them? What common features do they share? Language, culture, history? They have nothing in common.
According to the historical and cultural background of the Uighurs, they should be considered Central Asian. China has labeled them East Asian according to their modern history, but from a historical perspective, the Uighurs belong to the Central Asian cultural sphere. When Chinese officials describe the age of a Tibetan mural, or when a temple was built, or any other historical artifact, they don’t use the Gregorian calendar. They use the Chinese calendar system instead: this dates to the Tang dynasty, that to the Song, etc. They do the same in Xinjiang. We know that the native peoples of Xinjiang, their ancestors were Indo-European, Central Asian, and Turkic. They don’t consider themselves to be Chinese. Their languages are Indo-European and Turkic. But China’s logic is this: from the moment a Han Chinese person set foot in a place, it became a part of China. China argues the same point for its claims in the South China Sea. As long as Zheng He crossed that point, it belongs to China. This is bound to create conflict with other countries, and these conflicts have no logical basis.
Tang: Some people compare the Tibet issue and the Xinjiang issue to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What do you make of that?
Sperling: There are those who say these conflicts are the same, but they really aren’t. Perhaps you could say a similarity exists: there are Westerners who support Tibet, but they don’t really understand the many aspects of the Tibet issue. It’s the same for the Middle East. A lot of people say they support Palestine, or that they support Israel, but they don’t arrive at these opinions based on nuanced understanding of the issue.
The problems in the Middle East are quite complicated. The Muslim world also has a tradition of anti-Semitism, though certainly not everyone is like that. In the past, many Muslims societies didn’t recognize the individual, only the ethnicity or the group. Certainly, Jews were persecuted. It was the same in the West. In history, Jews frequently faced pogroms and exile. In medieval Germany, there was an attitude that “the Jews want to get rich, so we must kill them. We can’t let them flourish.” I’m not saying that we should excuse Israel’s current policies. I’m not fond of Netanyahu, and I don’t agree with Likud’s policies. What I mean is, there are anti-Semitic forces in the Arab world, and the Palestine-Israel conflict isn’t one-sided. I must say that I oppose Israeli settlement on the West Bank of the Jordan. I also believe that Israel can engage [Mahmoud] Abbas in dialogue. He’s made a lot of compromises. In this respect he’s better than Arafat. But he hasn’t gotten the chance. This is a big mistake on Israel’s part.
But there are people who don’t consider the complexity of the issue, fantasizing Hamas. For instance, in Gaza, eight months after Israel withdrew—the borders hadn’t been closed—Hamas launched an attack on Israel from Gaza. No one seems to have noticed. But when Israel attacked Hamas, then everyone took notice. This explains the psychological element of why many people in the outside world support Tibet or Palestine. It’s about people and culture, but they’ve forgotten about the nature of the conflict. And I must emphasize, when I say this, it is not to excuse Israel. It’s similar to the Tibet problem. There are those who really don’t understand the complexity of the issue. Like when I criticize the Dalai Lama or the government-in-exile, they tell me, “You’re against Tibet, you’re against the Dalai Lama.” The truth is, our world is full of complexity.
The Palestine-Israel conflict is a real tragedy. The Jews and the Palestinians both have the right to build a state. Some aspects of the Tibet and Xinjiang problems are completely different from the Palestine-Israel conflict. The Han people aren’t fighting to exist. The Palestine-Israel conflict, by contrast, touches on the existence of two peoples. Of course they should both work to come to terms with each other, and both should admit the mistakes made on their side.
Now people generally find and accept simple viewpoints that they see on Facebook or Twitter, and they treat the Palestine-Israel conflict or the Tibet and Xinjiang issues simplistically, too. There are people who say, “All Uighurs are terrorists.” First of all, while we must acknowledge that there have been terrorist activities, that’s doesn’t mean that their struggle for freedom is a terrorist movement; second of all, the fact that some people used terrorist tactics doesn’t justify China’s suppression, just as terrorist activity among some Palestinians doesn’t mean that Netanyahu and Likud are right. And another thing. In Israeli society, there are people who oppose Netanyahu and Likud’s Palestine policies. They can protest and hold demonstrations. There are soldiers who oppose occupation and refuse to serve in the West Bank or in Gaza. Could any of that happen in China? But if you ask most Westerners, “Whose predicament is the worst, the Palestinians’, the Tibetans’ or the Uighurs’?” They’ll say the Palestinians’.
The Jews still face problems in the Western and Muslim worlds. For a lot of people who are anti-Israel—I’m not saying they themselves are anti-Semitic—their view on Israel is anti-Semitic. Recently I’ve seen a lot of anti-Israeli writing that actually says “kill all the Jews.” But look at what the Russians are doing in Ukraine right now. Is anyone saying to “kill all the Russians”? They reserve this language for Israel. They say it’s a Jewish problem. This clearly proves that anti-Semitism still exists in Europe. These people don’t admit that they’re anti-Semitic, but they don’t realize what their words represent. They’ve been influenced by a certain type of thinking in which Jews are especially bad. Of course, if you ask them directly if that’s what they believe, they’ll deny it. Before, they could express these ideas publicly because there was a social basis for anti-Semitism, and they didn’t have to hide their sentiment. Today, while they won’t admit it, they really have been influenced by anti-Semitism.
As I said, I dislike Said’s Orientalism. I think it’s simplistic. It makes sweeping generalizations about Westerners: Westerners are like this, so inevitably they are prejudiced, and elitist, too; they had to press imperialism on the “Orientals,” and it couldn’t have been otherwise; Western literature and art have all been influenced by this elitism, etc. etc. This is ideological, just like the CCP talking about “proletariat thought and proletariat morals,” the idea that every member of the proletariat is exactly the same.
What’s interesting is that Said isn’t willing to say who among those who are anti-Israel have been influenced by the Muslim world, and in which respects. Discrimination against Jews wasn’t all that bad in the Muslim world, even though there were some wealthy Jews, just like there were wealthy Jews in Europe. There are good people in the Muslim world, but there is also discrimination against Jews. I’m not at all saying that if a society is prejudiced, then every non-Jew oppresses every Jew; just as in the American South not every white person is prejudiced and violent against non-whites. There are also black people who have done well there, just like in the North. But they still live in a cruel, prejudiced society. So the situation isn’t simple. Said isn’t willing to apply this method of analysis to the Muslim attitude toward the Jews. There are those who say the Jews forced the Palestinians from their villages — that’s true. On some occasions it was because there was war, on others there was no good reason. It’s complicated; but the first expulsion happened in 1929 in Hebron. It was the Arabs expelling the Jews. They killed a lot of Jews, then forced them all out. Nobody talks about that. I’m not saying that we should excuse Israel’s policies, but Jews do have rights. This is also something they should consider.
What I mean is that the situation is incredibly complex, but people only want to see one simple side of it. Before 1967 Americans thought of Israel as good and Arabs as bad. Now it’s been reversed. People like to simplify problems. When I try to explain the complexity of these issues, people tell me, “Oh, you support Netanyahu.” In India there are Tibetans who tell me, “Oh, you support the CCP. You criticize us instead of them.” There are also people who say, “Sperling always gets a visa to China. He’s definitely a secret agent for the CCP!” It’s like one crazy person saying “Woeser hasn’t been detained? Then she’s got to be a secret agent.” Before he was caught, people said that about Ilham Tohti, too. Now that I’ve been refused entry into China, I wonder what they think about me being a spy, heh heh.
Tang: I heard that an interested party from China has approached you about “collaborative scholarship.” It seems they want to give you research funds. Did this actually happen?
Sperling: Now, this is a funny story. They wanted me to be a spy in the U.S. They said, “You’ve been involved with the U.S. government.” That’s true. During the Clinton administration I was on an advisory committee at the State Department. They said, “Shi Boling (史伯嶺), you know U.S. government officials, don’t you?” I told them, “Yep, I know a few.” They asked who, but I pretended that I couldn’t understand them and didn’t respond. Then they asked, “Shi Boling, you know the American government’s view on the Tibet issue and its Tibet policies, right? We’d like to ask you to write some reports for us.” I feigned misunderstanding again. I said, “I’m very open-minded on the matter. You can look online and see what I think. Everyone knows.” They said, “no, no, we need you to give us an exclusive report.” I said I couldn’t, I refused. This happened in 2010, when I was in Beijing for a conference. I reported it to the US embassy. I told them I’m American, that people in China asked me to be a spy for them back in the U.S. The business cards they gave me were from the Institute of American Studies at the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences. Someone told me it was fake. A few of them, including their boss, invited me to dinner. We had a private room. You know how it goes in China: baijiu, drink, drink, bottoms up, bottoms up… after that I went back to my hotel room.
The next day the conference attendees were taken to visit a few Ming dynasty temples just outside of Beijing. They also treated us to dinner along with two or three other foreign scholars. It was a big banquet. Among the people soliciting me was a man who had all these Tibetan images of the Buddha, very valuable. After the banquet he asked us to go look at his collection. I got back to the hotel around 11 p.m. I was going home the next day. But the phone rang. It was one of those people from the banquet. He said, “Shi Boling, we’d still like to chat with you.” I said, “I’m sorry, it’s very late, I’d like to sleep.” They replied, “Then how about we meet up tomorrow?” I said, “I’m leaving tomorrow” and hung up the phone. They called again at seven or eight the next morning and asked if we could meet. I said, “But I have to leave today,” and hung up. Ten minutes later, they called again: “Hey Shi Boling, we can take you to the airport.” But Woeser had already agreed to take me to the airport. I refused and told them a friend was taking me. I didn’t want to linger in the room any longer. I left the hotel right away and waited for Woeser at a Starbucks nearby.
My guess is this: the first time they asked me to dinner, when they wanted me to write “exclusive reports” for them and I rebuffed them; they hadn’t brought up money. Maybe they thought that was why I had refused. So the next day when they kept pursuing me, it could have been to talk about money. In 2011, when I was a visiting scholar at Peking University, they found me again. The same people asked me to dinner and continued to press me to work with them. Slowly, cautiously, they felt me out. They said, “We’d like to invite you to our office. Think about it. If you’d like to come over, let us know a few days beforehand.” I thought: does their office even exist? Do they need me to tell them in advance so that they can buy office furniture and find some actors to be secretaries? Ha ha. In 2012 I went to Beijing for an international conference at the China Tibetology Research Center. I got there a few days early to show my daughter around the city. I didn’t tell any of the other scholars about our trip. But again I got an email from them saying they knew I would be at this conference and that they wanted me to contact them. The night before the conference they sent another email asking for my cell number. I told them my SIM card was having issues in China, and that if they wanted to meet with me they could find me at the conference. They didn’t show up. Here’s what I think. Maybe there’s a “capitalist” competition in Chinese intelligence. If they want funding from the relevant bureau, they might say, “We want to work with Shi Boling” or some such. It doesn’t matter whether or not I agree to cooperate, but they want to get funding this way. This is my guess. I don’t know what’s really going on.
[i] Throughout the interview, Professor Sperling used the Tibetan words Thubhothi (Tibet) and Bodpa (Tibetan person), rather than the equivalent Mandarin terms, Xizang (西藏) and Zangren (藏人).
[ii] Jamyang Norbu is a Tibetan writer in exile. He was a member of the Tibetan guerrilla group known as Chushi Gangdruk (1958-1974) at their base in Mustang, Nepal. He created the “Green Book,” the Tibetan government-in-exile’s tax system, which has financially supported the government since 1972. He also founded and directed the Amnye Machen Institute in Dharamsala. Norbu moved to the US after living in India for four decades. A supporter of Tibetan independence, Norbu has written a number of books and articles in both English and Tibetan, including the 1989 political commentary Illusion and Reality. His 2000 novel The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes (published as Sherlock Holmes: The Missing Years in 2001 in the US) won India’s Crossword Award for English Fiction and has been translated into more than ten languages.
[iii] Thubten Jigme Norbu (1922-2008), also known as Taktser Rinpoche, was an author and activist devoted to Tibetan independence. He was a professor of Tibetan studies at Indiana University’s Department of Central Eurasian Studies. He was also the oldest brother of the 14th Dalai Lama.
[iv] Because the recording is unclear at this point, I am unable to hear the name of Sperling’s other advisor.
[v] Early Ming Policy toward Tibet: An Examination of the Proposition that the Early Ming Emperors Adopted a “Divide and Rule” Policy toward Tibet. Indiana University dissertation, 1983.
[vii] “The Tibet-China Conflict: History and Polemics.” Washington, D.C.: East-West Center, 2004.
[viii] “Tibet and China: The Interpretation of History Since 1950.” China Perspectives 2009/3. For a more complete list of Sperling’s publications, see Roberto Vitali ed., Trails of the Tibetan Tradition: Papers for Elliot Sperling, Dharamsala: Amnye Machen Institute, 2014.
[ix] “Tibet and China: The Interpretation of History Since 1950.” China Perspectives 2009/3.
[x] Tan Qixiang, “China in History and China’s Historical Borders” (speech delivered at the May 1981 Symposium on the History of Chinese Ethnic Relations, available online)
[xii] Uighur Online, or Uighurbiz, was launched in 2006 and permanently shut down in January, 2014, after the arrest of Ilham Tohti. Over the years of its running, it was repeatedly suspended or attacked, and because of it, Ilham Tohti became a target of intense pressure from police.
[xiii] I interviewed Sperling on July 27, 2014. At that point, Ilham Tohti hadn’t been sentenced yet. Six months later the Urumqi Intermediate Court convicted him of “separatism” and sentenced to life in prison. He is being held at the Urumqi Number One Prison.On March 31, 2014, PEN International gave Ilham the Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award.A number of international figures and organizations have nominated him for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, including the Dalai Lama and Elliot Sperling. On October 11, 2016, Ilham was given the 2016 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. Sperling, who has doggedly supported Ilham, went to Geneva with Ilham’s daughter Jewher Ilham to receive the prize.
Tibetan History Inside and Outside China by Prof. Elliot Sperling at Charles University, Prague, November 11, 2016.
Between China and the World: Issues in Tibet’s History by Prof. Elliot Sperling at the University of Zurich, November 17, 2016.
Chinese original 《唐丹鸿：2014年对美国藏/汉学家埃利亚特·史伯岭教授的访谈》