March 27, 2008

Holy Man

What does the Dalai Lama actually stand for?

Last November, a couple of weeks after the Dalai Lama received a Congressional Gold Medal from President Bush, his old Land Rover went on sale on eBay. Sharon Stone, who once introduced the Tibetan leader at a fundraiser as “Mr. Please, Please, Please Let Me Back Into China!” (she meant Tibet), announced the auction on YouTube, promising the prospective winner of the 1966 station wagon, “You’ll just laugh the whole time that you’re in it!” The bidding closed at more than eighty thousand dollars. The Dalai Lama, whom Larry King, on CNN, once referred to as a Muslim, has also received the Lifetime Achievement award of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. He is the only Nobel laureate to appear in an advertisement for Apple and guest-edit French Vogue. Martin Scorsese and Brad Pitt have helped commemorate his Lhasa childhood on film. He gave a lecture at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, in Washington, D.C., in 2005. This spring, in Germany, he will speak on human rights and globalization. For someone who claims to be “a simple Buddhist monk,” the Dalai Lama has a large carbon footprint and often seems as ubiquitous as Britney Spears.

As Pico Iyer writes in his new book, “The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama” (Knopf; $24), it is easy to imagine that the Dalai Lama is “the plaything of movie stars and millionaires.” Certainly, like all those who stress the importance of love, compassion, gentle persuasion, and other unimpeachably good things, the Dalai Lama can appear a bit dull. Precepts such as “violence breeds violence” or “the quality of means determine ends” may be ethically sound, but they don’t seem to possess the intellectual complexity that would make them engaging as ideas. Since the Dalai Lama speaks English badly, and frequently collapses into prolonged fits of giggling, he can also give the impression that he is, as Iyer reports a journalist saying, “not the brightest bulb in the room.”

His simple-Buddhist-monk persona invites skepticism, even scorn. “I have heard cynics who say he’s a very political old monk shuffling around in Gucci shoes,” Rupert Murdoch has said. Christopher Hitchens accuses the Dalai Lama of claiming to be a “hereditary king appointed by heaven itself” and of enforcing “one-man rule” in Dharamsala, the town in the Indian Himalayas that serves as a capital for the more than a hundred and fifty thousand Tibetans in exile. The Chinese government routinely denounces him as a “splittist,” who is plotting to return Tibet to the corrupt feudal and monastic rule from which Chinese Communists liberated it, in 1951. Many Tibetans in exile grumble that he is too attached to nonviolence, and too much in the grip of Western event coördinators, to prevent the Chinese from colonizing Tibet.

March 14, 2008

Chinese Police Clash With Tibet Protesters

Chinese Police Clash With Tibet Protesters

BEIJING — Violent protests erupted Friday in a busy market area of Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, as Buddhist monks and other ethnic Tibetans clashed with Chinese security forces. Witnesses say the protesters burned shops, cars, military vehicles and at least one tourist bus.

The chaotic scene marked the most violent demonstrations since protests by Buddhist monks began in Lhasa on Monday, the anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. The protests have been the largest in Tibet since the late 1980s, when Chinese security forces repeatedly used lethal force to restore order in the region.

The developments prompted the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, to issue a statement, saying he was concerned about the situation and appealing to the Chinese leadership to “stop using force and address the long-simmering resentment of the Tibetan people”.

By Friday night, Chinese authorities had placed much of the central part of the city under a curfew, including neighborhoods around different Buddhist monasteries, according to two Lhasa residents reached by telephone. Military police were blocking roads in some ethnic Tibetan neighborhoods, several Lhasa residents said.

Meanwhile, the United States Embassy in Beijing warned American citizens to stay away from Lhasa. The embassy said it had “received firsthand reports from American citizens in the city who report gunfire and other indications of violence.”

The Chinese government’s official news agency, Xinhua, issued a two-sentence bulletin, in English, confirming that shops in Lhasa had been set on fire and that other stores had closed because of violence on the streets. But the Chinese news media otherwise carried no news about the protests. The disturbances appear to be becoming a major problem for the ruling Communist Party, which is holding its annual meeting of the National People’s Congress this week in Beijing. China is eager to present a harmonious image to the rest of the world as Beijing prepares to play host to the Olympic Games in August.

March 10, 2008

China fabricated terror plots: Uighur leader in US

China fabricated terror plots: Uighur leader in US

Exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer Monday accused China of fabricating alleged plots against the Olympics, and even of scheming to carry out its own terror attacks, to blacken her community's name.

"It's completely untrue. All these allegations are falsified," Kadeer, who joined her US-based husband in 2005 after six years in a Chinese jail, told AFP through an interpreter.

"The real goal of the Chinese government is to organize a terrorist attack so that it can increase its crackdown on the Uighur people," the 61-year-old head of the Uyghur American Association said.

Wang Lequan, Communist Party chief in the northwestern Xinjiang region, said Sunday that a January raid on "terrorists," which resulted in the deaths of two militants and 15 arrests, had foiled a planned attack directed at the Games.

The alleged plot was the second foiled attack linked to Muslim separatists in Xinjiang, home of the Uighur community, to be announced over the weekend.

Passengers on a China Southern Airlines flight attempted to crash a Chinese airliner on Friday flying to Beijing from Urumqi, capital of the region, an official from the region said on Sunday.

The plane was subsequently diverted to the city of Lanzhou in Gansu province, where "suspicious liquids" were removed, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said.

Kadeer is seeking talks at the White House and the US State Department about the apparent plots, which she insisted were fabricated "to create fear to attract support from the Chinese people and the international community."

"The Uighur people are struggling for their freedom, but the Uighur people will never harm innocent people. Our hearts are kind," she said.

February 24, 2008

The Connection Has Been Reset

The Connection Has Been Reset

Many foreigners who come to China for the Olympics will use the Internet to tell people back home what they have seen and to check what else has happened in the world.

The first thing they’ll probably notice is that China’s Internet seems slow. Partly this is because of congestion in China’s internal networks, which affects domestic and international transmissions alike. Partly it is because even electrons take a detectable period of time to travel beneath the Pacific Ocean to servers in America and back again; the trip to and from Europe is even longer, because that goes through America, too. And partly it is because of the delaying cycles imposed by China’s system that monitors what people are looking for on the Internet, especially when they’re looking overseas. That’s what foreigners have heard about.

They’ll likely be surprised, then, to notice that China’s Internet seems surprisingly free and uncontrolled. Can they search for information about “Tibet independence” or “Tiananmen shooting” or other terms they have heard are taboo? Probably—and they’ll be able to click right through to the controversial sites. Even if they enter the Chinese-language term for “democracy in China,” they’ll probably get results. What about Wikipedia, famously off-limits to users in China? They will probably be able to reach it. Naturally the visitors will wonder: What’s all this I’ve heard about the “Great Firewall” and China’s tight limits on the Internet?

February 23, 2008

China, in New Role, Presses Sudan on Darfur

China, in New Role, Presses Sudan on Darfur

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Amid the international outrage over the bloodshed in Darfur, frustration has increasingly turned toward China, Sudan’s biggest trading partner and international protector, culminating in Steven Spielberg’s decision last week to withdraw as artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics.

And it may be working.

China has begun shifting its position on Darfur, stepping outside its diplomatic comfort zone to quietly push Sudan to accept the world’s largest peacekeeping force, diplomats and analysts say.

It has also acted publicly, sending engineers to help peacekeepers in Darfur and appointing a special envoy to the region who has toured refugee camps and pressed the Sudanese government to change its policies.

Few analysts expect China to walk away from its business ties to Sudan, but its willingness to take up the issue is a rare venture into something China swears it never does — meddle in the internal affairs of its trading partners.

“China in my view has been very cooperative,” said Andrew S. Natsios, the former special envoy of President Bush to Sudan. “The level of coordination and cooperation has been improving each month.”

February 17, 2008

The Pyrotechnic Imagination

The Pyrotechnic Imagination

Cai Guo-Qiang says his favorite artistic moment is the pregnant pause between the lighting of the fuse and the detonation of the gunpowder. “There is a pressure in it to be preserved, and then it explodes,” he says. “This moment belongs just to the artist and the work.” On a breezy afternoon last September, in a large A-frame shed at the Grucci fireworks plant on Long Island, he was setting the stage. With the help of his wife, Hong Hong Wu, he cut a long green fuse into segments, then laid the pieces carefully on eight contiguous panels of handmade Japanese rice paper.

After three young female assistants placed stencils in the shape of an eagle’s wings, head and beak onto the panels, Cai, a onetime serious student of martial arts, moved gracefully as he sprinkled different grades of gunpowder, some custom-made for him. “I don’t know what the result will be, even though I preplan,” he told me, speaking through an interpreter in Chinese. “It is like making medicine — a little of this, a little of that, watch it and taste it a little and see how it is working. My work is like a dialogue between me and unseen powers, like alchemy.” (In Chinese, the word for gunpowder is literally “fire medicine,” an allusion to the eighth-century Chinese alchemists who accidentally invented it while searching for a magic elixir.) The assistants lifted the stencils, and Cai scattered and rubbed gunpowder in the white space that had been covered. Then the women put the stencils back on the panels, and he tossed on more gunpowder. The entire process was repeated for another image, this one of a pine-tree branch below the eagle’s claws.

A lean man who styles his hair in a brush cut with the sides buzzed, Cai (his full name is pronounced “sigh gwo chee-yang”), who is 50, wore his usual attire of a T-shirt, chinos and sneakers. He issued instructions in a very soft voice and beamed occasionally in a beatific, childlike smile. With a knife, he scored some of the green-coated fuse segments. “The reason I cut lines on the surface of the wrapping is to slow down the fuse,” he told me. “I spend so much time preplanning how to lay the fuses so as to have control and play against the power of the powder and the fuses. But when it gets to a high tide, it doesn’t always happen as expected, even if preplanned.” Wu tore other fuses, slower ones with a covering of brown paper, and Cai scattered the pieces of fuse where the black powder was densest. “If I wanted to depict the tree just as a tree, I could paint it,” he continued. “I want to find the power direction, the energy source that moves through the tree.” He considered the bird to be more problematic than the branch. “I want an eagle with a feeling of lightness, like floating in the air, and the tree at the bottom is very powerful. But it is difficult. It is easier to use gunpowder to make a powerful explosion than to show lightness.”

February 10, 2008

Olympic Kow Tow

Olympic kow tow as British athletes are forced to sign contracts banning criticism of Chinese regime

Past shame: The England team give Nazi salutes at the 1938 Berlin Olympics, a memory which critics do not want to see recalled in China.

British Olympic chiefs are to force athletes to sign a contract promising not to speak out about China's appalling human rights record – or face being banned from travelling to Beijing.

The move – which raises the spectre of the order given to the England football team to give a Nazi salute in Berlin in 1938 – immediately provoked a storm of protest.

Yesterday the British Olympic Association (BOA) confirmed to The Mail on Sunday that any athlete who refuses to sign the agreements will not be allowed to travel to Beijing.

The BOA took the decision even though other countries – including the United States, Canada, Finland, and Australia – have pledged that their athletes would be free to speak about any issue concerning China.

To date, only New Zealand and Belgium have banned their athletes from giving political opinions while competing at the Games.