Monday, March 24

Have you noticed something very strange about the riots in Tibet?

I've had inquires about why Pundita blog has made no comment regarding the Tibet situation. Some readers remarked that they were confounded by the silence given that early on I'd thrown myself into reporting on the Burma protests and stayed with the story for weeks.

The solution to the mystery is that it depends on how news smells to me. Sometimes I make a huge noise straightway on the basis of earliest news reports. At other times I mentally take on the hunting pose of the Great Blue Heron, who stands motionless for hours on end watching what goes on beneath the water's surface.

My first reaction to the March 10 protest march in Lhasa was, "At this time of year?" Correspondents reminded me that the date was the anniversary of the failed 1959 Tibetan uprising.

I reminded the correspondents that the Chinese considered the Olympics one of the most important and symbolic events in China's modern history, and that every pro-Tibet activist on the planet knew this -- and that China's leaders knew the activists knew.

Everyone also knew that the eyes of the world would be on Lhasa in June, when Beijing had planned a big ceremony to celebrate the arrival of the Olympic torch bearer. I argued that the ceremony would be the logical time to stage a protest in Lhasa that was coordinated with worldwide protests.(1)

After hearing counterarguments I fell into a stony silence. Perhaps I'd overreacted in this instance. Yet I'd been watching the machinations of China's Communist party leaders for many decades. So I asked myself, 'If I were Hu Jintao, what would I do?'

The task for Beijing would be to get Lhasa locked down before June without outraging world opinion. In best bao jia fashion, they would leave the planning and execution of the chore to the Tibet big boss; in this way Beijing's hands would be clean if it ever came out how the boss acted on the order.(2)

Tibet's Beijing-controlled governor and CCP big boss wouldn't dare pen up all the monks and turn Lhasa into an armed camp in June -- not with the world's television cameras trained on the city. Hu Jintao wouldn't want a repeat of Rangoon.

What the local bosses could do was provoke an incident and blame it on the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans in Lhasa. This would create the excuse to lock down Lhasa and all Tibetan regions so they'd be peaceful as the grave by the time June rolled around.

The big boss in Tibet would be conveniently in Beijing attending the 2008 National People's Congress; Tibet's governor, highly unpopular among Tibetans, could take the fall if the cat escaped the bag or the plan went awry.

That pretty much exhausted my attempt to think like China's president. The rest would be taking up a watch of media reports, to see if I could find any facts to fit my theory -- granted a most subjective and unfair approach. But then all's fair when trying to outguess the CCP.

I was looking for signs of the old paddy wagon routine. Draw 'em out, then lock 'em up until the poobahs leave town.

(Of course the routine is by no means a Chinese invention; it's surely as old as cities that had to host visiting VIPs.)

So, after that big buildup, did I snap up anything fishy? I think so. Tomorrow morning I'll display my catch. I warn it's not much, but it's enough to break my silence about the Tibet situation.

1) "In Tokyo, over 100 Tibetans living in Japan and members of a Japanese group supporting Tibetans in exile marched in the Yoyogi Park shouting slogans for protest against China on 16 March. It was originally planned as a part of the torch relay for Tibetan Olympics." -- from Wikipedia article 2008 Unrest in Tibet

2) On bao jia:
WEIFANG, China (2000) -- Rising out of the North China Plain in a jumble of dusty apartment blocks and crowded roads, this is an unremarkable Chinese city in every respect but one: Local police regularly torture residents to death. [...]

Across this country of 1.3 billion, at least 77 Falun Dafa adherents have now died in detention, according to reports by human-rights groups.Weifang, which has less than 1% of the national population, accounts for 15% of those deaths.


The answer has its roots in imperial China, when the country developed a system of social control that is still used today. It puts huge pressure on local officials to comply with central edicts -- but gives them absolute discretion over implementation. For officials running Weifang, that means they were under strict orders to eliminate the huge number of Falun Dafa protesters in their district but faced no scrutiny of the methods they used. [...]

Officials in Beijing set up the framework for the killings one year ago after they became impatient with the continued flow of protesters from around China into the capital. Deciding drastic measures were needed, they reached for a tried-and-true method of enforcing central edicts, one honed over centuries of imperial rule.

Based on the 2,200-year-old bao jia method of controlling society, the system pushes responsibility for following central orders onto neighborhoods, with the local boss responsible for the actions of everyone in his territory. In ancient times, that meant the headman of a family or clan was personally responsible for paying taxes, raising troops and apprehending criminals.

A variant of this is now in use to implement even broader policy goals. After the Communist Party launched economic reforms in the late 1970s, it had great success by signing "contracts" with peasants and factory chiefs, who had to deliver a certain amount of grain or industrial output but were given complete latitude over the methods used. By the late 1980s, provincial governors were also signing similar contracts, being held personally responsible for maintaining grain output in their province or holding down births to a certain level.

Now the problem was Falun Dafa. The government's Office 610, a bureau that was coordinating the crackdown, issued an order in December 1999, telling officials of local governments they would be held personally responsible if they didn't stem the flow of protesters to Beijing, according to Weifang officials. As in years past, no questions would be asked about how this was achieved -- success was all that mattered. [...]
-- from Death Trap: How One Chinese City Resorted to Atrocities To Control Falun Dafa by Ian Johnson, who received a Pulitzer Prize for his series of articles on Falun Gong.

For more on bao jia, see November 2005 Pundita post Bao Jia: nine families die with one person's crime

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