When a tactic proves politically successful for one group, others often adopt it. Students all over the US and UK, for instance, have taken a page from the extremist Muslim playbook, equating “I’m offended” with “I have been injured”—a justification for censoring others. And in Berkeley, the anarchists go further, threatening violence when they’re offended, like those Muslims who went on a rampage after the Danish cartoons were published.
Now it’s happened at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), where a group of mainland Chinese students have taken a tactic from college Leftists. It’s all detailed in an article at Quartz: “Chinese students in the US are using ‘inclusion’ and ‘diversity’ to oppose a Dalai Lama graduation speech.”
What happened is that UCSD invited the Dalai Lama, a much beloved figure but to some, including the late Christopher Hitchens, a flawed one. All in all, though, I see him as fairly innocuous—one of those religious leaders who doesn’t do much damage. I do take issue with those who claim he’s pro-science—even though he wrote a book saying Buddhism was compatible with science—as he also accepts reincarnation and karma: numinous and unscientific beliefs.
But the mainland Chinese see things differently. What happened to Tibet, of course, was that the People’s Republic of China annexed that land in 1951, and, after an unsuccessful revolt, the Dalai Lama fled to India, where he resides with his followers. Since then, the Chinese have waged a relentless campaign to de-Tibetanize the country, pouring Han Chinese settlers into it, and engaging in human rights violations, including, according to an Amnesty International report, executions, tortures, extrajudicial killings. sterilization, and forced abortions, as well as the closing of monasteries. When I visited Tibet about 14 years ago, the monks all beseeched me on the sly for pictures of the Dalai Lama, which are illegal. (One English woman was even assaulted by Chinese soldiers for wearing a Sergeant Bilko tee shirt, since Phil Silvers, who played the sergeant, supposedly resembled the Dalai Lama.) The old Tibet and its people are rapidly disappearing.
This anti-Tibetan animus was further driven home to me when a young professor who came from mainland China, but had a job in the U.S., went on a rant to me about the Dalai Lama, asking me if I realized that he “drank human blood from a skull.” Of course young Chinese are taught that the Dalai Lama is a figure of divisiveness and rebellion. and he’s called a “terrorist”, so I eventually understood.
Now pre-Chinese Tibet wasn’t perfect by a long shot: it had the remnants of a feudal system, only a step from slavery, and many people were mistreated. But one can’t say that it’s palpably better now, especially for the Tibetans, who are slowly being driven to extinction by the Chinese, and are forcibly denied many of their traditional religious perquisities.
Anyway, UCSD’s invitation to the Dalai Lama angered the university’s Chinese students, who said he was an inappropriate speaker because he was an oppressor, because he was divisive, and because his invitation showed a “lack of respect” to Chinese students. Notably, his choice was said to show an “ethnic secessionism” equivalent to Trump’s xenophobia, an anti-egalitarianism, and a lack of cultural sensitivity to Chinese students. (The students’ objections are detailed in the article.) What was surprising was the students’ and alumni’s use of social justice rhetoric:
In a letter addressed to the university’s chancellor, the UCSD Shanghai Alumni Group used similar rhetoric, invoking “diversity” to justify its opposition.
As Chinese alumni, we are proud to be part of the growing UC community because of its diversity and inclusiveness. When addressing such a diverse community, there is a greater responsibility to spread a message that brings people together, rather than split them apart. During the campus commencement, there will be over a thousand Chinese students, families, and friends celebrating this precious moment with their loved ones. If Tenzin Gyatso expresses his political views under the guise of “spirituality and compassion,” the Chinese segment of this community will feel extremely offended and disrespected during this special occasion.
At UCSD, the Chinese-student opposition to the invitation came instantly. Just hours after the announcement, the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) issued a lengthy, Chinese-language note on WeChat saying it had communicated with the Chinese consulate about the matter.
UCSD is a place for students to cultivate their minds and enrich their knowledge. Currently, the various actions undertaken by the university have contravened the spirit of respect, tolerance, equality, and earnestness—the ethos upon which the university is built. These actions have also dampened the academic enthusiasm of Chinese students and scholars. If the university insists on acting unilaterally and inviting the Dalai Lama to give a speech at the graduation ceremony, our association vows to take further measures to firmly resist the university’s unreasonable behavior. Specific details of these measures will be outlined in our future statements.
We don’t know what these “further measures to firmly resist the university’s unreasonable behavior” will be; I hope they’ll consist of peaceful protests. In fact, I’m pretty sure they will be.
Of course nobody knows what the Dalai Lama would actually say in his address, but I strongly suspect he’d stay away from matters politic. What strikes me about this protest is that the Chinese students who object come from a country that’s dedicated to wiping out a cultural minority. How dare they protest the Dalai Lama on grounds of promoting “cultural diversity” and “respect”? And it’s also striking that they’ve adopted the language of social justice warriors. As the article reports:
“If there were an objection to the Dalai Lama speaking on campus 10 years ago, you would not have seen the objection from Chinese students being framed within the rhetoric of diversity and inclusion,” says professor Jeffrey Wasserstrom, who researches modern Chinese history at the University of California, Irvine. “There is a borrowing of rhetorical strategies.”
Dr. Tsering Topgyal, a Tibetan native who received his master’s degree at UCSD and now lectures at the UK’s University of Birmingham, called diversity “an expedient notion to latch onto given its importance in both rhetoric and substance in the US and academia.” But he questions its appropriateness as a framing device for this specific grievance:
“If the Chinese students wish to exploit diversity, they would come across as more convincing if they were more committed and supportive of this principle back home. If they are so committed to diversity, it behooves them to be more accepting of the Dalai Lama’s talk, especially since I am sure that many of the non-Chinese student community would wish to hear the Dalai Lama.”
Let’s face it: these Chinese students are neither oppressed nor victims. If anybody is, it’s the Tibetans. How ironic, then, that the Chinese use the language of victimhood in their protests. Of course they have every right to protest, but they really should absorb a bit more history.