Monday, April 20, 2009

Let's Talk About Tibet (II)

In recent issues of World Journal (世界日报), there was an interesting comparison of “two Lhasa’s,” written by three co-authors, Messrs Yin, Fei and Yu from the Bay Area. The two Lhasa’s in question were the Lhasa in Tibet and the “little Lhasa” established by the Dalai Lama in upper Dharamsala upon his exile from Tibet in 1959. In the interest of introducing the results of their research to a broader English reading public, I have loosely translated some of their major findings and observations in this blog.

When Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959, the Lhasa he left behind had a population of 29,000. Of this total, 14,000 were monks and nuns that did not contribute to the economy and 4,000 were homeless beggars, all were supported by a working population of 11,000. By way of comparison, in America for every 10,000 population, the average is 24 in the clergy and 2 homeless. Obviously the economic burden of the working class in the Lhasa Dalai Lama left behind was unimaginably onerous to say the least.

On the other hand, the little Lhasa in Dharmsala had all the advantages of a roaring new beginning. The followers of Dalai Lama were the elites of Tibet. They were educated, skilled and wealthy. They knew what it would take to set up an exile government. Furthermore, Dalai Lama and his cohort had the explicit support of the CIA and the State Department, to the tune of $2-3 million in annual subsidy. Lastly, Dalai Lama took his personal wealth with him to India. Just the antiquities he took with him were judged to be worth $200 million in today’s dollars. He also owned approximately 8 tons of gold and 4,750 tons of silver, worth $8.7 billion in today’s dollars. In other words, Dalai Lama had plenty of assets to establish a new Lhasa in style.

So, after 50 years, how do the old Lhasa in Tibet compare to the little Lhasa in India?

The population of Lhasa has increased from the original 29,000 to 300,000 Tibetans, while the population of little Lhasa remained static at 30,000 of which about 5000 are Tibetans.

In Tibet’s Lhasa, there used to be a total of 4 automobiles, bought by the 13th Dalai Lama, the predecessor to the current Dalai Lama. Today, there are 16,000 vehicles in Lhasa. In little Lhasa, only the Dalai Lama and senior government officials have cars, none of the regular Tibetans own cars.

In 2007, Lhasa replaced all plastics shopping bags with textile bags, and the practice has now spread to all of Tibet. Little Lhasa continues to be littered with plastics bags fluttering in the wind. There are 110 public toilets in Lhasa, none in little Lhasa.

There are two public reading facilities (书楼) in Lhasa and 17 book stores, of which 16 sell books in Tibetan language and 4 sell sutras and Buddhist scriptures. In little Lhasa, there is not one bookstore that specialize in Tibetan books.

In Lhasa, by 2007 Tibetan language was taught for the first nine years of school but has now expanded to 12 years of school. In little Lhasa, Tibetan language is taught up through first 5 years of school and everything is then taught in English from the sixth grade on.

In the 50 years of existence, Dalai Lama received $150 million of financial support from the U.S. government—generous by American standards of foreign aid but pale by the amount Beijing has invested in Tibet, a total closer to $15.4 billion.

During the Cultural Revolution, many of the temples and historic structures were damaged or destroyed by the “Red Guards,” many of whom were ethnic Tibetans. Beijing has since allocated the necessary funds to restore and repair these structures and publicly apologized to the people of Tibet. The Dalai Lama has never apologized for the crimes against humanity committed by the religious government under his rule before his exile.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Raising the image of "Made in China"

Since the rash of unfavorable publicity on poorly made products from China, some even with deadly consequences, I have been thinking about this matter. China has become such a dominant manufactuer of goods that any negative publicity hurts the image of all the products made in China. The damage can be enormous affecting not just export sales but the lingering reputation that China makes only shoddy goods.

Yet, given China's enormous population and geographical breadth, assuring product reliability and conformity to accepted standards from every manufactuer is a daunting if not impossible task. The irony is that as China become more successful as the global supplier, the task of protecting the image of products from China become ever more challenging.

In order to rectify the image of goods made in China, I have been an advocate for the Beijing Central Government to establish a website where any person or company can register and complain about quality and other problems they encounter from suppliers in China. In such a website, the complaint should identify the party and the location of the party as well as describing the nature of the dispute.

This approach can have three major benefits:

(1) By erecting such a site, China is proclaiming to the world that the government is promoting transparency in business transaction and is encouraging buyers from all over the world to help China maintain the consistent quality of products made in China.

(2) The information on the website can help QSIQ (full name: General Administration of Quality Supervision Inspection and Quarantine) identify the trouble spots and focus their surveillance and enforcement efforts in problem regions of China.

(3) Local officials are no longer motivated to abet, shelter or protect offending suppliers of sub-quality goods, since such producers can run and hide but the local officials cannot.

The immediate impact of such a website is to raise the confidence of buyers and consumers of goods made in China.

In order for such a website to realize its potential, it must be easy to use and must be tamper proof. Anyone wishing to register a complaint may not do so anonymously but must provide verifiable information about him/herself and the organization he/she is representing. The identity of the complainer must be kept confidential and available only to the people managing the website.

To encourage participation, the government may even consider offering a reward or suitable recognition as a friend of China for each complaint that leads to arrest of the offending party.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Let's Talk About Tibet

Hard facts and data on Tibet are hard to come by, most come from Beijing which folks in the West tend to reflexively dismiss as propaganda. I have just returned from Beijing where a retrospective on the 50 years of reform in Tibet is on display. I propose to focus on various statistical data presented at the exhibit and examine them for possible validity and credibility.

Nobody knows exactly how many Tibetan exiles live outside of China. A general consensus is around 150,000. Using this number as base, there are around 18 to 19 Tibetans living inside Tibet for every exile outside of China. Since there are slightly more Tibetans living in surrounding provinces outside of Tibet, we are on reasonably safe grounds to assume that there are 40 times more Tibetans inside China than out.

I find it strange that Dalai Lama and his cohort representing 2.5% of all the Tibetans are regarded as the legitimate voices representing all the Tibetans. His Holiness and most of his lieutenants have not seen Tibet for 50 years. Their assertions and statements about Tibet surely could not be more accurate than those coming from Beijing.

According to the exhibit in Beijing, the population in Tibet before the reform was roughly divided into three groups of people. The first group consisted of government officials, monks in monasteries and those of nobility made up about 5% of the population. The major group of serfs made up about 90%. The so called serfs have no rights and were obligated to provide free labor to the land owning class. The remaining 5% were called lang sheng (郎生), a genteel sounding name for the unfortunate group of people that were owned by the ruling class and treated like livestock.

The ruling class owned approximately 99.7% of all the agriculture land divided as follows: Local government officials - 38.9%
Monasteries - 36.8
Nobility - 24.0
Self supporting Tibetans 0.3

After Beijing suppressed the insurrection in 1959 that led to exile of the Dalai Lama to India, the central government began land reform in earnest which was completed by October 1960. During this period, approximately 85% of the land was redistributed to 200,000 households of former serfs and slaves, representing about 800,000 people that became land owners. There were approximately one million Tibetans living in Tibet then. The land distributed was equivalent to about 187,000 hectares.

Compared to the grain output before land reform, the yield in 2008 has improved by more than 4 fold and total heads of livestock increased by 2.5 fold. Nonetheless, even today locally derived revenue accounts for barely over 6% of the total budget, with the rest of Tibet’s annual expenditure coming from the central government subsidy.

The life expectancy in Tibet has improved from 35.5 years in 1959 to 67 in 2008. Today, the number of color TV’s in the urban area is 131 per 100 households and 62 TV’s per 100 households in the rural area. Even so, the exhibit admitted that the per capita GDP in Tibet is almost 40% below national average.

Approximately 98.5% of Tibetan children now attend primary schools and about 95% of the schools offer bilingual courses in both Chinese and Tibetan. In 1951, more than 95% of the Tibetan population was illiterate.

Are these facts and figures about Tibet “reliable”?

China has over 50 identifiably distinct ethnic minorities living in China. The policy of the central government is to extend favorable treatment to each ethnic group such as allowing more than one child per family, affirmative action influenced admission standards to higher education and bi-lingual education. The policy is to preserve ethnic diversity and not to eliminate them. Tibetans are treated no different from other ethnic minorities.

A world congress on Buddhism has just been concluded in Hangzhou before the venue moved on to Taiwan. The practice of Buddhism is flourishing in China and there is no evidence of any policy to discourage worship. Unless “cultural genocide” is strictly defined as preserving the good old days before the Communists entered Tibet, there is no indication of genocide of any kind taking place in China.

The “good old days” when Dalai Lama ruled Tibet were ghastly and brutal to most of the ordinary Tibetans. Not only there were no highways, TV’s and telephones, the exhibit showed plenty of photos of Tibetans with feet, hands, eyes or noses cut off as punishment meted by their masters.

Surely there can be no doubt that the lives of most Tibetans are better today than it was fifty years ago.