A Beida lecture on Tibet

As a kind of sister post to my last, here are a few photos from a lecture at Peking University (Beida) titled “the Tibet question”. No sensitive topic left behind at Six … next up, FG practitioners commemorating 6.4!

As you can see, a packed room (my wide-angle lens would have added another couple of dozen faces). My sweat-glands get uncomfortable at the memory. It was an open event, in the evening, but I gather an unusually big audience even for these popular lectures. It seems that Tibet attracts the interest of Chinese students, just as with their Western equivalents.

This is surely out of the issue’s importance for China’s relations with the world, but also – I’d venture - for the same reason which gets the West shouting ‘free Tibet’: the romance and mystery of ‘Shangri-la’. ‘Tibet chic’ is a well established phenomenon in big Chinese cities – a well-off family might hang Tibetan scarves or tangka on their wall and enjoy showing jealous friends pictures of their trip to Lhasa (too expensive for most).

I’m afraid I had to leave after a half-hour of so of the lecture itself. What I heard before I left, though, was the thoughtful Professor Wang saying right off the bat that ‘the Tibet question’ can’t be understood without a solid grasp of the long history behind it – and launching into a potted summary. He did mention the West’s “different perspective” on the issue, which unless I misunderstood his tone was a euphemism for ‘they don’t get it’.

But it’s true – I couldn’t possibly ‘get’ the Tibet question without a lot more reading (not to mention that oxymoron, helpful Chinese archivists). And I didn’t get the impression from the students listening that they thought they did either. (Professor Wang clearly thought he did.)

Time and again, Beida students strike me not as ‘brainwashed’ on such sensitive issues (it’s embarrassing to use the term even to refute it), but keen to learn more, with a sceptical eye to the information given them to boot. And regardless of the obvious and unforgivable propaganda which still passes for history when it comes to Tibet in the last sixty years, lectures on sensitive issues like Taiwan and Tibet in Tsinghua and Beida are a far cry from poker-faced propaganda, if still hard to swallow at times.

Q: “Why doesn’t Marx drink good tea?”

A: “Because all proper-tea is theft.”