- There were moments when everything -- the ethnic tension, the rugged individualism, the hard, bright sun and the high, bare mountains -- seemed more like a Jack London story than a real society. One day some American friends and I hired a driver, a twenty-five-year-old Sichuanese named Wei, who was nursing a defeated 1991 Volkswagen Santana. He had a two-year-old son at home, and he hoped to earn enough money by carrying passengers -- though he wasn't registered to do so -- to buy a new car in six months. We agreed to pay him $36 if he drove us to Damxung, five hours north of Lhasa. Drive he did -- past the police checkpoint, where he faked his credentials ("It's simpler that way," he explained), and past a Land Rover full of foreigners driven by a Tibetan, who, realizing our driver wasn't registered, swore he'd turn him in at Damxung. "It's because I'm Han," Wei said grimly. "And at Damxung the police will be Tibetan." He drove faster and faster, racing ahead of the Land Rover, until finally he hit a bump and ruptured the fuel line.
- The car eased to a stop in the middle of nowhere. To the west rose the snow-topped Nyenchen Tanglha Mountains. The Tibetan driver cruised past, glaring. Wei cut a spare hose and patched the leak, and then he addressed the problem of injecting fuel back into the carburetor. He unhooked the fuel line and sucked out a mouthful of gas. Holding it in his mouth, he plugged the line back in. Then he walked around the front of the car and spit the fuel into the carburetor.The car started. I could see Wei working the taste of gasoline around his mouth, and then, a few minutes later, he took out a cigarette. Everybody in the car held his breath -- everybody but Wei, who lit the cigarette and sucked deeply. He did not explode. He stared ahead at the vast emptiness that stood between him and $36, and he kept driving.
- That was the way a Sichuanese did things in Tibet. Gasoline was bitter but he ate it, the same way he ate the altitude and the weather and the resentment of the locals. None of that mattered. All that mattered was the work he did, the money he made, and the promise that if he was successful, he'd go home rich.
- PERHAPS the most hopeful moment in recent Han-Tib=etan relations came shortly after 1980, when the Chinese Party Secretary, Hu Yaobang, went on a fact-finding mission to Tib=et and returned with severe criticisms of Chinese policies. He advocated a two-pronged solution: Chinese investment was needed to spur economic growth in Tib=et, but at the same time the Han should be more respectful of Tib=etan culture. Cadres needed to learn Tib=etan; the language should be used in government offices serving the public; and religion should be allowed more freedom.
- There's no question that such respect is sorely needed, especially with regard to language. I never met a single government-sent Han worker who was learning Tib=etan -- not even the volunteers who would be there for eight years. And in Lhasa at the Xinhua bookstore, the largest in the city, I found not one textbook for Chinese students of Tib=etan -- books for foreign students, yes, but nothing for the Chinese.
Update: A PR challenge for China (see all comments below the post)
- Kamm's suggestion are along my thoughts. China really do not need a PR firm, as it has done so badly that anyone could help it fix the mess