The ICT reports on an interesting, if temporary and idiosyncratic, development in rural Dhrango County in Kham (near Nyarong; outside of the Tibet Autonomous Region): at the time of the Dalai Lama’s birthday a couple months ago, instead of preventing the public from celebrating, local officials actively promoted the celebrations. They apparently handed out photographs of the Dalai Lama and, according to one source, they even “gave a speech in praise of the Dalai Lama”! It’s not unprecedented for CCP officials in rural areas to organise religious festivals, such as, for instance, a festival honoring a local god or King Gesar, etc.; but a living political figure is something different, and the Dalai Lama is normally considered radioactive in Chinese politics.
The ICT article emphasises that this move no doubt temporary and intended to serve a particular political purpose. Dhrango County has seen its share of unrest during the last year and a half. October 1 is Chinese National Day, celebrating the establishment of the People’s Republic. The government wants the whole country to be peaceful and placid at this time. So, the temporary liberalisation in Dhrango County looks like a move by local officials to give the public something they want in order placate them at least until National Day celebrations are over. Even in a best case scenario, there’s a big giant question mark here: does this mean anything in the long run? It certainly doesn’t mean much in the short term. Dhrango County will probably go back to the status quo of repression, and nobody’s going to be legalising opposition parties or Tibetan flags any time soon. Still, even though the liberalisation in Dhrango County is intended to serve China’s interests, let’s remember that the basic premise of the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way proposal is get the powers that be to realise that China’s interests and Tibet’s interests are not fundamentally at odds. If they really want Tibet to be peaceful and placid, instead of being a thorn in the regime’s side, maybe they could try actually given the Tibetan people most of what they want. It doesn’t take too much of a genius to realise that, if the Dhrango County officials were somewhat successful for little while with temporary, mild reforms, maybe much more could be achieved with more serious reforms. Part of the problem Tibet faces is that many of the high-ranking party leaders in Tibet are the worst of worst, stuck in a Cultural Revolution mentality that makes it impossible for them to think along these lines; and Hu Jintao, a former Tibet party boss, is one of them. But Hu Jintao won’t be around forever, and neither will the current Tibet leadership. If the whoever comes after them can learn something by observing this brief, anomalous episode in Dhrango County, then maybe it will mean something in the long run.
Hat tip to the Tibet Connection podcast for this story.
Dhrango is also spelled Drango. In Tibetan, it’s བྲག་འགོ་, brag-‘go (I think that’s pronounced [ʈʰàŋgo], for those of you familiar with IPA; although the locals probably pronounce it differently anyway). In Chinese, Dhrango is called Luhuo (炉霍).