In a bold challenge to the Chinese government's crackdown in Tibet, nearly 30 dissidents have circulated an open letter titled "Twelve Suggestions for Dealing with the Tibetan Situation." The dissidents' letter contrasts with the Communist government's arrest of hundreds of Tibetans and official propaganda to "resolutely crush" the protests that have since spread east beyond the Tibetan Autonomous Region, to western provinces where Tibetans also live.
In their letter, the dissidents call for a dialogue between Chinese officials and the Dalai Lama, an international investigation into the events, an end to "Cultural Revolution-like" propaganda against the Dalai Lama, freedom of religion and speech for Tibetans, and access to the region for journalists. (See the letter at Chinese Human Rights Defenders)
Among the letter's signers is Teng Biao, a lawyer and human rights activist who only a couple of weeks ago was picked up by Chinese authorities, held for a few days and, before being released, warned to keep quiet about human rights abuses. Teng is also the co-author with Hu Jia of another open letter, "The Real China and the Olympics," which criticizes abuses committed in preparation for the games. (See the letter at Human Rights Watch) Arrested at the end of 2007, Hu was tried on March 18 on subversion charges and currently awaits sentencing. Wang Lixiong, an outspoken Chinese critic of Beijing's Tibet policy, who is married to Tibetan blogger Woeser, also signed the letter. Others who signed: Ding Zilin, a leader of the Tiananmen Mothers organization, and her husband Jiang Peikun. The two have waged a long campaign for justice for the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, who include their son.
The letter belies the idea, reinforced and spread by official propaganda and often accepted abroad, that Chinese opinion on Tibet reflects an innate and monolithic Chinese Han chauvinism. (So does a blog post by Lian Yue, criticizing official censorship for stoking the emotion on which ultra-nationalistic extremism is based.)
Nationalistic, territorial, and racist views about Tibet may be common and deep-seated, but it is not possible in China to accurately gauge public opinion. Nor are intellectuals and writers like Teng, Wang, and the others who signed this letter free to persuade their fellow citizens to adopt views contrary to the Communist party line.
Tibet is one of the most sensitive issues in China and these dissidents will no doubt face retaliation for openly challenging the party. According to reports, Wang and Woeser have been held under house arrest in Beijing since the protests first started.
When it won the honor of hosting this summer's Olympic games, the PRC made no binding commitments on human rights and the international community failed to extract any. Still, it is not too late for the international community, which grants legitimacy to Beijing by participating in the games, to give just as much legitimacy to the courageous Chinese dissidents who speak out now.