Foot in Mouth Disease

I met with the student that I’m tutoring again on Friday. After a delicious meal of lamb dumplings, Allison and I sat down with her to work on her English for the typical two hour session. The tutoring session went well, and I discovered what the probable source of her comments about the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans might have been.

I had thought it might’ve come from whatever she was picking up in the media or from her school. But it turns out that the source was likely much, much closer to home. Her dad, as I mentioned, is a doctor who specializes on kidney problems. Her grandfather was a medic in the People’s Liberation Army, and had participated in both World War II and the Chinese Civil War, culminating in the triumph of Mao Zedong’s seizure of control of the mainland. Knowing this, I already knew I had to tread carefully, even on top of whatever care I’d have to show with typical propaganda she may have received. But it’s unlikely her grandfather has influenced whatever she thinks of the Tibetans, because he only recently moved in with the family, and he’s getting to an age (he’s in his late 80’s) where he’s more of a cute old man than a fiery ideologue of any kind. And as I mentioned before, he apparently didn’t have much of a problem with the KMT, but really hated Chiang Kai-Shek, and this was the main reason he joined the Communists.

No, if she received any kind of distorted view of the Tibetan situation, she probably received it from her mother. Her mother is not only a Communist Party member, she actually has a career working for them as an administrator of some kind. She’s been gone the last month or two, doing work for them. I knew she had been away for her work, but it wasn’t until Friday that I discovered that specifically, she was in … Tibet. It seems that much of her work in the Party is specifically on Tibetan issues, and the riots were what led to her needing to go on an extended work trip.

So, did I say too much? It’s possible, and I know that if I had known that, I would’ve said far less about Tibet and the Dalai Lama than I did. But with any luck, it was still neutral enough to avoid me getting in trouble. Mainly, I just maintained that the Dalai Lama was probably not responsible for the riots, since he advocates non-violence. He doesn’t support independence, and opposes efforts to disrupt the Olympics, since, he says, neither stance helps the Tibetans. Rather, I told her, from what I had read, it sounded like the violent incidents (distinguishing those from the non-violent protests that comprised most of the activities of that week) were instigated by the more youthful members of the Tibetan exile movement, who function independently of the Dalai Lama, and explicitly reject many of this teachings. That, and the typical opportunists who pop up whenever there’s a situation of instability. People should just start talking to one another to work out their differences peacefully. Above all, that’s what I suggested. I suggested the teapot analogy – that if you increase fire to a teapot, without providing a place for the steam to escape, eventually the teapot explodes. So if people can start talking, instead of making group-based assumptions about one another, the steam might have a place to vent out.

That was probably the most potentially subversive thing I said, I suppose. On its face, it’s an innocent suggestion, but in practical terms, I was basically saying that the Chinese government should back off and allow freedom of speech and religion, but I couched it in terms of social stability being served. After all, I pointed out, the Puerto Ricans can openly advocate independence or whatever they want, and they don’t riot in the US.

Her mom is due to return from Tibet soon, and I’d be surprised if my student didn’t discuss the matter with her mom further. I only hope this doesn’t get me in too much trouble. I’d like to enjoy the awesome meals at her house for the few weeks I’m still here in China, and Allison has offered to continue tutoring her for free, as long as they agree to speak Chinese exclusively during mealtime, so she can get her language practice too.


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