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Something In The Air Tonight

Do I detect a whiff of Tiananmen Square hanging in the spring air of Lhasa? Is that really brutal oppression I see on my television screen? Or simply justice and the rule of law taking its course?

After the crushed saffron revolution in Burma (momentarily forced underground) the monster and the monk are back in the headlines, though not in the consciousness of those still in thrall to the Beijing economic miracle. Resistance looks fragile, hopeless even. The tyranny of the paranoid is poised to prevail yet again, as it has brutally done through the ages.

Pitted against each other are two powerful symbols of our times. Tibet chic continues to galvanise freedom junkies from Hollywood to Bollywood. The Dalai Lama, undeniably the most popular monk in the world, has transplanted the meaning of suffering from arcane Buddhist texts into the trendiest drawing rooms of the world. Affliction and misery are the new cool. Tibet has become the top destination for the neocompassionate.

The other symbol is both formidable and familiar. China. That East wind rattling the cages of Washington; that thunder menacing the waning powers of the industrialized world. China: that legend of modernization. That land of rampant growth and magnificent dreams.

But hang on. Hasn’t the world’s fastest growing economy banished Mao to the souvenir shop? And Marx to McDonald’s? That is what I had heard. No need to worry then… Oh, it is glorious to be wealthy in the People’s Republic. Learn it from the Chinese my friends.

Who isn’t weary of that tired old refrain mindlessly repeated in MBA lecture theatres everywhere? China is steeped in a million superlatives. Step aside Andrew Lloyd Webber. The Phantom of the Opera is passé. Romancing the Dragon is the new show in town.

Connect the dots. Draw the maps. What we are witnessing each night on television is a clash between two stereotypes. Actually a clash far removed from reality. One nation after another (including India, home to the exiled Dalai Lama) can be seen buggering themselves in futile attempts to maintain a balance between moral obligation and national self-interest. But where is moral obligation hiding? And what ghoulish ogre has national self-interest become?

Not Shrek-like in appearance, that’s for sure. Today, it seems, self-interest demands subtle submission. Contrived deference.Indifference even.

Hush now! Look the other way dear friends. We must not interfere in internal matters. Leave them to sort out their own affairs.

Perhaps that is why the Tibetan cause has become the prerogative of the usual socialist suspects and other professional romanticists of the lost kingdom of Shangri-La.

What recent events in Lhasa magnify is the deepest paranoia of the Chinese regime – a regime that may have abandoned the textbook gods and dogma of communism but certainly not the Leninist party apparatus. Beyond the supermarket, invisible to the aficionados of the Chinese way of building a brand new future, is the Gulag of the East. In the middle kingdom of happiness, questions are still banned. Human rights are dismissed as an superfluous luxury. Progress in the Red Empire demands the permanent suspension of conscience. Only the collective will of the Party is supreme.

And so Lhasa erupted on the eve of the Beijing Olympic Games, an event intended to showcase the awesome Chinese efficiency and precision for global appreciation. The world community was given an unscheduled preview by the events in Lhasa. Disruption to the Olympic flame in London and Paris was merely evidence of further civil disobedience in the coming months.

The monks didn’t wait for the gymnasts to finish their performance. Instead they shattered the idyll, exposing the horror beneath the glitz.

How dare they mix sport and politics! Not to worry. No doubt the Chairman will be pleased. The Cultural Revolution lives on.

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