“Tradition moves to the museum, culture becomes a memory”: Mr. Han sounds the death knell of traditional culture! (Part 2)

“Tradition moves to the museum, culture becomes a memory”: Mr. Han sounds the death knell of traditional culture! (Part 2)

April 21, 2009 by Old Tibetan (Laozangmin) (See the original article in Chinese)

Blogger’s comment:
Recently, Southern Weekend reporter exclusively interviewed Han Fangming, the Vice Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the CPPCC National Committee. The article from the exclusive interview, “To Protect Tibetan Culture, Guard Against the Two Extremes” was published in the March 26, 2009, E31 edition of Southern Weekend. The blogger comments on this piece, in order to call into question and discuss Mr. Han Fangming’s views (The blogger’s own comments are in red and in brackets).

Tibet’s fragile ecology must be considered
Southern Weekend: Actually, your perspective is mainly the perspective of development.
(The reporter is hinting: Talk more about protection. You’ve talked too much about “development” and overwhelmed protection!)

Han Fangming: This summary isn’t necessarily accurate. I am just opposed to treating Tibetan culture as antiques or cultural relics, and opposed to saying development will destroy Tibetan culture, or development is a negation of the original. I believe development is exactly what has enriched the substance of Tibetan culture and enhanced its diversity.

Southern Weekend: Then, how exactly has it enriched Tibetan culture?

Han Fangming: Let’s take faith for example. For young people nowadays, faith is noticeably not as pure and simple as it was in older generations. They will look at religion from a scientific point of view, and on top of that, they will not adhere to religion as much as in the past. This is a trend, not only in Tibet, but it is the same all over the world. In Christian countries, in Islamic countries, religious faith is gradually being diluted. To want to cling to fifty years ago, it cannot be done by anyone.
(It’s the same old tune. Why does he say this? “In Christian countries, in Islamic countries, religious faith is gradually being diluted”. Where are his grounds for argument?)

Southern Weekend: You have a good understanding of the value of modernization. However, the question is modernization isn’t entirely perfect in every way, excessive materialism and consumerism is not necessarily entirely appropriate for Tibetan people. If no defenses are in place, materialism and consumerism may come swarming in. And when facing these, Tibetans are precisely disadvantaged, lacking the ability to protect themselves. This is an objective need for the role of the government, needing the government to guard them from the excessive corrosion by the market. Some areas need a fixed level of government protection and cannot be entirely open to the market. The universal market may not be suitable in Tibet, the universal market is a kind of excess.

Han Fangming: I think the reason is like this, the Tibetan people are a component of the Chinese nation, they should of course develop together with us, to share in the prosperity and progress of the country. If the government sets a threshold, restricts market entry, I think this is not practical.

Southern Weekend: But you also have to consider the capacity of the ecological and cultural systems. (The reporter’s questions are great!)

Han Fangming: This has raised a real issue. Tibet’s ecology and even culture really do have their unique features, that is they are particularly fragile. How to protect while developing at the same time, this is truly an issue that requires special attention. (Mr. Han has no choice but to say this is a real proposition.)

First is the infertile ecology, the limited capacity, I heard that after mountaineering groups left a lot of garbage behind, it unexpectedly speeded up glacial melt. I don’t know how exaggerated this is, but where people have entered, animals have retreated, this is for sure. The original food chain may not be able to support too much human activity. Furthermore, this region originally had very few people, at that time, you could rely on cow dung for heating and processing foods. However, after there are more people, it’s obviously not enough. What to do? Transport coal in, coal then causes air pollution. With more people, you have to build houses and roads, make cement, cement needs to use lime, then you have to mine mountains, and lime then creates pollution.

Excessive human activities easily create permanent harm to the original ecology. Therefore, on one hand, there’s no doubt you must develop, on the other hand, you also have to respect the original ecology. Only by embracing a respectful attitude can you be sympathetic, to put yourself in another’s shoes is to think of others.

Southern Weekend: This may not be difficult to resolve in theory, but how can this practically be done? (Better questions, wonderful!)

Han Fangming: Indeed there is great value in development, moreover natural resources with low environmental impact still need to be developed. But it must be in accordance with the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s required environmental impact assessment, and on top of that, the environmental impact assessment indicators must be appropriately raised. The tourism industry must also create thresholds, they can’t come swarming in. Take the Potala Palace for instance, there has to be a limit for how many people go up each year.

In light of the past lessons from development in inland China, Tibet especially cannot carry out GDP worship like they do in the inland. So I approve of the harmonious development brought out by the central government, emphasizing the material aspect, as well as emphasizing the spiritual and cultural aspects. The more spiritual and cultural aspects are improved, after people can be satisfied psychologically, material requirements will be lower, and the degree of social harmony will be higher.

The employment aspect also needs a threshold. If possible, clearly defined non-local enterprises must provide a certain amount of employment opportunities for local residents, including some disabled people. I think this is appropriate. Of course this can affect the efficiency of enterprises, but this kind of effect is only temporary. Moreover, since you want to come to this region to make money, you should make this concession.
(How does he suddenly start talking about “disabled people”? All along they’re coming in just to show off “sympathy”, just making “concessions” for the purpose of making money! “Sympathy” is the overlooked favor and gift of materialism. In front of modernization, shouldn’t “disabled people” also enter institutions, just like tradition goes into the museum? This kind of great path of modernization, doesn’t more peace and quiet become an open road ahead?)

In short, Tibetan culture is an important human asset that has existed and developed under rather unique conditions. I believe, in considering its unique and distinctive situation, we should implement multidirectional investigations and practices.

Protection coming from respect, respect from communication
Southern Weekend: Lastly, what kind of advice do you still have regarding the protection of Tibetan culture?

Han Fangming: What I want to emphasize is, the holders of traditional cultures cannot artificially resist the influence of advanced cultures on their own, even more so, they cannot artificially restrict the progress and development of traditional cultures themselves. I have consistently advocated: The best means for protecting Tibetan culture is development. Any culture, if it is complacent and conservative, will inevitably decline in the end. (In general there is nothing wrong with the meaning of this. But placed within the context of this text, it appears to be criticizing cultural traditions as “complacent and conservative”. And to inherit tradition is “resisting” and “restricting”!)

At the same time, we must also oppose the misuse of cultural protection. Cultural forms that the people keep up should remain with the people, those that should be in museums should be placed in museums, this is what is called everything in its proper place. Just like Han Chinese cannot reintroduce Han Dynasty clothing for people to wear, Mongolian nomads likewise cannot give up motorcycles and run around the grasslands riding horses forever.

To talk about the protection of nationality culture, you must set aside narrow-minded nationalistic thinking in order to be rational. Otherwise, it is easy to be complacent and conservative. For cultural protection, we need mutual respect and understanding.
I have always maintained that any conflicts in the world need communication in order to understand, understanding is needed in order to resolve, in order to achieve harmony, coexistence, co-prosperity, and Tibetan culture is no exception. (In this conversation, the resources for the topics of protection and development are seriously imbalanced. Instead it appears to condemn traditional culture as uncivilized and inappropriate. Mr. Han has been sounding the advance for modernization!)

Blogger’s comment:

The blogger here does not complacently hold conservative ideologies because of the tide of globalization, nor does he/she blindly criticize the aims of modernization. Globalization actually is not like some people’s expectations, it will not dispel the disparities and cultural characteristics inherent in a country’s societies. On the contrary, globalization takes individual identity and nationality—the reason for a country’s existence, and pushes it toward a critical edge, from which new social movements (such as women’s rights, environmental protection, and other “new social movements”) are initiated. Regarding this point, modernization itself must do a profound examination. People also cannot wave the banner of modernization to belittle traditional cultures at will, slander those who inherit Tibetan cultural traditions as “disabled people”, advocate sweeping all traditions into museums, to become memories, to call the entry of modernization a thought to grant pity—in reality, China’s instant development is not self-confident at all, the “view of scientific development” precisely tries to make up for the serious deficiencies of the modernization process: the cultural division syndrome from a spiritual gap that comes after placing material things above all else. Like the instrumental rationality clamored about by Mr. Han, even more contain a violent composition—hegemony without the language with the force of conventional reason. He even more so plays the part of the social reformer, what he calls modernization is completely wishful “embedding”.

Related Links:
Han Fangming, member of the 10th and 11th CPPCC National Committee, the Vice Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the 11th CPPCC National Committee. Graduated from Beijing University with a doctoral degree, and engaged in postdoctoral research at Harvard University. Presently a research fellow at the Beijing University World Modernization Process Research Center, a visiting professor at Tibet University, and the director of the China Southeast Asia Research Association. Since 1995, he’s been the director of many public companies, business banks, and finance companies at home and abroad. He is the supervisor and member of the fund management committee of the China Youth Career Development International Program (YBC).