When Wan Chun, 48, an accountant in Chinatown, saw the Tibetan freedom march earlier this month, he told one of his Chinese clients that he felt the tension between Tibet and the Chinese government was one of those small issues that every nation faces.
But, since the news on the unrest in Tibet has been continuously covered on the front pages of daily newspapers after the worldwide protest on March 11, Chun realized that things were more serious than ever.”
“This year is very important to Chinese people since we are hosting the Olympic games this summer. Now those separatists are using this event to make trouble,” said Chun, who came to the U.S. in 1985 from China. “I get mad when I see the western media only criticizing and blaming the Chinese government.”
Since the pro-Tibet activists started the protest on March 11th, the day of the Tibetan uprising, voices demanding boycotts on the Beijing Olympics, has continuously spread.
While human rights organizations and international leaders are criticizing the Chinese government’s oppression in Tibet, alarmed by the violent and brutal crackdown on Tibetan protestors, Chinese immigrants like Chun, are frustrated.
“I don’t think many of the young Tibetans joining the Tibetan freedom protests understand the real situation in Tibet now,” said Eric Tang, 46, a Chinese owner of a vending cart near Canal street. “I have a friend who owns a business in Lhasa and he told me that Tibetan people are very supportive about the new developments in Tibet being conducted by the government.”
Like Tang, not many Chinese people are sympathetic to the Free Tibet movement, despite its active protests throughout the city.
“We have more than two thousands members in our chapter and more than two thirds of them are Tibetans. But I haven’t seen any Chinese people joining our group,” said Kai Johnson, regional coordinator of Students for a Free Tibet. “I wish we could see more Chinese people support our cause.”
Even though many Chinese people do not agree with the Tibetan protestors, some express disappointment about how their government is handling the situation.
“The Chinese government had to send police to Tibet to stabilize the situation, but I think they should have been more restrained in their attempts to make the Tibetan people surrender,” said Yang Qing, a Chinese student pursuing a Masters degree in Politics at Columbia University. She also added that her younger brother, also studying politics in China, could not access the Youtube website in order to see video clips about the uprising in Tibet.
There are also people who claim that the situation is not as polarized as it seems.
Chun Lin, a professor of East Asian Studies at New York University said that it is a complicated issue with many sides.
“We shouldn’t just see Tibet as good and the Chinese government as evil, or even the opposite way,” Lin said. “It is true that the Chinese government doesn’t have the cultural sensitivity to understand the Tibetan people, but those in the Free Tibet movement also tend to idealize Tibet without a clear picture of what it takes to build an independent society.”
Lin said that this conflict might be a positive chance to define problems between minority ethnic groups and the majority Chinese Han people, and then to rebuild the “failed policies towards minorities.”