We recently traveled to China. One of the highlights of the trip was Tibet. Tibet was wonderful. Unlike the rest of China (at least the rest of China we saw), the air was clear (little industry means little pollution) and the traffic was manageable. Plus the Potala Palace and other sights were magnificent.
But perhaps what my wife and I noticed the most were the banners everywhere. And what the banners reminded us of – East Germany.
I have not traveled to a lot of Communist countries. Just East Germany (in ’79 and ’82) and Czechoslovakia (in ’82) and now China (Communist politically). What we noticed in East Germany (but not Czechoslovakia) were the billboards with the political slogans. For example, this one:
which I would translate as “With the power of socialism for the insurance of peace!” Another one we saw read: “Against imperialistic confrontationism: Knowledge and deeds for the protection of peace and socialism.”1 It was as if the government was trying to convince the people of how good things were and how important it was to support the government.
- “To push forward the economic and social development and ensure long-term peace and stability in Tibet”
- “To govern Tibet by rule of law, to thrive the region by enriching the people, to develop Tibet with long-term efforts, to pool the people together and cement the foundation of development.”
Interestingly, we only saw banners like this in Tibet, not the other parts of China we went to (though we did not go to other heavily minority areas of China).
Thinking about it, the banners in Tibet seemed to be serving much the same purpose as the billboards in East Germany. In East Germany, the government was trying to convince people how good things were in East Germany and of the legitimacy of the Communist government against the example of West Germany next door. (Maybe Czechoslovakia did not need the billboards because there was no West Czechoslovakia.)
While there is no “West Tibet” for the Tibetan people to look to, there was a free Tibet in the fairly recent past. The Chinese Army only invaded Tibet in 1951. And the Dalai Lama finally left in 1959. (While not a West Germany, the Dalai Lama is a living symbol of a free and independent Tibet, which is why China gets so upset when leaders of other countries meet with him.)
East Germany wanted to convince its people how good it was in East Germany. Thus the billboards. The Chinese government needs to convince the Tibetan people how good things are for them as a part of China.2 Thus the banners.
Perhaps the similarity we saw in the banners in Tibet and the billboards in East Germany is a reflection of a government run by a small group, Chinese in Tibet, the Communist Party in East Germany, that is trying to convince the people it rules over how fortunate they are to have such a government. Needless to say, it didn’t work well in East Germany. I don’t know how well it is working in Tibet.3
1 I apologize for my rather clumsy translations.
2 As well as convincing foreign visitors, I suppose, and which may be why some of the banners provide their own English translations.
3 One problem with going on a tour, as we did, is that it is hard to talk to regular people, as opposed to people in businesses catering to tourists. We did talk to one person in Tibet. We asked her where she had traveled. She said she had been to Beijing and Chengdu. We asked if she had been to the United States. She said no; people in Tibet couldn’t get a passport, so they couldn't travel outside China. So maybe Tibet and East Germany have more in common than banners and billboards.