Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Success of Tibetans: Choeying Kyi's Bronze

This past summer, during the London Olympics, something very unusual happened:

Tibetans, the world over, cheered as a competitor wearing the People's Republic of China uniform raced for, and eventually won, a bronze metal.

Another unusual event occurred as well.

Chinese, the world over, cheered as a Tibetan competitor raced for, and eventually won, a bronze metal.

Why? Because for the first time ever, a Tibetan competed in the olympics.  Unsurprisingly, she was competing under the Chinese flag. I say 'unsurprisingly' because statistically, with roughly 150,000 Tibetans in exile and 6,000,000 Tibetans in Tibet, there is a larger pool of potential athletes to choose from Inside of Tibet and therefore under Chinese domain should they wish to compete in the olympics.

Tibetans, almost uniformly, were thrilled to finally see a Tibetan face in the olympics.  Choeying Kyi, a young woman from a nomadic family in Amdo, not only was able to compete in the women's 20 km racewalk, she took home the bronze metal.  She wasn't just the first Tibetan competitor in the Olympic Games, she was the first ever Tibetan medalist.

Along the track, Tibetan flags waved alongside Chinese ones, and banners written in both Tibetan and Chinese urged Choeying Kyi to win.

Of course, there were those who felt uncomfortable cheering on an athlete under the Chinese flag and understandably so.  I am sure that there are many Tibetan athletes who might be of olympic quality but wouldn't feel comfortable competing as a representative from China.

But there was a far more vocal group as well, primarily consisting of Western "supporters" who plastered the word "COLLABORATOR" over the photos of Choeying Kyi winning the race and campaigned and wrote on how she was a traitor, how she should have stood up for Tibet and protested or defected.

I ask these people: what do you think would have happened to her family if she had done this?  It's easy to say that, but would you risk your family?  You don't have to!

I use Choeying Kyi as an example, because she was one of the first Tibetans under a Chinese passport to make a big name in the international media in recent years.  However, I consider this just another symptom of a greater problem that I've seen among so-called "supporters." And it is the idea that Tibetans cannot be successful unless they are collaborators, the idea that Tibetans can never be truly Tibetan without being protestors.

But that request boils down to this: Asking that Tibetans in Tibet risk their lives and safety, their families' lives, for the sake of politics. Asking Tibetans to forfeit the right to just try to live a normal life. Asking Tibetans to forfeit the right to try and be successful, just because they would have to play within China's rules.  Who will they condemn next? The composers who must submit their music to 'copyright offices' where they are judged by censors?  The singers who's concerts and music videos must be published on a state run television? The Tibetan film directors who have no choice but to play their films on state run television stations because no others exist?

It's fine if you don't want to cheer Choeying Kyi on, but she isn't putting Tibetans in jail, she isn't making propaganda speeches about how Tibetans are So Happy Under the Great Motherland. She's living a dream under the restrictions that have been imposed on her.

So don't cheer for her if you don't want to, but how can people declare her and by extension any Tibetan who chooses to pursue success over mediocrity and safety over extreme danger for the sake of a political battle they don't know if they can win, a "collaborator"?

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