The History Boy

The History Boy

I’m going to assume that most people reading this post know who Barry Sautman is (and no, he’s not the one in the picture; that’s King George I and to see what he’s doing in this post you’ll have to scroll down further). And on that assumption I’ll also take it for granted that the fact that one of his recent articles, “Tibet’s Putative Statehood and International Law” (Chinese Journal of International Law, registration required) and a longer piece that preceded it, “All that Glitters is Not Gold conclude that Tibet has been a part of China for centuries will come as a terrible shock to… no one.

Sautman has looked at aspects of the Tibet issue from all sorts of angles: Were Tibet’s demographics battered by a large loss of life in the first decades of PRC rule and subsequent decades of Chinese migration? Should people be concerned about the health of the Tibetan language in the PRC?—etc., etc. And the answers? Well, he has set out to demonstrate on any number of occasions just how misplaced or (drum roll, please) malevolent are the sympathies and attitudes of those who might find that at times Tibet’s history as a part of the PRC has been devastatingly and particularly brutal. Reading what he writes on Tibet often leaves the reader feeling as if he or she has just encountered a cop at the scene of something horrible, a cop keen on keeping everyone’s attention focused elsewhere with a “move along,” and a “nothing to see here.”

Actually, readers of this blog may have already noticed that going though Sautman’s pensées becomes something of a game, since there’s so much to comb through and he throws up a veritable “Where’s Waldo?” barrage of extraneous and dubious references and verbal detours to camouflage actual facts (yes, those quaint things). For someone interested in Tibet’s history, particularly Tibet’s historical relationship with China, these new pieces exemplify all of this; and yet they hold out the possibility of hours of entertainment as one sifts through specious evidence, some eccentric ideas about history, and various tricks of a trade usually associated with someone standing on a sidewalk with a folding table, three shells and a pea.

Thetask of unpacking these particular works is made somewhat more entertaining thanks to Sautman’s provision of a companion powerpoint presentation for “All That Glitters is Not Gold.” All of these items together make for much fun, allowing the reader to observe Sautman working ever so hard to expose the errors of anyone who might think that Tibet had an existence as something other than a part of China during the last seven centuries.

So, we have much to play with here, but where to begin?—and what to choose? Well, first off I have to confess that I have a day job and I periodically need to attend to it. I will beg the indulgence of readers and limit my remarks to just a few of the things related to the larger subject of Tibet’s historical relationship with China, but any other RA bloggers who may be so inclined should feel free to jump in and chew over the latest entries in Sautman’s oeuvre. There’s plenty for everyone. Please note that most of the references to Sautman below are to “All that Glitters is Nor Gold;” References to “Tibet’s Putative Statehood and International Law” are specifically noted as such.

With that, let’s start off with Sautman’s conception of the Mongols and their empire. From Sautman we learn that unbeknownst to most of the scholarly world outside China, the Mongols were Chinese subjects before they conquered China (“…long before they became rulers of multi-ethnic China, the Mongols and Manchu already were Chinese imperial subjects;” this, Sautman asserts, rebuts in part the position of a certain “pro-Tibet independence historian… Elliot Sperling”). Setting aside a long established consensus, best embodied in the title of the book China Among Equals, published decades ago, Sautman is silent as to how this domination was substantively administered, leaving one to conclude that he is simply resurrecting the antique view of the grant of titles, the establishment of “tribute” relations, etc., as markers of the subjection of peoples outside China to Chinese rule and authority. But methinks Sautman is being a bit too cautious. Why not cast coyness aside and go totally retro, back even before the days of J.K. Fairbank and company: why not designate these peripheral peoples as barbarians, inexorably drawn into submission to the higher civilization of the Central Kingdom? If Sautman wants to write as if more than a half-century of historiography on Inner Asia never happened, well why go for euphemisms? Why not give us some arcane awe-struck, tribute-paying Asiatics?

The point, of course, is that Sautman wants us to view the Mongols of the Mongol imperial period as Chinese in order to confute any attempts to see Tibet under Mongol rule as something other than a part of China. He is quite specific about this, asserting that Tibet was a part of China because the Mongols (and the Manchus) were Chinese. Hence the quaint notion that the Mongols were already China’s subjects before they… conquered China. But then they couldn’t have conquered China, could they? At best they’d have to be portrayed as “rising in revolt,” since they were, after all, already under China. (Personal note: I remember well the visit of Wang Zhonghan to Indiana University during my student years. A prominent scholar of Mongol history, he was adamant in insisting that we must never use the term “Mongol Conquest” in discussions of Chinese history: “How can you conquer your own country?” was his logic. He did not, sad to report, win anyone over and left the venerable Prof. Hangin Gombojab more than a little incensed.)

Anyway, let’s look at the basics of Sautman’s proposition. If the Mongols were truly subjects of the… Wait: what dynasty is he talking about again? Song? Liao? Perhaps the Xixia? Actually, he doesn’t say. Well… perhaps he thinks it best not to get bogged down in details; he wouldn’t want to waste precious mental energy on minutiae, one supposes. Let’s just assume it’s some undifferentiated “China.” That approach allows him (and us!) to forego dealing with the raw materials of history: the records of actual structures—offices, bureaus, geographical units, etc.—through which real Chinese authority was administered to subjects. Indeed, the relevant dynastic histories have always included sections on the administrative geography of the state, the surest way to understand what was ruled as “China.” Alas, the Mongols seem to have been overlooked in these… until now, with Sautman riding to the rescue of the old barbarians-in-thrall-to-the-Central-Kingdom model. Actually Sautman’s historical writing, such as it is, displays a marvelous creativity in avoiding references to primary sources when approaching topics for which they’re really quite essential.

But more on that later…

For now, let’s just note that having established the Mongols as Chinese subjects he proceeds to treat the Mongols who ruled China as Chinese. Their state was Chinese, they were Chinese and—wouldn’t you just know it—their Tibetan subjects were Chinese subjects. The idea that what Qubilai and his heirs ruled need not all have been China seems to have no part in Sautman’s understanding of the era of the Mongol Conquest. But that division is clearly the basis for the successor Ming Dynasty’s exclusion of Tibet from the administrative geography contained in the official dynastic history of the Mongol Yuan. It is also what underlies the first Ming emperor’s missive to the Tibetans, a missive sent to other lands outside China as well, proclaiming the unification of the state and the ouster of the foreign, illegitimate Hu 胡; i.e., the Mongol rulers—this while Ming forces campaigning to extirpate Mongol rule halted at the frontier of Tibetan territory. If Tibet had become a part of China under the Yuan, one would naturally think the Ming would have understood this and made a claim to Tibet. This never happened and Sautman, one assumes for that reason, passes over the question in silence. He is likely ignorant of the unambiguous language in the Ming emperor’s missive about the non-Chinese identity of the Mongols and the assertion that their rule over China was essentially a perversion of the normal order of things,: 向者胡人竊據華夏百有餘年, 冠履倒, 凡百有心孰不興憤. But Sautman has decided that all under Mongol rule was Chinese and is thus incapable of entertaining the possibility that the Mongols themselves might not have been Chinese.

And so Sautman asserts that the continuity from Yuan to Ming is rooted in recognition of the Mongols as Chinese, which in turn is shown by the fact that “after the Yuan dynasty ended in 1368, Han elites continued to identify with it and not the new Han-led Ming Dynasty.” This is a convenient way to put it. “Han elites…” Really? How many? And why should anyone extrapolate from Sautman’s vague sample a general sense of identification with the Mongols as fellow Chinese on the part of the larger body of “Han elites”? And what, indeed, occasioned this “identification?” The circumstances of bureaucrats and officials caught in the upheaval of dynastic overthrow have dynamics that are by no means reducible to Sautman’s retroactive vision of some sort of harmonious pro-diversity inclusiveness. Indeed, the choice of which side to take in such a situation is fraught with considerations that usually place survival first and foremost. Then too, there are calculations about the possibility of prospering under new rulers, given what one might have done—and to whom—under a collapsing regime. It’s a wee bit more complicated than the casual reader would guess from Sautman’s at best lazy, at worst deceptive, phrasing. So, again, what does he mean by “Han elites continued to identify with [the Yuan]?” The “Han elites?” Most “Han elites?” Some “Han elites?” Maybe ten “Han elites?” Two-and-half “Han elites?” And while the “Han elites” were celebrating their Chinese brotherhood with the Mongols, who was helping out with the poor, elite-starved (and, one assumes, under-staffed) Ming state? Unless the running of the Ming bureaucracy had been outsourced to a call center in Mumbai, there must have been at least some “Han elites” helping out at court… aside from the poor, multi-culturally-challenged emperor, that is. No matter; the existence of any who declined to serve the Ming for whatever reasons is enough for Sautman to co-opt them into his project of identifying the Mongols as Chinese.

All this picks up steam in earnest when Sautman arrives at the Qing, where the complex issue of Manchu identity is suitably dressed up and put on display to show that the Manchus like the Mongols were Chinese, their empire was Chinese, and their subjects were China’s subjects—indeed all whom they ruled were multi-ethnic subsets of Chinese. End of story. And to that end he trots out a variety of secondary sources—by no means all of them authored by people actually familiar with the Manchus as Manchus—to show how the Manchus ruled as Chinese emperors. That they did. But the idea that they served within China as legitimate emperors of China, and yet ruled as emperors of a larger entity greater than China, is elided. In other words, this “empire” is marked by an exceptionalism among empires that makes of its conquering rulers not foreigners but Chinese, and their empire all China. But to be a legitimate ruler of China is not synonymous with being Chinese, and Sautman plays fast and loose with this idea. His take on the earlier tradition of the Mongols demonstrates this well enough: the legitimacy of the Mongols as rulers of China is evinced in the inclusion of their dynasty, the Yuan, as a legitimate Chinese dynasty. The Ming, after all, had the official history of that dynasty drawn up. But the attitude of the successor Ming to the Mongols as Chinese is clear in Ming Taizu’s own words on the subject, though Sautman is either incapable of perceiving it or purposely ignores it. Instead, coming to the Manchus, he adopts another tack:

Because China was multi-ethnic and its Manchu emperors were multi-cultural, to speak of them as “Chinese emperors” requires acceptance that the term “Chinese,” used now for peoples of many ethnicities in China, should not retroactively be restricted to Han Chinese.

But the retroactivity (certainly as regards both Manchus and Mongols) in defining China is Sautman’s doing. He is projecting the current construction of China as a “unitary multi-national” state onto the body of what was an empire. And thus he projects the current PRC orthodoxy of what “Chinese” means onto a past imperial structure that knew very well ethno-national boundaries and stratification. Before the People’s Republic began rigidly fixing certain areas of the lexicon the Chinese language was still Zhongwen, something for which Hanwen was simply a synonym. But Zangwen and Mengwen were assuredly not Chinese. Not to Chinese and certainly not to Tibetans or Mongols. In spite of Sautman’s insistence on the centuries-old inclusiveness of the term “Chinese” the artificial nature of the ethno-national construction of the Tibetans as “Chinese” people is tellingly obvious from the reminiscences of a Chinese participant in the talks leading to the signing of the 17-point agreement in 1951.* As there was no word in Tibetan denoting China in the newly constructed PRC sense of the term, the Chinese side created a new term, “Krung-go,” for use in Tibetan. The implication, if one understands that China claims Tibetans have been a part of China for centuries, is that they didn’t know the name of their own country! Does Sautman believe this? Does he really think Tibetans were that, ahem, stupid? Well, go through these pieces and you realize that such things are feasible on Planet Sautman. He evinces no interest in or knowledge of the view from below; from those peoples and lands incorporated into the imperium; it is only the view from China that informs these articles. And even there his confusion of subjection to the emperors who ruled over China with actually being part of China is paralleled by his confusion of the ability of the Manchus to rule China—“The Qing’s Yongzheng Emperor … refuted the Ming loyalist idea that… cultural differences and the territorial Manchuria/Central States (Zhongguo) distinction made the Qing unsuited to rule China”—with their actually being Chinese.

This harping on the Manchus as Chinese forces him to face the fact that there was a clear, perceptible negative sentiment against the Manchus as foreigners in the Qing era; but he does this with simple dismissiveness: “Both 17th and late 19th/early 20th century Han chauvinists, who sought to mobilize ethnic bias against a dynasty they saw as headed by alien “barbarians,” pushed the idea that Manchu rulers were not Chinese emperors because they were not Han.” Again, an interesting use of terminology: “Han chauvinists.”  This characterization tells us nothing about the function or force of this perception, simply that it was bad… and therefore we should ignore it. (Move along folks, nothing to see here…)

In further support of his retro celebration of happy, functional multicultural diversity he also attempts to enlist various scholars, among them Mark Elliott. He relies on Elliott when he states that “ ‘the Qing rulers appear to have all but abandoned their Altaic heritage’ in favor of Han culture;” but then continues quoting him:

Many Manchus spoke and wrote Chinese better than they spoke and wrote Manchu, and their devotion to the pursuit of the arts of the refined (and not so refined) Chinese gentleman exceeded that of the Chinese themselves. Because many Qing imperial institutions were modeled directly on Ming precedents and because Manchu acculturation was widespread by the nineteenth century, it is hard to deny the importance of Chinese influence on the Manchus and Manchu rule.

And then Sautman’s following paragraph begins: “the Qing and its Manchu Bannermen families became so Chinese that…” Read all of this carefully: after expending a lot of energy on portraying the Manchus as Chinese, Sautman follows Elliott and uses Manchu and Chinese as two distinct categories, reverting (unknowingly, I would assume) to common (and common-sense) usage: juxtaposing Manchu against Chinese (here correctly synonymous with Han), rather than following the PRC orthodoxy in his earlier comments which have the Manchus as Chinese, and which juxtapose Manchu against Han (both of whom are subgroups of Chinese). If one passes over the phrasing quickly, one misses Sautman’s uncritical use of Elliott’s reference (surely an oversight on his part!) to the Chinese language, a reference made in such a way as to equate it exclusively with “Hanwen.” Ditto “the Chinese themselves”! While this is how “Chinese” is normally understood, one can only smile at the sight of commonly understood meaning forcing its way out from under the rigid politicized language use engendered in 20th-century China right there in the middle of Sautman’s tedious testament to a common Chinese identity for one and all under the Qing, be they Manchus, Tibetans or Mongols. This is not to deny Manchu Sinicization; but this Sinicization certainly didn’t extend to areas such as Tibet, where a Manchu Empire staffed by Manchu amban remained in place. And empire it was. Zhao Erfeng, trying to suppress Tibetan risings in Khams on the eve of the Qing collapse, urged the government to stimulate settlement and development there by emulating the imperial models provided by the British, French, Japanese and Americans in Asia and Africa: 查各国之开辟遐荒,如英之于澳洲,法之于马达加斯加,美之于菲律宾,日之于虾夷, 皆先设招待所,以利导之,而后趋之者如市.

But let’s return to Sautman’s use of Mark Elliott’s work. And let’s note too that it’s Elliott with two “t”s (the Elliot with one “t” is me). Perhaps his reading of the name corresponds to his reading of Elliott’s The Manchu Way. Sautman relies on Elliott to paint a picture of the Manchus embracing the common Chineseness that they share with their subjects; and while he dismisses ethno-national discord with a wave of the “Han chauvinism” card, he really seems not to have read and considered  Elliott’s The Manchu Way in its entirety. For while Elliott does refer to imperial Manchu expressions of familial ties to their Chinese subjects—and remember, the expression of such sentiments was part of a strategy—he also makes it quite clear that this sort of rhetoric was by no means believed, even by an emperor uttering it: “imperial protests not withstanding, Manchu-Han equality was largely a myth. Manchu and Han, that is, were not ‘one family’.”

It ought to go without saying that in examining questions of identity within an empire one cannot simply rely on the definition asserted by the majority or, in the case of Sautman, the definition that the modern Chinese successor state has projected back on the history of the various peoples comprising the empire’s population. Modern scholarship would demand that the view from the subject peoples—the view from below—be accorded its due weight in the matter. That the modern Chinese state asserts that the terms “China” and “Chinese” are applicable to Tibet and the Tibetans over the course of Tibet’s pre-1911 history is in many ways irrelevant if that sentiment was not shared by Tibetans themselves during the period in question. Or should we, following Sautman, consider Tibetans who saw themselves as subject to the Manchu emperor and not as part of China to have constituted an auxiliary battalion of Han Chauvinists? Let’s go back to the frankly moronic notion that Tibetans had no name for their own country. Imagine: the Tibetan language could conceptualize something such as “interdependent arising” (rten-cing ’brel-bar ’byung-ba) but was at a loss for the name of the very country within which Tibetans dwelled! The fact is, Tibetans did see themselves as subjects of the Qing emperor. But they did not see themselves as a part of China and the Tibetan language had no word for a country that defined them as such. In common Tibetan discourse the terms “Tibet” and “”China” have excluded each other from their fields of meaning. Thus, Gung Mgon-po skyab’s well known 18th-century account of Buddhism in China, the Rgya-nag chos-’byung is now accorded the Chinese title Hanqu Fojiao yuanliuji, making it a history of Buddhism “in the Han region.” Within the PRC the traditional Tibetan word for China has long since been torn from its original meaning and officially yoked to the Chinese word “Han.”

Sautman is oblivious to all of this because he does not (and seems to feel no need to) go beyond the views from China. That the Tibetans and Mongols asserted in their 1913 treaty that they had emerged from under rule by the Manchu State and were thus no longer linked with China (Rgya-nag) is significant in terms of terminology (རང་རེ་བོད་སོག་གཉིས་  མཉྗུའི་རྒྱལ་ཁབ་ཀྱི་མངའ་འོག་ནས་ཐོན་  རྒྱ་ནག་པོ་དང་བྲལ་ཏེ་  བོད་སོག་སོ་སོ་རྒྱལ་ཁབ་རང་བཙན་པ་བགྱིས). But Sautman has no need of Tibetan sources in writing about Tibet’s historical status.

Actually, he really has no use for Tibetan—or Chinese—primary sources at all, which is maybe not so surprising, given what we’ve so far seen here. Looking through “All that Glitters is Not Gold,” one can’t help but feel that Sautman’s willingness to write with supposed authority on a subject as complex as Tibet’s historical status without recourse to primary sources is of a piece with his writings in general: the intention is not to clarify with any sense of objectivity, but rather to make a polemical case. That would seem to be the only way to understand such a strangely sourced work. Indeed the refusal to look at sources that reflect the way the Mongol and Manchu empires were experienced in their own times—not simply from the imperial base within China but also, quite importantly, from the outlying dominions—combined with a highly selective use of uniquely secondary sources (with the possible exception of various U.N. or other printed or online government documents), is telling.

Sautman has assembled a mass of such sources: “All that Glitters is Not Gold” clocks in at 415 footnotes in 58 single spaced pages. And just to make sure the polemical efforts are not wasted, he here and there not-so-subtly steers readers towards his preferred view of some of those he cites or to whom he refers, using labels such as “pro-independence” (by his lights, perhaps; many who might be labeled as such are simply in favor of Tibetans deciding for themselves what they want—but one supposes “pro-self determination” doesn’t give off the right irredentist zing) or, “conservatives.” The latter, Sautman makes sure to inform his readers, share an affinity with exile elites. And not just your run-of-the-mill lukewarm affinity: “Exile elites are in turn enthusiastic about their affinity with conservatives.” As with “Han Chauvinists,” this is another one of Sautman’s clumsy ways of saying “bad.” Of course he can’t resist bringing G.W. Bush on stage as someone the exiles tout as a real supporter and friend. It’s worth noting, however, that Tibetan exile representatives have held all recent U.S. presidents (up to and including the present one) to be friends who understand the Tibet issue. And speaking of friends, why not add here the Dalai Lama’s extolling of Deng Xiaoping as his old friend during the 1990s? Oh, sorry… wrong polemical effect…

But since we’re playing with Sautman’s use of “scare” labels, might we not see in his refusal to look at the Manchu Empire from the local—ahem, subaltern?—perspective and his dogged hostility to the idea of Tibetan self-determination, an attitude that is a wee bit… “conservative”? Indeed, the George W. Bush administration consistently supported the territorial integrity of the PRC as currently constituted, a position with which Sautman would seem to have a strong… “affinity.”

Just as Sautman uses labels to insinuate a bias or element of unreliability, he lets the lack of any similar labeling infer greater scholarly reliability to opinions he accepts, even when some of those emanate from writers with questionable views on some of the basics. Thus, his cited source for the assertion that under the Qing all territory held by the Qing was China and the official policy was “Han and non-Han are one family” is an article by Yang Jianxin, “中国”一词和中国疆域形成再探讨, which discusses the term “China” and the boundaries implied by that term. Well, if one begins to read the article one quickly sees that the author belongs to that school of thought—increasingly visible these last few years in discussions of Tibet—that doesn’t stop at the idea of Tibet having become a part of China during the Mongol period, but veers into the realm of thinking in which Tibet is held to have been part of China well before the Mongols appeared on the scene. This notion is derived from the writings of the historical geographer Tan Qixiang, and has most recently been interpreted to support the proposition that China must be understood retroactively to have included Tibet as an integral part of its territory “since human activity began.” Yang Jianxin doesn’t articulate anything as silly as that, but nevertheless sees no need to stop at the Yuan, pushing Tibet’s incorporation into China to some time in the post-Tang, pre-Yuan era of conquest dynasties when, according to the article, the fate of the Tibetans became bound up with the fate of the motherland, Tibet became an inseparable part of China, and the Tibetans became a Chinese nationality:

9 世纪末, 唐朝也开始出现分崩离析的迹象. 至 10 世纪初, 整个中国进入所谓 “五代十国” 以及以后的宋、辽、金、西夏等许多民族政权割据状态, 在几百年中, 西藏与祖国其他地区遭受着同样的命运… 从西藏和藏族历史发展的进程看, 在元代之前, 西藏和藏族已经嵌入了当时的疆域和民族政治、社会、文化生活之中, 聚居于西藏及青、甘、川、滇的藏族已经成为中国历史上的民族, 西藏的历史就已经成为中国历史的一部分, 西藏地区也成为中国历史疆域不可分割的一部分.

So, given the departure from previous Chinese orthodoxy and the placement of Tibet’s incorporation into China in the pre-Mongol era, might not some Sautmanesque-label be appropriate to alert readers as to the author’s general position? No. Only those whom Sautman wants to specify as bad influences seem to get labels. Someone who believes in the odd notion that Tibet was somehow made part of China during some unspecified point in the broad era of the Song, Liao, Jin or Xixia dynasties (even though Tibet is not included in the administrative geographies of these states) receives no labels from Sautman.

Generally Sautman’s secondary sources seem to be selected not as part of an approach wherein one sifts through and digests relevant materials with the aim of exploring the issue at hand, but rather as fodder for arguing a predetermined conclusion. It’s a bit more than just the selective reading of Mark Elliott mentioned above. For an evaluation of the place of the Manchu Emperor in Tibet he turns to Prasanjit Duara:

The historian of late imperial China Prasenjit Duara has written that “the Qing emperor was not simply a Chinese emperor, not simply the Son of Heaven. He was many things. He was the Bodhisattva Manjusri when he went to worship the Buddha; he was the Ruler of Rulers when he went to the Potala Palace in Lhasa…”

Prasanjit Duara is also many things, but a specialist in Qing-Tibetan relations is not one of them (and certainly not something he claims to be, in spite of being pressed into service as such by Sautman). Indeed, even Sautman is constrained to admit in a note that no Qing emperor ever visited the Potala. But the Qing emperor as “Ruler of Rulers” in Tibet? What Tibetan term is this supposed to represent? Certainly not gong-ma. Not that one would expect Sautman to see this; even less to wonder if Duara would be the best source for the subject at hand. (Sautman comments, regarding the emperors’ non-visits to the Potala, that, well, their representatives did visit! Close enough, one guesses.) Anyone familiar with Sino-Tibetan relations during the Qing would know that the Qing emperor was Mañjuśrī not just when “he went to visit the Buddha,” but whenever he entered Tibetan perceptions. It should be noted too that on the same page from which the above quote comes Duara also refers to the Qianlong emperor meeting the Dalai Lama as well as the Panchen Lama. No meeting with any Dalai Lama occurred… but the emperor did meet representatives of the Dalai Lama!

To give Duara his due, his piece is not concerned with Tibet for the most part. Indeed, it is part of a volume conceived as a textbook for beginning area studies researchers. Similarly, for several quoted lines on the Qing succession to the “mandate of heaven” that had been held by the Ming emperors Sautman turns not to any of the voluminous scholarly works on the Ming-Qing transition, but rather to an online site for educators teaching Asia.

With such citations the impression that sources were sought out only to support the conclusions that Sautman had already adopted gives way to the feeling that this was done via something akin to a high-intensity Google search for the right kind of comment, a task that might even have been outsourced in part to research assistants. In any event, the mass of footnotes becomes primarily a distracting data blitz (even for the small portion of Sautman’s “All That Glitters is Not Gold” with which I’m dealing); for who can go off hunting down every odd citation? What one does not have, however, is an objective sifting of relevant literature.

And so we come to one of the more amusing assertions of Sautman, sourced with a footnote directing the reader to the official web site of the British monarchy. (The basic information is so well known that one wonders why a citation is needed at all—and if needed, could not a better one have been found?) Sautman here informs all who might Han-chauvinistically question the legitimacy of Mongols and Manchus as Chinese rulers of China that: “Contending that the Yuan and Qing dynasts were not Chinese rulers is no more persuasive than arguing that King George I (r. 1714-1727) was not a British monarch because he was German and seen that way by the British public, spoke English poorly, and lived 54 years in Germany before ascending the British throne.” (We’ll set aside Princess Diana’s remark to her solicitor [in the midst of divorce proceedings] that her problem was having married into a German family.)

Reflect on this: on the level of national identity Sautman now equates the widespread tradition of intermarriage between European royal houses with the Mongol and Manchu military conquests of China.Thus, the bloody conquest of China, the imposition of non-Chinese officials in important positions throughout the bureaucracy, the stratification of a hierarchy with Mongols and Manchus at the top… all these elements that went into creating clearly perceived identity boundaries are supposed to be equated with the marital politics of the ruling houses of Europe. Let’s put it another way: Sautman invites readers to usefully analogize the Mongol penetration and conquest of China to the Hanoverian penetration and conquest of… the granddaughter of James I. The idea of scholarship aside, it is hard to take this seriously as a polemic.

Finally, as if all this were not enough, Sautman leaves us with his prescription for peace on the Tibetan Plateau. At the end of “All that Glitters is Not Gold” we read:

If it is acknowledged that China has had a reasonable claim to Tibet as legitimately part of its territory and that ethnic groups and parts of states do not have a right to independence, then attempts at secession had no legal effect and Tibet was a pseudostate. The way then becomes clear for the Dalai Lama to accept the pre-condition for negotiations, that he state that Tibet is an alienable part of China, something he can do even without explicitly acknowledging that Tibet was not independent in the decades before 1951. Provided that the Chinese government then makes good on its pledge to enter into negotiations with him and does so not just about the Dalai Lama’s future, but about matters he has said are most important to him, i.e. religion and culture in Tibet, the threshold for resolving the Tibet Question will have been attained.

One wonders where Sautman has been during the years in which the Dalai Lama has been acknowledging that Tibet is legitimately a part of China. Not only has he said that he yearns to be a Chinese citizen, “to return to Tibet as a member of China’s Tibetan minority,” the prime minister of his exile administration has asserted that the Tibet Question is an internal Chinese matter and Western countries have nothing to do with it. In effect, the “threshold” that Sautman is focused on with laser-like analytical abilities was crossed long ago. Perhaps that’s why the later piece, “Tibet’s Putative Statehood and International Law” simply places the burden of accepting China’s claim on the shoulders of what he broadly refers to as Tibetan exiles: “If Tibetan exiles recognize that China has a legitimate claim to Tibet, the threshold for resolving the Tibet Question will have been crossed. Presumably, negotiations that would include expanding the scope of autonomy for Tibet and protecting its culture could begin.”

The Dalai Lama’s acceptance of Tibet as a part of the People’s Republic of China is fairly well known within Chinese intellectual circles debating the Tibet issue. Has that information never popped up on the screen as Sautman (or Team Sautman?) scoured the internet for citations with which to buttress his thesis? China is simply uninterested in having the Dalai Lama back. No matter what his stated position he will inevitably become the focus of Tibetan aspirations. In 1959 he neither sought nor led a revolt against China. But he was swept up into it and became the face of a revolt he never wanted. This is all well known, but Sautman prefers to look away from the Dalai Lama’s eagerness to accommodate China’s claim to Tibet and instead blame “Tibetan exiles” for… well, for what exactly? For their political stance on the question of Tibet’s status? Sautman obviously thinks that “Tibetan exiles” should abandon advocacy, something they have a right to undertake by any interpretation of a number of international covenants on human rights, (starting with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Then, Sautman “presumes,” China will negotiate about letting them have a greater role in “protecting [Tibet’s] culture.” In other words, Tibetans are asked to give up a basic right, advocacy and the expression of their opinions, and then China will discuss curbing culturally repressive measures that it should not be implementing to begin with. The rhetorical tact Sautman takes, by positing the cessation of advocacy as a prerequisite for discussions about cultural protection, easily insinuates to readers who don’t pause very long to consider what they’ve just read that the former is the cause of the latter. Or, to put it crudely, repression is caused by opposition to repression.

And what sort of protection does he think Tibet’s culture needs? As he puts it elsewhere, “state practices in Tibet do not amount to cultural genocide or ethnocide.  No intentional destruction of Tibetan culture has been shown.” (BTW, he supports these comments and others like them with reference to remarks by the “pro-Tibet-independence Tibetologist Elliot Sperling” about the cultural activity that does take place on the Tibetan Plateau, selectively omitting said Tibetologist’s assertion that Chinese measures aimed at repressing literary and artistic freedom must be opposed, and that repression can indeed be harsh when the government perceives a potential for engendering sentiments it considers separatist or simply hostile to its interests. More to the point are the attacks on cultural figures that have been more and more in evidence since 2008.)

I’ve largely looked only at Sautman’s section on Tibet’s historical status and here alone one winds up with a real farrago of selective and often specious citations, wrapped up inside a meant-to-impress 400+-footnote package. It’s certainly enough to impress the easily impressed—those who don’t understand the necessity for primary sources on such a question or the need to examine the view from below (and not just the view from the metropole). It will surely seem impressive to those who don’t understand the necessity of reading and digesting the basic literature on a question, as opposed to simply citing just enough of whatever writings one can find to support an argument. And it will certainly strike a resonant chord with anyone who imagines that being conquered by the Mongols is somewhat akin to having one’s monarch marry into another royal family. A most impressive piece of work, “All That Glitters is Not Gold.”


* China’s Tibet, Autumn, 1991, pp. 12-14.