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China plays the Nazi Card with the Dalai Lama

posted Apr 6, 2012, 7:15 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Apr 6, 2012, 7:36 PM ]
By Todd Stein
International Campaign for Tibet

Pretend you are a Western public relations consultant paid handsomely to advise the Chinese government on improving China’s global image. A client comes to you with an idea: equating the Dalai Lama with Hitler. Do you respond:

a. Great idea. The Dalai Lama’s fascist tendencies make this a natural comparison,
b. Smart choice. Nazi analogies are highly effective in Western societies, or
c. Are you #%&@* serious?

Well, whether the Chinese got no advice, bad advice, or chose to ignore sound advice, they have Played the Nazi Card.

A few days ago, the Chinese state-run propaganda portal China Tibet Online posted an unsigned commentary that equated the Dalai Lama with Hitler and the Nazis. It said:

“The remarks of the Dalai Lama remind us of the uncontrolled and cruel Nazi during the Second World War…How similar it is to the Holocaust committed by Hitler on the Jewish! (sic)”

This analogy is the latest in the Chinese attempt to characterize the Dalai Lama’s criticism of Chinese policies that encourage/tolerate Chinese migration into Tibet as “ethnic cleansing.” (In reality, his envoys make the case that regulating migration is both consistent with China’s autonomy system and practicable under existing household registration laws.)

Setting aside the obvious reactions that this analogy is both wrong and highly offensive, what would motivate the Chinese to Play the Nazi Card?

  1. Can’t help themselves.  As an excellent piece in the Economist points out, there is something called Godwin’s Law, a humorous adage for the Internet age that says, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches.” This well applies in the case of state-run propaganda. Godwin has said the ubiquity of such comparisons trivializes the Holocaust.
    As the Wall Street Journal observed, “Maybe somebody needs to tell the writer that when anyone starts flinging Hitler comparisons, it’s usually a sign he has run out of arguments.”
    The Chinese have called His Holiness a “devil,” a “jackal” and a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Attacking the Dalai Lama is a cottage industry within the propaganda bureau. Maybe they earn bonus payments for topping each others’ vitriol. Or maybe upping to Hitler is a concession that the previous nasty rhetoric isn’t having the desired effect. But the Nazi Card is pretty much the last one in the deck. If this doesn’t work, what’s left to play?
    Well, there are two more cards. Only two others in history can match Hitler’s record for mass atrocities. One is Stalin. The other is Mao. I can only relish the thought of the Chinese media’s comparisons of the Dalai Lama to Chairman Mao. They can speculate on what the two really talked about in Beijing in 1954.

  3. Knocking down the Dalai Lama’s high standing in the West. OK, but they’re rather ignorant if they try, and it won’t work. Putting aside the reality that His Holiness is perhaps the most universally recognized (outside of the Zhongnanhai complex) embodiment of peace, non-violence and compassion, the Chinese don’t get that the Nazi comparison doesn’t fly. In fact, Playing the Nazi Card is the surest way to discredit and undermine one’s argument. It invariably trivializes both the grave historical significance of the Nazi era and the subject of the analogy.
    This mis-play reminds me of recent impolitic moments, when the Chinese media claimed that President Obama should understand the Tibet issue because blacks were slaves too, and explained away then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s support for Tibet as over-compensation because she is a woman.

  5. Inflaming nationalist sentiment against the Dalai Lama.  On its face, this is the most believable, as so much of the Chinese propaganda on Dalai Lama and Tibet is directed at a domestic (read: Chinese) audience. Blaming the Dalai Clique for the problems in Tibet is designed to deflect attention from the consequences of China’s decades of failed policies in Tibet, and to energize nationalist sentiments among the Chinese majority.

This approach, however, has a curious illogic to it. In the West, the Hitler label is unquestionably a pejorative one.  In China, not necessarily so. Hitler appears to have some admirers in China. Journalist Isaac Stone Fish wrote in August 2011 that,

“In China, Hitler isn’t known for the Holocaust, but rather for achieving social stability with a very high human cost. “In general, they refer to him as very lihai, very hardcore, someone who is strong, powerful,” said Rabbi Nussin Rodin, a Chabad representative in Beijing. “You can be strong and powerful and good, and strong and powerful and bad. It’s weird. I don’t know what to say.” With China’s regime facing growing internal criticism for mishandling any number of things, from the escalating price of fuel to train safety, Hitler’s perceived image as a strong leader who was able to maintain social stability makes him an attractive figure to many.”

China researcher Richard Komaiko wrote in Asia Times last year that,

“admiration for Hitler is growing stronger and stronger. Blog posts with titles like “Why I like Hitler” are popping up every day, and an increasingly greater share of young Chinese are choosing to express their nationalism by voicing support for Hitler.”

Admittedly, this is not a scientific survey.  But it does raise the question, if Hitler has a non-negative image among the Chinese populace, what do the Chinese propagandists hope to accomplish by linking the Dalai Lama to him?

Notably, the commentary was not given a byline. Even though “opinion” pieces in Chinese media outlets are often published under pseudonyms, the fact that this offering was anonymous is interesting.

So what’s next? Speaking from the point of view of Holocaust victims, the Simon Wiesenthal Center offered a scathing critique of the Playing of the Nazi Card and a defense of the Dalai Lama (“a role model for dissent with dignity”). While we cannot expect governments to respond directly to this commentary posted on a state-run webpage, we can anticipate it will be in the briefs of certain officials when they sit across the table from their Chinese counterparts. I try to imagine the reaction if the Chinese Play the Nazi Card in meetings with the U.S., French, German or Israeli governments.

“Are you #%&@* serious?”

Republished in TPR with permission of ICT.  Originally published at:

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