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?
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?”