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History of Psychological Warfare inTibet and China

History of Psychological Warfare inTibet
“The Chinese Revolution was imported to and imposed upon an unwilling Tibet by means of structural violence and psychological warfare.” (Norbu, 2001, p. 109) According to Norbu the ill-advised advance of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution into Tibet may have been more about cultural genocide than about nationalizing communism. It attempted imposing Han values, heroes, and heritage onto a people having not only a separate ethnological heritage, but an entirely separate religious culture. Even now as the Chinese government appears to support greater openness, Tibet seems held by the same old communist party rules. In the late 1970s Maoist leftism seemed more enforced in Tibet, and into the present oppression bears more the earmarks of a class struggle than an ideological revolution.

In Tibet China finds itself facing the age-old problem of psychologically manipulating a captive people’s deepest held religious beliefs — a psychological bulwark that through history has proven immune to even the threat of death. In its most extreme this involves supplanting symbols of power of the captive peoples with those of the conquerors. The United States did it for its indigenous people by wiping out the Bison and claiming the Black Hills — eventually defacing the latter with images of U.S. Presidents on Mt. Rushmore. More anciently, Constantine IV attempted to secure control over Christianity by initiating iconoclasm — though not eliminating images, just replacing them with his own.

Native Americans forced by repressive laws and mandated boarding schools to openly abandon their religious practices, retreated into the privacy of sweat lodges where they cleaned themselves to preserve their cultural heritage. Hitler’s “Final Solution” succeeded in killing six million Jews, but dissuaded none of them from Judaism. Germany in the 1870s and Mexico in the 1920s suppressed Catholics — and Mexico quite bloodily — in the end only hurting their own credibility as members of the family of nations.

With the living symbol of the Dalai Lama as a religious leader, even in exile, Tibet has something to cling to. In Tibet China has for decades involved itself in the futile pursuit of that most resistant psychological victory, and is still losing. Religion remains a more powerful psychological force than any contrived for combat.

History of Psychological Warfare in China
Large and isolated for most of history, China’s story is almost an alternative history to what happened everyplace else on Earth. It lived out its own history, complete with wars and political social upheaval, all within its own boundaries. Even with the Maoist revolution, its roots of self-learned psychological warfare stretch into antiquity. While the inspirational “Art of War” by Sun Tzu may be the best known Chinese work on war, it is not the most direct — and unapologetically ruthless — regarding psychological warfare.

That honor goes to “Thirty-Six Strategies”. With thousands of years of history behind it, it summarizes all learned among the different kinds of conflicts experienced. Most of these martial proverbs existed by the First century B.C.E. As early as the 3rd Century A.C.E, when Romans were still killing Christians just for fun, two Chinese dynasties already accepted that psychological warfare was better than actual combat — though later dynasties dispensed with that notion (Thomas, 2005). Understanding the 36 Strategies is essential for negotiating even in today’s Chinese business world. If a negotiator does not apply some of these strategies, he or she may be certain that they are being applied against him (Brahm, 2003).
“The 36 Strategies” are simply expressed in brief sentences, like, “Deceive the Sky (Emperor) to cross the Ocean.” (Man Tian Kuo Hai). This describes a still recognized strategy of hiding in plain sight, having open activities that distract from a hidden agenda. Another is, “Create something from nothing,” (Wu Zhong Sheng Yo) which psychologial warfare does well when it creates a weakness where none previously existed. In modern times Chiang Kai-shek Mao Zedong both knew these strategies. The open-endedness keeps them as valid for politics and finance as they are for war.

They also figure centrally in the expected future of Chinese psychological warfare. In the 1990s when NATO fought wars in the Persian Gulf and Kosovo, the Chinese watched and learned. As the age of Information Warfare (IW) advanced, China began cultivating greater interest in Psychological Operations (which — contradicting Western definitions — the Chinese military mind equates with any psychological warfare). From 2002-2005 its prominent journal China Military Science published six articles related to psychological warfare (Thomas, 2005). As recently as August 18th, 2012, “the Sunzi Research Association of Shandong and the Military Psychology Committee under the Chinese Psychology Society”(Xue & Lu, 2012) hosted a symposium on the topic. Altogether 45 professionals attended, considered psychological warfare in general and the monograph Conquest without Combat – Ancient Chinese Psychological Warfare Thought and Usage, a required textbook for People’s Liberation Army students.

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