To MAJ: in reply to his idea of “verifiable empirical research” on Tibet

A while ago, I had a disagreement with Mark Anthony Jones, one of our regular commenters, over the issue of so-called “independent” ”verifiable” ”empirical” research on Tibet.  I called into question the type of “independent authority” on Tibet that MAJ had extensively quoted to justify his assessment of the Chinese government’s policy on Tibet.  The discussion has been cut short due to my extremely busy work schedule.  An interesting piece of news at Friday’s the Guardian has prompted me to pick up where we left off.  I would like to see whether we can ignite another round of debate.

Let’s have a look at this report from the Guardian:

The BBC should have informed listeners that an academic interviewed about Tibet on Radio 4’s Today programme was speaking from a pro-Chinese government viewpoint, the BBC Trust has ruled.

In its latest roundup of rulings, the BBC Trust’s editorial standards committee partly upheld a complaint about a Today Show item on demonstrations in Tibet aired in March 2008.

The complainant said Professor Barry Sautman of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology was allowed to express his views in support of the Chinese government’s policy on Tibet “virtually unchallenged”

[ … ]

The BBC Trust committee ruled that Sautman, who has published books on the subject of Tibet under Chinese rule and has contributed to other news outlets such as al-Jazeera and Voice of America, was a credible choice of interviewee.

Sautman’s use to counter the Tibetan viewpoint was also reasonable, given that the Chinese authorities rarely agree to interviews.

However, the committee said the programme breached the rules on impartiality by not making it clear that Sautman was associated with a particular viewpoint rather than giving an impartial view as an academic.

“Professor Sautman had been introduced only by his name and university, not by his affiliation to any particular viewpoint,” the ESC ruled. “The audience would not have been aware, for at least the first part of the interview, that he held any more than an observant academic’s opinions on the subject.”

The fact that Sautman had strong views only became clear when the interviewer asked if he had any sympathy with the Tibetan independence movement and he replied that he had none.

[ … ]

Before I proceed, I’d like to point out that I have no issue with Professor Sautman’s scholarship.  I very much doubt it is fair to classify his viewpoints as entirely “pro-China”.  Those who are familiar with Sautman’s earlier research will know that he has also been very critical of the ways in which the Chinese government aids and abets the spread of racial nationalism and Han chauvinism in China.  When it comes to the 3.14 incident in Lhasa and the Dalai Lama though, Sautman’s position is very much in step with those of the CCP official line.  Even so, it will not deter me from consulting his research or quoting him in my own writings.  The only thing is: unlike MAJ, I will not claim that I am quoting from some independent and/or impartial authority.  Nor would I use such description as “verifiable empirical evidence”.

Anyone who has formal training in conducting field research will know that the term “objective empirical research” is self-contradictory.  Empirical data are usually collected based on observation.  The researcher/observer plays a central role in this type of research.  Data collected vary greatly, depending on: how the researchers plan their research, whom they choose (or exclude) as participants, and what questions are asked.  In Social Sciences research in particularly, an observer’s academic vigour, that derives from his/her personal belief, political affiliation and bias, is known to be an important factor affecting the impartiality of his/her findings.  So it is utterly legitimate for me to ask questions about the ideological affiliation of these “empirical” researchers, and to determine the validity of their argument based on such investigation.

For this reason, I concur with the BBC Trust’s ruling.  What is objectionable is not Sautman’s scholarship or his political affiliation.  It is the way in which the producer of Today Show has failed to notify viewers of Sautman’s pro-Chinese government viewpoint on the Tibetan issues discussed in the program.  Similarly, I also find MAJ very dishonest when he attempts to disguise biased viewpoints by justifying them as the outcome of “independent research”. 

There is no doubt that Amy Mountcastle and Jamyang Norbu are biased.  But at least they do not pretend to be objective or try to disguise themselves as “independent researchers” who are neutral to the free Tibet movement.  And I see no reason why I should not endorse their argument on merit basis.

Before I end this post, I’d like to draw MAJ’s attention once again to the US-China People’s Friendship Association.  If you still think that it is “bollocks” to link this organisation to CCP’s United Front Department, then I suggest you should check out a couple of its founding members.  Do names such as Clark Kissinger, Carl Davidson and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) ring a bell for anyone?


This entry was posted in regional security, Under the Tree and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

29 Responses to To MAJ: in reply to his idea of “verifiable empirical research” on Tibet

  1. justrecently says:

    Similarly, I also find MAJ very dishonest when he attempts to disguise biased viewpoints by justifying them as the outcome of “independent research”.
    I think MAJ refers to the scholars he refers to as independent scholars (comment #18 there).
    By doing so, MAJ doesn’t exactly dub his sources “independent resarch” which, as you said, can’t be all that unbiased, when it is empirical.
    My main objection against MAJ’s approach is that it does weigh different realities and their importance after all, and at the same time pretends to be a voice of reason in a sea of corybantic (“pro-Tibetan”) emotionalism.
    But revulsion against certain steps taken by Beijing to deny Tibetan identity (such as the infamous “serf-emancipation day” is quite natural. I’d say many of Beijing’s propaganda measures actually reveal what is wrong with its policy on Tibet.

  2. C.A. Yeung says:

    I think MAJ refers to the scholars he refers to as independent scholars. By doing so, MAJ doesn’t exactly dub his sources “independent resarch” which, as you said, can’t be all that unbiased, when it is empirical.

    Now this is a very good point. And you’ll be so amazed nowadays how many “independent scholars” in the “free world” are openly soliciting “sponsored projects” from a variety of “innovative” (but questionable) sources. We end up with IVF Labs sponsoring embryonic research and oil conglomerates funding studies on global warming. So there is no reason why the CCP cannot offer logistic supports for scholars and journalists who want to collect “empirical data” in Tibet.

  3. C.A. Yeung says:

    By the way, there are several attempts to spam this particular blog post with pornographic and abusive material this morning. I take that as a compliment. I must have somehow hit a sensitive nerve somewhere.

  4. Ned Kelly says:

    What, you deleted the porn without sharing it with me first? Aww, you’re no fun.

  5. Ned Kelly says:

    Monty Python on “You’re no fun anymore”, fast forward to the 2:00 minute mark:

  6. Pingback: “Verifiable Empirical Research” on Tibet? « Justrecently’s Weblog

  7. Ned Kelly says:

    Hm. So far, MAJ remains silent.

    So now our American friend Ivan wants to taunt Mark, in a friendly way, with this old American TV show’s lyric: “Car 54, where ARE you?”

    Here ya go:

    🙂 from Ned and his American alter ego, Ivan!

  8. justrecently says:

    Methinks MAJ is carefully preparing his statement. Or does he believe that this post is lacking respect?

  9. Ned Kelly says:

    Nah. He knows he can expect courtesy from me, but he also knows I respect no one but God.

  10. justrecently says:

    Have China scholars all been bought?
    April 2007
    by Carsten A. Holz
    Academics who study China, which includes the author, habitually please the Chinese Communist Party, sometimes consciously, and often unconsciously. Our incentives are to conform, and we do so in numerous ways: through the research questions we ask or don�t ask, through the facts we report or ignore, through our use of language, and through what and how we teach. –> FEER

  11. Sorry for the delay – I’m in no position to enter debate on this issue at the moment, as I am in the process of having a number of medical tests carried out – I’m a possible cancer victim I’m afraid – lymphoma is what I’m suspected of having. Nothing has been confirmed yet, but as you might imagine, my life is in turmoil right now. I have simply dropped my Tiananmen project, the second half of my essay, two-thirds written, should have been posted over on the Fool’s Mountain site a week ago. I have HSC essay to mark, ad infinitum. My students come first, then my girlfriend, then my own health – so I’m taking everything one step at a time. My lymph nodes are badly swollen on my right hand side – armpit and neck. I had a biopsy and cat scan about thity minutes ago, and the doctor suggested I “piss out all the dye” over a few beers at the pub – which is exactly what I’m doing right now as I type – my girlfriend, Gao Ying, should be here soon, to join me. Anyhow, as you might imagine, cyber debates are the last things on my mind right now, so I shall have to
    enter this discussion at a later date. Thanks for your understanding.

    By the way, with all due respect, I stand by my assessments of Tibet – although we have plenty to disagree about, we also have some common ground. That’s important to recognise too, I think.

    All the best for now,

  12. justrecently says:

    I wish you and your girl friend that you get through the suspense soon, and with a less bad result than what it may look like at the moment. Let us know the findings when you get them. Meantime, a few beers and one step at a time sound like a reasonable approach.
    All the best for now,

  13. C.A. Yeung says:

    Dear Mark,

    That’s terrible. You must have been through hell. I don’t know what to say, except that I wish you’re going to get well soon.

    It seems that lymphoma is very common nowadays. But the good news is, it usually responds well to treatment.

    Our discussions can wait. At the moment your health (both physical and emotional) takes priority. However, you have to promise me to focus on getting soon. There are many issues there waiting for us to explore, to discuss and to debate.

    Please drop by, if you can, every now and then, to let us know how you are doing. Let us know if there is something that we can do to help.

  14. Labelling me “dishonest” for presenting Sautman as an independent scholar is I think rather unfair. Professor Sautman, as far as I am concerned, is an independent scholar. He may be opinionated, he may not have much sympathy for the pro-Tibetan independence movement, but that doesn’t mean that he is not an independent scholar, whose views are shaped by his own independent research. Professor Melvyn Goldstein, who is widely regarded within academia as the world’s leading English-language scholar of Tibet, also has little sympathy for the pro-Tibetan independence movement. He is not affiliated with any political party or pro-Chinese lobby groups. His research is independently carried out. Cynthia Beall likewise.

    Professor Colin Mackerras, of Griffith University, described the book Sautman edited – “Contemporary Tibet” – as the most scholarly book on Tibet currently available! Goldstein, Beall and Grunfeld all contributed research papers to that book as well, as did Sautman himself of course. Here is what Mackerras wrote about Sautman’s book:

    “This is the best book so far written on contemporary Tibet. It is broad-ranging, balanced, fair, judicious and scholarly.”

    Secondly, when I say that something is empirically-verifiable, I simply mean that it is scientific, in that it is able to be DISPROVED.

    For example, to say that God exists is simply not scientific, because it is impossible to verify either way. One cannot claim to have verifiable proof of God’s existence, or of God’s non-existence. To be scientific (ie. empirical) evidence must be capable of being somehow tested.

    The number of Tibetan political prisoners currently serving sentences, is however, potentially verifiable. I can take figures compiled by human rights organisations and the US senate, based on known verified individual cases, and then I can say, with some reasonable confidence, that at least X number of Tibetan political prisoners are currently serving sentences. One can then compare what is known with reasonable certainty – what is empirically-verifiable – with what is often claimed by pro-Tibetan groups. The gap is often huge. One then must speculate on how many unverified Tibetan political prisoners there may be serving sentences. Sober estimates more often than not still fall way short of what is often claimed by interest groups. Conclusion? Well, Sautman, Grunfeld, Goldstein, and others, conclude that the pro-Tibetan groups exaggerate, often greatly, the number of Tibetan political prisoners. The same applies to the number of torture victims. The charge that cultural genocide is not supported by the overwhelming weight of emprical evidence either – quite the opposite in fact: Tibet has experienced a cultural renaissance, with Tibetans active participants in the process. Goldstein and Beall in particular have written a great deal about this.

    I don’t think that there is anything dishonest in the way that I draw upon both primary and secondary sources, or in the way that I support my assessments by juxtaposing the available empirically-verifiable evidence with what is often quite clearly simply plucked from thin air!

    And by the way, I had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the earlier spamming of this thread.

    Justrecently – thanks for your kind words of encouragement. My CT scans and blood tests show me to be in very good health – my swollen lymph nodes appear to be the only symptom of the suspected lymphoma. I had a rather painful biopsy yesterday afternoon, and so I just have to wait five days for the results.

    One thing I must say here – so far I have had two CT scans, a chest X-ray, a biopsy (four tissue samples taken), an ultra-sound and three separate consultations with my GP. None of this, thanks to Australia’s medicare system, has cost me a single cent. So I’m a proud taxpayer, except when my hard-earned money is spent invading and occupying other countries, like Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Anyhow, that’s all from me for now, as I have a mountain of HSC assessment tasks to mark.

  15. Catherine, I just discovered your last comment. Thanks for your words of encouragement. Lymphoma is probably the best cancer to get, if one must develop any cancer at all. I’m sure I’ll be OK in the long run. Having all of these tests, and waiting for a final diagnosis, is inconvenient, and does cause some considerable anxiety, but…

    I can’t complain too much. I’ve had nearly 40 years of perfect health, and I’m in good hands here, being in walking distance to one of the country’s best hospitals – the Royal Prince Alfred. I’m sure, once the diagnosis is confirmed (next Wednesday most likely) that I’ll be well advised on the best course of treatment.

    I feel fine at present, so I’m still smiling!

  16. C.A. Yeung says:

    Mark, it’s nice to know that you’re smiling. And please keep on doing so. My workload is impossible at the moment. So I’ll take my time to get back to your previous comment re: Tibet.

  17. FOARP says:

    MAJ is a well-known fantasist. This I think is not news to anyone here. Keep this in mind whenever you read anything he writes.

  18. justrecently says:

    Frankly, if I were you, I’d ask C.A. and Ned to remove that comment (#17), FOARP.

  19. C.A. Yeung says:

    FOARP, welcome back. Your comment about MAJ is not unfounded. My other friends who had encounters with him back at the Peking Duck had filled me in with the full story. My strategy is that I’ll take what he says at face value. As long as he doesn’t break the rules of this forum (being abusive, spamming the blog with comments unrelated to the post, using multiple IDs, etc), I’ll let his comments stay. I’m aware of how he frequently mixes facts with CCP-type lies when he presents his ideas. I’m sometimes wondering whether he is for real or whether he is taking a piss. But still, it’s up to people like you and me to expose those lies. Don’t you agree?

  20. justrecently says:

    Didn’t find a smoking gun (re abuse or varying ID’s) when looking TPD-related stories about MAJ up some weeks ago. What’s the full story?

  21. C.A. Yeung says:


    Check your email for the full story. I’ve sent it to your hotmail account.

  22. FOARP says:

    Speaking as someone who recently had to deal with a certain other well-known Sino-fraud (one who does actually run a not insubstantial company) pretending to have committed suicide in an apparent effort to discredit anyone who reported it and/or leave them open to harassment charges, I am of the opinion that someone who is once a fantasist is always a fantasist. Why exactly that certain man (who has to be worth in the hundreds of thousands) would want to waste his time with someone like me (who is facing going on the dole) is quite beyond me, except that such people crave attention and sympathy and do not care how they receive it.

  23. FOARP says:

    I guess I should also mention the highly suspicious nature of the way MAJ peddles his book. The only on-line review is from someone who’s style is exactly the same as that of MAJ, and who feels the need to regularly reference MAJ’s writing in his reviews. The website on which these reviews were done then mysteriously went off-line when I pointed this out, although it is now back on line, although it is strange to note that the purported author of this blog is also the only person other than MAJ himself who comments on MAJ’s blog. MAJ also advertises an ‘in-store’ price for his book, which is printed by a vanity publisher.

    Basically, MAJ is still at it.

  24. justrecently says:

    Basically, I’d say let’s judge comments and online posts by the merit of content. I think that’s where the issues are.

  25. C.A. Yeung says:


    I’m not ignorant of the questionable nature of MAJ’s intellectual pursuit. I work with real academics (and very good ones too) and we don’t conduct our business the way MAJ does. That’s why I know. Have you ever seen me discussing MAJ’s book? Would that be a good indicator to you that I know what I’m doing?

    From where I stand, MAJ has nothing substantial to gain from exercising his fantasy at my blog. If sympathy and a bit of a discussion is all his wants, Ned and I are more than happy to oblige. There is no danger of us ever falling for his fallacies. That simply won’t happen.

    I’m vaguely aware of the cases that you have been dealing with. And I have to say that they are some totally different categories of fantasists altogether.

  26. C.A. Yeung says:

    Thanks JR, you made a very good point. And no, it’s not hazardous to chuckle when you’re reading a bizarre (but true) story, unless you have a mouthful of food. Morality doesn’t come into the question. 😉

  27. C.A. Yeung says:

    P.S. JR: Ned agrees with me that it’s not morally hazardous to chuckle at the story. He goes a step further to say that it is actually mandatory for you to do so.

  28. Sojourner says:

    Unfortunately, MAJ wasn’t being a fantasist about his cancer.

    I did a quick search and also came across this Facebook posting:

    “Mark Anthony Jones, friend and much loved teacher at the highschool i attended died November 27, 2009; skin cancer.”

  29. Pygmalion says:

    I am new at this forum, but I do follow information about Tibet for a while.

    I think that one can say with great certainty that many statements by Dalai Lama exile goverment are exaggeration. Well, do not understand me wrongly – PRC statements are even worse. In this thunder of desinfomations it is hart to get to the real truth, which is somewhere between PRC and DL statements, but not neccessarily in the middle.

    Why is it in my opinion important to point out Dalai Lama exaggerations? Despite being sympathetic to Tibetan cause to greater authonomy and possibly independance, I do not think self-disinformed Tibetan exile goverment is not always doing best in Tibetan nation’s interest. Oh, they are winning hearts of people around the world, that’s right. But they do little, for example, to develop Tibetan language to the level to accomodate a modern society. Which is equally important. So Tibetans themselves use Chinese in technical environment. Tibetan government in exile should develop secular Tibetan society and open Tibetan secular universities in order to encourage development of Tibetan language and creating Tibetan secular elite. Which they are not doing. And this is only one of many problems.

    The problem with pro-China independant scolars is that “national issue” is viewed differently from the perspective of different people. The typical example is Angloamerican versus European continental definition of “nation”. In Angloamerican system “nation” primarly refers to a group of people sharing the same independent state westfalian type. In European continental system “nation” is primarly a group of people sharing the same socioentnological characteristics, like culture and language. That is why Ukrainians consider their language sacred, and Scots are happy forgeting their own.

    I would be happy to be part of further debate on this topic and I put my email at disposal of the author of this blog in case he wishes to contact me.


Comments are closed.