Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Who Hacked Bi Hua’s Computer?

By Therang Buengu

After days of wondering why Bi Hua was abruptly removed from a key Tibet post in the United Front, I was struck by Hong Kong media reports attributing the unceremonious dismissal to the hacking of Bi Hua’s office computer and the subsequent loss of highly confidential documents concerning Tibet.

Bi Hua was formerly a rising star for Tibet policy in the United Front. A Tianjin Nankai University graduate, Bi Hua, 53, rose in the ranks under the tutelage of conservative strongman, Zhu Xiaoming, during the 1990s. She published a number of important commentary on Tibet under the pen name “Hua Zi” in the Chinese official press. But as the latest round of dialogue with the Dalai Lama's envoys began in 2002, the Central Government removed both Zhu and Bi from the agency. Bi Hua was appointed as one of the deputy heads of Beijing's Tibetology Center. More recently, she was transferred back to the United Front and promoted to the directorship of one of the bureaus in charge of Tibetan affairs. It was her long time dream post.

According to the Hong Kong publication Ming Bao, sources in Beijing claim that “Bi Hua's work computer has been intruded by ‘hackers’ and a large number of confidential document on Tibet policy has been stolen, leading to the major leakage of internal information on the central government's work in Tibet.” Ming Bao reports that the incident has “shocked the top leadership of the central government,” and even Hu Jintao has supposedly ordered an investigation.

If you are hoping to find out who hacked Bi Hua’s computer through this blogpost, then I must disappoint you. I not only do I not know who hacked Bi Hua’s computer, in fact I don’t know anyone who knows anything about hacking computers as such, let alone hacking a highly secured computer like Bi Hua’s. But I do know a thing or two about the culture of secrecy of those who handle China’s Tibet policy: it is a culture pervaded by an intense paranoia about forces—China's enemies—who are out there using Tibet to get them at any moment. That mentality may be the real “uninvited guest” (in Chinese hacker translates as heike, which literally means ‘black guest’).

Perhaps one important lesson from Bi Hua’s removal is that China’s greatest enemy is its very own paranoia.

The Chinese Communist Party from its infancy has been obsessed with secrecy and often paralyzed by its own paranoia. Don’t get me wrong. I do know that for political parties—whether underground revolutionary organizations or stable ruling parties of the state apparatus—a certain degree of confidentiality is vital. But throughout contemporary Chinese history, the intensity and extent of the CCP’s secrecy and paranoia have ruined many people’s lives and indeed led to the murder of countless innocent people. Of course, as China has embarked on a path of reform, the party organs and government operations have become relatively more transparent and less burdened by a bunker mentality. Yet the United Front has led the management of China’s Tibet policy in the opposite direction.

Among the many new Tibet related work units (danwei) that have been created over the past two decades, a disproportionate number of them are in one way or other engaged in secret operations. Look at Lhasa’s eastern area these days, where there is a range of high walled security related work units. Taken together, this area might be as big as the entire city of Lhasa during the Cultural Revolution. During the past twenty years, every Tibet related regional, provincial and national level agency built their own institutions to collect so-called overseas’ Tibet related information. At a one point I was naively hoping that through this massive information gathering, they might learn more about the Dalai Lama and better understand how the world community sees Tibet and China's policy. That might have helped them recognize their own idiocy.

Instead these institutions have become the key instruments through which to exaggerate and even outright fabricate evidence of the so-called “Dalai clique” and the western anti-China plot to create disturbances in China. It has now reached the point of a vicious cycle. These institutions now need to exaggerate and fabricate the threat of outside enemies in order to justify their enormous expenditure and promote their own important role in safeguarding China's social stability.

Most westerners are bewildered by what China has been doing in Tibet and by what China has been saying about Tibet and the Dalai Lama. It is a simple yet complex issue. If you have an intimate relationship with people working in these institutions, if you know something about their individual careers and lavish lifestyles—and in many cases their institution's very existence are integrally dependent on these perceptions—then these dynamics are simple to explain: they are acting in their own self interest, not what is in the interest of the society at large. But it is much harder to understand why they are able to continue to do this at the expense of ethnic tensions and the tarnishing of China's international image, which it seems they care so much about.

As long as China's top leadership and ruling elite don't have the courage to confront reality, those currently in charge of Tibet policy will have a powerful interest to continue their agenda of creating a bubble of fear around Tibet. I'm sure in the whole world only these people can tell you with a straight face that the recent unrest in Tibet was a creation of the Tibetan Youth Congress. It is in their vital interest to make these stories believable. And to prove their correctness, they not only destroy other lives, they themselves also, on occasion, inadvertently fall victims to this machine--one that was their own creation.

Bi Hua is an unlikely victim of China's Tibet policy. She too, it seems, has fallen prey to the forces of fear and paranoia around Tibet. Whether the sudden loss of her dream post was due to a hacker’s intrusion or simply her colleagues’ paranoia—most likely a combination of the two—it seems that she too has become a victim of the paranoid bunker mentality of China’s Tibet policy. As such, she is yet another one who has met a similar fate.

According to Ming Bao, Bi Hua has currently been "placed on probation within the party". That is, she has not been entirely removed from the party work unit. Bi Hua is a smart woman. She might one day crawl out of this ditch and return once more to a key position on Tibetan affairs within the United Front. In the meantime, I hope she is reflecting seriously on the consequences of the Tibet policy she helped build.


  1. Hi, my name is Ariel. I'm a Singaporean studying in an American university. I am doing a project on Tibet. I chanced upon your blog while surfing the net. Will you be able to help me on my project? I need your comments on some issues. Please be assured that this is just a class project, not for publication or media use. Please contact me at kahtung@indiana.edu, or check out my blog at geminiariel7.blogspot.com to know more about me.

  2. Therang,

    You are great at getting down to the issues that matters most to us. It was amazing how you could shed your knowledge from China with all the risk and complication involved. I enjoyed reading your blogs and the only thing I can do right now is to pray for your safety and longlife. Byod Gyal Lo.

  3. I have read all the articles that you have posted and really enjoyed all of them.

    I truly appreciate how you are trying to create awareness about Tibet issues despite the risk that you might face.

    I am looking forward to read more of your article.