Chinese troops suffering post-traumatic stress disorder in Tibet
by Malcolm Moore, Beijing - 21 May 2013
by Malcolm Moore, Beijing - 21 May 2013
Advice has been offered to members of the People's Armed Police on combating depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Photo: CAI JUN/EPA
The battle to keep Tibetans under control is inflicting severe psychological damage on Chinese armed police, an internal training document has revealed.
The leaked 25-page training manual was given to members of the People's Armed Police charged with keeping order in Tibetan areas of Sichuan province.
Among the advice it offers are ways of combating depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for paramilitary troops involved in recent atrocities.
One section is titled: "How should you deal with flashbacks of brutal episodes?" It specifically refers to an incident in Aba county on March 16, 2011 when a Tibetan monk named Phuntsok self-immolated in a market and to a protest on March 18, 2009 in Seda and Ganzi counties where Chinese armed police, confronted by protesting Tibetans, fired into the crowd.
"For some of the troops who joined these operations, there may be brutal scenes that reappear in their minds, causing nightmares and insomnia. These are called flashbacks, a symptom of PTSD," the manual states. "If you are suffering flashbacks, you should close your eyes and imagine that you are zooming in on the scene like a camera. It may feel uncomfortable. Then zoom all the way out until you cannot see anything. Then tell yourself the flashback has gone."
The manual was unearthed and distributed by the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), a non-governmental organisation staffed by Tibetans in exile in Dharamsala, which said it exposed the falsity of claims that life is "harmonious" under Chinese rule. Since February 2009, at least 109 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in protest, of whom at least 89 have died. The manual also advises troops to avoid depression by taking walks, listening to music, playing sports and games of cards and by writing a diary. It says if officers begin to "feel numb" to the world around them, they should put a bunch of wild flowers in their room. Two military psychiatrists said special teams have been making trips to Tibet and to Tibetan areas of China for the past decade, sometimes spending months at a time counselling Chinese troops.
One said the lack of oxygen at high altitude can "decrease rational thinking and lead to short temper or depression". In March, seven teams from the Third Military Medical university in Chongqing visited various Tibetan areas to conduct psychological surveys and treat more than 1,000 individuals. The exact number of troops from the PAP and the People's Liberation Army keeping order in Tibet is unknown. A paper published in February in the Modern Clinical Medicine Journal suggested that there should be teams of psychiatrists "at every level of the forces" in Qinghai province.
Wu Chuke, a professor at the Ethnic Minorities University in Beijing poured scorn on the idea that Chinese troops are suffering psychologically from policies in Tibet. "Any sensible person knows that what they experience in Tibet can be no worse than in the rest of the China. Psychological problems cannot be significant for them. They are armed police! They must have seen worse things". As China battles to contain the problems in Tibetan areas, the authorities have introduced a new, microscopic surveillance system to keep watch on the ethnic population and reduce the risk of troops being exposed to traumatic incidents. Outlined in an annual report in February, the "grid" management divides Tibet into units of as few as five or ten households, each of which is watched over by at least five administrative and security staff, according to Human Rights Watch.
The staff are also charged with collecting information about their grids in order to nip any problems in the bud. Official statements in Tibet praise the new system as "increasing harmonious factors and minimising the factors of disharmony", while Yu Zhengsheng, a member of China's Politburo Standing Committee, said in February that the grid would form "nets in the sky and traps on the ground".
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