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Guest Post: Placing psychiatric health manual of Chinese armed police in Tibet in context

 

Front cover of the PAP handbook on mental health
Front cover of the PAP handbook on mental health

The Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) recently received and published a summary of a manual it published by the Sichuan Provincial Political Department of the People’s Armed Police Force.  The manual consists of 29 questions and answers on how the People’s Armed Police Force can cope with the psychological trauma caused by the violent nature of the People’s Armed Police Force in Tibetan areas of Sichuan.  TCHRD presents an analysis of the manual by Matthew Akester.

Matthew Akester is a translator of classical and modern literary Tibetan with 25 years of experience as an independent researcher throughout the Tibetan world.  He has worked as a consultant and contributor for the Tibet Information Network, Human Rights Watch, Tibet Heritage Fund, and Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center.  He is an advisor, editor, and translator for countless publications on Tibet in English, French, and Tibetan.  He is also a lecturer on contemporary Tibet for student programs including SIT in Nepal and India.

An Analysis of Chinese PAP Handbook 

By Matthew Akester

Internal documents dealing with the conduct of China’s security forces, particularly in sensitive regions like Tibet, are not easily available. This handbook of ‘psychiatric guidance’ for troops serving on the Tibetan plateau was stolen from a prison office and eventually smuggled out of the country by one of the hundreds of ordinary Tibetans who still manage, despite intense security measures, to flee the country every year.

It is composed in a question and answer format by mental health consultants at the People’s Armed Police (PAP) hospital in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, following a videoconference on the topic held by the Sichuan PAP command, and published in October 2008. The date is significant; PAP troops played a leading role in suppressing the mass protests against Chinese rule that swept across Tibet in March 2008, and the majority of reported atrocities committed by armed security forces against unarmed protesters at that time took place in the two Tibetan prefectures (Kardze and Ngaba) of Sichuan Province.

The impact of those events on the Tibetan population is more or less known to have involved dozens of casualties, thousands of arrests, the subjection of detainees to torture and other forms of extreme brutality, terms of imprisonment for many, and the intensification of surveillance, intimidation, and martial-style controls on movement and communication in all Tibetan areas. Five years on, this handbook provides an insight into the impact of the protests on the security forces, because it was evidently commissioned to address the occurrence of psychological trauma among the troops.

The single most significant passage of the document is question 11: “How to handle recurrent images of merciless cruelty from the time of the crackdown?” The answer states:

Soldiers who participated in the process of dealing with incidents of beating, smashing, looting and burning, such as in Aba on 3/16 and Serta and Ganzi on 3/18 may suffer recurrent flashbacks of the merciless response [by security forces], which give them bad dreams or even prevent them from sleeping…This can cause long-term mental disturbance and negatively influence an individual’s mental state and life.

This amounts to an admission that security forces did indeed use firearms against protesters on those occasions, as alleged by Tibetan eyewitnesses at the time but denied by the authorities. As well as firing on unarmed crowds, Tibetan accounts described hellish conditions in crowded detention cells, inhuman beatings, denial of medical care to the seriously wounded, and so on. Such scenes apparently also left painful scars in the minds of the perpetrators.

In the case of the 16 March protest in Ngaba (Ch: Aba) when cellphone photographs of slaughtered protesters reached the outside world the authorities retracted their initial denial, claiming (according to Xinhua on 20 March 2008) that security forces were obliged to open fire when they came under attack by a mob.

The handbook further tends to confirm that China’s security forces are deployed in Tibet to wage a political struggle, rather than simply to maintain public order. Soldiers are advised to exercise restraint and not act impulsively, but also not to shrink from punishing opponents of the state, even if they are unarmed Buddhist monks. The answer to question 6, “How to handle the shock of Tibet separatists arrogantly confronting us?”, says:

Earlier, during the crisis period, some soldiers looked for opportunities to fight with Tibet independence protesters, wishing to avenge their wounded comrades. This is normal and understandable, but as Tibet security is a special political struggle, individuals must make the effort to restrain normal impulses and exercise restraint…It is victory in the broadest sense, for the objectives of the Party and State must be assured.

Firing on protesters is acknowledged as a problem, as in the answer to question 9 (“During Tibet security duty, why is there constant fear of coming under attack?”):

If we lose control and panic, because of “mistaking a piece of rope for a snake”, and use firearms, there is sure to be a bloody incident, and innocent members of the public wounded.

(It is also noted that the ‘Six Regulations’ on using firearms must be strictly observed: this refers to Public Security ministry guidelines, which allow the use of firearms to disperse a protest in certain circumstances).

On the other hand, it admonishes those who waver when faced with Tibetan protests:

Some comrades, confronted by the scary image of insurgents holding Tibetan swords and rocks, lose their composure and become discouraged, and some feel confused when they see [protesting] monks and nuns dressed in red robes. Since this feeling inhibits the fighting spirit of the troops, and their resolve to punish the opposition [protesters], it seriously detracts from the dignity and efficiency of the force. To counter this

  1. Raise your level of understanding […] Tibet separatists look very strong and brave. But we have the firm leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, the Central Military Commission and President Hu Jintao behind us, and the support of the whole nation. Right is on our side, so we are up to the task of building long-term stability in Tibet.

The PAP deployed to crush mass protest in Tibetan areas of Sichuan in 2008 thus appear through the pages of this handbook as a somewhat unprofessional and demoralised force, prone to both vindictive violence and lapses of confidence. Apparently well-equipped and adequately trained, they struggle to cope with a popular rebellion in a bleak and unfamiliar environment. They are faced with the implacable hostility of the natives, who they are told represent a serious threat to national security yet oppose their arms with nothing more than stoic determination. It is arguably typical of colonial situations worldwide for well-armed security forces to experience confusion and self-doubt over fighting an “enemy” of powerless villagers. In this sense, the writers of this manual are dealing with a challenge familiar to occupying armies of the late 20th century from Algeria, Vietnam, and Afghanistan.

There has not been open warfare in occupied Tibet since the early 1960s, and the regime consistently denies that there is any “Tibet issue”, yet this handbook warns its foot-soldiers that:

Tibet security work is conducted in a highly complex and difficult environment, in which everyone must constantly face life and death, the stench of blood, and conflict.

Since the events of 2008, most Tibetan areas have remained in a state of undeclared martial law requiring the large-scale deployment of security forces to maintain the status quo and prevent signs of dissent from reaching the outside world. In this climate mass protest have been replaced by individual acts of self-immolation. This document provides rarely seen low-level testimony that China’s security forces see themselves as engaged in a taxing counter-insurgency in Tibet, despite the absence of armed opposition, or indeed any substantial threat to their personnel.

Below is a selective translation of the manual by TCHRD:

Psychological Counseling and Protection handbook during Stability Maintenance Work in Tibetan Areas

(Internal Document) 

Published by Sichuan People’s Armed Police Corps of the Political Department

 October 2008

Preface 

This Handbook on Psychological Counseling and Protection During Stability Maintenance Work in Tibetan Areas was prepared in accordance with the spirit of the videoconference held on stability maintenance work in Tibetan areas by the Sichuan People’s Armed Police department, in addition to the decisions taken at the meeting. Taking into consideration the work of maintaining stability in Tibetan areas and the psychological health of the armed police, the mental health department of [provincial] armed forces’ hospital with substantial assistance from various branch hospitals [of the armed forces] authored this handbook.

The purpose of this handbook is to create awareness on common psychological problems [faced by PAP soldiers] in stability maintenance in Tibetan areas. and to  identify common psychological problems to strengthen the ways and means to handle such problems while carrying out stability maintenance tasks. This will further lead to the stepping forward [advancement] of psychiatric wellbeing needed to maintain stability. In order for the successful fulfilling of the responsibility of maintaining security and stability and for the soldiers to read and study, we prepared and published this handbook.

Question 1. How to ease mental stress faced by stability maintenance troops in Tibetan areas?

Answer: Ever since the soldiers began their responsibility of maintaining stability in Tibetan areas, despite all the risks and dangers, on the whole they have kept a determined mind, without succumbing to fear, and made lots of efforts bearing all hardships. They have maintained a strong character, a fierce and proud mind to struggle and to bear and overcome all the hardships. However, the environment of Tibetan areas is very unique and special, and carrying out activities there entails lots of complexities. Because of the enormous time required for the training and the difficulties involved, it is an unavoidable reality that soldiers are being subjected to psychological traumas.

According to psychiatrists, trauma [pressure] is [experienced] when a [sudden] change is viewed [occurred] in a long drawn out habit of a human personality. All the psychological pressures faced by private individuals have no benefits whatsoever. There is an ancient proverb, which says, ‘without pressure on the well, water will not sprout out. Without pressure on humans, responsibilities cannot be fulfilled.’

Therefore, exerting certain amount of pressure is [required], as it strengthens the ability to carry out the works successfully. Generally, while facing the enormous challenges in carrying out the responsibilities of maintaining stability in Tibetan areas, [one being subjected to] a certain psychological pressure is quite normal. However, one should prevent oneself from being subjected to unlimited psychological pressure [trauma]. If you face unbearable [experiences] such as insomnia, it would have extremely negative impact on your responsibility to carry out work successfully. Furthermore, people’s [soldiers’] physical/health conditions would be severely impacted. If such incidents occur, we must make efforts to balance them out by resolving the unnecessary psychological pressures [traumas] on appropriate time.

Ways of balancing out [how to resolve the psychological traumas arriving out of contradictions]

a) To strengthen one’s acceptance [one’s belief]: Whether [one] is strong-willed or not is deeply connected with one’s acceptance [belief].  In real circumstances, people experience many difficulties and worries with regard to many issues. This occurs not because of the one who creates the issues, but due to not having proper acceptance [understanding] of the issues involved. A proper acknowledgment [acceptance, understanding] of the issues entails a proper way of looking at things – a proper outlook. Not having a proper acknowledgment is the cause of not having a proper attitude and character.

In the process of carrying out responsibility to maintain stability in Tibetan areas, thoughts and attitudes not suitable to oneself such as ‘I must surely triumph over other people’ needs to be reformed. Furthermore, thoughts such as ‘gratitude must extend to sacrifices made’, or not having proper attitude to other people, should be reformed, thus developing oneself a habitual nature to adapt to the atmosphere of the roof of the world.

Question 2. Are health complications experienced at high altitude signs of some diseases?

Answer: Environmental conditions on the Tibetan plateau is difficult due to which it is common to experience shortness of breath, insomnia, headache, and other physical discomfort often associated with altitude sickness. After a period of adaptation, most symptoms will disappear own their own without leaving any lingering or longterm affects.

If you always feel unwell, and even after medical check-up, you are unable to explain the symptoms of physical illness, and yet they significantly affect your work-life, then this is a case of what psychologists call “somatoform disorders.”

Question 3. How to overcome mental tensions experienced during the implementation of stability maintenance work in Tibetan areas?

Answer: Many officers, posted for the first time in stability maintenance work in Tibetan areas, are prone to palpitation, anxiety, nervousness, irritability, etc. Especially during tense confrontation between the two sides and other unexpected situations, some soldiers tend to panic, unable to react in timely fashion. It is normal to feel some kind of mental tension, particularly in the face of strong pressure from the emergence of some physiological and psychological changes. Generally speaking, it is necessary to feel a reasonable level of mental tension. But excessive mental tension is harmful.

Question 6. How to handle the shock of Tibetan separatists arrogantly confronting us?

Answer: Earlier, during the crisis period, some soldiers looked for opportunities to fight with Tibet independence protesters, wishing to avenge their wounded comrades. It shows a determined attitude to carry out forward the fight. This is normal and understandable, but as Tibet security is a special political struggle, individuals must make the effort to control normal impulses and exercise restraint.

a) Uphold correct attitude: One should clearly recognize the political aspect of maintaining stability in Tibetan areas. If one is afflicted by excessive mental stress when resolving crisis, even small matters can become big and normal issues might turn political. Even a harm done to one individual could cause social chaos. Therefore, it is important to raise high the banner of “three viewpoints” and vigorously implement ‘three principles’, the ‘three principles of caution’, and the ‘six regulations’ [during PAP actions] to ensure the victory of the CCP and the Chinese state.

Question 8. How to face baseless accusations from the masses during Tibet stability maintenance work?

Answer: Our opponent in Tibet stability maintenance work is special. [Tibet] is a region where the sense of nationality and religious beliefs is deep. [Therefore] incidents of masses hurling accusations [against the army] cannot be avoided. This is a normal psychological reaction. But do not ignore it and avoid taking excessive stress, or it will produce a variety of negative emotions and unexpected mistakes, even cause other negative mental emotions such as anxiety and impulsivity. When such situations arise, you should differentiate between troublemakers and the masses. Even with the troublemakers, you should intervene to minimize tension and open confrontation so that [the protest] would not spread.

Question 9. During Tibet stability maintenance duty, why is there constant fear of coming under attack?

Answer: This is a sign of highly vigilant mind, but too much concern and worry will distort your sense of judgment. You may view even normal actions by others as aggressive behavior. If you panic and lose control, because of “mistaking rope for the snake”, it will cause bloody incidents of using firearms and injuring innocent masses. To improve your psychological quality in such situations, you should:

(a) Fully understand the situation: Along with other fellow soldiers, analyse the situation and environment of stability maintenance duty to foresee potential locations of trouble. We should] must take necessary precautions.

(b) Strengthen self-confidence to achieve complete victory:  If you successfully figure out potential causes of trouble and take decisions accordingly, then you can avoid highly stressful traumatic experience. [If we do that] then we can greatly reduce the highly stressful psychological response by dealing with emergency situations based on the usual standards of armed training.

(c) Take self-initiative to seek psychological support: Find more comrades, leaders to communicate with. If you get their support and trust, you will not feel lonely when doing your duty. When unexpected events occur, we can find faith in our friends to support us from time to time.

d) Do more physical exercises: A strong and powerful body is the main basis for overcoming fear. You should do daily physical exercises to improve physical prowess and maintain a solid and strong body so that even in serious conflicts and emergencies, you will not be afraid.

Question 10. Why does one feel unhappy after longterm Tibet stability maintenance work?

Answer: It is difficult to know the exact causes of unhappiness during longterm Tibet stability maintenance work. But if you feel depressed, suffer from insomnia and eating problem, [in addition to] losing interest and confidence, decreased ability to work and even thoughts of suicide could possibly be psychological problems. Leaving such symptoms untreated for more than two weeks could cause serious mental health complications. You should report to your superiors and receive psychological counseling and medical treatment.

Question 11. How to handle recurrent images of merciless cruelty from the time of the crackdown?

Answer: Soldiers who participated in the process of dealing with incidents of beating, smashing, looting and burning, such as in Aba on 3/16 and Serta and Ganzi on 3/18 may suffer recurrent flashbacks of the merciless response [by security forces], which give them bad dreams or even prevent them from sleeping. These are called flashbacks, a symptom of PTSD. This can cause longterm mental disturbance and negatively influence an individual’s mental state and life.

Question 12. Why does one lose interest and feel indifferent to people and events during stability maintenance work?

Answer: Due to longterm stability maintenance work, you may get accustomed to the monotony of the duty and lose interest and enthusiasm to work. And you may also not feel like talking with others or feel no joy and happiness in any achievement. In fact, these mood changes are a concrete manifestation of psychological stress response. This is not a disease, nor is it lack of intelligence or emotional numbness.

Gradually due to time and psycological adaptation, this mental numbness will disappear. If you suffer from such conditions, you should self-adapt and strive to revive psychological health.

Question 16. Why does it happen that in stability maintenance work, when troublemakers display open defiance, [PAP soldiers lose confidence] and question themselves whether they had committed a mistake?

Answer: Some comrades, confronted by the scary image of insurgents holding Tibetan swords and stones, lose their composure and become discouraged, and some feel confused when they see [protesting] monks and nuns dressed in red robes. Since this feeling inhibits the fighting spirit of the troops, and their resolve to punish the opposition [protesters], it seriously detracts from the dignity and efficiency of the force. To counter this

 a) Raise your level of understanding: Tibet separatists may look very strong and brave. But we have the firm leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, the Central Military Commission and President Hu Jintao behind us, and the support of the whole nation. Right is on our side, so we are up to the task of building longterm stability in Tibet.

Question 17. Why does one get the constant illusion of being called for emergency roll call during Tibet stability maintenance work?

Answer: This could be a case of auditory hallucinations. Hallucination is a sensorial reaction stimulated by one kind of external perceptual experience. For instance, during hallucinations, one sees things that do not exist in reality and hears imaginary voices.

Question 18. How to handle loneliness and anxiety during longterm Tibet stability maintenance work?

Answer: The Tibetan plateau is a high altitude area surrounded by snow mountains with sparse population and poor livelihood conditions, in addition to being far away from one’s loved ones. Due to these reasons, some people feel lonely and depressed.This happens due to lack of interaction with friends and colleagues. There are three reasons to lack of [social interaction]: unfamiliar environment, lack of self-confidence, and natural inclination towards depression.

Question 20. After witnessing the risks involved in Tibet stability maintenance, should one continue working?

Answer: The duty of maintaining stability in Tibet is tough, ridden with dangers, full of conflicts, [daily struggle] between death and life in the hailstorm of swords and guns. In such circumstances, some soldiers may change their attitude; even those who were formerly hoping to get military promotion also change their attitude and no longer desire promotion. The fact that soldiers face problems in carrying out orders of stability maintenance is caused by two factors. One is lack of emotional spirit and motivation, which gets undermined under high-pressure situations. This can be resolved by taking a good rest, and eating proper and regular diet. Another reason is succumbing to fear during stability maintenance. This situation is understandable, because when people are faced with dangerous conflict, it is normal to or retreat behavior is normal.

Question 22. How to institute a proper system of rewards and punishments in Tibet stability maintenance work?

Answer: Since March, majority of [soldiers] has been maintaining stability and resolutely implementing the directives of the Party Central Committee and the Central Military Commission and Chairman Hu Jintao to carry forward the special ability to fight the separatists and endure hardship with a firm determination.

In the Tibetan highlands, through frequent maneuvers we have effectively dealt with emergency situations to safeguard political and social stability in Tibetan areas. Towards this end, we have received support and praise from the Party and the masses.

Question 25. How to seek help in handling psychological problems through self-adjustment?

Answer: First, talk to relevant staff and consult resident psychologists and mental health experts. Based on their diagnosis, understand where to seek treatment. In less serious cases, the patient should be given local psychological counseling and guidance. But in serious cases when symptoms undergo drastic changes, the patient should be taken to provincial hospital for treatment.

Second, call the reception desk of the provincial hospital at 0833 2452776 and seek psychological help from experts. Three, those posted in remote areas such Aba and Gansu, one can email and phone they can contact mental health experts of the provincial hospital and seek their help.

PS:  This handbook was jointly drafted by comrades Wang Jun Xiang, Cheng Jian Wei, Xie Lei, Wang Bin , and Zhang Wen Chun. It was compiled comrade Mao Se Xiang and proofread by comrades Zhao Xiao Bin and Zhe Zhi Yong. The handbook was edited and approved by Fu Wan Xuan, the director of the Sichuan Political Department of PAP and his deputy, Chen li Xue.

 

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