Posted by: manchucka | April 9, 2008

Tibet: a call for nuance

The Chinese edition of the Financial Times has an excellent article by Chang-ping 长平 that considers the respective biases of Western and Chinese media in the wake of the recent events in Tibet. The author asks readers to consider such nuanced concepts as “Orientalism,” nationalism, unity, and press-freedom. Here’s hoping that we hear more voices like this.

English translation (by anonymous) below:
Tibet: Truth and Nationalist Sentiments
Financial Times Contributing writer Chang-ping
April 3, 2008 Thursday

After the recent Lhasa incidents, rumors spread rapidly, but the domestic
media was silent. For several days only brief statements by Tibet Autonomous
Region officials appeared. The statements contained one-line descriptions of
the events: “Recently, a very small number of people in Lhasa have been
carrying out beating, smashing, looting and burning activities.” They
carried the weight of a banner headline.

All people including those most opposed to the Dalai Clique now realize
these were not small-scale events and would naturally like to know more
details. In accordance with past experience, many people turned to the
foreign media to get more information. In doing so they discovered many
inaccurate reports and commented on them and distributed them by video very
widely on the Internet. This has quickly turned into many Chinese becoming
furious at western media, and has taken on the web names: “anti-CNN”
“anti-BBC” anti-Voice of America.” Chinese netizens have collected many
examples of reporting in German, U.S., British, and Indian media containing
clear errors.

Some of the mistakes are so egregious it leads one to suspect intentional
misleading. Of course some media outlets responded to the criticism and
fixed the mistakes, but inaccurate reporting does a certain amount of
irreparable harm. This is hard for Chinese people to accept. Inaccurate
reporting harms the credibility of all media. 10,000 truths cannot erase one
lie.

If in some future major event the Chinese media cannot freely report and
foreign media is suspect, where will the truth come from? Many Chinese
netizens who discovered the distorted western reports, have vowed to take
action to inform the world about the real events in Lhasa.

But their logic is flawed. All their action will demonstrate is the
distortion of the foreign reports. What really happened in Lhasa? All most
Chinese know is the party line being repeated since the official blockading
of all information several days after the incidents began. All monopolies on
information sources, while not necessarily false, cannot be verified as
true. Most foreign reports refer to this phenomenon as “the Chinese
government’s painstakingly woven version of events.”

When the Chinese government allowed foreign reporters to visit Lhasa, but
their reports were not translated into Chinese. Because of all the
denunciation of the Western media, even if translated these foreign reports
would be doubted by many Chinese. This angry mood continues to spread.

The “anti-cnn” website announces: “We don’t oppose media itself, just when
it does not report objectively. We don’t oppose western media, just when it
is biased.” But it is not objective and fair reporting that they are
interested in, the key is in which way one is biased. If they really value
the watchdog role of media, then they would not only focus on western
media’s distortions, but also criticize the Chinese government’s control
over both the sources of information and its dissemination in domestic
media. It is clear that the Chinese government’s censorship is more harmful
to accurate news reporting than the western media’s mistakes.

Just like the distorted western reports, corrections to Chinese reports
could easily be made, a few careful Chinese netizens could conduct this
investigation.

But critiquing controls on reporting bring one into confrontation with state
power.

Some Chinese have realized that inaccurate reporting is not the most
problematic thing in the world, if there is an environment of free and open
expression, truth and justice can be promoted.

This counterattack against western media by Chinese netizens is a good
illustration. Those who discovered the problem and responded first are
Chinese students abroad. They distributed the information on bulletin boards
(bbs) and disseminated it on Youtube. But if these media were not freely
available they would have had a much more difficult time communicating. The
biggest damage this inaccurate reporting did was to make a lot of people
lose trust in the possibility of objective, fair and impartial reporting. It
pushed them further toward embracing a narrow nationalism. The conclusion
they draw is that all universal opinion is a tool of deception, and all that
exists is national interests’ vying for supremacy. They also concluded that
telling lies is an “international practice.” This makes them excuse lies
told closer to home or historical lies. Of course many already thought this
way and it just gave them evidence to use in publicizing their views and
persuading others. But i have seen many Chinese reflect on this event and
use it as an opportunity to think deeper. They have found that the west’s
prejudice against china comes from a cultural superiority complex. So
Chinese people should ask themselves: do we as a result of a sense of
cultural superiority have this kind of bias toward our ethnic minorities?

Western inaccurate reporting, if it is a result of what Edward Said
described as “Orientalism”–then is our treatment of our ethnic minorities
the same?

If we use nationalism to attack the west, then how can we persuade ethnic
minorities to renounce their nationalism, and fully embrace the mainstream
goal of developing the motherland? The Dalai Lama wants the Chinese
government to reappraise and reevaluate what kind of person he really is and
their position toward him. Could we allow Chinese media freer reign to
investigate this, in order to get closer to reporting the truth?

This article only reflects the writer’s view.

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