A PRC Chinese friend of mine recently asked me over dinner what I thought about the Tibet situation — the Tibet independence movement, Western protests, Chinese reaction, and so on.
He pointed out to me and our other Singaporean friends present how the Western press had been lying about the situation in Tibet. For example, German newspapers featured scenes of police suppressing protestors. But those policemen were revealed to be Nepalese police, not Chinese. (I presume websites like anti-cnn.com which point out these untruths have been circulating endlessly among Chinese both in China and overseas.)
I have noticed that Chinese nationals all seem to have a strikingly similar perspective on the issue: That Westerners are jealous of a rising China and are trying to prevent the 1.4 billion people of China from taking their rightful place in this world.
Perhaps this is because most of them get their news from Chinese government mouthpieces like Xinhua, or from friends who read Xinhua or anti-cnn.com.
Knowing how sensitive this issue is with Chinese nationals, and not wanting to offend, I told him that I felt this whole situation was a misunderstanding between the Chinese and the West.
I told my friend that I feel that the majority of the Western “free Tibet” protesters are not out to embarrass the people of China or insult China (as in the country). Their protests are an attempt to embarrass the totalitarian Communist government of the People’s Republic of China, whom they believe need to open up and move towards a more representative government, rule of law and justice for all its people. Sure, there might be a few bigots among them, but we in China and Singapore do not realise that there are many European and American civil society activists who are genuinely seeking a more just world, even outside their own borders.
As for the misrepresentation of China in the Western press, I explained that in the West, unlike China and Singapore, there are no political controls on the press. Countries like Germany have countless newspapers which are all competing for readership.
One of the easiest (albeit least ethical) ways to increase readership is to sensationalise issues. Scenes of peaceful streets in Lhasa will not sell. So sometimes journalists in these papers will scrounge for random pictures to back their story of a harsh crackdown by the Chinese authorities. And since to many cloistered Westerners, all Asian people look the same, scenes of Kathmandu and Lhasa are indistinguishable.
However unethical (or ignorant) this might be, Chinese people should not see this as an attempt by Western governments to put down China. Since none of these papers take orders from their governments (unlike in China and Singapore), it is a mistake to attribute the newspapers’ stand on issues to that of their government.
I personally find this raucous Chinese nationalism very distasteful. The majority of Han Chinese have no idea what goes on in Tibet or Xinjiang. Whatever they hear from their national media is — like the Gold 90.5 FM advertisement — only the good stuff. How can they be in a position to judge that the Tibetan protesters (in Tibet) have no justification for wanting autonomy or independence?
I find it even more irritating when some chauvinist Chinese Singaporeans, who themselves have no link to China, automatically take sides with China without an understanding of the kind of government that rules that country. They too see the Chinese government through the lens of what our national media paints it to be.
I think it is important that all of us, whether Singaporean, Chinese or European, is that we all need to be more discerning when reading the news. Not everything the media churns out is the truth. Every story has two sides to it. We will do well to study both sides before forming our opinions.
Fortunately the Internet has opened up the media scene tremendously and enabled many of us to seek out these different perspectives easily with a click of a button. But how many of us make the effort to do this?