Post-Serfs’ Liberation Day Roundup

I hope everyone had a happy Serfs’ Liberation Day. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, you haven’t been reading the People’s Daily. In the past week or so, the government has launched a massive PR blitz on Tibet, even as security was tightened in the province and Tibetan ethnic regions and riots were reported.

In case you forgot to celebrate Serfs’ Liberation Day, here’s how it happened according to the VOA website:

The Chinese flag was raised at a televised ceremony in front of the Potala Palace in Tibet’s capital of Lhasa, and a crowd of 13,000 heard testimonials from Tibetans who praised the Chinese administration and denounced Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

A flag raising and testimonials? Sounds like my kind of holiday!

To be fair, the holiday was celebrated in other ways, too. There was an exhibition for foreign reporters who wanted to learn about Tibet, the traditional Chinese blocking of Youtube, a dramatic reveal of a massive spy system targeting the Dalai Lama’s computers, the publishing of yet another report on Tibet’s development, and, of course, a barrage of news stories like these:

And so on, and so on, and so on. There’s even a special channel on the People’s Daily website full of facts and figures in addition to a full complement of stories about the celebrations (There’s very little “story”, though, mostly photos of dancing women).

One wonders who all this propaganda is for, exactly. Does the CCP really expect foreigners to read this stuff and have a sudden change of heart?

Now that the holiday’s over, there’s something actually worth celebrating, though: Tibet is open to foreigners again:

“Tibet will resume receiving foreign tourists as of April 5, and we warmly welcome them,” Bachug, head of the tourism administration of Tibet Autonomous Region in southwest China, told Xinhua.

“Reception work was suspended in March for the sake of travelers’ safety,” said Bachug.

“Tibet is harmonious and safe now. Travel agencies, tourist resorts and hotels are well prepared for tourists,” he said.

So far, more than 100 foreign tourist groups have been registered to visit Tibet, according to him.

Judging from that last bit, it looks as if the requirement that foreign tourists be part of a “tour group” with a guide will remain in place, but some access is better than none at all.

Also of interest:
-Speculation on what the world will be like if/when China is running it.
-John Pasden interviews Brendan O’Kane on being a translator as the first in his translator interview series.
-The Useless Tree contends that, despite what some conservative talking heads might say, Daoism is not an ideology.
-A letter-writer at Fool’s Mountain questions whether China exists.

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0 thoughts on “Post-Serfs’ Liberation Day Roundup”

  1. Like it or not (I don’t like it), the propaganda works, for the Chinese public. And that’s enough for the commies. With the Olympics out of the way they could care less about what the west thinks.

    Of course sarcasm is exactly what we need to solve the problem. Let’s all sarcase-away~

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  2. All of what you say is true but… the Chinese actually believe this propaganda crap. Yes, the crude factoids and hoakey testimonials and jingoism embellished with dances of glee and grins from ear to ear are real to most mainland Chinese and taken as gospel. One cannot understand this without acknowledging the sincerity – yes, the sincerity – of it all. Serf Liberation Day isn’t a ploy, it’s seen as fact here among Han Chinese, a declaration of truth, and those who can’t see this supposedly obvious truth are either intrinsically evil or cruelly duped by a media sympathetic to or controlled by the Dalai clique.

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  3. I was praying for a Post-Serbs’ Liberation Day typo.

    I like that we’ve elevated the blocking of youtube to the ‘traditional block of youtube’ on par with a tradition like watching the New Years CCTV fun-party-smile-extravaganza awesome dude!

    Woodoo, should we not be sarcastic? Should we get all huffy and write long pieces about how china sucks? I don’t see how sarcasm could be any less effective than that.

    Diplomacy: How can you not laugh?

    Clinton April 7, 2008:

    “At this time, and in light of recent events, I believe President Bush should not plan on attending the opening ceremonies in Beijing, absent major changes by the Chinese government,” the New York senator said.

    Feb. 22, 2009

    “Successive administrations and Chinese governments have been poised back and forth on these issues, and we have to continue to press them. But our pressing on those issues can’t interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis, and the security crisis,” she told reporters in Seoul, South Korea.

    What a difference a year makes.

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  4. @ hsknotes
    You know what? I indeed was being too serious, especially since I said this propaganda works with the Chinese public. It really doesn’t matter how out of control our sarcasm is.

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  5. @ Scott Loar

    So the Chinese think westerners are evil and the westerners think the Chinese are brainwashed drones. Finally, both sides are even.

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  6. Wooddoo, I’m sorry, I’m still a bit confused, English is only my first language, what exactly are you trying to say? I’m being totally serious and not being mean or mocking you, but I don’t know if you are being ironic or sarcastic or what. Those things don’t read that clearly on the internet to me (maybe I’d dum.) I read through your stuff online and I still can’t decide whether you are being sarcastic or not.

    Are you actually agreeing that sarcasm is ok in this case and going and doing traditional dances in Tibet is as useful as writing well written arguments to our local editor in chief at the china daily?

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  7. @ ensf: Yup, sometimes critical of China. If it makes you feel better, I’m much more critical of America, my home country, but this is a blog about China so I don’t get much chance to talk about it here.

    For the record, my point is that all the propaganda I’m talking about is in English, so it’s clearly not meant for Chinese people.

    (As for Chinese people, most my Chinese friends learned about Serfs’ Liberation Day only because I was talking about it, I think most people outside Tibet just generally ignore this stuff.)

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  8. @hsknotes

    English is not my first language. I wasn’t being sarcastic in my response to you, but I was on the “second and sixth floors.”

    Originally I thought on such an emotionally-charged issue people shouldn’t use sarcasm. But after your comment I realized it really didn’t matter anyway, because no matter how the discussions go here the problem won’t get solved because the PR blitz by the government works on the public, who are the only factor that matters if you want to solve the Tibet issue. No protests in Paris, no European Union or US congressional resolutions, and no Hollywood advocacy groups can pressure the government to back down. I know it’s a quite pessimistic view in the eyes of the activists, but I see that as realistic. I remember I said an article in The Guardian mentioned that the single biggest failure of western activists is that they failed miserably to appeal to the Chinese public. This is so ironic because most young Chinese have taken in so many western values and adopted a western lifestyle. Why couldn’t they crack this particular one open? Why? Why is the serb’s liberation day campaigns so successful among the Chinese public? I’m still looking for the answer, a real answer other than the naive and convenient one about how 1.3 billion people are hopelessly brainwashed thus their opinions are worth considering anyway.

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  9. (As for Chinese people, most my Chinese friends learned about Serfs’ Liberation Day only because I was talking about it, I think most people outside Tibet just generally ignore this stuff.)

    How can you avoid seeing the recent specials on television about Tibet? In Shanghai – where we can commonly get programs from a dozen or more provinces – the recent emphasis on Tibet and in Chinese is pronounced and unavoidable. You have an unusually disengaged circle of Chinese friends. One can credibly doubt that Serf Liberation Day is part of the national psyche, but the general Chinese belief in the government’s version of Tibet before and after liberation is not doubtful. Any view of children in a schoolyard as victims fleeing Tibetans’ slaughter sends my wife into near hysterics – and she’s from Taiwan.

    I agree this English language stuff will not move most Westerners but – the Chinese equivalent is seen as gospel.

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  10. And, yes, mainland Chinese literate in English seeing those same English language programs produced in China about Tibet will take it as the truth. The Party has not modulated its message for English presentation.

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  11. I don’t know if it’s plausible that this English propaganda is intended to influence a Chinese audience, but I started trying to think on why that would so if it is so. Is it possible that some forms of propaganda are more effective if they are bilingual? The government knows that the discerning among their subjects are very suspicious of the reliability of the government news, but having an English version says, “Look, this isn’t the kind of blatant propaganda that we use only for domestic consumption. Even foreigners are reading about this story!” This would be comparable to the instances, which I’m sure everyone who’s been to China has noticed, of English signage turning up in completely inappropriate contexts — that English is for Chinese consumption, even if the intended audience is unable to read it.

    Also, if the government has in mind to intentionally target the kind of smallscale opinion leader who is actually thoughtful enough to have a developed opinion on the subject, that person might be expected to be concerned about the Tibet issue and China’s international image, which means that they see a need in principle for propaganda marketed toward foreigners. They will feel good about having something like this that they can show foreigners if the subject comes up. Even if that person never actually talks to a foreigner, or the subject of Tibet never comes up, or the propaganda in question has no chance of actually convincing a foreigner — the point is that this thoughtful PRC citizen has more firmly convinced him- or her self by imagining the conversation. The government will at least appear to be “doing its job” (in the minds of people who are concerned with China’s image abroad).

    Do any of my speculations seem plausible? I’m sure Custer is right that very few Chinese people are paying any attention at all — and those who follow the story in Chinese probably won’t even notice that there’s an English version — but the numbers who do notice will be nonzero. I have no idea how costly the creation of the English-language coverage is, or, more specifically, what the opportunity cost-to-benefit ratio is.

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  12. @ Otto, your second point is more plausible, I think…that might well be a reason.

    @ Scott Loar: Yes, most of my friends are more or less in line with the Party when it comes to Tibet, but I don’t think they’re at all in the minority when it comes to not giving a crap about Serfs’ Liberation Day. Then again, I live in the far north, perhaps things are different for those closer to Tibet.

    I really don’t think the Party’s English propaganda is for Chinese people, though. Even if you were bilingual, why would you read in a foreign language the same thing you can easily read in your native tongue? Bilingual Chinese have access to tons of English language news sources; I find it hard to believe a whole lot of them would just use those skills to read the People’s Daily and nothing else, and thus, it’s sort of a waste of time and manpower for the government to construct this stuff for them only. Not that governments don’t excel at wasting time and manpower or anything, but still, it doesn’t strike me as a good enough reason…

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  13. ‘young chinese have have taken in so many western values and adopted a western lifestyle’

    is where I part company with you. I think people deceive themselves by looking at the fact that china has more money and their clothing looks a little less Mao Dynasty/Russian Formalism-esque. I think the ‘progressive’ views like, I should have more control over my life, things should fairer, more rationally or scientifically done, etc. have been in the intellectual stream of china for a hundred years and have been in other levels for quite some time. Just because people in the cities (and the countryside) don’t speak local languages or do traditional dances anymore doesn’t mean they really think any differently. I’d say the one of the major new differences is the reality of the resentment and nationalism, as opposed to the drummed up version in earlier ages (ok, it was probably always real for the japanese post WWII) and the amount of education. People are simply more exposed to thought/text and are more able and comfortable explaining their desire for simple things, fairness, more control over their lives, etc. I don’t see these as western ideas, and if they are, they’ve been in china for longer than their current youth has been around. If by western you mean clothes, money, an indifference/apathy to most current events, you got it pegged (maybe that’s just america, to be fair). But if you mean ideas, economic structure, etc, i think you have a lot of chinese things dressed up western names (capitalism, ‘socialism’, ‘internet dicussions’, ‘racism’.) We can’t even have a discussion on what ‘racism’ means here because it is obvious that the population of america can’t agree on what ‘racism’ entails (I think most young people actually can), let alone finding useful common ground with the ‘chinese’ defintion of ‘racism’. And it’s not a matter of being ‘too sensitive’ or whatever, it’s a matter definitions. In America going around calling people ‘squinty eyes’ and pulling your eyes back and doing a mocking chinese accent is racist. In China, doing the same in response to a foreigner is not. It is considered childish, silly, stupid, or a joke. In America, hitting your child when he does something wrong is domestic abuse (if you do it right), and in china it is considered a good disciplinary procedure. The definitions aren’t the same. Racism in america is not limited 种族歧视 and domestic abuse is not limited to the beating of a child to the point that he has to go to a hospital. A western attitude and lifestyle to many chinese people means having money, a desk job, living in a city with a car and going to restaurants once in a while. Many westerners in america at least don’t have those qualities but I’d hardly call them lacking in either a western lifestyle or attitude. The words mean different things in different contexts so it can be incredibly difficult discussing and getting to the root of things. I think issues like Tibet are interesting because they help people break through these linguistic blocks and realize things they’ve been missing all along. “How could these westernized and modern people not be in line with us on all this Tibet thinking?” Well, they’re thinking isn’t that westernized after all. “Well, what about all the other human rights issues, like in Darfur or other places in the world.” Well, if you had been paying attention, they don’t really give a shit about that either, but you hadn’t been paying attention. “So, they seem to be missing some huge elements of a ‘western mindset and attitude’ after all that would lead them to have similar views to us, or at least be willing to engage in rational dicussion about these things with’. Wow, it’s like they’re not that ‘western’ in their thinking after all, what a shock.

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  14. “How could these westernized and modern people not be in line with us on all this Tibet thinking?”

    But the problem is nobody is backing down, especially the young generation with the most and easiest access to the Internet and western views, and overseas students, some of whom have been living there for years. They can’t all be the fifth column, can they?

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  15. They don’t have western views. Period. Once the overseas students go native (or people in the mainland go western) and approach a western position they are off the map to the chinese youth (and most of china). Not only are they off the map, they quite literally have to fear for their life, like Grace Wang at Duke.

    You’re very clever young man, but it’s fifth column all the way down.

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  16. Speaking of Grace Wang, it seems the western media is much more obsessed with her than the Chinese. People stopped talking about her as soon as the torch relay was over (so did the threats), but her name lingers on in many many many many western reports, till today, probably into the next decade. And that incident most cerntainly brought her a bright future in the West as what some would wish the 21 century Duke version of the Tian’anmen man.

    The Dixie Chicks got death threats, so did AIG execs. Wang is not special in any way. (In case I didn’t make myself clear: I condemn what happened to her and her family, so did many people.)

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  17. The Western media isn’t obsessed with Grace Wang, most of them forgot about her just as soon as the chinese did. The chinese media (and people) forgot about her because there’s always some new traitor waiting for their wrath (Bai Ling being an idiot), (Zhang Ziyi taking her clothes off and or marrying (not yet) a white guy), (Tang Wei taking it from behind by a guy many chinese girls would to be happy to be taking it from). The western media doesn’t follow that many stories that closely, so forgive them if they tend to remember Grace’s name a little better than Tang Wei.

    I’m glad you brought up the Dixie chicks because I think their case, aside from the death threats, shares almost nothing in common with the Grace Wang case. There are a wide host of issues in cases that differ, but perhaps none more prominent than the fact that the Dixie Chicks were hailed as heroes by many and put on mainstream magazines to be discussed and heard out. The President even addressed the situation rather cordially. The calls for her head were on the fringe and treated as a police matter. Other points of view were not drowned out nor intimidated. No one is denying that crazy and even possibly criminal nationalism exists all over, but that’s not the only thing relevant to the discussion.

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