Tag Archives: Western Media

Guest Post: How Chinese Intellectuals Perceive the Tibet Issue

The following is a guest post and translation by Mindy Zhang. Obviously, as the original email was just private correspondence, the professor was just making some basic points, not writing something he expected to be published. Accordingly, we will not publish his name, the name of his university, and the original Chinese text will not be available for this article.

However, readers should be aware that the author of the email is a major figure in the study of International Relations in China.

Two years ago, when I was in D.C and saw some Tibet activists in person, I found myself utterly ignorant of the issue, and I wrote an email to a professor in my college. He replied in length. The other day, I was having a conversation with a friend from Britain, who was very curious about China’s Three-T issues and his question reminded me of this email. So, I decided to pluck it from my personal mailbox and translate it into English.


  1. Here is my opinion: what makes Tibet an issue is mainly that some Tibetans, backed by strong international factors, are seeking independence. There have been two major independence-seeking/Anti-Han movements, one happened during the Revolution of 1911, when the British attempted to negotiate with central government (ROC) as a representative of Tibet. The other occurred in 1949, also supported by the British, along with some Indian intervention. It failed and the DL, as a local delegate, signed the Seventeen Point Agreement with the central government (PRC). The 1959 riot was backed up by the CIA and India. Most of westerners’
    essential knowledge of Tibet is mainly from propaganda by Britain and U.S. One particular case in point is that the 1959 suppression was often distorted as an invasion (at least, some westerners I knew consider it as an act of invasion). The Seventeen Point Agreement, which had a clear regulation of Tibet’s autonomous status and its relations with central government, is barely mentioned in books published in western world.
  2. The management of Tibet since 1949 was based on autonomous system and the Seventeen Point Agreement until 1959. Some major changes then were made and the traditional theocracy was completely abolished. The cause of the 1959 uprising can be partially explained by land reforms and ownership reforms implemented in some Tibetan-inhabited areas outside the Tibet Autonomous Region. However, those reformed areas has nothing to do with the Tibet Autonomous Region, where the DL was in charge. That being said, the central government did not necessarily break the Seventeen Point Agreement. Some Tibetan separatists and Americans took advantage of this situation, but it doesn’t make any sense that some [regular] Tibetans did the same thing. (The ultra-Leftist trend during cultural revolution was also a contributing factor to their resentment)
  3. Personally speaking, the current situation is not fully an outcome of central
    government’s religious and ethnic Policy. There is indeed a substantial force in Tibet wishing for secession from China. There is no problem with central government’s policies after the reforms and opening up period; in fact, I personally feel like Tibetans have been quite favored, making some lamas feel they can act above the law. Insurgences like this happened before, in 1987 and 1989. The pattern is quite similar——demonstration, still unhappy, violence in use, suppression.
  4. The whole thing is for sure deliberately plotted and prepared. First, peaceful demonstration (March.10th), violence next (13rd), then there comes the Olympic torch relay. The perfect timing and media’s one-sided response are not a coincidence. I am not suggesting here that it was plotted by a specific government; the international community is increasingly complicated as
    globalization evolves. All the above is just my personal judgment, it would take time to verify.
  5. In regard to western media, they interpret theTibet issue based on their own perceptions, which is a problem that will take time to solve and might be insolvable. Don’t take their comments seriously and let them make noise. The more attention you pay, the more swelled their heads will be. Some Chinese care too much about their comments/evaluation, thus giving them a sense of superiority. Also, media itself is amplifier capable of making a simple word into big news. Those trouble-makers are not a big deal. The Beijing Olympics will work out regardless of all kinds of resistance. Hard-working Chinese athletes will get more golden medals if some western ones are absent [because their nations choose to boycott], and some reception fees, i.e. taxpayers’ money, will be saved if some of them choose not to attend the opening ceremony. The world is a big place; each of us is just utterly insignificant.
  6. Check out Prof. Zhang Zhirong’s International Relations and the Tibet issue (《国际关系与西藏问题》). Tibet is not my specialization and the latest research is not something I am aware of. I have been studying in the international sphere for years and my personal experience is westerners are unaware of many issues. Explain to them if you were in a good position, if not, just forget it. Young people will change as you grow up. The way of displaying patriotism varies from person to person, some are impulsive and some restrained. In all, try to make yourself high-minded. Your upbringing/character also matters, because sometimes you are being judged not just as an individual but as a Chinese.

The New York Times Enrages Netizens, Part II

You may have seen our recent post about how netizens at Anti-CNN have been up in arms about the misleading captions of recent New York Times web slideshows. Yesterday, they dove into the text of an actual article, pulling it apart for its’ so-called unfair coverage.

Sentence by sentence, Anti-CNN questions the Times’s wording by inserting questions into the text. We’re copying a few examples below. The original text will be pasted as-is, Anti-CNN’s comments will be in bold.

1,000 rioters or protesters ? clashed with police and paramilitary troops after days of rising tensions between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese or clashed with police and paramilitary troops in order to provoke police and troops to answer the protest with force and violence? in the largest ethnic clash in China since the Tibetan uprising of March 2008 or the largest mass-mobilization of separatist terrorism to challenge authorities?

While we were accused of being CCP shills in the comments of our last post, this is where we get off the Anti-CNN train (and, probably, get accused of being anti-China). They had a solid point in the captions, but everything they’ve added into the Times’ story here is, at best, unsubstantiated, and, at worst, kind of ridiculous. For example, as far as we’ve seen, there’s still no evidence aside from a few vague Facebook posts to indicate that this was intentionally organized terrorism. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t, but a single “we need to be a little braver” doesn’t prove anything, and it would be misleading for the Times to state the riots were terrorism as though that were already a proven fact. What is proven is that the violence was mostly between Han and Uighur people, thus, the term “ethnic clash” is perfectly accurate.

Of course, some problems clearly arise from a less-than-perfect understanding of the complexities of the English language:

Early Monday, Chinese officials said the latest riots were started by Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur human rights advocate who had been imprisoned in China and now lives in Washington, Xinhua reported. The Chinese officials didn’t say that the latest riot were started by Rebiya Kadeer and I am sure that Xinhua wouldn’t report Rebiya Kadeer as “a Uighur human rights advocate” ! The author is forcing his own choice of words into Xinhua’s mouth!

It seems fairly clear that the clause between commas is meant to give further background on Rebiya Kadeer rather than be understood as part of Xinhua’s report. The wording could be better, sure, but calling this evidence of anti-China bias is a huge stretch.

Some of their other points are more convincing. For example:

The rioters threw stones at the police and set vehicles on fire, sending plumes of smoke into the sky, while police officers used fire hoses and batons to beat back rioters and detain Uighurs who appeared to be leading the protest, witnesses said.

It is interesting that rioters are doing the violent things, but Uighurs are being arrested for “leading a protest”. Interesting, but not damning.

The clashes on Sunday began when the police confronted a protest march held by Uighurs to demand a full government investigation of a brawl between Uighur and Han workers that erupted in Guangdong Province overnight on June 25 and June 26. The author was shifting the responsibility of the clashes to the police. He was ridiculing [sic] himself by implying that if the police didn’t try to disband these unlawful protesters who demonstrated without applying for a rallying permit, all the brutal activities of these outlaws against innocent unarmed Han civilians & passes-by wouldn’t happen. And the arson, and the looting, and the smashing, and the many more…. all of them were the police’s faults [sic]!

That wording does indeed sort of put the responsibility on the police for beginning the riots by “confronting” protesters. Still, we find this much less damning than their caption manipulation, given that there was no good reason for them to change the captions. This story, though, was written from scratch, probably on an extremely short deadline. While the author’s wording isn’t perfect, one can’t be expected to go through articles with a fine-tooth comb just to satisfy the 50 Cents Party folks on Anti-CNN. In fact, the same author (Edward Wong) has been continually covering the Xinjiang situation for the Times, and his later pieces. This story in particular, rights many of the “wrongs” Wong is accused of in his July 6th piece. For example, he defines the origins of the riot differently, placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of Uighurs:

The rioting broke out when the police tried to stop 1,000 Uighurs from holding a protest march over judicial discrimination. Uighurs went on a rampage, killing many Han civilians while fighting with security forces.

Unnecessary editing of captions is one thing, and it’s hard to excuse that. But not being entirely clear in one’s wording when filing an extremely complex story aimed at a completely ignorant public on a short deadline? That seems like the kind of thing that probably happens all the time. Furthermore, the Anti-CNN folks are, probably intentionally, totally ignoring Wong’s later articles. Even though the Anti-CNN post went up yesterday, they only discuss Wong’s July 6th story (he has filed 17 other stories on the riots since that one).

So, shame again, but this time only on Anti-CNN, for employing the same misleading techniques they’re criticizing in the Western media. They’re only destroying their own credibility here — not that they had a whole lot to begin with — and they even translated it into English to increase the damage. One can’t help but wonder why they didn’t stick to their much more legitimate photo caption complaints.

While we were accused of being CCP shills in the comments of our last post, this is where we get off the Anti-CNN train (and, probably, get accused of being anti-China). They had a solid point in the captions, but everything they’ve added into the Times’ story here is, at best, unsubstantiated, and, at worst, kind of ridiculous.

The New York Times Enrages Netizens

The Anti-CNN folks are up in arms again, so much so that their webmaster has written a news story about it in English. This time, the target of their displeasure is the New York Times, who apparently edited photo captions for photos of the riots in Xinjiang. The photos came with captions from the Associated Press, Reuters, and the Agence France Presse, but Anti-CNN has discovered that the Times edited those captions, in some cases giving the photos improper context and in other cases making them downright wrong.

NYT: Injured Uighur
NYT: Injured Uighur
For example, the New York Times ran this photo with the caption: “Uighurs injured at a hospital in the city during a media tour by the authorities on Monday.” When Anti-CNN netizens noticed the name tag (as well as the man’s face) clearly indicate that he is of Han ethnicity, they contacted Reuters, where a photo editor explained that the original caption of the photo was “People who were injured during riots in Urumqi, rest in a hospital in the city during an official government tour for the media” and further noted that Reuters cannot control whether clients change their photo captions.

Further accounts of NYT caption editing came to light in another Anti-CNN thread where users posted screengrabs and photos. For example, compare the captions of the following two images. The first is the original photo and caption as released by the AFP/Getty, the second is a screen grab from a New York Times website slide show:

AFP/Getty image and caption
New York Times image and caption

What was originally reported as a Uighur “riot” by the AFP was changed to a “clash between rioters and police” in the New York Times. Other examples in the thread do indicate that the Times appears to have been rewriting captions to play up the police vs. Muslims angle, and to play down the Muslim-rioters-killed-lots-of-innocent-people angle.

The most damning evidence, though, is probably these two photos, where it appears clear the New York Times is trying to use a rather shocking image to drive home the idea that the police beat and killed Uighurs, despite the fact that the original caption doesn’t indicate the photo is related to police violence at all:

Original AP image and caption
Original AP image and caption
NYT image and caption
NYT image and caption

Anti-CNN members have also written an open letter to the paper’s editorial staff:

NYT owes the public an explanation as to why its photo editor altered the captions in such a way to fuel the enmity between the Han and the Uighur ethnicities of China and to stigmatize the Chinese law enforcement. The caption manipulation has led the public to believe that NYT did so to deceive its readers. We therefore request that NYT publish this protest letter and withdraw or correct its captions. In light of the insults to the riot victims by NYT’s caption distortion, it is highly appropriate for NYT to apologize to the riot victims or issue a statement to that effect, in order to regain its credibility with its Chinese readers.

Pending any reasonable explanation from the New York Times, the netizens complaints seem entirely legitimate. Intentional or not — and it’s hard to imagine how one could change the caption to an already-captioned photo by accident — these captions are misleading at best, and destructively ignorant at worst. That this seems to happen every time unrest breaks out in China does also seem to indicate an agenda on the parts of some members of the Western media.

With that said, the conspiracy theories that have followed these revelations on Anti-CNN are equally ignorant. One netizen wrote, “I have finally realized why Obama had rushed to a decision of withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. It is a grand strategy to demolish China into pieces by redeploying them to join the NATO forces in Afghanistan adjacent to China!” Another wrote, “The ultimate goal of the West is to render China powerless forever, by fragmenting China, after USSR and the Yugoslavia, to as many small pieces as possible.”

This level of paranoia is — there just isn’t another word for it — stupid, but at least the people espousing these opinions aren’t employed by one of the largest and most respected media sources in the world. They, too, are spreading ignorance — perpetuating the somehow still-extant idea that the rest of the world (1) is basically just one big country called Foreign or The West and (2) cares enough about China to put an awful lot of effort into destroying it — but their stage isn’t as big, and they’re mostly preaching to the choir anyway.

In conclusion, shame on the New York Times, for writing the same old Tiananmen Square stories even when the facts clearly point in another direction, and shame on Chinese netizens for taking the bait and trotting out the same old tired generalizations about the anti-China West. This isn’t the way anything gets resolved, and the longer this crap keeps up the longer everyone in China and in the West is going to be uncomfortable about what remains a tenuous international relationship.

UPDATE: Part 2.

“The Weak Position of the Chinese Media Can’t Be Changed With Cash”

[Ed note: This is an original translation by ChinaGeeks, h/t to ESWN for the link to the original. As with all our translations, it is rough, and though we strive for accuracy, it may contain errors.]
(Original text by Zhang Wen, translated by C. Custer)

On March 10, News Publication Section Chief Liu Binjie said in an interview with the media, “when compared with the international media, the weakness of Chinese media is mostly systemic. In the past, under then planned economic system, the media was a department of the press, set up by press administration officials, and did not enter the [free] market. At this point, when compared with the international media, we are still somewhat weak because under our system the media cannot freely participate in free-market competition. Additionally, when it comes to the right to report or broadcast things first, there are still very few Chinese ‘heavyweights’ capable of influencing international opinion, so on an international scale the Chinese media still holds a weak position.”

One must admit, what Liu Binjie said is very much the truth. Because they’ve been restricted by the system for a long time, Chinese media is not even worthy of note in comparison to international media; Chinese media is not even ranked, [relations between the Chinese media and the international media] are still like relations between the third world and the first world.

At the same time, Section Chief Liu also said, “China plans to invest capital [he’s referring to this plan to spend 45 billion RMB to create and extend an internationally respected media network -Ed.] to increase the strength of our foreign reports and thus increase the international influence of the Chinese media.

It must be said, Section Chief Liu’s words really might be “a pie in the sky” or “vain hopes”. This is because in the next step of reforming the media system, “a portion of the political publications and news organizations still follow the current system, but some other types, those that aren’t related to current politics, are moving step-by-step towards the market with the intention of entering free market competition.”

Wu Baijing, Associate Director of Research of Public Broadcasting at Renmin University, once said “The media, through diplomacy, [can] break through the Western public opinion surrounding [us],” and said something exciting, “Strengthening the power of our media, we must first make sure the focus of discussion is on firsthand reporting, and not secondhand; we especially must not have negative situations where the media is first instructed to shut up. The court of public opinion is like a large container, the more abundant the news you make public and “pour in”, the more cramped it is for other opinions and counterattacks.”

In the normal course of domestic reporting, the domestic media has a natural superiority in terms of “firsthand” coverage, but when a lot of important/significant things occur suddenly we can’t even report “secondhand”, and can only choose silence when faced with prohibitions [on reporting]. We watch with open eyes as foreign media struggles to be the first to report, and we cannot even correct the inaccuracies in their reports.

In the course of reporting international events, our media is even more powerless to compete with the international media; because the lack adequate personnel, financial, and material assets, our international bureaus can often only resort to secondhand reporting, broadcasting ‘firsthand’ news reported by the international media. Moreover, because of ideology, these secondhand reports often violate the principal of objectivity.

As everyone knows, reporting major domestic and international stories is the duty of the news media. It could be said thusly: That the Chinese media is extremely weak and hopeless on the international stage and frequently is looked down upon by their unaware-of-the-truth international colleagues is precisely because of its collective “lack of position” and “failure to accomplish”!

If the next step of domestic current events reporting is as Section Chief Liu says, continuing in the current system, then their backwardness and weakness hasn’t the slightest chance of changing or improving. Even if the government provides more funding, it’s just a wasted effort.

The new generation of Chinese media, in ideas about news and writing techniques, are already very close to [the standards of] Western workers. Nearby, many of my friends in the news business have the power to tower above others, and are completely capable of competing on the same stage as the outstanding personages of the Western news media in terms of objectivity, truth, deep reporting, and [could] win international respect.

However, with the media system as it currently is, the eyes of these heros are full of tears, they can but draw their swords, look around, and be at a loss [as to what to do].

Also of interest today:
-Regarding the recent boating scuffle between China and the US, who was really intimidating who? (h/t to The Peking Duck, also check out coverage on Danwei)
China worries too few foreigners learning Chinese (Reuters)
-A whole bunch of interesting things in the Granite Studio’s Friday round-up.
-ChinaGeeks is now one of the Best Blogs in Asia! According to someone! All glory to the hypnotoad.