Outside China, especially in
western countries, the violent unrest in Tibet has been seen as a
people spontaneously rising up after years of religious and cultural
oppression by a ruthless ruling party.
Inside China, the contrast
could not be more stark. The protesters have been portrayed as a
thuggish mob, ungrateful for years of support from Beijing and
manipulated by the exiled Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, to
split the country.
The gulf in perceptions has created deep
resentment in China, and anger about how the issue threatens to
overshadow and taint the 2008 Olympics, which open in August in Beijing.
Shi Yinhong, of Renmin University, said China had made great efforts
to develop Tibet and guarantee religious freedom after mishandling the
region in the early years of communist rule. Western countries ignored
such developments, he claimed, in favour of a simple focus on a
“romantic” view of the remote Himalayan kingdom.
“I don’t think
what was happening in Tibet in the last week was very romantic,” he
said. “Every government has to be able to provide a minimum of law and
order and safety for its citizens.”
The government propaganda,
which can seem staggeringly crude to foreigners – Zhang Qingli, China’s
party chief in Tibet called the Dalai Lama “a monster with human face
and animal’s heart” – does not appear out of place at home.
Zhang’s tirade is at one with comments permitted on internet bulletin
boards, such as the one hosted by sina.com, China’s largest portal.
“Add countries supporting Dalai Lama to the blacklist of terrorism!”
said one of the milder postings yesterday.
opinion is difficult in China because of strict controls on the media
and internet – especially on topics deemed sensitive – and the absence
of public polling and elections.
All the news people can see are on state television, which showed
graphic images of Tibetan protesters, including scarlet-clad monks,
looting, burning and beating ethnic Chinese people in Lhasa. There were
no pictures of the Chinese response.
“America and foreigners
always want to hurt China,” was a typical response from this group
after watching a live broadcast of premier Wen Jiabao’s annual press
conference this week.
Almost every foreign reporter allowed to
ask a question raised Tibet, drawing an audible groan from the large
audience of mostly Chinese journalists and officials at the press
One intellectual from Beijing, usually vehemently
opposed to the party, said Tibetans had been “slaves” before China
“liberated” them, an act repaid with ingratitude and violence. “How
could Tibet be a country without China?” this person said. “They didn’t
have anything to eat before they were liberated.”
The issue of
sovereignty goes beyond support for the party and touches the core of
national identity. To suggest to most Chinese that Tibet should be
independent from China is like telling an American that Texas should
secede from the Union.
A profanity-laced video posted on YouTube,
the video-sharing website, entitled “Tibet WAS, IS, and ALWAYS WILL BE
a part of China” angrily tells viewers that China will not leave Tibet
until all Europeans leave Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United
States and return it to “the natives”.
Robert Barnett, a Tibet
expert at Columbia University in New York, said the gap between Tibetan
and Chinese perceptions had been narrowing in recent years because of
the growing popularity of Buddhism, and religion in general in China.
is happening now is going to widen [that gap] again,” he said, adding
that it was a disaster for the Dalai Lama’s own strategy
Barnett added: “He has always said that the most important thing is
support from the Chinese people. But he is now fighting a political
wave in the other direction.”