Media, Netizens and Tibet

While it appears to be working so far, Ivy Wang of Sun Yat-sen University argues, the cozy relationship between Chinese state media and the country’s nationalistic netizens seems bound to backfire on the government. From openDemocracy,

In the weeks since the protests, riots, and government crackdown in Tibet hit the headlines, Chinese coverage of the events has gone through several incarnations. It began life as a terse state press-release, then refashioned itself into a front-page struggle between embattled civilians and scheming “splittists”, before arriving at its current manifestation: the public shaming of the purportedly anti-Chinese western media.

On the face of it, these changes have been mandated from the top down. But behind the curtains of China’s official media, networks of active internet users have played a key role in shaping the course of the reporting of Tibet. The state-controlled media apparatus has become increasingly, if somewhat selectively, responsive to the noisy participation of the country’s netizens.

Social-networking sites such as Facebook, for example, have allowed thousands of Chinese students at home and overseas to join groups such as Tibet WAS, IS, and ALWAYS WILL BE a part of China – where members swap grievances, nationalistic proclamations, news updates, and YouTube videos. Meanwhile, Yahoo, Sohu, and other major web portals have provided sounding boards for jingoistic zeal.

But if an inflamed Chinese patriotism dominated early responses to the Tibetan situation, some of Guangzhou‘s prominent netizens are also hungry for dialogue in China to move beyond the narrow parameters set by state censorship and crudely-harnessed nationalism. While official media published accusations of a Dalai Lama-led conspiracy, at informal discussions around the scuffed wooden table of a dimly-lit bar I heard those who had in the past travelled to Tibet describe vandalised temples and the social marginalisation of Tibetans, and ask who was to blame for the failure of China’s policies there.

As he offers rice wine to those seated near him, [blogger] Bei Feng pointed out a failing in the government’s favoured method of co-opting anti-foreign sentiment. “What the authorities don’t realise is that the people who are using these standards of objectivity to criticise CNN will eventually apply them to Xinhua and CCTV.”

“Yes”, a listener chimed in. “The common people are very smart. Sooner or later they’ll expect more.”

n9356526887_851.jpgTibet WAS, IS, and ALWAYS WILL BE a part of China has attracted 15,992 Facebook members and a very active message board. Creator Victor Xu, a student at Western Canada High School in Calgary, Alberta, says, “We understand that this is a topic highly charged with emotions for most of you. It is for many of us too. Therefore we ask, once again, for anyone voicing their opinions to be respectful to others.”

picture-1.pngBy contrast, the Tibetan Chinese Youth Dialogue Project, describes itself as neither “pro-Tibet” nor “pro-China.” Its 196 members say they “represent a joint effort between the two communities to come to a peaceful solution and compromise to the situation, taking into consideration and trying to understand points of view of both communities.”

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