Woeser: CCTV’s Explanation for Self-Immolations

On her blog, Woeser writes about a documentary produced by CCTV about the self-immolations by Tibetans protesting Beijing’s policies in Tibet. While the documentary, which presents the official government line on the protests, was ostensibly produced for a domestic audience, Woeser demonstrates that it was in fact clearly intended for an international audience as part of Beijing’s external propaganda efforts. High Peaks Pure Earth translates Woeser’s post:

The programme was not broadcast on Chinese internet TV either. But after three days, the Chinese and English versions were available on YouTube, albeit without the CCTV logo on the screen; it was thought that CCTV itself was responsible for uploading it onto YouTube but we all know that in China, this platform is blocked. As for the various Chinese video websites, up to now, the documentary cannot be found.

This clearly shows that this is a programme specially made for foreign audiences, even the Chinese version is mainly directed at “overseas Chinese”. The Tibetologist Elliot Sperling commented: “Tibetan self-immolations have turned into a foreign propaganda battle line”. In view of the ever increasing cases of self-immolations in Tibet since 2009 that are a resolute act of resistance, the Chinese government has had to offer an explanation to the world that is favourable to itself and keeps its own face, which becomes evident from the name of this fact-distorting documentary: “The Dalai Clique and the Self-Immolation Event”.

Up to the present day, CCTV has not broadcast the documentary to audiences within China. We all remember how CCTV, after the protests that erupted across the whole of Tibet in 2008, was quick to make a documentary called “Records of the Lhasa Riots” that was ceremoniously released during prime time and broadcast over and over again; it even became available on DVD. The result of the large-scale marketing campaign is best described by the words of a retired cadre who used to be engaged in ethnic matters: “the rifts between two ethnic groups that could have still been mended have been torn apart, what is done cannot be undone.”

So, why did the authorities decide to, this time, only broadcast the documentary to audiences abroad and not to people within China? Is it only to prevent Han Chinese, the majority of all Chinese people, to learn any more about the current situation in Tibet and risk that they start doubting the claims by the authorities that “Today, Tibetans are experiencing development and happiness as never before in history”? This is probably one reason, but the more important reason is that they are afraid of provoking the several millions of Tibetans living in Tibet and with them also the much-feared Uyghurs and Mongolians. This documentary only talks about 13 Tibetan self-immolators, but some of the video recordings and images shown here are revealed to the public for the very first time and display the great courage of the Tibetan self-immolators; on top of that, the various kinds of explanations offered by CCTV are full of ridiculous loopholes.

Read more about recent self-immolations, including the most recent by an 18-year-old monk in Sichuan, and about China’s external propaganda efforts, via CDT.

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