One of the hot topics of debate in the last couple of days has been: whether the protests directed against China at torch relays in London, Paris and San Francisco have been used by the Communist regime in China to ignite a sense of nationalism among its people. Are we witnessing another round of anti-foreign sentiments? Is this going to put a break on further political liberalisation in China? In short, as John Kennedy at Global Voices Online has succinctly put it: have the pro-Tibet protestors made the silencing of many liberal voices within China acceptable collateral damage for their successful campaign?
Shen Hua at Radio Free Asia Mandarin Services conducted an interview with Ling Cangzhou and Ran Yuefei in order to find out their view on these questions. Ling is a Beijing-based media expert. China Digital Times has translated one of Ling Cangzhou’s open letters where he expresses concern about grassroots elections in China. Ran is an independent analyst from Chengdu. The following is my translation of the interview. You can listen to the recording of the interview here.
Shen Hua: This question is for Mr Ling Cangzhou – do you think that the riot in Lhasa since 14th of March has triggered a surge in nationalistic sentiment among ordinary people in China, particularly towards media reports from Taiwan?
Ling Cangzhou: Yes, I’ve noticed. I can definitely detect a strong sense of nationalistic sentiment emerging from both traditional and online media. Traditional media are obviously biased and I am not particularly concerned. But I know that some people have left some extremely emotional and nationalistic comments on the Internet ….
Shen Hua: I did notice there is a new web site called anti-CNN. The site is filled with extremely nationalistic comments. Have you come across it?
Ling Cangzhou: I’m familiar with what’s happening at other web sites. But I didn’t have a chance to read this one …
Shen Hua: I went in there to have a look earlier. The site is set up to expose lies western media told in their reports about riots in Tibet. For example some western media used pictures of Nepalese police arresting Tibetan monks and claimed that they were from Lhasa. Mr Ran Yunfei, what do you think about the false reports that western media published about the incidents in Tibet?
Ran Yunfei: I am not suggesting that western media should not be held responsible … some of their reports are really false. However, I have to say that ultimately the responsibility should rest with the Chinese government. Traditional Chinese wisdom believes that lies will be exposed in due course. But I believe that lies can only be exposed if there is freedom of speech and unrestricted access to information. Information and public opinion are officially censored in China. Open public discussions are not permitted and voices of dissent are silenced. In situation like this, western media have no choice but to do some random guessing. Therefore I am holding the Chinese government’s media censorship responsible for the proliferation of false reports. Up till now, we still do not know what actually happened in Tibet. I have said it before and I’ll say it again – I am urging those of you at the anti-CNN site to devote one tenth of your energy to scrutinise Xinhua News Agency, People’s Daily, CCTV and all media at Provincial levels. These media are the source of many lies told since the 1950s and the 1960s, and they have to be exposed.
Shen Hua: Mr Ling, what do you think about it? As Mr Ran Yunfei has pointed out, there are anti-CNN web sites. But there are no anti-People’s Daily or anti-Xinhua web sites.
Ran Yunfei: Anti-People’s Daily web sites will not exist because they will be taken off the Internet as soon as they appear, and this is the reality confronting us.
Shen Hua: Mr Ling, do you think that it is due to media censorship, or do you think that it is due to nationalism?
Ling Cangzhou: Yes, nationalism plays a role here. In a way it was similar to what had happened during the May Fourth Movement. And there is always a place and a time for patriotic feelings …
Shen Hua: In other words, nationalism is like a doubled-blade sword – it has its merit and its fault.
Ling Cangzhou: Putting aside nationalism, I do believe that there needs to be respect for Chinese people’s feelings towards their own country. Unfortunately, this kind of patriotism or nationalism are also susceptible to manipulation by totalitarian regimes, which use them as tools to strengthen their rule. The way some western media operate is problematic. But I am wondering who these anti-CNN people are. Who can have access to CNN in China …
Shen Hua: Are you suggesting that a closed environment, where access to reality and to the truth is limited, contributes to a surge in nationalistic sentiment?
Ling Cangzhou: Definitely.
Shen Hua: Mr Ling Cangzhou, after the incident in Tibet, the Olympic torch relay has been met with large scale protests in Europe, in American and in San Francisco. In China and among overseas Chinese, there are different ways of looking at these protests. However, it seems that the majority of Chinese people are offended by the protests and are regarding them as an insult to China. In your opinion, how should Chinese people react to these protestors overseas who are campaigning against China hosting the Olympic Games, particularly now when voices of boycott are getting louder and louder.
Ling Cangzhou: There is no doubt that the Olympics is a sports event. But intentionally or not, in China, we have turned this event into something of a mythical proportion. For instance, the word “Torch” has been translated into Chinese as “sheng huo” or “the sacred flame”, which is very much an exaggeration and is totally unnecessary. This kind of exaggeration contributes to the rejection we have experienced overseas.
Shen Hua: Mr Ran, is there anything you want to add?
Ran Yunfei: There is another point I would like to make. I would like to remind everyone that we are living in a time when many different interest groups make up our community. Everyone’s right has to be respected. Everyone’s interest and every country’s sovereignty are equally important. Those individuals or sovereignties who seek to represent other people or other nations need to know that they will not be able to do so successfully. They have to know that in the real world, different voices exist. It is through allowing these voices to exist that a balanced, healthy and rational society can flourish. The silencing of these voices will bring about uncontrollable negative impact on society.