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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

The West is doing China no favours by rushing to apologise for every perceived slur

June 14, 2008

Ma Jian
The Guardian (UK)
June 13, 2008

When China was bidding to host the 2008 Olympics, the vice-mayor of
Beijing, Liu Jinming, promised that the games would "help us
establish a more just and harmonious society, a more democratic
society and help integrate China into the world". Halfway into
China's Olympic year, his promise shows little sign of being
honoured. If anything, China is less democratic now than in 2001.
Voices of dissent continue to be stifled. The government's impressive
openness in the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake is coming to an
end as propaganda chiefs instruct domestic media to report only the
"positive" aspects of the story. Even in the west, anyone who speaks
out of line is eventually compelled to toe the Communist party line.

A few weeks ago in Cannes, Sharon Stone conveyed her distress at
China's treatment of Tibet. "And then this earthquake and all this
stuff happened," she said, "and I thought, is that karma?" Only a
question, of course, but an infelicitous one. She did go on to say
that she had received a letter from the Tibetan Foundation asking her
to help the victims of the earthquake. "They wanted to go and be
helpful, and that made me cry," she said. "It was a big

lesson to me ..." But the official Xinhua News Agency glossed over
this crucial part of her statement, denouncing her as the "public
enemy of all mankind". Chinese netizens leaped to arms: "Sharon Stone
should be stoned to death." "Boycott the whore's movies. Boycott the
products she represents." Christian Dior, for whom Stone modelled,
promptly dropped her from its Chinese ads and issued a written
apology from her to the Chinese people.

Dior understood the power of the Chinese internet community. A few
weeks earlier, angry nationalists had boycotted Coca-Cola after a
Chinese blogger living in Germany claimed that one of its adverts
promoted freedom for Tibet. The ad, from 2003, featured Buddhist
monks on a rollercoaster and the slogan "Make it real". "From now on
I will not touch this filthy product," shouted the blogger. "The
three monks represent Tibetan lamas. They are riding a rollercoaster,
which represents freedom. 'Make it real' means 'make this [freedom] real'."

Coca-Cola, a major sponsor of the Beijing Olympics, swiftly
apologised and distanced itself from the Tibetan cause, which its
marketing people had probably embraced as a means of further
endearing its product to western consumers. "This advertisement is
unrelated to Tibetan independence," it stated. "We regret that [it]
should become misunderstood by certain Chinese bloggers ... We
respect the feelings of Chinese consumers. This old advertisement at
the Bremen train station has been taken down."

All this makes me think of a book that came out in 1996, by five
Chinese authors, called China Can Say No, a fierce attack on the
United States for its supposed attempts to demonise China and
restrain the growth of its economy. Urging China to stand up to the
"US bullies" who, it alleged, had sabotaged China's bid to join the
World Trade Organization and host the 2000 Olympics, the book was
welcomed by an increasingly confident and prosperous nation, and
became an instant bestseller. Twelve years on, China's place as a
world economic power is assured. China not only can, but does, say
"no" to the west, and it is demanding apologies for every perceived
slur. How is the west responding? Wrong footed, it has repeatedly
made abeyances to the tyrannical regime, and said sorry.

During the violent suppression of Tibetan protests in March,
President Sarkozy threatened to boycott the opening ceremony of the
Beijing Olympics. But when pro-Tibet activists disrupted the Olympic
torch relay in Paris a month later and prompted anti-French
demonstrations in China, Sarkozy sent an effusive personal letter to
Jin Jing, the wheelchair-using athlete who had clung to the torch as
a protester had attempted to wrench it from her hands. He condemned
the Paris protesters and praised her "outstanding courage, which
honours you, and your country".

Similarly, in April, CNN's Jack Cafferty criticised unsafe Chinese
exports and called the Chinese a "bunch of goons and thugs". Already
angry at CNN's "biased reporting of the Tibetan riots", the Chinese
foreign ministry demanded that Cafferty withdraw his "vile remarks
and apologise to all the Chinese people". Though Cafferty later
explained that his comments were directed at the Chinese government,
not the Chinese people, CNN nevertheless issued an apology.

Confucius said, "There are three friends that do good, and three
friends that do harm. The friends that do good are a straight friend,
a sincere friend, and a friend who has heard much. The friends that
do harm are a smooth friend, a fawning friend, and a friend with a
glib tongue."

Instead of fuelling China's paranoia, the west should try to
understand its causes: the legacy of past humiliation at the hands of
colonial powers, and the cynical fanning of nationalist sentiment by
a communist government searching for legitimacy. It should stop
glibly apologising for opinions that differ from those of the Xinhua
News Agency. For 60 years, the Chinese people have been denied the
right to question political orthodoxy. Critics of the state are
condemned as "China bashers" or "enemies of the people". But that is
China's problem, not the west's. The Chinese state only wants friends
who say what it wishes to hear. But if China is to become a more just
and harmonious society, it will need genuine friends who speak their
minds with passion and principle.

This week Ma Jian read the blogs of hundreds of China's nationalist
youths: "Their blind anger reminded me of the Red Guards of the
Cultural Revolution." He visited Poland for the first time, for a
book launch: "Warsaw's wide, empty streets and Stalinist architecture
reminded me of Beijing in the 1980s."
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