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CDT Interview Series: Chinese Journalists Talk About the Olympics, Tibet, and Cross-Cultural Understanding (4)

October 16, 2008

China Digital Times
October 14, 2008

[Editor's Note: Since March, a series of events including unrest in
Lhasa and protests following the Olympic torch relay, have brought to
the surface a clash between nationalist elements of the Chinese
public and international critics of China. Because of tight control
by the propaganda department, the issues of Tibet, foreign criticism
of China's human rights record, and nationalism are not allowed to be
publicly debated in the Chinese media. But what do Chinese
journalists really think about these issues? In an effort to gain a
more nuanced answer to this question, CDT interviewed four working
Chinese journalists. Most of the interviewees prefer to remain
anonymous. They are all based in Beijing and work in various national
magazines and newspapers. CDT has not edited their responses.

The last interview follows. The first three interviews are

Interview with a Chinese Journalist, by Kiran Goldman.

The interviewee is Jianqiang Liu, a senior investigative reporter of
the Southern Weekend, and currently a visiting scholar at the
University of California at Berkeley.

CDT: How do you feel about the Olympics being in Beijing? What does
it mean for China, for the Chinese people?

Jianqiang Liu: My personal feeling is I don't like the Olympic games
because I think it will waste a lot of money for the common people.
The common Chinese people can't get benefits from the Olympic games
because they have to pay a lot of money to the government for taxes.
Money comes in from all the provinces, but the central government
gives most of the money to the Olympic games, to Beijing, and how
could a Chinese person from Yunnan, Sichuan, and Shandong get
benefits from the Olympic games? Chinese people are very poor in
rural China and in Tibet, in Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou some children's
families can't afford to send them to school, and the central
government is giving a lot of money to the games. We just want to
show the world we have the power to organize a huge party like this,
so I don't like it.

But I think this is just my personal opinion. The other members of my
big family love the Olympic games because they think it is the first
opportunity for Chinese people to host a festival like the Olympic
games to show their warm welcome to the world. Other people think it
is a good opportunity for the Chinese government to communicate with
people from around the world so maybe it will help China's government
to open the door more and more. That's very important because if you
talk with foreigners more and more they will influence you—to be more
democratic, to do something good, and to open the door, to learn
something from the democratic countries—so it's a good opportunity,
and I think most Chinese people like the Olympic games. I'm not
against the Olympic games because most of the Chinese people like it.
I think most of the Chinese people see the positive side of the
Olympic games, but for me I look at the negative side of the Olympic
games, but I don't know which side is better.

CDT: What's your view on the protests around the Olympic Torch - as a
Chinese, how do you see that?

Jianqiang Liu: I think that is their freedom, they can do anything to
show their feelings, but I don't think it is good for what they
want—they want more human rights in Tibet but it's not helpful. It
will make the Chinese government and Chinese angry and China will
control Tibet more tightly. Many Chinese people don't know any
Tibetans inside China, but from the protests they think , "oh,
Tibetans want to be independent and they are very violent, they use
violence in Lhasa, and some Tibetans rob the torch in Paris and in
London so that makes the Chinese people hate Tibetans, so it's very
terrible. I think the future of Tibet, the future of China and the
future of Tibet, depends on the understanding between Chinese and
Tibetans—not fighting each other, but talking with each other and
making friends. The Olympic games is just sports so it's not only an
event for the Chinese government, it's a big event for most of the
Chinese so why do they want to anger most of the Chinese? It's very
stupid, I think. I think it is very stupid, but I understand what
they are feeling and they have the freedom to do this, but it's not
wise. It's the Olympic games, it's not politics, and I think most of
the Chinese think "we just want to hold an Olympic games, it's very
peaceful, and it means friendship, it means peace, so why don't you
let us hold the Olympic games peacefully? I think that's the problem.
You have 365 days in one year, why do you protest the Olympic games?
We have a lot of events in China. Maybe if you support "Save the
Children", it's a better way. If you have money, some other ways to
help the children in China, it's a better way to let the people in
China know "oh, you want to help us, not only to fight us, not only
to suppress us." Protest is not the only way to influence the human rights.

CDT: How do you think the Western media is portraying the situation?
Is this biased? Distorted? How so? What's missing? What would you recommend?

Jianqiang Liu: I think the BBC's reporting is very good in terms of
this piece -- it's objective, and I think it tells some truth. It
uses a source from the Xinhua news agency and it quotes a source from
the Tibetan government in exile, and a source from BBC's chief in
China—so I think it's good. You know most of the western media didn't
use a source from the Xinhua news agency, but this one used it.

And the NYTimes editorial I think is not too bad, but the only
problem is this one "the freedom of Tibet". I don't understand what
this means, the freedom of Tibet? I think it means independence, and
I think that is the problem with western media—it is biased. I think
maybe 90% of the article is not biased, but it is when it reflects
the western views or opinions on Tibet, they want freedom for
Tibet—that means free Tibet or independence of Tibet. It is a big
problem because you know the Dalai Lama doesn't want the independence
of Tibet, he just wants an autonomous region, which means Tibet is
one part of China, they have one government just like Hong Kong. Honk
Kong is very free, they have the freedom for everything—free speech,
free press, free religion, and they have their own law system, but
Hong Kong is one part of China. But if you have independence for
Tibet that means that Tibet is another country, it has nothing with
China—then that is quite different—it's very different. If some
western media still sees the issue as freedom for Tibet, it is not
helpful for Tibet and the Dalai Lama, it will make the situation
worse. The Dalai Lama always said, "I don't want to be independent
from China, I just want the genuine autonomous region", but China's
government doesn't trust him. Why? Because his friends from western
media from western countries, they all are talking about freedom of
Tibet, so China's government doesn't trust the Dalai Lama so they
don't want to talk with the Dalai Lama.

CDT: What news sources do you trust?

Jianqiang Liu: Wang Lixiong, Wei Se (Woeser), Asia Week -- objective
because it is a magazine based in Hong Kong , Southern Weekend, Caijing.

CDT: If you could write completely freely about this, If there's no
restriction for Chinese journalists to go to Tibet, what would you
do? How would you report it?

Jianqiang Liu: This is a very good question. I think it's the best
question. If I have no restrictions, I would go to Tibet, I would go
to Lhasa to talk to the people involved with the riots and ask them,
why did you go to the streets? Why did you beat the Chinese people
and the Hui people? Why are you not happy? And what do you want? What
happened before March 14? What happened in the Temples? How did the
government treat you before the riots? So in one word, I want to know
the reason for the riots in Lhasa and in the other places in Tibet
why the Tibetans are so angry. So I want to find out the reason, the
real reason. I think there are a lot of articles on this issue and
most of the western media said it is because they have no freedom of
religion and they want the central government to talk with the Dalai
Lama, and their culture was destroyed by the Chinese and they are
very weak in their competition with the Chinese business men, but it
is just guess, they are just comments/editorial/opinion not the
facts, so they didn't have the opportunity to do some investigative
reporting. But I think they are not happy because they have no
freedom of religion, and they are very disappointed because the Dalai
Lama cannot go back to Tibet, but it is just a guess—I want to talk
with them and let them tell me the truth—what they feel, what they really feel.

CDT: How do you see the phenomenon of rising patriotic fervor among
among Chinese people in response to the situation in Tibet and
Western criticism?  Why?

Jianqiang Liu: I don't like the protests in China because I think it
is very stupid -- the angry youth is very stupid. They went to street
because they haven't got enough information about Tibet. They just
trust what the government told them that the Dalai Lama wants: to
separate from China, so they don't know what the Tibetans are
thinking about—they don't know what the Tibetans feeling about the
government about the Chinese. I think in this the western media
played a bad role because some of the reporters are very biased. For
example the NYTimes is the best newspaper in the world, and if we
they have 100 reporters on Tibet, maybe 90 are very good, but maybe
1,2,3 or 4 reporters have a bias and they give some wrong information
and some of the Chinese people notice and they will spread it to the
common people and it makes the Chinese people angry. And actually I
was not happy with some of the NYTimes reporters because some of the
articles were full of bias. In the beginning of May there was an
article reporting a meeting in a Southern California University when
some Chinese people argued with a Tibetan monk:

Students argue that China has spent billions on Tibet, building
schools, roads and other infrastructure. Asked if the Tibetans wanted
such development, they looked blankly incredulous. "They don't ask
that question," said Lionel Jensen, a China scholar at Notre Dame.
"They've accepted the basic premise of aggressive modernization."

Then the reporter added another paragraph explaining that experts say
that these foreign exchange students are from upper class families in
China, so they are the ones benefiting from China's development:

"That may be, some experts suggest, because the students whose
families can afford to send them abroad are the ones who have
benefited the most from China's economic liberalization. " and the
reporter said: Tibetans have not received benefits from China's
development. But the foreign exchange students said, "Everyone can
benefit from China's development". Then the reporter added another
paragraph explaining that experts say that these foreign exchange
students are from upper class families in China, so they are the ones
benefiting from China's development.

The reporter never mentions who these "experts" are, and furthermore
this entire paragraph is not true -- most of the foreign exchange
students are from poor common families, they are only able to come
because they receive scholarships -- without these scholarships there
is no way they would be able to come over here. The reporting doesn't
look like it is from a journalist, it's more like analyis—opinion.

CDT: In your view, what action is the most effective for Chinese
people to express their anger?

Jianqiang Liu: Going to the streets and demonstrating is not totally
bad. I think the Chinese people have the right to go to the street to
show their feeling, that's good. But boycotting Carrefour is not a
good idea because 99% of the staff in that shop are Chinese and most
of the products are from China. You could boycott, but you can't beat
the people who shop there, and I think maybe the Chinese people
should learn from the western people when they go to the streets --
very peaceful, just shout, but don't do something stupid. And if you
think the western media is biased, you should point it out—read the
newspaper, watch the tv, and tell the truth; you can't just say
they're bad, but you have no evidence. I think most Chinese people
don't know what the truth is in Tibet.

CDT: What is the truth?

Jianqiang Liu: There are a lot of truths. You have to read books from
the different sides, you have to go to Tibet—but most Chinese people
don't know any Tibetans and they haven't been to Tibet. Their
knowledge about Tibet is just from the textbook—"Tibet was is and
will be a part of China, and the Dalai Lama is bad and he wants to
separate Tibet from China"—that's all they know. So if they talk with
Americans with this kind of knowledge, of course it will be very difficult.

CDT: How did you feel about the protests in San Francisco?

Jianqiang Liu: It was very interesting, it was my first time to see
the two sides argue. It's very complicated. It is very hard for me to
say clearly how I feel, but I think they both have the right to
demonstrate, protest, and anti-protest.

CDT: Did you anti-protest?

Jianqiang Liu: No, I just watched and took pictures. I think they all
have the right to protest, and I found the Tibetan protestors to be
more violent. They attacked some Chinese students—I saw it, and it's
not good. I understand what they are standing for, but some of their
methods—what they did is not good. I think Tibetans should get more
friends with Chinese and it will help Tibet, but if you make all the
Chinese people as your enemy, you can't get what you want. Many of
the protests just make more and more enemies.

Many Tibetans who are outside of Tibet think that Tibetans are
treated poorly in China -- that they are beaten, killed, or put in
jail—but this is not whole picture. Yes, this does happen, but for
most Tibetans it is better now than before. I have a Tibetan friend
who went to Tibet and his opinion was not the same at all—you just
have to go to Tibet, and you realize these claims are not true—many
peoples' lives there are good and happy. But there are monks there
who follow the Dalai Lama's teachings -- they are not allowed to, and
of course this makes them upset, and there are others with their own
problems as well, but it really is not that 6 million Tibetans all
want independence. It is necessary to really understand Tibet, but
there are not people who go and try to understand.

CDT: What are the obstacles for Chinese and the West to listen to and
understand each other? How do you think we could bridge the
culture/language/politics gap and create understanding?

Jianqiang Liu: Many things -- one is language, and you know in China
we just have a little freedom of press, so the Western media and the
westerners don't believe the Chinese press. And I think another
important reason is the communist party—the west just needs to hear
this country is controlled by the communist party, and they assume
that everything the country says is a lie—this is a kind of bias. Two
years ago, I went to Columbia University and I talked with one
producer from CBS. He asked me, "If the Chinese government announced
the number of people who are affected by HIV AIDS, maybe 10,000,
could you write down another number?" I told him, that's what I do,
that's what I always do -- tell the truth. We, journalists, often
write numbers/statistics that are different from what the government
claims, but the west doesn't know—they just assume that we write
exactly what the government says. I think a lot of journalists write
the truth, a lot, but it doesn't matter what we say because
westerners have a bias. There are many newspapers that give the
truth, even the People's Daily has a lot in it that is true. Southern
Weekend, Caijing Magazine -- these are good examples. But Westerners
do not believe it.

CDT: Why does China care so much about holding onto Tibet?

Jianqiang Liu: It's the Chinese culture I think. I think for the past
2,000 years, a unified country is the Chinese people's ideal. Unity
is better than separation. In China's history patriotism means fight
against the enemy—the outside countries—and protect the country. This
view is very important and deep for China.
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