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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."

China's Propaganda in Tibet: Plenty of Viewers, Few Believers

November 12, 2008

by Rebecca Novick
The Huffington Post
November 11, 2008

If you tuned in to Tibet TV this October, you would have heard an
announcer proudly report that from the early hours of the morning of
the 18th the residents of Trunglha village near Lhasa, were busy
"gaily festooning the area with fresh flowers and colored streamers."
The occasion? The relocation of the villagers into their new model
"middle class society village" imaginatively named Red Flag Village.

According to Tibet TV (XZTV), a Chinese state-owned channel operating
out of Lhasa that claims to reach over 400,000 viewers across the
Tibetan plateau, the villagers were "laughing with joy" as they
gathered to welcome Tibet's Communist Party leader, Zhang Qingli.

One particularly ecstatic resident tells the reporter, "Our smoky old
Trunglha village has transformed into the civilized and wealthy Red
Flag new village! And our moving into this beautiful and spacious new
habitat is due to the Communist Party's great kindness".

The report is so over-the top as to fall into the realm of the
absurd. But a closer look at the Tibet TV report reveals the
well-worn pages of Chinese propaganda in Tibet.

Here is Tseten, a 65-year-old Tibetan resident telling Zhang Qingli
what a pitiful place the village used to be. "Formerly our village
was called Trunglha and it was widely known to be poor. There was
rubbish and mess everywhere. During the dry season there was no end
of dust from passing trucks, and during the rainy season the streets
and paths became filled with mud".

Whenever a Tibetan hears the word 'Trunglha' they will immediately
think of the Dalai Lama because Trunglha Yarsol is the celebration of
his birthday, which falls on July 6th. Trunglha village was a popular
place for Tibetans to come and celebrate this occasion every Summer.
The TV report is overtly associating the village with backwardness,
poverty, dirt and chaos. But it is also less directly linking these
undesirable qualities with Tibet's spiritual leader and its
pre-Communist past. It's worth noting that Zhang Qingli, the honored
guest in the village that day, is the same man who described the
Dalai Lama as "a monster with a human face" and "a monk in wolf's
clothing". He is also currently being investigated by the Spanish
High Court for crimes against humanity.

Tibet's Party Leader Zhang Qingli greets the residents of Red Flag Village

Trunglha was one of a collection of villages that was named Red Flag
Township after the Chinese Communist invasion of Tibet in 1959. It
had already rather redundantly been re-named Red Flag Village a
number of years back. So why such a big to-do about it now? Certainly
the relocation is something that the Lhasa officials would wish to
promote as evidence of the Party's concern for the well being of the
masses. "Chinese media is all about the feel good story", notes Dr.
John Powers, who writes books on Chinese propaganda. But the occasion
is also used to make pointed political observations that are clearly
intended to remind everyone of the Communist Party's views on the
highly sensitive topic of the Dalai Lama and the bond that Tibetans
have with him.

As Dr. John Powers points out, attacks on the Dalai Lama are nothing
new in China. But signs are that this kind of propaganda may be
escalating. A report by the Epoch Times (10 April, 2008) describes a
marked increase in propaganda on the subject of Tibet on CCTV,
China's main state-run channel. Apparently, the station doubled the
airtime it devotes to Tibetan issues in recent months, presumably in
response to the protests there this Spring, and much of the present
coverage is along the same lines as the Red Flag Village report,
proclaiming the 'happy life' of Tibetans in Tibet.

And the government wants to make sure that the people are watching.
In July 2005, the People's Daily ran a story on a pilot project in a
village near Lhasa, where the state-owned Bureau of Radio and
Television had installed cable and given a new TV set to each of the
217 households. The story focused on one lucky villager called Aunt
Basang. 'She has been in front of the TV screen after a day's work
since digital TV was installed', says the article, 'often watching TV
until the small hours of the following day'.

According to the People's Daily, the red line of Chinese characters
on each TV set reads, 'Gifts for 10,000 households by Publicity
Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China
(CCCPC), Civilization Administrative Office of CCCPC and the State
Administration of Radio, Film and Television'.

A government giving away free access to a media it controls is rather
like a burglar giving away free locks. You may be forgiven for being
suspicious of the intentions.

The Red Flag Village report continues with Tseten complaining about
the celebrations of the Dalai Lama's birthday. "Some ill-intentioned
miscreants used to come and illegally celebrate Trunglha Yarsol here,
marking the birthday of the 14th Dalai, so our village was filled
with smoke and we couldn't get any work done. If the government had
not banned the illegal Trunglha Yarsol celebration in 1999, it goes
without saying that our village would be in a terrible state by now".

Tibetans traditionally celebrate the birthday of the Dalai Lama by
burning incense as an offering. But it's hard to imagine a few sticks
of incense one day a year creating such difficult environmental
conditions that the villagers are unable to work. It's also hard to
imagine anyone over the age of nine believing that it could.

The use of the truncated 'Dalai' instead of 'Dalai Lama' is
purposefully disrespectful, and the depiction of followers of the
Dalai Lama as "ill-intentioned miscreants" significant. As far as the
Chinese government is concerned, these people are troublemakers who
want to return Tibet to its dark feudal past. They are against
progress and against the Party, which seeks to occupy the spot that
Tibetans reserve in their hearts for the Dalai Lama and Buddhism.
Zhang Qingli has even been quoted as saying that "The Central Party
Committee is the real Buddha for Tibetans".

So who is buying this? No one according to Tenzin Losel, a Tibetan
human rights researcher with the International Campaign for Tibet.
Losel was raised in Lhasa and now lives in Dharamsala, India.
"Tibetans and Chinese both understand that the government report only
the good things, never the bad. It's clear that these people are
coached. You can see from the way they speak they're trying to think
about what they're supposed to say next. We see it as more like an
annoyance. When they criticize the Dalai Lama on the TV, my mother
would just say, 'Change the channel'".

Kunga Samten, a former monk, also grew up in Tibet. "No Tibetans
believe it," he says. "They know it's all fake." Samten is from a
nomadic family and when he would watch stories like Red Flag Village
on TV, especially those where Party officials visit nomad villages,
he says he could easily see that it was staged. "The villagers will
be in their best clothes when they're supposed to be working. The
authorities tell people what to wear, what to do, and what to say".

Referring to the Dalai Lama's birthday celebrations, a middle-aged
Party member Tsering Norbu, continues in the same stilted manner.
"Everyone in the village was delighted when the illegal ceremony was
banned, and unanimously aspired to the renaming of the village as Red
Flag village. The new name means following the Party single-mindedly
and enjoying a rapidly improving livelihood."

Stirring stuff. But what's interesting is the reference to the ban on
the celebration of the Dalai Lama's birthday, which was actually
enforced several years prior to 1999. It's considered such an
important part of China's control in Tibet that there was a rally in
August 1999 commending officials on their handling of that year's
Trunglha Yarsol rituals. Of course, the rally was reported on Tibet TV.

But this has actually been one of the most difficult measures to
enforce, a fact proven by the authorities' repeated pronouncements
against it. In 2000, security personnel were even stationed around
incense-burners in the city, an image symbolic of China's bizarre
conundrum in Tibet where force and faith collide.

The following year, in a scene right out of Monty Python, Public
Service Bureau officials were keeping watch over popular picnic spots
and even fined a group of Tibetan youths 500 yuan each (around $70)
for picnicking at a park. One can imagine this crack police squad
crouching in the shrubbery waiting for unsuspecting Tibetan families
to sit on a blanket and unpack a tub of dumplings.

Over the years, there have been repeated public notices such as the
one issued in Lhasa in June 2001, which states that Tibetans are not
permitted to "give prayers and blessings" for the Dalai Lama or to
"eulogize his merits and virtue". Strangely, the notices themselves,
which are aimed at discrediting the Dalai Lama, seem to be a reminder
that he has merits and virtue worth eulogizing.

A Propaganda Department study manual, issued to county-level
education offices in the Tibetan Autonomous Region in 2002, explains
the reasons why the government outlawed the Dalai Lama's birthday
celebrations--one of them being that the Tibetans themselves had
requested the ban.

It is an illegal activity to make power for the head of the splittist
group, the Dalai. [...] The facts show that trunglha yarsol has been
deliberately used by the antagonists as a weapon for the splitting
force to carry out its splittist plot, antagonistic propagation and
penetration [...]. Secondly, all kinds of problems happened during
the time of trunglha yarsol activity and incidents caused by them
have offended the constitution and law of the country, severely
affected the masses' normal production, life, work and studying
order, affected the unity of the nationalities and so its social harm
is significant. Thirdly, the numerous cadres and masses are
discontented about trunglha yarsol activity and are strongly
demanding that the government take measures to punish and ban it.

Apparently, the 'problems' included traffic accidents, presumably
because of all the smoke from that pesky incense.

Punishments and measures such as prohibiting farmers from selling
incense on religious days, salary-cuts, demotions, fines, expulsions
from jobs--even picnic spot stake-outs; none of these seem to have
had much affect on discouraging the Trunglha Yarsol. And when this
recent Tibet TV report highlights the fact that the celebration was
banned over a decade ago, it seems like an accidental admission of
this failure.

The Tibet TV report says that Party Secretary Zhang Qingli was
"delighted by the villagers' comments". He then talks about various
policies of government planning and rural schemes, which apparently
prompted "wave after wave of joyous applause from the villagers".

The tone of the propaganda differs depending upon the audience, says
Tenzin Losel. "If it's aimed at Chinese people and in Chinese
language, then the terminology of the propaganda is more subtle. When
it's in Tibetan it's more like the language of the Cultural
Revolution." This is largely because of the Chinese Han view of
Tibetans as being backward and unsophisticated. But it seems they may
be seriously under-estimating the ability of Tibetans to know when
they're being spun.

"My friends and I would only believe international stories," says
Kunga Samten. "Anything to do with China and Tibet we didn't accept."
Samten had never been exposed to a free press until he came to India.
"Now when I see someone reading a newspaper I think that person is
trying to stay informed. Back in Tibet if I saw someone reading a
paper I used to think, 'Now, there's a flower of the Communist Party.'"

If anyone had missed the bit about the Party's kindness, the Red Flag
Village report makes sure that they get the message in terms that
make one feel as if the Cultural Revolution is in full swing.

As the red flag spangled with gold stars bore witness to the happy
occasion, there was no way for the villagers to forget the great
kindness of the Party...The villagers said, "We could no more forget
the honorable secretary than a water fetcher could forget the
well...We are living happily in the great Socialist family and can
never forget the Party's kindness. Following the 3/14 incident, the
various management activities in the villages have been intensified.
However, without the splittist and destructive activities of the
Dalai Clique our progress would surely have been swifter and better".

The 3/14 incident is how Chinese media refers to the date that marked
the height of this year's protests by Tibetans in Lhasa. For months
afterwards, State television ran round-the-clock footage of Tibetans
vandalizing shops, setting light to cars, and generally running amok.

The report concludes that Zhang "pointed at the five star red flag
flapping in the breeze" and made a speech that sums up China's
aspirations in Tibet--inspiring or ominous depending on your point of view.

"For this flag to fly over the next ten thousand generations, it all
depends on educating the crucial generation to come. We must tell the
young generation about the relocation of Red Flag village with the
courage of loving the Party, loving the great Motherland, and loving
the new Tibet, so that this will not decline from one generation to
the next, and the sparkling red flag will fly high and forever".

And to show that he really is just a regular guy, Zhang Qingli
"happily enjoyed a game of ping pong with the celebrating villagers",
in the new recreation hall.

Losel has seen countless stories similar to that of Red Flag Village.
"There are always a couple of people who are interviewed, who put
their hands together in a gesture of prayer to the communist leaders,
and say, 'Our life is so great since the Third Plenary Meeting of the
CCP, blah blah'. It sounds ridiculous. I just laugh when I watch this
kind of thing".

"You would not believe our story, and in fact even for us it is like
a dream", gushes one of the villagers of Red Flag Village. Contrary
to what the Chinese government might think, it seems that most
Tibetans don't believe it either.

Rebecca Novick is a writer and Executive Producer of The Tibet
Connection radio program. She is currently based in Dharamsala, India.
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