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Blogging Beijing

The 2008 Summer Olympics will punctuate three decades of development and test China's global legitimacy. They've already transformed the way millions of people think and live. Seattleite and Fulbright researcher Daniel Beekman brings you Beijing.

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April 18, 2008 3:01 AM

Protests and counter-protests

Posted by Daniel Beekman

"Repugnant French!" "Ignorant French!" "France must be eliminated!"

"If you are Chinese, if you are a warm-blooded youth, let's support Beijing's Olympic Games and oppose the Tibetan splittists!"

"With respect to the violence in Tibet, CNN has twisted facts, misled its audience and discredited China."

"Clearly recognize the Western media's mean and shameless true colors!"

"Far too malicious - a flagrant attack from the U.S., a country which has pressured China for too long."

"China unite!" "Go Motherland!"

"Protect the sacred flame, support the Olympic Games!"

- comments posted on www.xiaonei.com, a student-centered Chinese networking website similar to Facebook


If March protests/riots involving Chinese ethnic Tibetans set indignant fires blazing in London, Paris and San Francisco - where onlookers demonstrated against the 2008 Olympic Torch Relay last week, those demonstrations have in turn provoked among Internet-savvy Chinese youth no little nationalistic fervor.

Foreign politicians and Western media have also drawn students' ire, for statements issued regarding Tibet and what many here perceive as unbalanced reporting. Some young Chinese have railed against German and American publications, in particular CNN - most recently demanding an apology from that network.

On April 9, Jack Cafferty, a regular guest on CNN's 'The Situation Room' remarked: "Our relationship with China has certainly changed. I think they're basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they've been for the last 50 years."

Weeks ago, Chinese university students launched 'www.anti-cnn.com' - a website dedicated to exposing the Western media's biased coverage of unrest in Tibet. The website has accused foreign publications of doctoring photos and misrepresenting video footage.

Now urban youths are campaigning against French hypermarket Carrefour, a retail leader in China. Many have called for a boycott on May 1, using text messages to spread the word and rallying online. Chinese activists have suggested that stakeholders in a Carrefour parent company, Moet Hennessy Louis Vitton, previously donated money to the Dalai Lama and/or Tibet independence funds.

They have also criticized French and English police for failing to protect the Olympic torch from protestors on its way through Paris and London. An incident involving one protestor and a young, wheelchair bound Chinese torchbearer has recieved significant attention.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has said he is considering not attending the opening ceremonies for Beijing's Olympics, citing China's response to unrest in Tibet. Presidential hopefuls Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain have urged U.S. President George W. Bush to skip the festivities as well.

"I heard about the protests online," said a Beijing Institute of Technology graduate student, walking between classes in a white collared shirt and black slacks. "I generally go online for www.xiaonei.com and QQ (a Shenzhen-based instant messager).

"When I first heard, the protests seemed very foreign to me, very strange. For us Chinese, the Olympic Games are a matter of heart. For many foreigners, I guess the Games are a political matter. The Olympic flame and Tibet aren't so related - that's how it seems to me. I don't understand why foreigners always discuss them together."

The Internet has served as an important organizing platform for young, nationalistic Chinese both on the Mainland and overseas. In addition to conventional websites such as www.anti-cnn.com and social networking websites like www.xiaonei.com, the fen qing ('angry youths') have cobbled together stirring videos for posting on www.YouTube.com - videos titled 'Don't be too CNN,' 'Dragon Roar' and 'Chinese protest in London you'll never see on BBC' etc.

Online dialogue has spilled onto the front pages of Beijing newspapers and consumed English-language blogs in China. The Beijing 2008 Olympic Games website has recognized 'netizen' (Internet citizen) voices, as have many Western news editors.

Chinese websurfers have targeted a 44-year old Tibetan-American caught on camera attempting to snatch the Olympic torch from Jin Jing, a female wheelchair fencer. They have also disparaged 20-year old Wang Qianyuan, citizen of China and Duke University freshman, who stepped between pro-China and pro-Tibet protestors on campus.

Using various sites, referred to by some as 'human flesh search engines,' netizens have launched collaborative efforts to track down and harass so-called 'enemies of China.' Wang's parents, who live in the coastal Chinese city Qingdao, have been located.

International Herald Tribune
Washington Post
New York Times

"I first saw photos and videos of the torch relay protests on www.xiaonei.com and on my friends' blogs," a Beijing Foreign Studies University graduate student said. "Sites like www.xiaonei.com are very popular. Online is where we're obtaining information."

According to the Washington Post, the number of Internet users in China hit 228.5 million in March - surpassing for the first time the number of users in the United States, 217.1 million.

"I think it's somewhat silly how excited everyone has become," said the BFSU graduate student. "But young people here are easily angry. Mostly, we're mad at France and England because it was in Paris and London that the Olympic flame went out. If future protests are peaceful of course we'll be upset, but we'll respond in kind. Hopefully, everything will settle down soon."

Strong images from torch relay protests circulating the Internet have turned some apolitical Chinese students into patriots.

"When I saw what went on in France, I became furious," a BIT student majoring in biomedical engineering growled. "All the world's people should embrace the Olympics. These people are protesting for Tibet, claiming that our government is heavy-handed. It isn't their business.

"Online, it's young people cursing and writing angry messages. I'd say 70-80 percent of Chinese young people feel this way. Me too, almost."

A material science major, also studying at BIT, disagreed.

"The torch relay is very important for Beijing - it can help the Chinese people better understand the world," he said. "The torch relay is supposed to be about mutual understanding. Some Tibetans are attempting to play politics.

"I can't say that the Dalai Lama is a good man or a bad man - but I oppose mixing politics and the Olympics. When I heard about the protests, I was a little angry at first. But the people contributing to these online forums aren't so reasonable. They don't represent us all."

Many young Chinese believe local leaders purposefully allowed protestors in London and Paris to run amok. Students from China studying abroad in England and France have posted photos and stories from the front lines, warning their friends back home against European ignorance.

"In England and France, the police did a bad job," said a BIT undergraduate. "So I blame those countries' governments. They want to hurt China. Look at Argentina - when the torch was carried through Argentina it was very safe.

"If people truly understand China and still want to protest Beijing's Games, okay. But most don't understand what's happened in Tibet. The Dalai Lama's supporters killed so many."

"We've heard that many foreigners protesting for Tibet don't know where Tibet is," said the BFSU graduate student. "We've heard that someone from Zhejiang province went to France and a supermarket wouldn't accept his money. We've heard that a Chinese exchange student in France was beaten up.

"I'm in favor of a peaceful world. If a whole people want independence, fine. But if I was (Chinese President) Hu Jintao I would never allow it. If New Mexico tried to sucede from the United States, would George W. Bush approve?

"Our professor explained to us that Western leaders are advancing their own interests when they make statements about Tibet. You can say what you want, but if you're not Chinese you shouldn't interfere directly. Maybe some Western leaders see China as a threat."

Other Chinese students say they've lost faith in the idea of an independent, free press.

"Of course I think the foreign journalists are incorrect," said the material science major. "They've mixed up many reports. Our Chinese journalists downplay politics."

"Some foreign journalists have been spreading lies," the BIT undergraduate said. "With regard to Tibet, they miss what's beneath the surface. It's hard to say anything critical of Chinese journalists because they've barely reported on these issues."

"Before I thought the foreign media were very free," the BFSU graduate student said. "Now I think foreign journalists carry agendas too. They have freedom, but don't make good use of it.

"Perhaps only a small percentage of Tibetans want independence, but in the West they are supported. So they sound very loud."

The Olympic torch's rocky road through Paris could potentially damage, at least temporarily, Sino-Franco relations.

"I read about the protests in the newspaper - in France," said a 25-year old man from Hebei province. "Now we Chinese think we should attack. We are very angry and excited. The fault lies with the French government and people. They are hypocrites. Now we want to boycott Carrefour. We're thinking - 'boycott us and we'll boycott you.'"

"It would be wrong for the owners of Carrefour to make money in China and hand it over to those who want an independent Tibet," the BFSU graduate student said. "Yesterday I went to the supermarket. When I got back to my dorm someone yelled 'Hey, where'd you get that stuff?' 'No, no. Not at Carrefour,' I told them."

A number of Chinese journalists and celebrities have spoken out against boycotting Carrefour, arguing that such action would only hurt the store's Chinese employees.

"At times I've felt angry, because I love my country," said another BIT student. "But those people boycotting Carrefour don't really understand what they're doing."

Of course, not all young people here have tuned into the torch relay drama.

"Protests?" inquired a 20-year old BIT student. "No way. China's foreign relations are great. I think you're mistaken."

"I may have heard something about Tibet," said a BFSU English student. "I'm not too clear on what's happened, though. I mostly read about movie stars rather than politics."

On the other hand, China's campus defenders don't stand alone.

"I was watching CCTV - the news said Tibetan separatists are trying to ruin the 2008 Olympics," recalled a 13-year old middle school student. "I saw photos in the newspaper of policeman knocking down a Tibetan protestor. Those protestors - I hate them very much. The Dalai Lama is a splittist - he doesn't want China united.

"The torch relay is supposed to help the world understand China. I'm mad but there's nothing I can do. If some Western leaders don't want to come to Beijing for the Games that's their business. If they support China they should come. If they don't come, that means they don't support China."

Further links:

'Chinese rally in Australia to guard Olympic flame' - Guardian

'Olympic torch relay through Paris turns into melee' - International Herald Tribune

Bush's national security advisor mixes up Tibet and Nepal

'Harsh words for Tibetans, a harmonious front for the Han' - China Media Project

'Jin Jing's back home in Shanghai!' - CCTV

'Who is winning the Olympic PR war?' - www.danwei.org

'The Protests, the Olympics, and Race' - Shanghai Scrap

'Tibet Protests 2008' - Global Voices Online

'Go Go Torch' - The First (Chinese newspaper) via www.danwei.org

'Imagination As Reality' - Plums in Blue Moon (Hong Kong blog)

'Beijing 2008: Challenging China-bashing' - Spiked Online

'Olympic Torch Protests - Who Says What?' - Beijing Olympics Blog (Western)

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