Nationalism is Beijing's brainchild

Paul Lin attributes differences between official Chinese media reports in Chinese and English to "the tactic of gangsters that the Chinese government uses to deceive" its people and the international community

Taipei Times
Friday, April 25, 2008

Chinese nationalism needs to get hysterical every once in a while. Recently it went off again over issues related to Tibet and the Beijing Olympics. The timing of when it vents is entirely decided by the Chinese Communist Party because in China any parades or assemblies must first receive its approval. The online tirades of the country's angry youth are also controlled by the party.

The source of the most recent outbreak that has targeted CNN, Grace Wang and Carrefour is Tibet. Chinese President Hu Jintao's confidante and Tibetan party secretary Zhang Qingli insulted the Dalai Lama, the widely respected spiritual leader of Tibet, saying he has the face of a man and the heart of a beast, or calling him a wolf in monk's robes.

With this hostile attitude, we can conclude that Tibetans will most likely not be willing to submit. However, Beijing did not foresee that its trampling upon the universal values of liberty and human rights would incite such a strong international backlash, especially amongst individuals.

After Beijing expelled all foreign media from Tibet, CNN reported news that had not been fed it from China's official channels. Consequently, China's angry youth hurled all manners of insults at CNN. Thinking about just how many of these angry youth are actually able to watch CNN, one can see that this attack on CNN originated from the government. Afterwards, a host on CNN called Chinese officials a bunch of "goons" and "thugs." The Chinese government insisted that this was an insult to all Chinese and the Foreign Ministry brought the matter up three times. CNN clarified that the remarks were referring to the government and apologized to the "people."

Of course, with CNN specifying the target as "the government," Beijing was even less willing to accept their explanation.

Wang is a Chinese student studying at Duke University in the US. During a demonstration attended by Tibetan and pro-China groups, she tried to persuade Chinese students to learn more about Tibet. For this she was castigated as a traitor and viciously attacked.

Angry youth threatened to destroy her and posted private information about her on the Internet. Her parents in Qingdao were harassed and had feces thrown on their doorstep and possessions stolen. Qingdao No. 2 Middle School, Wang's alma mater, expelled her name from the school's roll.

The FBI has been investigating this affair.

Because the Olympic torch was extinguished in Paris, some angry youth have claimed that a certain Carrefour board member supported the Dalai Lama and called for a boycott. The person in question denied the accusation, but it was of no use in blocking the tide of Chinese patriotic rage. On April 19, angry youth in six Chinese cities surrounded Carrefour stores. Incidents of property damage and looting were reported at the Hefei branch.

The same day, Chinese students abroad and overseas Chinese took to the streets in some Western cities to demonstrate their patriotism. In the sea of red Chinese flags, one could even see the occasional Republic of China flag!

The Chinese government is walking a tightrope between inflaming nationalistic passions and fearing that they may get out of control. If they do not apply the brakes immediately, these passions will most certainly affect the Olympic Games in August. Therefore, the official media tried to cool things down by urging citizens that "taking good care of your own affairs is the best way to love your country."

Although they did not report on the blockade of Carrefour so as to keep it from expanding, they did continue to do so in English reports as a threat to Western countries. This is just like the phone conversation between US President George W. Bush and Hu in which the official Chinese media used the "one China" principle while the English version used "one China with each side having its own interpretation."

This two-faced reporting is the tactic of gangsters that the Chinese government uses to deceive both the Chinese people and the international community.

On April 18, China sent former ambassador to France Zhao Jinjun to meet French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Following that meeting, France said it would send a special emissary to China. The Chinese media loudly reported the news as France "taking the initiative" to resolve the crisis.

They even stated that the emissary apologized to Chinese torchbearer Jin Jing as symbolic of France suing for peace from the "imperial court." However, because Jin did not support the boycott of Carrefour, she was subsequently excoriated by angry youth as a traitor.

The international community should not show fear in the face of Chinese nationalistic threats, which would only further feed into their sense of superiority. This is the only way to force China to reform.

Paul Lin is a political commentator based in Taiwan.