In recent weeks, the protests in Tibet has led to a show down between pro-Tibet and pro-China people when the Olympic torch relay stops in London, Paris and San Francisco were disrupted. Away from the torch relay, similar protests took place in Seattle last week during the Seeds of Compassion gathering where the Dalai Lama was the main speaker, and most significantly at Duke University. In the eyes of a human rights activist, I embrace the fact that the two sides have their opportunity to voice their opinions in public. This kind of public exercise of freedom of expression is not likely to be seen in China.

But the protest at Duke turned sour quickly after Chinese student Grace Wang (Wang Qianyuan) attempted to promote a dialogue between the two sides. The pro-China students accused her of promoting Tibet’s independence which she is definitely not doing. Since the protest, Wang received threatening phone calls and emails (see reporting in Duke’s independent daily newspaper The Chronicle and the blog section of national publication US News). Her parents’ home in China was vandalized. There was also a fake apology letter from someone who pretended to write as her father. As Wang’s personal safety got compromised by Web 2.0 through internet posting of her personal information, the firestorm continues through comments on the two articles of The Chronicle (over 500 submissions for the one published on April 14th and another 300+ of them directed to the April 16th piece) and the additional verbal abuse towards Wang on an online forum in China.

Wang is not the only one being called a traitor these days. Chang Ping, an editor of the Southern Metropolis Weekly in China questioned the reporting of the protests in Lhasa by both western and Chinese media in an essay, titled “Where does the truth about Lhasa come from?” (check out the translated version and the original Chinese version). He pointed out that while many Chinese internet users questioned the objectivity of western media reports on Tibet, they do not question their own media in China. He further raised the danger of state-controlled media:

If the netizens genuinely care about news values, they should not only be exposing the fake reports by the western media and they should also be challenging the control by the Chinese government over news sources and the Chinese media. There is no doubt that the harm from the latter is even worse than the former. When individual media outlets make fake reports about real events, it is easy to correct because just a few meticulous Chinese netizens can do the job. When media control is exercised by the state authorities, the whole world is helpless.

Chang’s essay snowballed into another online debate in China and more name calling ensued. While Wang called for an open dialogue over Tibet and Chang was calling for press freedom, they were both called a traitor. Is it unpatriotic to criticize your country? I see it as the other way around. Only those who care less about the actions of their leaders turn a blind eye and go about business as usual, or the other reason might be that they know the consequences of speaking up are too much to take the risk. Those who raise their voices over the shortcomings of their country are just as patriotic as those who defend their country at all times.

As Beijing based BBC journalist Paul Danahar explained the fallout of reporting on Tibet, he posted the famous quote of the 16th century satirist Pietro Aretino:

I love you, and because I love you, I would sooner have you hate me for telling you the truth than adore me for telling you lies.

Advertisements