Monday, April 21, 2008


When I was reading through my initial entry on this topic, I realized that I desperately need to work on being more concise. So rather than regale you with my description of a lovely spring day at the Dane County Farmers' Market, I will jump right to the point. When I was at the Market on the Capitol Square this past Sunday, I noticed a large rally on the Capitol steps. Using my excellent detective skills, I determined that it was a Human Rights Torch Relay rally. There were hundreds of individuals there, many of them Tibetan refugees and Tibetan-Americans, protesting China's human rights abuses and occupation of Tibet. Speeches were given and statements by people such as Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and Senator Russ Feingold were read. Some Tibetan children performed a dance.

There were also protests organized by the local Chinese embassy and Chinese student groups. One of these Chinese protesters gave me a pamphlet, which upon reading turned out to be straight-up propaganda about Tibet. A protester standing next to her was holding a board with photos, captioned "Smiles of Tibetans." According to the pamphlet I received, Tibet has flourished under Chinese occupation. Basically, Tibetans should be really grateful to the Chinese for bringing them into the 21st century. The last page shows a photo of a Tibetan protester attacking the torch bearer of the Olympic relay in Paris. Across the page it states, "Violence is NEVER a solution."

I don't even want to get into the laughable hypocrisy involved in that statement, but I can't help from noting a few points. First of all, human rights organizations around the world and the U.S. Department of State have condemned China's human rights record. In a measure by the U.S. House of Representatives, it was cited that China has killed, tortured, imprisoned, raped and savagely beaten thousands of individuals for their spiritual practices. China has no right to claim the moral high ground on issues of non-violence, especially when the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, strongly opposes all forms of violence and has spoken out publicly against any violence perpetrated by Tibetan protesters.

To claim that China's occupation of Tibet is acceptable because the country has been modernized is ludicrous. Who's to say that the country couldn't have modernized on its own? The propaganda sheet that I received invited foreigners to come and see for themselves the "real truth" about Tibet by visiting the country. Well, unfortunately that is currently impossible since China has banned tourism to Tibet -- including entry by foreign journalists. But as a matter of fact, I happen to know some people who have visited Tibet and they left the country with an intense hatred for what the Chinese have done. According to them (and this has been corroborated by real news sources), the number of ethnic Tibetans will soon be smaller than the numbers of Han Chinese who have infiltrated the country. The Chinese have moved millions of their own citizens into Tibet, and the basic infrastructure of the country has slowly been changed to cater to the Chinese. The woman that I know who visited the country said that she won't be surprised if pretty soon signs written in Tibetan will be removed, leaving up only the ones in Chinese. Tibetans are not allowed to openly practice their religion -- even photographs of the Dalai Lama are banned in Tibet. Most recently, China has ordered Tibetans to undergo "patriotic education" (i.e. brainwashing) in regards to the Dalai Lama an the Tibetan community in exile.

"Genocide" might seem like a heavy word for what China has done in Tibet, but it is accurate. According to the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, genocide is,
"any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group." Genocide does not have to involve actual killing (although thousands of Tibetans have lost their lives thanks to the Chinese), it is simply the systematic destruction of a culture. China has without a doubt spent the past fifty years trying to wipe out Tibetan culture and replace it with its own.

And people within China don't see anything wrong with it, because as far as they are concerned nothing bad is going on in Tibet. Thanks to the Chinese government's fabulous propaganda campaign. My best friend's cousin was in China and he did an internet search of the keyword "Tibet" and all that came up were government websites spewing pro
paganda. Many of us in the U.S. (myself included) complain about the Bush administration and the propaganda on the Iraq war, etc. But we really have no idea what it is like to live in a country where the press is truly censored; where citizens only have access to what the government decides is appropriate; where the types of rallies and open demonstrations and dialogue that we engage in all the time in the United States would land us in jail in China.

I know people who are Chinese. When I was living in Portugal, some of my fellow foreign students were from China and they were some of the nicest people imaginable. I have nothing against the people of China. It's not their fault that they have grown up in a country where the government tells them what to think about things like Tibet. When they come to the United States and to other countries, I can understand why they have a hard time accepting what we have to say about it. They have been told something else for their whole lives.

And that is why propaganda sucks!

And that is also why I will not be watching the Olympics this year.


bobby fletcher said...

Amy, if you don't like propaganda, perhaps you should take a closer look at the HRTR.

Falun Gong's faux torch relay is not grassroot. Rightwing "China hawks" in US Congress are linked to this event.

Susan Prager, the outreach director of HRTR, is also the communications director of "Friends of Falun Gong", a quasai-government non-profit founded by people linked to US Congress and the NED - it has injected over 6 million dollars in 5 years to various FLG groups to promot their intensely anti-Chinese political message.

Amy said...

A note on Bobby Fletcher's comment: The involvement of political leaders in a movement does not make the message of that movement propaganda. When a movement or an organization is composed of ordinary people with the intention of promoting truth-seeking and the termination of human rights abuse, it is hardly a propaganda movement.

You contend that this event is somehow linked to "rightwing China hawks", but those involved in the rally that I attended would hardly fit that category. There were many, many Tibetan individuals present as well as spiritual leaders and community political leaders (not of the persuasion you mentioned). There was even a Chinese woman who spoke about her family's persecution.

There is a strong difference between community members coming together and speaking their minds and a government spoon-feeding "truths" to its citizens. A message is not propaganda if it is the truth -- even if it is spoken by politicians and even if it causes another country to look bad.

And even if, as you seem to suggest, the message of the HRTR turns out to be propaganda (my post was not so much on the HRTR as it was on Tibet, by the way), those of us living in the US can figure that out pretty easily because our country allows free access to information.

Amy said...

Another note: "Bobby Fletcher" is actually Charles Liu (, an Asian American who seems to have a problem with all criticisms against China.

You know what? China is an awesome country. It has an incredibly rich history, impressive traditions, and I have met some truly remarkable individuals that hail from the country. But I strongly disapprove of the Chinese government -- just as I strongly disapprove of the Bush Administration. I love my country, but patriotism does not mean blindly accepting the actions of one's government. Patriotism also means standing up and fighting to make one's own country a better place for all people.

Just because I criticize China's government and policies, that doesn't mean I hate China or hate the Chinese. It is easy to write off those who speak the truth by saying that they just "hate China" (just as those who criticize the Bush administration "hate America"), but people like Charles Liu need to realize that those of us who criticize do it because we want a better world; we want a better China. Our feeling are not born of hatred but of love and compassion.