The Olympic Torch Tour As Public Relations Disaster
There is a public relations disaster, but the question is for whom?
On one hand, the pro-Tibet protestors have managed to turn the Olympic torch processions in London and Paris into huge publicity stunts. They have gathered global media coverage for their cause.
On the other hand, it would appear that the Chinese Communists have reaped a huge publicity bonanza from the same incidents. How so? For the Chinese Communists, the responses from western government, media and citizens are immaterial. If German Chancellor Merkel won't attend the Olympic opening ceremony, it only means tickets for some others who want to come. It won't impact their existence. The paramount goal of the Chinese Communists is to retain control of China, and therefore it is the response from the Chinese citizens that matter. Thanks to the protests, the Chinese Communists may have consolidated support by its citizens for years to come.
Specifically, you can read the story here of the Chinese paralympian fencer Jin Jing carrying the Olympic torch in Paris. The following includes the photos, the report in <Liberation Daily>, forum posts by eyewitnesses (including the photographer of that famous photo of the assault on Jin Jing) and western media reports. Millions of Chinese readers probably cried their hearts out after reading the stuff. And this public relations show was not even scripted by the Chinese Communists, who are unlikely to ever accomplish this level of success no matter how hard they try. Faced with the beautiful heroine with one leg, how is any liberal dissidence on behalf of a Free Tibet going to work inside China? This was a bonanza handed to the Chinese Communists by the pro-Tibet protestors.
As the Olympic torch tour progresses to the United States, Australia, South Korea, etc, the Chinese Communists are probably hoping that other protestors would make similar showings for their own causes (Xinjiang independence, FLG, vindication of June 4th, etc). That would guarantee that those causes will never become accepted into mainstream Chinese opinion for the next generation.
First, here are the photos (via China.com):
(Liberation Daily via CE.cn)
"At that moment, I was only thinking about protecting the Olympic flame!" Yesterday our reporter received a SMS message from Olympic torch bearer Jin Jing who is in Paris (France).
Jin Jing is a Shanghai girl and a member of the Chinese national wheelchair fencing team. Through the process of Olympic torch bearer selection, she became an overseas torch bearer. On the day before yesterday in Paris, Jin Jing was interfered with by Tibet independence protestors during the torch exchange. She did everything she could to protect the Olympic flame. Afterwards, the photos and stories about Jin Jing's feat were circulated on the major Chinese portals as everyone was touched by the "girl who used her body to protect the Olympic flame."
Jin Jing is 27 years old. She is from the Baoshan district of Shanghai. She loved to sing and dance as a child. When she was nine years ago, fate took a cruel turn as a malignant tumor was found in her leg. She was forced to undergo amputation.
Jin Jing did not lose her joy for life after losing her leg. Her vivacity and optimism were infectious to everyone around her. On July 13, 2001, which was the day when Beijing succeeded in getting the 2008 Olympics, she was chosen to the Shanghai wheelchair fencing team. She was later chosen for the national team. Jin Jing said: "I loved to see justice win. I loved to watch Zorro and that is why I love fencing!"
Jin Jing and her teammates won the silver medal at the Asian Games in Pusan. She has personally won a bronze medal at the World Championships. Due to her age, she cannot attend the Beijing Handicapped Olympics. To fulfil her Olympic dreams, she entered the selection process for the Olympic torch bearers and she was one of the selectees.
In Paris, Jin Jing was the torch bearer for the third leg. On that day, Jin Jing sat in her wheelchair, took her torch and waited quietly for the exchange.
But at that moment, something unexpected happened: a Tibetan splittist broke through the police line and attempted to wrestle the torch from her hand. Jin Jing had never encountered anything like this, so her instinctive reaction was to embrace the torch. An overseas Chinese student at the scene said later: "That girl turned her back on the thug. He hit her, he pulled at her hands but she held on to the torch with all her might." Finally, the thug was subdued and taken away by the police. But the lower jaw of Jin Jing had been scratched. She lift up her head and held the torch up high.
The Chinese overseas students in the crowd were moved to tears. They chanted aloud: "Girl, be strong! Go! Go, China!" The citizens of Paris were touched by Jin Jing and they applauded her as she finished her leg.
The story of Jin Jing quickly spread across the forums and BBS's in China. Thousands of netizens left comments immediately. Many people said that they were crying when they read the story about her . They said: "Girl, you were strong. We are proud of you!" "Jin Jing, you are pretty but your heart is even prettier. We all support you. Long live the motherland!"
Jin Jing is wistful about this Olympic torch tour: "Certain people have ulterior motives. These shameless deeds are an affront to the Olympic spirit." Jin Jing was angry when she said that. Then she said: "But I can tell from the reaction of the citizens of Paris that they disapprove of the interference of the Olympic torch tour."
Jin Jing said that she had conferred with the other torch bearers that they will maintain their smiles in public no matter what happens in order to show the spirit of the Chinese people to the whole world. Jin Jing and her companions were able to accomplish that. "I think that the eyes of the people are snow-bright clear. Everybody can see our dedication to the Olympics. Everybody can see that and nobody can take it away!" Jin Jing said, "At that moment, I felt that the entire motherland is supporting me, and our Olympics will be completed successfully!"
6:30am. I go out of bed. This was earlier than usual, because I have a special work assignment for the day. I had to go to a hotel and pick up an mysterious VIP guest. Her name is Jin Jing, and she is an Olympic torch bearer in Paris. She is a famous wheelchair fencer from China. She lost a leg from illness as a child, but she gained glory as a wheelchair fencer. This time, she came here to be an Olympic torch bearer.
7:25am. I arrived her hotel and I helped her pack what she needed. She said that she had no appetite for breakfast. I joked that she can't do that because she was not doing this for herself. Since I was hungry, she ate with me. (Thanks to this breakfast, we had enough energy to make it to the end). After breakfast, I fetched her wheelchair and we proceeded to the assembly point at the Stade Charlety. On the way, we were quite relaxed without any sense of danger today.
9:20am. We arrived at the assembly point and many torch bearers were already present. She was the only athlete from Shanghai (China). So as soon as we entered, the workers came up to ask if she is Ms. Jin Jing from China. Many other athletes of different colors and races came up to say hello to us. They were very friendly. At that time, a young man introduced himself to us. He said that his name is Wang Wei and he will run with Jin Jing. He is an overseas Chinese who grew up in Paris. He said that another Chinese girl Xu Jing will also be with Jin Jing to make sure that there is no language barrier. I only keep Jin Jing company in normal daily activities and I don't run with her. Therefore, these two were sent to help her. The four of us had a pleasant chat, mostly about how to record the proceedings. I said that I would take photos as long as the Olympics Committee didn't boot me out.
Very soon, the runner on the second leg arrived and it was the turn for Jin Jing. The two companion runners got off the car first. I assisted her to get out of the car. I opened up the wheelchair and I helped her get in. I said: "Be brave!" She smiled and then Wang Wei carted her away with her unlit torch. After just a few steps, a man waving a yellow flag broke through the police line and reached towards the hand in which Jin Jing was holding the torch. Everyone in the car screamed. I was afraid for her. Fortunately, the man was tackled before he got to Jin Jing. Everybody breathed a sigh of relief. The Olympics Committee woman in the car had been concerned that the protestors would target the handicapped athlete, and indeed they went after Jin JIng.
At that time, the anti-China protestors saw a weak and handicapped girl holding the torch, and they charged madly. Some of them lunged at the torch in Jin Jing's hand. We said "Stop! Stop!" But Wang Wei and the other runner Xu Jing could not hear us and kept pushing Jin Jing forward. It was chaos at the scene. The situation was desperate because there were not enough police.
The Olympic Committee woman said that someone had better tell them to stop and wait for the torch to arrive. She looked at me as she spoke. Since there was nobody else except her and her female translator, I am the Chinese male who had to go. I said, "I'll go and tell them to stop." She said, "That's great!" Then the car door opened and I jumped down and ran towards Jin Jing. I gave them the instruction to stop. But just as we stopped, more protestors came up to try to take away the torch. Wang Wei cried out in French: "Where are the police!?" We tried to stop again and wait for the second leg torch bearer, but three or four demonstrators rushed at us. One man grabbed the torch. Jin Jing screamed and held on to the torch for dear life. Wang Wei and Xu Jing moved up to help. At that moment, I could not care less and I punched that man in the face and the head. The first man retreated. Then another man came and threw himself on Jin Jing. He grabbed her hair with one hand and then tried to seize the torch with the other hand. Wang Wei tried to drag the wheelchair away even as Jin Jing clung on to the torch. I was going berserk and I kicked and punched the man to make him stop. A young woman behind him said in Chinese; "You must not hit people." I saw the yellow flag in her hand and I screamed: "You people are the ones who are hitting people."
All of this took less than 90 seconds, and then the police reinforcements came on. They shoved the protestors out. One of the policemen said, "You should not wait here. It is dangerous. You must continue to move ahead with the police, because she is ..." He pointed at Jin Jing. We understood. So Wang Wei and Xu Jing pushed her wheelchair along while I ran beside her and we continued to advance. Jin Jing clasped the torch tightly because she was afraid that someone might grab it. (Let me clarify that Jin Jong's torch had never been lit before this. But afterwards, some media claimed that the flame was put out by the protestors). The four of us encouraged each other: "It's alright. the Olympic torch will be alright."
We proceeded for several hundred meters. We were highly alert and we were aware of many Chinese compatriots waving national flags and chanting "Chine, Beijing!" At that moment, I thought that it was the most beautiful sound that I have ever heard. I wanted to smile at them, but I found that my mouth tasted bitter and my smile was forced. I didn't know if that was because I was too nervous. I thought about relaxing myself so that I can offer a reassuring smile to my compatriots. I wanted to let them know that we will not let the motherland down. Before I even finished thinking, something hit us. The protestors were throwing rocks at us. I angrily looked for the people who did it ...
We were then told that we could not move any further. The road ahead was blocked by people lying down in the middle of the street. The police took us onto a minibus. When we got on, we saw that the bus was already filled with people. They were the legendary security team members for the Olympic torch. They wore the blue-white athletic suits, gloves and shades. They looked so cool! But they were so unfriendly! "Why are you here?" one of them asked. "By order of the commander" said another. I was holding the wheelchair and I accidentally bumped into one of the security team members. He said unhappily: "Take it away!" I was irritated and I asked, "What do you want me to do with it? Hold it over my head!?" The man was stunned. Because I responded too strongly, the man beside him immediately said, "Come over here. You put it by me." I said, "Thanks." Now that is our real Chinese person.
I don't know how much time passed but we went with the escorting car. I heard the order over the communicator: "Do not bring the torch down. Wait in the car for instructions." Then I noticed that the torch bearer from the second leg was also in the car. I heard that the flame seed was also in my car. We continued on. The police were saying to get off and the torch bearer wanted to do so because we all felt frustrated about being kept in the car. But the Olympic Committee woman said, "Don't do anything. The order has not arrived yet!" So the car kept moving. We were not cowardly! We were determined to progress, progress, progress!
"Out of the car!" The order finally came and we all jumped off. I don't remember who got off first, but the torch bearers and the escorts were all in place. So our torch bearer Jin Jing formally lit her torch and proceeded ahead with the team. At that moment, the weather changed for the worse with some rain and sleet. Let the storm be even stronger! Our heroes are unafraid. After the storm, the sun will shine again. Victory will be ours in the end!
First, an overseas student wrote at Tom.com:
I went to scene at noon. I feel heavy-hearted and I had even slugged the thug.
This is not China's home turf, so the supporters of Tibetan independence and the opponents of the Olympics can express their views and wills in front of the cameras of the reporters from all over the world, just as we could wave our national flags to support the Olympics. Unfortunately, too much violence was injected into today's activities.
I was standing in the Seine riverside section outside the Eiffel Tower. The torch bearer was a young paralympic girl on a wheelchair accompanied by one man and one woman. Every five seconds, someone tried to seize the torch. It was hard to move forward. To protect the girl, the man and the woman attempted to steer the wheelchair in between two parked cars. She was right in front of me. Suddenly, a thug jumped in and tried to snatch the torch. The man and the woman were obstructed by the vehicles and could not help. The brave girl lowered her head and used her back to shield the torch. The thug pulled her shoulder back and hit her. At that moment, my brain was blank and I instinctively rushed up to grab the thug. I hit him with the camera in my hand. Eventually a French policeman came over to haul the thug away. Everything occurred in a flash! The torch bearer girl raised her head and there were tears in her big eyes. A Chinese female student on my left cried: "Go, be strong!" Then I calmed myself down and also cried: "Go, go!" At that moment, tears rained out of my eyes. I was sad and angry. Here was an unarmed girl who was handicapped, and the thug hit had to hit her? Whatever happen to minimal humanitarianism? In political movements, there will always be thugs committing violence in the name of democracy and freedom.
Please forward this post to your regular forums and let the name of Jin Jing be known across China!
Here is the person who took the famous photo of Jin Jing grappling with the male protestor. This is a civilian and not a photojournalist.
I am the person on the left of the author of the post above. But I would like to add something.
First of all, three Tibetan independence supporters were rushing down the road simultaneously. At that moment, the person pushing the wheelchair steered Jin Jing between two police vehicles, while the police formed a wall in front. That was thought to be safer. At the time, I was standing on the sidewalk facing Jin Jing. I never thought that she actually be right in front of them, and so I began to take photos. Suddenly, that Tibetan separatist protestor went past by my left side and moved down the gap between the two vehicles towards Jin Jing to seize the torch. This was all very unexpected. The police were all positioned behind the police cars and the wheelchair, and they could not respond. Jin Jing held on to the torch with her life and wrestled with the Tibetan independence protestor. At the same time, a man in a white t-shirt who could be a worker rushed up to grab the Tibetan independence protestor and drag him away. Everything happened in a flash, and I did not even get to focus the camera. So I was lucky that the photo turned out so clear. I took a photo and then I rushed up to pull the Tibetan independence protestor away. There was not much room between the two police cars, but I didn't care. I saw that it was too hard to drag him away, so I hit the Tibet independence protestor on the head with my fist. Everything took place in a few seconds. I had no idea who was around me. To make the Tibetan independence protestor release his grip, hitting him may be the most effective way. Luckily, no foreign photographers took any photos or else if would definitely hurt the image of the Chinese people ... No matter what, I am proud of what I did plus the fact that I took these three photos that allowed people to see the violence from the Tibetan independence protestor.
Relevant Link: 拍下金晶勇敢瞬间的留学生:冲突源于信息不对称
(MSBNC) China's 'Smiling Angel in Wheelchair'. By Ed Flanagan, NBC. April 10, 2008.
In recent days it has been difficult to take away any positives from China's now unfortunately titled torch relay, the "Journey of Harmony to Beijing," at least based on international news coverage of the events. But the media here have found a positive face in the young, handicapped woman who was confronted by protesters in Paris this week.
Jin Jing, 28, a former Paralympics fencer from Shanghai who uses a wheelchair, won national acclaim for what the media described as her heroics in protecting the Olympic torch from a group of pro-Tibetan protesters (all protesters have been ubiquitously labeled "Tibetan separatists" and "pro-Tibet independence activists" in state media reports).
Jin's feisty defense of the torch – she suffered scratches and a bruised leg during the confrontation – has been heavily covered by China's media, which has the unenviable task of mitigating the scope of the protests.
Protecting the torch
In a radio press conference which was quickly picked up by the official Beijing Olympics website, Jin described the Paris incident:
"When the second torchbearer was accepting the flame from the first, I was waiting at my position as the third torchbearer. At the time the security around me was relatively light, there were only a few police officers and three, maybe two, escort runners around me. Several Tibetan separatists and members of ‘Reporters without Borders’ came over to protest.
"They began lunging toward me, trying to grab the torch from my hands. I tried to hide the torch with my body and managed to keep it from them. I was focused on the three or four separatists attacking me. I'm not sure how many were behind me. I felt people trying to take the torch from me. That's when some of the escort runners, as well as the tourist guide assigned to me in Paris, came over to help me, drawing the attackers away.
"People ask me how I dealt with the danger. I don't think I thought too much about it. I trusted the escorts around me. They were the ones, along with my guide, that faced the danger."
Upon her return to Beijing, Jin was treated to a hero's welcome as crowds gathered to hail the woman news reports glowingly described as the "Smiling Angel in Wheelchair" and the "Most Beautiful Torchbearer."
Jin, who had part of her right leg amputated at the age of 9 after a malignant tumour was found on her ankle and later underwent a year of chemotherapy, is a charismatic woman with a glowing smile.
And hungry for a positive Chinese figure to serve up to its audience, the Chinese media clearly saw the star potential in Jin: at the time of this posting, fully half of the "News" section on the official Torch Relay website were accounts of her actions that day, including one entitled: "Jin Jing's mother: I'm proud of my daughter."
Online forums have also been abuzz with praise for her and her dedication to the Olympic spirit. One netizen on an Olympic thread wrote, "I burst into tears when I saw how you [Jin] protected the flame, I think you protected the torch and also saved the spirit of the Olympics."
Attacks heighten nationalism
However, not all messages have been positive. On another popular website, Mopu, the picture of Jin being assaulted by the ethnic Tibetan protester sparked outrage among posters. "Kill with no leniency!" and "kill the foreign !@#$!" – using a slur for Tibetans used amongst ethnic Han Chinese were popular sentiments shared by many of the contributors.
The majority of such sentiments appeared to be from angry mainland Chinese blowing off steam over the perceived international humiliation that protesters have brought to the torch and by extension, China.
However, if these protests grow, the Chinese will likely settle into a siege mentality, an "us versus the world" attitude. It may become increasingly easier for Chinese to look at what many would consider legitimate calls for change and dismiss them as nothing more than Western rhetoric and propaganda.
(South China Morning Post) 'Wheelchair angel' hailed as heroine in defending torch. By Martin Zhou. April 10, 2008.
There are still four months to go before the first gold medal is decided at the Beijing Games, but China is already celebrating its first Olympic hero - a wheelchair-bound amputee who defended the flame in extraordinary circumstances. Jin Jing , 28, has become a rallying-point for frustration and indignation among mainlanders and overseas Chinese over the chaos protesters have created during the Olympic torch relay.
There are still four months to go before the first gold medal is decided at the Beijing Games, but China is already celebrating its first Olympic hero - a wheelchair-bound amputee who defended the flame in extraordinary circumstances. Jin Jing , 28, has become a rallying-point for frustration and indignation among mainlanders and overseas Chinese over the chaos protesters have created during the Olympic torch relay.
Photographs and footage of her desperate efforts to shield the flame from an assailant on the Paris stretch of the relay on Monday have spread throughout mainland media and Chinese-language cyberspace, stoking nationalistic sentiment to a shrill pitch. The protester was apparently advocating Tibetan independence,
"I actually hadn't started my section when the first attack happened," Ms Jin said after returning to Beijing yesterday. "There weren't many security personnel by my side because the previous runner hadn't reached me yet and my torch wasn't lit. A western man charged up to my wheelchair, grabbed my hair and tried to wrestle the torch away. Out of instinct, I clung to the torch and held it close to my body until a few French policemen came to my rescue."
But the nightmare continued for the woman who lost a leg to cancer, with waves of attempts to commandeer the torch from her lasting up to 15 minutes, Ms Jin said. "I was so shocked that I can't remember what happened near my wheelchair after the first assault," she said. "All I did was hold the torch as close to my chest as possible and bury my head down to dodge attacks."
After a 40-minute delay, Ms Jin eventually started her relay segment, which was shortened to a section through a tunnel instead of the original 250-metre stretch. It was one of the dozens of disruptions along the torch relay route in the French capital on Monday and in London on Sunday.
But Ms Jin's experience was caught on camera, and footage of the assault on a handicapped torch-bearer ignited further fury among already angry mainlanders.
Chat room contributors went into a frenzy, lashing out at "saboteurs" of the torch relay while state media portrayed Ms Jin as a heroic defender of the Olympic Games and, more importantly, China's dignity. "Ms Jin is a smiling angel in the wheelchair," Xinhua said. "Her fearlessness was infectious and touched the heart of the entire nation."
Guan Jun, a Beijing-based engineer in his 30s, said Ms Jin was his heroine. "She reminds us that China should stand in solidarity against the challenges to the Olympics this time around," Mr Guan said.
But Ms Jin was uncomfortable with her new status. "I just want to go home and pick up where I left off on an online game," she said.
Ms Jin was selected by computer giant and torch relay sponsor Lenovo as one of the 21,000-plus torch-bearers in the Olympic flame's 137,000km worldwide journey.
Ms Jin, a former member of Shanghai's wheelchair fencing team, lost her previous job as a hotel switchboard operator due to training demands. Several companies have offered her full-time jobs after her heroics, according to one of her friends in Shanghai.
Asked whether she forgave the protesters for their attack on her and the torch relay, Ms Jin was firm. "I was once an athlete; I hold the Olympic spirit as an ideal," she said. "I don't understand politics but it should never tamper with the Olympics."
Ms Jin said she had never heard of the pro-Tibet-independence movement and press freedom groups like Reporters Without Borders, which was active in the Paris protests.
The torch relay moved on to San Francisco with even more protests expected, something Ms Jin suggested should be countered with improved solidarity from pro-China crowds. "My experience in Paris is that the protesters were well-organised while our counter force remained sporadic," she said. "I think we have to unite to ensure the smooth running of the relay in San Francisco and cities beyond."
(Globe and Mail) China spins protests to buttress support at home. By Geoffrey York. April 11, 2008.
It was a moment so perfect that it could have been scripted by Beijing's propaganda masters. A beautiful young Chinese woman, bravely ignoring her physical handicap, is shielding the Olympic flame with her body to protect it against Western attackers.
The incident, captured on video, has galvanized China's masses and created a new national hero. A star has been born, and she is 27-year-old Jin Jing of Shanghai, an amputee in a wheelchair who was carrying the Olympic torch in Paris this week when she was confronted by protesters who wrestled for the torch.
The one-legged Paralympic fencing champion, whose picture has been splashed across front pages in China, has become an iconic image of everything the Chinese want to believe about the innocence of their country and the dastardliness of the West.
All week she has been mobbed by fans and glorified in the Chinese media, who dubbed her the "smiling angel in a wheelchair" and "saviour of the national honour." Her fans describe her as fearless and modest. "She has captured the hearts of millions of Chinese people," the state news agency says. As for Ms. Jin, she smiles sweetly and then says, of the protesters, "I despise them."
China in 2008 has become a story with two dramatically contrasting narratives, each isolated in its own solitude, almost unaware of the other. While the West sees the Chinese government as the violent oppressors of Tibetans and other dissidents, the Chinese see their country as the victim of external attacks, and the "wheelchair angel" is their ultimate symbol.
After initially censoring the televised reports on the torch protests in London and Paris, the Chinese government soon found it better to encourage the reports, which were carefully edited to portray China as the victim.
Last month, the state media gave huge publicity to another iconic image of the Tibet crisis: the five young Chinese saleswomen who were killed in their clothing shop in Lhasa when it was set ablaze by Tibetan protesters. Again, the Chinese saw their women as innocent victims of Western-supported attackers.
With images such as those to mould the national mood, it has been surprisingly easy for China's autocratic rulers to rally their country to support them. And here is the unexpected reality of the Chinese Communist Party in 2008: Its international image might be bruised and battered, but its internal grip on power is stronger than ever.
There is mounting evidence — in Internet chat rooms, on the streets and everywhere else where public opinion can be measured — that the Chinese Communist Party has gained popularity and strength as a result of the violence and chaos of the past month.
It might be facing an Olympic opening ceremony boycott and mounting criticism from abroad, but the government has largely succeeded in mobilizing its 1.3 -billion people into a unified force, giving it the domestic legitimacy it craves for its survival.
"Thanks to the protests, the Chinese Communists may have consolidated support by its citizens for years to come," says Roland Soong, a shrewd observer of Chinese politics who runs a blog analyzing the Chinese media. "For the Chinese Communists, the responses from Western governments, media and citizens are immaterial," he wrote in his blog. "The paramount goal of the Chinese Communists is to retain control of China, and therefore it is the response from the Chinese citizens that matter."
The legend of Jin Jing has been a huge coup for Beijing in its efforts to exploit the torch protests for its own self-interest, Mr. Soong says. "Faced with the beautiful heroine with one leg, how is any liberal dissidence on behalf of Tibet going to work inside China? This was a bonanza handed to the Chinese Communists by the pro-Tibet protesters."
In many ways, Tibet and the Olympics were the ideal issues for Beijing to face, if it was going to face any crisis in 2008. Western activists may have inadvertently blundered by choosing these two issues as the focus of their strategy this year. Ethnic minorities rarely get much sympathy among China's people. Tibet and the Olympics are relatively simple for Beijing to frame as an "us-against-them" narrative, in almost tribal terms, drawing upon China's painful memories of foreign attacks from the Opium Wars to the Japanese invasions.
"The Chinese government has been able to strengthen its credentials as a defender of Chinese nationalistic pride," said Charles Burton, a former Canadian diplomat in Beijing who is now a political scientist at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.
"People who were not fully supportive of the Communist Party's rule have now united strongly around the party's political agenda for Tibet. The attacks on the Olympic flame have polarized the differences between China and the West, and the West is much more demonized than before."
This political dynamic has changed drastically in the past two decades. In 1989, there was huge Chinese sympathy for the university students who held hunger strikes at Tiananmen Square to seek freedom and oppose corruption. Most of the Tiananmen protesters were of the same Han Chinese ethnicity as the national majority. As university students, they were the best and brightest, the hope of the nation, and they garnered much sympathy from across the country.
But in 2008, in a growing climate of nationalism after years of "patriotic education" in the schools and media, there is little sympathy, and much hostility, toward the Tibetan protesters who live abroad or in their remote ethnic enclave. The Tibetan "splittists" are widely portrayed as uncivilized, violent, anti-Chinese, ungrateful for the government's help and controlled by foreign agitators. For the Han majority, the Tibetans are often seen as outsiders who even fought wars against China in the past. Their support from the West makes them even more hostile in Chinese eyes.
The Olympics, too, are seen as an "us-against-them" story. Foreign activists and boycott advocates are seen as malicious enemies who want to destroy the moment of China's greatest pride and prestige.
And so, while the Tiananmen Square protests rocked the Chinese leadership in 1989, the Tibet crisis of 2008 has had the opposite effect: It has strengthened the government's hand.
"In a crisis, the nationalist card is one of the most potent that the government can play," said Willy Lam, a long-time China watcher and political analyst based in Hong Kong. "If you read the Chinese websites, there is a campaign of hatred against the Tibetans," he said. "I think it works. It enables the leadership to divert attention from the mistakes that they have made."
Despite China's toughest crisis in years, its rulers have shown far more resilience than many expected. They have won support from the country's influential middle classes, who have profited from the economic boom of recent years. They have learned how to manipulate events to create public outrage and pro-government feelings. And they have learned how to benefit from the high-speed communications technology that is now ubiquitous in China. The technological tools that were supposed to democratize China — websites, blogs, video sites and slickly produced television channels — are actually bolstering the Communist government by allowing it to mobilize anger at foreign critics.
Howard Balloch, a former Canadian ambassador to China who now heads an investment bank in Beijing, says the Chinese government is worried about the international reaction to its handling of the Tibet crisis and the torch relay, but not the domestic reaction. "I think they know that the people support them on this," he said in an interview. "It has buttressed their support across the whole country. I don't think they are worried about it."
External pressure on an authoritarian regime often has the unintended effect of boosting the regime's domestic power. Sanctions and embargos actually helped to strengthen the internal popularity of autocrats and dictators such as Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, Slobodan Milosevic and the mullahs of Iran. Although some were eventually ousted, the sanctions helped them to extend their rule for years. They were able to portray themselves as the victims of hostile foreign powers, and their populations rallied around them. The foreign protests against China this spring are creating the same rally-round-the-leader phenomenon.
The irresistible saga of Jin Jing, the wheelchair angel who had part of her right leg amputated at the age of 9 because of cancer, has been useful in stoking the emotions of patriotism and victimhood in China — especially since there is a distinct lack of personal charisma among the relatively faceless members of China's Politburo.
The Chinese Internet is buzzing with thousands of homages to Ms. Jin, linking her to the fate of the nation. Many vowed to kill the protesters who had tried to seize the Olympic torch from her. "Jin Jing, you are pretty, but your heart is even prettier," one person wrote. "We all support you. Long live the motherland!"
A blog by one of her torch-relay companions said: "Let the storm be even stronger! Our heroes are unafraid. Victory will be ours in the end!"
(New York Times) Sympathy on the Streets, but Not for the Tibetans. By Andrew Jacobs. April 18, 2008.
She is the “smiling angel in the wheelchair,” a one-legged fencer from Shanghai who endured a gantlet of anti-Chinese demonstrators last week as she rolled through the streets of Paris clutching the Olympic flame. Each time a protester broke through the barricades and lunged for the torch, the woman, Jin Jing, shielded it with her body. During one particularly ugly scuffle, she was bruised and scratched by a flailing woman wrapped in a Tibetan flag.
Ms. Jin, 28, a former switchboard operator who lost her leg to cancer as a child, returned home a hero. The news media have been filled with accounts of her bravery, using her actions to highlight what many here see as the cold-hearted cruelty of those who seek to spoil China’s moment in the sun in August, the Olympic Games in Beijing.
“When Jin Jing protected the torch with all her effort, she was not only defending her motherland, but also the Olympic Games, which belong to the whole world,” said Xinhua, the government news agency. “Golden Girl Lifts a Nation,” proclaimed a headline in China Daily.
The official Web site of the Beijing Games lauded her valor and posted a blow-by-blow account of the April 7 episode. “With her frail body she was defending the Olympic spirit, which moved many people,” it said.
The incident, largely unpublicized in the West, has crystallized the outrage and humiliation felt by many Chinese who have been stunned by the torch’s hostile reception as it hopscotches the globe. Although recent stops in Argentina, Tanzania, Oman, Pakistan and India went off smoothly, there were concerns about future stops, including Australia.
“It’s just appalling that people would tarnish an event that the Chinese people have been awaiting for so long,” said Wu Tianren, 79, a retired economics professor, walking in a park here freshly planted with petunias and marigolds. “This makes us very sad.”
Many people here, reflecting the state-controlled media’s point of view, believe that the demonstrators are acting at the behest of the Dalai Lama, who they say is seeking Tibetan independence, despite his assertions to the contrary. Another target of public anger is the French, who are accused of encouraging Tibetan rights advocates and failing to protect the torch.
Internet message boards have been brewing with anger. A text message campaign is urging a boycott of French products and companies, especially Carrefour, a supermarket chain here. “The power of an individual is very small and limited, but if we get 1.3 billion Chinese united, anyone and any country would be shocked by our power,” read a posting on Yahoo by someone identified only as Liuanna.
Foreign news outlets have been besieged by angry callers accusing them of running reports that glorify the Tibetan demonstrators and belittle the Chinese government. The state-controlled news media have stoked the fury through occasionally shrill coverage, feeding nationalist sentiment that often simmers beneath the surface of Chinese society.
On the capital’s streets, the anger is palpable, lurching between indignation and wounded pride. Many people said they were unaware of the protests until they learned about the plight of Ms. Jin, the disabled torch bearer.
Until then, coverage of the relay within China had been glowing, mostly omitting images of the anti-Chinese protests that have been a staple of Western television broadcasts.
Those who knew about the demonstrations surrounding the torch relay seemed to conflate the chaos in Paris and London with foreign coverage of the rioting in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa. They said those news accounts of the riots had been blatantly sympathetic toward the Tibetans, despite their role — according to official government accounts — in the deaths of 19 people, most of them Han Chinese. “The media should be telling the truth, not injecting their point of view into reports,” said Yang Guang, 23, an electrical engineer. “I think they’re just trying to make China look bad”
Public protests are rare in Beijing, so the sight of screaming demonstrators on television seems all the more jarring. For most Chinese, the Olympics are a sacred event, which they hope will showcase their country’s growing economic might and inspire new international respect.
There is little sympathy on the streets of Beijing for Tibetan rights advocates. The idea that Tibet is an inseparable part of China is firmly entrenched, and many people resent what they view as ingratitude among Tibetans, who receive subsidies from the central government. To the average Beijing resident, the concept of an independent Tibet is as outlandish as, say, the notion of making Arizona a separate nation for the Navajo Indians.
“You don’t hear Chinese interfering in America’s domestic affairs,” said Jiang Shuisheng, 26, a computer salesman taking a cigarette break. He said he was particularly unhappy with the United States, which he accused of maintaining a double standard on human rights. He cited the war in Iraq, which he said had caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.
Referring to a tense period between China and the United States over Taiwan, a close American ally, Mr. Jiang said, “When you had your Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, you didn’t see Chinese people ruining the event because they were unhappy about your government’s policy.” He acknowledged that the state media were using Ms. Jin to heighten national pride, but added that this was justified. “I’m not a nationalist, but if this happened to an American, it would be no different,” he said.
None of the dozens who were interviewed acknowledged a contradiction between their desire for China’s acceptance as an equal among modern nations and the government’s suppression of dissent. College students, retirees and those in the newly rich entrepreneurial class agreed that anyone seeking to spoil the Games should be silenced.
Bai Ru, 22, a business management student originally from Inner Mongolia, said she trusted the government to take whatever measures were necessary to ensure a seamless Olympics. She said personal sacrifice, including stifling one’s dissatisfaction with the political status quo, was for the collective good. “If the government takes harsh measures to crack down on protesters, of course I support that,” she said. “This is an issue of national pride and national esteem. The Olympics are our best opportunity for the outside world to see how far we’ve come.”