Wednesday, September 30, 2009

“National Day” is Approaching, A Heated Debate on Twitter by Woeser

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser originally written for Radio Free Asia on September 22, 2009 and posted on her blog on September 28.  

In this blogpost, Woeser writes about the discussions being generated on Twitter about China's upcoming National Day on October 1st, the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the PRC.  

For Twitter-friendly readers, Woeser can be followed on Twitter @degewa and High Peaks Pure Earth can be followed on @hpeaks.

The image above was created by @zhangfacai 
The Chinese characters for 10 (十) and 1 (一) - meaning October 1st - create the symbol of the cross in shadow.

“National Day” is Approaching, A Heated Debate on Twitter 
by Woeser

Beijing’s residents can vividly sense the arrival of “National Day”. Its power affects all and everything; it even changes every person’s basic life necessities such as food, clothing, shelter and transport to varying degrees. Even if one decides to stay inside behind closed doors, one cannot escape it; for instance, TV programmes are persistently white-washing the past sixty years presenting them as glorious and magnificent, brainwashing all those joyful fools, forgetting that behind the smokescreen of this incomparable glory, there only existed a reign of terror, people were plunged into an abyss of misery. They would never mention that the bullets on Tiananmen Square twenty years ago weren’t at all fired into open air, that the tanks on Chang-an Street didn’t at all roll towards open space, and that until today many Chinese people’s tears are still pouring down.

And it’s not only television; all government owned media are making an equally vigorous clamour. Every night, all over Beijing, or rather all over China, gorgeous fireworks are leaping up, shining brightly and obstructing the view. Really, the aim is to gloss over the darkness of the sinister reality, to impede the true feelings of the people. Looking at different groupings within society in its entirety, are the fools or the silent ones in the majority? In fact, the whispers of the silent ones are penetrating the truth. A retired cadre, over eighty years old, once said to me that those endless talks about the glorious sixty years are nothing but self-deception, it would be much better to keep quiet and not make such a fuss. Also, at the time, in order to realise the real glory, the cadre participated in the student movements and joined underground groups; nevertheless she has suffered the hardships of the revolution for the rest of her life.

What we should not overlook is that the opposing voices can never be suppressed; on the internet which cannot be muzzled or closed down, one very important platform is Twitter. Somebody once argued the following: “in terms of the pace, the depth, and the range of the enormous information output, Twitter always has the edge over other traditional media. But of course, due to the unique conditions in a country like China, this sort of advantage has its special meaning.” On Chinese Twitter, 140 characters represent sufficient space to convey a great deal of content; whether it is an account of or a comment on latest news events or whether it is an interpretation of or discussion about someone’s personal opinion, Twitter is a brilliant platform.

I started using Twitter after the “Xinjiang Incident“. Within no time I had about a thousand “followers”. One of my Twitter friends, Ran Yunfei, an intellectual who has the courage to speak openly, already has over seven thousand “followers”. Twitter has really become too powerful to stop. I was very impressed by the quick response and support for the petition against the arrest of the Uyghur Professor Ilham Tohti, which Twitter made possible. Recently, with regards to the discussions on the subject “National Day”, Twitter can be compared to the backstage area of a showground where performers are utterly trying to portray the scene of glory and prosperity, but more and more voices, difficult to submerge, are slowly unveiling the masquerade.

I chose a few of them to present here: “Today a colleague asked: ‘Why is this year’s national celebration more ceremonious than ever before?’ and then surreptitiously came up with the answer: ‘It’s because this will be the last one.’” “The societal efficacy of the “National Day” celebrations is: because of the lack of political legitimacy and because of the fear of the inner political power structure, they have to use a certain ceremonial and linguistic system and by means of relentless repetition, they confuse the public, shape people’s ideas and opinions, and cover up the fear, which the lack of legitimacy has brought about.” “They loudly shout out slogans of serving the people, but they fetter people’s thoughts and opinions. They fly the big flag of legal systems and institutions, but they ravage people’s bodies and minds, they loudly sing the song of praise, ‘The East Is Red’, but edit out millions of sensitive words, they hold up high the stick of the “Three Represents” (the Communist Party of China must always represent the development trend of China's advanced productive forces, the orientation of China's advanced culture and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people), yet those who follow prosper, whereas those who oppose perish. I watch you attentively, the ruler who, surrounded by the cheering sounds of ‘Long Live’, is on the verge of fading away.”

Not long ago, during the protests against the general elections in Iran, Twitter played an unexpectedly important role because purportedly hundreds of thousands of protesters used Twitter as a means to mobilise their people, so the protests were also called the “Twitter Revolution”. From this we can see that in times of constant technological development, new media tools emerge in an endless stream, causing the attempts of those despots who try to hide the truth from people to appear unfounded and futile.

September 22, 2009, Beijing.

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Tibetan Language Blogsites Back Online

High Peaks Pure Earth has noticed that Tibetan language blogsites are back online now - albeit in sanitised form as posts of a political nature have been removed.

As first reported on Global Voices on August 28, all Tibetan language blogsites (except for one) were inaccessible for almost the whole month of August. The reasons for the closures of the blogsites were unclear at the time but now it appears to be linked to a wider effort within the People's Republic of China to eradicate anonymity on the web.

A September 5 article in the New York Times reports that in compliance with secret government orders, web users are required to log on under their true identities to post comments. For a commentary on these new regulations, please see this blogpost by China internet expert Rebecca MacKinnon.

Tibetan language blogsite has returned online with a new notice (photo above) on the main page that reads:
Because of difficulties we are unable to recreate the blog pages. For this reason you first need to log onto the administration page and recreate your new blog profile. Our apologies for creating many difficulties, one more thing to say, please pay careful attention to the content of your posts.

Another popular Tibetan language blogsite,, carries a smaller notice (photo above) that simply reads:
Create a new blog account and after creating a new account you can access your old account.
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Thursday, September 3, 2009

"A Year in Tibet: Not At All Unexpected ‘Foreign Publicity’" by Woeser

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost by Woeser originally written for Radio Free Asia on August 12, 2009 and posted on her blog on August 19.

Above: Screenshots advertising "A Year in Tibet" from China Tibet Information Center  

Above: "A Year in Tibet", BBC and CCTV versions

"A Year in Tibet: Not At All Unexpected ‘Foreign Publicity’" by Woeser

Recently, from CCTV to the Nanfang Zhoumo (Southern Weekend newspaper), the Chinese media were full of praise for a documentary titled “A Year in Tibet”. One critique was particularly thought-provoking calling the documentary “unexpected ‘foreign publicity’”. Here, ‘foreign publicity’ refers to propaganda targeted at foreigners and even though it was written in quotation marks, I couldn’t help but immediately think of the Chinese Department for External Propaganda.

As a matter of fact, there are two different versions of this five episodes long documentary: the BBC version and the CCTV version; the associated book also exists in English and in Chinese. I watched the BBC documentary and read the Chinese edition of the book. I noticed two particular points about the documentary: firstly, there is a slight difference between these two versions. It is said that every episode of the CCTV version is 12 minutes shorter than the BBC one and some of the commentary has also been modified. Secondly, although both versions differ from each other, the Chinese media have credited the CCTV version with some of the same comments the BBC version received, for example the remark: “obtained the West’s and the Dalai Lama’s approval”.

Now, what is the main effect of editing out 20% of each episode? And in terms of conveying certain contents, how was the commentary modified? Moreover, can these things really be regarded as insignificant? Judging from my experience and knowledge of living in China, I believe that one should by no means ignore such details. It is just like what the Chinese independent intellectual Ran Yunfei said when he criticised the claim that China had so-called “independent think-tanks”: “in a country with strict thought control and without freedom of speech, an independent think-tank cannot exist, there only exists a ‘septic tank’ that only praises the government, glossing over and covering up its own defects and blemishes – I believe that it should be mere common knowledge and the most basic judgement to recognise this Chinese reality. However, if one says things contrary to the reality, then one must either be really blind, or rather consciously choose to be selectively blind.”

One does not even have to refer to only films on sensitive topics such as Tibet; for instance, taking the volume “Modern Chinese History” written by an historian residing in the US as an example. When it was published in mainland China, although it was claimed that only “appropriate and cautious editing work had been carried out”, compared to the original edition published in Hong Kong, a great number of parts had been either obliterated or modified, even to the point where scholars teasingly called it “one country, two editions”. I spoke to Shuyun, the producer and director of “A Year in Tibet”, and during the recent phone conversation, she implicitly expressed her sense of being helpless about some parts being deleted, and with regards to the Chinese edition of the book, she admitted to me in a letter that “in the published version, some parts that touched my deepest emotions have unfortunately been obliterated.” I expressed my understanding, but now I think, this sort of understanding in itself cannot be normal, knowing that it has clearly been edited, how can one then claim ownership for the reviews, which the English version received?

Two years ago, Shuyun told me about the film, which at the time was still in the making. She also mentioned that the China Tibetology Research Centre, which is a subdivision of the United Front Department of the Party Central Committee, would be involved in the project from the beginning to the end. To be honest, when such an evidently dubious academic department with very explicit ideology is involved, I very much doubt that the documentary can hold a very high level of impartiality, authenticity, and objectivity. Even such a work unit as the editorial bureau of the magazine “Tibetan Literature”, I know that every time they make their way to the countryside to collect folk songs and tales, every department has to give the green light. Thus, it will be more so for a production unit coming from Beijing, which also has the China Tibetology Research Centre in the background. How can an artwork created under such conditions really possess any independent spirit? It is hardly surprising that in the book “A Year in Tibet” we encounter one particular feature: an elderly Tibetan asks the production unit of the documentary for a favour, he wants his son who is a ngakpa (a tantric practitioner) to become a member of the county’s CPPCC (Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference) National Committee. This is to show that the production unit “and the county’s leaders are very familiar with each other”.

Also, when they film the “Han Panchen Lama” recognized by the Chinese government or when she portrays him in the book, it seems that the film and the book wants to show the Tibetan people’s strong belief in him. There are indeed many Tibetans who take a khatag and queue up to have this little child bless them by touching their heads, but they only do this because apart from being able to obtain a reward from the authorities in form of an extra allowance, they might also be faced with disciplinary warnings of severe punishment if they don’t do it. Were the filmmakers actually aware of all these essential and important factors? In view of this, it is also hardly surprising that, as it is reported in China, the film’s supervisor, also the Vice-Director General of the China Tibetology Research Centre, Gelek, admits that “A Year in Tibet” is successfully carried out 'foreign publicity' by the respective government departments in charge. Also, the documentary fits in with the Chinese Propaganda Department’s line from a few years ago: when the Chinese Propaganda Department held a discussion in response to “the Dalai Clique has long established public relations and has engaged in distorting publicity [in the west], one Ph.D. holder said: “Publicity materials should be written for the foreigners to read, thus, we have to ponder over the Westerners’ way of thinking and language habits. We need to penetrate their language system so as to say whatever we want to say.”
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