By David Bandurski — As Reuters and AFP reported today on the “life or death struggle” in Tibet, they touched unwittingly on one of the most noteworthy aspects of how Tibetan unrest has been handled and reported within China, where the basic formula has been: harsh words for the Tibetans, a harmonious front for the Han. [MAIN PAGE: Tibetan uprisings shown on the Chez Oimdu blog].
The English-language wire reports, which feed on the graphic language of Tibet’s top party leader, Zhang Qingli (张庆黎), will undoubtedly be a source of frustration for Chinese leaders as they attempt to manage the global blowback and present a face of tolerant resolution.
AFP and Reuters both report Zhang Qingli’s words as reflective of China’s official line (which of course they ultimately are as Zhang is Tibet’s top party party leader and enforcer). But the image of Tibet as a “life or death” struggle of “blood and fire” is not being pushed outside the party’s inner circle — nor is it the image top leaders wish to project to the world.
So what happened here?
[ABOVE: Screenshot of "life or death" wire stories as they top a Yahoo! News "China" search this afternoon.]
The source of Zhang’s comments, as quoted by Reuters and AFP, is China Tibet News, an official online news site based in the autonomous region, and the comments originate from an editorial appearing yesterday in Tibet’s official mouthpiece, Tibet Daily. Zhang reportedly made the comments in a closed telecast meeting with other top officials.
A portion of Zhang’s comments are as follows:
We are now fighting a bitter struggle of blood and fire against the Dalai clique, a struggle of life and death. The stability of Tibet concerns the stability of the whole nation, and the safety of Tibet concerns the safety of the whole country.
AFP: “We are currently in an intensely bloody and fiery struggle with the Dalai Lama clique, a life or death struggle with the enemy.”
REUTERS: “We are in the midst of a fierce struggle involving blood and fire, a life and death struggle with the Dalai clique.”
Interestingly, China Tibet News is one of just a few sources available online or anywhere else for Zhang’s comments. They have not appeared on major Web portals. Nor have they appeared in newspapers outside Tibet.
[ABOVE: Screenshot of Chinatibetnews.com, an official news portal for the autonomous region.]
A search on Baidu News for the phrase “life and death struggle with the enemy” (“你死我活的敌我斗争”), comes up with Zhang’s editorial from Tibet Daily via the Xinhua News Agency website, and the Phoenix TV website.
A search in the WiseNews database of Chinese language periodicals, covering over 130 major party and commercial newspapers, turns up no reference to “life and death struggle with the enemy” in coverage since the uprising. The database does not include Tibet Daily.
The important point to recognize is that while leaders in Tibet have resorted to the fiery vocabulary of Maoist-era jargon (“people’s war,” for example) to send the message that they will deal with protests with an iron hand, media across the country (party papers, commercial papers and websites) have used more restrained language.
Nowhere is the Maoist-era rhetoric more apparent than in the reference in Zhang Qingli’s editorial and related coverage to the need to “take a clear-cut stand against separatism” (旗帜鲜明地反对分裂). That phrase is of course redolent of Deng Xiaoping’s call in 1983 to “take a clear-cut stand against bourgeois liberalization” (旗帜鲜明地反对资产阶级自由化).
More poignantly, the phrase recalls the People’s Daily editorial of April 26, 1989, that presaged the crackdown on student demonstrators. The title of that editorial was, “We Must Take a Clear-Cut Stand Against Chaos” (旗帜鲜明地反对动乱).
[Posted by David Bandurski, March 19, 2008, 9:53pm]
“Images and News of Tibet Riots Seep Onto Web, Despite Chinese Authorities’ Clampdown“, China Digital Times, March 19, 2008
“Simmering Resentments Led to Tibetan Backlash,” New York Times, March 18, 2008
Links and roundup of Tibet coverage at Roland Soong’s ESWN.