Chinese students protest “biased” New Zealand media. “Unbiased” online Chinese media bans New Zealand netizen for questioning Chinese student protest. Irony ensues. . .

Anyone who has been following the recent Tibet riots will be familiar with the story. Peaceful protests in Tibet somehow become violent riots. China closes Tibet to the foreign media and issues hard-line statements about “splittists” and the “Dalai Lama clique”. The Chinese media report the story by dutifully repeating the government line. The foreign media report the story using the limited information and material available to them from both the Chinese and Tibetan sides. Chinese citizens are unhappy with the foreign media’s reporting of the story (or more specifically they have a gripe with the “western media”). A series of several cropped and incorrectly captioned photos and segments of news footage assumes enormous importance as a demonstration of western media bias. This material becomes “proof” that the western media is attempting to “paint China black”. Chinese students around the world protest. Exciting days indeed!

 

Gentle readers, it was at that point that your good narrator became involved, with ironic and entertaining results.

I heard that Chinese students in Auckland were planning to protest western media bias, and specifically New Zealand media bias. The New Zealand angle interested me because it was local, and because I had not personally noticed anything remarkable in the New Zealand media coverage*. Therefore I looked around for details on the planned protest, and found them at www.skykiwi.co.nz, New Zealand’s largest electronic media serving a Chinese audience. The protest was to be held on Saturday noon in Aotea Square here in Auckland.

 

Reading through the site and sensing the anger of these young Chinese I could not help feeling a little unease. I was reminded of the anti-Japanese protests (riots?) that I had attended in Shanghai a couple of years ago. That was the only previous occasion on which I had personally witnessed a protest by educated and privileged young Chinese. The day had ended with the Japanese consulate and numerous Japanese businesses seriously vandalized (in an interesting cultural aside, the mob ignored the beer fridges in the smashed up Japanese restaurants). I asked myself why privileged and educated young Chinese only ever protest foreign things. It appeared to me that they only ever become moved to express their views when the issue is Japan, or Taiwan, or Tibet, or some other perceived slight to China.

 

Rather than sit there asking myself this question, I went ahead and asked New Zealand’s Chinese netizens. I wrote a post asking a few things. I asked why their protests only ever targeted foreign things and never targeted their own government. I told them that I had attended the Shanghai anti-Japanese protest, and that at times it had appeared like a riot. I noted that Japanese in Shanghai had been too scared to leave their homes on that day and that numerous innocent business owners had suffered mob violence. While nobody had died or been seriously hurt in the Shanghai demonstration, were there not some parallels between the behavior of demonstrators (rioters?) in Shanghai and in Tibet? Somewhat provocatively, I asked if Tiananmen had simply made educated and privileged young Chinese too afraid to protest their own government. Finally, I asked when the Chinese media was going to ask the Chinese government to produce proof to back its allegations that the DL orchestrated the Lhasa riots.

 

The response was interesting. Various posters attacked me as a “foreign devil” (洋鬼子) and a “foreign pig” (洋豬). Others apparently believed I was a Chinese pretending to be a foreigner and called me a “fake foreign devil” (假洋鬼). The thread I had started was swiftly locked and I received a disciplinary message. The message gave no explanation of why the thread had been locked, but did suggest that I was not welcome on the site and should leave. I do not know if the people who abused me also received disciplinary messages.

 

I started another thread to ask why my previous thread had been locked. Provoked by this stage, I sarcastically suggested that the protesters were just mindlessly trotting out the party line in the manner of the Cultural Revolution period. Specifically, I took the piss with a wisecrack about them being “good children of Chairman Mao” (毛主席的好孩子們), and suggested the chairman might reward them all with a Popsicle (冰棍) if they organized a good protest. I knew that was likely to get an ‘interesting’ reaction. But really, if netizens call me a “foreign pig” and site administrators lock my threads and ask me to leave, all because I asked a question, how charming am I supposed to be?

 

The response was more abuse, then my account on the site was deleted and my IP address blocked. I was no longer able to even read the site without using a proxy. Of course having lived in China I am familiar with proxy servers.

 

I find this sequence of events hilarious. It took less than 12 hours for the NZ Chinese media most instrumental in organizing Saturday’s protest against bias in the western and New Zealand media to ban (probably) its only non-Chinese contributor. The crime was simply questioning the nationalistic tendencies of educated young Chinese. While the online Chinese New Zealand media was busy displaying its massive bias on matters Chinese, the “your views” section of the New Zealand Herald website was allowing Chinese overseas students to engage local New Zealanders in vigorous debate on the China-Tibet issue. I have no idea if the New Zealand Herald censored comments in that debate, but there is no question that the debate occurred.

 

Could there be a double standard?

 

Could the irony of this situation be deep enough for a pod of whales to go swimming in?

 

I attended the protest on Saturday and chatted with a couple of the protesters. The ones that I spoke to seemed reasonable enough, if (in my opinion) slightly misguided. My criticisms would be as follows:

 

First, they failed to identify any specific examples of bias in the New Zealand media. Yet their protest claimed to be (at least partially) a response to New Zealand media bias.

 

Second, they shot themselves in the foot by using some rotten examples to demonstrate western media bias. Most notably, one of their leading examples was the Fox News photo of Nepali police arresting a demonstrator, the caption for which read “Chinese troops parade handcuffed Tibetan prisoners in trucks”. It is obvious that the picture was incorrectly captioned and not a serious attempt to mislead. A person who believes the newspaper used the caption to trick its readers into thinking the Nepali police are Tibetan must also believe the newspaper wants to dupe its readers into seeing invisible trucks, parades of prisoners, and handcuffs. None of these things were in the photo. Why did none of these protesters have the mental facility to spot this obvious truth? Spotting this truth requires nothing more than elementary English and an open and critical mind. Do none of them possess this? To somebody like myself who has followed this story closely from the start, they were simply regurgitating the propaganda from the anti-CNN website. I think they could have done much better.  You can find biases in the western media if you look, but few of the examples they presented fitted my definition of meaningful bias.

Third, the English copy of the flier they distributed was extremely difficult to understand and degenerated into illogical rambling in places. This was an unprofessional attempt at communication. Why had a native English speaker not edited it? The copy is almost too lousy to analyze so I am not going to seriously attempt that. Notably though, the flier stated that western news organizations had been unable to report directly from Tibet because of its geographical remoteness. The flier went on to state that the students were committed to ‘Freedom of Speech’, and framed ‘freedom of speech’ as a shared western and Chinese value. How is this professed commitment to freedom of speech consistent with ignoring the Chinese government’s vigorous restriction of foreign media access to Tibet? Why talk about geographical remoteness (surely a side issue), while ignoring tight Chinese controls over media access to Tibet (surely a major issue). Are they genuinely concerned with free speech and the truth, or are they merely concerned with China’s image?

 

Fourth, a general survey of the discussion on Skykiwi before and after the protest reveals far more discourse on feeling good about China and abusing things foreign than there is discussion and analysis of the issues they say they are protesting. For example, one common theme in the online discussion was to draw a parallel between their protest to the anti-Japanese protests (riots?) in Shanghai. Another characteristic was describing the event as an “(ethnic) Chinese rally” (華人集會), not a protest against biased coverage of PRC government handling of the Tibetan issue by the western media. A further feature has been the protesters publishing long diatribes online that are expressions of Chinese nationalism and anti-western xenophobia, not genuine attempts to address western media biases. The failure of the protesters to identify concrete bias in the New Zealand media, plus their failure to critically analyze the media material presented by their own protest, also support my feeling that the protest was primarily nationalistic. Social anthropologists sometimes say that you should analyze what people do, not what they say they do. The protesters say they are protesting a specific grievance, but their discourse before and after the protest neglected the grievance itself in favor of simple nationalistic fervor. Of course, being motivated by nationalism is not inconsistent with being motivated by real grievances. However, I think a question should be asked about degree. To what degree are young Chinese protesters critical thinkers who analyze issues and respond rationally? To what degree are they uncritical nationalists primed to respond irrationally to all kinds of triggers?

 

Fifth, there was some odd amateurism, or even the hint of a conspiracy. The online discussion of the protest mentioned that a Tibetan who had recently returned to (or arrived in?) New Zealand from Lhasa came past to offer words of support. The posters mentioned that this Tibetan described Lhasa to them as a thoroughly harmonious place where all Tibetans feel 100% Chinese and are hugely contented with life. He also said he had been present in Lhasa during the riots, and knew for a fact that the disorder had been orchestrated by non-Tibetan speaking agitators from outside Tibet (who were presumably agents of the DL). Having made a special trip to express his support, the Tibetan seemed to then take his leave fairly quickly, maybe without participating as a protester. There was discussion on Skykiwi about how it was not safe to post the Tibetan’s photograph online because doing so could endanger his family back home. I am not quite sure how this works since Lhasa is said to be a harmonious place inhabited by contended people. The really interesting thing however is this. The sentence previous to the one requesting the Tibetan’s photo not be published provided his full name. How can the protesters be such amateurs? Wasn’t the same person who published the Tibean’s name supposedly concerned with protecting his identity? Maybe the Tibetan told them he was happy to be represented by a name but not by a photograph? Maybe he used a false name? But if the Tibetan hid his true identity from the protesters, could his whole agenda in approaching them have been a deceptive one? I assume the protesters are simply amateurs, but the whole scenario is weird.

 

Well that just about wraps up what I have to say about the matter of bias in the New Zealand Chinese media and the protests against bias in the western media. Comments are welcome. Abuse is not.

Update: Some follow up to all this is here – including death threats!

 

* Do not take that to mean that i think the New Zealand media coverage has been problem free. I have not even read most of the New Zealand coverage because I prefer to get my news on Chinese issues from specifically China oriented sources. However, I noticed nothing unusual in what I did read. I also note that the New Zealand Herald website appears to have allowed a free debate in its online comments section, which saw an exchange of views between those supporting and opposing the Tibetan protesters (and rioters).

10 Responses to “Chinese students protest “biased” New Zealand media. “Unbiased” online Chinese media bans New Zealand netizen for questioning Chinese student protest. Irony ensues. . .”

  1. Just why can’t people live with others holding different opinions? at Oliver’s entries Says:

    [...] he calls the Chinese “candor gap” – the apparent inability of a lot of people in China (and Chinese people living in other countries?) to accept views different from their own, and from the views endorsed by their government: The [...]

  2. fromChina Says:

    Wow! Marvelous reasoning. Have you even bothered to look for proof, ie. eyewitnesses’ posting and video clips, that what happened in Tibet is not an organized riot? Do you care at all if there are elements of truth in Chinese media?

  3. seamus Says:

    FromChina,

    Thanks for the (sarcastic?) comment.

    Unfortunately I don’t understand your questions. Maybe you need to carefully re-read what I wrote?

    I will respond to your questions as best I can though.

    Your first question was: “Have you even bothered to look for proof, ie. eyewitnesses’ posting and video clips, that what happened in Tibet is not an organized riot?”

    I have looked at the eyewitness accounts of the riots. But my opinion of those accounts is irrelevant to my article above.

    I said that riots happened in Tibet. I never speculated on whether the riots were organized or spontaneous. I simply said riots ‘somehow’ occurred.

    Yes, the riots may have been deliberately organized, or they may not have been. They may have been been an unfortunate response to excessive police action, or they may not have been. There are claims and evidence to support both possibilities. Would you be happier if I said the riots were deliberately organized? Wouldn’t the question then become who organized them and why? While the Chinese government is accusing the DL of organizing the riots, many overseas Tibetan activists are accusing the Chinese of organizing them. Concluding the riots were organized just makes things even more controversial!

    Personally I think both sides are making stupid accusations. However, that is not important here because my article did not express my personal opinions of what happened in Tibet. My article was about the behavior of Chinese protesters, netizens, and media.

    I prefer to stick to the uncontroversial facts – i.e. the things that everyone agrees on. Everyone agrees that first there were peaceful protests, then there were violent riots. I wrote exactly that and speculated no further.

    Your second question was: “Do you care at all if there are elements of truth in Chinese media?”

    Of course there are elements of truth in the Chinese media. When you say ‘care’ are you really asking me whether I accept this? Of course I accept it. How could any rational person believe that the Chinese media ONLY reports untruths? I consider the Chinese media extremely biased on certain issues, but like any media it reports a great deal of true information (even on those areas where it has a bias).

    Does that answer your questions?

    Feel free to browse the rest of the site and find yourself a drink. This place is really about cocktails, not politics.

  4. Bunnyhugs » Blog Archive » Chinese nationalist protesters and Chinese online media in New Zealand: the saga continuies Says:

    [...] up on my earlier post on the Chinese protests in relation to Tibet, there have been some further developments in the whole Chinese protesters and Chinese online media [...]

  5. Tian Says:

    I would actually agree with you that the whole protest thing was rather badly organised.
    However, I still think the protests have to be done. People sometimes don’t really know exactly what their point is, but they can feel a sence of injustice towards them, and they need to at least do something to show their disagreement. This time is one of these situation, we feel strongly that the western media is in general biased this time and it has not been fair to ordinary Chinese people, our opinions has been ignored, therefore we have to go out of our way to let our disagreement been heard. That is at least why I went for protest too.

    You can say there is little hard evidence that the New Zealand media been biased. I am not in New Zealand so I can’t tell if it is. But just let me ask a few questions:
    When the NZ media report the Tibetan roits, did their report sound differently to any other western channels, like BBC or CNN?

    Did they bother to research the history of tibet or did they say China invaded Tibet in 1950s(Which is not true)?

    When the torch rally was in London, did they praise or at least focus on the “free tibet” protestors? Did they even boher to mention there was also thousands of Chinese people welcoming the torch in London on the same day too?

    My personal experiance is in Ireland the media failed to respect Chinese people’s feeling. On April 12th we had about 2000 people demostrating our support to a politics free Olympics. Not a word was messioned on any newspaper or Television, except a photo of a single protestor, despite the organiser’s effort to invite the local tv channels. Half an hour later a group of about 150 pakistani protestors went on street and they were at least reported by the local news channel here.

    Similar story happened in many many cities around the world. We suddenly realised that our opinions, as long as they are pro-China, were systematicly ignored, despite our large number. The more we are ignored, the angrier we get. The end result is, now more Chinese people are interested in nationalism than ever before.

    The NZ media does not have to make up their own biased story to hurt our feelings. They hurt us as long as they ignore our side of the story.

    By the way, when you visit the Chinese site, did you see all the debates on what is the right way to protest? If not, I suggest you to visit http://www.wenxuecity.com or http://www.6park.com, most oversea Chinese use these websites to gether information and debate. I don’t know anybody who cares to use our local chinese bulletboards anyway.

  6. Justin Says:

    Hi there, this is Justin from skykiwi, please pass me your login, we will look into it and get back to you asap.

    pls email to justin@skykiwi.com

    After going through your article, allow me to make a suggestion that if you want to make yourself heard among the Netizans on skykiwi or any Chinese websites under the current circumstance, you need to tone it down a little bit. You have lived in shanghai yourself so i assume you would know after all the recent media coverage about Tibet and Olympic by the west, not many of Chinese would welcome or show interest in debates you have brought up at the moment.

    That said, we do have a lot of debates going on within the Chinese netizans about the way to express patriotism. I have personally seen some people brought up some interesting and constructive thoughts.

    But i shall once again point out that after all the recent media distortions, i believe it is fair to say that not many chinese people would actually like to sit down and discuss this peacefully with you.

    In short, your timing isnt right.

    (Btw, i was told a guy made an angry phone call to our office, yelling and swearing in English to one of the girls in the office about his account being banned, havent got the full story yet, hope it wasnt you though.)

  7. seamus Says:

    Hi Justin,

    I will e-mail you later. Things are a little busy right now. Thanks for offering to allow me back onto the Sky Kiwi website though.

    The guy who an angry phone call to your office was probably me. If you read the follow up post to this one (link towards the end of the article) you will hopefully understand why I lost my cool at that point. When I made that call, Sarah Li (who I had been trying to track down for several days and had left several messages for) had just lied to me about having returned my call, said she had no obligation to return my call anyway (so why lie and say she had done it?), and hung up the phone on me twice. Then I tried talking to your offices again and was told that Sky Kiwi would not communicate further about the matter by phone (if this was the case why had you been taking my phone messages and giving me cell phone numbers?). After that I was told that I should write to your lawyers! Apologies (especially to whoever was taking the call) for losing my temper at that point, but it was the culmination of several days of genuinely attempting to resolve things with you and getting absolutely nowhere.

    One guy, Wayne I think it was, was very helpful in terms of diffusing things on the site though.

    I am not sure how you found my site. The timing of you appearing here makes me assume there is a connection to a cameraman having filmed me getting assaulted while observing the ‘peaceful demonstration’ this afternoon. I gave the address of my site to the guy with the camera. Perhaps his company is somehow connected with you guys?

    Of course maybe it is just a coincidence and everyone reads my blog these days.

  8. seamus Says:

    Tian,

    I thought I should reply to your comment. Sorry this is going to be brief.

    Like I said I have not monitored the New Zealand media very closely.

    I notice though that Chinese netizens were unhappy with how Sunday’s pro-Olympic demonstration in Auckland was reported on TVNZ. The Tibetan protesters did get a big chunk of the segment. However, the Tibetan protesters main comments were praising the efficiency of the Chinese demonstration organizers. The segment ended with a joke about how the Tibetan protesters would be going home for Chinese takeaways (i.e. no hard feelings – despite having been punched in the head by violent Chinese). Considering the demonstration was quite violent and ugly at times (I was attacked and had to leave – and I wasn’t even protesting), I thought the TVNZ coverage was upbeat and positive – if a bit cheesy. However, Chinese were still unhappy.

    The media coverage of Tibet I have seen in New Zealand has mostly been superficial. There has been nothing much on Tibetan history.

    Of course the newspapers here have talked in terms of China ‘invading’ Tibet in the 1950s. Maybe you prefer to talk about it as ‘putting down a rebellion’. I would say the truth lies between these two views. That is, Tibet had never been part of a ‘Chinese nation’ until the 1950s. Tibet had been part of a Qing Empire, and had enjoyed de facto independence following the fall of the Qing. Belonging to an empire is a different thing to belonging to a nation. I am not splitting hairs here. I honestly think this fact cuts to the heart of the Tibetan problem.

    Tibet has been a part of Chinese empires before (or should I say Manchurian and Mongolian empires?). However, Tibet only became part of a Chinese nation 50 years ago. Empires merely demand their subjects obey. Nations demand their citizens to love them. The Han Chinese are having a hard time making Tibetans love them. Many Tibetans don’t ‘feel Chinese’. This is the Tibet problem.

    So what am I saying here? I guess I am saying that these issues are complicated. The western media has had some problems in its coverage. Is it ‘anti-China’? Yes and no.

    In some cases you can say the western media is almost pro-China. For example I feel the coverage of Taiwan is generally lousy, and that the bias usually favors the PRC. The reason? Beijing based western journalists are too lazy to really learn about Taiwan and they write their stories from a Beijing perspective.

    So I think being critical is useful. By all means criticize the western media. But at the same time criticize yourself and what you think. Things are never simple.

  9. Bunnyhugs » Blog Archive » Ugly Nationalistic Chinese Demonstration in Auckland Says:

    [...] (I am banned from the site ever since I questioned an earlier demonstration, as you can read about here and here). Initially most respondents either told him there had been no violence, or that the [...]

  10. sunnyjam71 Says:

    seamus, I have recently come across some of your writings concerning Chinese students/immigrants/events in NZ and I am very surprised by the extreme attitude of emboldenment that they now have, especially when considering that they are the ones in a foreign land. It just goes to show how controlled our media is, most kiwis do not know about the Mcdonalds incident. If a kiwi were to to do the same in China (not that it would ever be possible) I wonder what the consequences would be.
    My partner lectures in Japanese and has to deal with a lot of chinese students taking the paper (easy points), and on many occasions has come across hate essays concerning NZ and Kiwis. What I find hard to understand is why do so many of them come here if they hate the country and its people so much? I have nothing much against the Chinese as a people, but I do not agree at all with the ccp regimes’ hard handed tactics with Tibet, Xinjiang and questioning voices. I guess the high level of hate is the result of being repressed for decades, but should they be releasing it here? What I find most shocking though, is their idea of NZ political representation having to kowtow to the ccp. Anyhow, I hope that they tone it down a bit and start respecting this country, otherwise our future generations are going to have many problems to deal with. Oh! and thanks for the great effort… many kudos…

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