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China's Media Monopoly

10:31 AM, Mar 24, 2008 • By JENNIFER CHOU
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In the aftermath of the crackdown in Tibet, Chinese internet bulletin boards have become virtual hate sites.

In hundreds of thousands of postings, Han Chinese hurl obscenities against Tibetans, condemn foreign governments for "interfering in China's internal affairs," and accuse the Western media of "twisting the facts." They express "resolute support" for the government's action. Some even call for tougher measures to deal with the "splittists" in order to defend China's territorial glory.

In the absence of a free press, what Chinese citizens know of the Tibet crackdown is filtered through the lens of the state propaganda machine, which defines, in report after report, "the truth" of the March 14 Lhasa Incident as "a serious violent crime involving beating, smashing, looting, and burning" that was orchestrated by the "Dalai clique" in cahoots with "hostile external elements."

Through its control of the media and the Internet, the Chinese government is, in effect, manipulating the nationalist sentiments of the Han, a group constituting more than 90 percent of the population. By professing to be the guardian of territorial integrity and national pride, it is reinforcing its claim to legitimacy.

The late Chinese dissident writer Liu Binyan once said:

Nationalism and Han chauvinism are now the only effective instruments in the ideological arsenal of the Chinese Communist Party. Any disruption in the relationship with foreign countries or among ethnic minorities can be used to stir "patriotic" sentiments of the people to support the communist authorities.

While Han chauvinism is a real factor, another important element is state censorship. The Chinese government's ability to define the incident--in fact, any incident--to fit its agenda relies on its control of the media. It is thought control in its crudest form.

Many of those who have access to alternative channels of information, however, tend to have a different mindset. Regular listeners of Radio Free Asia, for example, have been voicing their opposition to the crackdown on Tibetans. Some have expressed suspicion about the official version of events. A Beijing listener who uses a proxy server to access foreign websites applies a completely different analytical model to the Tibet issue than do the vast majority of his fellow Han Chinese: "Using Free Gate, I was able to see on the Internet that, in Lhasa, protesting monks were dealt with in a very rough manner, and that even tanks were mobilized. I think it was too much."

Race and ethnic relations are complex issues. In the United States we are witnessing in the presidential primaries an intense debate surrounding how they should be tackled. Americans of all political stripes are, however, free to engage in this debate through media outlets of the right, center, and left. It would be an understatement to say such is not the case in the People's Republic.