When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

15 March 2008

How to read a Communist Chinese newspaper

Every major news organization in the Western world is leading with stories of the unrest in Tibet; some of the best coverage I've personally seen has been at the BBC.

So how does the People's Daily Online (English version, obviously) run the story?
The government of Tibet Autonomous Region said Friday there had been enough evidence to prove that the recent sabotage in Lhasa was "organized, premeditated and masterminded" by the Dalai clique.

The violence, involving beating, smashing, looting and burning, has disrupted the public order and jeopardized people's lives and property, an official with the regional government said.
The trick to gleaning good information from pure propaganda is to read between the lines. Check out the article's kicker, if you want a glimpse of how damaging and pervasive the "sabotage" in Lhasa must have been:
"According to sources, the public order has basically returned normal in downtown Lhasa by press time, with electricity and telecommunication resumed in many areas. "
James Fallows, currently residing in Shanghai, has been following the story closely. He suspects that the real story in Tibet is much bigger than the Chinese-controlled media is admitting to. With the National People's Congress currently underway and the Olympics scheduled to start this summer, discussions of Tibet would be... inconvenient right now:
This is potentially big, big, very consequential news.

It would be out of character for the Chinese regime (which is relaxed about many things, but not at all about "separatism" in any form) and also contrary to fundamental Chinese doctrine for the government not to respond with very great force to whatever is happening in Lhasa. Among other things, this will certainly change the tone of international discussion about the Olympics, in which China has an enormous investment of pride and "face" and which are now less than five months away.

Again, it is too early and facts are too unclear to say much more with confidence. But as you follow the news, be aware that this is something that could matter a great deal in many ways.
(James Fallows, 14 March 2008)

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