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Overseas coverage and local reactions: a case study of media coverage, translation, and conflict.

The year 2008 was eventful for China's mainland: People had fought natural disasters (i.e. the winter storms hitting provinces of Hunan, Hubei, Henan, Shandong, Jiangsu, Anhui and the municipality of Shanghai and the devastating earthquake in southern Sichuan Province) and confronted artificial calamities (i.e. the damaging effects of the March 14th Riot in Lhasa and the melamine-tainted diary products). In addition, biased overseas coverage of the Tibet Problem and incidents during the Summer Olympics torch relay had frustrated the general public in China, who believed that unbalanced overseas reports had brought shame on the country and thus caused a loss of honor, and found some ways to vent their resentments and frustrations.

Media coverage plays a critical role in expression, construction, dissemination and reproduction of the dominant ideology or prevailing perspectives because of "the very scale of the modern mass media and the extremely high level of exposure of whole populations to a relatively homogeneous output" (Fairclough, 2001). Though the significance of a balanced treatment of different sources and perspectives in the domestic media of a particular country has drawn academic attention (Stephen & Scott, 2000; Fairclough, 2001), the social impacts and ethical issues of global media coverage of local affairs in a cross-boundary context have not yet been given due consideration. This article examines excerpts of Tibet-related media coverage in the first half of 2008 from Western news outlets, whose controversial content (e.g. misuses of news photos or TV footage shot in other Asian countries, misleading captions for images) or conflict-generating discourse had been made known to Chinese citizens by different sources of information (e.g. reports from the local media, weblog entries, online forum posts) and regarded as biased or taken as "anti-China" by Chinese nationals living in and outside the Chinese mainland. Information on the subsequent reactions of Chinese nationals as well as the Chinese perspective on the controversial notion of historical Tibet has also been provided in order to give a better understanding of the conflicting ideologies. In doing so, this article intends to contribute to research on the cross-cultural dimension and ethical implications of media coverage of conflict and the role of translation in the dissemination and reception of external media coverage of internal affairs in a cross-boundary context.

Media Coverage of Conflict and the 2008 Lhasa Riot

Media discourse tends to reveal the interplay of power in cross-cultural encounters on a wider scale by determining "what is included and excluded" and "how events are represented" (Fairclough, 2001). In a cross-cultural context where marginal voices in a nondominant language can be easily ignored, media discourse targeted at international audiences can be a powerful tool to influence global public opinion. This is the case with the Western media coverage of the 2008 Lhasa Riot and post-riot news discourse adopted to describe China's Tibet Problem--a remarkable number of Western media outlets joined the pro-separatist chorus and dismissed voices from the Chinese mainland as nationalist and overreacted. Drawing on the notion of power in discourse (Fairclough, 2001), this section is devoted to an analysis of visual images and relevant discourse used by the overseas media.

It is generally accepted that images or photographs can make textual reports more vivid, impressive, and persuasive. Choice of images or photographs is of vital importance in the media's coverage of events because "different images convey different meanings" (Fairclough, 2001). Edited or falsely used, images can be misleading. This section will examine some visual images from Western news reports on the Lhasa Riot, which fanned the flames of anti-Western sentiment among Chinese nationals. (1)

A report (2) from the Time (in partnership with CNN), which was entitled "A Tibetan Intifadeh against China", was published on 14 March 2008 with a misleading picture showing Tibetan protesters arrested. According to a correction note attached at the end of the report, "The original caption did not indicate where the incident was taking place and gave the impression that the monks were being arrested in China. The incident took place during a march by Tibetan monks in India."

CNN's March 15th report "100 Dead in Tibet Violence" contains an incorrect number of casualties and an edited picture cutting out images of Tibetans throwing stones at a passing army vehicle. Right after the March 20th interview with James Miles, the CNN's news website published several photographs accompanied by a caption reading "James Miles, one of the few Western journalists in Tibet, took photographs of the recent eruptions of anti-Chinese violence in the country's capital, Lhasa" (my italics). One week later, CNN made a statement (3) on its Tibet coverage, attempting to defend its political blunder by saying that there had been "only two instances" where Tibet "was incorrectly referenced as a country" (my italics). Under huge pressure from Chinese Internet users, the web page carrying the problematic caption and another provoking report entitled "China's threats raise boycott talk" (4) had finally been removed.

BBC's March 17th report "Tibetans Describe Continuing Unrest" provides a picture with an accompanying caption saying "There is a heavy military presence in Lhasa". First, the vehicle in question has the Symbol of the Red Cross and the Chinese characters that represent "surgical emergence," which indicates that the vehicle is an ambulance. Secondly, the white arm band worn by the personnel is a nurse emblem. This report had enraged many Chinese citizens; they could not find peace with the reporter's deliberate distortion of fact.

Berliner Morgenpost's March 18th report provides a picture with a caption saying "insurrectionist taken away by police." In fact, the so-called "insurrectionist" was a Han Chinese who had just been rescued out of the hands of the Tibetan rioters.

A March 18th report entitled "Far-Flung Tibetans Find Unity in Protest" from the Washington Post misuses an image depicting a Nepalese police officer engaged in violence against someone to support its allegation about China's suppression of Tibetan protesters. In addition, this report relies on the controversial concept of "historical Tibet," and also provides a total number of the Tibetan students attending a sit-in that is several times more than the figure reported by the regional news outlets.

Adopting similar practices, Fox News (a U.S.-based cable and satellite news channel), BILD (Germany's largest circulation newspaper), N24 (a Germany-based television news channel owned by ProSiebenSat.1 Media AG), N-TV (a German television news channel owned by the RTL Group), and RTL (a German commercial television station) have misused pictures depicting Indian or Nepalese police cracking down on unrests to support their reports about Chinese police's crackdown in Tibet, turning a blind eye to the obvious differences in police uniform and skin color.

Misuses of news photos and problematic captions can be regarded as instances of violations of codes of ethics for journalists (e.g. the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics, the Australian Journalists' Association's Code of Ethics). The unbalanced Western reports tend to portray Tibet as a remote place of mystery and religion under totalitarian rule, which reflects a tendency to deliberately promote stereotypes and goes against accepted principles of journalism such as fairness, neutrality, and objectivity.

Many Western media outlets tend to view the Tibet Problem as an opportunity to nudge the Chinese government towards accepting their agenda. They took the chance to disseminate their ideas via ideologically loaded words and unjustified comments, which provoked a new wave of heated anti-Western sentiments in China's mainland.

Two instances of post-riot media discourse are exceptionally noteworthy. A video clip for the interview for the talk show "The O'Reilly Factor" aired by Fox News on 9 April 2008 suggested that all athletes attending the 29th Olympic Games opening ceremony in Beijing consider wearing red monk robes "to embarrass China" since "[t]hose people don't like to lose face" (5). One week later, the remarks were translated and made known by the Xinhua News Agency, the official press agency of the Chinese government, and were regarded as "disgusting" by a large number of non-official websites in the Chinese mainland. Also, on 9 April 2008, commentator Jack Cafferty on CNN's "Situation Room" commented on Chinese products and Chinese people as follows:
 We also are running hundred of billions of dollars worth of trade
 deficits with them, as we continue to import their junk with the
 lead paint on them and the poisoned pet food and export, you know,
 jobs to places where you can pay workers a dollar a month to turn
 out the stuff that we're buying from Wal-Mart. So I think our
 relationship with China has certainly changed. I think they're
 basically the same bunch of goons and thugs they've been for the
 last 50 years. (my italics)

The italicized segments of Cafferty's remarks enraged the Chinese audience. "Numerous Chinese web postings, YouTube videos and Facebook groups have" hurled criticisms against CNN (Mostrous, 2008). Faced with repeated requests for apology, CNN was forced to "apologize" on 16 April 2008. But its statement was regarded as "insincere" and had drawn loud criticism from Chinese nationals. In the middle of May, Jim Walton, president of CNN Worldwide, delivered an apology letter to the Chinese people through the Chinese Ambassador in Washington.

Of course, there are more balanced reports such as the March 18th report "Tibet Witnesses Describe 'Mayhem Everywhere'" (6) from the Los Angeles Times, the March 19th report "Tourists Speak of Shock and Fear at Tibet Riots" (7) from the Times, and the March 19th report "A week in Tibet: Trashing the Beijing Road"8 from the Economist. But the number of balanced reports is insignificant when compared with the overwhelming quantity of unbalanced ones.

When the general public in China's mainland felt upset about the unbalanced Western reports, many local weblogs or online forums republished two media articles written in English, which were considered to be capable of revealing the political implications of the Tibet Problem. One of the articles is "Why They Hate China", originally published on 26 March 2008; the other is "Risky Geopolitical Game: Washington Plays 'Tibet Roulette' with China", initially published on 14 April 2008. The former received applause because it argues that China should not to be blamed for its efforts in "preserving its own unity and sovereignty" and highlights the unfairness in "the popular narrative of the pacifistic Buddhist Tibetans as the good guys and the Han Chinese as the bad-guy aggressors" (Raimondo, 2008). Actually, the Chinese government has created a variety of state policies concerning "family planning, school admissions, the hiring and promotion, the financing and taxation of businesses, and regional infrastructural support" to grant preferential treatment to ethnic minorities (Sautman, 1998). Many Han Chinese believe that these policies are conducive to national cohesion. The second article gained wide attention because it discloses unknown details about "the US State Department and US intelligence community's fingerprints" on "the Free Tibet movement and the anti-Han Chinese attacks of March" (Engdahl, 2008). (9) In addition, it is noteworthy that an online forum post from cited an April article entitled "The Olympic Torch Relay Campaign," saying that "a German Foreign Ministry front organization is playing a decisive role in the preparations of the anti-Chinese Tibet campaign". (10) Though this post failed to capture the audience's attention, it reflects the complexity of China's Tibet Problem.

The context of conflict has ethical implications which raise questions about the impartiality and integrity of media coverage. Which is the purpose of media coverage of conflict, to produce sensational stories, or to contribute to conflict resolution? Which perspective should be taken? What should be "excluded/ included, foregrounded/backgrounded, made explicit/ implicit, thematized/silenced" (Gambier, 2006)? How to represent conflicting views? How to avoid stereotypes? These concerns had been ignored by a large number of Western media outlets during and after the Lhasa Riot, which resulted in an abundance of negative stereotypes (e.g. the Chinese government as a suppressor of religion or ethnic culture) and bipolar constructions (e.g. the good side and the bad side, the dominator and the submissive or subordinate). Consequently, these stereotypes and bipolar constructions served as catalysts for cross-cultural conflict when they were publicized by the local media or online spaces.

Chinese Perspectives on Historical Tibet

A substantial body of Western literature on historical Tibet emphasizes the existence of a unified ancient country before it was incorporated into the territory of China during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and more often than not, interprets Han-Tibetan relations in history as being loose, which gives the impression that the tie between Tibet and inner territory of the Chinese mainland was a matter of convenience. And Western media reports published in March 2008 had offered summaries of Tibetan history, echoing the abovementioned arguments. In contrast, Tibetan studies in the mainland of China have provided contrary evidence and arguments. This section aims to provide the other side of the story, which is highly relevant to and extraordinarily helpful for a fuller understanding of the reactions of Chinese citizens and the position of the Chinese government as far as the Tibet Problem is concerned.

A unified Tubo, the ancient kingdom of Tibet, was established in the 7th Century under the leadership of Songtsen Gampo (617?-650). Songtsen Gampo took a Tang Princess as his wife and sent goodwill envoys and gifts to the Tang government at intervals. Though Songtsen Gampo's successors were characterized by their inconsistency in Tang-related policies, forging an alliance had remained their primary concern. To commemorate the 8th coalition meeting since 706, the "Tang-Tubo Alliance Tablet" was erected in 823 in front of the Jokhang Monastery, the most influential monastery in Tibetan Buddhism. Part of the inscriptions on this tablet, in both Tibetan and Chinese, reads:

The Tang ruler and the Tubo ruler as the uncle and the nephew have reached this coalition agreement to unite our countries as one and abide true to our oath of unification. Let the gods and the people be our witnesses for this laudable unity across generations. (Li and Ke, 2005, my translation)

The inscription has withstood the test of time as a living testimony. Between 630 and 842, Tang envoys paid more than 60 visits to Tubo while Tubo envoys paid about 130 visits to the Tang Empire. Tubo fell into factional conflict in 846 and dissolved into various tribes and small kingdoms in 877. The Tang Empire met its destiny in quite a similar way. (11)

The Song Empire (960-1279) was not powerful enough to handle U-Tsang, the outer Tibetan area, but it did keep control of Tibetan-inhabited areas in presentday Gansu, Qinghai, Sichuan and Yunnan, which were known as Kham and Amdo. To guard against the Tangut State (also known as the Western Xia[1038-1227]), a rising threat to the security of north-western China, the Song Empire forged alliance with the largest Tibetan regime located in the Amdo area under the leadership of Gusiluo and his successors, who were given high-ranking official positions by the Song government. Other Tibetan tribal chiefs living in eastern Qinghai and western and southern Gansu were also accepted as coalition partners. In addition, the Song garrison generals recruited Tibetan archers as well as hundreds of thousands of Tibetan civilians as paid farmers working for the border troops. After about 40 years of coalition, the Gusiluo regime and the Song Empire were engaged in war. In 1116, the Gusiluo regime was taken over and incorporated into the Song territory. In 1134, the Amdo area was occupied by the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), also known as the Jurchen Dynasty. (12)

In 1235, Go-ldan, one of Genghis Khan's grandsons and the commander of the western wing of the Mongol army, engaged in war with the Southern Song and successfully persuaded several Tibetan chieftains living in Gansu and Qinghai to surrender. In 1247, Sa-pan Kun-dgav-rgyal-mtshan (chief of the Sa-skya-pa Sect), was persuaded to act as the representative of other Tibetan chieftains living in Outer Tibet (houzang) and to negotiate with Go-ldan. The two sides reached an agreement on Outer Tibet's submission to the Mongol Empire. Based on a census conducted during the 1250s within the Tibetan region, the Mongol government established the Wanhu (Khri-skor, one Wanhu stands for ten thousand households) administrative system. After the establishment of the Yuan Dynasty, three Xuanweishi Si (Pacification Commissioner's Office) were set up in the Tibetan region under the direct administration of Xuanzheng Yuan (Pacification Commission), a central government department in charge of political, military and religious affairs. The Yuan government had the final say in nomination or dismissal, promotion or demotion, and reward or punishment concerning officials serving in the Tibetan region. (13)

When the Ming government replaced the Yuan government in 1368, it sent officials to the Tibetan region to persuade the chieftains to surrender without fighting. A peaceful takeover was achieved--the official seals and certificates of appointment of the Yuan Dynasty were replaced. Government agencies functioning in the Tibetan region during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) included the Commander's Office for Dbus-Gtsang (i.e. U-Tsang) and the Military and Civilian Affairs Office for mNgav-ris. One of the most significant issues during the Ming Dynasty was the central government's involvement in the conferring of the title of "Dalai Lama". In 1578, Sonam Gyatso, a powerful religious leader of the Tibetan region, met Altan Khan, the Chief of the Tumet Tribe of the Mongols. The two leaders exchanged complimentary titles: Sonam Gyatso addressed Altan Khan as the "King of the Turning Wheel and Wisdom" while Altan Khan addressed Sonam Gyatso as "All-Knowing Vajra-Holder, the Dalai Lama" (14). By that time, Altan Khan had forced the Ming Dynasty to confer upon himself the title of "Prince Shunyi." Believing that it would be good for him if he could obtain a title from the Ming emperor, Sonam Gyatso had his request submitted directly to Zhang Juzheng, the Grand Councilor. Emperor Wanli soon issued an imperial edict to grant the honorary title Dalai to Sonam Gyatso. In 1587, the Ming government sent envoys to Tibet for the conferring ceremony, which recognized the validity of Sonam Ggatso's being the third Dalai Lama. (15)

In 1648, Emperor Shunzhi of the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912) issued an imperial edict saying that the central government would let the Tibetan leaders and officials retain their former titles and positions if they were willing to have the official seals and certificates of appointment of the Ming Dynasty replaced. A peaceful takeover was achieved for the second time. The fifth Dalai Lama came to Beijing to pay tribute to Emperor Shunzhi in 1652, who bestowed many gifts upon him. And in 1653, on his way back to Tibet, envoys from the Qing government caught up with the fifth Dalai and bestowed upon him a gold album and a gold seal to validate the title of "Dalai Lama". In 1713, the Qing government bestowed upon the fifth Panchen, the other high-ranking religious leader in Tibetan Buddhism, a gold album and a gold seal to validate the title of "Panchen Erdeni". (16) Between 1727 and 1911, 136 resident ministers (known as amban in the Manchu language, a primary language of the Qing Imperial Court) had been appointed and dispatched to Lhasa to assist in the administrative affairs in Tibet. In 1751, the bkav-shag government (the local government of Tibet) was established with the permission of the Qing government. In 1793, the Qing government issued the "Twenty-Nine-Article Ordinance" to exercise full sovereignty over Tibet. The first article of the ordinance promulgated the method of drawing lots from a gold urn to confirm the validity of candidates who would be the successors to the preceding Dalai and Panchen. The fourth article of the ordinance determined the size of the garrison troops stationed in different Tibetan regions, whose military flag (17) was approved by the emperor. The Qing government also demarcated the boundaries between Tibet and Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai and Xinjiang. The administrative area of Tibet during the Qing Dynasty, known as U-Tsang, covered exactly the present Tibet Autonomous Region. (18)

Reporting directly to the Premier of the State Council of the Republic of China (1912-1949), the Bureau of Mongolian and Tibetan Affair was set up in 1912, renamed as the Council for Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs two years later and replaced by the Commission for Mongolian and Tibetan Affairs seven years later. When the deprived 13th Dalai Lama expressed his wish to return from India, the restoration of his title was granted accordingly in 1912. As a token of support, the local government of Tibet, the 13th Dalai Lama, and the 9th Panchen Lama had sent their representatives to attend many national-level congresses and conferences organized by the central government between 1912 and 1949. And the government had sent officials to preside over the commemoration ceremonies for the demise of the 13th Dalai and the 9th Panchen as well as the celebration ceremonies for their incarnated successors--the 14th Dalai and the 10th Panchen. (19)

After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, the peaceful takeover of Tibet was achieved in 1951. In the next 25 years, people in Tibet and other regions in China had withstood tests such as China's Great Famine in the early 1960s and the devastating Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Policy blunders were corrected in 1978, which marked the beginning of a new era of unprecedented social and political reforms as well as economic developments in China.

This side of the picture has been deliberately ignored by many overseas media outlets. As a result, evidence for an alternative version of China-Tibet relations has not received balanced coverage and has not been given due publicity in the West.

One of the leading trends of our age has been to reduce the number of violent conflicts, which proves to be a tricky task requiring conflict resolution skills and strategies. It has been agreed that the way in which a conflict is reported "can drastically affect the audience's perception of the situation and thus may influence further developments" (Melone, Terzis and Beleli, 2002). Despite the common belief that the media should be objective and neutral, scholars have argued that journalists' presence and their reporting will inevitably "alter the communication environment," which implies involvement in conflict and a non-neutral stance (Melone, Terzis and Beleli, 2002). Naturally, unbalanced coverage of a conflict or dispute or "a deliberate distortion of news coverage for particular interests" can only aggravate tensions (Melone, Terzis and Beleli, 2002). If the media wish to act as a positive force and fulfill the social expectation of integrity and impartiality, "balanced reporting with a view to preventing the escalation of tensions" should be given top priority (Melone, Terzis and Beleli, 2002). Since Western media outlets had used selective coverage to produce an unbalanced picture, they were not exempt from criticism and should not be surprised by the angry reactions of Chinese nationals.

Reactions of Chinese Citizens Living in and outside the Chinese Mainland

Zelizer has contended that a cultural perspective on journalism may be helpful in examining how news production and dissemination function in "imparting value preferences and mediating meaning about how the world does and should work" (Zelizer, 2008). Aiming to catch the audience's attention, the media often foreground conflict by dramatizing or sensationalizing the news (Berman-Kishony & Matz, 2007). In a crosscultural context where the overseas journalists are representative of an alternative perspective, their "preference statements about what is good or bad, moral and amoral, and appropriate and inappropriate" not only "shape the news" (Zelizer, 2008), but also influence the public opinion of their own culture. As a result, news reporting can widen the divide between domestic and overseas perspectives while conflict coverage may prove to be conflict-provoking rather than problemsolving under certain circumstances.

It has been noticed that "online spaces for discussion and dialogue" (Beckett & Mansell, 2008) have deep implications for the present-day media. New technologies (e.g. Web2.0, digital cameras, interactive display technology, internet access on mobile handsets) and Internet applications (e.g. weblogs, websites, Web forums) "provide platforms" for news consumers to offer critical responses to media outlets (Beckett & Mansell 2008, p.96). The possibility for public disclosure of biased media coverage implies that the online spaces for news production and dissemination may be sites of ideological conflicts (Gambie, 2006).

According to statistics released at the end of 2008, the number of China-based weblogs had reached 107 million (Xinhua News Agency, 2008); Chinese mobile Internet users had surged "113 percent to to 117.6 million," and "the number of Internet news readers [had] risen to 2.34 million" (Wei, 2009). The Internet's expansion has created online spaces for grassroots opinion and cross-cultural encounters between media outlets and news consumers from different backgrounds, which can bring about a clash of conflicting views. The picture could be more complicated when the mediatory role of translation in a cross-cultural context must be taken into consideration.

When not only "independent individuals" but also "members of one or more than one social group or power institution, or more people on a larger scale" choose to make public their critical or negative views (Tang, 2007), a "hard" cultural conflict arises in a cross-cultural context. As a communicative and mediatory tool, translation may be conflict-generating or conflict-appeasing though it is often intended to be neutral. This is exactly what happened in China's mainland in 2008. Local media reports on Western media coverage of the Lhasa Riot preferred to use gist or summarizing translations to save space for their own views or analyses, while unofficial reports (e.g. weblog entries, online forum posts) preferred to use complete translations, which were often provided along with original texts or accessed addresses, to demonstrate the authenticity of the translations. Shocked by the abovementioned various forms of translation concerning the Western media coverage in question, the general public in China decided to vent their indignation or frustrations through the Internet or action.

On 16 March 2008, a video clip entitled "Tibet WAS, IS, and ALWAYS WILL BE a part of China",

which was produced by a Chinese Canadian, appeared on YouTube, a US-based video sharing website. In several days, this video clip had received more than 1.7 million visits and attracted more than 70,000 comments in different languages. The Internet commentators engaged in a heated discussion about the Tibet Problem. In addition, the clip was publicized by many local news outlets and a large number of local weblogs. Soon after, another video clip entitled "Riot in Tibet: True Face of Western Media" appeared on YouTube and gained more than 700,000 visits and 20,000 comments by eight o'clock p.m., 25 March.

A forum post dated 20 March 2008 from, a website for overseas Chinese, was one of the earliest to publicize the biased or problematic coverage of foreign origin. Its content was soon copied and reposted by numerous local websites for more than 100,000 times. The local media had used some of the 11 images provided by this post to illustrate the unfairness and partiality of the Western media.

A website "" was launched on 20 March 2008 by Rao Jin, a young Chinese IT entrepreneur graduated from Tsinghua University. The aim of this website is to reveal biased or unbalanced coverage of foreign origin. In five days, this website had gained notable popularity in the Chinese mainland and had received 200,000 visits. Hundreds of people contacted Rao and expressed their willingness to perform volunteer tasks such as content editing, forum administration, and content translation. And thousands of Chinese nationals provided evidence for biased or erroneous reports from foreign media outlets. This website has continued to function and had initiated an Internet vote for top ten biased overseas reports concerning Chinese affairs in December 2008. Most of the entries have been translated by volunteer or amateur translators.

Though the general public in the Chinese mainland tends to be friendly to overseas visitors and reporters, the grassroots sentiment against the Western media was characterized by linguistic violence against Western reporters. Foreign correspondents whose reports had been regarded as biased received angry phone calls, emails, and text messages from indignant individuals (Osnos, 2008). Fortunately, people had not ventured beyond verbal threats. There were no reports of damage or casualties.

Behavioral manifestations of social support for the central government's position on the Tibet Problem became highly visible in April 2008. Instant Messaging users were encouraged to "place a red love heart followed by 'China' to their MSN ID" (Dixon, 2008) to show their support for the national cohesion policy in the middle of April. Three days later, the number of the Chinese MSN chatters joined in the campaign was estimated to have reached 3 million. In the same month, trying to counteract the anti-Chinese protests disrupting the Olympic torch relay in Paris, a text message called for a boycott of Carrefour, the French hypermarket chain and the largest foreign retailer in the mainland of China. Disseminating through Internet message boards, cell phone and Internet text messages, the boycott proposal drew a remarkable number of supporters. According to statistics (20) released by a local portal, in several days, more than 560,000 Internet users in China's mainland had expressed their support for launching a boycott of French companies or brands. Meanwhile, protest demonstrations of various scales against Carrefour outlets had been stage in cities such as Beijing, Chongqing, Harbin, Hefei, Jinan, Kunming, Qingdao, Tianjin, Wuhan, and Xi'an, which were mostly non-violent. The largest protest was conducted on 18 April 2008, at a little past nine at night. More than 20,000 people gathered before a Carrefour outlet in Hefei, the capital city of Anhui Province, to protest. It took more than 300 police officers to keep the demonstrators in order and no clash occurred.

Before the dawn of the Internet Age, in the Chinese mainland in 1996, Chinese people were not particularly concerned about negative coverage of Chinese affairs by Western media outlets such as BBC, CNN, and Reuters. Until the early 2000s the major group who would show deep concern for the stereotyped representations of local situations or negative judgments of local affairs published by Western media outlets was the Chinese intellectuals. The year 2008 witnessed a remarkable change--the general public had been motivated. And China had experienced a revival of patriotism. Linguistic violence and street demonstrations were visible enough to be considered as examples of hard conflicts, though they had not escalated into violent conflict. These activities had caught the attention of the central government. As a result, the Chinese Foreign Ministry raised a protest with CNN's Beijing office concerning the insulting remarks aired by the CNN; the state-run Xinhua News Agency reminded Chinese citizens to cool down their patriotic fervor.

It must be noted that most Western reports choose to use "nationalism" or "nationalist sentiment" to describe the nature of the local reaction over media coverage of foreign origin, while the local reports tend to use "patriotism" or "patriotic sentiment." Osnos (2008) is observant enough to remind his readers that the 2008 outbreak of nationalism in China has several rivals: the sentiment provoked by unwise remarks from the NBC announcer Bob Costas during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the sentiment aroused by the 1998 bombing of Chinese embassy in Belgrade by a NATO aircraft, and the sentiment kindled by 2005 Japanese textbooks trying to conceal Japanese atrocities between the 1930s and the 1940s. Osnos has also pointed out that "almost nine out of ten Chinese approve of the way things are going in the country--the highest share of any of the twenty-four countries surveyed" (Osnos, 2008) by the Pew Research Center in the spring of 2008.

In addition, a March 27th report (Fallows, 2008) released on the website of Pew Internet and American Life Project says that, contrary to a widely accepted American assumption that Internet users in China are against government control of Internet content, almost 84% of the Chinese respondents approve of the supervisory role of the government in general while 41% approve of government control over online content about "politics". This 2008 report also attributes Chinese people's acceptance of government control to a deep-rooted belief that the government is the supervisor for "social management and public values" (Fallows, 2008). But it fails to point out a fundamental reason of historical significance. During the feudal period, ancient bureaucrats serving in local governments and enjoying a good reputation would be referred to as "parent officials" in classical Chinese language. If the bureaucrats had served their duties well, people would say that they had fulfilled the ideal of "treating people as their own children". In addition, the general population in an empire would be referred to as the "children subjects" of the emperor. Therefore, Chinese people's identification with the government resembles children's filial loyalty to their parents (Fong, 2004). Because of this identification, the government is assumed to be a responsible supervisor. Also, there is a deeper reason for the recurrent surges of nationalism or patriotism in China, which has not been taken seriously by the West. The general public cannot forget the disgrace and stigma due to the unequal treaties or conventions forced upon China between the 1840s and the 1940s by the West. Evidence of bias or unfairness means rubbing salt in old wounds. Misused images and unfriendly discourse in Western reports publicized by the local media fanned the fire of hatred towards the Western powers as sources of bias and unfairness. Naturally, the Western media as a whole was made to face waves of criticism because some of the mainstream news outlets initiated image forgeries and aired biased comments.

Besides overt displays of patriotic feelings in the Chinese mainland, pro-China demonstrations had been staged by Chinese citizens living outside China. In March and April, Chinese demonstrators in several Canadian cities showed their support for the homeland (, 2008; Klingbeil, 2008;, 2008). On 20 April 2008, thousands of Chinese Americans rallied outside CNN's office in Los Angeles, demanding that Jack Cafferty should be fired for his malicious words concerning China's products and Chinese leaders (Pierson, 2008). According to an April 24th report from Reuters, two Chinese women "filed a suit against CNN in New York over remarks they say insulted the Chinese people and are seeking $1.3 billion in compensation--$1 per person in China" (Ruwitch and Beck, 2008). Non-Chinese news reports about proChina demonstrations in Auckland, Bangkok, Canberra, Edinburgh, Edmonton, Melbourne, Paris, Seattle, Vancouver, and others cities can be accessed through the Google. Some overseas Chinese bloggers complained that pro-China demonstrations in their cities were ignored or downplayed by news outlets--it was exactly the case with the April 6th protest in London (Rahman, 2008). The unbalanced coverage is understandable in the sense that many Western news outlets had no expectation of overseas pro-China demonstrations. In the West there is a prevailing "assumption" that overseas Chinese would infuse Western values into local perspectives to create "a more open, liberal, Western-friendly China" (Liu & Hewitt, 2008). But this assumption misevaluated the power of the aforementioned "filial nationalism" (Fong, 2004) and neglected the fact that the Internet plays a role in the reinforcement of national attachment and collective identity. An overseas Chinese can stick to media websites in Chinese even if s/he lives outside China, which makes him or her feel close to the homeland. When a large number of overseas Chinese were found to be more local-friendly than Western-friendly (Liu & Hewitt, 2008), many Western reporters misunderstood this message and failed to make meaningful interpretations. In fact, it is not the categorization of the nationalism in China that counts. The point is how to fairly represent and understand the local ways of "organising political and economic affairs", the local views of right and wrong, and the local decisions as to power distribution and utilization (Stockwell & Scott, 2000) from an impartial perspective, aiming at conflict resolution rather than conflict provocation.


In this increasingly globalized world, researchers must confront ethical problems in external media coverage of internal affairs or conflicts. The integrity of a news media devoted to conflict resolution is validated by how "it frames and analyzes the conflict, identifies the interests, defuses mistrust, provides safe emotional outlets" (Howard, 2002). Oversimplified generalizations such as stereotypes and bipolar dichotomies in media coverage can be more harmful than helpful because they can generate distrust and hostile feelings as well as hinder the solution of problems and conflicts. In this sense, though extreme voices and combative themes can make good story, media workers should not neglect their social responsibility or their professional integrity.

The involvement of translation and the divide between external and internal perspectives can make the issue of media coverage of conflict more complicated than normally expected. It can be safely said that the online translational context has posed challenges to the asymmetrical power relations in cross-boundary news production and dissemination.

On the one hand, translation, at least sometimes, is efficient in creating hostile feelings or misconceptions. On the other hand, translation is capable of sending "false messages of compromise or concession" (Tang, 2007). Since the flames of hard conflicts may be fanned or quenched in an online context, the role of professional or amateur translators in framing and labeling a conflict (Tang, 2007) is of exceptional importance. Characterized by unofficial or amateur translations, gist translations, and summarizing translations published in weblogs or posted in Web forums, the online translational context has major implications for translation studies of conflict. Also, this online translational context has questioned the ethics of amateur or volunteered translators as the producers of unofficial translations. How to strike a balance between information transmission and conflict resolution? This is a question that deserves careful consideration.

Correspondence to:

Dr. Jun Tang

Department of Chinese, Translation and Linguistics

City University of Hong Kong

83 Tat Chee Avenue

Kowloon, Hong Kong

College of Foreign Languages

Tianjin Polytechnic University

No. 399 Bin Shui Xi Dao Road

Xiqing Distric, Tianjin 300387, China



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Jun Tang

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(1) An annotated collection of misused images from Western media outlets concerning the Lhasa Riot can be found at, a webpage maintained by Phoenix Television, a Hong Kong-based television broadcaster.

(2) The report can be accessed at /time/world/article/0,8599,1722509,00.html?xid =feedcnn-topics.

(3) The statement can be accessed at http:// ment/.

(4) Previously the page could be accessed at http:// t/index.html.

(5) Details can be found at htm.

(6) Available at /7world/fg-tibet18.

(7) Available at news/world/asia/article 3578941.ece.

(8) Available at displaystory.cfm?story_id=10875823.

(9) See for other relevant analytical articles.

(10) See /fulltext/56145.

(11) For details see "History of Tubo", Volume 196 of the Old History of the Tang Dynasty and Volume 216 of the New History of the Tang Dynasty. See also two books published respectively in 2000 and 2003 by the China Intercontinental Press in Beijing: The Historical Status of China's Tibet authored by WANG Jiawei and Nima Gyaltsen and The History of Tibet written by CHEN 1Q2ingying.

(12) For details see "History of Tubo", Volume 492 of the History of the Song Dynasty. See also The History of 1T3ibet by CHEN Qingying.

(13) For details see Volume 87 of the History of the Yuan Dynasty. See also The History of Tibet by CHEN


(14) Dalai means "ocean" in Mongolian and Lama means "guru" in Tibetan.

(15) See Volume 330 and Volume 331 of the History of the Ming Dynasty for details. See also The History of Tibet by CHEN Qingying.

(16) Panchen is a combination of Sanskrit and Tibetan, meaning "great scholar/master". Erdeni means "great treasure" in Manchu.

(17) This is the original design of the present flag known as the snow lion flag in the West, which had been revised in the 1910s by Tsarong Dazang Damdu, the Tibetan military commander, and Aoki Bunkyo, a Japanese Buddhist priest.

(18) See Volume 80 (Regions) and Volume 382 (The 8th Ethnic Group) of the History of the Qing Dynasty for details. See also The History of Tibet by CHEN 1Q9ingying.

(19) For details see Lhagpa Phuntshogs' "The Historic Foundation of Peaceful Liberation of Tibet: Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Signature of the '17-Article Agreement'" (2001: 3-19) published in the 2nd issue of China Tibetology and FENG Mingzhu's Sino-British Negotiations over Tibetan Issues and Sichuan-Tibetan Border Affairs in the Modern Era: From the Gurkha-Tibetan War to the Washington Conference published by Taibei's Palace Museum in 1996.

(20) For details see 20080417/13024763033.shtml.
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Author:Tang, Jun
Publication:China Media Research
Article Type:Case study
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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