Misplaced Passion (Part 2)

The official editorial style is no different from the past. I remember when I was reading the ‘The Times’ in Rome, I tried for several hours to find the Chinese translation of the phrase ‘wolf with a human face and the heart of a beast’, which was used by ‘Tibet Daily’ (the official government newspaper) to describe Dalai Lama. When I was back in Beijing, I finally found the original Chinese phrase ‘人面獸心的豺狼 ‘ – I almost laughed out loud. The China that is bent on showing ‘China Rises’ to the 21st century world, seems to be still living in the era of class struggle or in the Qing Dynasty of the mid-19th century – when a person’s opinion differs from ours, he is not even our equal or one of our species, he is an animal or a barbarian.

On CCTV, internet portals and official newspapers, a propaganda war is still proceeding with fervor. The Chinese government may be clumsy when dealing with the international media, but it can effortlessly direct all voices within the nation. The last time I came across such a propaganda whirlwind was in 1999 when the government launched a criticism attack on Falun Gong members. The attack helped the asinine and farcical pseudo-religious movement to rapidly raise its level of influence. Then it helped to put the movement leader in a world-known league of champions of religious freedom, a position he had never dreamed of.

This propaganda system can be traced back to the 1942 Yan’an, and it then expanded throughout the years after 1949, culminating in the Cultural Revolution. When such kind of propaganda operates on the basis of a closed society, its impact can be unnerving. It plugs up people’s brains, corrodes their hearts, destroys moral principles and implants a certain ‘self-righteous’ mindset. This explains why during the Cultural Revolution, two dueling factions can both claim that they are believers in Mao Zedong thoughts, the opponent must be a royalist, and that justifies using all sorts of atrocities on him…..

But as information channels gradually open up and people begin to realize that what they used to believe in is only a hoax, a certain flippant and sarcastic attitude start to pervade society. At this moment, the propagandists are playing a game with the public, with the former gliding along an old track, and the latter swinging from one extreme of being a blind believer to the other extreme of a total non-believer.

Out of fear of the authoritarian regime, the public carries on with playing the game. People are so used to living in a sea of public lies that they habitually and conversantly interpret all official statements from an opposing viewpoint. But this seemingly peaceful co-habitation leads to a dangerous path – the political and social framework has been seriously decomposed. The illusion brought about by government’s propaganda has caused it to lose its ability to understand the real world, and has increasingly slowed its reaction, making it more and more reliant on non-intellectual judgment and faith for its survival. Likewise the public has become more and more skeptical and cowardly. They may know what to oppose, but they do not know how to be constructive. They are gradually losing the moral courage to directly voice their opposition. Living for a long time in an environment of lies and skepticism has robbed people of the confidence and stamina to build a community network and social structure.

The behavior of the Chinese government and people in the Tibet conflict is a deep reflection of the malady brought about by long period of propaganda and self-paralysis. The official propaganda has followed the hackneyed principle, even though the officials themselves do not believe in it. As for the public, of which the Hans make up the vast majority, although they may not believe CCTV’s reports, yet due to their ignorance about Tibet and their single-track way of thinking - a product of propaganda training, they can easily be emotionally roused by TV images of Tibetans attacking Hans.

For a very long time, the public’s emotions are like a tool for the government. When tension arose in the U.S.-China relation, in the Japan-China relation alike, nationalist emotion became Beijing’s trump card. Large-scale street protests and marches which would not ordinarily have been permitted were allowed to take place. But the crowds on the streets are more likely exhibiting a kind of emotional release from long-time suppression rather than being attracted to a real sense of nationalism.

It shocked me to discover that such a strategy is really effective. When a young girl Jin Jing became a nation-wide target of emotional expression, when the Carrefour boycott spread to a number of cities, when youngsters’ MSN were filled with red stars, when red flags were hung all over university dormitories, when I heard abuses mouthed against CNN….

I was truly starting to get worried. What worry me most are not criticisms from outsiders, as these will disappear over time. Nor do I worry about the attitude of the Chinese government, as it has always been the same. The basic nature of this government has never changed despite the rapid economic growth and the coming of the information age. Its primary interest has never been the country or its people’s future. Its primary interest is the stability of its power structure, for which it is ready to sacrifice a lot of things. What I worry about are this country’s people, especially the young generation. Although they can rightly claim that they are living in a globalization era and are not hampered by any lack of material things or information, each of them may be carrying a shackled brain on their head. They are confused about certain concepts and have misplaced their passion. They know nothing about the real world and they are not interested in learning. They are swept off their feet by a sudden surge of strong emotions but they lack the ability to think critically. They like to think that their verbal abuses may not be impressive enough.

Such kind of scenes brings back the memory of some unpleasant periods in history. People’s emotions ran high, but were used (to serve political motives). The final outcome was a series of disasters.

Yet, did these events take place simply as a result of the March 14 incident? Don’t they embody a much deeper problem and feelings? To find answers it will be necessary to dig much deeper into our historic past. This country’s viscera are filled with all kinds of unmanageable knots. For a long time now, we have tried to pretend that they don’t exist either via consciously forgetting or being compelled to forget. But when a critical moment arrives, they always backlash with a vengeance.

What really constitutes the Tibet historical problem? What is the special trait of Chinese politics? What is the relationship between historical records and reality? Can economic growth be in the long term a substitute for the lack of ideology? I realize that to conduct this kind of investigation will be like falling into a black hole. If you don’t understand the Tibetan uprising of 1959, or the characteristics of Dalai Lama’s spirit, or the global religious crisis, you cannot hope to understand the current Tibet issue. If you don’t understand the legality basis of politics, you cannot begin to comprehend why so much significance has been attached to the Olympics. If you haven’t studied the Mao Zedong era, you can never have a grasp on people’s way of thinking and speaking. If you don’t understand the efforts made by China’s intellectual elite in the early 20th century to awaken nationalistic feelings, you will find it hard to understand the young people’s emotions at this moment.

These investigations perhaps will not help us solve any tangible problem, but at least they will demonstrate to us that the quality of emotional expression matters. Very often, what make me uncomfortable are not the criticisms, attacks, counter-attacks, nor the stance chosen. It is the low quality of the language and action that irks me.”