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China Dials Up Rhetoric on Dalai Lama

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China Dials Up Rhetoric on Dalai Lama

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China Dials Up Rhetoric on Dalai Lama

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Today, China admitted that protests are spreading through Tibet. And as the protests spread, China's been trying to spin events for its domestic audience. For example, a senior Chinese official called Tibet's Dalai Lama a wolf wrapped in monk's clothing, a monster with a human face and an animal's heart.

NPR's Louisa Lim reports on Beijing's propaganda campaign.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

LOUISA LIM: With bloodcurdling yells, a group of young Tibetans, including a monk in maroon robes, try to kick down the door of a Chinese shop in Lhasa. The mob overturns a police car. They tried to break into a bank.

China's news bulletins are concentrating on these scenes of violence in the Tibetan capital last Friday. Peaceful protests by Tibetans aren't shown, nor is Chinese suppression of those peaceful protests.

Zoula, a blogger who calls himself China's first citizen journalist, says the propaganda machine is working overtime to shape the narrative for a domestic audience.

ZOULA (Blogger): (Through translator) They're using footage of the Tibetans beating, smashing, looting and setting fire to things to show the Tibetans' behavior was wrong. So sending soldiers to restore order and suppress the protest is the correct behavior.

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: A sobbing Chinese businessman describes how his house was set alight by Tibetan youths. His family escaped by jumping out of the window. His wife broke her back. His uncle and cousin died in the fire.

Such tales of Chinese victimization and the accompanying florid verbal attacks on the Dalai Lama are feeding into broader political aims, according to Chris O'Brien, a former employee of the state-run Xinhua news agency who writes a blog called Beijing Newspeak. He says the propaganda chiefs have issued an internal directive.

Mr. CHRIS O'BRIEN (Beijing Newspeak blog): I think the words of their internal directive show continuous footage in order to, quote, "Incite patriotism and hatred of the Dalai Lama clique." And I think it's proving very effective. I think it's kind of appealing to nationalistic sentiments among the large groups of people.

LIM: That nationalistic sentiment is never far beneath the surface. Just two weeks ago, pop singer Bjork ended a concert in Shanghai with a song called "Declare Independence," in which she shouted Tibet, Tibet. That caused an outpouring of anger among nationalistic young bloggers.

(Soundbite of car horn honking)

LIM: And among office workers in Shanghai enjoying their lunch break, many believe the unrest is part of a wider plot.

Mr. KU YU JU(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: The trouble is due to outside forces, including major super powers who want to split our country, says Ku Yu Ju. They want to hold make China's development and destabilize China.

Ms. WONG LEE: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: His friend Wong Lee says evil external influences are grabbing this opportunity to embarrass China in the run up to the Olympics. Some complain of a lack of information. Recently, all online discussion about Tibet has been banned.

Citizen journalist Zoula is trying to offer an alternative view by posting links to foreign news sources on his Web page. That, too, is banned in China, unless you use a proxy. Nonetheless, he's had 30,000 hits in three days. He says comments on his Web page show China's public relations offensive is raising new doubts among ordinary Chinese.

ZOULA: (Through translator) Many people can't understand why Tibetans are against the Communist Party. They think the Communists liberated Tibetans from a system of feudal serfdom, so they should be very satisfied with their lives.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

LIM: State-run media has repeatedly emphasized that only a small group of Tibetans were responsible for the violent unrest. But Chris O'Brien says that nuance could be lost on the audience.

Mr. O'BRIEN: Long term, that will be a problem, whether people watching the footage - whether they'll make that distinction between Tibetans in general and what the Chinese government is trying to say is a very small minority. You might find that long term, it will further divide in sentiment between the Han Chinese and Tibetans even wider.

Unidentified Woman: The Tibet autonomous regional government says over 100 people have surrendered...

LIM: Overseas, Beijing may be losing the PR battle. But so far, the domestic audience is convinced. However, China may find the short term imperative of gaining public support for its crackdown may end up shattering the fiction of ethnic harmony in Tibet it's worked so hard to create.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Shanghai.

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