NPR logo

Olympic Relay Highlights China's Public Image Crisis

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Olympic Relay Highlights China's Public Image Crisis

Olympic Relay Highlights China's Public Image Crisis

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

In the past few days, the Olympic torch has created a worldwide spectacle. Protesters lunging at the torch and tussling with police in Istanbul, London, and Paris.

Last month, riots in Tibet, and now these protests, have become China's worst public relations crisis since the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989.

As NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Beijing, the Chinese Government is caught between a need to look tough at home and conciliatory abroad.

(Soundbite of police siren)

Unidentified woman: (Speaking in foreign language)

ANTHONY KUHN: China's state television is often heavily censored, but it hasn't flinched from showing scenes of chaos. Some of the Champ Elysees and Whitehall over the past couple of days of the torch relay. Many Beijing residents say they feel insulted and outraged.

Ms. HAN XIAO(ph)(Software Engineer): (Speaking in foreign language)

KUHN: The Olympics are supposed to be about world peace and athletic spirit, says software engineer Han Xiao. I think people who caused these disruptions are detestable.

Mr. LONG ZHICAI (Salesman): (Speaking in foreign language)

KUHN: As an ordinary citizen, I can only express my anger at this situation, says salesman Long Zhicai, but I can't participate in any direct action because the government would prevent it.

KUHN: Journalist Li Datong says that the anti-China protests just reinforce the Chinese government's well-worn historical narrative that Western imperialists have always tried to keep China down.

Mr. LI DATONG (Journalist): (Through translator) Their narrative says that the Chinese people have suffered persecution for the past century, and it's only now that China has become a global player capable of holding this great event. There's a sense of national pride.

KUHN: Amid the controversy, nationalistic Chinese Internet users have blamed Western media for distorting facts about the unrest in Tibet.

Today, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu rejected suggestions that the government was stirring up nationalist sentiment among Chinese.

Ms. JIANG YU (Spokeswoman, Foreign Ministry): (Through translator) I don't think the government could instigate this, nor does it need to. This is a spontaneous response. Western media have aroused Internet users' righteous anger.

KUHN: Facing challenges to its authority from Tibet and abroad, Beijing is loathed to appear weak or make any concessions.

Human Rights campaigner, John Kamm, has encouraged Chinese officials to improve their public image abroad by making a goodwill gesture. But he says, the Chinese officials seem more preoccupied with their image at home. He says their position is this.

Mr. JOHN KAMM (Human Rights Campaigner): We recognize international public opinion has turned sour, if that's the right way. One official, actually refer to it as a crisis in international public opinion. However, opinion among Chinese people towards China - the Chinese government and Chinese citizens and ethnic Chinese abroad has never been better.

KHUN: Some observers think that Beijing could still salvage the situation in the four months before the games. And that sports will prevail over politics.

Shortly after the violence in Tibet, the Los Angeles-based polling firm, Kelton Research asked 1,000 Americans what they thought about the Olympics and politics. Gareth Schweitzer is a partner with the firm.

GARETH SCHWEITZER (Kelton Research): When you ask American that question, 90 percent of people come back and tell you they agree with the statement that the Olympics and politics should be kept separate. And 70 percent agree with that statement strongly.

KHUN: The poll found 21 percent support among respondents for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee says it may consider cutting the torch relay short in response to the protests. China says it will carry the relay through to the end. It says, it's working closely with U.S. officials to ensure that the torch makes it safely through San Francisco tomorrow.

Anthony Khun, NPR News, Beijing.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.