On March 14th 2008, several months before the Beijing Olympics, the Tibet incident happened. Simultaneously, Chinese and Western media reported completely opposite stories, leaving people to discover who was expressing the truth. On the mainland, Dalai Lama was placed as the back stage leader of the incident, and his followers were trying to separate Tibet out of China through riots on streets. In Western countries, the incident was described as a peaceful demonstration shut down by violent Chinese police. Both sides proved their claims by presenting photos of burned cars and shops, but claims as to who was responsible varied greatly.
At that time, I was at Ithaca, a town for exile Tibetans in the States. Dalai Lama even visited the year before. After the incident, some exile Tibetans went on demonstration at the downtown. I was also talking with a Tibetan employee on campus about the incident. He disliked the Chinese government for sure, but he didn’t believe what the U.S. media was saying either, since Americans didn’t know what’s really happening there, but simply love the idea of “free Tibet.” He felt Tibetan people were asking for more autonomy, rather than separation from China.
For Chinese, people believe that Tibet has been a part of China for a long time, as we could make a long list of examples how each dynasty related to Tibet throughout history, and it’s impossible to separate Tibet from the rest. For Westerners, Tibet was invaded and taken brutally by People’s Republic of China, no matter how many connections Tibet had had with other dynasties before.
I went to Tibet in 2006, right after the opening of the train from Beijing to Lasa. Besides the stunning beauty, I was impressed by the central government’s contribution to Tibet, as all the highways were built by the central government, which was totally different from other provinces. The newly constructed train station was unbelievably luxurious, just like an airport.
On July 5th this year, a similar incident happened in Xinjiang. It was a terrifying attack at the center city of Urumqi, resulting in nearly 200 people’s death, including both Han Chinese and Uyghur people. Chinese government learned their lesson from the Tibet incident, as they reacted more openly to media, as least put them in the position to let people know what was happening in Xinjiang. But the same as the previous time, voices from China and elsewhere were still in contrast. While trying to figure out who is distorting the truth, many Chinese were correcting misinterpretation by Western media online, but nobody questioned Chinese media, or such kind of voice was never heard.