Mutual Respect? It Must Be Some Kind of Trap…

Ceci n’est pas un Lobsang Gendun

Chinese netizens have been furiously seeking the guy who tried to grab the Olympic Torch from Paralympian Jin Jing in Paris. An Internet manhunt was launched and pinpointed a Tibetan man in Utah named Lobsang Gendun. First problem? It’s not the right guy. Utah TV station KSL manages to confuse London with Paris in the article (another example of why Chinese nationalists are taking errors by US media waaaay too seriously), but its definitely not the guy whose name, address, phone number, Google Map location, pet peeves and favorite color have been splashed across Anti-CNN and other Chinese bulletin boards. Oh, and wanted posters.

This isn’t the Tibetan You’re Looking For

His phone began to ring in the middle of the night. At first, they were hang-ups. More calls followed with threatening and obscene messages. Messages left on his answering machine include, “Hey, I wish you to die and go to Hell (obscenity),” and, “Please remember that if you want to be an enemy of the whole Chinese people, then you are doomed, OK?”

The calls kept coming, even during our interview this afternoon. Gendun has also received more than 100 threatening emails.

All of this is because they think Gendun is the man in a picture taken as the Olympic torch passed through London. A protester tried to take the torch from a girl in a wheelchair.

Gendun says he’s responded to some of the emails, and even tried to talk to some of the callers to explain they’re misinformed. “Sometimes they will just swear at me, and I say, ‘Thank you, thank you’. That’s all I say,” he told us.

The calls are coming from all over the world, including China and New York. Gendun doesn’t know how he got mistaken for the man in London. If the calls continue, though, Gendun says he’ll go to the police.

Well, even better than going to the police, he’s gone to the media, and its trickling into the Chinese forums. Unfortunately, its still in English, so the only comment response in this particular example is 看不懂 (I don’t understand). Hopefully others are getting the word out in Chinese. On my scorecard, this ought to make the Pro-Tibet protesters and the angry Red Guard 2.0 1-Love. One grabbed the torch and made an ass out of himself, the others went on an Internet manhunt and issued death threats. Errr… ok, maybe Pro-Tibet is actually coming out ahead. Well, some on Anti-CNN are saying they owe the man an apology (Charlesliu – the same Charles Liu?). Then again, some still think its ok to make death threats as long as you have the right person.

But hang on a minute! One Chinese blogger, Babaxiaoqian, thinks that the torch grabber might not even be Tibetan at all. Oiwan Lam at Global Voices Online points to Xiaoqian’s post where he carefully dissects two photographs of Chinese and Tibetan protesters, included the torch grabber, walking side by side. He finds it terribly suspicious that some have Chinese flags and others Tibetan flags but they’re not shouting or trying to assault one another. They’re actually calmly walking down a narrow path in a mixed group. Among them is the torch grabber. Clearly, this is confusing for Babaxiaoqian.

You’d Think They All Respected Each Others Rights or Something!

Xiaoqian, as one commenter points out, seems to be applying his cultural perspective to another. It seems no stretch of the imagination to me that Pro-Tibet and Pro-China people might walk to the route on the same path without fighting or treating one another like the devil, because in my experience no one questions the other sides right to exist or say unpleasant things in a place like Paris (unless they’re foreign and saying anything in French, but I digress) and frankly, they have more important things to do with their time than hate you 24-7. But in Babaxiaoqian’s mind, they’re supposed to be blood enemies, and there’s no way they could co-exist. They’re like “fire and water” to him, and ought to be engaged in a struggle to complete annihilate each other, even if that means they’ll never even make it to the torch in the first place.

Recently this cartoon has been making the rounds, illustrating the sort of total war that some Chinese netizens are engaged right now over Chang Ping’s commentary on the Tibet issue, and that it seems Babaxiaoqian expects is the way these Paris protesters ought to rumble.

Now This is How You Settle Differing Opinions, France. Pay Attention.

Chang Ping had the absolute gall, apparently, to point out certain Chinese netizens “even began in the opposite direction from the first place: They do not care if the news is objective and fair; they do not care if the media hold certain positions; biases are not totally unacceptable; rather, the key is just which side you are on… [they] have chosen to abandon their trust in objectivity and fairness and hence seek refuse in narrow nationalism. They draw the conclusion that talks of universal values are all deceptive tricks used to cover up underlying national interests.”

In response, Wen Feng at the Beijing Evening News, who is in fact Mei Ninghua (梅宁华), president of the Beijing Daily Group, vice-chair of the All-China Journalists Association, and director of Beijing’s Bureau of Cutural Relics, went ad hominem by calling Chang Ping a “trendy spicy chicken” and cried out:

The heart of the matter for which he [Chang Ping] was criticized was this: “Free speech intrinsically includes the freedom of mistaken speech and particularly the freedom to question authority. More frightening than rumors is the removal of free speech.” And he openly held this up as a universal value. According to his logic, “free speech” means that you can muddy the truth, fabricate facts, indiscriminately distort history, speak irresponsibly, “freely” rumor-monger, “freely” smear, “freely” toss about labels… I have never seen the western media enjoy that kind of freedom of speech in their own country.

Which leads Alan Baumler at Frog in a Well to ask “Are Chinese media people really this ignorant of the western press or is he just lying?” I have no idea what Wen Feng knows about Western media, but he clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about – western media absolutely thrives off rumor mongering and smears. We even coin words based on them, like “swiftboating”. No one says the swiftboaters aren’t allowed to continue swifting – rather, they say that you shouldn’t believe them. Big difference.

As Baumler points out, there is something of a whiff of the Cultural Revolution in what he calls the “New Red Guard”, with “orthodoxy as the key political value” in some of the speech being used. I prefer the term “Red Guard 2.0″ for the sort of netizens who have been hounding the guy who isn’t Lobsang Gendun, since they have Google Maps and websites and newfangled technnology. And I especially reserve that title those who have been targeting Wang Qianyuan of Duke University and even more terrifyingly her poor parents in Qingdao, all because she, a Han Chinese girl, crossed the picket line and ended up in a photograph standing on the Pro-Tibet side of one protest. Some people are publishing photos of the building and front door of her parents apartment as part of the campaign to catch the “race traitor”. It doesn’t seem much of an exaggeration to compare them to the Red Guard – issue them an armband tomorrow and they’re off to the races.

“Uh, nothing, wrong floor *cough* traitor *cough*”

There’s a startling disconnect here about what constitutes “free speech” and what constitutes “violent speech”. Wen Feng believes the Western media has been engaging in violent speech by mislabeling photos of Nepali police and, I’ll grant is more serious, failing to make adequate distinctions between the Chinese government and Chinese people (though this isn’t exactly helped by the habit many Chinese people have of considering criticism of their government equivalent to a physical attack upon their own person, or constantly speaking for all 1.3 billion of their compatriots). Meanwhile, some of the people whose side he ends up on are actually making death threats and spreading insane rumors.

Which brings me back to Babaxiaoqian’s five point photo analysis of the marching order of these people, in which he discusses angles, their movement amongst one another from the first photo to the second, their lack of an air of mutual confrontation, and finds it suspicious. His additional evidence, by the way, is that one of the girls looks like a girl who on CCTV said her “dark skinned” friend, presumably Chinese but definitely not Tibetan though he looks kinda Tibetan, was offered 300 Euros by some dude to go with them and do who knows what.

I have compelling evidence that maybe someone said something to someone I know who is maybe someone you’re mad at

Why is this even being discussed? So a girl who kinda looks like a girl who said a friend with dark skin, who may be is the guy she, if it really is her, passed on a road going to the protest in a photo, was offered money by some unnamed guy who wanted him to do who knows what. Huh? How about something more straightforward, like contacting the Paris police about who the protester was? He was, after all, arrested. You might at least get the mans name. The implication here, though, is that the Dalai Lama clique must be outsourcing its attacks to unwitting dupes.

But I don’t want to go without pointing out this isn’t just happening on the Chinese side. The American conservative blogosphere is doing its own analysis of the same photos. Powerline asks if this is an Agent Provocateur?

It’s clearly the same guy, with the Tibetan flag on his head. Note that there are two others in the crowd who appear to be wearing Tibetan flags around their shoulders. Dafydd and the Chinese-Japanese bloggers suspect that the apparent Tibetan protesters mixed in with the pro-Chinese contingent–amicably, it seems–are agents provocateur, and that the “Tibetan” attack on the wheelchair-bound torch bearer was orchestrated by the Chinese government.

It seems both sides are seeing proof of their convictions in the fact that a bunch of young people managed to walk down a street without knifing one another. This sort of supposition on the American side actually gives ammunition to Mei Ninghua’s claim that “those people today shouting and parading around “universal values” and “freedom” are nothing more than using a grandiose phrase as an excuse to achieve their own shadowy ends.”

Should I rename the blog “Banging My Head Against the Wall”? I feel like doing that more and more these days.

  • Inst

    Twofish says he started his blog to laugh at events. I’m trying to figure out how to make money off this hilarity. Why don’t you find some way to benefit?

  • Adam Minter

    Great post … and thanks for pointing out that the Powerline boys are now involved. A little background: these are the folks responsible for a still controversial debunking of several memos that purported to show that George W. Bush’s Vietnam-era military service was less than, ah, exemplary. They have a huge following in the US, and you can now bet that this is about to become a cause celebre among American conservatives. Wonderful.

  • davesgonechina

    @Inst: I’m still waiting for some Chinese bloggers to start the Mainland version of The Onion. If and when they do, I’ll try and get in on international distribution.

    @Adam: Thx. There’s actually another conservative blog post that I had in mind – Michelle Malkin’s screeching about the Absolut Mexico ad violating US national soveriegnty.

    It doesn’t mention China, Malkin is an interesting parallel to Chinese fenqing screaming about borders. Malkin sees Reconquista terrorism lurking in a vodka ad. Imagine what she’d say if there was ethnic violence involving people of Mexican descent in LA?

    The fenqing are not just a Chinese phenomenon. This combination of seeking national grievances and the Internet is kinda the spirit of the age.

  • Sam G

    Good post, just a quick note from personal experience about Duke overseas Chinese students. I studied at Duke and for some reason many Chinese students there are especially nationalistic, even more so than at other universities in the States. They have been outspoken on numerous issues, including calling professors who study Chinese nationalism “racist” (one such professor who was accused by a student of being racist received death threats, just like poor Wang Quanyuan), and stopping Duke’s international house from putting up the Taiwanese flag (typically the flag in front of the international house alternates between the countries of the different foreign students).

    This, in my opinion, is a frightening phenomenon. Isn’t travel supposed to open your mind? Isn’t studying in a vibrant intellectual community like Duke supposed to make you question your firmly-held beliefs? The most strident Chinese nationalists are well-educated people who have studied abroad. These are the people who will control the country in the future.

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  • b.

    “I have compelling evidence that maybe someone said something to someone I know who is maybe someone you’re mad at.”

    best caption ever.


  • Inst

    Does China even need a parodic news source? Just look at the recent video on The Onion where an actor plays a Chinese diplomat extolling China’s proud achievements in pollution. Jesus Christ, if you’re at all sympathetic to the Chinese you can understand how to some extent this is a real and valid sentiment; life in China is already self-satirizing.

  • Jack


    The Chinese diplomat in the Onion spoke in a much more grandiose fashion than the Chinese ambassodor to US, Zhong Wenzhong.

    NPR interviewed him nearly 3 weeks ago, and he just basically toed the government line and talked over Steve. I was surprised at how terse and blunt he was when I first listened to it.

  • BOB

    I know the identity of the bloke who attacked Jin Jing. His name is Elwood Blues, and he lives at 1060 West Addison Chicago, IL.

  • davesgonechina

    @Sam G: got any links for those previous controversies at Duke? I’m curious to know more.

    @b.: thx. Anybody enjoy the Magritte and Star Wars references?

    @Inst: yeah, China is bursting with satire. The only thing is no one is tapping into that to do a satire of domestic news media. That’s what I’m waiting for, a sort of blogger-journalist with a Wang Shuo kinda wit, though perhaps less swearing and general contempt for other people. I’m talking about satire that Mainlanders will enjoy. Us laowai are already up to here with satire, and it doesn’t often carry over well.

    @BOB: Nice. Everybody, call off the manhunt, you can’t catch this guy. He’s on a mission from God.

  • Alphast


    I don’t think any attempt by Chinese from mainland to create an equivalent to the Onion has any chance of surviving censorship more than 1 day or 2. If it is not physically taken over by the local thugs paid by the first governor or district party responsible who will felt threatened.

  • Sam G
  • Pffefer

    This is some crazy BS. iOPINION in China (and perhaps elsewhere) could indeed be heading toward a dangerous direction, violating laws and bypassing privacy and common decency. The Chinese need to learn to be more tolerant of different opinions.

  • BOB

    Many foreigners find China “enchanting”:

    “My reminiscence: For such a lovely river, its name was mystifying—‘Cape Fear’—and that the only thing to FEAR on those enchanted Summer nights was that the magic would end…and REALITY would come crashing in….”

    REALITY = Chinese nationalism/violent, bloody history.

  • Xujun

    Very interesting article. Though a serious topic, it made me laugh. The parallel between the Chinese posts and Power Line is well done.

  • Truthseeker

    With all this media chatter about Tibet and China there has been very little investigation into the lives of the majority of the Tibetans living in Tibet today. I would like to see if their standard of living has improved compared to the time when the Dalai Lama was in power. If China is so worried about their “image” they should hire a documentarian from a neutral county (if there’s such thing) and show the daily lives of the Tibetans. If they are generally happy, then people will see for themselves, but if they aren’t then that’s a problem they need to solve. There is so much advertisments in the Western Media bashing China over Human Rights, especially concerning the “killing” of Tibetans yet there is “no explanation” why – it just leaves me to think that it’s propaganda against China. I have more reason to believe that the Developed Western Nations are not welcoming the rise of a competitive Asian Nation – especially China. It is also my belief that many of the Tibetan Protestors are the decendants of the Exiled Elites that once enjoyed a caste system which placed them on the top.

  • Tom – Daai Tou Laam

    It’s interesting that the phone threats were made in English, yet the folks on the Chinese BBSs don’t seem to understand enough English to read the article explaining the mistaken identity. Seems to suggest that the phone threats were from folks who picked up the phone number from an English-language source. (*scratches chin* which one could that be?)

    And I have no interest in defending the PowerSwine or Malkintents, but why is it that this is the sole photo I’ve seen so far of individuals mixed with pro-CCP/pro-Tibet iconography? Going through GooglePhotos of the French, London and SF torch relays, ALL of the photos I’ve seen have the groups segregated. Worse than a high school dance. Y’know, birds of a feather flock together.

  • Michael Turton

    The most strident Chinese nationalists are well-educated people who have studied abroad. These are the people who will control the country in the future.

    It was that way here in Taiwan too. Many of the major figures on the anti-democracy side in Taiwan’s politics have US or equivalent PhDs.


  • ChinaMatt

    This is a great post. Everything’s a mess now. Why doesn’t everyone on both sides shut up for two weeks and start over? If only it were possible.

  • Biskit Dorjee

    Awesome post! Humor and reason seem a much better way of “fighting” back than retaliation in-kind. Retaliation directly would be finding some poor Chinese guy with a computer in China and by virtue of him owning that computer attack him for the attacks on Lobsang Gendun. On a serious note, Lobsang is hardly the only Tibet activist receiving vicious attacks, many activists and organizations are receiving harassment and threats. The torch we need isn’t the olympic one, its the Diogenes one that tried to find an honest man.

  • Pete Braden

    Excellent post. This is the ugliest I’ve atmosphere I’ve seen in this country in my 3 years here.

    I especially like the term Red Guards 2.0. The little piss-pots who are worked into a spittle-flecked froth about foreigners’ humiliation of China need to study their own country’s history. Books won’t do…can’t get it on the Internet…Maybe they can ask their parents? 

    “Dad, what did you do during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution?”
    “Well, son…er…I bent teachers’ arms into the airplane position and smashed Daoist temples.”
    “Death to foreign imperialist devils!”

  • davesgonechina

    @Alphast: I don’t see local government taking over websites, really. Blocked, sure, thats always a possibility.

    @Sam G: I looked at your link and don’t see much in the story that seems nationalist. The Chinese Student Association didn’t seem outrageous in the article, but the professors behavior may have been. What was the outcome? Did the student win? Was the professor censured?

    @BOB: You need to chill out.

    @Truthseeker: I’m not gonna say there isn’t bias in Western perspectives of China, but there are “explanations why” as you put it, and I suggest you seek them out and read them with a great deal of patience and restraint. As for the caste system, the Tibetan government in exile has created a very, very different system from the historical one. It’s not perfect, but they’ve made tremendous reforms. Not unlike China.

    @Tom Dai Tou Laam: I know who you’re referring to, I don’t buy it, and frankly I find your continued insistence there’s some sort of nefarious propagandizing going on absurd. You’re entitled to your opinion, but I’ve seen your arguments in the past and have no interest in hearing them anymore. I’ve made up my mind on that theory. Move on to something else please when you comment here.

    @Michael Turton: And Bush went to Yale. People do unexpected things with their educations.

    @ChinaMatt: ain’t gonna happen.

  • BChung

    @ BIg Fat Tummy

    Being someone from Hong KOng As well the only thing i saw on TVB news when the torch reach the end of the leg in Paris, was a huge mess. BOth sides mixed, a couple of “violence” (Flag puling, shoving). Also i saw multiple of times people both on ATV and TVb (prefer ATV now they got prettier girls then TVB) with The Tibet flag running pass the Chinese students, chasing the torch bearer, I don’t see a Chinese student swinging a punch on the Tibetans guy while he was running pass them, actually both sides were just on a shouting contest. Lastly, I still don’t see “any” concrete evidence that even make sense claiming that it was a staged attempt. So far all those theories that supports the claim that his is a staged attempt can be easily refuted with a dose of common sense and a little research.

    Just to add the conspiracy theory the girl in white the girl in black are actually twin sisters, and it was the girl in White that is the web cam girl. Well they look pretty similar to me considering the quality of these pictures.

  • mcw

    Thanks for posting this. I feel like banging my head against a wall, too. I’m a grad student and a professor in my department (who does not work on any area of Asian studies, although I do) just circulated, to all the professors and students in the department, the photo of PLA soldiers holding Tibetan monks’ robes as proof of a conspiracy for them to disguise themselves as monks in order to incite violence during the March 14 riot. Enough with the internet conspiracy theories.

  • Donriver

    I am Chinese, but I would not hesitate to hug a Tibetan if one is around. They are like brothers and sisters to me. As long as some of the evil monks stop killing Chinese people, I don’t have any problems with Tibetans at all. However, the Western media is another matter. I hate them for a thousand years for their hypocrisy (and I have lived in the West continuously for 30 years.)

  • anonymous

    Excellent, insightful blog! This is the first report I’ve seen that parallels my own viewpoint. I am a repatriated expat of many years in China. I speak and read Chinese and know too well that it is rare to see the truth in either the Chinese or the western media on these divisive issues.

    I agree with many of the chinese national posting here that the coverage of the Tibetan riots in the Western press was disgraceful – an embarrassment to me as a US citizen. It was as if the Han citizens that were killed or economically ruined in the riots were a faceless extension of an evil empire, and therefore expendable in the Tibetans pursuit of freedom. In the western world, if you indiscriminately harm civilians, you are branded either a terrorist or a war criminal.

    The knee-jerk nationalism in the Chinese blogosphere is really sad in its lack of perspective, but we should know better.

    Both the Chinese and Western media are propaganda machines. Many in China realize that they don’t get the entire story, whether they admit it outright or not (thus the high prevalence of rumors outside of the press). The danger is that most Westerners truly believe that they read the untainted “truth.” It’s a difficult position to hold in discussions with proponents of either side. I can see China continuing to gradually opening up its press freedoms. But what can we do in the West? It’s one thing to be ignorant, when you are deprived of information, it is quite another when you choose not to acknowledge it.

  • anonymous

    Sorry – I meant to post the above comment to the “and the same goes for us article”. My bad

  • tenzin

    To Truthseeker:

    As a Tibetan, I completely agree there should be a neutral fact finding delegation sent to Tibet to assess the real situation in the country. That is exactly one of the requests the Tibetan Government in Exile has made. However, the Chinese government claims, all is peaceful, happy and harmonious in Tibet. However, the mass uprisings and protests throughout Tibet since march 10th have shown the world, the exact opposite. The Tibetans inside Tibet are risking life and limb just to stand up and speak for their rights, for their basic human rights, and most importantly for freedom, especially freedom from Chinese rule.

    Regardless of whether the economy in Tibet has improved since 1959, oppression, death, and brutality has no doubt increased exponentially. It is important to understand that for the Tibetans today, freedom far outweighs economic development.

    Tibetans inside Tibet have risen up and Tibetans in exile, like myself are inspired by the courage of my brave Tibetan brothers and sisters. We will continue to expose the Chinese government’s brutality and repression inside Tibet. I would also like to plead to the people of the world to pressure China to release the thousands of Tibetans who have been arrested and are being arrested for simply expressing their views.

    I am Tibetan, and I want a FREE TIBET.

  • s

    Yes, please also expose the Chinese government’s brutality and repression outside of Tibet. Please also help billions of oppressed non-Tibetan Chinese. FREE CHINA! THANK YOU!

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