It has been the case for well over 2000 years that with a huge population and rich diversities in custom, cuisines, dialects, culture, religions, ethnicities, and political views, it’s always a challenge for any Chinese government to unit its people. However, recent events provided the Central Empire another silver bullet in its arsenal to achieve just that, the butterfly effect.
It takes a real expert to explain the effect in details. The short and layman version is that a butterfly's wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that ultimately cause a tornado to appear. In other words, a small disturbance might have huge and unintended consequences somewhere and somehow.
Examining what happened since middle of March will better illustrate my point. On 14th of March, a small group of Tibetan rioters went on a rampage in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) of China. They set hundreds of shops on fire on the streets once filled with shoppers and tourists, beaten hundreds of non-Tibetan people and killed 19. What happened next is a sequence of events unforeseen by anybody, including the rioters themselves.
At the first sign of trouble, western media lead by CNN, NBC, BBC, etc. and joined quickly by almost all TV stations and newspapers started bombardment on the Chinese government, accusing it used military forces to violently crackdown on the peaceful protesters, who were merely seeking their basic human rights and religious freedom, with spoon-feed information from Dalai Lama and his government in exile without any independent verification.
However, pictures and videos from independent bloggers and international tourists eye-witnessing the violence quickly became available over the internet and painted a very different picture of what really happened on the ground. They confirmed that the rioters brutally attacked innocent non-Tibetan looking civilians indiscriminately. The local police and paramilitary forces were merely trying to contain the violence. James Miles of Economist, believed to be the only westerner reporter present during the riot, also agreed with these accounts.
It turns out that westerner media not only relied on the information from Dalai Lama and his government in exile exclusively, what’s worse is that they used pictures and videos of Indian and Nepalese police cracking down on Tibetan protesters happened before the 14th of March as the proof of the Chinese crackdown. To be fair, not all media are that ignorant and lazy. For example, CNN resorted to Photoshop to crop out the Tibetans throwing stones at a Chinese military truck, and a German newspaper shown close-up of a Tibetan on the ground but crafting out the Nepalese policemen standing by.
All of these might go on unchallenged 5 short years ago, but the internet provides an ideal platform to check and double check anything and everything, and to spread the information across the world within seconds, thus the perfect “atmosphere” for the humble butterfly to cause the tornado.
On the very same day of the riot when western media frenzy was in full swing, many tech and information savvy Chinese started to contest the blatant misreporting, fabrication and distortion, and condemning the west of deliberately demonizing China and the Chinese people. Evidence flooded the internet quickly, and within days, a brand new website, anti-cnn.com, aimed at exposing these western biases and collecting information related to Tibet, has been established and became one of most popular Chinese websites overnight. Many other websites and blogs followed, including this humble one. It didn’t stop there. In every internet chat rooms, in every discussion related to Tibet, and in every popular online social network including MySpace, FaceBook, and YouTube, Chinese are fighting back in full force. Armed with fresh facts related to the riot, historical records, and independent articles and books from western authors, the Chinese are swinging back at the murderous rioters, Dalai Lama and his government in exile, and the western media.
Not to anyone’s surprise, most western media kept carry on with their predetermined routine of blaming everything on China, even with evidence flashing at their face. Dalai Lama also popped out a couple of times calling for peace and non-violence yet refused to acknowledge the true nature of the riot. Western politicians, not to disappoint anyone, put on elaborate theatre to support the “peaceful” Dalai Lama and his government in exile, and condemn the Chinese, much in line with their proud tradition of pandering to their constituency.
Then there comes the Beijing Olympic Torch Rally and the Tibetans in exile found something they do best, protesting. Their plan is to protest and disrupt the torch rally in London, Paris, and San Francisco, and distinguish the torch to humiliate the Chinese. Their ultimate goal is to for the whole world, at least the “free world” to boycott the Olympics Opening Ceremony, if not the whole Olympics itself.
To be honest, they can be considered the professional among all protestors, and they have the western public, though ignorant of anything related to Tibet and China still a formidable force given the share numbers, behind them. Many Chinese worried and they set out to take action. The internet again became the deciding factor.
On April 6th, thousands of Chinese, organized via internet, lined up along the route of the torch rally. Exile Tibetan protestors and their British supporters did their best to disrupt the event but the London police made sure nothing serious happened. The very next day, the torch went to Paris. Thousands of Chinese shown up as well, but the poorly prepared Paris police cannot contain the Tibetan protestors and they went wild. One such character, spotted being arrested in London the day before, attacked a brave young woman holding the Olympic torch in wheelchair being pushed by her blind friend.
The photos and videos of this incident spread across the internet like a wild fire. In every Chinese websites, internet chat rooms, online forums, and blogs, people are outraged. With the horrifying images of the Lhasa riot and blatant assaults from the western media still fresh on their minds, people were calling for large gathering in San Francisco to condemn the violence and killing, to protest the arrogance and bias of the media, to support to Beijing Olympics, and to honor the Olympic spirit.
On April 9th, the showdown was set on the streets of San Francisco and the whole world was watching. All along the predetermined route, it became a sea of red. Over 20,000 Chinese, from a conservative estimate, men, women, young and old coming from nearby and afar flooded the San Francisco streets. At every street corner, they spread the facts and confronted lies and propaganda calmly and eloquently. At every street corner, they celebrated the Olympic spirit. At every street corner, they called for understanding and exchange of ideas. At every street corner, they advocated peace and non-violence. Overhead, an airplane circled the city dragging a sign read “Tibet will always be part of China”.
This is the single biggest oversea Chinese gathering the world has ever seen. Although primitive in its planning, the whole event exceeds everyone’s expectation, especially to the exile Tibetans and their supporters, and the western media. It is not just a success story, it becomes an inspiration to all Chinese. Next in Argentina, next in Canberra, next in Canada…on many university campuses and in many other cities, oversea Chinese are participating in everyway they can. My salute to all of you, my fellow countrymen and countrywomen, not just for the message of understanding, love and peace you championed, but also for the unity you demonstrated. Unite we stand is not just a slogan any more. It is the beginning of a new China and a new world.
So, let’s recap. A group of rioters killed 19 people in Lhasa, western media went crazy, exile Tibetans went wild, and then comes the tidal wave of red that is spreading across the planet. I hope you remember the little butterfly I mentioned at the very beginning. That tiny butterfly flapped its wings, maybe just out of instinct, and the rest is history. This is the tale of a butterfly and this is the butterfly effect.
An apology and some words of wisdom to conclude this lengthy essay:
It should have been a common sense not to poke a lion even when it’s sleeping, and I sure hope that we, the Chinese in China, in Europe, in US and other parts of the world, make you aware of another common sense, don’t poke the dragon either. China and Chinese people always believe that being humble and cordial is one of the most important virtues, and we have always acted accordingly. Let me apologize to the western world that indeed it’s our fault that we did not realize the fact that you tend to view this as a weakness, and indeed it’s our fault that we tolerated your ignorance, arrogance and exploitation for far too long. I, on behalf of every single one of the 1.3 billion Chinese, want to ensure you that we are not going to repeat the same mistake any longer.
Now that you are all clear that, even we the Chinese have a temper and it should also be clear to you that this is the singular moment that the world has changed. I congratulate you on having the privilege to witness this historical event. Let there be no doubt that the days of developing world seeking your approval is over, and we the Chinese are here to make sure that happens and never returns.