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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Chinese Media Courts the Youngest Hero of the Tibet Quake

May 7, 2010

Rebecca Novick

Posted: May 4, 2010 05:57 AM

Video of the news report

Amidst the accusations of China's belated response to the devastating
earthquake that hit Yushu county in Eastern Tibet in the early hours of
April 14, the downplaying in the Chinese media of the key role that
Tibetan monks played in the rescue efforts and mourning ceremonies,
alongside reports of Chinese rescue workers who seemed more interested
in posing for cameras than in saving lives, there is a small story that
transcends it all.

   There are few outside of China and Tibet who have heard of Tsering
Dhondup, a ten-year-old Tibetan boy who saw his home and the homes of
all his neighbors completely flattened in the 6.9 quake. Since then,
he's been living with his family in a temporary shelter in the local
stadium in Jyekundo, the town most affected by the disaster, where 85%
of the mud-brick houses like Tsering's were destroyed.

   Tsering volunteered to work as a translator for a Chinese medical
team that was treating Tibetan survivors. The state-controlled national
news channel CCTV, Chinese Central Television, aired a report about him
that on April 17, three days after the earthquake.

   Wearing a backwards baseball cap and a blue surgical mask, we see the
perky-faced Tsering moving around the medical tent with a jaunty
confidence, looking perfectly at ease in his new role. He speaks first
with an elderly Tibetan woman.

   "Where do you hurt?" he asks her in Tibetan, then turns to the
Chinese doctor and says that she is experiencing pain in her eyes and
chest. He then moves to another bed to translate ?for a small child.
Through the Chinese nurse, Tsering explains the child's condition and
?treatment to the mother, who listens to him with rapt attention.

   The Chinese nurse tells the reporter that while the team was setting
up, Tsering had come over and asked them if they were cold. "We said
that we weren't, and then he started helping us to unpack our supplies.
Then he came to help us with translation. He's a really nice kid."

   The reporter asks Tsering some questions. ??Reporter: It looks like
you know all the doctors here.

   Tsering: Yes.

   Reporter: Do you like them?

   Tsering: Yes.

   Reporter: Do they like you?

   Tsering: Yes.

   Reporter: How do you know they like you?

   Tsering: Ummm, when I'm hungry they give me instant noodles, and when
I'm thirsty they give me mineral water. So I know they must love me.

   Reporter: Yes, I like you too. I can see there's a red ribbon in
front of your chest. What does it mean?

   Tsering: It means that I'm a volunteer.

   Reporter: What does being a volunteer mean to you?

   Tsering: Well, it's like when the elders are helping people who have
problems, we kids ?can't do much to help with that. So we pick up bits
of garbage on the ground of the stadium, and we collect wood so people
can boil water.


   (The population of Jyekundo is almost entirely Tibetan, and questions
posed to Tibetans there about their Chinese neighbors, such as 'Do they
like you?' and 'Are you getting along?' were popular with Chinese
journalists operating in the quake zone. The answers--at least the ones
that were aired--were always positive.)

   After the interview, the reporter pats the boy affectionately on the
head. Tsering is then shown handing out bottles of water to Tibetan
patients, and performing his tasks as if he's been doing it all for years.

   Towards the end of the news segment the reporter asks Tsering to sing
something. The boy begins to sing a song that is known and loved by
Tibetans everywhere. The words were written by the Sixth Dalai Lama 300
years ago when he was being forcibly taken away from his people to China
by Mongol soldiers. He died shortly afterwards, and his reincarnation
was discovered in the Tibetan region of Lithang in Kham, the same region
where the earthquake hit.

   "White crane! Lend me your wings ?I will not fly far. ?From Lithang,
I shall return".

   At this point, the boy bursts into tears, unable to sing any more.
The segment abruptly cuts out with the reporter awkwardly trying to
comfort him.

   There were some notable contrasts in the reporting from
Tibetan-language stations such as Qinghai TV and Chinese-language
television. Qinghai TV (the Chinese name for the region where the quake
hit) carried on the spot reports with journalists interviewing stunned
Tibetan survivors among the rubble. The images shown were destroyed
houses, collapsed school buildings. There were hardly any rescue teams,
soldiers, or medical workers, only stunned survivors sitting among the
ruins or monks who had come from other regions to help.

   By contrast, CCTV news almost exclusively showed images of soldiers
digging in the rubble, planes being loaded with supplies, leaders
visiting the survivors, and Chinese journalists interviewing survivors
in the tents. In one shot, four determined looking young medical
technicians are carrying a gurney. But the shot is framed in such a way
that you can't actually see anyone on the gurney.

   With fears that the situation in the earthquake affected area might
turn political, Chinese state media spared no time in co-opting
Tsering's natural appeal to put a positive face on the Chinese/Tibetan
relationship. He was a guest of honor at CCTV's earthquake appeal show
that raised an impressive 2.175 billion yuan.

   On stage, the host asked Tsering why he had cried when he sang the
song. He then made the rather peculiar aside that backstage Tsering had
asked if he was allowed respond in any way he wanted. The host had
assured him that he could. With his head down, the boy answered the
question without a trace of his earlier buoyant innocence, as if he'd
been coached. "Because people of the whole nation support us," he said
stiffly. It seems more likely that the song, so achingly familiar,
reminded him of what he and his family had lost, and the horror of what
he had gone through.

   There are already plenty of skeptics who are questioning how many of
the quake survivors will actually benefit from relief funds like those
raised at the CCTV event. But expressing such skepticism openly is a
risky move. The Associated Press reports that a Tibetan writer, named
Tagyal, signed a letter along with a number of Tibetan intellectuals
asking for donations for the quake victims and warning people not to
trust their donations to the Chinese government. Although AP were unable
to independently verify the story, according to a family friend, Tagyal
was arrested on April 23rd, the day after the letter was published for
"inciting subversion of the state".

   The letter reads: "It is best to deliver donations with your own
trusted personnel because no one knows for sure if there's any place
free of corruption or embezzlement." Concerns over how the Chinese
government will distribute relief funds are not unfounded after reports
of corrupt officials appropriating funds intended for the victims of the
2008 Sichuan earthquake.

   However the propagandists might like to spin the story, little
Tsering Dhondup is the genuine article, and his relationship with the
Chinese medics and the reporter on the ground in the quake zone was one
of sincere affection and appreciation. It is neither essentially Chinese
nor Tibetan, but simply--human. The comments beneath the YouTube link
reach beyond the jingoistic and vitriolic messages that so often plague
postings about Tibet.

   But he is probably learning, too fast for a boy of his age, that when
it comes to Tibet, for China there is nothing that is not political.

   Translation provided by Tenzin Losel.
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