Last night, posters were put up around the Macquarie University campus in Sydney announcing a “Sydney Chinese Grand Patriotic and Peaceful March” (Xini huaren daxing aiguo heping youxing) on Sunday morning,
“meeting at the entertainment center on the McDonalds side”. The poster displayed a link to the www.ozchinese.com site — apparently an unaffiliated Chinese-language “community” portal, which displays news from various (Mandarin- as well as Cantonese-speaking groups. The text of the appeal, which replicates that of the poster (although it is titled “Chinese students'” rather than “Sydney Chinese” march), read: “The fighters’ blood is China’s suffering; the wound on the nation’s body is China’s shame; Chinese must stand up and cry out.” The term for “China/Chinese” is Zhonghua, which is a racial rather than a territorial term, suggesting that all “patriotic” individuals of Chinese descent are included.
Many Chinese students at the university were also sent invitations to go (“no matter whether you have a Chinese passport or Australian citizenship”). This text apparently came from the www.chinaren.com website, a portal that seems to target mainly students, and, though I have not heard of before, appears to have some readership overseas. Invitations have also been circulated to travel to Canberra to protect the Olympic torch from protesters when it will pass there.
Several things are of interest here. First, in the past, large-scale demonstrations of Chinese abroad (such as against the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999) were always organised with the knowledge and tacit approval of the Chinese embassy; moreover, because they complied with such government suggestions, they tend to be quite standard across the globe. It is hard to imagine that the embassy would not try to control an event that may impact on China’s public relations abroad. The organisers of these protests are not named, but if it turns out that they have not consulted the embassy, this would be a departure from the past and suggest that the government is losing control over overseas nationalism. On the other hand, if we see a repetition of standard rhetoric and activities across cities around the globe, then more likely than not there is some government coordination on in the background. (This is not to suggest that the organisers are not moved by spontaneous emotions, simply that their expressions are channeled by government guidance.)
Second, the posters and the online appeal are in Chinese (the poster has the English phrases “Say NO to RIOTS, peaceful XIZANG, stop media DISTORTION,” but an average Australian who does not know that Xizang is Tibet’s Chinese name would not know what this is about. In other words, it appears that the protest is an expression of patriotic wrath (whether with an eye to the embassy to demonstrate loyalty, or more likely simply out of spontaneous anger), rather than a genuine attempt to engage Western media in a discussion. A protest that took place in Munich on 29 March was rather differently organised: it had an English-language website, and protesters carried placards in English (and some in German). In an ideal case, this could actually lead to greater dialogue and diversity in the German public debate on Tibet, though for this protesters must be prepared to tackle not only the media’s image of China but also the substance of what is going on in Tibet. And, of course, the choice of English rather than German (and the misspelling of names of cities where protests are planned: Karlsruhe, “Manheim,” “Heiderburg” and Stuttgart) may not be the right gesture if one’s goal is, in fact, to engage with a German-speaking public sphere. The organisers of that protest are identified by name, as students, professionals, and a university lecturer, and the emphasis is on “listening to both sides” rather than on defending patriotic honour.
Third, I wonder how many students in this apparently apolitical community will actually turn out. Some students say that there is a sort of peer pressure to display patriotism — akin to events in China.