May 22, 2008

"You've already done enough

Dalai Lama is visiting this week and I have every intention of approaching him and bathing in the glory of his holy presence. But this year being China’s year, there’s no avoiding talks of Tibet and other controversial things China’s up to.

China Media Centre of University of Westminster held a media talk titled Reporting Tibet. The panel featured some distinguished journalists including Isabel Hilton, Jonathan Fenby (former editor of The Observer and The South China Post and author of the Penguin History of Modern China), BBC World news editor Jon Williams, Ma Guihua, London correspondent for the Xinhua News Agency and Wang Rujun, chief correspondent at the People’s Daily UK Bureau.

When the panel opened discussion to the audience, a man identifying himself as an Uyghur addressed Jon Williams with the question: why is there no coverage of the oppression of the Uyghur people in China. A lady sitting next to him got hold of the microphone and said with a particular urgency in her voice: I’ve been living here for 7 years and I have only once heard the media report the oppression in the Uyghur autonomous region. And today we came here specifically to say thank you to the one journalist who spoke up, and we even brought flowers.” Sadly, the named journalist from Channel 4 was sent to China to cover the earthquake.

I was so touched by this genuine gesture that I approached the couple immediately after the debate to ask for their contact details, hoping to interview them afterwards. The gentleman looked at me for a second and asked: where are you from? Stupidly, but quite naturally, I said ‘China’. “You’ve already done enough” was his answer.

For a second there I stood completely puzzled and bewildered. Quite frankly, this is the most racial discrimination I’ve ever been subjected to.

I’m not a communist; I like to think I’m not brainwashed; I’m not nearly old enough to have done anything to the Uyghur people, but for some reason their unquestionable sincerity in bringing the flowers, in dressing up in their traditional clothing, in speaking up in praise of that one journalist – all that has made me feel like I personally owe them something. As a journalist, I owe them a stage for them to speak up and voice their concerns. I’m too ignorant to judge if ‘my people’ have really wronged them and how. But I can’t even begin to image what kind of injustice a people would have suffered to be uttering phrases like “You’ve already done enough”.

He wasn’t saying it to be mean. But I knew that no matter what I said I couldn’t convince them to look at things differently. And even though I haven’t done anything to them and I had every desire to learn about their struggle and hear their story, they’ve lost that trust in Chinese people and in journalists who steal their words and their image to sell yet another agenda.


- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Its hard to resist the temptation to judge a country by its leaders, i think the gentleman’s reactions show quite aptly the mistrust which is generated as soon as people are categorized in this way. I sympathize with your sentiment, i would hate to be judged on the actions of war criminals like Blair and Brown, and i imagine that the vast majority of americans would be misjudged if one attributed Rice’s attitude towards torture to the whole population.

    In one sense i would argue that most chinese people have less culpability than we in the west. We live in democracies and yet ‘we, the people’ continue to allow crimes against humanity to be carried out by our own governments. The Chinese people don’t have the option to remove their corrupt and immoral leaders.

    06 Jun 2008, 01:52


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