An article about Chinese Propaganda
by Jonathan Mirsky
12 Aug. 2001
For over 40 years I have felt that articles published by the New China News Agency, Xinhua, should carry this warning: "What you are about to read may deceive you." Here is what I believe to be irrefutable justification.
On 27 July Xinhua carried a dispatch from Beijing concerning a "Forum on Tibetology," which concentrated on the contribution of an American professor, A. Tom Grunfeld. It seemed unlikely to me that Professor Grunfeld would have said the things attributed to him. I now have his reply to the article and, with his permission, I quote him.
He describes the article as " a hodgepodge of accuracy and inaccuracy. "
Speaking as a journalist, I call that the most damaging kind of reporting, because the reader can be easily misled.
The article calls him a "a distinguished Tibetologist." Professor Grunfeld says this is "erroneous," although the article later correctly says he is an "historian of China."
The article states that he referred to "the Dalai Lama's creation of a virtual Tibet" and his "description of Tibet under his rule as Shangri-la..
" as " a fad that will soon fade. " Professor Grunfeld replies " I do not believe that the Dalai Lama has participated in the creation or the perpetuation of the Shangri-la myth. " He goes on to say that "in the 1960s and early 1970s the Dalai Lama did not discourage stories about a Shangri-la-like society before the Chinese came...But I would say that the Dalai Lama played the most minor role in the continuation of this myth. "
The article states that according to Professor Grunfeld Tibet has become "
an infatuation...a fantasy" in the West. Professor Grunfeld replies that he did say that that Western popular interest in Tibet was "a fad that would fade before too long. However, the political campaign led by the Dalai Lama and the academic interest in Tibet would not fade and the latter would probably grow."
The article states that " his view was supported by many Chinese and foreign Tibetologists." Referring to this as "the most glaring fiction," Professor Grunfeld says, " In my panel, where I gave the paper, there were no other foreigners...At no time did any of the foreigners at the conference discuss my paper with me. " He says that "the Chinese who did comment did so exclusively to counter my criticisms of Chinese policy in Tibet."
The article states that "His research on Tibetan history has been carried out from the point of view of the whole of Chinese history." Professor Grunfeld replies that "I strongly reject and resent" that sentence. "I believe this was meant to convey the notion that I was more amenable to the Chinese position on Tibet. My training has been to be aware of my prejudices and compensate for them. The only point of view I write history from is my own and I take full responsibility for my views."
I have never met Professor Grunfeld nor, until this matter, have we ever communicated, but he is clearly a man interested in the truth and in protecting his reputation. These are respectable goals and if anything his description of the article as a "hodgepodge" is too gentle. The words "fabrication" and "lies known to all," spring to mind. They are commonly used in Beijing to describe Western comments or even questions about events in China and especially in Tibet.
If Xinhua were a responsible news organisation, it would have checked with Professor Grunfeld before publishing its article which after all is about him. It should now publish a "correction." Agencies like Reuters do just that. If I were Professor Grunfeld I would consider bringing a libel suit against Xinhua in a Hong Kong court, where he would receive a fair hearing.
Academics rarely do this; they usually write to the source of the falsehood and expect publication. That would be useless in the case of Xinhua.
All that remains is shame. For Xinhua. Everyone knows what it's like. But like the cigarette companies it continues to spread its poison. If you must read it, do so sparingly and immediately seek out a powerful antidote of the truth.