China Beat Archive


Date of this Version


Document Type



May 4, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright May 4, 2008 Geremie R. Barme. Used by permission.


[The following remarks were written in response to a series of questions from writers at Woroni, the paper produced by students at The Australian National University. They were drafted on April 28 and revised on May 3, 2008. I would add that I was travelling in China during the Australian leg of the Olympic Torch Relay. My thanks to Tom Swann of Woroni for inviting me to respond to his questions, and to Jeffrey Wasserstrom for suggesting that China Beat post this material.—GRB]

Q: In general, the article will be asking: why was there such a powerful expression of Chinese nationalism in the Australian national capital, Canberra? We are guided by our personal observations that much of the protesting was overtly political and often antagonistic, which we think was not fully brought out in the media coverage.

Geremie R. Barmé: Chinese demonstrators in Canberra would claim that they were giving voice to righteous patriotic (rather than the more negative “nationalistic”) sentiment in the face of deliberate distortions of the real situation in Tibetan China resulting from the “Western media” demonization of the People’s Republic of China, and the way the media had handled the March disturbances in Lhasa and elsewhere in what, for want of a better expression, I would call Tibetan China (that is the areas including the TAR, Qinghai, parts of Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan with large ethnic Tibetan populations). In the days leading up to the Canberra leg of the Olympic torch relay, Chinese organizers (both official and non-official) made the case to their fellows that Canberra is a city with a small population and that if patriotic Chinese did not turn up in numbers then protesters—“Tibet splittists” (to use the Chinese jargon), adherents of Falun Gong and a rag-bag of “anti-Chinese elements”—would make a big showing of “anti-Chinese” fervor in front of the national and international media. Only a large vocally patriotic Chinese presence could counter this.