Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Few Thoughts on the Tibetan Seminar

A Few Thoughts on the Tibetan Seminar (March 24,DC)
I attended a Tibetan seminar with 3 distinguished Tibetan scholars from China, two of whom are ethnic Tibetan (one is a Communication Professor at the China Foreign Affairs University and the other is from the China Social Science Academy, a very prestigious academic institution in China). Although this Tibetan discussion is not directly linked to Public Diplomacy, however, the story of Tibet and 2008 Olympics did highlight this issue, and greatly tarnished China’s international image. As you may know the “face” culture in China, the pro-Tibetan independence riots (as the Chinese government calls it) or the protests (as others prefer to call) has embarrassed the government a lot who found so hard to get their own messages out. The question of how to publicize their side of the stories to the foreign audience, as opposed to the unfavorable western –media- depicted picture which actually dominates the whole world is hotly discussed during the seminar. Cultural and ideological differences are deemed as the greatest obstacles for the Chinese to communicate with the outside world. They admit that sometimes the Chinese words are just non-translatable, and if translated to English, it will lead to misunderstanding. That is why the Chinese international broadcasting can never compete with the already internationally established BBC and CNN. One of the ethnic-Tibetan scholars brought up a few advices on how to better communicate with the foreign audience. He said telling detailed and small stories; communicate heart to heart, and a grass roots approach are often more important than government propaganda. He gave an example of how his own three sisters (ethnic Tibetan)’ music band got so popular in China, and alike such as the increasing popularity of ethnic Tibetan singers in China. Based on the observations from this seminar, I sensed the Chinese academia and governments, after their struggle of telling the Tibet and Olympics , seemed to become more aware of the deficiencies of the top-down propaganda model and is learning to develop a more bottom-up approach.

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