April 17, 2008

The Aung Sung Suu Kyi Narrative


I saw several versions of the video above floating around the web. It's a video of Tibet protesters and counter-protesters at Duke University. The centerpiece of the debate is a woman from China named Grace Wang, who according to the NY Times, "tried to get the two sides to talk" and acted as a "would-be referee."

Now I don't know all that much about Tibet, but I know a whole lot about bias, and there is clearly quite a bit of it going on in America's treatment of Tibet these days. Check out the video above, for example. Notice how the videographer seems to zoom in on the faces of only two types of protester--protesters who are white guys and protesters named Grace Wang. We only get to see the backs of the heads of the pro-China people. They all have black hair. We only get to hear the voices of the pro-Tibetan independence people. We don't get to hear the other side.

Again, I don't know much about Tibet, but even in the NY Times article, the bias is evident. Notice how they clearly try to portray Ms. Wang as a neutral party ("would be referee"), and yet they report about how she writes "Free Tibet" in Chinese on the back of a (presumably white) guy named Adam Weiss. That sure doesn't sound neutral to me. (Haha...although it would probably make a great Kingstonian manipulated story of a White Warrior Yue Fei going into battle with the Asian woman writing words of love on his back. Wow, just in time for the new Jackie Chan/Jet Li movie. Someone call David Henry Hwang and Bai Ling!) In the video, she also doesn't appear to be trying to create peace and negotiations; she just seems to be shouting at the pro-China protesters.

If it's true that people are harassing her, of course that is wrong. However, the news media can't expect sympathy when its reporting is so biased.

The problem with this story is that conveniently falls into the Aung Sung Suu Kyi narrative. Miss Wang is only 20, and one would not expect her to yet possess the political skills necessary to create change or to get people to talk about issues, nor would one expect her to have sufficient knowledge of the Tibet situation. But because she's a young, skinny Asian woman--and her skinniness is significant as noted in the Times article--she takes the role of the suffering Asian damsel in distress who needs to stand up against the masses of her faceless countrymen with whom she must do battle. She becomes the heroine because she's a commodity--a young Asian woman whom the media celebrates not because of her ideas--since they don't report her ideas--but because she's a young, skinny Asian woman who is standing apart from the rest of her orientalized countrymen and countrywomen.

My heart goes out to all these people involved with Tibet. It's undoubtedly a difficult situation. However, it makes things a lot more difficult when the media decides to color stories according to the old orientalist paradigm.

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