The 2008 “Pro-China” Demonstrations over Tibet and China’s Public Diplomacy

After the March 14, 2008 Lhasa riot and for many weeks to come, while protests grew and then subsided in China’s Tibetan areas and while Tibetan exiles and their Western supporters sought to disrupt the Olympic torch relay, ethnic Chinese in North America and Europe mobilized. They staged protests against what they perceived to be an attack on China’s territorial integrity through Western government and media distortions of the situation in Tibet.

Demonstrations of 500 to 15,000 ethnic Chinese people occurred in many cities including Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, San Francisco and Los Angeles in North America, and London, Paris, Munich, and Stockholm in Europe. Smaller protests took place in many other cities of the two continents and a demonstration of some 5,000 Chinese was held in Australia. These outpourings were the most significant political mobilizations of Chinese overseas since 1989. They were also protests of a very different character than those two decades ago, when the demonstrations following the Tiananmen suppression were sharply critical of the Chinese government.

This on-going research project examines the public diplomacy implications of the Pro-China demonstrations held in major cities in North America and Western Europe between the Tibetan Riot of March 14 2008, and the Sichuan Earthquake of May 12, 2008.

The investigators will be conducting ethnographic interviews and fieldwork with a diverse range of individuals and groups in the diasporic Chinese communities in North America and Europe. They will also collect a considerable amount of artifacts used for mobilization purposes by the activists during the period. Media discourses on the demonstrations will be analyzed.

Li Ying is Assistant Professor of Communication at the University of Macau and Barry Sautman is Associate Professor of Social Science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology