The ad appeared recently and detailed how much the Tibetan people have benefitted from what is often seen in the west as the Chinese regime’s iron-fisted control of the region.
The ad’s grandiose language reads like a love poem.
“Should we compare the thousand-year history of Tibet to a thick and heavy book, the past 53 years would be its most colourful and magnificent chapter. Should we compare the thousand-year history of Tibet to a long and melodious song, the past 53 years would be its most culmination-filled and passionately inspiring notes.”
It was 53 years ago, in 1949, that the Chinese Communist Party sent troops to the mountainous region to take it under direct control.
The ad does not explain why 80,000 Tibetans fled the country, many walking a dangerous route to India over the Himalayas. Nor does it address alleged abuses in the region, including a million deaths that the Canada Tibet Committee says resulted from the occupation.
The ad, which includes before and after pictures detailing the region’s rise, describes an almost utopian society in Tibet today.
“Over the past 53 years, tremendous changes have taken place on this ancient plateau. Today, a most vibrant, united, democratic, prosperous, civilized and harmonious socialist New Tibet is towering on its vast expanse of land covering 1.2 million square kilometres.”
With the Dalai Lama coming to Ottawa at the end of April, there may be some explanation for the placement of the ad, which is credited to a list of Chinese organizations in Canada under the banner of the Folk Cultures Research Society of CCSA, or Canadian Community Service Association.
Searches for details of many of the organizations turned up nothing, and calls to others revealed only confusion about the ad.
Harris Niu, a director with the CCSA, said the group placed the ad because they put on folk culture events and festivals, though the ad does not mention such festivals.
Two of the groups listed in the ad are based in Toronto. A coordinator for the Canada-Yunnan United Service Association knew nothing about the ad, but said others higher in the group might.
Chang Chong Min, president of the Toronto-based Shanxi Association of Canada, also seemed unaware of the ad. Chang expressed outrage when asked about the ad and hung up.
James Wang, president of another group listed on the ad, the Northwest Benevolent Association of Canada, currently serves as a trustee for the Burnaby School District. Wang did not return repeated calls seeking comment.
Cathy Li Ju, a board member for Epicdata in Vancouver, is vice-chairman for the Northeast China Association of Canada, another group listed on the ad. She is also the executive secretary for the CCSA. She also did not return a call for comment.
Reaction in Tibet Community
The ad has outraged members of the Tibetan community in Canada and activists concerned with human rights in Tibet.
Dermon Travis, the executive director of the Canada Tibet Committee, noted the disparity between how a free press was used in Canada and China’s media control.
“It’s ironic that falsehoods about Tibet can be propagated in Canada through ads such as this, but that the truth about Tibet can’t be told in China through ads or articles,” he wrote in an emailed response.
Urgyen Badheytsang, national director of Students for a Free Tibet Canada, found the ad disturbing.
“It’s atrocious how the Chinese government has been able to buy a supposed ‘ad’ in the Vancouver Sun, solely for the purpose of spreading their propaganda on Tibet at this time of crackdown and ongoing repression in Tibet,” he said.
“This says a lot not only about the Chinese government’s attempt to cover up their military lockdown and ongoing mass protests in Tibet, but also about the people who work at the Vancouver Sun, to allow such a blatant propaganda piece to run during a time of turmoil and upheaval in Tibet.”
Cheuk Kwan, chair of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China, suspects that the groups involved in placing the ad were working on behalf of the Chinese regime.
He said the regime’s “fingerprints” were all over the ad, starting with its general message, which contradicts all known facts about the situation in Tibet while advocating the regime’s line on the situation in the region.
“You can just copy it out of the Chinese propaganda machine,” he said, noting similar fabrications are published about Falun Gong, a meditation practice that was outlawed by the regime in 1999 and its adherents persecuted.
Kwan said even the grandiose and over-the-top language in the ad echoed Chinese propaganda organs like the China Daily and Xinhua News Agency.
Niu of the CCSA said the ad reflects developments in Tibet and that human rights are not the sole consideration there, though the ad suggests economic development has accompanied increased freedoms.