That tricky old language barrier (China, Tibet, and France)

By James Fallows

As I so often say, my favorite newspaper is the (state-controlled) China Daily. It's possible that the French ambassador in Beijing, Herve Ladsous, now has a different view.

Ladsous was the star of yesterday's newspaper, thanks to his observation in a China Daily interview that Tibet had been a "slave society" before the arrival of Mao's liberators 60 years ago. Below, the lead story on the front page, and the lead paragraphs in that story:

The front page:
http://i142.photobucket.com/albums/r96/jfallows/IMG_6606B.jpg

The story:
http://i142.photobucket.com/albums/r96/jfallows/IMG_6605B.jpg

The man himself, as shown in the China Daily:
Ladsous2.jpg

Such observations would be heartily welcomed by officials and many citizens in China. That Tibetans lived as slaves under the lamas is one of the Three Unappreciated Truths about Tibet, as propounded by the Chinese government and endorsed by most of the public. The other two: that Tibet has since ancient times been an acknowledged and inseparable part of China; and that the Dalai Lama, despite having gulled naive foreigners into thinking him a "spiritual" figure, is actually a cunning "splittist" bent on breaking up the Chinese state.

Was this simply...what is the mot juste? Oh, yes, kow-towing by the government of France, in awareness of how many fences it has to mend in China? The complaints on the Chinese side are numerous but mainly seem to involve Tibet (eg, protests in Paris against the Olympic torch relay, mainly about Tibet; Sarkozy's initial claim that he would boycott the Olympics, and his recent meeting with the "splittist" leader). Carrefour, Airbus, and other big French names have felt the heat of Chinese popular ill will.

So perhaps the French representative had gotten the signal to truckle make nice? I wondered when I saw the story -- and also saw no related item at the sites of Le Monde or Figaro, nor at Agence France-Presse. But it appears -- zut! -- that it was all a misunderstanding, accidental or otherwise. Just now, France-Info has posted an item in which the Ambassador says that the story "did not reflect the tone of the interview" and that "this was not the first time that China Daily" has misrepresented a discussion. I will try to deal with the disillusionment.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2009/04/that-tricky-old-language-barrier-china-tibet-and-france/9873/