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As Hong Kong Demonstrations Continue, China Is Controlling What The Mainland Hears


If you were in Hong Kong and reading the headlines about the protests there, you might see this one - "Young, Educated And Furious: A Survey Of Hong Kong's Protesters."


But if you're reading in mainland China, you might see this headline - "Violent Thugs Bully Mainland Travelers Whose Identities Are Unknown. Expert Says This Is Terrorism."

KELLY: Two parallel narratives unfolding there - one generated from reports on the ground in Hong Kong, another crafted in Chinese state media.

CHANG: Xiao Qiang is the editor-in-chief of the China Digital Times, a California-based publication that monitors media and censorship inside China. I asked him about the word terrorism in the Chinese headline to describe these protests in Hong Kong and if that language could help Beijing justify military action in Hong Kong later.

XIAO QIANG: That could be one direction to interpret. But it's also - could be interpreted as that - the Hong Kong judicial system will be much harsher on those protesters by invoking some law under the terrorism protection.

CHANG: Oh, you think when charges are brought - if there are any brought in the wake of these protests - that some of them may include terrorism charges because the Chinese state media has already laid the groundwork for that.

QIANG: That's right. That could be another way for the authority to indicate that the crackdown will be harsher on the protesters but maybe using those kind of charge under the Hong Kong law.

CHANG: I'm curious - when you look at the incendiary language being used now by the Chinese government, are there any disturbing parallels that you see between that language and the language you saw the government use back in 1989 in the lead-up to Tiananmen Square?

QIANG: Well, there's a lot of parallel because it keep on using the word violence, violent and using a word (foreign language spoken) - chaos or turmoil.

CHANG: (Foreign language spoken).

QIANG: Right. And that's the two words back to 1989 - the official media started using it leading to the actual military crackdown. But also, I want to say that there are two parallel narratives that - what's being reported in Hong Kong and the rest of the world and what's being reported inside of China.

But inside of China, at the beginning of the Hong Kong peaceful protests, there was no reports whatsoever until the protests turned into some violent incidents. And that was a sudden turn that the mainland social media and official propaganda start to put out the so-called reports about describing Hong Kong's demonstrators - how violent they are, hooligans and they also being incited by specifically American government or British government.

CHANG: American and British government being involved is the accusation.

QIANG: Being involved - that they are being - yeah, they are the so-called - the meddling force behind all of this. And when those things are being described inside of China, it's hardly ever mentioned why - what do the protests really want? What exactly their demands?

CHANG: Right. The focus is on the alleged violence, not on the desires being vocalized by the protesters.

QIANG: Not at all. If you read those Chinese stories, the people inside of China still has no idea why those protests - is protesting, what exactly they want - other than, seems like they're all violent attackers incited by American government.

CHANG: How does all this media manipulation play into China's broader strategy towards Hong Kong, you think?

QIANG: Well, the - control and manipulate the online public opinion is definitely a - one pillow of the Chinese Communist Party. Control the entire China and make the people appear to supporting their policy.

CHANG: Right.

QIANG: And that's not only including Hong Kong. It could be including Taiwan, including their attitude towards the United States or rest of the world. And most importantly, it's towards the legitimacy of the government itself.

CHANG: Xiao Qiang is the editor-in-chief of the China Digital Times. It's based in Berkeley, Calif.

Thank you very much for joining us.

QIANG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.