The Last Amazon was bored this afternoon so we took a walk to Yonge & Dundas Street – mostly just to window shop. I had no idea that I would end up in the middle of a protest rally for in support of the Chinese Government. Talk about surreal experience to see Dundas Square awash in huge red flags of the People’s Republic of China which is why I sent the Last Amazon home to get her camera, and then, I sent her on her way. I took this second photo from the streetcar because I was trying to show just how large and packed this rally was. I am camera challenged at the best of times but being 5’1” was a real disadvantage trying to get these shots.
I wandered through the crowd across from the street from Dundas Square where the main rally was taking place. I have been to a few protests in my day, but never have I seen such an abundance of cellphones, blackberries, video and regular cameras all flashing away taking pictures. If there were any agents of the Chinese government working the crowd and taking pictures - who could honestly tell? The picture below is of a couple of fellows who were handing out a 2 page, double sided high gloss colour photos with images of CNN pictures accusing the network and the western media of unfair coverage of the Tibetan riots. I asked if I could take their picture for my blog and they kindly posed. I am not sure they entirely understood what I was asking because when I asked for their names it seemed to strain the limits of their English – or maybe the fault was mine. What struck me the most about the rally was that someone or someones had gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to supply the huge Chinese flags that were flying literally everywhere and pick up the cost of the double sided high glossy colour hand-outs which were being liberally handed out.
Small hand-held Canadian flags were being handed out in the crowd as well and I did manage to scope one up. But to say the rally was strictly confined to Dundas Square is a bit of a misnomer. The men pictured below climbed a huge snow pile to stand and wave the People’s Republic of China’s flag in front of the Eaton’s Centre across the street. I tried to make my way to the Free Tibet counter-protesters who were directly positioned across from Dundas Square. They numbered looked about 20 (when I was there) and the crowd was decidedly hostile surrounding them. I walked back to Dundas Square and struck up a conversation with a young man who was handing out flyers. I asked him what organization he represented. He told me he was merely a private Chinese national who heard about the rally and came out to show his support for the Chinese government. Then asked how it came to be he managed to get a job handing out flyers. His impeccable English suddenly vanished so I tried another track and asked him questions about himself. He was much more forthcoming and I learned he was finishing a graduate program in chemistry and was sponsored by the Chinese government. He would be returning home at the end of April.
I asked how he heard about the rally and his answers again became vague and evasive but he felt it necessary to emphasis to me how unfairly China was being represented in the Western media. I did suggest that perhaps the fault lay with the Chinese government’s somewhat heavy handed approach towards the foreign media when the riots first broke out. This seemed to unduly agitate my flyer guy and another flyer handler rushed to join in our discussion.
I took the opportunity to ask her how she heard about the rally and if she represented any specific organization. She seemed eager to point out that she didn’t represent any organization other than being a member of Chinese ethnicity and the rally was heavily promoted in the Chinese internet user forums which is how she first heard about the rally.
She came out to show her support for one united China. She proceeded to lecture me on all the various ethnicities that were united under the government of the People’s Republic of China. I bit my tongue and didn't ask where the Taiwanese contingent was located at the rally but I was spared the full monty of her lecture because a group of young Chinese Canadian high school students decided to crash my little discussion circle. They were really cute and I wish I could have posted a picture of them but the group of them were decidedly internet shy. They first heard about the rally from receiving text message from various Chinese internet forum groups telling them the details of the rally and asking them to come out to support One United China. Besides they were bored and had nothing better to do. G-d bless teenagers.
By this time, my little discussion circle was getting quite large and I had a good size crowd of eavesdroppers when two other young people decided to crash by challenging me if I knew why Tibetans were rioting. That set the flyer people’s backs up and it was a bit of a tit-for-tat going on. The sentiment for the One Love crowd seemed to be that the Tibetan population should be profoundly grateful for the high standard of living the People’s Republic had provided for them.
This really set off the newest discussion members and I decided it was time to do a little dousing of the passions and suggested to the One Love people that perhaps the indigenous population (note to self - people become decidedly hostile once you start bandying phrases like “indigenous”) of Tibet wanted something more than an improved economic situation and perhaps there were real grievances behind the rioting. I used Cuba’s literacy rate to illustrate my point. While it is truly a marvelous thing for Cuba to have 100% literacy rates, ultimately, what good is it for an individual if you do not have the freedom to read or write anything you want? The pro-Tibetan crowd got my point and seemed grateful I got their point - while the One Love crowd seemed merely startled by the idea money cannot buy you everything. Although, I seemed to have made something of an impression on the teenagers and gave them something else to think about….did I already say G-d bless Canadian teenagers?
My little counter-culture group was next crashed by a woman, who I guess represented the ‘ultimate party pooper of all time’ fraction – a real live reporter from the Sing Tao Daily News. I actually feel bad for her because everyone (but me) got rude in a hurry. Apparently, my pro-Tibetans gave speeches at a press conference earlier in the day and the reporter wanted to do some follow-up in the street. Talk about a real crowd killer for all sides of the political divide.
CTV has a few lines of column on the rally online, but just like me, CTV cannot tell you who actually sponsored today’s rally or paid the bill for the flyers and flags. It’s too bad because I think it’s really important to know not only ‘who’ but ‘why’.
Update: I found an article at the The Epoch Times on the rally held today.