Beijing Bureau Chief Melinda Liu reports that in recent weeks China has been acting less like a budding superpower than a tin-pot dictatorship-petulant, preachy, defiant. Global audiences have seen images of truncheon-wielding riot police, sent to Lhasa and other Tibetan areas to quell anti-Beijing protests that began on March 10. When Beijing was awarded the Olympic Games back in 2001, the hope was that their staging would push China to open up. But precisely because Beijing is grimly determined to hold a picture-perfect Olympics, the government has declared war on any who pose a problem.
It didn't take long after the outbreak of violent protests in Tibet two weeks ago before China's well-oiled propaganda machine roared into overdrive. Within days, the Web site of the state-run Xinhua news agency was offering neatly packaged facts and figures on the turmoil, while CCTV released a video of what it called "the March 14 beating, smashing, looting and burning incident." Domestic media painted a graphic picture of the Lhasa bloodshed—the blood shed by ethnic Chinese, that is. According to reports, rioters had killed an 8-month-old baby and severely beaten a woman before slicing off her ear. They'd attacked policemen and set fire to a clothing shop, fatally trapping five salesgirls inside. Chinese TV showed lingering shots of shopkeepers grieving for their dead co-workers. "We can't go to work normally," said one Chinese woman on CCTV. "This is destroying our prosperity."