When we first learned that China’s new ambassador to Canada, Lan Lijun, was going to speak in Montréal now – as Tibetans inside of Tibet continue to be brutalised by the Chinese government for resisting its occupation of their homeland – we knew we had to speak out at this event, and we needed to do so loudly. So, we aimed to make an impact at this crucial time.
In first researching the ambassador, it became clear to us that ambassador Lan – newly appointed in the wake of the March 2008 uprising inside of Tibet – has been sent to Canada to attempt to solve China’s “image problem” amongst Canadians. His talk in Montreal is a part of a larger PR offensive which has seen him traveling all over the country to attempt to shore up China’s image, relying on the falsity of attempting to use the prospect of lucrative business contracts to obscure and diminish public criticism of his government’s heavy handedness inside of Tibet.
As members of Montreal’s Tibetan community and their allies protested outside the venue, we entered by a side door.
After a series of salutary introductions – stressing to the business audience the role that China’s government can play in the global bailout – we rose and called the ambassador out on his lies in front of several hundred rather unsuspecting audience members, and were quickly yanked out by the hotel’s security.
Outside, some journalists from inside quickly contacted us for our story, and were impressed by the reaction which we solicited from the audience. Particularly memorable, one remarked that following our interruption
of the ambassador’s remarks and our ejection from his talk, he attempted to get back into the flow of his prepared remarks by attempting to crack, what appeared to be, a sick joke. Yet when he opined that, “I have no idea what she was talking about,” an awkward silence ensued from the shocked audience members. No one laughed at the ambassador, and instead a sense of disbelief and shock at his insensitivity rose from the audience members.
Later on, a few even came out to see us protesting outside and to thank us for speaking out in solidarity with Tibetans inside of Tibet. An afternoon well spent.
Media coverage of the protest: Le Respect de la Difference
Chris Schwartz and Arianne Gravel