It’s not every day in the Gazette-Times newsroom that the phone calls and emails include messages from news outlets in other countries.
But such has been the reaction to our coverage of Corvallis’ own international incident: That painted mural on a downtown Corvallis building deploring China’s treatment of Tibet, and the shockingly clumsy response it drew from the Chinese government.
By now, you know the outlines of the story: Corvallis businessman David Lin, in the midst of renovating a building he owns at Fourth Street and Jefferson Avenue, renamed it Tibet House and commissioned an artist from Taiwan, Chao Tsung-song, to paint a 10-by-100-foot mural on its south side.
The brightly colored mural shows a variety of scenes, but some of the images depict violent repression of Tibetan protesters by Chinese riot police and defiant images of Taiwanese freedom.
The mural caught the attention of G-T reporter Bennett Hall. I remember the sunny morning earlier this summer when Hall and I, en route to an unrelated meeting, stopped by the Tibet House. Hall wanted to set up an appointment with Lin and Chao to talk about the project.
Hall thought the mural merited a story. To be truthful, I was dubious at first – but as I looked up at the mural on that morning, I thought that, as usual, he was right: Corvallis readers would want to know the story behind the mural. After all, it’s not every downtown street corner that features images of Buddhist monks setting themselves ablaze to protest Chinese foreign policy.
Hall’s first story appeared in early August, in the middle of a sleepy Corvallis summer. And that likely would have been the last you heard about this, if the mural hadn’t gotten underneath the skin of the Chinese government, which dispatched a couple of diplomats to Corvallis to see what they could do to get it removed.
As you might have gathered by now, this was not among the most successful of China’s diplomatic missions. The diplomats got a polite but forceful lecture about the First Amendment from Corvallis Mayor Julie Manning and City Manager Jim Patterson, who also spurned the ham-fisted Chinese suggestion that it might be worth it economically for Corvallis to play along, if you know what we mean, nudge nudge wink wink.
Hall got wind of that and wrote that story as well. The Internet makes it possible for any story to find a worldwide audience, and this story went global in a hurry: The followup story appeared last Saturday in the G-T, and it was the most-read story on our website all last week, even beating out our coverage of Beavers football, which is saying something.
My hunch is that the story likely will start to fade now, at least in terms of grabbing worldwide attention. But I was wrong back on that morning a couple of months ago when I first saw the mural.
It wouldn’t be a complete shock to find that this tale still has some unexpected twists. (MM)