Promoting healthy relations between China and Tibet was the last thing Italian inspired fashion company, United Colors of Benetton’s latest ad campaign aimed at achieving Aug. 8. The controversial ad depicts a Tibetan monk and Chinese soldier facing each other praying under the headline “Victims.”
Choosing to release the ad on the opening day of the Beijing 2008 Olympic games only helped in spurring its effect. Tibet and China have been at odds for well over half a century. The May earthquake in the Chinese province of Sichuan welcomed open media coverage, whereas the recent protests in Tibet and Tibetan-populated areas of the surrounding provinces were all but shunned, making media coverage completely inaccessible only stoking the already growing fire behind human rights in that region.
Benetton did not run this particular ad by pure chance. Established in 1965 and present in 120 countries around the world, with a strong Italian influence, “the company has a long history of attention to ethical values and involvement in social and cultural issues,” as stated on the company’s website.
Perhaps the easiest way to address this issue would be to allow Communist China what the United States would deem as its “freedom of the press” listed under the first Ten Amendments of the Constitution. Of course this would be quite a far cry to achieve resolution in that country, if not completely absurd. We seem to take for granted in this country what our media are and aren’t allowed to do. It’s just a photo, simple art on the photographer’s behalf.
When reading “victims” displayed across the background of the image in a somewhat spray-painted black scrawl one feels the indication of the two conflicting issues in the photograph. China feels it has done, and is continuing to do everything in Tibet’s best interest. The Chinese soldier feels he has granted security and peace to the region, therefore his prayer is justified. Tibet’s prosperous future is profoundly integrated into his prayer.
On the other hand, the Tibetan monk sympathizes with the recent Sichuan earthquake. In Tibet the position of governmental leader and highest priest is appointed to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It should not be all too surprising that the underlying philosophy of Buddhism is compassion. Regardless of the prejudices that both sides have on the issue, the Tibetan monk chooses to overlook them and remain sympathetic towards the Chinese soldier.
When considering the specific day the ad was released, opening day of the Olympics, the viewer more fully questions the headline. Are both men victims? Can China, taken as a whole, and Tibet specifically, be suffering deeply from some ethically and spiritually embedded seed?
Tibet is trapped between its national government and provincial heritage. Although the country is collectively communist, there are basic rights that are humanly universal. It appears that Benetton understands these rights and seeks to promote them in a healthy and effective manner through their ad campaigns.
Perhaps all China needs to do is allow Tibet the independence and space it feels has been slowly decreasing in recent decades. It seems unfair that currently China is promoting peace and equality on the international scale by hosting the Olympics, yet is unable to focus those same ethics and direct them towards its own government.
The world needs more assertive media outlets such as Benetton, then maybe the painstaking truth would leave a page in a magazine or on a T-shirt and lead to some real and plausible change in the world.