China to U.S. Cities: Hoist the Tibetan Flag, Lose N.B.A. Broadcast Rights in China

American mayors, human rights activists, and N.B.A. fans take note: A recent decision by the Portland City Council to declare March 10 “Tibet Awareness Day” is making big waves in China, and may result in a boycott of Portland Trail Blazers broadcasts in the Middle Kingdom’s immense market.

The message is delivered in the form of the following short news item from China’s Huanqiu Shibao (Global Times), published today in Beijing.

Huanqiu Shibao, “American City of Portland Establishes ‘Tibet Awareness Day’; China May Stop Broadcasts of Its NBA Games,” [美波特兰为“藏独”设纪念日 中国或禁播其NBA球队比赛], March 12, 2010 [translation by Adam Cathcart]:

环球网消息,美国波特兰市日前不顾中国方面的强烈反对,将3月10日设立为所谓的“西藏自觉日”(Tibet Awareness Day)。12日,网友“阅思”在环球网报料台发帖称,因为这个原因,中国将全面停止转播波特兰开拓者队的所有比赛。 “环球网消息,美国波特兰市日前不顾中国方面的强烈反对,将3月10日设立为所谓的“西藏自觉日”(Tibet Awareness Day)。12日,网友“阅思”在环球网报料台发帖称,因为这个原因,中国将全面停止转播波特兰开拓者队的所有比赛。 市政委员莱昂纳多力挺亚当斯,并对外宣称这一切都是自己的功劳,“在同中国打交道时,就是不能放弃言论和宗教自由的原则”。中国驻旧金山总领馆派出7人代 表团前去交涉,要求撤销错误决定时,却遭到了拒绝。网友“阅思”爆料说,由于波特兰市的这个举动,根据CCTV解说员杨毅等在微博发布的消息源,中国大陆可能会因为此次事件将停止所有波特兰开拓者队的比赛 转播,包括季后赛在内。网友爆料称,杨毅在微博说,虽然“藏独”纪念日和开拓者没关系,“但从此之后,中国大陆地区再也没有开拓者的转播了。这没辙,谁让 你们政府胡来?CCTV主持人于嘉也在微博说,“波特兰市政厅举办’藏独纪念日’的活动!导致的结果是:这支城市仅有的NBA球队,尽管这活动和他们毫无 关系,尽管这活动不在波特兰玫瑰花园球馆举行。但是在中国,你再也不会看到有关他们的比赛。

Despite strong opposition from the Chinese side, the U.S. city of Portland decided to establish the so-called “Tibet Awareness Day” on March 10. In a post on the Huanqiu Shibao’s webpage on March 12, Netizen “Thoughtful Reader” stated that for this reason, China will institute a full cessation of all games played by the Portland Trail Blazers.

As the “Oregon Live” website reported on March 8th, last week Portland Mayor Sam Adams announced that March 10 would be established as “Tibet Awareness Day,” stating that this action would echo the “increasingly loud international voice demanding independence of Tibet from China.” City Council member [Randy] Leonard backed Adams but claimed the external credit for himself, stating that “in dealing with China we cannot abandon our principles of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.” The Chinese Consulate General in San Francisco sent a seven-member delegation to request that Portland withdraw its wrong decision, but they were rejected.

“Thoughtful Reader,” the Netizen who broke the story, said: Because Portland made this move and caused this incident, according to sources cited by CCTV commentator Yang Yi [杨毅]on his and other micro-blogs, China may as a result stop all broadcast of games by the Portland Trail Blazers, including the playoffs. In the Netizen’s newsbreak, it stated that Yang Yi said on his microblog that:

“Of course the ‘Tibet Independence Day’ has no connection to the Trail Blazers, but after this incident, there will also be no broadcast of Trail Blazers games on the soil of the Chinese mainland. This being an unsolvable problem, one has to ask [the city of Portland]: ‘Who let your government mess things up?’ “

Another microblog hosted by CCTV commentator Yu Jia said: “Portland City Hall organizes ‘Tibet Independence Day’ activities! The result is: although this city’s NBA team has no relationship to this activity, although the [pro-Tibet] event was not in held in Portland’s Rose Garden Arena, in China, you’ll never see their games. ”

Translator’s Analysis: Yang Yi, the CCTV commentator, has a microblog here on, but in no way did he appear encourage a boycott of Trail Blazers games by CCTV. (It is possible that he did so in the comments section of his micro-post of March 11 [comments which cannot be accessed without a blog, which I have but which is being finnicky today]). So I’ll simply quote his original micr0-blog that started it all, here:

关于这件事儿,给大家一波特兰当地报纸的链接看看吧。 我的立场是,不煽动,也不容忍。 [Which basically means, “Hey, check out this newspaper in Portland; my stance is ‘don’t provoke, but also don’t tolerate.’ As a result, the Willamette Weekly has a few Netizen comments in English which you can read at the link above.]

This little post then apparently started an avalanche. We now have the above story in the Global Times (meaning the threats are basically validated and being entertained by the Central Government), the associated rabble on the story’s comments page, as well as this extensive roundup of subsequent news stories (in Chinese) and this consideration on the HoopChina site (in Chinese) of extending the alleged boycott to Nike products.

No one seems to be paying attention in Portland, but this whole thing already appears to be blowing up, big time.

Portland TrailBlazers dancers with Chinese fans during a cross-straits and so totally hexie tour of the PRC (and Taiwan) in August 2009
Yi Jianlian dunksagainst the Portland Trail Blazers in some Pudong-style stadium in New Jersey, Feb. 23, 2010

Further Reading:

Huanqiu’s March 12 beat-down of Paris Mayor Bernhard Delanoe for flying the Tibetan flag over Paris’ Hotel de Ville in spite of opposition from the French national government (Quai d’Orsay and Elysee); Netizen BBS comments on the story here [click only if emergency doses of anti-French sentiments are needed]

A Feb 20 2010 story on Li Ning’s new store in Portland, its first in the United States and hope to God it does not become the target of reprisal demonstrations of latent American economic nationalism by Sarah Palin’s minions, Mitt Romney clones, or Oregon’s teeming hordes of organic farmers led by the new American incarnation of Jose Bove.

Adam Cathcart, “Portland, Tibet, and ‘Meddling in Internal Affairs,” Sinologistical Violoncellist blog [h/t], March 10, 2010.


  1. Adam,

    This is getting really stupid, Huanqiu Shibao has officially become a tabloid. I checked all three Chinese online protals, sina, sohu and netease and none of them have mentioned it. To me it looks like that Huanqiu Shibao deliberately blew Yang Yi’s comment out of proportion to create the facade that this is going to be a sure thing (that the CCAV will stop broadcasting Portland Trailblazers games). We will see. My hunch is that it will not happen. The money-crazed CCAV (yeah, you heard me right, it is known as CCAV among the better-informed folks) will not stop broadcasting those games for fear of losing ad revenue. We will see.

  2. I wonder if David Stern will be commenting on this at all?

    I don’t think this idea can honestly be very popular in China. Supposing that Portland keeps the eighth seed in the west, and that appears likely, it would be a big gamble for CCTV to decide not to air any of the Lakers-Trail Blazers series during the first round of the playoffs (or maybe Dallas will be the number one seed?). I can imagine plenty of aggravated young NBA fans in China if that were the case. (It’s too bad that the regular season series between the Rockets and Portland is already over. We can imagine that there wouldn’t be much enthusiasm behind this idea if there was still a game left between them!) Then again, Chinese NBA fans are pretty resourceful and tune into most broadcasts online when they are not aired on national television.

    1. Thanks, Chuck. I haven’t been up on the Western brackets at all, so that’s good to know, too. I would imagine LeBron James, although he did come out in support of Barack Obama, will be keeping his Michael Jordan hat on, so to speak, in future travel to China and stay out of politics completely.

  3. Thanks for following this story. Please forgive the following few disorganized thoughts.

    First, I commend Portland for taking what it considers to be the moral high road here, although I think Mayor Sam Adams was probably playing to his constituents and never gave the longer-term consequences much thought. This is the kind of stance that, before Google, no entity that sought access to China’s market ever dared doing. China is Oregon’s 2nd largest trading partner, so the stakes aren’t low.

    Second, I wouldn’t underestimate China’s memory for “face-losing” events such as this. By that I mean the government, business, and citizenry who all have their feelings hurt by foreign oppression, including the French tackling Olympic torch bearers, Duke students trying to act as reasonable intermediaries, etc. The degree of the reaction is variable, but will always be sanctioned by the government, fueled by the media, and carried out online and in the streets by the laobaixing in calls for boycotts, etc. Happens all the time.

    Ultimately, if we’re making predictions, I’d say the Chinese will have to evaluate how big this story is and see what traction it gets among readers online. If there appears to be resentment, people will be allowed to vent frustrations through calls for boycotts and the like and the whole thing will likely blow over within a few months. After all, coverage has been minimal – this isn’t a front page slap in the face on the scale of the examples I mention above. If Huanqiu can control the coverage and present Oregon as the villain, its decisions opposed by even its own citizens, I think they’ll be happy to let the whole thing go away. Of course, I wouldn’t try to schedule any Oregon delegations to Beijing anytime soon. They’ll all be “bu fangbian” – inconvenient.

    What does Earl Blumenauer have to say about all this? He’s a regular in China.

    Finally, can we enjoy the irony of a face-off between the PRC and the People’s Republic of Portland?

  4. I doubt a stupid channel such as CCAV-5 will continue broadcasting if they have pressure from the upper authorities. You have seen it in the recent Winter Olympics when they virtually became a Winter Olympic channel and nothing else (give our UEFA champions league back! >_<) And also with the Chinese soccer thing lately… that is also probably an order from the authorities.

    Well at least we have the local sports channel for non-exclusive events like the Premier league.

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