The open letter, written by 29 leading intellectuals, says that the unrest reflects China's failed policy towards Tibet, and calls for an open dialogue with the Dalai Lama. According to The Telegraph, the letter also suggests that it is time to allow freedom of speech and religion, to invite the media and the United Nations Human Rights Commission into the region. "The one-sided propaganda of the official Chinese media is having the effect of stirring up inter-ethnic animosity and aggravating an already tense situation," it said.
"Adopting a posture of aggressive nationalism will only invite antipathy from the international community and harm China's international image," it added.
The likely response has been fresh attacks on the Dalai Lama.
People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, said the non-violent stance of "the Dalai clique" was "an outright lie from start to end".
It added: "The Dalai Lama is scheming to take the Beijing Olympics hostage to force the Chinese government to make concessions to Tibet independence."
The Dalai Lama yesterday rejected the accusation, saying he had "always supported" the Olympics taking place in China.
The government regards the Tibet issue as among its most sensitive political issues, and even its fiercest domestic opponents normally steer clear.
Media have been ordered to use only nationally approved reports on the unrest, which closely follow the government's position - even though this has led to the government's version of events emerging slowly and without clarity.
Meanwhile, Internet postings critical of the government have been removed or blocked.
The letter's signatories included Ding Zilin, the mother of Jiang Jielian who was killed by troops during student protests in 1989, and Teng Biao, a lawyer who was part of the defence team for Hu Jia, a dissident who went on trial for subversion last week.
The Olympics torch relay was also hit when a Thai environmental activist, Narisa Chakrabongse, who was to have taken part, said she was pulling out in protest.
China's army of Internet politicians has rallied round the government. Some have set up websites and posted films to expose what they see as Western media bias, drawing attention to photographs of police breaking up protests that appeared to be taken in Tibet but were, in fact, taken in Nepal.
Some unleash angry obscenities, and say that China's critics are welcome to stay away from the Olympics.