One (Very Tiny) Reason to be Thankful for China’s Censorship

Posted: June 6, 2012 in media
Tags: , , , , ,

For those expats in China distressed by the recent anti-foreign atmosphere online and in the media, you now something to be thankful for: You don’t live in South Korea.

Recently Korea’s MBC ran a program called “The Shocking Reality About Relationships With Foreigners” (Link has the full 5-minute segment with subtitles). The piece presents itself as an exposé on how foreign expats easily seduce Korean women, only to taint, abuse, rob them and leave them with AIDS. It completely forgoes any sense of journalistic integrity by using hidden cameras and adding wholly unsubstantiated commentary. At one point, a Korean girl is cold-called by the producer and asked if she was “a victim of a foreigner.” When the girl replies that she doesn’t know what the producer is talking about, the narrator jumps in to say, “Most victims avoid telling the truth.”

For all the times the Chinese media has hyped the non-newsworthy transgressions of foreigners in China, I’ve never heard of any newscast being this despicably ignorant and unprofessional. As much as it pains me to say it, we probably have China’s censorship apparatus to thank for that.

The Chinese government (and ergo the state media) needs a healthy dose of nationalism, but the key is moderation. In 2010, when anti-Japanese sentiment flared up over a Chinese fisherman being detained in disputed waters, I saw a first-hand manifestation of how the government tries to channel nationalism. At the Japanese embassy in Beijing, protestors were allowed to congregate – but only at a distance from the entrance. Periodically, police would let a handful of the most vocal protestors go right up to the gate and media were allowed to film it. But when the crowd gained a certain mass, it was broken up and told to leave – only to re-form again slowly with tacit police approval.

This push and pull-back of nationalism has become the rule after some past debacles. Some 2005 anti-Japanese demonstrations were gleefully allowed by the government…until they turned violent and Japanese businesses (many of which were Chinese owned) were destroyed. Back further in 1988, anti-Africans protests  broke out in Nanjing, which unexpectedly shifted to calls for the Chinese government to reform. The incident was one of the preludes to the Tiananmen uprising. Today, nationalism is still crucial and encouraged, but only to the point that it doesn’t affect stability and support for the authoritarian government.

Korea and China have similar histories of being subjugated by foreigners, and Korean leaders have likewise relied on nationalism in the past to achieve political goals. The difference now is that Korea has some lingering xenophobia combined with a free media wholly dependent on ratings for revenue. The result is this highly sensational and populist program targeting foreigners. If China’s (state subsidized) media wasn’t on its current leash, we’d probably see much more of the same here.

This is far far FAR from an endorsement of China’s media restrictions. The harm is much more compelling than any redeeming factors. But for this very narrow issue, expats can probably begrudgingly thank China’s censors.

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Comments
  1. […] Read: Foreigners in China: Weibo vs. Reality, One (Very Tiny) Reason to be Thankful for China’s Censorship, and Foxconn: A Very Quiet […]

  2. One the whole, censorship increases the isolation of Chinese people from world culture. An obvious example is the blocking of Facebook. Without uncensored interaction with “the other”, xenophobia flourishes.

    • Jess says:

      Ah, If only more Mexicans used facebook, then there would be no Texans with shotguns patrolling the US border.

    • China is far more xenophobic than the US. Millions have legally immigrated in the US in recent years. China does allow any foreign immigration and as far as I know, it is simply impossible for a foreign national to become a PRC citizen.

  3. Five-mao brigand says:

    The author’s argument would be more compelling if providing evidence that foreign male expats in South Korea have been negatively impacted by occasional sensationalist media hyping of the alleged trend of their seduction of local Korean women. Even if such evidence could be found, I doubt it could compare even remotely with the tangible harm suffered by Japanese nationals and Japan-affiliated businesses in the PRC due in large part to the huge dollops of Japan bashing in China’s state-run media.

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