Last week I wrote an op-ed in Global Times arguing that the News of the World scandal doesn’t necessarily mean the entire concept of a free-press is bunk, as several media in China were suggesting. There was also a rebuttal to my piece by a People’s Daily editor that I thought was a great example of the format consistently used in the Chinese media for responding to foreign criticism. Regardless of the issue, here’s the basic template:
1. Turn the issue into a nice neat “Us vs. them”
In this case the issue was an open-media vs. a state-controlled one. But that’s not likely to elicit much nationalistic support. Turn it into a “China vs. the US issue,” or better yet, a “China vs. the entire West” issue. Act as if the foreigner isn’t just criticizing one kink in the system, but criticizing the entire country (and ergo all its people) while basking in his sense of national and ideological superiority. If you’re responding to criticism for detaining Ai Wei Wei, for example, say something like:
“It is abnormal to hype up Ai’s case – the West seeks to refute China’s basic political system by paralyzing its legal system.”
By making it appear as if the Chinese are banding together to fight a malicious unified enemy, most within the country will support you from the very first sentence. It’s best if you can throw in a good conspiracy theory to accentuate this. Like if Google is decrying its forced censorship, say something like:
“After the Obama administration was sworn in, some senior Google managerial staff members were successively recruited to important government posts. Such close connections between the two make it natural for Google to be devoted to serve the Obama administration’s foreign strategy.”
“In the aspect of history, many anti-China forces try to vilify China’s early 20th century revolutions. They defame Chinese revolutionaries and glorify reactionary forces. By distorting modern Chinese history, they attempt to make Chinese people rootless.
“These anti-China forces are quick to pounce on some social problems that cause widespread discontent. They exaggerate the problem and even spread rumors to confuse public opinion.”
The theme here should almost always be that, at best, the arrogant Western system wants to imperialistically force China to adapt its measures, disregarding China’s special circumstances. At worst, the secret underground conspiracy of anti-China forces are using criticism as a weapon to overthrow China’s government so they can watch the Chinese people suffer.
For this part, it’s necessary to pretend free Asian systems, especially Taiwan and Hong Kong, don’t exist. They’re culturally Chinese, yet have managed to successfully incorporate free speech, a free press and a democratic government. Don’t ever acknowledge them. Keep it China vs. West.
2. Build a strawman and knock him down
If the foreigner makes an argument that’s difficult to refute, simply pretend he made a totally different argument and chop away at that. In this case, he’s arguing that a free press is better than a state controlled one, so argue as if he said that Chinese don’t have the right to criticize others:
“People are born with the right to blame the crooked system, no matter whether the critics have any other problems themselves. Those who can’t treat critics well will gain little from their painful mistakes. Thus the Chinese media, despite its own problems, has the right to criticize the UK on this issue.”
Or, if Google is criticizing the Chinese government for censoring politically embarrassing things like Tiananmen Square, faulty construction on Sichuan school buildings or corruption of high-level leaders, just say:
“Google wants its Chinese website to include harmful pornographic, anti-China separatists and subversive information[…]”
“No country will allow information about subversion, separation, racialism and terrorism to circulate in it through the Internet.”
I mean, it’s not like there’s any Texas Independence or Ku Klux Klan sites that are openly available on America’s internet, right?! Using the straw man approach will make people forget about the real issue at hand and make the foreigner seem like an asshole for making such an offensive case…even though he didn’t actually make it.
3. Balance the scales
If a foreigner is criticizing something about China, just compare whatever he’s criticizing to some vaguely related case from his own country and act as if the two issues have the same gravity.
Our press restrictions allowed a plague to spread, stops people from knowing why their relatives died and allows corrupt criminal leaders to stay in power?! Ha, well your free press hacked some people’s phones. We all have our shortcomings!
And who are you to criticize our government for routinely beating and arresting dissidents and their families without trial, silencing people who’ve had their property stolen in corrupt land grabs, or sending people to hard labor for trying to find out why hundreds of kids died? Your country has racism and invasive scanners at airports! We both have human rights issues!
4. Focus a large chunk of attention on the person himself (or more accurately, the person’s country).
Always question the foreigner’s motives. Your readers should assume that by criticizing China, this foreigner must want to see China implode into chaos so his country can carry out its own devious agenda. Any given foreigner is accountable for all his country’s actions and vice-versa. For this, you can also assume that “The West” is a single country.
“The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday blasted the [Nobel Peace] award [to Liu Xiaobo] as showing ‘no respect for China’s judicial system,’ and said that Beijing questioned the ‘true intention’ behind the decision.”
Pack as many condescending adjectives as you can about the criticizers. “Arrogant” is a great one. It plays on stereotypes many Chinese already have of foreigners, so using it will solidify the notion.
“Every time when developing countries scold them, the West is convinced that the likes of China, plagued by its own problems for a long time, are not even qualified to criticize. The illusion of superiority leads them to their position of moral arrogance.”
5. Constantly remind them that they are a foreigner
Foreigners are inherently unable to understand anything about China. Only those born on Chinese soil and deemed politically reliable have this capacity. Foreigners can’t understand that China is a complex country. They can’t understand that there are cultural differences that necessitate Draconian policies (Again, Taiwan and Hong Kong don’t exist). And anyways, fuck you. You’re foreign and have no right to say anything about China unless it’s gleaming praise. Anything else constitutes interference with China’s internal affairs.
“We cannot expect foreigners, such as the Swedish student, to grasp the complexity of China’s realities and the difficulty of social governance here.”
“The core problem of the West is that they always urge China to become a carbon copy of their templates and standards, ignoring that we are ideologically and systematically different.”
“We urge the so-called ‘US Commission on International Religious Freedom’ to abandon its prejudices, respect facts and stop intervening in China’s domestic affairs by means including issuing reports.”
6. Always play the “developing country” guilt card
Really, nothing mentioned so far even matters because China is a developing country. As such, it’s entitled to a blank check to do whatever it wants. After all, every other country had the same scale of systematic repression, perversion of justice, censorship and pollution during their development. And China has already made so much progress that you should just trust that the negative things will eventually sort themselves out.
Oh, and by the way, why are we “developing” now anyways instead of already being “developed?” Century of Humiliation assholes! Western imperialism! Throw in a good Opium War reference. The foreign criticizer is implicitly guilty for inflicting this on China, because it’s not as if there was anything done by domestic leaders to stunt China’s development anytime after 1945.
“The Nobel committee once again displayed its arrogance and prejudice against a country that has made the most remarkable economic and social progress in the past three decades.”
“If you spoke to the average 20 or 30-something Chinese person they would say the British forced us to take opium. It is established as part of the historical story. In a recent web survey on huanqiu.com, 97 percent of netizens who responded supported the execution of Akmal Shaikh, who was arrested for entering China carrying 4 kilograms of heroin in 2007.”
“’The EU needs to take into account the different development status of countries,’ Li Jiaxiang, head of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, said on May 10 in Beijing. Days before the remark, China Air Transport Association (CATA) issued a more blunt statement declaring the Chinese industry does not recognize a unilateral mechanism that ‘violates international aviation convention and intrudes into China’s national sovereignty.’”
- Don’t address the substance of the foreigner’s criticisms head on. Dance around them with emotional and fallacious arguments.
- Speak with an absolute authoritative voice. You are Chinese. He is not. Therefore on any topic relating to China, you are by definition right and he is by definition wrong. You don’t need to trifle with things like coherent logic supported by objective evidence to put him in his place. Red herrings will do just fine.
Some of these points could individually be fair from time to time, but they’re almost always used as a big fallacious bundle in a kind of official Mad Libs whenever a big politically embarrassing situation arises. Just plug in anything like Ai Wei Wei, Liu Xiaobo, Google, Jasmine Revolution attempt, etc. into the same basic argumentative template. The sad part is I doubt this template even needs to exist in writing. This form of argument has become so standard and intuitive that I think these editorial writers just instinctively follow it. By extension, it trickles down to a lot of average people in everyday conversation.
I actually buy some official lines; like that China couldn’t handle a democracy. There are plenty of good arguments for it. The lack of education in the countryside, culture of corruption, nationalism that would be brought out in campaigning, diversity of the electorate, etc. But you never see those arguments. They just get dumbed down to something like “China is complicated” as part of the same tired ball of condescension toward foreigners.
I can understand the reflexive aversion to outsiders pointing out China’s dirty laundry. And I think many would be justified in saying I, and many other foreign commentators, sometimes take an arrogant tone in our writing. But I’m comparing systems, not countries or their people. (Yes, I think it’s absurd that anyone would argue a media controlled by a single political party is better than a free independent one, and thus my disbelief shows in my writing tone). But I would think at some point, these writers would realize how counter-productive this template is at getting anywhere in debate with the outside world.