Archive for the ‘media’ Category

China’s Troubled Media

Posted: August 11, 2014 in media
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Over the past few months, those who thought the state of Chinese journalism couldn’t possibly get any worse have sadly been proven wrong. A few weeks ago China’s chief censorship agency told Chinese reporters that they can’t pass information on to their foreign counterparts, nor can they independently publicize stories they find through their work. This is on top of newly required courses in Marxist journalism (AKA journalism that props up the Party). While it’s unlikely these regulations can or will be universally enforced, the intended message to journalists is clear: fall in line and keep your heads down.

This all fits with Xi Jinping’s overall approach since assuming power of squashing every hint of potential challenge. In the Telegraph, a well-known journalism professor recently estimated that “the number of journalists responsible for ‘independent, public-interest, negative or sensitive’ reports has fallen by 66 percent in the last three years.” This fits exactly with what I’ve seen. Among all the Chinese reporters I knew who were doing real investigative journalism two years ago, all but a few have shifted to more vanilla beats or left the field altogether.

Once upon a time, it was good to be an investigative journalist in China. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, we saw arguably the best officially sanctioned media atmosphere in PRC history. Muckraking private outlets like Caijing and Economic Observer sprouted up. Investigative journalist Wang Keqin came to prominence with stories on AIDS villages and securities fraud. And the Southern Media Group did a series of hard-hitting reports that actually prompted changes to long-standing government policies.

However, when Hu Jintao came to power in 2002, a gradual regression began to take shape. New rules against cross-provincial reporting emerged that culled watchdog media; a few editors in the Southern Media Group were slapped with lengthy prison sentences on trumped up charges; Caijing was put under pressure, prompting its star editor-in-chief Hu Shuli to jump ship; and Wang Keqin was unceremoniously pushed out of two separate newspapers.

Xi Jinping’s new government now appears to be accelerating this trend. But politics is only half of the story in the regression of Chinese journalism.

The internet has had the same disruptive effect on traditional media in China that it has in much of the rest of the world. Weibo, WeChat and a host of other social media sites, blogs and pseudo media have sprung up, grabbing market share from the traditional press. This is coupled with independent watchdog papers being watered down. The same provocative stories officials don’t want printed are usually the same ones that make people buy the papers. When repressive politics meet disruptive technology, it means tight budgets for independent papers that don’t get government subsidies. This trickles down to journalists who see their income squeezed and jobs cut.

One implication of this is journalists from respected independent media getting funneled out and ending up at state media (where they can have more money and better resources, but more ideological oversight and censorship). I’ve known of a few journalists that couldn’t bring themselves to leave journalism – either out of passion or because they lacked the skillset to go into another industry – so they reluctantly took jobs at state media after work at independent outlets dried up.

But what looks to be an even more acute implication of the current media atmosphere is good reporters getting pushed out of the industry completely. One of my former Economic Observer bosses, who’s been reporting for the past two decades, recently reflected on trends of the past few years saying that we’re seeing perhaps the biggest media brain drain ever. “People with dignity and passion get driven out of the newspaper business,” he told me.

In 2012, Jian Guanzhou, the reporter who’d broken the Sanlu milk powder scandal four years earlier, drove this point home when he finally decided to call it quits. “I have been at the Oriental Morning Post for 10 years, during which I have poured the most precious years of my youth, my sorrow, my dreams and feelings into the purest of ideals,” he wrote on Weibo. “Now my ideal is dead, so I’ll get going. Take care, brothers!”

Working within China’s tightening media system entails an endless stream of moral dilemmas. If a story could be killed for political reasons, for instance, it might make a reporter think twice about pursuing it in the first place. In most cases, they get paid based on how much they publish. If the story isn’t published, they don’t get paid for it. Even if they’re willing to risk their necks to investigate and print these sensitive stories, the scope of allowable topics is shrinking, leading to moral and financial frustration. Many just can’t do it anymore and quit journalism to go into something more stable or morally straightforward. On the grand scale, as this happens and honest reporters with a moral compass get sifted out, corrupt and sycophantic peers take over.

There are no meaningful statistics, but in talking to several Chinese journalist friends over the past few months, there seems to be a feeling that the entire industry is getting dirtier. Making money through good honest reporting is a lot harder than it once was, meaning the allure of taking bribes and colluding with (or extorting) special interests becomes greater. So there may be some semblance of legitimacy to the government’s ostensible drive to “clean up” the media.

A sullying of the industry may be the downside, but this atmosphere is certainly conducive to keeping the CCP unchallenged. The days when the Party had to seriously worry about shutting down watchdog newspapers and clipping the wings of renegade reporters might be drawing to a close. Instead, it can just watch the papers struggle to stay afloat and the journalists sort themselves into less threatening positions…or out of the industry completely.

There are of course plenty of fantastic Chinese reporters still out there pushing what they can for the pittance they get in return. One friend reporting in the Southern Media Group recently told me that the tightening atmosphere makes him regret not pushing harder in earlier years when things were more open. But this is the new reality, which only looks to hold more heartbreak ahead. “For us reporters, new changes must happen,” he told me. “I just don’t know how they’ll go.”

Meeting the Press

Posted: March 15, 2014 in media
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This week Chinese Premier Li Keqiang gave his annual “press conference” to cap off the National People’s Congress.

Photo: Xinhua

Photo: Xinhua

I put “press conference” in quotations because it’s hardly anything of the sort. Journalists must submit questions for Li well in advance and then negotiate with press handlers on the precise wording of how the question will be delivered. This year there were reportedly a few topics like Zhou Yongkang and the Kunming knife attack that were totally out of bounds and would result in a “blacklisting” if mentioned.

This has been going on for a long time and last year several reporters started getting fed up with it. At the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of China annual meeting last year, no topic was debated more vocally than how to respond to this issue. So I was hoping we’d see few, if any, foreign (and ideally, Chinese) reporters show up to the charade this year. But if they had to attend (after all, bombshells have been dropped there before), I hoped at the very least no foreign reporters would legitimize the farce by reciting pre-approved softballs for Li to bunt. Unfortunately, my naïve hopes went unfulfilled and an unprecedented nine foreign/non-mainland reporters were called on.

In 2012, Australian “reporter” Andrea Yu was called on repeatedly to lob disappointing softballs at officials, and it was later discovered she was being fed her questions by the Beijing-controlled media outlet she worked for (and it seems the same organization is still sending similar shills this year). After that episode, real foreign journalists were understandably miffed. But when you think about it, what she did isn’t much worse than being complicit in the way Li Keqiang’s press conference works.

Li gets to leaf through hundreds of questions and pick exactly what he wants to answer, has compliant foreigners recite their lines, and then scores big points with viewers for being bold enough to face presumably more critical reporters. This is a major point of pride for CCP leaders (former President Jiang Zemin once boasted to Hong Kong reporters about how he’d taken on Mike Wallace and Barbara Walters).

The questions that are chosen are either completely benign or just barely edgy enough to seem “sensitive” (ie – relating to corruption, pollution or hacking). At best, Chinese viewers understand what’s going on and it makes the international press corps look like hapless wusses anxious to devour any meatless bone the Chinese leadership deigns to toss them. Famous Hong Kong reporter Luqiu Luwei wrote an op-ed in Financial Times saying that “the Best Actor Award” this year must go to the foreign media.

But at worst, Chinese viewers don’t understand what’s going on and think it’s a legitimate press conference. In that case, the compliant journalists are actively helping Chinese leaders gloss over actual tough issues that viewers should be aware of.

Casual Chinese observers who catch the CCTV press conference might not ever bother scaling the Great Firewall to see what’s really going on, but they expect foreign reporters to ask tough questions. They’ve had it hammered into their heads that foreign journalists are out to smear China’s leaders and cause the country’s collapse. But when the toughest question they see is some abstract mention of debt risks, they might mistakenly get the impression that these are China’s most pressing issues. But in fact, there was no mention of Tibetan immolations, the foreign journalists who’ve been expelled, the tightening grip on domestic media, Document 9, the extra-judicial imprisonment of people like Liu Xia (Liu Xiaobo’s wife) who haven’t even been found guilty of any crime, the enormous wealth of NPC members and potential conflicts of interest, the stalling of official assets declaration (and prosecution of those who’ve loudly called for it), dissatisfaction with the political situation in Hong Kong, prostitution crackdowns that leave already vulnerable young women with even greater exposure to exploitation and violence, or the offshore holdings by the families of powerful leaders. I could go on… That none of these things were mentioned raised some serious eyebrows from foreign and domestic observers alike.

Several of the foreign reporters who were called on to ask questions are among the best in Beijing, and I have the utmost respect for them…but I think they made a bad call here. I understand that this practice also happens in many Western countries, but that doesn’t make it right there either.

I wouldn’t expect anyone to go back on their word and ask an unapproved question, but it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to refuse participation in the performance…or just skip the presser altogether, as many reporters opted to do.

As Luqiu Luwei put it: “The good thing is that foreign media finally experienced the Chinese media’s situation. Under the same pressure they had the same choice. From an ethical perspective, the choice they made deprived them of any right to be proud. Only media that didn’t attend the press conference can still talk about sticking to journalistic ideals.”

This week China’s chief media regulator issued a statement  outlining new regulations for media organizations. They basically boil down to the following:

  • News organizations may not cite foreign media without permission.
  • News organizations must file with authorities when setting up an official Weibo account and assign a person to insure that only kosher topics gets tweeted.
  • Journalists should offer proper guidance of public opinion under the principle of focusing on positive propaganda.
  • People without journalist permits are barred from interviewing or reporting under the name of a news organization.
  • Online news sites should not publish any reports from a news source, freelance writer or NGO before the facts are verified.

Nothing too earth-shaking here, and these directives are hardly enforceable. However, they do present a clear message: The Party’s grip on the media will not be loosening one bit. If anything, it will tighten.

For years now there’s been speculation over whether Xi Jinping (and the rest of the new government) will maintain the status quo, be reformist or even head in the opposite direction and roll back reforms. This is an oversimplified debate. These things will happen and are already happening.

These new media directives are one of many recent examples of an overriding principle that’s hardly changed since 1979: Nearly everything is eligible for reform and a Communist Party retreat, except for the “Three Ps” – Propaganda, Personnel and the People’s Liberation Army.

Over the past few months I’ve spoken with a number of experts in fields ranging from gay rights to the environment who are very excited about the new leadership, and with good cause. Everywhere you look in China there seems to be the beginnings of actual reforms, or at least hints that the rigid status quo is going to change for the better.

Measures have been put in place to make leaders less pompous and overindulgent. After 24 years, public discussion has been re-opened on Hu Yaobang. Behemoth state monopolies are being put in check. Homosexuality is moving away from being officially taboo. It appears the model of “GDP growth ahead of all else” is being dismantled. China is improving its environmental transparency. A raft of long-overdue economic reforms are kicking off. The list goes on and on.

It’s still too early to say for sure, but this could very well be a new spring for civil society and long stigmatized groups.

But before we break out the champagne, let’s consider a few other recent signals from our bold new reformers. Last year Xi Jinping ordered more “thought control” in universities. Several times over the past year, Xi has commanded the PLA to remain “absolutely loyal” to the Communist Party above all else. There was the infamous Southern Weekly Incident illustrating an increasingly overbearing propaganda department. In the past year, two foreign correspondents have faced de facto expulsions for the first time since 1998, while new foreign journalists are waiting over a year to get their visas in some cases. And last, but certainly not least, China’s internet censorship apparatus is becoming ever-more sophisticated at weeding out “harmful” content.

So what’s the deal? Are these new leaders reformers or not? Obviously, it’s complicated, but you can make a pretty good prediction on the likelihood of a given reform just by establishing whether it threatens the Party’s absolute control over who educates the public, who holds any kind of political power, and which way the guns would face in the event of an uprising (AKA – Propaganda, Personnel, People’s Liberation Army).

Since the 1990s, China’s communist mandarins have religiously studied the downfall of the Soviet Union. The conclusions they’ve reached are that democratizing, opening the press and losing control over the military opened floodgates that resulted in the regime’s collapse. Xi Jinping gave a private speech to this effect to Party leaders in Guangdong last December on what was supposed to be his nod to Deng Xiaoping’s “Southern Tour.”

Some have contrasted Xi’s private instructions to remember the Soviet Union with his efforts to align himself with Deng Xiaoping’s reformist legacy, but the two are hardly contradictory. Although he was unquestionably a real reformer that forever changed China for the better, Deng was also a firm believer in upholding absolute Party control over the Three Ps.

Xi, like Deng, recognizes that the Three Ps are non-negotiable in order to keep continued Party rule, and by extension (in their minds), a stable environment for other reforms to happen.

In some ways it may seem like the new government is more amenable to opening up the press. Xi has vowed to go after both “the tigers and the flies” (top leaders and low officials who are corrupt) and hinted that this involves more freedom for the press and the online public. But there will always be a cage over the press. If that cage gets bigger (and there’s been no meaningful indication that it actually will), it will be carefully designed to let reporters roam only in areas that serve the Party’s self-preserving interests. These new directives suggest that that the vetting process for those even allowed to roam in that cage is getting stricter.

So this is what we’ll need to get used to. Virtually everything outside the Three Ps is eligible for reform, and that’s good news. There’s still a lot of room for making China a better place within those confines. But the Three Ps will absolutely remain under complete Party control, barring some massive national movement that presents a crisis even greater than Tiananmen.

So far it seems that opening up and reforming in the allowable areas means locking down the three non-negotiables even more tightly so as to ensure the approved reforms don’t bring any unpredictability. So feel free to get your hopes up in many arenas. Just also recognize what’s not likely to ever happen.

Today around noon I saw Twitter light up over a report that CCTV would live broadcast the execution of a Burmese drug smuggler and three members of his gang convicted of killing 13 Chinese on the Mekong River.

At first glance I assumed the uproar was because CCTV would devote so much attention to the execution of foreign criminals; attention like Timothy McVeigh and Ted Bundy received when crowds gathered outside their prisons and cameras were rolling to capture the signal that they were dead.

That angle made sense. China devoted no such attention to the executions of its own serial killers like Yang Xinhai and Zhang Yongmin. It seemed to be yet another Opium War allusion to give the impression: “Vigilant CCP shows no mercy to foreign aggressors who attack China’s sovereignty and humiliate its people (especially through the drug trade).”

I soon realized though that that wasn’t what the uproar was about. People thought that “live broadcasting the execution” meant CCTV would literally bring cameras into the chamber and air the lethal injections.

For those familiar with the version of China gossiped about by grannies in Florida getting their hair done, that might seem conceivable. But for those familiar with the actual China, that proposition should sound completely absurd.

Contrary to popular belief, The People’s Republic of China has rarely put their executions out on display (vigilante Cultural Revolution killings aside). Sure, it frequently paraded condemned criminals around town and had execution rallies in stadiums right up through the 1990s. There was even a TV show until last year that interviewed death row inmates, sometimes just minutes before execution. But when it’s time to do the deed itself, criminals have almost always been taken to a secluded location away from public eyes.

In 2004, Boxun did a report on the death penalty in China featuring interviews with law enforcement who’d been involved with executions (Boxun is by no means reliable, but in this case there were very gruesome photos that seem to back up the interviews).

One man who’d been involved in “half a dozen” executions up until 1995 using the traditional bullet to the head method said, “There are no spectators at the scene of the execution.  We maintain three rings of security.  Outsiders are kept far away, such that they cannot even hear the gunshot sounds.  On our way back, nobody says anything because we are overwhelmed by the feeling that life can be so cheap.”

As satisfying as it may be for some to see a foreign aggressor get what’s coming to him, why would authorities regress below something considered too socially risky even by 1995 standards? Chinese censors routinely cut fictional violence from movies and TV – even to the point of disallowing the use of a knife to threaten someone – lest any fragile minds be influenced and disrupt social harmony. So why on Earth would the most viewed channel on the most viewed medium in China show a real person being killed live for millions of children to see?

It wouldn’t. Period.

All this uproar began with a piece in South China Morning Post titled “CCTV ‘to broadcast live execution of Mekong River massacre drug smugglers.’” John Kennedy, who wrote the piece, later said on Twitter: “CCTV said, unambiguously and in plain Chinese, it’s going to live broadcast the execution. I’m not going to put words in its mouth. If it turns out CCTV is deliberately misleading the public to boost viewership (and in a way or two I hope it is), that’s a story in itself.”

Indeed.

In the end, just about everything leading up to the executions was shown – from prepping the prisoners to transporting them – but cameras stopped short of entering the chamber. Doing so would have been socially risky, and therefore impossible; not to mention gratuitously vile on a level that even the Ministry of Public Security wouldn’t stoop to.

Were the bits that were shown morbid, exploitative and inhumane? Sure. Was it all shamelessly done as a political statement with unsettling xenophobic undertones? Absolutely. Was it warranted in order to deter such brutal criminal acts in the future? I’m sure a lot of people will make that argument. And I’m sure you’ll be reading elsewhere about all these things in the coming days, but all I can say is nobody took the enormous leap of showing the execution – something a lot of people who should have known better seemed to think was a real possibility.

[Correction: This previously referred to the Boxun report as being from 1994. It was actually from 2004.]

If you’re a reader of this blog, hopefully you already have an eye on the still unfolding events surrounding Southern Weekend. As I write this, the paper’s staff is reportedly still in negotiations with propaganda officials over what will happen next. Meanwhile, droves of students, celebrities and other media outlets have expressed their support for the paper online while a demonstration involving hundreds has taken hold outside its Guangzhou offices.

Zhongnanhai blog has done a good post saying that China watchers and correspondents have a tendency to over-interpret events like this. The author predicts it will be “a great story for a while until it fizzles out and becomes nothing more than an infrequently-viewed Wikipedia page.”

For the most part, I agree. But there are some aspects I think are pretty significant in the long term. So let’s iron out what this incident is and what it’s not.

What It’s Not
1) A bold stand by Southern Weekend against government censorship
The heart of this issue is that Guangdong’s propaganda head Tuo Zhen allegedly doctored Southern Weekend’s New Year’s editorial and sent it to press without the paper’s editors being informed. This is a highly irregular slap in the face to the paper. It’s one thing to tell editors they can’t print something. It’s very different though to put (highly embarrassing and inaccurate) words in their mouths that they only learn about when they pick up the paper. Southern Weekend is standing up against this disrespect and circumvention of the status quo. It’s not rejecting the idea of government censorship.

2) The first domino toward a mass free speech movement or a Tiananmen-like showdown.
The Telegraph ran a piece saying this “is arguably the most open and widespread display of dissent since the Tiananmen Square protests almost a quarter of a century ago.”

Maybe that’s technically true, but it oversells the significance of where we’re at now. When Wukan residents expelled their local government in late 2011, it was considered a huge deal and people (including myself) were wondering if it was a preview of things to come – either of further uprisings or a model for peaceful government accommodation.

It was neither.

There’s about a 90% chance the Southern Weekend standoff will fizzle out one way or another with a mild one-off solution. Protestors have been tacitly allowed to demonstrate so far, suggesting the government still isn’t entirely sure what to do. Guangdong’s new party secretary Hu Chunhua, as of now, is the favorite to replace Xi Jinping as China’s president in 2022. If he gets blood on his hands or gives an obvious victory to free speech agitators, his hopes could get dashed pretty quickly. It’s very unlikely there will be a violent crackdown or an agreement to ease media controls, but more likely some minor private concession (or effective threat) to the paper that only applies to present circumstances.

Simply firing Tuo Zhen would placate Southern Weekend and end the situation, but the government’s propaganda directives have suggested this isn’t going to happen. It would set an undesirable precedent (though not a disastrous one– as some have suggested. I think it still remains a last resort if the paper refuses to back down or protests strengthen). If and when this event fizzles out with some kind of uninspiring resolution, everyone will go home unsatisfied – but not furious. Then we’ll move on to other issues.

However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be significant takeaways.

What It Is
1) A surprising signal that many of China’s youth are primed to push for change
A few months ago when I was at the massive anti-Japan protests, I looked around and wondered if I’d ever see the day when Chinese would make similar emotional cries in public for something not on the government’s agenda. Seeing how firmly that angst was focused on Japan, I thought it would be at least several years. If you’d told me on that day that within four months, a sizeable crowd would gather to call for press freedom in China, I’d have said no way.

Southern Weekend staff may not be pushing for an outright end to censorship, but their supporters certainly seem to be. You can bet

Via Tea Leaf Nation: "One woman looked fear in the eye, and said, 'cheese'"

Via Tea Leaf Nation: “One woman looked fear in the eye, and said, ‘cheese'”

that more than a few parents across the country have been warning their kids to stay the hell away from any hint of subversive activity. Getting involved with something deemed “anti-government” can blot a permanent record and ruin career prospects. Yet, students across the country are voicing support to Southern Weekend online WITH THEIR FACES SHOWN. And even more unbelievably, hundreds showed up to protest IN PERSON against media censorship – one of the most unshakeable government priorities.

This is much different than your routine “mass incidents” over things like land grabs and pollution. These people in Guangzhou have no immediate stake in protesting censorship. They have very little to gain personally and a lot to lose. That indeed takes cojones that have rarely been seen since 1989. These protestors may be a very small, unrepresentative sample of China’s youth, but it’s a sample I didn’t realize existed yet.

But perhaps I should have realized it. When I got to China five years ago and spoke with young educated people about media censorship, some would say they opposed it, but more would voice support. They’d say things like “If the truth were revealed, China would collapse” or “Poor people must support the leaders if we’re to keep developing. They wouldn’t if the media could criticize the leaders.”

These days I hear fewer and fewer people say things like that. Thanks to Weibo, people are realizing that much of the things swept up in the censorship system aren’t just abstract embarrassments. They’re concrete things like poisonous food, pollution, land grabs, railway accidents and flood deaths – things that have a real impact on public safety and well-being; things that could be avoided if publicized.

2) Another sign of “de-facto democratization”
Weibo also probably means a more democratic resolution to the standoff then there would have been a few years ago. In 2003, Southern Metropolis Daily (also from the Southern Media Group), embarrassed Guangdong officials with reports on detention camps and SARS. This ended in a clampdown that saw two editors slapped with lengthy prison sentences on trumped up charges.

This is the traditional way of dealing with such brazen newspapers. But this has become prohibitively risky (perhaps for the first time with the unfolding events). It’s not impossible that a Southern Weekend reporter will end up in jail, but with as many sympathetic eyes as there are on the story, it’s not a realistic possibility. And the fact that the propaganda department is deigning to negotiate with the paper is a sign that it no longer feels able to just unilaterally bring down the hammer.

If the hammer does come down eventually and the paper is shut down or editors are fired, then the government will find itself at an all time credibility low and will meet strong public backlash. I don’t at all rule out this possibility. As stupid and self-defeating as that would be, the government has time and again stubbornly clung to repressive tactics that are 20 years out of date. Doing so here wouldn’t bring the masses to the streets, but it would bring them one step closer to ultimately dropping faith in the system entirely.

So no, this event in all likelihood won’t be a watershed for those hoping to see quick political reform. But it does represent a shift, however slight it may be, in the public’s consciousness and what it’s willing to tolerate. Even if the government is unwilling to engage in meaningful political reform, it’s already being pushed on an irreversible course of de-facto reform.

On Chris Buckley’s Ousting

Posted: January 1, 2013 in media
Tags: , ,

It’s just been revealed that New York Times reporter Chris Buckley failed to get his visa renewed and has been forced to leave the country. This is widely being viewed as retaliation by the Chinese government for an exposé the paper did on the hidden fortune of Premier Wen Jiabao’s relatives.

What’s especially raised eyebrows about the move is that Buckley had nothing to do with the offending report, while David Barboza, the author of the piece, had his visa renewed without issue. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs isn’t commenting on why it denied the visa, so any explanation is pure speculation. However, this is something I’ve thought for months could happen.

This year, without a doubt, has seen more muckraking from foreign journalists than ever before. Besides the NYT piece, Bloomberg reported bombshells like the wealth of Xi Jinping’s family and the enormous power descendants of the Eight Immortals still wield. And of course, western media reporting was integral to the fall of Bo Xilai.

These reports have proven it possible to dig up dirt on leaders at the very top, so one has to imagine other media outlets (or the same ones) are already working on more of these exposés. There are other very high leaders (who will remain nameless here) with rumors of extensive wealth and links to corruption that are likely even more vulnerable than Wen or Xi. It’s probably only a matter of time before somebody unacceptably high gets implicated in actual wrong-doing.

This leaves the Party with two choices: Address the issue systematically and accept the inevitable heightened scrutiny, or chop at the symptoms and try to scare people away from revealing the truth. Chris Buckley’s ouster makes pretty clear which choice is being pursued.

But why Buckley? It’s probably not as random as it seems. To expel David Barboza would be too explicit and make him a martyr. However, ousting someone at NYT unrelated to the damaging report sends a clear signal to the Western press, yet denies it the satisfaction of running headlines like “Journalist Behind Wen Exposé Expelled From China.”

But perhaps an even more compelling reason for ousting Buckley is the classic dissident’s dilemma. When Barboza started working on his Wen story, he must have known that it could result in his expulsion from China…or worse (Mike Forsythe received death threats after his piece on Xi Jinping). Yet he consciously accepted that risk and went ahead anyways. What’s harder to accept though is risking other people’s necks.

This is a technique the Party wholeheartedly embraces. It’s why Liu Xia (Liu Xiaobo’s wife) has been under house arrest for years despite not being charged with any crime. It’s why Chen Guangcheng’s family, right down to his six-year-old daughter, was held with him and virtually starved during his house arrest.

Dissidents and journalists accept (and often relish) the dangers of their work. Were David Barboza to be expelled, he’d have a pretty impressive claim to fame for the rest of his career. It’s much less impressive though to see a colleague pay for it by having to uproot his wife and young daughter from their home of 12 years.

If this is the case though, the CCP has (for the umpteenth time) completely miscalculated western journalists. This type of expulsion is the most it can do to scare them without causing a serious international incident…and it won’t work. Melissa Chan’s expulsion earlier this year obviously had no chilling effect and it’s unlikely Buckley’s will either. Instead, it’s nothing more than another bullet fired by the Party into the foot of its soft-power dreams.

Update:  Buckley was quoted in SCMP saying, “It’s a complicated situation, and I am not sure if you will use the word ‘expel’. I did not. My visa expired today and I did not receive a new visa. The situation is that I was working for Reuters until October, and then I took a new job with the New York Times. The visa that I was on was granted when I was working for Reuters, and I was in Beijing waiting for the Chinese authorities to grant me a new visa and accreditation to work for the New York Times. As of today, there was no word of approval.”

It’s within the realm of possibility that this was a bureaucratic trip up rather than a purposeful expulsion, and some folks at NYT have said they’re optimistic Buckley will be allowed back in. But given that NYT pushed the government to settle the issue before Buckley’s visa expired, the obvious political implications of the situation and the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s refusal to comment, it’s very hard to imagine there wasn’t intent to make Buckley leave.

China is currently in a push to build international popularity and respect through “soft power” mechanisms like media and the arts. One prominent medium in this push has been film. But failed attempts like Flowers of War have shown a reluctance to move past black and white nationalistic angles. Chinese films, under the direction of chief censor State Administration of Radio, Film & Television (SARFT), dissect and remove anything that’s vulgar, politically unpalatable, sends the wrong social message or portrays the Chinese people as anything but heroic and exceptional.

Not coincidentally, when you ask someone in China what their favorite movie is, they probably won’t name a Chinese film. In fact, most of the time they’ll name one of two movies: Forrest Gump or Shawshank Redemption. The movies depict military defeat, racism, corruption and perversion of justice – some of the darker aspects of 20th century America. Yet the final products show nuance and complex characters that inspire and win international acclaim. In other words, they’re soft power victories.

But what if the US had had its own SARFT with similar social and political objectives?

I don’t believe Shawshank Redemption could have been made. An innocent man being sent to a prison with officials dabbling in corruption and murder would simply be untenable. However, I do think Forrest Gump could have been made…with some major revisions. So based on leaked censorship instructions and years of watching Chinese movies, here’s hypothetical American SARFT’s verdict on the film:

1. In the beginning it’s revealed that  Forrest is named after Nathan Bedford Forrest – former leader of the illegal terrorist “Ku Klux Klan” organization. This is utterly contrary to the theme of the film.

2. The doctor tells Forrest that his back “is as crooked as a politician.” Remove this statement.

3. When bullies throw rocks and chase Forrest there’s no indication that they were caught and punished for their actions.

4. The bullies’ truck has a Confederate flag license plate. This is an illegal secessionist symbol and must be removed.

5. Forrest is denied from entering a normal school because his IQ is too low, which his mother refuses to accept. This distorts reality. America’s education system wouldn’t allow any student to be placed where they don’t belong. Furthermore, Forrest’s mother sleeps with the principal in order to secure Forrest’s admission. This is vulgar and unrealistic.

6. When African-American students enter the University of Alabama, some white students make remarks like “coon” and “nigger.” This gravely harms America’s image and may have negative social effects.

7. Regarding the scene in Jenny’s dormitory where she places Forrest’s hand on her breast, the effect of the length, imagery and sounds of this bed scene are strong, and bring about strong harmful sensual stimulation to people.

8. When Forrest meets President Kennedy he says that he “has to pee.” This is very offensive and disrespectful toward an American leader. Furthermore, Forrest discovers a picture of Marilyn Monroe in Kennedy’s bathroom. This alludes to false rumors and gravely distorts history.

9. When Bubba is describing his family’s history of serving white people, it alludes to slavery.  This may gravely hurt the feelings of the American people.

10. “Playboy” is an illegal pornographic publication that shows a naked woman. It must be removed from the film.

11. When Forrest arrives to Vietnam, American soldiers are shown drinking beer and barbequing, not taking their duties seriously. This gravely violates history and harms the image of the American military.

12. Forrest exposes his buttocks to President Johnson. This is disrespectful and absurd.

13. The Washington DC anti-government “peace rally” suggests American involvement in the Vietnam War was unjust. The theme and tone of the rally must be revised so that it doesn’t oppose the government. It also depicts convicted criminal Abbie Hoffman. It must be adjusted so that he’s portrayed in a more negative fashion and not wearing an American flag shirt.

14. The “Black Panther Party” is an illegal organization. Its depiction may stir up animosity among ethnic groups and have negative social consequences.

15. The scene after Forrest meets President Nixon alludes to the “Watergate Scandal.” Remove.

16. Filthy words appear repeatedly in the film and should be deleted.

17. The Jenny character is overly-complex and sends mixed messages. On one hand she appears kind and elicits sympathy, but on the other hand she does illegal drugs and has loose virtues. Good and evil must be clearly distinguished.

 

At the 18th Party Congress over the past week a mysterious Australian journalist has been called on at official press conferences more than any other foreign reporter.

In each of these golden opportunities, she’s lobbed disappointing softballs like, “Please tell us what policies and plans the Chinese government will be implementing in cooperation with Australia.”

ABC caught up with the reporter, Andrea Yu, and found out that she’s not quite a foreign reporter, but works for the majority Chinese-owned AMG, which “has close links to Chinese government-controlled media organizations and supplies Beijing-friendly radio programs to community stations in Australia.”

So it seems she’s little more than a CCP shill at the congress.

I think this raises some interesting issues about foreigners working for state-sponsored Chinese media. Here were a couple reactions that caught my eye on Twitter:


With a notoriously competitive media landscape in the West, getting a foot in the door through Chinese state media is a route many aspiring journalists take. I’ve been there. Indeed, several fantastic China correspondents have been there.

But when you work for state media, at what point do you cross a line where your journalistic integrity is compromised.

Some people would say it’s the moment you do any kind of work for them. This was certainly the theme of much of the hate mail I got when writing for Global Times (where I was once accused of “prostituting myself to a propaganda rag”). The thinking here goes that foreigners lend legitimacy to these biased and often misleading organizations. Any reporting that they do, whether it’s flattering or critical of China, is strategically used in order to meet broader propaganda objectives.

I completely disagree with this assessment. Despite what a lot of people seem to think, official outlets like China Daily, Global Times, CRI and even CCTV push the envelope quite often and are full of great journalists. Having foreigners in these organizations makes that envelope get pushed even further and improves the entire industry. And if a foreigner, from the bottom of their heart, believes they’re being completely honest in their reporting – whether it’s flattering or criticizing the party line – then I can’t see a problem with that.

It’s true that if you print something supporting the party line in Global Times, it’ll inevitably be held to a completely different standard than if it were in New York Times, but that’s the breaks. I don’t think journalistic integrity has been damaged in the least.

But Andrea Yu seems to have gone beyond that as a complacent party shill. Her role was to give the appearance that officials were bold enough to take a foreign reporter’s questions, when in fact, they knew they’d be getting a chance to flatter themselves. In this sense, Yu caused people to be misled – especially the Chinese who will never learn about her connection to the government. This is the opposite of what journalism is supposed to be.

Yu seems to be aware of her role. She told Wall Street Journal, “[Officials] know my questions are safe … I’m representing a Chinese-Australian company, so I need to ask questions they want me to ask. Believe me, I would have other questions to ask if I could.”

So she’s laid down her sense of journalistic duty and restrained herself from asking what she and her viewers would actually like answered. She’s too eagerly fallen into her role as a stooge, and thus, compromised her credibility.

But it’s easy to sit and condemn from afar. Being in her shoes is undoubtedly a much stickier situation than it seems. Here’s an excerpt from her interview with ABC:

STEPHEN MCDONNELL: But what do you think about it though? Do you feel that you’re being used in that way?

ANDREA YU: Well, it’s been a bit difficult because there are layers. When I first entered my company, there’s only a certain amount of understanding I have about its connections to the government. I didn’t know it had any, for example. So I find out more and more as time goes on. It’s quite difficult as a foreigner, when you first, at least for me in the last month, to know exactly because you get told things not all at the beginning, so that side of it is challenging.

This comes off as kind of air-headed and oblivious, but I understand the point she’s making. Some of my experiences and those of several acquaintances at Chinese companies (not just media) were just like this. It’s not as if you’re told up front what your real job and unethical responsibilities will be. It comes in ways that aren’t immediately obvious and in steps so small that it’s easy to descend into something you’d never intended. What seem like opportunities (ie – covering the biggest political event in China) are in fact situations where you’re being exploited. By the time you look around and realize what you’re doing, you’re in too deep and it’s hard to climb back out without seriously disrupting your life.

Yu could put her foot down with her bosses and go with her journalistic instincts (like the intrepid reporters over at Chinese Teenagers News), or better yet, take her services to another outlet. But that’s much easier said than done. Imagine doing that with your own job. And then imagine it’s in an ultra-competitive industry where you’re not sure you’ll get another break.

As Tom Hancock pointed out, Yu is in the state media coal mines. I doubt she ever made a conscious decision to head down the especially dark tunnel she ended up in. Unfortunately, she did end up there and compromised her credibility. But I think more than anything else she’s a victim of a cold system that’s all too happy to push people around like pawns in order to mislead the country and the world.

What do you think? At what point does a state media job become a liability for budding foreign journalists rather than an asset?

Foxconn: A Very Quiet Riot

Posted: June 7, 2012 in media
Tags: ,

Over the past day or so several foreign media outlets including Huffington Post, Business Insider and Bloomberg TV have been reporting that dozens of workers at a Foxconn factory in Chengdu were arrested after clashing with security at a dormitory. Some said that “workers with a grudge against the security guards prevented them from catching a thief. Soon up to 1,000 workers were ‘throwing trash bins, chairs, pots, bottles and fireworks from the upper floor of the building and destroying public facilities.’”

These outlets cited a single source: Want China Times – a Taiwanese agency which routinely prints stories based on single, unreliable sources (here, here and here, for instance). In this case, WCT cited Molihua – a democracy and human rights advocacy group. Of course, claims that there were 1,000 rioters had to come with evidence. This is it:

Most of the media reporting this story and netizens on Weibo have included this picture with reports of the violence. If you can spot a riot here, you have much better eyes than I do. A couple searches for “Foxconn riots” also bring up this picture:

I can almost hear the crickets chirping.

Bloomberg TV however managed to obtain a much more sensational picture depicting a fire and people in surgical masks:

 

…but it turns out that picture actually came from an explosion that happened at Foxconn’s Chengdu plant over a year ago.

It’s now been three days since this supposed riot started and this is all we have. No other pictures, no videos, no interviews from rioters. That’s pretty amazing considering “Foxconn riot” is NOT blocked on Weibo and there were allegedly 1,000 people involved.

I got in touch with Foxconn Technology Group and they sent this press release:

We were informed by local law enforcement authorities that late Monday night, several employees of our facility in Chengdu had a disagreement with the owner of a restaurant located in that city. We were also informed that the employees subsequently returned to their off-campus residence, owned and managed by third-party companies, at which time a number of other residents also became involved in the disagreement and local police were called to the scene to restore order. Foxconn is cooperating with local law enforcement authorities on their investigation into this incident.

They didn’t list any numbers, but this seems a far cry from what’s been previously reported.

It’s too early to say definitively that the original Want China Times report (and all those that based their reports entirely on it) were completely wrong, but I think it is safe to say they jumped the gun. Some outlets even tied the alleged violence to poor working conditions, which is completely unsubstantiated. Huffington Post went so far as to title one piece “Foxconn Workers Riot In Chengdu Over Minor Incident, Leads To Massive Uprising” and listed several unrelated conditions at the factory (They’ve since printed a retraction).

Foxconn has been the whipping boy of the media for quite some time now. In 2010 some outlets were ticking off suicides as they happened at the company. The estimated 14 suicides that year do indeed sound bad…until you consider there are over 800,000 employees and that that suicide rate is well below China’s national average (and the US’s for that matter). Both the suicide and rioting over poor working conditions angles fit nicely into the pre-established narrative that Foxconn and its Apple overlord run a repressive sweatshop. Unfortunately for those outlets that perpetuate these angles, there’s just not much evidence to support them.

Update 6/8: Reuters published a story this morning which said:

Seven workers at a Foxconn factory in Chengdu went to a restaurant near their dormitory, but began making a ruckus after an argument between the eatery’s owner and his wife “affected their meal”, said a statement on the Sichuan government website (www.scol.com.cn) released on Thursday.

After the restaurant owner called the police, the workers ran back to their dormitory shouting “they are beating us”, upon which around 100 of their colleagues came in and joined the disturbance, throwing bottles, the statement added.

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.

The 100-day crackdown on illegal foreigners in Beijing is now well underway and it seems the police aren’t messing around this time. Some have suggested this is a knee-jerk reaction to the alleged attempted rape of a Chinese girl by a British man. But both things may be part of a bigger trend we’re likely to see continue for the rest of the year.

Another story has made waves recently on the Chinese internet about a Russian cellist who put his legs up on a Chinese woman’s train seat and cursed her when she complained about it (He later apologized). Unlike the rape incident, this is not a crime; nor is it newsworthy. But that didn’t stop Beijing Morning Post from splashing the whole story on their front page this morning:

Then there was CCTV anchor Yang Rui, who made this tragically hilarious statement on Weibo. Here’s a blurb:

The Ministry of Public Security is getting rid of foreign trash right now, arresting foreign scum and protecting innocent Chinese girls from them. […]Foreigners who can’t find a job in their home country come to China and get involved in illegal business activities such as human trafficking and espionage; they also like to distribute lies which discredit China to persuade locals to move abroad. A lot of them look for Chinese women to live with as a disguise to further their espionage efforts.

Then finally, People’s Daily reported today that Baidu and mop.com have launched a campaign with Sina Weibo, “calling on internet users to expose bad behavior by foreigners in China.”

[Update: Kaiser Kuo, Baidu's director of international communications, said this:  "The People’s Daily story is erroneous. Baidu has launched no such campaign. It was something done originally on Baidu PostBar but not under official auspices and we have now removed it."]

A lot of people do bad things and break the law in China, regardless of their nationality. But this campaign intends to put the magnifying glass squarely over bad behavior – whether or not it’s anything remarkable – so long as the perpetrator is foreign. It implicitly calls on Chinese to look at foreigners with a suspicious eye while holstering a smart phone.

Recently I discussed how the Communist Party uses the “Century of Humiliation” as the cornerstone of its legitimacy. Foreigners invaded and defiled China for a hundred years until the CCP rescued the country from them – so the story goes. The government stays in the people’s good graces by constantly reminding them of this period and implying that the country still isn’t safe from the foreign menace.

I also predicted in that post that, as the increasingly complicated power transition draws near, “we can probably expect to see even more international events covered in China from an angle that harkens back to the humiliating century. And we might even see an uptick in coverage of scarcely-newsworthy events that portray foreigners in China as exploiters or aggressors.”

Trying to consolidate political support by taking a hard-line on foreigners in the country is hardly unique to China. It works the same almost everywhere. Foreigners make a perfect “them” to unite “us” against. They can be scapegoated and harassed without political liability because they’re too few, too vulnerable and, well, too foreign to defend themselves. In China, this tactic is a matter of survival for the authoritarian government.

These recent cases shining the spotlight on bad foreigners aren’t necessarily direct examples of this tactic though. After all, it was common citizens who first disseminated the British pervert and the Russian cellist stories. But both cases raise the “did the chicken or the egg come first” dilemma. Why did netizens frame the stories as a “bad foreigner attacking good Chinese” in the first place?

The subsequent actions by players like Beijing Morning Post and Yang Rui showed that they have every intention of making sure this cycle continues. They perpetuate the implicit anti-foreign angle, thereby assuring future incidents will continue to be framed as “peaceful Chinese vs. arrogant imperialistic foreigners.” That’s pretty good for creating very shallow Chinese unity and government support, but pretty awful for humanity.

I just read this farewell article by recently-expelled Al-Jazeera reporter Melissa Chan (which you also need to read). I’ve always had huge respect for Melissa Chan and now regret that I never got to meet her while she was in Beijing – especially after reading this piece.

Chan was often accused of only showing the negative side of China, which, if you line up all the reports she did, might seem true. Shan Renping from Global Times admonished her this week saying, “Foreign media should reflect on China’s complexity, which is well-known to almost all foreigners in China. However, some media are only keen to show the wickedness of China to the world.”

This implies a willful bias with the aim of slandering the country – a common accusation leveled against “Western” reporters who don’t play cheerleader to China’s re-emergence on the world stage.

But if you read Chan’s farewell message, it’s quite clear she understands the complexity of China more than people like Shan Renping ever will. She describes one of her best and worst experiences in China, which happened to both fall on the same day. In the morning she drove through a festive village where the unusual degree happiness compelled her to pull over. “You could somehow sense that everyone was excited for the future, that things were changing, and that this was the little town that could,” she said.

Later that day, she met a fisherman who had shared their optimism and recently found his own success. But a local gang had had other plans. It paid local officials to turn their heads as it violently stole the man’s property, killing his son in the process.

For me, that story summed up perfectly the kind of outlook you develop after living in China for so long – especially if you do reporting on it. You meet people that put you to shame with their determination and ability to “eat bitterness.” People that work twice as hard as you just for the chance at getting one-tenth of what you have. People that just want to live a peaceful life and make an honest living.

But then you meet those who’ve taken advantage of the political situation to exploit these people at every turn. You meet others who want to be good, but the system won’t let them. You meet brilliant people who have the capacity to do amazing things, but never will because their fate was decided before they were even born. You see innocence punished and evil rewarded so often that it begins to turn your conception of the world upside down.

So yes, there is good and bad in China, but they’re inexorably linked. When you begin to form an emotional attachment with the country and develop relationships with people inside it, you become inclined to report the bad in order to protect the good.

There are of course reporters who sensationalize the bad in China in order to boon their own careers, but Melissa Chan was not one of those people. The work she did was fair and significant; and I’m sure far from enjoyable at times. I can only imagine the emotional toll it takes on you to spend so much time with the disenfranchised people Chan gave voice to – which ultimately got her booted from the country. But China needs people to shine light on the injustices that undermine its ascent to greatness and its opportunities for happiness. What Chan got expelled for, Chinese reporters would be imprisoned for, or worse.

It’s a terrible shame the powers that be saw fit to make Melissa Chan leave. China is worse off for it.

The Party’s Insecurities

Posted: May 10, 2012 in media
Tags: ,

Insecure governments are much like insecure people. They overcompensate for their weaknesses by making a big fuss about how strong they actually are in those areas. For instance, if you’re an ashamed closet homosexual, then you might become an Evangelical anti-gay crusader. Likewise, if you’re an authoritarian government that operates on the whims of un-elected leaders, you might stress how adherent you are to the “rule of law” again and again and again and again. So if you want to see what the Chinese government is insecure about, you usually need look no further than the propaganda.

All over China you see slogans like “Happy Guangdong” or “Civilized Chaoyang” that call attention directly to what leaders feel those places are lacking. And chengguan – the city management officers responsible for stopping illegal street vendors – have an often-deserved reputation as being thugs who use their little power to terrorize poor migrants. So all over Beijing we see signs like this:

“People’s City, People’s Administration” (A play on the word “Chengguan” )

With this principle in mind, I’ve been watching Xinwen Lianbo over the past few weeks. This is CCTV’s flagship news program that runs simultaneously on most channels every evening at 7:00. This program most consistently reaches the largest viewership throughout China, so it’s perfect for gauging the government’s biggest insecurities.

The program’s traditional schedule is widely recognized and mocked by Chinese. It consists of three segments: The leaders are busy, the people are happy, and foreign countries are in chaos.  I vaguely recall when I first got to China in 2007, you could almost set your watch to it most days. When images of top leaders shaking hands with foreign diplomats or doing countryside field inspections shifted into minorities and peasants enjoying favorable government policies, it must be 7:10. When those happy faces faded into American gun violence or Middle-East bombings, it must be about 7:20.

These three segments can be seen as compensation for the Communist Party’s three biggest fears: That the leaders might be seen as illegitimate, corrupt and self-indulgent; that the peasants and minorities might feel exploited or repressed; and that countries under different political systems might be viewed as preferable alternatives.

What I’ve found interesting from watching the program over the past few weeks – and ticking off the kinds of stories that are shown – is that the traditional format has been shaken up. To its credit, individual stories are now more diverse and often contain news without apparent political aims. However, the “leaders are busy” portion now often stretches out 15-20 minutes of the 30 minute newscast, with an average of 5 separate stories each program. This might suggest the leadership is REALLY keen on proving its legitimacy as the power handover draws near.

The “people are happy” and “foreign countries are in chaos” segments are also still cornerstones, with an average of 2.3 and 3.6 stories respectively each night. But two other segments seem to have become regular additions: “China is innovative” and “the economy is looking good.”

Each have been averaging one story per night. Chinese innovations like an aerospace medical lab and the world’s quietest washing machine are shown; as are detailed explications (often digressing into virtual PowerPoint presentations) leading you to feel that China’s economy is strong and will stay strong.

China is facing some major economic bubbles, coupled with bleak growth prospects if its businesses can’t move up the value chain while wages increase. The Chinese education system’s failure to produce the creativity needed to do so has been a concern for years. If, and how badly the bubbles will burst, and whether or not China can get creative, remain to be seen. But if Xinwen Lianbo is any indication, they’re things the government is pretty worried about.

SEE UPDATES BELOW

The past few weeks have been especially embarrassing for the “rule-of-law” touting Communist Party as a blind activist (not actually charged with any crime) escaped house arrest. Well now Global Times has released a new narrative on what’s happened in Chen Guangcheng’s village over the past few years that puts the situation in a very different light.

In an op-ed entitled “Chen trump for US in human rights game,” Sima Pingbang, a “blogger and grass-roots intellectual” claims that he actually visited Chen successfully last December. This is a pretty bold claim since we were previously under the impression that no journalist had successfully broken through Chen’s guards to see him. It’s also quite strange that we haven’t heard anything of this visit until now – at a time when finding some actual wrong-doing by Chen would be very convenient for the party – which brings us to the even bolder claims of the article:

According to other villagers, Chen’s imprisonment a few years ago had nothing to do with his work. It was actually a pretty common local conflict.  They told me that Chen built a deep well using funds he received from a British source. But that well sucked out water from other wells in the village, which meant Chen effectively controlled the village’s water.

They claimed that Chen charged high fees for the water and caused discontent from villagers, some of them then openly voiced their unhappiness and that angered Chen. So he asked his family members to attack the village committee and blocked public roads in order to vent his anger.

So rather than being a feeble human rights defender, the piece says Chen is a water-hoarding, price-gouging, vengeful rabble-rouser.  For some reason, a British source funded a blind man’s water monopoly on a random village in Shandong.

[Update 1: Another article today from The Daily Beast mentions that there was in fact a British-funded well. It says, "After his environmental fight against the paper mill (in the late 1990s), Chen contacted Western media, diplomats, and NGOs in an effort to help improve villagers’ access to clean water. When the British Embassy agreed to bankroll a new 180-meter-deep well, Chen was proud of what his little hamlet of Dongshigu had achieved."] 

Sima Pingbang, the author of the GT piece, is a somewhat famous left-wing Maoist who last year penned an essay entitled “Support American People’s Great Wall Street Revolution,” which said events in the US will herald a global revolution that will bury capitalism. It inspired some short-lived protests in support of the movement in China.

On scouring over Sima Pingbang’s Weibo tweets from the month of December, I found nothing about a visit to Chen Guangcheng’s village. When contacted about how the claims were verified for print in Global Times, op-ed section reporter Gao Lei explained that Sima Pingbang did indeed visit Dongshigu in December with two others named Liu Yang 刘仰 and Yi Qing 一清 from a “blogger association.” Gao said that the group was approved by local authorities for the visit because they said they were “not there to cause any trouble, but looking for a peaceful solution.”  They then related this all to Gao Lei with some others from the association over dinner sometime after their return.

It seems that the “blogger association” (which Gao didn’t name) these men belong to is April Media 四月传媒 at m4.cn – formerly Anti-CNN.com – a nationalistic site that’s railed against Western media distortions of China since 2008.  It has an English sister site called the 4th Media. All three men have written op-eds on Chen Guangcheng in the past three days (here, here and here). Yi Qing backs up the trip to Dongshigu, but Liu Yang just talks about how Chen is a sympathetic figure who’s been exploited by the West. It’s not quite in line with the conniving water baron Sima Pingbang’s article portrays.

Gao Lei also said that these men have written about their trip before, but I wasn’t able to find anything about it dated before the past few days – which is odd if they did in fact go last December.

So it seems Sima Pingbang either A) Really found a story that the entire foreign press has somehow missed, B) went to Dongshigu, actually talked with villagers and Chen Guangcheng, but was lied to – perhaps by the thugs guarding Chen – and swallowed it all wholesale, or C) made things up.  Since Chen Guangcheng is gone now anyways and these new revelations, if true, would neutralize the government’s supposed wrongdoing, surely Dongshigu authorities will want these things independently verified by journalists – like those from CNN –  who might try to visit the town.

[Update 2: Yaxue Cao from Seeing Red in China, who first broke the news on Chen Kegui's altercation with thugs, has informed me that Sima did go to Dongshigu with Liu and Yi, as well as Politburo member Li Yuanchao, to convince Chen to reach some kind of compromise - which he refused. This site shows that Li was in Linyi at the time, though it naturally doesn't mention anything about Chen. The presence of a Politburo member would be nothing short of incredible and would explain the others not writing about the trip earlier.

Yaxue also adeptly pointed out that, while there was indeed a British-funded well, the idea of Chen siphoning the water away from the rest of the village is stupid because of (among other things) the principle of communicating vessels.]

[Update 3: He Peirong, Chen's rescuer, has told me that Li Yuanchao never met Chen. So if Li did have any involvement with Chen, it wasn't direct.]

Sometime last year Bo Guagua, Bo Xilai’s son, reportedly pulled up in a red Ferrari to meet Jon Huntsman’s daughter at the US ambassador’s residence in Beijing. The car was a symbol of the wealth gap in China and the all-too-common privileges afforded to China’s young political princelings. Some have even suggested it was one of the contributing factors to Bo Xilai’s ultimate downfall.

But did it actually happen?

On April 24th The Harvard Crimson printed a statement by Bo Guagua addressing many of the rumors floating around about him. One of the points said:

I have never driven a Ferrari. I have also not been to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing since 1998 (when I obtained a previous U.S. Visa), nor have I ever been to the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in China. Even my student Visas were issued by the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, which is closer to my home of five years.

This echoes the denial his father made at a press conference last month shortly before he was sacked.

Yesterday I contacted Jon Huntsman’s press office asking about the Ferrari incident and was simply told, “Unfortunately the Governor is not commenting on this story.”

I next contacted the US Embassy in Beijing. Richard Buangan, the embassy’s press secretary, told me by phone that he couldn’t confirm anything.

It was never previously confirmed which of Huntsman’s three adult daughters Bo Guagua supposedly met, but today New York Times reported that they had contacted one of the girls. The article stated:

[Abby Huntsman Livingston] said her sister Mary Anne did share a ride with the younger Mr. Bo after dinner one night but did not notice the make of the car. Ms. Livingston added that she and a friend of Mr. Bo’s were also at the dinner that evening. “He was a very nice person,” she wrote. “I can’t confirm that a Ferrari was involved because I didn’t see it.” She did back up one thing Mr. Bo said: contrary to published accounts, he did not pick up her sister at the ambassador’s residence. “Not sure where the story originated from to be honest, nor does my family,” she wrote.

I tried contacting all three Huntsman sisters myself via their Facebook and Twitter pages, but there was no reply.

The Ferrari story was first exposed in an article by Jeremy Page in Wall Street Journal last November with no names or titles of sources given, citing only “several people familiar with [the episode].”

Anonymous sources are a fact of life with government/embassy officials who aren’t officially authorized to comment. But I emailed Jeremy Page to see if he could give some clarity about the sources he based his report on. I asked  how many sources there were, who they’re affiliated with and if he approached them independently of one-another. Page sent a reply, not answering my questions but directing me to a Dow Jones (WSJ’s parent company) PR rep in New York. She said, “We don’t publicly discuss sources but we’re confident what we reported is true.”

Jeremy Page is a very reputable reporter (whom I and several other journalists have recently said deserves a Pulitzer for his Bo coverage). There’s little reason to doubt that reliable sources did indeed give him the Ferrari information, but who are they? Why do their accounts conflict so greatly with those of the parties directly involved? The issue has serious implications, not only for the Bo family, but also in how the ruling elite and their offspring are viewed in China.

Unfortunately I have more questions to offer at this point than answers, and until one of Page’s sources decides to speak up, it will probably stay that way.

I’m a bit late to the draw with this one, but last Friday, April 13th I noticed something interesting on CCTV. That morning People’s Daily had run an editorial on the Bo Xilai affair that was on the front page of nearly every major newspaper. That evening Xinwen Lianbo – the 7:00 PM national CCTV newscast – presented its routine fantasy world where people are moved by the empty speeches of leaders and the masses are engulfed with heated discussion of People’s Daily commentaries. On this day however, the program appears to have gone above and beyond just having anchors report the PD editorial’s contents. Several men-on-the-street were interviewed to get their takes on the Bo affair. When you set their comments next to the People’s Daily pieces, there are some pretty striking similarities:

Guo Hui, Haikou engineering maintenance worker

People’s Daily:  [The Bo decision] fully illustrated the Chinese Communist Party, which represents the people’s fundamental interests and shall never allow any “special party member” to be above the discipline of the party or the law of the country. Everybody is equal before the law and there is no privileged citizen or exception in the system. 同时也充分说明,代表人民群众根本利益的中国共产党,决不允许有凌驾于党纪国法之上的“特殊党员”;法律面前人人平等,制度面前没有特权、制度约束没有例外,

Worker: From the decision we can see the clear stand of the Party and government to safeguard party discipline and the laws of the state, that is to say, no matter what their position is in the party, nobody can be above the discipline of the party or law of the country. 从这个决定中我们可以看出,我们党和政府在坚决维护党纪国法面前的一个鲜明态度,就是说,在党内不管职位高低,不管任何人,都不能凌驾于党纪国法之上。

Yu Xingshou, Chongqing citizen

Chongqing citizen: As a party member, no matter how high your position is, whoever violates the law should be severely punished by the law. This treatment reflects equality before the law. 作为一名党员,不管你职位多高,干部多大,谁触犯了法律,都应该受到法律的严惩。这次的处理体现了在法律面前人人平等。

Chen Zhiwei, Changsha farmer

People’s Daily: China is a socialist country under the rule of law. The dignity and authority of the law cannot be trampled on. Whoever is involved, whoever broke the law shall be dealt with according to the law with no mercy. 我国是社会主义法治国家,法律的尊严和权威不容践踏。不论涉及到谁,只要触犯法律,都将依法处理,决不姑息。

Farmer: Our country is a socialist country under the rule of law. No one can be above the law and corruption will surely be punished severely by the law. 我们在法治社会主义国家,任何一个人不能凌驾于法律之上,有腐败行为的一定会得到国家法律的严惩。

Yang Fengcheng, Renmin University professor of party history

People’s Daily: Strict organizational discipline is a distinctive feature of our party. One of the party’s advantages is that organizations and members at all levels strictly obey the party discipline and consciously accept it. 严密的组织纪律性,是我们党的一个鲜明特征;党的各级组织和全体党员严守党的纪律、自觉接受党的纪律约束,是我们党的重要优势,

Renmin Professor: The Chinese Communist Party has a distinctive feature: that is strict discipline.  We say everyone is equal before the law, so to a Communist Party member, every member is equal before the party discipline.  中国共产党它有一个鲜明的特点,就是有着严明的纪律。我们讲在法律面前人人平等,那么在党纪面前,对于党员来讲那就是党纪面前人人平等。

Sun Fei, Deputy director of research at the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection

People’s Daily (from earlier April 10th editorial): [The Bo decision] fully reflects the spirit to stress facts and rule by law. It complies with the party’s concept to discipline itself strictly and rule the country according to law. It demonstrates the party’s firm determination to keep its purity.  这充分体现了重事实、讲法治的精神,完全符合我们党从严治党的根本要求和依法治国的执政理念,表明了我们党保持自身纯洁性的坚定决心,

Discipline inspection researcher: The decision by the CPC Central Committee to initiate an investigation of Comrade Bo Xilai’s serious disciplinary problems fully reflects the party’s determination to discipline itself strictly. It fully reflects that the party will never tolerate any corruption and that its ruling concept is to rule the country according to law. It also demonstrated the party’s firm stand to keep its purity.党中央决定对薄熙来同志严重违纪问题进行立案调查, 充分体现了党要管党,从严治党的决心,充分体现了我们党对腐败现象绝不容忍的政治态度,体现了依法治国的执政理念,表名了党保持自身纯洁的坚定立场。

It seems to me one of three things happened here:

  1. CCTV reporters did some serious shoe-leather reporting in several different cities across China in the space of a few hours, managing to find interviewees that happened to have nearly verbatim opinions to the People’s Daily editorials.
  2. The whole country truly was engulfed by the heated editorials and their spirited points rolled off the tongues of all those CCTV approached.
  3. CCTV told interviewees what to say.

I know I know. Chinese state media lacking journalistic integrity…truly breaking news.  Last year a leaked uncut video showed a farmer being told what to say on camera by a reporter, and CCTV has had plenty of its own fake interviews exposed. But having the audacity to do it with five back-to-back interviewees speaking from a single source openly available to the public is a bit surprising; especially for a network now trying to build credibility for its ambitious overseas expansion plans.

Last night,TechinAsia reported that internet companies like Sina and Tencent would be punished for permitting the spread of online rumors (most likely referring to rumors of a Beijing coup and perhaps speculation over a Beijing Ferrari crash). This report came from Xinhua citing a spokesman from China’s National Internet Information Office. Well today it looks like we know at least part of what that punishment is. This notice was posted on Weibo this morning:

It says,

Weibo Notice

Microblog Users,

Recently on the comments threads there’s been rumors and other illegal and harmful information. In order to concentrate on cleaning up, from 8:00 on March 31st to 8:00 April 3, the comments functions will be suspended. After cleaning we’ll re-open the function.This cleaning is necessary and aims to provide a better communication environment for users. Hope you understand. Thank you for your support

-Sina Weibo

3/31/2012

As far as “punishments” go, this seems pretty light – if it is in fact government imposed. This just means that when somebody posts something, other Weibo users won’t be able to comment on it. As Kaiser Kuo tweeted, this essentially just makes it like Twitter for the next 72 hours. It’s perhaps a gentle – yet very visible – slap of the company that hasn’t seemed to be taking it’s censorship responsibility very seriously.

Interestingly though, on one of my Weibo accounts I still haven’t complied with the real name registration requirement imposed by the government that was supposed to take effect March 16th, yet today I’m still able to tweet. Many have noticed this over the past two weeks, and at this point, it’s probably safe to say it isn’t a glitch. We’ll see if this among the things that get “cleaned up” over the next 72 hours at Weibo.

UPDATE: Netizens have already begun mocking this measure. Here are three posts that are fairly representative of what many Weibo users are saying on the issue:

 “Good for you! For the next three days nobody can criticize my posts.”

“…Now I’ll just switch to the “Forward” function…”

“Is this a big April Fools joke?”

While the world is trying to figure out what to make of coup rumors in Beijing and wondering the whereabouts of the recently deposed Politburo member, Xinhua, China’s official news agency, is keeping us up to date with invaluable information:

Still got unanswered questions? Perhaps this will help:

 

Every newspaper makes mistakes. It’s an unfortunate fact of life in an industry that has to deliver a wide range of information every day. But that’s what corrections are for. Just acknowledge and rectify the mistake and readers will usually trust the paper even more for it. I’ve never seen such a correction in Global Times…until today.

Last month Global Times ran piece called Australians uncertain about China’s new power, which cited a 2008 incident where Chinese students protested Tibetan and human rights activists at the Canberra Olympic torch relay. It was printed under the name Rory Medcalf, program director of international security at the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

But it turned out Medcalf had just been interviewed by Global Times and, unbeknownst to him, his ideas were patched together into an op-ed with his byline slapped on.  The phrase “[...] triggered by Tibetan separatists’ attempt to block the event” was also added, despite the fact that he never said it.

Medcalf wrote a post about the incident concluding, “The fact remains that someone on the newspaper’s staff thought it was perfectly acceptable to put words into my mouth to suit the Communist Party line. This is a real pity, since in principle it is a good thing for a Chinese newspaper to reach out to international audiences and to devote space for foreign commentators to communicate in their own words. The Global Times undermined this potentially positive initiative through some failures of basic journalistic standards.”

Today, the Global Times editor responsible for the incident, Gao Lei, made an unprecedented move and agreed. Global Times published an apologetic response where Gao explained that it was wrong to ever put Medcalf’s name on the byline to begin with. As for the “separatist” part, Gao explained that he had in fact been studying in Australia in 2008 and organized a counter-protest in Perth.

“My mind flashed back to the days when Western media gave what I saw as biased reports around Olympic torch relay and I tossed off the word ‘separatists’ with outrage,” said Gao. “I used the word unthinkingly, as it is the term commonly used by Chinese media source. It ended up in the article appearing as Medcalf’s words. Of course professionally I made an extremely serious mistake. Medcalf wrote a blog post to clarify his opinions and I am truly sorry for the distress my misrepresentation caused.”

For regular Global Times readers (or readers of most any Chinese media outlet) this honest acknowledgement of letting personal bias interfere with journalistic ethics is quite remarkable. This was an obvious contrast to Hu Xijin, the paper’s editor-in-chief.

In this excerpt from a 2010 piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, John Garnaut recalls an interview with Hu Xijin:

In our interview he didn’t seem to care whether his missiles were aimed at me personally or my profession, my country or the wider Western world. Australia was too insignificant to lecture China: ”You are driving a cart and we are driving a truck.” Ditto for Japan, given its entire stock of highways was no greater than China could build in a single year. And the New York Times was ”full of lies”.

On the subject of lies, I mentioned that his paper had egregiously misrepresented some of my own stories written in the Herald. He reassured me of his great personal commitment to truth and to pushing the boundaries of free speech. Earlier he had told me that Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel peace prize winner, deserved to be in prison for being ”a liar” who advocated ”Australian-style” democracy.

Again, contrast that to Gao Lei, a junior editor, who said about her mistake:

What I see from this unfortunate incident is the challenges Chinese media, and China as a whole, face in the expanding international engagement. Among issues where the West and China has profound disagreements, Tibetan situation is one of them. For both sides, a simple word can carry heavy political weight.

As a junior editor, I still have much to learn. Meanwhile, I remain optimistic that open dialogue and exchange of ideas will still help reduce long-held misperceptions.

Today Global Times ran an editorial called “Human rights award misses point of China’s social progress.” It was about Chinese lawyer Ni Yulan being given the Human Rights Defenders Tulip by the Dutch government for her role in fighting forced demolitions. Following standard GT editorial protocol, it opted to forgo any use of objective figures or examples to substantiate its claims. Instead it chose the basic approach of “fuck you Western media for calling attention to China’s problems rather than playing cheerleader to the overall progress it’s made.”

A few months ago I vowed not to rebut every dumb GT editorial that I came across. After all, I have to eat and sleep some time. So rather than rebutting, I’ve decided to help GT out with a little copy-editing. I’m in journalism school currently and one of the key principles we’re taught again and again is “show, don’t tell.” I know it’s been a long time since journalism school for Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin, who usually writes these editorials, so I’ve taken the liberty of re-writing it so that it has a chance of actually influencing some people toward GT’s viewpoint. It can even keep the same title and lead:

Human rights award misses point of China’s social progress 

Ni Yulan has been awarded the Human Rights Defenders Tulip 2011 by the Dutch government after her actions against forced demolition in Beijing, becoming the latest recipient of a foreign human rights prize. An unverified report said that Wednesday, Ni’s daughter Dong Xuan was not allowed to fly to the Netherlands to accept the award on behalf of her mother, who is still awaiting trial.

Ni has served a positive role in helping those who’ve been wrongfully, and often violently, dispossessed of their homes gain awareness of their rights and seek redress. She indeed deserves recognition for the hardships and debilitating physical harm she’s endured in her crusade to help the underclass.

However, coverage on cases like Ni Yulan tend to leave a somewhat unbalanced impression of forced evictions in China. In the focus on individual stories of suffering, it’s easy to miss the greater good that many demolitions are achieving.

There are essentially two types of land seizures now happening on a wide scale in China. The kind Ni has fought against are illegal and often the result of corrupt real estate deals. These unjustly throw commoners out of their homes with inadequate compensation and often feed a speculative bubble that threatens serious harm to the economy. The central government is indeed aware of this troubling trend and should continue to take proactive measures to mitigate it.

The second kind of demolition, however, gets less attention and is actually very good for China. Currently, roughly half of China’s population lives in rural areas. These areas usually consist of single-unit houses which use coal directly for cooking and heating. The houses also often have paper windows or other deficiencies that make them very energy inefficient. This contributes to high levels of both carbon emissions and local pollutants like sulfur.

Moving these people to the cities will put them in more efficient homes and on China’s electric grid, which is quickly cleaning up its energy production. Even when coal is the energy source, plants are becoming 25-50% more efficient and are retrofitting with devices that cut 95% of sulfur emissions.

Once these people are moved from their rural homes, the land is freed up for an even more pressing concern: food. China is about the same size as the US, but has 82% the arable farmland with 420% the population. To make matters worse, desertification is claiming this land at a rate comparable to the size of Rhode Island each year. It’s no wonder 150 million Chinese still don’t get enough to eat.

If we look at a developed country like the United States, a hundred years ago farmers made up 30% of its population. In 1945, on average, it took 14 labor-hours to produce 100 bushels of corn on two acres of land. By 1987, thanks to technological development, it took under 3 labor-hours and just over one acre of land to get the same result. Today, only about 2% of Americans are farmers and they produce much more food than the 30% did a hundred years ago.

China is going through the same process now with its current 35% farming population. Moving farmers from the countryside to cities moves them up the value chain and frees up land for more efficient mechanized farming. According to Geographical Society of China President Lu Dadao, China took only 22 years to increase its urban population from 17.9% to 39.1%. It took Britain 120 years and the US 80 years to accomplish this. So it can be said that China’s development is much more impressive.

It’s estimated that China’s urban population will surpass 70% by 2035, bringing it closer to developed status. It is regrettable that the power entrusted to local officials in order to reach this goal is sometimes abused. The recent resolution of the Wukan situation showed the government’s progress in dealing with these situations, but of course, there remains work to be done.

In this long march forward, it’s inevitable that many toes will get stepped on. Many will be uprooted amidst this progress. However, we shouldn’t let the setbacks completely overshadow the critical overarching goal. After all, keeping people fed is the most important human right of all.

See, I’ll bet you came a lot closer to sympathizing with GT’s main point here than in the original piece. It’s still bullshit, but I think you’ll agree it’s much less rank bullshit. 

CCTV’s overseas push

Posted: October 27, 2011 in media
Tags: ,

Last week CCTV (China Central Television) held its “First international forum for audience & seminar” where they tried to get advice from foreign journalists on how to expand their international influence. CCTV International, which comprises six channels in six languages, is setting up more foreign bureaus and trying to increase its access to overseas viewers.

This is mostly part of an attempt to expand China’s soft power. According to the Wall Street Journal, China’s media is in a “45 billion yuan ($6.6 billion) push to have a greater influence abroad and counteract what they see as biased reporting from the foreign press.”

CCTV representatives repeated several times at the forum the idea of showing “the Chinese perspective” to the world. This, I think, is the fundamental problem with CCTV’s expansion goals.

How often do you watch France 24? Probably never, because they had the same premise. The TV station launched in 2006 with the stated mission “To cover international current events from a French perspective and to convey French values throughout the world.” They hoped to one day compete internationally with CNN and BBC.

The problem is, in spite of what they’ll tell you, most people don’t actually want to hear others’ perspectives. They want their own perspectives reinforced. It’s called Selective Exposure Theory. This is why Fox News is among the top rated cable news channels in the US, even though studies have shown their viewers are among the most misinformed. It’s a place where conservatives can congregate to have their views reinforced and avoid information that contradicts their beliefs. The same rings true with liberals and MSNBC. For both, it’s good business. They both have large audiences. But who outside of China is going to want information from the Chinese view? Pakistan? North Korea maybe?

Beyond a very niche market, most don’t want another country’s “perspective.”  CNN and BBC’s international channels have succeeded because of extensive resources around the world that can cover events faster and better than others. They’re certainly not 100% objective but they’re not explicitly promoting the American or British “perspective” either. When I watched news of the 2008 Tibet riots, I didn’t really need CCTV’s perspectives like “Any attempt to split China is doomed to failure.” I just needed to know what the hell was happening.

The advantage CCTV has over France 24, or even BBC, is that a lot of people around the world actually care what’s happening inside China. Bloomberg Editor-at-Large Lee Miller said, “You [CCTV] have resources that we can’t compete with. You can access people that we can’t.”

But that comes to the most obvious problem: credibility. While the foreign journalists at the forum talked about some practical business and coverage strategies, it inevitably kept coming back to that same implicit issue.

Even if CCTV ditched the “Chinese perspective” and just tried to report objective news nobody else had access to, could anyone trust the government controlled outlet? The English channel often makes token overtures to prove they’re provocative to foreign audiences but they still mostly rely on the dry traditional “leaders are busy, people are happy, foreign countries are in chaos” format. Then there’s the whole thing with CCTV’s Chinese channels faking interviews and largely neglecting to report their own massive downtown Beijing fire.

Li Bin, a representative of CCTV, assured the audience that they’re dedicated to improving openness and objectivity. The crazy thing is I actually believe him. Al Jazeera was cited by the host of the forum as a good model at one point. They managed to overcome perceived anti-American bias in the wake of 9/11 to launch Al Jazeera English in 2006. Earlier this year my eyes were glued to the station as they covered the Arab Spring, simply because they had access and resources in the Middle-East  nobody else had. Their success in the region has let them expand to the point that they can compete with CNN and BBC in many other places around the world. I remember during the first few hours of the Japanese earthquake their coverage was much better than both those outlets.

It’s obvious those at CCTV International know they have very little international credibility under present circumstances. And from talking to some CCTV reporters, I think they honestly do want to become a true spotlight on the good and the bad of China.

However, there was another English media outlet in China that had the same idea two years ago. They hoped to one day print overseas and compete with foreign outlets. They caused a stir when they ran two pieces on the Tiananmen Square 20th anniversary at a time nobody else in China’s media would mention it. The reporters of this outlet were excited with the freedom they thought they’d have and many (including myself) thought this could be the beginning of a provocative new chapter in China’s media.  That outlet was Global Times.

I don’t want to say CCTV has no chance of making it internationally. They have the resources and interest on their side. But even if the government says they’ll untie CCTV for the international channels, I suspect the first time something truly embarrassing is aired the propaganda department will throw the lasso back on – just like they have with Global Times. It’s a shame. Having an objective international media outlet would do much more for China’s soft power than having a propaganda machine that nobody watches.

I don’t want to get in the habit of rebutting every idiotic Global Times editorial that’s printed. That would be a full-time job comprising an entire blog. But recently they’ve somehow sunk below the bar that was already on the ground. There was of course the call for war, but there’s more. This time they’ve managed to piss all over something that should be good news to everyone but racists.

In response to the US senate apologizing for historical discrimination against Chinese with policies like the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, Global Times yesterday ran an editorial titled Senate apology masks sense of superiority. It makes some token concessions about the positive nature of the bill, but the title pretty well sums up the intended takeaway.

Global Times running inflammatory editorials over things like Liu Xiaobo’s peace prize or any criticism of China, no matter how well-founded, is understandable. It’s what they do. But spinning such a conciliatory and positive gesture like this into yet another Western “wolf in sheep’s clothing” narrative is a new low. Now why would Japan ever give China the parliamentary apology it wants for World War II atrocities? The Chinese media has just demonstrated it’ll likely spit on it and use it for stirring up even more nationalism.

A few weeks ago Global Times ran another piece called Locke’s lifestyle and new mission which admonished the Chinese admiration of US Ambassador Gary Locke for buying his own coffee and flying economy class. They’re not letting the US (and ergo that one country called “The West”) get away with anything positive. It all must be spun in a way to keep everyone suspicious of the West’s constant all-encompassing anti-China agenda.

Global Times isn’t a (direct) spokesman for the government, but these editorials can give a pretty good clue of what the government wants people to think, and I would expect to see a lot more of this in the coming year. China faces a tough leadership transition in late 2012 and having unfavorable comparisons drawn to Western democracies is the last thing the CCP wants during this process- which in no way involves input from the people. And nationalism is the fail safe source of legitimacy that boosts the Party’s credentials in the short-term. It’s liberal use will give them strength through the transition.

So I predict these editorials are a preview of bigger things to come in the next year. The US (and “the West”) will do no right. The successes will be spun into failures and the failures into uber-failures that highlight the correct socialist path China has chosen. Yes, this already happens to a large degree, but we ain’t seen nothing yet. The US election, which will happen right in the midst of China’s power handover and inevitably feature very real China-bashing, will antagonize the whole situation. So I’d prepare to lower your expectations for both Global Times editorials and amicable Sino-US relations…if that’s even possible.

Today Global Times ran a piece called “Time to teach those around South China Sea a lesson.”  It basically says it would be a shame to waste an opportunity to wage some small scale battles in the South China Sea to teach mosquitoes like Vietnam and the Philippines a lesson. Tom Lasseter and Laowai Times have already written up pieces giving it the ridicule it deserves, so I’ll leave that part to them. As Laowai Times pointed out, “It’s hard to tell where stupidity ends and satire begins sometimes.” As satirical as it sounds though, the author of the article has what appears to be a real name and job, and the same piece ran in the Chinese edition of Global Times a few days ago. They’re not typically known for printing (intended) satire.

That people have this idea about war with Vietnam or the Philippines isn’t very surprising though. I’ve written before on how the South China Sea would be the perfect place for a little shock resuscitation of nationalism-based legitimacy if the party were ever backed into a corner. I’m sure there are plenty of hardliners in the government pondering the very suggestion the GT piece put forth.

But that this was printed in a national newspaper  in a country that constantly emphasizes “peaceful development”  …and then translated into the English version for the world to see is truly dumbfounding. I wrote a column for Global Times for a year-and-a-half (which I recently quit) and also did an internship this summer with the op-ed department. I always try to defend the paper  because a lot of wonderful people work there that write very intelligent, hard-hitting pieces. It’s just a shame that they have to come up with about a hundred of those pieces for every asinine editorial they run just to hold on to any kind of credibility.

Out of professional courtesy I won’t say anything about day-to-day operations there or the editorial process, but I’ll say that, in spite of all the incredibly dumb stuff they routinely print, this piece blew my mind. I really have no good guess as to how this made it in. Nothing that I’ve ever experienced gives me much of a clue; especially given that it’s not an editorial and the guy who wrote it is an analyst with some outside think tank who doesn’t even directly work for the paper. So if any readers out there are more discerning and analytical than I am in this case, please share.

Over the past few months I’ve been interviewing dozens of Chinese aged 18-24 for a few articles exploring how the Communist Party is trying to maintain legitimacy among young intellectuals. But the other day a behavioral psychologist I spoke to highlighted a trend in my interviews that had completely slipped under my radar.

When I told him what some of the people were saying, he asked if I’d been speaking to them in Mandarin. I had with several, but I’ve been drawn more to interviewees who speak English well for in-depth interviews. Partly for convenience, but partly because they’ve tended to say more interesting and unexpected things. This wasn’t surprising at all to the doctor.

“Learning a different language, especially a western language, is already engaging in divergent thinking,” E. Thomas Dowd, the behavioral psychologist, explained to me. “When you speak a different language you begin to think differently. People who speak more than one language tend to have a broader range of cognitive abilities, they think more divergently, they’re more creative, and can converse better with people of more diverse cultures.”

When I taught university English in Nanjing I noticed this with my students to some extent. The English majors tended to think much more critically and liberally (ie. against the Party line) than my non-English major students. I always chalked this up to the fact that English majors have foreign teachers and often use western English media to study.

But after talking with the psychologist, I went back and looked at my interviews. Even the good English speakers who hadn’t spent any time with foreigners or viewing western media seemed to have liberal tendencies, suggesting the mere act of acquiring a foreign language played a big role. Meanwhile, the people that spoke little or no foreign language had ideas most similar to the government line. Looking at individuals, the young man who spoke the most idiomatic English said stuff that could probably get him arrested, and one girl who speaks English and Russian said some incredibly critical things too. If I were to make a chart of all the interviewees comparing English ability to thinking that contradicts government scripting, the correlation would be pretty apparent.

There were exceptions and undoubtedly other factors in play. The sample was also too small (around 35) and unscientific to make any concrete conclusions, but there have been studies that show, to a certain extent, language shapes how you see and interact in the world. For instance with German, if you want to say you met your neighbor last night, the language compels you to reveal the gender of that neighbor.

The suggestion that simply learning a foreign language makes you more liberal-minded was news to me though. Important news. It’s tempting to go for the subjects that can speak English well, but it would seem that that doesn’t really give a good representation of Chinese opinion; even in articles that focus on educated elite. It’s good reminder for journalists, but maybe just as importantly, to foreigners who come to China to visit or teach English.

The bulk of their real exposure to Chinese opinion is from foreign language learners. Thus, it’s pretty natural to marvel at how unexpectedly liberal and open-minded Chinese are in these situations; especially in regards to politics. But that picture is likely pretty skewed. If you can speak Chinese and take a walk over to a non-foreign language department of the university, you’ll probably get a very different impression.

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.’”

Key Points

  • 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.
Analysis

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.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Jiang Yu has become quite the darling of the foreign press. Answering for the actions of the Chinese government isn’t an easy job but she always manages to pull it off with grace, charm and consistency. Here’s a list of gems from her lips…

“The Chinese Government protects its citizens’ freedom of speech according to law and gives full play to the scrutiny role of the press and the public.” May 10, 2010

“What law lets you interview anyone you like?” March 3, 2011 (See: Article 17 – China Reporting guidelines)

“As far as I know, over the weekend the Beijing police properly handled the incident at Wangfujing.” March 3, 2011 (Responding to a question about foreign journalists being detained and beaten)

“Foreign journalists at Wangfujing were adversely affecting traffic and order.” March 3, 2011

Reporter: Can national laws on foreign journalists in China be superseded by local authorities?

Jiang Yu: “No. But check with local authorities” March 3, 2011

“Governance according to law is the best guarantee for human rights,” September 28, 2010

“I have not heard of that person.”(When asked the whereabouts of Chinese-Australian political blogger Yang Hengjun)

“Chinese people enjoy human rights and basic freedom according to law. This is a fact obvious to all.” June 13, 2006

“Don’t use the law as a shield.” March 3, 2011

“The real problem is that there are people who want to see the world in chaos, and they want to make trouble in China. For people with these kinds of motives, I think no law can protect them.” March 3, 2011

“A handful of monks chanted slogans in front of foreign journalists yesterday? Isn’t it a proof of their freedom of speech?” April 14, 2008

“The Nobel committee is orchestrating an anti-China farce by themselves . […]We are not changing because of interference by a few clowns.” December 7th, 2010

“It is in the interest of Japan to face up to history and deal with issues of history correctly, which will help Japan to improve its international image. We always believe that on issues of history, we should take history as a mirror for the benefit of the future. We are ready to develop friendly China-Japan relations from generation to generation on the basis of facing up to the future and drawing lessons from history.” April 23, 2008

“About the political issue you mentioned … there has already been a clear conclusion.”(Responding to a question about the Tiananmen Square crackdown) June 3, 2010

“Don’t even think of isolating China by not attending the Olympics.” April 4, 2008

Reporter: “I think China has changed its position on the issue of boycotting the Olympics. Now China opposes boycotting Olympics for political reasons, then why didn’t China take part in the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow?”

Jiang Yu: “The Olympic Games is a major event for people worldwide. We are firmly against boycotting the Olympics.” April 4, 2008

Reporter: “An Indian news report says that two Indian border guards were injured two weeks ago by bullets fired from the Chinese side. Can you confirm?”

Jiang Yu: “I have not heard of the scenario you mentioned. You may check with competent authorities. I have noticed, however, that Indian media has been releasing some groundless information recently. I wonder what their intention is.” Septemeber 15, 2009

“Do not ask the same questions over and over again. Please think carefully before you ask.” March 3, 2011

UPDATE:

“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.” May 4th, 2011

“Mentioning China in the same breath as other countries in West Asia and North Africa where volatility and turmoil have occurred recently is inappropriate. Anyone who attempts to bring the Middle East turbulence into China and to change the development road that the Chinese people have chosen for themselves is on a fool’s errand,”  May 14, 2011

“With the foreign press expanding their agencies and increasing their personnel in China, your freedom of reporting activites around China have also been expanded. This is a very objective fact,” May 19, 2011

Now that it’s evident foreign coverage of the attempted protests in China and the government backlash against them isn’t simply going away unnoticed, it’s time for Beijing to resort to the one-size-fits-all response they use in any similar situation:

Foreigners who show interest in the events want to see China in chaos.

Global Times, China Daily, the Foreign Ministry, and numerous netizens have flaunted this claim. Basically, foreign reporters who showed up to Wangfujing to do their job were hoping to see demonstrations because they, and their viewers back home, want to see China implode. Committing journalism is evidently proof of willingly agitating upheaval.

I won’t deny that most of the journalists who showed up probably were hoping for demonstrations. It does make for exciting news. I also won’t deny that many in the West do cheer on the kind upheavals happening in the Middle-East without really understanding their long-term implications. It’s inspirational to film statues of dictators toppling over, but after the initial party most media don’t stick around for the ugly clean up.

The Chinese claim goes way beyond any of this though. It suggests people in the West want to see China in chaos just for chaos’ sake. Then their countries can carry out their own devious political objectives without the benevolent Chinese counter-weight.

Pictured: Typical foreign journalist

It was exactly the same during the Tibet and Xinjiang riots, as well as the Nobel Peace Prize saga. Foreign media showed implicit support for the events simply by covering them. And again, foreigners who showed any kind of approval wanted only to disrupt the peace of China.

In those cases, the government was even able to blame the initiation of unrest on underground anti-China conspiracies (which TOTALLY exist) who fund and pull the strings of misguided local villains like the Dalai Lama, Rebiya Kadeer or Liu Xiaobo.

In the government narrative, there’s no middle ground for supporting peaceful protest or calling for reform and transparency. You can either silently trust and submit to them totally, or live in absolute anarchy. In most cases, this false dilemma sells pretty well to domestic audiences. After years of schooling emphasizing western arrogance, foreign occupation and the “century of humiliation”, it’s generally accepted that foreigners who say otherwise really do want to see China collapse, or at best, they simply “don’t understand China.”

After living in China through all these events, I’m getting pretty tired of being told I don’t understand China because I advocate transparency in the government and media . I don’t appreciate the idea that I’m labeled anti-China because I don’t think Liu Xiaobo is Hitler. And most of all, I’m dumbstruck at seeing the Chinese media say that I must wish to see the country I’ve made my home erupt into chaos since I condone peaceful public demonstration as a means of airing grievances.

So Chinese government and media, find a new scapegoat already. I know we foreigners are an easy target to use in consolidating nationalistic support for your actions, but please stop making me refute all the bloodthirsty bullshit you ram down your people’s throats about us.

The Chinese government just released an extended 17-minute promotional video entitled “China on the Way” which can be seen here. After all the criticism of the 1-minute video playing in Times Square, the extended video is an improvement in that it contains more than just people standing around. To its credit, it actually shows diverse scenery and cultural Chinese scenes while focusing on common people rather than celebrities.

But like the shorter PR video, this one seriously neglects its target audience and runs more like a domestic propaganda film. It’s packed with questionable, misleading, and outright false statements accompanied by a lot of subtext praising the Chinese government and nipping standard foreign criticisms of China in the bud. These are a few of the claims from the video that stuck out.

“Chinese people know that our beautiful country and children’s future are too high a price to pay for economic development”

Maybe Chinese people know that, but it’s certainly not reflected by China’s top leaders with statements like “economic development is China’s top priority.” Refusal to submit to binding carbon emissions reductions and join international environmental treaties take a bit of credibility away from this statement.

“People can transform from poverty to riches in a single day, but it will never change the respect and love between people”

You only have to spend a few months in China to realize how absurd this statement is. It’s a standard mantra in China that a man must have a car and a house to even be considered by a woman for marriage. Ask a group of Chinese people who they admire most, and you’ll almost certainly hear Bill Gates named. There’s a direct correlation between how much money a person has and how much love and respect they receive in any country, but this is  especially true in China. The Chinese themselves are usually quick to admit that. Apparently the government is trying to shed the country of the materialistic image it’s gaining.

“While celebrating China’s 60th anniversary, the government demonstrated the value of thrift”

What?! Here’s a few pictures from the celebration which illustrate that thrift:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The government spent a “frugal” $44 million on the National Day Parade. This was allegedly scaled back from an original budget of $2.3 billion in the wake of the financial crisis. So by using price anchoring that would make Steve Jobs jealous, maybe it would be fair to call the celebration a demonstration of thrift. After all, it was less than half the $100 million spent on the Olympic opening ceremony.

“In Beijing, migrant workers’ children have their own special educational arrangements”

There’s not much you can criticize about this statement in terms of accuracy. Migrant children certainly do have their own “special educational arrangements.” These arrangements include not being allowed to step foot in the high-quality public schools reserved for children holding a Beijing Hukou. The video shows this classroom:

But in reality migrant schools usually look look more like this: Only about 20% of these schools in Beijing are even sanctioned and legal. The rest rarely, if ever, get any funding from the government. While the statement about migrant children having a “special educational arrangement” is technically true, it’s laughable that it was included in a promotional video.

“Minorities enjoy relative liberal regulations allowing them to pass their unique heritage on to children. Such freedom adds to our cultural diversity.”

“Relative liberal regulations”? What does that even mean? Are they trying to say that their regulations are only liberal compared to the regulations on the Han majority? Maybe that’s true…unless you count the millions of Buddhists who are prohibited from even having a picture of one of their most sacred leaders.

“Around 900 million people in the Chinese countryside enjoy village voting rights. The world applauds such training for democracy.”

It’s possible that the 900 million figure is accurate…maybe.  But the second sentence is again quite laughable. The outside world is the audience of this video and they’re being told what they think. Clearly this thinking includes a mental standing ovation toward China for stumbling along on it’s democracy training wheels.

“We spend less on food and drinks in daily life and we pay more attention on the enjoyment of spiritual life and personal accomplishment”

This isn’t only funny because of the recent rapid inflation of food prices in China, but because the phrase is taken verbatim from Chinese school textbook propaganda. So either the woman who said it in the video was told what to say, or is regurgitating a phrase that’s been hammered into her mind subconsciously. Either way, it’s not much testament to her spiritual awakening.

Like the Times Square PR video, it’s probably safe to assume that this one was made more for Chinese consumption than for foreigners. The Chinese subtitles and the feel of a government propaganda film don’t do much to improve foreigners’ view of China. However, it might boost Chinese national pride to see that a very pro-China video is being shown overseas.

It’ll be interesting to see what Chinese people think though. The majority seemed to dissaprove of the Times Square video because of the cost and the inclusion of non-Chinese celebrities. My guess is the first thing they criticize is the fact that the narrator of this video clearly isn’t Chinese, but still says “we” throughout the video when talking about Chinese people.

But there was one lightly-veiled slap in the face to the West in the video that’s hard to ostracize:

“China can back it’s development with strong financial reserves”

Touché China…touché

After Forbes Magazine named Chinese President Hu Jintao the most powerful person in the world this week, a China Daily article had some guesses as to why Forbes chose to unseat Barack Obama as the reigning number one in favor of Hu:

“Forbes magazine has named President Hu Jintao as the world’s most powerful person, a move that analysts say shows global acknowledgement of China’s contribution to the world’s economic recovery.”

“China’s peaceful rise on the world stage is also likely to have been a decisive factor.”

“Another significant factor in Hu’s ranking was China’s stable social development and its ability to overcome natural disasters in recent years. The effective measures taken by the government also earned credits for Hu.”

“Analysts said China’s burgeoning economy might have tipped the scales in Hu’s favor. They noted that China’s remarkable contribution to the world’s economy helped it gain a strong international reputation.”

During all these analysts’ analyses, it seems they forgot to analyze what Forbes Magazine itself actually said regarding why they awarded the number one spot to Hu:

“Unlike Western counterparts, Hu can divert rivers, build cities, jail dissidents and censor Internet without meddling from pesky bureaucrats, courts.”

The Chinese media’s coverage of the Forbes list marks a noticeable contrast from the coverage over the past few weeks of the Nobel Peace Prize when everyone involved from Liu Xiaobo himself, to the Nobel Committee, to the entire country of Norway were directly
attacked. The approach to the Forbes list shows the more traditional propaganda department approach: spin and repress.

Spin the event into something flattering to China while quoting some unnamed “analysts” or “experts”, then repress any information that disproves their assertions. Even with the internet, stories like this are usually easy to apply this approach to. Patriots and nationalists within China are all too willing to accept the new harmonious version of the story which casts China in a superior world position. They have no desire to see conflicting information, so unlike with the Nobel Prize, they won’t bother to seek it out.