3/27/2008

The Taelspin on Tibet: The Chinese Response to foreign media coverage of the 3.14 unrest

Foreign media coverage of the demonstrations and riots in Lhasa, Qinghai, Sichuan, and Gansu two weeks ago has sparked a significant backlash here in China. State media continues to release increasingly shrill diatribes against Western media bias as Chinese netizens take to the internet with their own protests sparked by a general perception that coverage of the riots was purposely warped and skewed by anti-China forces in the West. (For a sampling in English, check out the back and forth on this forum hosted by that bastion of journalistic integrity and objectivity: The China Daily.) There’s a whole website devoted to attacking CNN, and in this age of user-generated online content, we see the battle spilling over onto (the recently blocked and unblocked) YouTube. Moreover, some of these videos and blog posts seem intended for a wider audience, not just for domestic consumption.

Over at the popular online forum Tianya, I stumbled across a thread in which a patriotic and enterprising youth has cut and pasted pages from a media directory, telling readers that the telephone is their greatest weapon and they should use it against the foreign news organizations:

If someone is there, inquire about their mother (ahem). If they don’t pick up, keep calling and when somebody answers, curse them out and then hang up—the idea is to jam the lines so the SOBs can’t use their telephones. [paraphrase]

Charming. I remember playing this game once. When I was 12.

On a more serious note, criticism of Chinese government actions and policies is once again perceived as being anti-China, but that said: those who claim that some foreign media organizations have reason to apologize might well be right.

In the hours and days following the event, there were several cases of words and especially images misrepresenting what was going on in Tibet. While I doubt this was due to a global anti-China conspiracy (a state-sponsored bogeyman if there ever was one) it certainly suggested sloppy journalism. As the first news of significant unrest emerged from Lhasa on May 14, it seemed like one of those stories that writes itself, which is a classic trap for any journalist: "Tibetan Monks! Chinese Troops! Film at 11!" Not that the Chinese coverage was any more nuanced (“Let’s blame it all on the Dalai Lama Clique!”), but at least CCTV and Xinhua wear their lack of objectivity on their sleeve.

For its part, Xinhua blamed the Western media bias on a “cognitive blackout,” and many foreign journalists in China do need a more sophisticated understanding of the issues in Tibet. Unfortunately, the government chose to respond to this cognitive blackout with a news blackout. In the absence of information, the mind races even as the fingers type, and western journalists are generally trained in such a way that when a government appears to be hiding something, it must be something worth hiding, and so they begin to suspect the worst. On the day the violence erupted, only The Christian Science Monitor and The Economist had people on the ground filing stories as Beijing Street in Lhasa burned. Everybody else was in Beijing (the city) desperately trying to get as close as they could to the action but to little avail: the government was not letting any more foreign journalists into Tibet. Facing the demands of a 24-hour news cycle, and working with rumors, recycled information, and a limited pool of images and footage from Lhasa, too many journalists relied on preconceived notions and faulty assumptions with predictable results.

When sympathy demonstrations and unrest broke out in ethnic Tibetan regions in Sichuan, Gansu, and Qinghai, foreign media representatives rushed to these (slightly) more accessible areas, resulting in a flood of "Dateline: Xiahe" stories even as the PSB, local cops, and the usual hired goon squads tried to keep the foreigners away from hot spots. One Beijing-based journalist out west last week retorted that if a meeting of The Foreign Correspondents Club of China had been called in the Lanzhou airport transit lounge, they might have had a quorum. (On a separate note, FCCC president Melinda Liu has been quite vocal in expressing her disappointment and displeasure at the government restrictions on journalists covering this story.) Just yesterday, the Chinese government finally agreed to allow a select pool of journalists to travel to Lhasa, a move that backfired almost immediately.

The whole mess has become a PR nightmare of Olympic proportions.

Unsurprisingly, media coverage of Tibet was a major topic when Danwei held its Second Plenary Session here in Beijing on Tuesday night. It was an excellent evening and kudos to Jeremy Goldkorn and the Danwei team for putting it together. Featured speakers included Steven Liu, Olympic News Editor at Sohu.com and part of the duo that produce Antiwave (反波) a series of podcasts focusing on foreign and Chinese media; journalist Raymond Zhou who has written for The China Daily among other publications; Lindsey Hilsum, international news editor for Britain’s Channel 4 News and whose reports can be seen Stateside on PBS's The News Hour with Jim Lehrer; and Jonathan Watts, East Asia correspondent for The Guardian and a last-minute replacement for CNN’s Jaime FlorCruz, who--it is safe to say--is not having the easiest week of his China career.

(On some level, you have to feel just a little bit for CNN: When Xinhua calls you out for lack of objectivity it’s a bit like Britney Spears suggesting that your life is out of control and you should think about getting some counseling, but I digress...)

Asked about claims of a western media bias regarding the Tibetan situation, Jonathan Watts called the events of March 14, “The most important story of my five years in China, and the most difficult to cover because we weren't allowed anywhere near the story.” He strongly criticized the government’s decision to prevent journalists from traveling to Lhasa, a sentiment echoed by Lindsey Hilsum.

Raymond Zhou took a different view, arguing that Western media coverage of China has in general been far too negative and ignores the positive aspects of China’s development. “A farmer in the (American) Midwest, reading only the western newspapers, would get the impression that China is a dreadful place,” he said, responding to a question I asked regarding the differing role of journalists in the PRC (cheerleader for the government) and in Europe and North America (watchdog media).

Mr. Zhou has a point, except that the negativity of the media in Europe and the United States isn’t just directed at the CCP. The Bush administration constantly laments the lack of ‘positive coverage’ for the Iraq War. The front pages of the New York Times, Le Figaro, and The Guardian are filled with stories that would seem quite ‘negative’ when compared with the front pages at my local newsstand in Beijing, and as a daily viewer of the morning and evening CCTV news, I’ve noticed that this compulsion to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative stops at the water’s edge: CCTV never hesitates to trumpet the latest murder statistics, school shooting, natural disaster, or political scandal from America, not to mention the Chinese state media's almost gleeful reportage on the ongoing US disaster in Iraq. (By way of recent example: A montage of Elliot Spitzer headlines, including those from the New York Post and New York Observer, occupied a prominent place in the morning newscast a couple of weeks back.)

I’m a historian by training, and as I’ve written elsewhere, history is a slippery ally in contemporary political disputes so I'm frustrated by the extent to which the historical record has been twisted and warped by both Chinese state media and the free Tibet crowd. But the truth is that history education in the PRC is highly politicized, and the state uses it to shape public opinion and to preserve the legitimacy of the government and the Party. The netizen response is a reflection of this, and this response has also received (at the very least) tacit official support from the traditional state media. I see a parallel here to the anti-Japanese internet fervor of a few years back, which was also given a pretty free rein and tacit official support until it threatened to hurt Sino-Japanese relations and the government stepped in and shut it down.

At the same time, while the Chinese-language online world is bursting with harsh condemnations of foreign media treachery, almost all opinions or ideas expressed in opposition to the official line are quickly blacked out, blocked, or deleted. There is little incentive for the government to allow open discussion of the Tibet question, and the curriculum of ‘patriotic education’ in the schools means that alternative perspectives on history or politics get short shrift.

The government line that China is becoming stronger and all this negative attention is mere jealousy also works on a basic level because it is a psychologically comforting response to a complex situation. Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “One of the best ways to enslave a people is to keep them from education. The second way of enslaving a people is to suppress the sources of information, not only by burning books but also by controlling all the ways in which ideas are transmitted.” When you have young people who grow up in an environment with a single point of view that is both psychologically palatable and which ties self-esteem to national pride, it’s not surprising that you get the “fenqing (愤青) phenomenon,” angry young Chinese who make up the bulk of these online demonstrations against the foreign media.

At the Danwei session, Steven Lin, argued that the role of the online forums was as a psychological release valve for these angry young people (actually the metaphor was a little more scatological, but you get the point). Raymond Zhou concurred and said that 99% of what is posted on the BBSs is "garbage." That may be, and certainly the fenqing are more extreme than mainstream Chinese views on the subject, but not by much and their anger suggests that disruption of future events, not the least of which the Beijing Olympics, will be treated with the same indignant fury as the riots in Lhasa. These past few weeks, many young Chinese responded on BBSs with anger, natural enough given the brutality of some of the attacks on Han Chinese in Tibet, but it was anger tinged with real hatred. Sentiments such as "Forget the Olympics, ignore the Western critics," "restore order at all costs," "strike hard," and "smash the Tibetan ingrates" reverberated in cyberspace, as well as more moderate views that called for foreign news organizations to issue retractions and apologies. A fax sent to several news organizations this week had "Shameless CNN! Shameless America! One day we Chinese will be strong!" written in a scrawling hand.

It's true that following the outbreak of unrest on March 14, many in the foreign media dropped the ball, in some cases due to lazy or mistaken reporting, in others as the result of preconceived notions of the situation and a misunderstanding of the complexities in the Sino-Tibetan relationship. Meanwhile, coverage in the Chinese state media was little better in its histrionic attempts to portray the Dalai Lama as a demonic mastermind bent on splitting China and “re-imposing a slave society” on Tibetans. Chinese netizen response was sparked by outrage at flawed reports and a perception of bias in foreign coverage of the event, but i was also the product of an environment where the Party line is the only possible interpretation of either historical or contemporary ‘reality.’ Unfortunately, I fear this is not the last time in this Olympic year that competing expectations and perceptions, by the Chinese state and public on one side and the foreign media on the other, will result in unpleasantness. Stay tuned.

58 comments:

Anonymous said...

I feel strongly that if Chinese government allow western reporters enter Tibet, things will be getting much worse. Because western reporters always pick the piece that is the best of their interests. Reporting an "evil" Chinese government is more welcomed than saying Chinese government is doing the right thing.

Believe it or not, western people have been "brainwashed" by the bias western media, but it is hard for them to realize it, because western media seems to be more open and more objective.

I am not a Fengqing. Just want to tell the truth.

Anonymous said...

For a mature mind, why would the English and American media be any different to spin a story line more in tune with the ideological inclne? It is simply human nature. The problem is then that this ideology and bias preconception is too one sided. The key point is that an individual has to be educated first about the subject of interest and then listen widely from different angles before making judgment. The current deficiency is that in China you cannot get (any) foreigh media (though improving) and in the West you cannot get any Chinese media. The divide between teh West and the East will continue.

Anonymous said...

Why made a fuss over the angry raction from the mainland Chinese who found out the true face of the western media's so called"overjectivity" on this incident? I suspect it would be only common in any other country under the same circumstance. when you habitually assume that the government was behind or played any tpye of role in orchestrating this anger, you are ten thousands miles wrong as you absolutely unestimated and even insulted the general intellegence, mental capicity and sense of social justice of both the mainland and overseas Chinese. They have not slept through past three decades! To be trained in Chinese history, first you have to get a real sense of the people whose history you study. I mean all walks of people, not only the one who can speak YOUR language.

Anonymous said...

under-estimated!
Sorry.

Norm said...

Very interesting post. Thanks for you analysis from Beijing.

I am wondering if you are hearing of or seeing any seems or broken patches in the swell of patriotic fervor, that is, Chinese who rightfully bear skepticism of both Western media and Chinese media and go beyond this silly "black and white" reading of events and believe earnestly that further investigations are needed to really get as close as we can to the truth of the origins and unfolding of events. I read an article by NY Times columnist, Howard French, last week in which author featured a group of 21 Chinese (Han)academics who signed a petition, urging "the (Chinese) government to end its one-sided propaganda campaign about Tibet." This is the only case of I've heard of (though I haven't been following the media coverage too closely). Have you heard of any other individuals/groups who are skeptical of both dominant narratives and want to push beyond the "everything is rooted in bias" arguments?

Anonymous said...

Hardly any new thoughts provided by the author in this rather long "analysis".

To sum it up, the following points are what the author wants to tell the reader:
1. Some mistakes were made by the western media in its reporting of the latest unrest in Tibet.(who doesn't make mistakes? Look at the Chinese media, I am still way better, hum)
2. The mistakes were trivial and unintentional (as no "analysis" on the potential effect of these trivial mistakes was provided).
3. The mistakes were not big enough to render the western media biased in this case.
4. Also much of the blame should be targeted at the Chinese government because of the restrictions.(I had to crop that damn picture cus you don't allow me to shoot the scence that I want to show the free world. They expect to see a damn picture of Chinese soldiers beating and shooting peaceful protesters. You made me do that, shame on you!)
5. The angry reaction from the Chinese audience towards their perceived biased reporting by the western media can be described by the following well-known phrases, which are western reporters' favourites when reporting China related stories: nationalistic, brainwashed and government sponsorship, etc. (You want to know why? If some Chinese express themselves, they are stirred up and sponsored by the CCP, if they are silent, then they are brainwashed, what do you expect?)

Anonymous said...

The CCP has concluded that western medias are biased(and rightly so, given evidences) and that "free" reporting will be seen by Tibetans as supporting an independent cause, and they want to starve it of oxygen by restricting access.

Yes, in an ideal world, and over the long run, a free press is unquestionably the best way to find out the truth.

But given the conclusion the CCP (and plenty of Chinese) has drawn regarding western media, it makes sense that they should restrict reporting. Wouldn't you, if you have potential further riots (and lives) depending on your decisions?
Those in power has an obligation to the people for stability. Let the historians like you to worry about the truths. And CCP should be rightly condemned in history for their hamfisted ethnic policies with its heavy ethnocentric leanings, as the riots are partly the results of that.

But they are in the situation they are, and I'd say the CCP has done the right thing.

Yiu-cho Chan said...

When the world begins trusting the hearsay and conjecture of every biased source then I think we've got bigger fish to fry than who is right when, why, and how much of the time.

Until some time passes and the wounds heal a little, no one's going to be getting the true story of anything from anyone. People on both sides of this argument lost out in a huge way, most significantly in terms of mutual understanding and co-operation for better social welfare. Now it's time to pick up the pieces and figure out where to go from here.

Michael said...

Excellent post, up to the high standard I'm am now expecting from China Beat. I would only add that the Chinese anti-western media campaigners are making a rod for their own back. It's not as if we in the west aren't aware that reporting standards at CNN, Fox and lamentably now even the BBC are increasingly editorialised and sloppy. At least we have outlets to point out these shortcomings. Try posting a critical response to a China Daily article or CCTV item and see where that goes.

froog said...

I have very limited sympathy with the Chinese complaints about the Western media. It seems to me they are rather trying to make a mountain out of a molehill through their endless dissection of a handful of instances of sloppy or tendentious journalism (mostly concerned with the slightly misleading use of photos from Kathmandu in stories mainly focused on Lhasa). It’s just a diversionary tactic.

For sure, there is always some bias in the media: reporting is coloured by a particular political stance towards the events. In this instance, the political stance of the Western media is particularly homogeneous, and particularly incompatible with the prevalent Chinese viewpoint.

Westerners are, on the whole, sympathetic towards Tibetan grievances; disquieted by, though perhaps not strongly condemnatory of, the extremes of violence to which some Tibetans have resorted; strongly disapproving of the Chinese government's policies which have led to this massive outbreak of unrest, of the heavy-handedness of the current crackdown, of the restriction of access to the affected areas for the Western media, and of the Chinese leadership's intransigence in addressing the issue.

What I find most disturbing is that the Chinese response doesn't really seem to have a political stance on most of those points; there is simply a refusal to acknowledge their existence, or at any rate to enter into any discussion on them. “Grievances? What grievances? Reporting restrictions? What reporting restrictions?”

And, guys, the last word on why CNN cropped that picture the way they did (I don't deny it was a bias of a kind; but I think it was relatively trivial, and entirely defensible in terms of editorial policy): rioting ain't news (it happens all too regularly, in just about every country in the world); deploying troops against rioters is. Man bites dog.

stuart said...

It should be noted that, despite some sloppy journalism and the inevitability of bias from any given outlet, the media in 'western' countries do not speak with one voice; nor are they shackled against criticising their own governments.

China's state-controlled media (for millions the only source of information) is the driving force behind public opinion. All that's needed to whip up a frenzy is to disseminate powerful images with attendant emotive rhetoric. Little wonder that there is currently so much hatred in the hearts of otherwise well-balanced Chinese towards Tibetans. Jeremiah makes the point that such feelings are attenuated when necessary (as in the case of anti-Japanese sentiment).

Sadly, when western media ‘drop the ball’, as the essay puts it, China Daily and CCTV pounce on the error and magnify it to such an extent that their own outrageous bias gets lost in the ensuing storm cloud. Try showing your average Chinese student a balanced documentary about ’89 and you’ll probably get a response to the effect that, ‘sure, there was some trouble, but this is western propaganda. We’ve been told about that.’

The result of state control of the media can be seen in the replies of even the more sensible comments from Chinese netizens, who begin to equate pluralism with brainwashing. But how do you get people who have been taught to reject all ideas other than the party line to step back and take a wider view? With great difficulty, especially when the effort to present an alternative argument only serves to reinforce existing schemas with regard to perceived western bias.

Anonymous said...

The reality is so much complex than what is conveyed by the "state controlled media."

It always annoys me that some one from the west always think he or she knows better than the Chinese people about their government; any one who had a different view is viewed as nationalist dupe. True, many in China do not care about and dislike what the government has to say. They do care about what they do. This is why the government’s performance got 80% approval rating from the people according to a survey done by the Committee of 100, a US. NGO recently, while the US government only got 40% from its own people. Both peoples are fair-minded.

The things that they don’t like about their government differ a lot from the things the westerners listed on their anti-agenda. You would be stunned to know how many Chinese agreed with their government’s interpretation of human rights...It sounds reasonable to them. They certainly love freedom of speech but they also know that there are more fundamental things needed to be taken care of first. 欲速则不达. Figure out how many years before a black person can use the same bathroom with the Whites in DEMOCRATIC America. An all out diatribe anti-whatever government did in China does not help—only unnecessarily provoke hasher restrictions against western media which is detrimental to Chinese people’s interests.

Be humble and respectful to a people and a government different from you own and with a limited knowledge about it. Be little more sympathetic about their history and current dilemma and tuning down that “we are right you are wrong” sentiment. Trying to make splashes for an academic career in Chinese history? Why don’t start with a humble attitude and open mind to appreciate complexity, complications and contradictions?

Kate Merkel-Hess said...

One of the threads that has appeared in several of the preceding comments has been the notion that only Chinese people can understand China, thus explaining the foreign media’s bias (and justifying the government’s limits on access). This is, in part, what I understood Jeremiah to be arguing against—this notion that Chinese people are solely privileged to speak on Chinese issues—the byproduct of this belief being a particularly vitriolic nationalism to meet any criticism (or perceived criticism) of China, as well as the dismissive notion of “you have problems too, and thus no authority to speak about our problems.”

All those who study China, from whatever backgrounds, bring to the table a particular viewpoint, and it is the sum of those viewpoints that gives us the truest picture of both present and past. Sometimes, an outsider can see a situation more clearly than one inside it (the now almost stereotypical example of this being de Tocqueville writing on the young American Republic), and that is part of what a Chinese scholar from outside China (or a foreign journalist, if we want to keep it completely relevant) can bring to these discussions. A world in which we only allow that Chinese “truly understand” China, and only Americans “truly understand” America, and so on would be a particularly flat and uninteresting world.

CCT said...

Although I've lived in the US for decades, and would like to consider myself reasonably informed about "American" ways... I have to say, with some frustration, I really don't understand what Western editors have been doing over the last two weeks.

When Kadfly's video and blog posts became public (less than 24 hours after the riot started), I thought surely either the AP or the Washington Post would pick up on this very significant new angle. Nothing, for weeks.

After James Miles' gave his interview on CNN, in which he basically said what he directly witnessed supported the "government position"... I expected that SOMEONE in the Western press would pick up on that fact and run with it. I went to bed expecting to wake up to headlines reading "Western journalist: Government position on Lhasa violence likely correct". Nothing, again, for weeks.

When the first Western tourists left Tibet and gave their interviews in Kathmandu, I expected Western newspapers to pick up on this story again. (Google for the name 'John Kenwood'; he was first interviewed in some detail by the Toronto Star on March 17th, only 3 days after the violence.) I was shocked again... Tibetan-led racial violence, the lack of a violent response by the government... none of these made it into Western coverage. John Kenwood's comments wouldn't really be discussed and analyzed in ANY detail for another two weeks, until the Washington Post used it extensively in its article on March 26th.

Can someone familiar with the Western press' editorial process explain these absences to me? This wasn't simply an unwillingness to use the "government version" of events; these were all Western voices with no obvious reason for bias. This isn't purely the fault of government censors; these were all Westerners speaking outside of Lhasa without any limitation. These weren't unidentified anonymous voices whispering hear-say; they were eyewitnesses with established identifies.

I don't actually believe there's an anti-China political conspiracy, nor do I believe that the editors at CNN or the NY Times are jealous of Chinese accomplishments. I believe almost all Western journalists are men and women of integrity, trying to live up to their journalistic principles.

So... why? What happened? Why is the story of Tibetan-led violence so late getting out? Why does popular perception in the West continue characterize the Lhasa riots as "peaceful protests" met by violent "military suppression"?

Why has the "faithful" adherence of traditional journalistic principles failed to present a fair picture to the Western public?

CCT said...

I should also add... my opinion is that the backlash towards Western media is partly engendered by an overwhelming sense of frustration that the Western media perspective is "winning" the battle for opinions.

Let's leave aside the comparative analysis of liberal media biases vis-a-vis Iraq and Tibet. I think it's more significant to focus on results. In the United States, it took more than 4 years of significant combat losses (not to mention missing weapons of mass destruction) before public polls suggest that American opinion began to sway in any significant way.

In contrast, within literally minutes of the story hitting the wire, Western forums and BBS's on these same news sites were uniformly filled with comments along the lines of "we have to punish these communists for killing innocent monks".

And this, this is where the frustration comes in. If the media was simply preachy and or sensationalistic (the "man bites dog" story), I personally believe the Chinese public would've reacted differently. All remotely educated Chinese have a healthy skepticism for the veracity of what they read in the media.

When it comes to Chinese issues, there's no intellectual skepticism or curiosity amongst the average Western reader, only canned outrage at the brutal act of a heathen, mindlessly brutal government. And for the Chinese who know their government to be many things, but not "heathen" (in the Western sense) or "mindlessly" brutal, this dismissive attitude from average Westerners cuts deep.

Anonymous said...

stuart,

Here is the way logic goes:

"the media in 'western' countries do not speak with one voice"

The media in western countries do not speak with one voice all the time, but they DO speak with one voice, usually the voice of the F word, the politically correct one, regardless of the truth, sometimes. Understood?

Jeremiah said...

I wanted to clarify something, and I'll probably add a little to the body of the text to avoid future confusion as well.

Some commenters have suggested that I am solely blaming the Chinese government's decision to bar journalists from Lhasa for the faulty news coverage of 3.14. That was not my intention.

When the government decided to bar journalists from traveling to the affected areas, the foreign press corps was forced to feed a 24-hour news cycle with rumors, recycled information, and limited footage and images from Tibet. With little to work with and deadlines to meet, too many journalists relied on preconceived notions and faulty assumptions, with predictable results.

While the government's decision to block access was certainly a mistake, the need to "feed the beast" resulted in sloppy and, yes, biased accounts in the aftermath of the violence in Lhasa.

But as I describe in the post, that's only part of the story here.

Sorry for the confusion.

Anonymous said...

Kate Merkel-Hess,

"One of the threads that has appeared in several of the preceding comments has been the notion that only Chinese people can understand China "

Here the logic goes for you:

The probability that a native Chinese person who is born in China, has been living in China for years understands China much better than a foreign journalist, let alone the journalist's target audience back home, is fairly high.

Understood? It is their country, they are affected, not you who can give it an easy shot whenever you have time to kill.

Jeff Wasserstrom said...

One thing I'd like to see more discussion of is how the events in Tibet are being covered and talked about in places that are neither "China" nor the "West," as discussions so often fall into that familiar binary. Early on, for example, it seemed that some particularly interesting coverage was being done by Al Jazeera.

froog said...

CCT,

What media coverage have you been looking at that insisted the unrest consisted only of "peaceful protests"?

I can't claim to have read everything published about this in the last two weeks, but I have read quite a lot, and everything I have read, everything, has given due prominence to the fact that many of the protests have degenerated into riots, that cars have been overturned, buildings set on fire, Han businesses targeted for vandalism, some innocent Han Chinese beaten and killed.

The demonstrations began as peaceful protests earlier in the week, but began to turn violent on the Thursday or the Friday. Many of the flare-ups in other parts of China since then have been extremely violent. That has all been duly covered.

The "government position" goes beyond stressing the violence of the protests and their racial focus. It also maintains that they are the work of a relatively small number of malcontents (why the huge troop deployments then?), that they are being centrally co-ordinated, and that the Dalai Lama is directly involved in instigating them. There is not one shred of evidence for that thesis, and much of it is blatantly ludicrous.

Using troops against civilians is "a violent response" in itself, even if they are under orders not to open fire. When this happens, and on such a scale, it becomes an absolute certainty that some people will be shot - in unfortunate 'accidents'. It becomes dangerously likely that large numbers of people will be shot.

As far as we can tell, the Chinese security forces do seem to have acted with reasonable restraint so far: fears of possible massacres running into 100s or 1,000s of casualties have not been realised. The Chinese government should have allowed the foreign media to witness all of this. The media ban was just a terrible, crazy, deeply, deeply self-harming decision.

froog said...

As to the notion that Chinese have a deeper understanding of these events because they are personally affected by them - well, I have been deeply interested in and sympathetic to China for most of my life, have been living here for the last several years, and would like to be able to live here for many years more. So I feel very personally affected too.

There are many other good reasons why foreigners are indeed able to understand Chinese history, culture, politics etc. well, and often indeed better than the majority of mainland Chinese. We have access to a far greater range of information sources. We enjoy, for the most part, a far better standard of education. We are brought up in a tradition of critical analysis which encourages us to form our own opinions, and to be highly sceptical of all the information and opinions we receive from others. We do not feel an inextricable sense of identity with our country or our government. And when we choose to live in another country, we make a really big effort to "understand" that country by studying everything we can about it.

The shortage of critical analysis or individuality of opinion we so often see from Chinese commenters is exemplified by that opinion poll one of the anonymouses referred to. An American politician couldn't expect an 80% approval rating for buying his mother a bunch of flowers!

And what exactly were the questions asked in that poll? Do you approve of restricting Western media access? Do you approve of using armed troops against unarmed civilians? Do you approve of diminishing China's international reputation and damaging the prospects for a successful Olympics? Do you approve of the continuation of policies that have rendered Tibet almost ungovernable? Do you approve of an open-ended, massively expensive commitment to maintain control over the Western third of China by armed force?

The China Beat said...

Just as a side note to these discussions, ran across this page at NPR this morning, which includes that famously cropped photo (but uncropped), as well as the caption "Tibetans throw stones at Chinese army vehicles as a car burns on a street in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa after violent protests broke out Friday." Read the accompanying story and listen to the radio pieces at: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=88251828

Anonymous said...

Well, I think some of the Western media have really contributed to the impression that they are anti-China rather than being merely anti Chinese government. See the language in the following NYTimes editorial, for example. They are comdemning "China" without making a clear distinction between China and the Chinese people
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/18/opinion/18tue3.html

Anonymous said...

Froog,

For your information, the pool I mentioned was aired on C-span a couple of months ago. This particular 80% was polled on the government’s general performance--how good or bad they have their jobs done in taking care of their people’s general well being. Got it?

Kate Merke-Hess,
"Sometimes, an outsider can see a situation more clearly than one inside it.”

No one denies that. Still, you have to admit, there are always things that you can never see or understand unless you are inside it.

As to those of you who think you are better educated in western educational system and critical thinking oriented tradition and better informed on world events than average Chinese or your counterpart in China when it comes to see or comment on things in China, your western ignorance and arrogance blind you from seeing reality in China again.

First, many Chinese don’t have your background and conveniences, but they have common sense and their unique cultural wisdom which you lack; and most of all they LIVE through what you READ on book pages and they are bounded to live the rest of their lives there! They cannot afford your “cheap shots”.

Second, many of your Chinese counterparts, the students and intellectuals and other professionals in China, have been educated here in the west and gone back. many of them have made their voices heard both in China and abroad. They are trained in the SAME western critical thinking tradition just like you are! The difference is that having seen the two sides of the coin now they have a more open mind and tougher critical edge and broader perspective, both historically and globally, than quite some of you guys are.

Of course education and experience, no matter how rich and advanced, can do little about a prejudice bent, a sure sign for a poor quality of mind.

Anonymous said...

Froog,

"The shortage of critical analysis or individuality of opinion we so often see from Chinese commenters is exemplified by that opinion poll one of the anonymouses referred to."

Calling it an incomplete piece of information would be more accurate, it is not? You exaggerated the issue a bit.

I suppose that there is surely no "shortage of critical analysis or individuality of opinion” in the angry response to western media’s coverage of 3.14 unrest in Lhasa by the Chinese people both from China and overseas! But once you are really confronted this “critical analysis or individually of opinion,” you imply cannot appreciate it. You habitually dismissed it as “diatribe,”
“irrational,” or even something worse. here is your problem, 叶公好龙.

By the way, your eagerness to learn things from a different culture is admirable.

Anonymous said...

What I find funny about this photo cropping controversy is the idea that CNN was trying to conceal the fact that protesters/rioters were throwing stones, etc. Virtually every story I've read about the incident in the western media has pointed out the some of the protests turned violent.

This whole episode reminds me of the coverage of 6__4. One of the first things you will hear out of the mouths of non-brainwashed Chinese everywhere is that the "students killed soldiers," "the students were rioting and throwing rocks at the peaceful troops," "the students were dirty and ungrateful," etc. And, of course, all of that was covered-up and ignored by the biased western media.

Anonymous said...

Jeremiah Jenne:

Balanced post overall. Your analysis that the story is writing itself is very accurate and to the point.

You only need to give our CNN (or AP) reporters the following words:

Tibet, monks, unrest, China, police (or Sadam, nuclear weapon, US, Bush)

They can write a story on the front page about Chinese police beats tibetan monks (or Sadam Hussein builds a nuclear stockpile, US Bushy warns military action).

This profession is losing its professionalism. It is really a business of entertainment and it is NOT helping solve any ethnic problems.

Now that these guys are in Lhasa, expect them to emphasize reasons as to why the looters/rioters took to the street instead. They are just like the Chinese youths asking why Bin Laden would attack WTC in 9/11.

Anonymous said...

I've lived in Britain for nearly 20 years, so I hope I won't be regarded as being "brain washed" by the Chinese media. In fact, I rarely have opportunities to come into contact with the Chinese media while being "brain washed" daily by the Western TV and newspapers.

Jenne's analysis ignored two important points:

1) We have long accepted that the Chinese official media is controlled by the government, therefore it is biased to a degree. We have also long accepted that Western media is more objective because it is not controlled by the political parties. Because of this long held belief, the strongly biased coverage of the Tibet unrest by the Western media is therefore extremely disturbing. It shows clearly for the first time that the Western media is not only biased (just like the Chinese media), but also HYPOCRITICAL. Therefore in my eyes, it is even worse than the Chinese media.

2) The Western media in its coverage of Tibet also ignores a fact that the unrest is not just a demonstration, but also a challenge to the Chinese Sovereignty. Every nation has the right to defend its sovereignty. In comparison to France’s recent reaction to the unrest in Paris, Chinese government’s reaction is clearly restrained. For this reason, the overwhelming majority of the Chinese (both in China and overseas) would support the government's position. The majority of the Western journalists obviously know very little about Tibet history, therefore the coverage has become a propaganda for the Tibet separatists.

I think the biggest casualty of this whole event is the reputation and credibility of the Western media. For the first time, many Chinese realised that the Western media is not much better than the Chinese one. I also hope that the Western media can come down from its moral high horse, and seriously reflect on the reason why so many overseas Chinese are outraged by the coverage. Because whatever many of you might want to believe, the fact is that the majority of the overseas Chinese can't have been brain washed by the Chinese government.

Pffefer said...

Froog, you can cut the crap already (am I allowed to say that?). Basically what you are saying is, because westerners have better access to information sources, have better standard of education (how is that measured anyway? And how do you know?), are born with "a tradition of critical analysis" etc., you understand China and everything about it better than the majority of mainland Chinese? Wow, talk about intellectual imperialism! That is not too different from your average "White Power!"-yelling junkies. I guess with the moral and intellectual authority you can tell the Chinese: "Shut up and listen to us. We know your country better than you do!"

Wow. Just wow.

froog said...

Hardly, Pfeffer. Go back and read the comment. I was being very reasoned and moderate in my phraseology - and I was responding to the common garbage comment we've seen in this thread and in so many others that "foreigners can't possibly understand China". I was just listing some of the reasons why we can.

I didn't say foreigners always know better than the Chinese; that's just your own insecurity and paranoia distorting what I said. I was actually saying sometimes, on some issues, some of us might know better.

Better standard of education? Yes, I'm not going to qualify or moderate that at all. I think just about all the foreigners I know here in China are University graduates. Most of the them have post-graduate degrees. Many of them have attended some of the very best Universities in Europe or North America.

I have taught in several Chinese Universities, including some of the best in the capital. I have made friends with many very bright students and University teachers here. They all agree with my impression that the Chinese University system pretty much sucks. Primary and secondary education suck even more mightily (massive class sizes, poorly trained teachers, an exam system still largely geared to rote memorization, and endemic cheating and corruption) - and then, of course, only a small percentage of the total Chinese population even gets access to this system.

To the 'anonymous' who challenged my remark that "the shortage of critical analysis or individuality of opinion we so often see from Chinese commenters is exemplified by that opinion poll" - I would ask you to note again how moderate my expression was. I avoided an over-generalization: I didn't say that this happened "always" or "invariably", just fairly "often" (most of my Chinese friends are capable of far more individual and critical thinking; but they have better things to do with their time than comment on blogs).

I'm afraid that commenter's remarks came across as a bit ranty, and didn't display much "critical analysis or individuality of opinion". Most of the Chinese comment I've seen on the "Western media bias" story has simply regurgitated the commentary from the state-run media, without any individuality or analysis at all. This 'official version' of the criticism of the Western media focuses on only a handful of instances of misleading reporting(out of the hundreds and hundreds of stories that have been run in the last few weeks, all around in the world, in all media), and is mostly concerned with the use of photographs rather than text. That's a pretty flimsy foundation on which to try to erect a denunciation of the whole of the Western media.

As I think I said in my first comment on this thread, most Chinese readers are not going to like what they read about Tibet in the Western media because the political stance (or emotional sympathies) that slant its attitude are completely at odds with the Chinese government's presentation of events. It's not about the cropping of one photo; it's about the fact that most of us sympathise more with the Tibetans than with the Chinese government. And it's about the fact that we see most of the key elements of the Chinese government's media spin on this - that most Tibetans are "happy" under Chinese rule, that the protesters are a "handful" of "ingrates", that the unrest is being centrally orchestrated, that the "evil" Dalai Lama is directly involved in this, and that everything conciliatory he says (opposing the violence, opposing calls for independence, offering to step down from public life, opposing any disruption of the Olympics) is insincere - are outright LIES.

"Calling it an incomplete piece of information would be more accurate, it is not? You exaggerated the issue a bit." Sorry, I couldn't make out what you were saying here. My point about that opinion poll was that it showed a surprising, really rather alarming degree of uniformity in the attitudes of the Chinese people surveyed; no Western government could hope to win an 80% approval rating for anything.


Certainly there is bias in the Western media. But it varies in degree and orientation from country to country, from one newspaper or radio or TV station to another, and even from one journalist to another working for the same employer. It can also change quite quickly over time.

This is the key distinction: the Western media has bias; the Chinese media is part of a concerted - extremely powerful, highly uniform - propaganda machine which is directly controlled by the government and extends far beyond the news media to just about every form of publication (including, probably most significantly, school textbooks).

If you've grown up under that system, then you almost certainly are to some extent "brainwashed". And some overseas Chinese never shake off the attitudes instilled by that propaganda, even after years of living in another country. Although most of the ones I know have done so - and I am frankly rather sceptical about the 'anonymous' who claims to have lived in Britain for 20 years. If you make such intemperate remarks, remarks which are so much the standard Chinese state media line, and make no attempt to explain or justify how you have arrived at these conclusions by your own independent and self-conscious reasoning..... well, then, I think you might still be just a little bit "brainwashed". It is, unfortunately, one of the characteristics of a good brainwashing that you can't tell - can't believe - it's happened to you. Most Westerners, believe it or not, are acutely sensitive to the possibility of bias in all the news media we consume (and we probably accept most of the individual criticisms made of recent examples of bias on Tibet; it's just that it doesn't seem, you know, all that important - compared to the vast majority of coverage that has been reasonably fair and balanced; compared to the Chinese media coverage, which has been a hotchpotch of lies, denial, mud-slinging, and diversionary tactics).

fred d said...

Wow! I absolutely love the intellectual battle between "anonymous" and "froog"! This gives Wrestle Mania a run for the money. Battling in the article's ring we have the "villain" vs. the "hero". Both have their supporters and detractors.

I am truly fascinated by the way your logic works Mr. Anonymous. Please keep talking. Did you know
American service men in WW2 looked forward to the Japanese programming of "Tokyo Rose"? They found the propaganda extremely entertaining and the authorities were happy to have the men listen, for it was good for morale.

I wonder why western propaganda is blocked by the Chinese authorities Mr. Anonymous? Don't they want the Chinese people to have improved morale and to be entertained?

Pffefer said...

Froog, I certainly agree that sometimes, on some issues foreigners might provider unique insights or perspectives, but I don't think you can say they know better. Saying somebody knows something better than somebody is completely subjective, isn't it? Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. You might think you know better and that you are right, but who is to say you are right or wrong? Who is to say you know better? Take Tibet as an example, who is to say who knows better?

Just because one has a undergrad or graduate degree from a college in Europe or North America does not mean that person has a better understanding of things, not necessarily. Sometimes kids say the darndest things that adults wouldn't say and they are right. For the same reason it doesn't not render what "most mainland Chinese" say any less meaningful, insightful simply because you think the Chinese education system sucks. It is cutural imperialism for you to indicate that average westerners, due to their education, their background, their upbringings etc. might know better about China than the Chinese themselves. Some of the world's best China scholars are foreigners, but that does not mean the average janes and joes have anything to boast.


"As I think I said in my first comment on this thread, most Chinese readers are not going to like what they read about Tibet in the Western media because the political stance (or emotional sympathies) that slant its attitude are completely at odds with the Chinese government's presentation of events. It's not about the cropping of one photo; it's about the fact that most of us sympathise more with the Tibetans than with the Chinese government. And it's about the fact that we see most of the key elements of the Chinese government's media spin on this - that most Tibetans are "happy" under Chinese rule, that the protesters are a "handful" of "ingrates", that the unrest is being centrally orchestrated, that the "evil" Dalai Lama is directly involved in this, and that everything conciliatory he says (opposing the violence, opposing calls for independence, offering to step down from public life, opposing any disruption of the Olympics) is insincere - are outright LIES."


You hit the nail on the head here. It is exactly the "political stance" that the west takes that infuriates the Chinese. It is not about the misleading photographs. Western media have always been portraying China in a negative light since day one. I think it is stupid for the Chinese government to deny access to Tibet, but I kinda understand where they are coming from: Since you are going to demonize us anyway, what difference does it make?

Speaking of being brainwashed, not just the Chinese are brainwashed. Everyone is brainwashed to a certain extent. Your upbringings could brainwash you. Where do your perceptions and convictions etc. come from? Unless you tell me before arriving in China you had absolutely no opinion whatsoever and every bit of what you have right now was developed right here in China after you got here.

Chinese propaganda is very crude and shabby, it just sucks. It is not convincing and not many people take it seriously. Western propaganda on the other hand is a lot more subtle, sophisticated and a lot more convincing. Take Darfur as an example. Everybody has been talking about the evil Chinese government propping up the evil Sudanese government who in turned propped up the evil Janjaweed. Nobody talks about the rebels who have their fair share of killing. People are led to believe the bad guys are XXX and the good guys are YYY. You are about as much influenced by western media's slanted stance/bias as the Chinese might be by their government propaganda. Who is to say who knows better?

Pffefer said...

Fred, you are right that western propaganda could be very entertaining. Voice of America and Radio Free Asia very entertaining indeed. If I were the Chinese government I would encourage my citizens to tune in. They crack you up.

froog said...

Hi Fred,

Glad you're enjoying the tussle, but I think it's about over. I have said just about everything I have to say on this.

Pfeffer, while I have some respect for the potential for innate wisdom in the common man, "the ordinary janes and joes" as you say, we're talking here about awareness of and analysis of the effects of bias in the media. To do that well, I think you do need quite a high level of intellect and education, a great deal of media awareness (and self-awareness). I've been looking at quite a lot of blogs on these topics, and I'm afraid I've found very few of the Chinese comments (even though they're evidently coming from quite bright and well-educated people, with a decent level of English) to be at all "insightful". You, Pfeffer, are an exception - but I'm guessing that you've spent quite a bit of time overseas?

Most of the foreigners who comment on threads like this are, like myself and the author of this post: highly educated; knowledgeable about China; sympathetic to China; living in China. I therefore get rather pissed off when the over-emotional 'anonymouses' reflexively disparage our ability to understand the situation or our right to hold any valid opinion on it.

When Chinese complain about Western media bias over, for example,criticism of the Chinese government's attitude to Darfur, I wonder if they aren't referring to the Chinese media's presentation of what the Western media has supposedly said rather than the original articles themselves. The accusations always seem to be of a very simplistic character, and unsupported by references. Sadly, I've met very few Chinese who regularly read Western news media. Most of what I've read has acknowledged the complexity of the Darfur situation and the fact that China is not the only government that might have been in a position to apply pressure to the Sudanese government to moderate its policies. But then, I mostly only read the more serious English newspapers and magazines, and I tend to seek out the more balanced and in-depth articles. I gather from friends in America that the media coverage there has been much more one-sidedly (and perhaps misleadingly) "pro-Tibet" than it has in the UK.

There is an order of magnitude difference between the 'bias' of the western media, and the concerted propagandizing of the Chinese government. Bias pulls in a number of different directions and uses a number of different messages; and (the better educated amongst us, anyway) learn to recognise it and make allowance for it. State propaganda bombards you with the same messages day in and day out, from every conceivable source, virtually from the day you are born; and you are largely unaware of its effects. Pfeffer, for example, says that Chinese propaganda is "not very convincing and not many people take it very seriously" - and yet I suspect that he, or at any rate most of the Chinese commenters on threads like this, have a passionate and unshakable belief that China has an unquestionable claim of sovereignty over Tibet (Taiwan, etc.), that this is justified on historical grounds (Tibet has "always" been part of China!), that it is absolutely necessary to retain Tibet in order to protect China against hostile powers, that the Dalai Lama's advocacy of non-violence and greater freedom without independence is a sham. They're usually not aware of why they think this, nor are they able to enter into any rational discussion about it.

That's the difference between bias and propaganda. If you call me out on something, I'll have a good long thing about it, and then maybe admit I'm wrong: "Yep, using those riot photos from Kathmandu was naughty, a definite boo-boo."

I'm worried about bias in all the information sources that surround us (more and more all the time); but, Pfeffer, there really is no comparison between the thoroughness of Chinese media bias and the problems we have with our media in Europe and North America.

Anonymous said...

very well said pffefer!

respect...

Anonymous said...

4 points: 1)The negative reactions from the west started a long time ago, from the cultural revolution, 1989 Tianman square(which were absolutely justifiable criticisms from the west), to the bombing of their embassy in Belgrade, 1st failure in applying for the Olympics in 2000, and stopping their cargo ship for embargoed materials; to more recently: the environment, trade imbalances, militarily threats, Draconian 1 child policy, 3 gorges dam, poisoned pet food & toys, human rights, undervalued yuan.... the list is endless (mai wen mai leiu)There is maybe one +ve comment out of 100 -ve's. Can you blame them? 2) You be surprised how many oversea Chinese are supporting China's view on this - people grew up in your CNN / BBC world, myself included. How do you explain that? 3) No matter what the history said, it's controversial at best. It's no denying that the CIA & India were involved at the time of DL's exile. Nonetheless, you think any country would cough up 20 to 25% of it's territory peacefully & willingly? Would USA give up Hawaii, Scotland for England, Quebec for Canada? Are you going to send in Natos like in Kosovo? We did that for humantarian reasons in Kosovo but NO possible way in Tibet, our interests far outweighed Tibetans' interests? 4) Talking about hotheads, how about those ones in Tibet? I can't imagine the situation in Tibet is that bad that you have to kill and burn, and willing to give up maybe 40 yrs of your life after you get caught. Think about the 5 young girls that got burnt to death (an extremely horrible way to die), and those young Tibetans that got a whole life ahead of them but imprisoned instead for participating in the riots. Those are the real victims in the tragedy, instead of us armchair critics shooting our collective mouths off. Instead of the young Tibetans being egged on by the West, giving them false hope in a tragedy, maybe the West should give them a true direction to negotiate instead of chanting "Free Tibet". Call the PRC bluff, waving the Chinese flag instead of the Tibetan Flag, see if they would negotiate then. Negotiation in any deal would only be successful if both sides are willing to do it (like DL said "form the heart")I don't see that spirit occurring for a long time.

Tim said...

Anyone that has access to information and news outside of the Mainland media and news services (and actually reads it), is more knowledgeable about current events than someone who relies exclusively only on Xinhua by an incalculable degree. This is not about the color of your skin or about your geographic location, it is simply about information. I do not think ‘knowing something better’ is subjective. It can be measured and often is throughout our lives – I really hated taking exams – with a fairly reasonable amount of accuracy.

As Froog has pointed out, the Chinese may be well aware that their news sources are controlled and are not reliable, but until they themselves have witnessed the shades of ‘truth’ and the variety of opinions on the scale that is available outside the wall of controlled media, it is difficult to understand the complexity of these events.

But most people like simple and easy answers. Most people do not like to have their beliefs challenged even if they were shaped by the least reliable sources. Most people, no matter where you are, prefer generalizations over complexity, stereotypes over nuance, pithy one-liners to thoughtful discourse – infotainment over journalism. Turn on CNN or Fox News and tell me that you feel not only informed but enlightened by their coverage of ‘anti-Semitic Arabs’ in the Middle East. Watch the US presidential election process unfold exclusively through the vicious exchanges between candidates, then tell me how I should vote. Sadly, though the West does have a tradition of earnest inquiry and intelligent debate, most people do not seem interested in actually understanding something that may challenge them to accept complexity or requires them to retire a fallacious belief.

This seems, to me at least, to be a universal human condition. And the Chinese are really no different in this regard. Many of my mainland Chinese friends who live in the West, have yet to shake off the shackles of their upbringing on the history and current events of China – it is shocking and unsettling to suddenly become aware of a different, more plausible, reality than what you have always believed. Resentment and skepticism sets in: ‘How could a foreigner know more about Chinese history than a local? Why is this information more reliable than what I learned in grade school? It is in English and not Chinese so it cannot be as thorough or as complete as the Chinese text.’ The undercurrents of ethnocentrism in these arguments are thinly veiled, but the notion that someone outside of China could know more about China (or someone outside of the States could know more about the States for that matter) is threatening and many simply go no further.

Many of us outsiders, for lack of a better word, (and I include anyone born and raised outside of mainland China in this group ) living in China simply refuse to entertain conversations about politics or China’s history with locals because our knowledge and perceptions of these realities are so diametrically opposed that the experience is invariably unsettling and mind-numbing. These online polemics on Tibet is a shining example of this.

Norm said...

"..most Chinese readers are not going to like what they read about Tibet in the Western media because the political stance (or emotional sympathies) that slant its attitude are completely at odds with the Chinese government's presentation of events"
--Froog

"I can't imagine the situation in Tibet is that bad that you have to kill and burn, and willing to give up maybe 40 yrs of your life after you get caught."
--anonymous (post #36)

I cite these two comments from opposing viewpoints not to weigh in on who I think is more correct in their assessment but to suggest that Tibet seems to be invested with different meanings for Westerners, on one hand, and Han Chinese (be they resident in China or living overseas), on the other.
I'll elaborate on that below.

There was quite a bit of debate over who might have better access to the "real China." Again, both sides have made good points, but I am not totally convinced by one over the other. What I want to point out here is that the issue at hand, in my view, is not about understanding what China is like, but grasping what life might be like for Tibetans living under Chinese authority. I would submit that a Han Chinese (living in eastern China or abroad) has no better idea of the perspective an ethnic Tibetan living in Xizang, Gansu, Qinghai, or Western Sichuan than I -- a middle-class, Caucasion, who has lived most of my life (not including my time in China) in the American suburbs -- would have of the perspective of an African-American, born into inter-generational poverty and residing in the tough conditions of the inner city. Yes, we're both American and "theoretically" have the same rights under the law, the same opportunities, but there are tremendous semi-institutionalized challenges that an African-American living in those conditions faces that I will never know. No matter what argument one makes about historical claims to the territory of Tibet, one needs to recognize that Tibetans have their own distinct religious and cultural tradition and that there has been a longstanding tension between that culture/religous tradition and the authority of the PRC state. We, both Chinese and foreigners, need to really consider these challenges. I'm just pointing this out to show why it might be the case that the anonymous person living a presumably much nicer life abroad "can't imagine the situation in Tibet is that bad" In short, it just might be that bad. Neither you nor I know, but you need to be open to the possibility that it just might be that bad.

Two narratives of Tibet. As Howard French (http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/03/20/asia/letter.phphas) pointed out in a recent article, the PRC government's (and many of its citizens') vision of Tibet is an old, culturally backward people, filled with supersitious thinking and serfdom that needs to be modernized by the state. It seems to me that most Chinese feel as if "modernization" has been a gift to those previously backward Tibetans. How ungrateful of them not to accept it with open arms (just like Iraqis not accepting Americans with flowers), never mind the various state policies designed to diminish religious expression and lifestyles and perhaps erode that culture, be it intention or not.

On the other hand, the West projects its own romanticized idea of Tibet, bringing to the table its own construct of "human rights," each of which come across in the biases of the Western media. Some Westerners see Tibet as a spiritually pure land of beauty and a peace-loving folk, whose "human rights" are being trampled and who are yearning to embrace a democratic system of government if it could only be free independent of China. In reality, to the best of my knowledge, there is no real democratic tradition among Tibetan people. The "human rights" imperative mixes in with the sympathy to this spiritual paradise (a la James Hilton's _Lost Horizon_) and the other unfortunate trend of "China bashing" -- here, I agree with anonymous, the reporting on China over the past decade if not longer has been all too negative -- in the U.S. media and we get narratives of Tibet (David) facing that big evil power, the ever-threatening Chinese state (Goliath).

A few days after the rioting and state suppression began, I wrote in a comment to a NY Times editorial that Western leaders ought to encourage the Chinese leaders PRIVATELY to initiate talks with Tibetan leaders to address these issues. The worst thing, I stated, would be to publicly excoriate Chinese leaders, so you can imagine how queezy I felt a few days later when U.S. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi gave a tongue-lashing "shame on you speech" from Dharmsala.

All indications suggest that the violence and rage carried out by Tibetans was spontaneous (set off by the arrest of monks who were demonstrating peacefully), neither orchestrated by the Dalai Lama (which the PRC government claims without a shred of evidence) nor as an overt political move toward independence (of course, if you have proof of this please share it with us). Rather, its born of frustration from the very conditions in which they live. I hope its been clear that I, like the Dalai Lama, am NOT an advocate of Tibetan independence. But I also want to point out that I neither condone the violence committed by Tibetan citizens and am not taking a stand on whether or not it it was/is morally justified. The real key is to prevent such violence from erupting in the future. Thats in the best interest of all parties involved -- the Chinese state, Han Chinese citizens and ethnic Tibetan citizens. And it is my opinion that serious dialog needs to follow to prevent such a scenario from unfolding in the future.

Anonymous said...

Froog,

I don’t think the key issue regarding the Tibet media coverage is about whether Chinese media is more biased than west or the other way around. The key issue for me is about the moral high ground the west media has always claimed (over the Chinese media) and the lack of self-reflection when faced with criticism. I used to give a lot of respect to the western media when I first came to the UK, but over the past years, I have become more and more disillusioned, more and more sceptical and cynical. When reporting on issues about China, while I am grateful for the Western media to raise things like the environment issues, I am also disappointed for the complete lack of reports and discussions on how some western companies have contributed to environmental damage. The report on the running up to the Iraqi war was also very much pro-government, so resulted in helping the government to tell a lie about the threat of Sadam’s WMD. The recent public apology by the mail newspaper group to the McCann is another example of the reliability of the media reporting in the UK. I accept Jenne’s explanation that some of the biased reports about Tibet unrest was due to lack of information therefore resulting in some journalists relying on preconceived notions and faulty assumptions, but I also want to point out that those preconceived notions and faulty assumptions are seriously threatening the integrity of the Western media unless the journalists are prepared to acknowledge that their preconceived notions are not always correct. I also hope that the western media can be more responsible in its reporting of international affairs because the result is far reaching.

As you have been living in China, I can safely assume that you also know about the deep soul searching amongst the Chinese intellectuals regarding the Cultural Revolution in the early 80s. It was a process of re-opening the wounds and condemning oneself and starting a new journey again. Yet I am still waiting to see the willingness in the west to reflect in its past and present (ie. the Iraq war).

As you also said that “most of the foreigners who comment on threads like this are, like myself and the author of this post: highly educated; knowledgeable about China; sympathetic to China; living in China.”. I am sure that what you said is true, but I can also be fairly sure that most of the Chinese who post here are also highly educated and knowledgeable about China. In fact, judging from our ability to write the posts in English, many of us are also highly educated in the West and living in the West. Having said this, I don’t think intelligential superiority should be the point of the discussion. The point of the discussion should be about the Western media’s ability to reflect when mistakes are made, when bias exist. Chine media is biased doesn’t justify the western journalist to file the biased reports. I think the fact that the biased reporting over the Tibet unrest is not, using your words, “all that important” to you shows that you are not a serious thinker.

froog said...

To the last commenter,

I said the examples of "biased reporting" I had seen highlighted in the Chinese media did not seem "that important" when taken in perspective with the overwhelming majority of relatively unbiased reporting (in the foreign media).

Try to resist the temptation to end on an insult. It undermines the impact of the worthwhile points you have made earlier.

And try to give yourself a 'name', even if it's just XYZ. If there are 7 different 'anonymouses' on this thread, it's difficult to keep track of the argument, or to respond to people individually.

I have acknowledged elsewhere that most Chinese commenters on threads such as this would appear to be well-educated (not least because they can write in English); however, I find it depressing that very few of them (I don't say none, last commenter), are capable of arguing very calmly, rationally, or persuasively - or even politely, much of the time.

I wasn't making any kind of claim to universal intellectual superiority, either for myself or for foreigners in China in general; I was merely responding to the common jibe we face from Chinese commenters that we are "know-nothings".

There is usually plenty of self-reflection (and readiness to acknowledge fault when appropriate) in the Western media. I have almost never seen this in the Chiense media. And in the Western media there is plenty (probably an overwhelming majority) of criticism of US government policy in Iraq. Where is the criticism, or even the questioning of the government's policy on Tibet within China?

Anonymous said...

Froog,

“It always annoys me that some one from the west always thinks he or she knows better than the Chinese people about their government…”

I said “some one,” not everyone, who “always” thinks that he or she knows better. If you are not that “some one” who “always” … then you should not feel offended al all.

I certainly know that there are brilliant western China scholars as well as other individuals who can be more acknowledgeable about things in or about China than average Chinese or their peers in China. Almost invariably, they are humble and open mind to the subject they study and they exercise subtlety, skeptics and well balanced consideration and analysis on complex issues.

"Foreigners can't possibly understand China,” is your own rephrasing of my sentences above, not that accurate in conveying my meaning indeed.

Anonymous said...

Tim,

"Resentment and skepticism sets in:‘How could a foreigner know more about Chinese history than a local? Why is this information more reliable than what I learned in grade school? It is in English and not Chinese so it cannot be as thorough or as complete as the Chinese text.’"

Such sentiment was popular in the 1970s in China, not in 2008. Few moderately educated Chinese would agree with it since the 1980s. But this sentiment can be accentuated when a general frustration wells up in face of western media distortion or bias on issues about China such as the recent one. The Chinese have long outgrown that state of mind by and large. In fact an opposite one -- the “foreigners know better about almost everything”—had swept China in the later part of 1980s and entire 1990s. You’d be surprised to know how many western authors had been translated into Chinese on a great variety of subjects....

Pffefer said...

Froog, I don't know what blogs you have been reading and what "Chinese comments" you have stumbled across, but I can tell you I have read many insightful comments that I assumed coming from Chinese readers. And I don't know if you speak Chinese or not, if you do I suggest you dive into the sea of Chinese language blogs, forums etc. if you want to get a more accurate picture of what the Chinese readers are saying.

I find it rather insulting that you thought I must have "spent quite a bit of time overseas". One does not have to be exposed to and bombarded by the "free" western media to be "insightful". Thanks but no thanks!

I certainly understand your frustration and couldn't disagree more that foreigners don't understand China. A lot of them do. What bothers me particularly is the notion you implied that foreigners understand China BETTER than the majority of the mainlanders. It bothers me to hear that you think they understand China BETTER simply because they have those things that you mentioned (access to info, robust education, tradition of critical analysis etc.). If this is not intellectual imperialism, I don't know what is. If you were right, every single westerner who has gone to college would automatically be an expert on any issue. I don't think this is the case. Hardly.

Honestly, I have not paid much attention to Chinese media's coverage on Darfur and I don't remember reading anything accusing western media of unfairly painting China as the culprit. I have though, been following Darfur by reading many articles, editorials and analysis etc. on various American newspapers and publications that have been available. Saying they are "one-sided" is an understatement. There has been a complete lack of analysis of the background and historic info ("Darfur 101" if you will) on the conflict. The rebels are hardly mentioned, the bag guys, i.e. the Chinese and the Sudanese governments are beaten to death through sensationalization.


Of course there is no comparison between the Chinese government propaganda and media bias in the west. There is no denying that Chinese media, the mouthpiece of the Chinese government spout nonsense more often than their western counterpart. However, there is also no denying that when it comes to certain issues (Tibet being one of them), mainstream western media (you know what I mean) are pretty unanimous (as if there was a consensus) and they do speak in one voice. For example, with regard to Tibet, China is clearly the bad guy and the Tibetans in-exile are the good guys. Like they did with Darfur, no background or historic info is provided to readers on Tibet, all they have been saying is "China invaded and annexed Tibet in 1951" as if China invaded a independent and sovereign nation out of blue and there was no prior association between China and Tibet before 1951. Tibetan government-in-exile’s propaganda and claims are rehashed and presented to readers as facts. There is no mentioning of the so-called “Chinese perspective” as the verdict has always been out that it is considered Chinese government propaganda. Froog, do you really think the intelligent janes and joes (who did go to college by the way, haha) could “recognise it and make allowance for it”? I doubt it. Why do you think there was an outpouring of outrage by westerners immediately after March 14th, before the facts were known? Because these “intelligent” people have been cultivated by the free but slanted/biased media into believing that Tibet is black and white just as Darfur is, that is. XXX are bad guys and YYY are good guys. Many people, if not the majority, believe that news, stories and analysis delivered by western media can in general be trusted and taken as truth, especially when it comes to international news coverage. The Chinese, somewhat indoctrinated they might be, but zombies they are not. Actually many Chinese (as far I as I have observed) are so sick and tired of government propaganda, Xinhua and People’s Daily editorials etc. to a point that they dismiss everything from the government and government-controlled media as propaganda, lies and half-truths. A Chinese who wants to see China intact does not necessarily buy into the government’s stance on Tibet. You can’t just assume that all pro-China commenters came out the same mold.

Finally Froog, I would really appreciate if you stop assuming who I am and what my takes on issues are. You don’t know me, you don’t know if I am Chinese or not (which shouldn’t matter) or where I have been. Let me tell you what I think: I don’t think Tibet has always been part of China (where does “always” start?), I am led to believe that Tibet was incorporated into China in Qing dynasty and remained officially part of China under the Republic of China. Clearly it is part of China right now. I think the Chinese government should talk to the Dalai Lama; I think if the Chinese are smart they would bring the Dalai Lama back to Tibet on their terms and take advantage of his influence (albeit waning) among the Tibetans.

Pffefer said...

Tim,

It might be true that many mainland Chinese rely "exclusively only on Xinhua by an incalculable degree" (I wouldn't say most since many younger, more tech-savvy Chinese have been seeking information from alternative sources), but I would think they, the Chinese who have been living here all their lives, the experience and the perspectives that come with it can not easily be replaced by some well-read, informed foreigner who formed his or her opinion by reading stuff available from the free media. These people might have the first-hand experience that you don't see in books. They might know stuff that you don't hear from your sources. Who are you to say that they are wrong (simply because they live in a country where media are controlled by the government) about what they know and you are right? Who are you to say you, as a self-conceived informed foreigner knows China better than they do?

"Knowing something better" is absolutely subjective, it can not be compared to taking exams. I don't care if you are a genius and that your IQ is 150. When you take an exam, you are asked to give the correct answer/solution to the question. There can be only one correct answer. There is no correct answer to these complicated issues such as Tibet and Darfur and often there is more than one answer and all of them could potentially be correct. There are different perspectives. Can you say all of them are correct? No. Can you say all of them are wrong? No. If we are on the opposing sides of an issue, I might think I know better than you and you might think you know better than I. So again, who is to say who knows better than who?

You spoke about "shades of truth", I suppose you are pretty confident that you know the "truth"(whatever that is) and the Chinese don't? How can one be so assertive? Enlighten me please, what is the "truth" about China?

Once again, I don't think most Chinese would argue that you know something that they don't. And the belief that foreigners don't and can't understand China is just ridiculous. Again, it is the notion that you, self-perceived informed foreigners who often come from "free" and democratic western countries know China BETTER than the Chinese themselves that they resent. Just because you are from a western country where the press is not controlled and censored by the government, it does not NECESSARILY mean you know better. By your logic, since the US is the beacon of freedom, champion of democracy, it is just not possible for any foreigner to know the US better than the Americans, because Americans already have everything it takes to stay well-informed, according to Froog: Access to different sources of information, a decent college education, a western tradition of critical analysis. If you ask me, I would tell you that it is very possible that foreigners might know something that the Americans don't know about, but to say they know the US BETTER? Nah, I don't buy that.

What I find really amazing is that you are painting the Chinese as people who stubbornly hold on to their own perceptions and convictions and yet you are no different from them, not a bit. The notion that the Chinese have to "shake off the shackles of their upbringing on the history and current events of China" is preposterous. Once again you are saying that you are right and they are wrong, that you know the truth and they don't. Excuse me sir, what's so bad about their upbringing? Tell me why they are wrong, will you? This is the intellectual imperialism that I was talking about. That you are so confident (even complacent to a point) that you are right and "they" are wrong that you are not open to different opinions and ideas and perspectives. I know some Chinese are like that too. So who are you (pot) to call them (kettle) black? Even worse, you belittle them and dismiss them as "propaganda", "brainwashed" etc. Tell me, where does your self-righteousness come from?

So don't blame the Chinese if you don't want to talk about politics or Chinese history with your Chinese friends. You are just as reluctant to listen to what they have to say as they are to you.

froog said...

Pfeffer,

Lighten up, man. I only make "assumptions" about your persona as you present it on blogs. You do sound 'Chinese' in that you do mostly put forward typically 'Chinese' attitudes (scorn for foreigners expressing opinions on China, extravagant denunciation and mockery of Western media, etc.). Maybe it's an act. Maybe you're just very 'China-sympathetic'. And actually, I did very deliberately refrain from assuming or suggesting that you were mainland Chinese - hence my remark about you giving the impression that you had spent a significant amount of time outside of China. That was intended as a compliment not so much to your intellectual agility as to your English ability (maybe you're a native speaker? I only know one non-native English speaker from China who speaks/writes English as well as you without having had the benefit of extended periods of work or study overseas - and he's a Tsinghua graduate and an outright genius.).

I repeat (for the last time) that I did not mean to say that foreigners always understand Chinese problems better than Chinese, only that sometimes, some of us might be able to - a counter to the extreme position of many Chinese commenters that foreigners understanding China is impossible. That led us into an interesting little digression on the shortcomings of the Chinese education system and the pervasiveness of the effects of ubiquitous state propaganda (not just in the news media) on the typical (not universal) Chinese mindset.

I am always curious to hear what Chinese people have to say on these issues (even if it is inelegantly or objectionably expressed, even if it is rather narrow in its perspective). I'm afraid, though, that I think I find only 1 comment in every 5 or 10 (even from brilliant, English-speaking college graduates) that has anything very stimulating to say. And no, I don't just mean something that conforms to my own views; I mean opinions expressed with vigour and originality, by people who show some willingness to actually engage with - rather than merely disparage - their foreign interlocutors.

Quite right, going to college doesn't make you an expert on anything - least of all China. And graduates can still be arseholes. But I think most people who went to a good European or North American university have some sense of how to analyse and argue a point. Most graduates of Chinese universities, in my experience, do not. (I have frontline experience here: I've tried to teach rhetoric/debating in Chinese universities, and the students invariably found the very concept extremely hard to grasp - they always wanted to be 'told' what the right arguments were, and what the right opinion on any given topic was.)

I agree, and have said before, here and elsewhere, that I agree there is a particularly high level of uniformity in Western attitudes on Tibet; and I have tried to suggest some of the reasons. I'm glad to see that you "think outside the box" the Chinese government has built for itself on this issue and support engagement with the Dalai Lama.

You've said way too much in that last comment for me to respond thoroughly, and I am trying to disentangle myself from this thread! However, one final point - you refer to the "outrage" of foreigners' reaction on the 14th "before the facts were known". Well, I knew pretty well all the facts on the 14th (or early on the 15th). And my outrage (I think I'd prefer to characterise it as a profound sadness and anxiety) directed towards the Chinese government would really not have been much or at all affected by fuller information about the scale of the protests or the number of innocent civilians killed. We knew it was a riot; riots are ugly; people get killed in riots. Nobody likes a riot. But the "outrage" was at the inappropriateness (and the sorry predictability) of the Chinese government's response: media blackout, send in the troops.

The 'elephant in the living room' - the big subject that hangs over everything, but that people are too shy to mention - is Tiananmen (and Darfur and Srebrenica and Rwanda): the initial response of the Chinese government created the not unreasonable fear that there were going to be pogroms. The CCP showed in 1989 that it had little compunction about using troops against its own people, about opening fire on unarmed civilians. It still seeks to downplay or deny the enormity of that decision, shows no sign of being ready to apologise for or even acknowledge what it did then. There is therefore no reason to suppose that its attitude has changed - that it will be any less over-the-top in suppressing the Tibetan unrest..... or in dealing with any possible protests in Beijing this summer. That's what people get "outraged" about. This is a government that manipulates its people by lies. This is a government that kills people who oppose it. That's why we candy-ass bleeding-heart-liberal foreigners tend to be sympathetic to the Tibetans (even when they go on a rampage).

Froog said...

To the anonymous commenter who said he did not intend to be a "foreigner-basher" (or at least that he did not mean to bash me),

Well, I'm glad to hear it! However, your words - “It always annoys me that some one from the west always thinks he or she knows better than the Chinese people about their government…” - were a slightly inelegant formulation: in a sentence like that, 'someone' is interchangeable with 'anyone' - it sounds like a general statement, particularly when you throw in the 'always'.

It did sound as if you were suggesting that all Westerners always think they know better than the Chinese about China. If you had meant to direct the remark at a particular individual or group of individuals who always (rather than merely sometimes) claim to know better, you failed to identify who you had in mind. It read as if it was intended as a disparagement of Jeremiah Jenne (and the other authors of this blog) or of me (and the other foreign commenters on here).

I was not responding specifically to you or seeking to paraphrase your words. It was simply that you had reminded me of what is - unfortunately - an almost universal feature of comment threads like this: that one or more of the Chinese commenters will deny that foreigners have any right to an opinion at all on these issues.

You were making the same kind of point; and, if you were seeking to limit the breadth of it, you were not very successful in doing so.

Tim said...

Anonymous,

I have encountered it more times than I like to admit to either explicitly or through implication in the past several years. I would like to think the trend is moving away from this though.

Pfeffer,

You seem to be a very angry person, and this has made you miss the point of my post entirely. If you expect to find demons behind every corner you shall invariably find them.

What I said is that someone who relies on Xinhua for their only source of information is simply not well informed by an incalculable degree. How many Chinese have access to the internet? How many of those use the internet to access information outside of China? Furthermore, how many people have first-hand experience with Tibet – Chinese or Foreign?

I don’t believe you will find me arguing the merits of first-hand experience and this is not the point of my post. I’d suggest you read that portion again as it is you who have made this into an us vs them fight.

Why can there only be one correct answer for an exam? Are you saying there are not exams that require analysis and synthesis of information? I have been tortured by many an essay-based exam that was not requiring a black and white, right or wrong answer. But this really is not the point either. My point was really to the facts of a circumstance not the interpretation of these facts. For example it is fairly well accepted that Hussein was not involved in 911; however there are still Americans that are convinced that he was involved. At what point does it become futile to discuss the Iraq war with someone who is obviously uninformed (my point about ‘Ant-Semite Arabs’ was meant to showcase this ignorance)?

Shades of truth in this case was intended to mean the diversity of ‘truths’ or rather the variety of opinions and interpretations. Again you are pulling punches and I just don’t where you get that I was suggesting that I and not the Chinese know the truth about anything. My point was, if you are not exposed to different opinions, then how do you know they exist?

I am not sure I understand your point in stating that most Chinese would never admit to not know something that I do and then state that it is ridiculous to believe that foreigners can’t understand China. Can you explain this to me?

I don’t know where you think I have claimed that foreigners know China better than the Chinese – you have taken a very specific argument and twisted it to project foreign perceptions. I think I made the point fairly clear that the restriction of information in itself is not the only limitations to a person’s knowledge. The person actually has to access the information and most people – Chinese or not (read this again: whether they are Chinese or not!) – just aren’t interested in becoming well-informed. Just because I come from a free and democratic country say absolutely nothing about what I know – here you and I agree. But, it does mean that I was raised in a place where access to many different ideas was not only available (you can get it too here if you try) but readily available. The rest of this paragraph you have written is so far from my point that I’ll leave it to you to reread my original post.

In Japan, many Japanese are taught that the atrocities in Nanjing never occurred. I think you will agree with me (a foreigner no less!) when I say that this idea is preposterous backed by such an overwhelming mountain of evidence that it is staggering. Do I believe I know better than people who believe it never happened? Yeah, but that’s just the arrogant side of me I suppose because I wasn’t there and I am not Chinese nor am I Japanese.

What I am saying is that there is are mountains of evidence regarding events in China that to this day most Chinese are unaware of simply because it is not a) readily available and there is no public discourse in China that allows broad reaching conversations about sensitive issues and b) that even if there were, the average person – Chinese or not - just aren’t interested in learning either very complex ideas they see as having little to no influence on their daily lives or ideas that challenge their fundamental assumptions. The rest of your argument in your final paragraph is almost delusional in your understanding of my meaning - you have multiple assumptions overlapping each other – that I just won’t bother to address them except to say this:

I have been in China for almost 6 years on and off, I have been fascinated by this country since college. Everyday I have lived here I learn something new about China that only reinforces my recognition of how much I really don't know about this amazing place.

Jeremiah said...

I want to thank everyone for the lively and spirited debate though I'm always curious why so many commenters choose to remain 'anonymous', I guess that's their prerogative, but as the late great Jerry Garcia once said, "If it's worth playing, it's worth playing loud."

I might also mention that Kate's original comment was not suggesting foreigners "know China better" (a meaningless and odd phrase to begin with) but rather arguing against the exceptionalist notion that only Chinese are privileged to speak on China issues. It is often the case that those viewing a situation from the outside can bring their own useful perspectives to the table when discussing controversial topics, perspectives that should not be dismissed out of hand because they contradict conventional wisdom or challenge long-cherished cultural or national myths.

chiditon said...

Froog,

I don’t think that calling you “not a serious thinker” is an insult or was intended as an insult. Rather, your own comments invited this. This thread is about the biased western media report over the Tibet unrest, yet after all of us spending so much time discussing it, you concluded that this issue was not “all that important” to you. Naturally I drew the conclusion that you were not serious about the issue at all. If this conclusion has offended you, I offer my apology.

You were asking for evidence in my argument about the western media bias, but I want to hear what you have to say about the western media’s report on the environmental issue in China. As I mentioned, so far I haven’t read anything that touched the issue of some western company’s role in increasing the environmental damage in China, rather all reports have been about how China is trying to pollute the world. If this is not an example of western media’s bias, I don’t know what it is.

It is true that there has been a lot of criticism in the western media NOW about the war in Iraq. But at the time leading up to the invasion and shortly afterwards, all the western mainstream media sided with the government. If I only listened to the mainstream media at the time, I would have bought the WMD story. But I was sceptical of the media’s report, so I spent time reading the background information and the current political and economical issues that related to Iraq at the time from the internet. Based on my research, I drew the conclusion that real reason for the war was to control the oil resources and strengthen the US’s political hold in the Middle East. Today, this view has been accepted by many people, but at the time, this view was not reported by the mainstream media. So my point is that when comes to the international issues, the critical edge that often applies to the domestic issues is very often absent in the western mainstream media.

I also find it curious that although you claimed that you have had a good education which taught you critical thinking, yet you seem completely unaware the role your background plays in the process of your interpretation and analysis. While you charge the Chinese for their limitations in understanding due to their upbringing or “brain wash”, you seem to think that you don’t have any baggage yourself. Your education in the US (I assume so based on the fact that you claimed yourself highly educated on a public forum) surely gives you the America’s perspective / “brain wash” about the world, and like the Chinese, this perspective in itself is limited. I don’t want to get into a discussion about hermeneutics, but I just want to point out that when you look at the context in which the Chinese make their interpretations, you surely have to ask yourself the same question.

Contrary to many people in the West might believe, many people in China actually have a too rosy view of the West, due to Chinese media’s one sided report, ie. only tells the good things about the West. I remember my dismay at reading some Chinese posts in some Chinese forums. I jokily said that I would write for newspapers if I go back to China one day, helping everybody to have a more realistic view of the West. The fact that many Chinese are aware of the bias in Chinese media gives some hope for improvement. But many people in the West including some well educated ones still naively believe that their media is always objective. This is depressing and a real concern for me.

I would like to know how many western journalists have read books on Tibet written by non-Western, non-Chinese authors. As the people in the West so whole heartedly believe in their journalist’s report on the international events, I hope all the Western journalists would act more responsibly and would bother to spend some time doing some proper research before reporting.

I think Pffefer’s argument is balanced and I agreed with most of what he/she said.

froog said...

Darn it! I wrote another two long-ish comments yesterday morning in response to my detractors, but they seem to have got 'lost'.

Was I too harsh on one of the 'anonymouses'? No, I don't think so. Should I not have mentioned the T-word (you know, the other T-word: the "heaven peace gate" word)?

I can't believe the blog owners would have barred these comments.

Must we then suspect some external censorship?

Or was it just some weird glitch of the system??

Times like this do, sadly, engender paranoia - but in most cases cock-up rather than conspiracy is still the explanation.

I'm afraid I'm going to have to "retire" from this thread. I guess it's just about run its course anyway.

Pity y'all missed my last words, though. There was some good stuff in there, if I do say so myself.

The China Beat said...

Froog--

China Beat has been in-transit for the past few days and without internet access. Your comments have now been posted.

Anonymous said...

Froog,
“Lighten up, man. I only make "assumptions" about your persona as you present it on blogs. You do sound 'Chinese' in that you do mostly put forward typically 'Chinese' attitudes (scorn for foreigners expressing opinions on China, extravagant denunciation and mockery of Western media, etc.).”

You seem such a "sensitive” person and “meticulous” about wording, judging from your comments on this thread. But your comment above sounds rather insensitive and unfair to Pfeffer (especially when the “extravagant denunciation and mockery of Western media” by this commenter are well justified).

Since you’ve been living in China for years, you should have known that there are some other no less “typical ‘Chinese’ attitudes” you left unmentioned. Ever heard of this no less typical one insisting that “The moon seen in China is less rounded than the moon seen in the West?”An indiscriminate and all-embracing of anything West attitude has done and is till doing horrible harms to China. I wonder why people like you who are often hyper sensitive and overactive to the so called Chinese “foreigner bashing” rarely pay serious attention to this type of ‘Chinese’ attitude.

This has been a wonderful disscussion and I particularly enjoyed reading all your detractors’ comments, thanks to you.

froog said...

Ah, Chiditon, at last you have a name.

To disparage someone's thinking ability is an insult - you can't get away from that. Apology accepted. But you undermine your contribution to the debate by saying things like that in the first place.

I did not say that the topic of "bias in the Western media" was not important. I said that the instances of alleged bias the Chinese media had highlighted seemed to me to be "not that important" in terms of their quantity and degree, when considered in the context of the vast majority of relatively 'unbiased' reporting.

I reached that conclusion after some deep thinking. Really.

I have never denied that I may have some 'baggage' of my own - of course our cultural background and education tends to programme each of us with certain assumptions and prejudices. All I have said is that the influence of the Western media on the thinking of people in the West is not nearly so uniform, so overwhelming, so harmful, so thought-limiting as the influence of state-controlled propaganda is on Chinese people.

Regarding Iraq, there was quite a lot of debate in the serious news media at the time (certainly in the UK, where I come from; but I think almost certainly also in the US, where most of my friends now live) about whether the invasion was justified, with a number of sceptical or opposing voices being heard. In the UK, Robin Cook, a senior politician and former Foreign Secretary, resigned from the government in protest at Britain's support for the invasion: that provoked a lot of discussion.

At that time, however, the threat of Saddam Hussein becoming able to deploy WMDs was widely accepted as real. As more information has come to light on this, the decision to invade has retrospectively attracted more and more criticism. The key question now is whether the US Administration deliberately lied over this issue to secure support for the war; that, I think, is still unproven, and perhaps unprovable; however, many people believe that to be the case, and it remains a central issue in the ongoing debate over Iraq.

Regarding the environment, foreign companies tend to come in for closer scrutiny of their operations here than Chinese ones - from the government, from local media, and from foreign media. It is, however, probably rather difficult to gather information on individual violations. Therefore, most stories will take an overview of the situation - concentrating on the underlying reasons why pollution is such a big problem in China: poor regulation and enforcement, local government corruption, the impulse to cut corners in order to maintain high economic growth. I don't doubt that if an egregious example of bad practice by an American company here comes to light, the foreign media will be only too happy to write it up.

The supposedly "too positive" portrayal of Western countries within China is mainly limited, I think, to economy, technology, and lifestyle. The government here wants people to become more aspirational in order to boost domestic consumption - so the West (and Japan) furnishes useful examples of prosperous societies driven by the hunger for i-Pods, X-Boxes, HDTV, and next-gen mobile phones. Comment on almost everything else - sexual morality, drug use, crime, biased or dishonest media, corrupt or incompetent politicians - still tends to be overwhelmingly negative. This is particularly noticeable in school textbooks on "Life in America".

Pfeffer is a very bright fellow (sorry for the gender assumption there, Pfeffer, but your style does reek of testosterone rage) and I agree with quite a bit of what he has to say. However, Chiditon, if you really think his comments here have been "balanced" - well, I'm glad you're not a tightrope walker; you wouldn't last very long.

Zoe Goetz said...

I picked up an interesting thread on couchsurfing.com that I summarized on my blog about one Australian's experience of the torch run there.

http://blogs.bootsnall.com/nomads/a-protest-that-didnt-make-cnn.html

Joseph K said...

Of course most Westerners don't understand China like the Chinese do. But the problem with most Chinese, including those who study in the West and learn impeccable English, is that they are followers of a religion. It's known as "Chinese nationalism", and it precludes any rational analysis of the underlying assumptions of the case.

The reason that the pronouncements of even the most articulate Chinese commentators here are virtually indistinguishable from the official line is the fact that both ordinary Chinese and the Chinese government are agreed on the basic tenets of the religion. Once you accept the nationalist line, all the rest is detail.

Because the Western don't support that particular religion, whatever they say is going to be 'biased'. I agree that Western reporting is slanted in many ways, that it is unsympathetic to China, and that the slip-ups are a major problem. But what infuriates even the best-educated Chinese is not the 'lack of understanding' of the Western media. It's the fact that the Western media refuse to endorse the tenets of their religion.

Anonymous said...

Let me say that I have first hand knowledge of what's happening in Tibet and particularly in Lhasa. I'm so despondent over it in general. It's astounding that people can do this to other people and come up with the most insane rationalizations and justifications. Lhasa, my sacred city, has been turned into a mere fragment of itself. Tacky shops, restaurants, brothels, amusement parks, etc. The Han-Chinese population out numbers Tibetans. I just don't understand humans, how they are able to do these things, with no feelings, no compassion, like robots. It's not about the U.S. or any other country. It's about my country, TIBET. I want to follow Dalai Lama middle way, non-violence, but I feel if we don't do something soon Tibet and fundamental Tibetan culture will be all but gone. I cry every day for my people, for my country. I'm trying not become angry. I don't want to hate. It's very hard. I have lost loved ones. It's very hard. I'm begging the Chinese and all Chinese who have moved to Tibet, please leave, please, we want our country back, it's almost too late. We know it's a lot to ask but you're asking up to give up our country, our sacred homeland, you're not even asking, you're just taking. I give up. I don't know what to say or do anymore.

Joseph K said...

I fear that the plea we see above will only ever fall on deaf ears in China.

The difference between Western media and Chinese nationalists is as follows:

Westerners: Tibet is a part of China (but not necessarily happy with it).

Chinese: Tibet is an inalienable part of China (and it is impossible that the people of Tibet could ever be unhappy with it).

The Chinese nationalist, with his/her superior knowledge, "knows" that his belief is true, and can muster any amount of "factual evidence" to bolster that assertion. No foreigner could ever know enough to beat a Chinese at this game, because the Chinese is arguing from a position of total conviction.

Since Tibet is an "inalienable" part of China, the Tibetans have no ideological, emotional or other defence against the continued colonisation of their homeland by other Chinese ethnic groups (in practice, the Han ethnic group). Thus the hopelessness of the plea that we see above.

Dev said...

Interestingly I've read this entire thread and there is always skepticism/suspicion of things the chinese, be it the government or the people say but observing this thread I get the notion news coming from the free tibet movement receives far less critical analysis and is taken at face value more readily.

I myself am not entirely familiar with the situation so I have been browsing many free tibet websites and they seem to employ subtle but sophisticated PR techniques such as Astroturfing.

The post above Joseph K's post seems to exemplify this idea. Joseph K's post is highly critical of even "articulate chinese" as sharing the same nationlistic religion as the government but readily incorporates the words by anonymous accepting it as a real plea.

The argument going back and forth touch on bias and propoganda but I find it surprising rarely anyone questions the free tibet movement's propoganda, even the pro-china posters seem to ignore them.