The Demonization of China

(People's Daily)  China's peaceful rise and a dream of revitalization.  June 17, 2006.

Concerning relations between China and the world, a peaceful rise enables China to project a civilized and respectable image to the world.

"The history of civilization has taught us that a truly great nation must be highly civilized and guided by a great culture," said Zheng Bijian.

Zheng Bijian also notes that the international community recognizes China's growth - happening at a speed of over 9 per cent for the last 20 years consecutively - and commends them on it. He points out too that there are also some countries that worry that China's rise poses a threat to them.

"The cause of this is two-fold: on the one hand, it was the ideological prejudice from the west that demonized China, and on the other hand, China's development is not perfect, it has its own shortcomings during the development process," explained Zheng Bijian. 

Yes, it is that demonization thing again.  The following are translations of three "demonization" articles in Ta Kung Pao all appearing on the same day.  Ta Kung Pao is based in Hong Kong and has a well-known pro-Beijing stance.

(Ta Kung Pao)  By Wang Fei (王扉). June 25, 2006.

[in translation]

At the just opened 2005 International Public Relations Conference in China, State Council Infromation Office deputy director Wang Guoqing (王國慶) gave the keynote speech titled "Building a harmonious society and communicating the image to the outside.  He pointed out that the State Council Infromation Office recently conducted a statistical analysis of the China-related reports during 2005 by three western mainstream newspaper including the Washington Post.  Of the 243 China-related reports, 64 (or 26%) were objective reports (客觀報道),  83 (or 34%) were biased reports (偏見報道) and 96 (or 40%) were balanced reports (平衡報道).

The general outline of the description of China by these three newspapers is: 

Wang pointed out that out of this analysis of the China-related reporting done by these three newspapers, there is a comforting aspect.  Whereas during the 1990's, the percentage of demonizing negative reports was as high as 60%-70%, there has been some changes in the reporting about the Chinese national image by the western mainstream media in recent years.  Even though these changes are still far from satisfactory, the demonization of China has become a hidden theme.  Attacking human rights, democracy and the socio-political system in China creates the impression among people around the world that China has numerous problems and it is also not democratic.  This is the type of untrue and seriously politically biased reporting that damages or smears the China's image internationally.  The true image of China is the peaceful, developing, cooperative and harmonious China.

Wang Guoqing said that with the recent progress and development of China, its international standing has been elevated and its international influence has expanded.  This has improved and elevated the international image of China and provided good objective conditions as well as new challenges.  With the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, China has become the attention point of the global public and the focus of worldwide media attention.  All these things has provided good occasions to form the image of China.  The golden age to showcase the national image of China through international communication will be arriving, and how to seize and use this golden age is something that China needs to serious study in order to meet the challenges.

(Ta Kung Pao)  June 24, 2006.

[in translation]

In recent years, the number of overseas media organizations present in China has grown rapidly.  Compared to 2002, the number of journalists has doubled.  According to the statistics from Foreign Ministry's Infromation Office, as of August 2005, there are more than 280 overseas news organizations from 44 different countries present with reporter bureaus in China.  Of these countries, the United States has the largest number at 49 news organizations with over 100 journalists.

The Times (UK)'s Beijing-based reporter Ma Jun (馬珍) said that the western media obey a law: "Dog bites man is news, but man bites dog is not news." (狗咬人才是新聞,人咬狗不是新聞。)  (Translator's note: This is exactly what was printed and the exact opposite of the conventional usage as given in Wikipedia, for example).  The more exciting the fight, the more the readers like to read it.  Therefore, negative, tragic and surprising news attract more eyeballs and are therefore followed through by the overseas media.

This is the same with the reports on China.  Although the foreign reporters can write accurately based upon what happened during the news gathering process and they can prepare their own articles, the final decision about the article and its publication will still be made by the editors.

Fudan University School of Journalism professor Lu Ye (陸曄) said: "During the past twenty  years, the commercialization of global media has accelerated and profit has become the principal goal.  In western countries such as the United States, the people have less interest in international news and so the media must concentrate on reporting conflicts and bad news in order to attract audiences."

Apart from that, the perception of China by overseas people will dictate the basic theme of news about China.  Chinese products have flooded the international market and impacted many product and labor markets in western countries.  So China has gone from a remote and fuzzy concept to a concrete competitor.  Many foreigners are wary about China, even prejudiced.  Therefore, when many western media report on China, they carry heavy ideological flavors in the reports on "human rights," religion, politics or even culture.

But many China-based foreign reporters widely believe that the allure of China is infinite.  Tass Agency's Xie Ping (謝平) reflected wistfully: "There are too many things that can be investigated!"  Washington Post's Beijing reporter Edward (愛德華) feels the same way too.  He has been posed in France, Mexico, Middle-East and Central America, but his most interesting experience is still the one in China.  "This is just a vast country with 1.3 billion people.  Every day, many things happen and the whole world is paying attention.  To do news in China is exciting and challenging.  It is no exaggeration that my colleagues must all be dying to come to China."

(Ta Kung Pao)  June 24, 2006.

[in translation]

Against the "Demonization of China" as exhibited by certain western media when they fervently reported the negative news on China, the Chinese netizens has responded vigorously.  According to an Internet website survey, more than 80% of Chinese netizens believe that the actions of certain western media are based upon ideological differences as well as the political, economic and military interests of their own country.  Communications scholars say that an exceptional people is not afraid of being "demonized" by others.

At a forum today, State Council Infromation Office deputy director Wang Guoqing said that there has been some changes in the western mainstream media coverage about China's image, but the demonization of China is still a hidden theme.  Some netizens believe that the western media still have the tendency of partiality on many issues -- the Sino-American dispute over the textile trade, the valuation of the RMB, the Sino-EU anti-dumping incident, the human rights issue, the religion issue, the environmental protection issue, the Tibet issue, the military issue and so on.  Basically, these issues covered all the areas of Chinese politics, economy and military.  For example, the annual "Assessment of Chinese military power" by the US Department of Defense is a favorite subject for the western mainstream media to hype up "the China threat."

During an interview, the famous media scholar Li Xiguang (李希光) said that the source of "demonization" is as famous Harvard University scholar Huntington said: It arises from a clash of civilizations.  In order for one civilization to gain victory, it must "demonize" the other.  But he also believes that contemporary international political struggles often appear in the form of economic and trade issues; behind the trade disputes, the influence of politics is pervasive and many of these hidden factors usually pop out during critical moments.  Li Xiguang is renowned for having written "Behind the Demonization of China" and he emphasized that he believes that history will continue to progress forwards and an exceptional people is not afraid of being "demonized."

But there are also netizens who reflect that certain actions by the people and the government -- such as frequently concealing the occurrence of mining disasters, sealing off the news about how blood selling led to the spread of AIDS, the lack of protection of the rights of the vulnerable social groups, and so on -- give the international media the causes to "demonize."

Related LinkState Council Information Office says Western media coverage of China has taken a turn for the better  David Bandurski, China Media Project