To know China better, make more efforts
By Wang Zhengxu/Tan Guiwen | China Daily | Updated: 2019-12-19 07:11 Shi Yu/China Daily
China Global Television Network recently released a documentary film on fighting terrorism in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region in Northwest China, which registered close to 200,000 views on YouTube, a US video-sharing platform. Many of the comments accompanying the “likes” are telling.
One viewer, named Jean Ou, posted a comment, saying it can be assumed that news channels such as CNN and BBC, when viewing this documentary, would simply state: “I can’t see, I can’t see, I can’t see!”
Indeed, one big problem which China faces is being misunderstood by the outside world. Still, the foreign media are often to blame for that, as they do a poor and/or prejudiced job of presenting China to the rest of the world. Xinjiang is just one example which shows how the Western media fail, rather refuse, to give a truthful account of China to the global audience.
That’s why it’s a pity that YouTube has now banned the video.
Here is a more recent example of how most of the Western media outlets function.
To mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the country held events throughout the day on Oct 1 in Beijing which were telecast live. But some Western media outlets focused only on specific events while putting special emphasis on their own messages.
The New York Times published a report titled “Tanks, missiles and no pigeons: China to celebrate 70th birthday of the People’s Republic”. The report highlighted the events only to emphasize the military threat China poses to other countries. The journalist apparently filed the report too soon, because toward the end of the Oct 1 celebrations, China did release 70,000 pigeons.
Many domestic media outlets, however, reported in detail how the pigeons were loaned from pigeon keepers across Beijing, how all of them returned home safely and that each of them was rewarded for participating in the Oct 1 festivities with a commemorative leg band. Such facts are integral to the National Day celebrations and demonstrate the sense of patriotism inherent in every Chinese national.
The military parade was meant to display China’s defense capability, but the Western media, thanks to its prejudice, used it to paint an aggressive and menacing picture of China’s military. No Western media outlet bothered to even mention that China follows a defensive defense policy, and that capability and intention are two totally different things.
Chinese people take much more pride in the fact that the country’s economic achievements in the past four decades have raised their living standards to a relatively high level. And they are proud of the country’s military capability, because it can now defend itself against any aggressors. After all, Chinese people have unpleasant memories of colonial and imperial powers inflicting bloody wounds on the country in the 19th century, and Japanese troops committing atrocities in China before and during World War II.
But Western media outlets seem totally disinterested in these facts. Such stereotypical thinking prompts them to arrive at quick conclusions based on their prejudiced views. Some sharp observers have already pointed out that, if the Western media outlets had covered the Oct 1 events live, a biased commentator would have continuously generated all kinds of negativity while the whole country was celebrating National Day. For example, after the 70,000 balloons were released toward the end of the morning events, a Western media commentator would have “pointed out” how the balloons would cause pollution and turn into waste after they burst, not realizing that organizers in China nowadays make sure such balloons are made of eco-friendly, degradable materials.
The events gave some other environmental messages, too. The 24,000 square meters of red carpet used for the event, for example, was made from recycled materials. And more than 400,000 used water bottles were recycled.
Recent years have seen China making big strides in environmental protection and promoting an eco-friendly, “recycling economy”. In fact, by 2020, China’s recycling business is expected to reach 3 trillion yuan per year ($428.86 billion).
Poor understanding, misperception and prejudice are, of course, common in cross-cultural exchanges and reporting. Political scientist Robert Jervis’ cognitive theory is illuminating in this regard. In Perception and Misperception in International Politics, Jervis says people are inclined to see what they anticipate. Cognitive theory is built around the premise that a person’s thoughts control his or her actions and personality.
As such, people tend to interpret received information according to their thought-frame, and they are attentive only to those messages or views that fit their pre-set frame of mind. That is how biases are formed.
Very few foreign journalists are actually objective when reporting about China, although their job is to disseminate true information. And it is due to this lack of objectivity that they cannot understand Chinese politics and society.
The Oct 1 pageantry highlighted many aspects of China and Chinese society. Yet foreign journalists focused only on the military parade. The moral of the two stories－the Xinjiang documentary and the coverage of National Day celebrations－is that the Western media should make some real efforts to understand China better and see it for what it is, rather than judge it based on its biased views.
Wang Zhengxu is a distinguished professor of political science at Fudan University, Shanghai, and Tan Guiwen is a student of international relations in the same university.
The views don’t necessarily reflect those of China Daily.