Date Posted: 23:44 09/12/2004
You say propaganda….
And we say 'a realistic and balanced portrayal'…
RUNNING DOG, in its various guises, has been accused of being too soft on China, and of being an apologist for the government. Still, we have also been accused by one reader of being 'nothing more than China bashing propaganda', so our editorial approach might need a little fine-tuning.
Unfortunately, it is 'Chinese bashing propaganda' that most foreign readers seem to want. No foreign reporter wants to be viewed as a cheerleader for the Chinese Communist Party. No foreign reporter wants to be viewed as the new Edgar Snow.
And so, it is probably all too common to find foreign correspondents sending stories to their head offices only to see them rejected for being insufficiently critical. Running Dog knows of at least one reporter who was lambasted by readers for daring to suggest that while the corruption was terrible and the treatment of migrants deplorable, the Three Gorges Project might have some benefits for the local community.
But what sort of impression of China are foreign newspaper readers actually getting? A nation torn by strife and underemployment, by spit and filth and infectious respiratory disorders, by cults and mobs and mafiosi. A nation where peasants dash out the brains of their female young and where an 'army of 80 million bachelors' will feed an era of brutal military conquest or rampage through the country raping and murdering womenfolk. A nation where internet moguls make millions, where Google is banned, and where – in the view of the otherwise admirable Private Eye – ordinary people are arrested merely for trying to visit the website of the BBC. A nation of stupefying venality and corruption, of routine judicial cruelty. A nation of fake statistics and fake products and unscrupulous business practices. A nation where the environment is rapaciously exploited until the rivers run dry and the deserts consume the cities and the skies turn black. A nation whose new generation is fed, constantly, on propaganda and jingoistic self-pity. A nation so starkly different from all we hold dear that it becomes somehow newsworthy that they might in fact be like us, and might actually have sex or use mobile phones or eat junk food or spoil their children or have psychological problems or express prejudicial opinions about farmers or foreigners.
Naturally, being foreign hacks ourselves, we would like to claim the high moral ground in these matters, but we cannot. As veteran residents of China, we can at least remember to avoid the neophyte cliches involving a 'dragon awaking' from something or other, or some type of 'Great Wall' stopping something from getting somewhere, or a 'Long March' to something like democracy or prosperity. We are also aware of that tired old 'Chairman Mao will be spinning in his grave' motif in which everything – from Starbucks to Zhang Yimou - is referred back to the opinions of a leader who has been dead for 28 years. We can also mock those newcomers who choose to write tired old pieces about Shanghai's thriving prostitution business. We can feel superior when a foreign reporter stumbles off the plane and instantly compares Shanghai's Pudong District with Blade Runner, or who primes himself with a history book and ascribes every fault he sees to the bloody unification of the country under Emperor Qin Shihuang.
Many articles – including ours - remain inscribed with one fatal flaw, a flaw derived – perhaps – from the idealism that fueled Communism in the first place. Somehow, we still believe in a sort of perfectibility, in the idea that a society should still be seeking to eliminate poverty, protect its environment, avoid all military confrontations and create wealth and opportunity for all. And somehow, by still attributing absolute power to the Chinese Communist Party, we have no option but to assume that they are using their power malevolently. They are, despite an ideology that heralds the End of History, as clueless as the rest of us about creating Elysium.
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