The Chinese debate – Part 1: The West
Debate is important, because debate is the foundation of true knowledge and true conviction; without opening yourself up to true debate and reconsideration, any knowledge or conviction is suspect. Most in the West have never seen the Chinese debate political issues, so our conclusions are often ignored for exactly the reason. The more that we explain what the Chinese debate about, the more we will gain respect (if not agreement)… and gradually, we can erase Western bias and ignorance. And even more importantly, the better we’ll know what we want from our own country.
Thanks to one our visitors (Traveler, Youzi, 游子), this debate has been brought to our blog (see comment in previous thread).
In terms of the problem with Western media’s “bias”, different Chinese can have different feelings. For overseas Chinese, because they exist in a different cultural environment, it’s easy for them to develop some isolation while interacting with locals. Minorities will often feel more sensitive about mainstream media’s criticisms. In reality, the same reaction can be seen in China’s interior as well. Furthermore, outsiders always feel discriminated against by locals, and the most basic reason is a cultural gap. This sort of discrimination due to the cultural gap is a very common phenomenon, and can only be erased through integration. Clearly, any sort of specific discrimination that causes injury or loss, can be rectified through a lawsuit seeking economic compensation. Therefore, the discrimination due to cultural differences in the West should be resolved by law if effective rule of law exists; cultural problems can only be resolved through cultural interaction.
This is unfortunately a common misconception amongst some in China, with only a slight kernel of truth. Overseas Chinese are speaking out because they haven’t been able to integrate, because they feel victimized for their own reasons, and not because of what is actually happening in China. If we were speaking of the 19th century, or even the early 20th century, there would’ve been truth to this. In that era, Chinese living overseas existed in an isolated environment, unable to understand or integrate into mainstream society.
In the 21st century, that’s simply not accurate. The West has (sometimes grudgingly) opened up much of its society up to non-whites. In parts of the United States, east Asians (and Chinese in particular) are even a majority, not a minority. Within the University of California (where I received my bachelor’s degree), east Asians represent more than half of the student body on numerous campuses, but the vast majority of them fully integrated into the “American” way. When I walk away from this keyboard, I am as comfortable in the American cultural environment as Barack Obama or John McCain. I personally have not been a victim of regular discrimination; I’m extremely successful in my chosen career, and few doors have ever been closed to me. I am not alone.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, the rally to “defend” the Olympic Torch was partly organized by a group on MITBBS, a bulletin board. When you visit this bulletin board on a normal day, other than the fact that the discussion is (primarily) in Chinese, it would be basically indistinguishable from any other American forum in Silicon Valley. The vast majority of discussions are about (Western) concerts, (Western) movies, BBQs, mortgage rates, home prices, stock investments, changing jobs, school districts, pick-up soccer… and who will make a better US president, Obama or McCain. The only time that bulletin board dramatically differed was in the week before and after the Olympic Torch rally, when out of righteous indignation, when out of true pride in the Olympics, many of us chose to step out.
Traveler, you’re wrong if you believe that the Chinese people and Chinese culture remain marginalized in the West. The forced, victimized Chinatowns of yesterday have been replaced with proud, successful Chinese who thrive in a now-diverse American society, on our terms, without having to compromise or apologize. When a community is fragile and threatened, it might lash out in fear and anger; we might have seen that in Lhasa on 3/14. But what I saw on April 12th in San Francisco, the day of the Olympic Torch rally, was not a community lashing out in fear or anger. It was a community proudly celebrating a display of unity.
We are absolutely not seeking comfort in China because we have been rejected by American society.
Other than this, politicizing cultural and legal problems, will simply suck issues into the mire. Unfortunately, this problem is already very political – and as a Chinese person, I believe the Chinese government bears great responsibility. In processing the negative reporting from the western media, the Chinese government has for a long time blocked outside news in order to create stupidity, keeping the vast majority of Chinese from coming in contact with the Western media, pretending as if things didn’t happen.
On the other hand, once things are escalated and difficult to cover up, then it selectively uses nationalism and patriotism as tools for a counter-attack, encouraging China’s ignorant masses to hate the Western media. In this rigid approach, the question of whether the Western media’s coverage is accurate or partially accurate, whether it can improve, etc, all become sacrificed for political means. Of course, the government does this because it has its own difficulties: because many of the Western media’s reporting truly do have these problems, and often points directly at the heart of the Chinese political system, and these are exactly the problems that are difficult for the government to respond to. I also firmly believe that the “biases” being spread by China’s official statement media, especially “political bias”, can not possibly lose to the Western media.
You are sitting in a deep well; when you look up, all you see is the Chinese state media, and this leads you to the conclusions you draw.
I believe the vast majority of Chinese in the United States do not read the Chinese state media regularly. Of course, Sina and Sohu are part of my regular reading (after Tianya, MaoYan, and MOP)… but even for China coverage, most Chinese regularly read US-based media. The biases that angered us in the US-based media has nothing to do with the Chinese government, or Chinese propaganda.
I do not need the Chinese government to tell me whether I should be interested in or support the Olympics; therefore, I do not need the Chinese government to tell me to be offended when the San Francisco Chronicle runs a column calling for China to “fall in on itself”.
I do not need the Chinese government to tell me to be angry, when I watch videos of being beaten in the streets of a Chinese city for the crime of being Chinese (by the way, I was extremely frustrated when Chinese censors repeatedly blocked these videos shortly after 3/14), while the Western media described Chinese “government suppression”.
I do not need the Chinese government to tell me to be offended, when I see videos of a Chinese sitting in a wheelchair attacked by angry protesters.
I think you’re exaggerating your own ignorance of the Western media. You have quite a bit of access to the Western media, which you aren’t mentioning. CNN, NY Times, CS Monitor, (and now BBC)… these are available without blocking in China. And if you used a relay-tool like many do, you have access to everything. If you’re like many other 网友, you watch CNN, BBC, and NBC regularly either via peer-to-peer TV (like TvAnts), or via clips on Tudou and Youku. And even if you don’t do any of the above, the vast majority of overseas articles about China are ultimately pasted into Chinese internet forums anyways. I can’t imagine that you aren’t aware of this.
And when you access these videos, it’s hard to imagine that you aren’t aware of these “problems”. The problem isn’t with Western criticism with China, but the degree, tone, and attitude of this criticism. I’ve said before that many Chinese become more “left” and pro-government when they go overseas and confront this face to face, as confirmed by many posters on MITBBS. I hope you have the opportunity to spend a few years outside of China some day, and see this for yourself.
But I, like you, am not especially sensitive to the issue of media bias. Media bias in the West is only the symptom of a problem; the real problem is systematic bias amongst Western society, period. This disease of ignorance is definitely fostered in part by the Chinese government’s actions; the propaganda arms of an undemocratic government that cracks down on dissent will never be believed in the West. But regardless, this disease exists, and I intend to do my part to fight it. I will not fight this disease by suing for compensation… but I will try to fight this disease of ignorance by washing away the soil that it grows on.
I will close my comments on this topic here. Youzi/Traveler moves on to another common point of debate: economics, democracy, and the Chinese government. I will continue that discussion in part 2.
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