Is it conceivable that the Chinese government ban the jasmine flower in China? That is exactly what a group of journalists at the New York Times argue in their recent article, “Catching Scent of Revolution, China Moves to Snip Jasmine.” I asked Andrew Jacobs, one of the authors if he believed what he wrote? In response, he said:
Yes, I do believe what I wrote because myself and two other reporters spoke to dozens of growers, wholesalers and retailers. Have you, by any chance, done the same? I welcome you to come to China and do some reporting and find out the truth.
Funny, I was just in China last month. (See, “All happy on the Wangfujing front.”) So, I decided to call 北京莱太花卉. I asked an employee there, “美国媒体真是很坏. 他们说莉花不能卖. 你听说茉莉花不能卖吗?” She said “没有听说过.” We both laughed when I said, “美国媒体有神经病.” In short, there is no ban. The lady I spoke to laughed at my comment the U.S. media is mentally retarded.
As I have written previously (“茉莉花 (Molihua) / Jasmine Flower, a piece of Chinese culture that has taken root around the world“), ‘jasmine’ is an inextricable part of Chinese culture. Can anyone imagine a China without jasmine tea, jasmine ice cream, the flower itself, and perhaps hundreds or more products dependent on it? Not to mention that song and its prominence at the 2008 Beijing Olympics?
I have also asked some friends in China this question too. There is no ban!
The article cited four anecdotes in support of its ‘ban’ claim:
First anecdote, a 47 years old Zhen Weizhong who tends 2,000 jasmine plants and worried about prices. Flowers, like other commodities, fluctuate in price, especially depending on availability – which in turn depends on how much famers planted, cooperating weather, and fuel/transport costs. China is experiencing inflation right now. All these have an impact on price. Here is a 2010 official report (in Chinese) talking about jasmine tea supply and their fluctuations.
The New York Times journalist likely don’t know this – it is common for Chinese citizens to say they are not into politics.
Price changes do not imply any sort of ban!
Second anecdote – at Sunhe Beidong some vendors asked to sign pledges to not carry jasmine flowers by police. Why is this insane? If there is a ban, the police simply put up notices and confiscate flowers. Why do they bother people to sign papers? It absolutely does not make sense.
What kind of crazy ‘ban’ is only applied to some vendors. Was there a market-wide or city wide ban? As I have already ascertained above, there is no such a thing. So why ‘ban’ on some vendors if that is even true?
Third anecdote – some people at Jiuzhou Flower and Plant Trading Center heard the ‘ban’ had something to do with radiation contamination from Japan. This sounds to me more like the Chinese residents confused by the question about ‘ban’ in the first place.
Fourth anecdote – Wu Chuanzhen, a 53 years old farmer said something about the Falungong and if there is a ban, it’d be absurd. If there is a ban on jasmine, it’d indeed be absurd.
Of course, the New York Times want their readers to accept these four absolutely insane anecdotes as ‘evidence’ of a ‘ban’ on jasmine flowers. Remember the recent Bob Dylan ‘censorship’ issue? Apparently, the New York Times lied too. See “Ring Them Bells: Dylan Wasn’t Censored” by the Shanghai Scrap blog. Or read directly what Dylan himself has to say. (For you convenience, American media lies: here, here, and here.)
We can expect the paper to vacillate between ‘censorship’ (also see my prior post, “Nicholas Kristof’s ‘Banned in Beijing!’, an ‘Internet freedom’ voyeur’s dare to China’s censorship“), ‘jasmine revolution,’ ‘human rights,’ and ‘currency manipulation’ when the topic is ‘China.’
By the way, Paul Krugman seems to be hibernating now over his ‘currency manipulation’ rants at the NYT. (Head over to the excellent 龙信明 BLOG to see how his arguments are taken apart – “Paul Krugman Appears to have Lost his Marbles” – and other articles on this issue.) Also see Allen‘s article, “The Politicization of the Yuan.”
Judging by the captive reader comments beneath the article, I am not surprised the New York Times is putting out this kind of garbage. It is amazing Jacobs tells me he believes that kind of junk he wrote. Apparently, at the New York Times, you repeat lies enough time, they become truth. Head over to the article’s comments and see the number of readers accepting this narrative to see what I mean.
But, I haven’t given up on the paper’s readers completely, because there are still many who see what this article is all about. I have decided to pull some of their comments over:
May 10th, 2011
I’m spending my spring semester in Beijing studying mandarin. I live close to a large flower market and not once was Jasmine ever “banned.” I would have noticed. It’s my favorite flower and I drink it every day in my tea. My communist government-sponsored language school also spent a few days teaching us traditional Chinese folksongs, and the ubiquitous “Mo li Hua” (Jasmine) song was featured very prominently. Perhaps there is some truth to the widely held belief that Americans are brainwashed and ignorant.
May 10th, 2011
I think this is the most obviously biased New York Times article I’ve ever read. Since when did words like “nefarious,” “skittish,” and “tawny-skinned” become okay to use in a news article? I am a student journalist, and I’m pretty sure there are some ethical rules about that… Just an observation. Anyway, this article is in general hilarious. Oh, China…
May 11th, 2011
This is one legendary example of imaginary and self-righteous news report. As a matter of fact since late last year the local markets for daily consumer products have been volatile, including food, vegetables, flowers, personal care products, gasoline and other utilities etc. This is a sign of the inflation in this country getting out of hands and a failure of series economic policies that were supposed to contain the inflation. It has proved the incompetency of the government officials’ management skills and but really has little or nothing to do with the revolutions and violent turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa. Yet the NYT reporters picked up Jasmine, an innocent flower, and made a whole lot of implication out of it. I have to say, it is an interesting experiment to report this way, although utterly untrue and unprofessional.
May 11th, 2011
I searched “Jasmine Revolution” in Chinese on Baidue, and it gave quite a few entries. Here is the link:
I also saw the flowers on sale in supermarkets. The government was quite nervous in March, but it seems that few people but the foreign journalits are paying attention to the call for revolution in China. Unlike my generation, the current youth will not protest out of ideaology. The Chinese people will not fight for something abstract like demogracy, freedom of expression, etc. But they will fight for specific interests, such as against rising house cost, inflation, under paid wages, etc.
May 11th, 2011
The jejune liberal chatterati just doesn’t get China. Wake up from your self-indulgent sanctimonious delusions, folks! China is China, not Tunisia, Libya or Egypt! China will not have a jasmine revolution because it has the most popular, secure and successful government in thousands of years of Chinese history. The so-called crackdown on liberals is just the Chinese Government doing what most Chinese expect their government to do when it has “the mandate of heaven”: exercise responsible authority and maintain order. This is wholly understandable under China’s deeply embedded Confucian values. China deserves more credit than it is getting from the chatterati. It is not an ossified North African state: it is a reformist authoritarian state that in many respects is more democratic than many so-called democracies. It actually does listen and respond to its people, all the time, and has made amazing strides in civil rights. It effectively has a multipartite system within a one-party state, and orderly generational change of leadership based on merit. The post 1976 Chinese Government has made enormous progress in shedding China’s ancient ills (e.g. insularity, anti-foreignism, corruption) while anchoring itself in the best Chinese traditions of social order, cooperation and harmony. Our system is right for us: China’s system is best for it.
Voice of China
May 11th, 2011
This is an interesting article, but it under estimates the wisdom of Chinese people.
1. As a kind of commodity, it is natural that the price of followers of any kind will go through ups and downs. Do not forget that China is a big country. If you google it, you can find out the price of jasmine in the North part of China is going down. However in cities of South China, jasmine price goes high. The ups and downs of the jasmine price has nothing to do with revolution.
2. It is true that my government block the Chinese characters for jasmine on the internet. However, the Chinese government has never issued any ban on jasmine in real life. If they ban jasmine, you will not see any jasmine on the market. Even the author cannot deny the fact that jasmine is still on sale. Therefore, how comes “police issued a jasmine ban” mentioned by the author?
3. I do believe that my government overreacted to the jasmine issue. Chinese people are very clever. Some people simply use other name of followers as a symbol on the internet to call for a “revolution”. I don’t think my government can ban all the names of flowers on the internet. So the real question is as follows: how many people would like to disturb their normal lives and initiate a street revolution in China? let’s take the boldest guess: 1 million people. If 1 million people in Zimbabwe go to the street, it will make the headline. But in China, you have to think about the feelings of other 1.37 billion people who want to enjoy their normal lives.
4. Just as the old saying goes: If you are out to condemn somebody, you can always trump up a charge. You can probably find 1 million people who do not like jasmine due to personal reasons in USA (they simply love other kind of flowers). Shall we say that the US does not support the Jasmine Revolution in Arab Spring?
5. Some people are disappointed by Chinese people’s reaction to Jasmine Revolution. Chinese government’s overreaction provides a perfect excuse for those people to attribute it to the so called “oppression”. The authors just sit in the office that is far far away from China and look for every clue to denounce the legitimacy of Chinese government. This article might affect those who have never been to China and know nothing about China. But for most of the Chinese people, we just laugh and say to the authors, “Please come to China. You can buy jasmine, you can wear jasmine, you can even eat jasmine so long as you pay for it and contribute to the Chinese economy!”
Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan was just on Charlie Rose with Timothy Geithner and he said that the American media slants too much in their reporting of China. Geithner too said in order for America to be more influential around the world, Americans need to better understand China and the rest of the world. Americans need to wake up to what is happening to their media and what they are doing to them. They can start with the New York Times.
What do you say to that, Mr. Jacobs?