Home > Uncategorized > Thriving on Bad News of Others, Or Just Plain Reality Check.

Thriving on Bad News of Others, Or Just Plain Reality Check.

http://www.humanities.uci.edu/history/faculty_profile_wasserstrom.php, co-founder of the now inactive China Beat blog, wrote a piece recently:


Needless to say, the premise of his piece is the usual kinds of China-bashing.

Wasserstrom started off with a long list of bad news China had in 2013, but then goes on to say:

China’s leaders, we need to remember, have long pursued a multipronged strategy to defend the status quo. They have cracked down hard on organized forms of opposition, while allowing greater individual freedom in some domains. They have filled their speeches and the airwaves with depictions of good things that the government is doing, such as raising China’s stature in the global arena, improving living standards, developing an impressive transportation infrastructure and maintaining stability. But in a subtler and more cynical fashion, they have gone to great lengths to highlight troubling developments in other parts of the world. This is done to discourage people from viewing foreign countries as potential models for emulation and to encourage them to wonder whether a change in how China is governed might result in the country spiraling off in a disturbing direction. In the 1990s, for example, much was made of how badly the former Yugoslavia and Russia fared, while more successful postcommunist states were largely ignored.

On the 1st part, where officials talk about “good things” they are doing.  Perhaps Wasserstrom is unfamiliar with the concept of politicians doing positive PR for themselves and the government.  That’s pretty much universal.  And most officials do not want to talk about their own mistakes.

On the 2nd part, Wasserstrom’s speculation of Chinese government’s motives for highlighting “troubling developments in other parts of the world” is simply based on a flawed premise:  that Chinese government is “highlighting” any thing.

To “highlight” something, one has to go out of one’s way to bring focus to it.  I would argue that Chinese government have no need to and did not “highlight” any “trouble” of the other parts of the world.  Mere mentioning of such “troubles” is not “highlighting”.

To put “highlighting troubles” into perspective comparison of scales:  US “highlights” troubles in China, by for example, funding NGO’s to investigate China, funding reports on various “human rights” issues in China, funding “dissidents” in China with money and resources, etc.

China doesn’t do any of that, even after Snowden made alarming disclosures about US government’s abuses of privacies of people across the world.

*And let’s face it, China would have said very little about Snowden, if US had not continued to accuse China with various rumors of trying to help Snowden.  In fact, China could have responded more harshly, and should have given the kind of neo-imperialist attitude of US in handling Snowden’s extradition.

Thus, Wasserstrom is clearly lacking in proportions in his characterization of China’s coverage of “bad news” of others.  China doesn’t have the gigantic government-media-corporation spin machine like US does.  “Highlighting”?!  I dare to say, the amount of coverage to “bad news” of others by the Chinese media may actually be much less proportionally to “bad news” of others in US media (or even in China Beat blog).

Wasserstrom’s flawed analysis is also circular in its logic, in that if China is talking about “bad news” of others, it’s for some inherently bad motive (“discourage people from viewing foreign countries as potential models for emulation”), and by consequence, China is obviously “highlighting”/ sensationalizing / playing up the “bad news” of others.

Wasserstrom does not point to any specific instances of China’s “highlight” of “bad news” of others.

Of course, many of the “bad news” Wasserstrom referred to, do not need much “highlighting” to start with.

Wasserstrom talked about China discussing interethnic violence in Burma rather than the “democratization” in Burma.  I think most people would agree that death and violence is more specific and clear news than some vague “democratization” for window dressing, especially when Burma’s REAL violence threatened to spill into Chinese territory (with shells actually landed in China).  But Wasserstrom seems to suggest that the Chinese media should have put some flower patterns of “democratization” on the interethnic fighting story in Burma.  For what?!  The point of such a news story is lost on me.  I have no idea what kind of message Wasserstrom is trying to “highlight” in Burma.  Here we see Wasserstrom’s priority for his “highlights”:  “Democracy” over Lives.

As for the Snowden story, Snowden and Western media did enough talking about it, far more than the Chinese media could ever do.  What’s to “highlight” about it?  The story is already plastered all over every kind of media.

*Wasserstrom is basically engaging the Cold War era style logic of “If I do something, it’s for good cause, but whatever you are doing, you are up to no good.”

Wasserstrom however, foolishly “highlighted” nothing but vagueness of his own arguments and the error of his underlying assumption.  He might as well argue that China is propagandizing for the Devil.

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  1. July 12th, 2013 at 05:05 | #1

    Wow… has Wasserstrom ever browsed through the western news on China?! Talk about “thriving on the bad news of others”. Wow…

  2. aquadraht
    July 12th, 2013 at 07:52 | #2

    My impressions from Chinese media differ from that of Dr. Wasserstrom. First, I found the information coverage about the outside world relatively detailed. I found reports about regional elections not only in a country like Germany, but even Austria, in rather remote publications. When I had something to object, it was seldom if any a critical or negative attitude, rather an – in my eyes frequently exaggerated – quest for harmony and avoidance of confrontation and controversy. In short, I always missed critical, much more polemic or negative attitudes. That was only different in cases the controversy touched China proper (trade disputes, South China Sea, Dalai Lama etc.).

    Comparing the Western China coverage with that gives a devastating impression. Roughly 90% of the news and informations are somewhere between completely false, misleading, uninformed, superficial. prejudiced and at best not completely wrong. The attitude reached from openly hostile and looking for means to destroy recent China to “benevolently” patronizing reporting. Only an extremely tiny number of western media are taking an at least neutral stance.

    In my opinion, Chinese media could well need bit more vitriol in their coverage of the West. But maybe it is not what the audience is expecting.

  3. pug_ster
    July 12th, 2013 at 17:01 | #3

    I have to defend Wasserstrom as he is more of an academic rather than a typical China bashing writer. Unlike other China bloggers and writers out there, he acknowledges that is China bashing in the Western Propaganda itself and wrote why it is losing its steam.

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