If you Google “China” or “Olympics” on any given day in recent months, with the exception of the few weeks China was stricken by deadly earthquakes, you will be overwhelmed by the shower of negative coverage from the mainstream Western media against China and its hosting of 2008 Beijing Olympics.
For months leading up to the Beijing Games, China has been put under the Western microscope with accusations and complaints against the country and its government sweeping across all terrains, from big political issues such as Tibet, human rights, protest rights, press and religious freedom; to social problems including air pollution, government relocation of Beijing residents; to conspiracy stories about special visual effects of the opening ceremony and ultra performance of Chinese athletes; and to more trivial displeasures about losing a pair of expensive sunglasses, difficulties to access Olympic Green, English standard of volunteers, and over-eagerness of residents to help the foreigner visitors. The list goes on and on.
As if that is not enough, an NBC correspondent went on a live TV hunt for Chinese foods in Beijing. Let’s take a look at what she found: giant scorpions, lizards, silk worms, seahorses, iguana tails and dung beetles. Other Western reportors also cited rabbit head, pig brain and animal penis. Being a native of Beijing with 20 plus years of living there and a food lover myself, I have little knowledge where to look for these exotic things, not to mention ever eating them. Come on, China has a civilization of 5,000 years – Western reporters can’t be seriously thinking about portraying the Chinese as barbaric aboriginals or man-eating cannibals, right?
In fact, Dave Barry of Miami Herald admitted to a blog “beijingboyce.com” that “The Chinese people I saw all seemed to be buying things like lamb kebabs and fruit. On the other hand, the people gathered around the centipedes and scorpions on a stick were, in almost every case, tourists or American TV reporters doing fun features on weird Chinese food…. The Chinese don’t eat scorpions. They feed their scorpions to TV reporters. I would not be surprised to learn that the Chinese word for scorpion is “TV reporter food.”
Granted, China is not completely innocent from many of the aforementioned allegations and criticisms, but it is neither an evil host which deserves no credit at all. As the world’s fastest growing economy and one of the world’s most ancient civilizations, there has got to be something positive to report on.
You can be easily frustrated, however, if you are looking to read something more positive or, at the least, constructive about the country and its hospitable people. Sure, there is always the official Xinhua News or China Daily one can read for a change, but any praise from self-proclaimed independent and objective mainstream Western media is surprisingly hard to come by.
Meanwhile, for average Westerners, it is hard not to be misled by the drowning negative coverage on China. A homemaker in the US told reporters that she does not want to “legitimize the Chinese government” by supporting the Beijing Olympics.” Didn’t President Bush just open a bigger US Embassy there? What are we talking about here exactly? I am as puzzled as an Atlanta man who demanded an online answer for not seeing Russian tanks there.
As much as I disagree with President George W. Bush on many things, I have to applaud his recent TV interview in Beijing with NBC in which he stressed that the US and China as two very different countries and cultures are bound to have agreements and disagreements on a range of things, but it is important to have a constructive relationship which will help each other communicate disagreements.
Wow, how I wish that he had possessed this wisdom before starting the Iraq war – lives of estimated 1.2 million Iraqis and 5,000 US soldiers could have been saved.
Should the 2008 Olympics be awarded to Beijing in the first place?
Although the closing ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games is coming up in a matter of few days, the arguments surrounding if IOC had made a mistake in letting China host the 2008 Olympics and if China had fulfilled its relevant promises seem to have just started.
Why pick a heavily-polluted country that is dictated by “free market Stalinists” which suppresses human rights, religion and press? China broke its promises to IOC for all of these areas, charges the mainstream Western media.
However, according to the IOC, its mission is “to build a peaceful and better world in the Olympic Spirit which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play – Olympic Spirit strives to inspire and motivate the youth of the world to be the best they can be through educational and entertaining interactive challenges. Olympic Spirit seeks to instill and develop the values and ideals of Olympism in those who visit and to promote tolerance and understanding in these increasingly troubled time in which we live, to make our world a more peaceful place.”
Does China deserve to be awarded the hosting right of Olympics? Apparently, the Chinese people said a loud “yes”. The whole world witnessed how much grass-root support China got from its people when it applied for and won the hosting right of the event.
As a country with more than one fifth of the world’s population – should it not be given a chance to host one of the many games? With 1.3 billion people not represented, can any Olympic Games truly promote its mission of “building a peaceful and better world with mutual understanding”? That is why the IOC made its decision and it is undoubtedly a correct one.
By comparison, I have serious doubts if the mainstream Western media truly understands and honors the spirit of Olympics – questioning China’s legitimacy to host such an international event only gives away its arrogance, self-righteousness, entitlement and cultural supremacy in international affairs.
If the mainstream Western media is still the true believer of human rights and continues to uphold the universal belief that “all men are created equal”, it should acknowledge the birthright of any country including China, for hosting the Olympic Games.
While China needs improvements in many areas as every other country on this earth does, the changes and progresses made by the country in the past 30 years are unmatched in the its own history, which can not be hidden from view by the mainstream Western media.
China should not be forced to make any concessions or promises to any interest groups in order to be “bestowed” the hosting right of Olympics, thanks to the downfall of colonialism and imperialism! The country’s pursuit of reform in all domestic political and social-economic fronts, including but not limited to human rights and freedoms of its people, can and should only be driven by desires of its own people, rather than being imposed on by external forces.
In addition to disputing China’s hosting rights, the mainstream Western media also has aired many conspiracies about China’s intention for hosting the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Show of power? Self-interiority? Promoting China’s development path to replace the US model? Bla, bla, bla….
We all are humans and predictably we all want similar things in life at the end of the day. Splendid displays, inflated egos or decorated ideologies can not replace people’s basic needs for food, clothing, shelter and healthcare.
For hundreds of years, the Chinese people have craved for a peaceful environment where they can focus on making a better living for themselves rather than laboring for self-serving emperors or greedy foreign opium traders. They have been quite successful in the past three decades and now they simply wanted to party and celebrate with the world through Beijing Olympics. Is that so hard to understand?
Why is the mainstream Western media so angry with China?
In his recent article “Are the Media Being too Mean to China?” published on slate.com, Prof. Tim Wu of Columbia University wrote that “China’s idea of what makes for a better Olympics for foreign consumption-tightened security and cleaning up marginal elements-is exactly what makes Western reporters crazy.”
While Prof. Wu’s observation only touched on one of the surface symptoms that irritated the mainstream Western media, it does shed some light on the current tension. What he described is in fact a cultural difference in how the Chinese and the Western people receive and entertain their guests. But the root of problem is the ethnocentric mindset of the Western reporters to the cultural differences and their entitlement that things should only be done in their ways.
Similar examples are abundant, whether it is about different ways under which Chinese and Western athletes are trained or about how they differ in keeping their personal appearance or etiquettes. I am particularly disappointed with Prof. Wu’s comments that “China doesn’t have the manners and grace of the richer countries, even if it has increasing economic and political clout.”
While making noises during eating is a taboo in many Western cultures, being openly confrontational in social interactions is a sin in many Asian cultures. These are simply cultural differences that should not be judged as superior or inferior, or we risk entering the boundaries of cultural supremacy.
Unfortunately, it is this arrogant mindset that has led the mainstream Western media to judge China by its own culturally biased standards and self-centered expectations. It is not a surprise they drew the conclusion that China broke its promises for hosting Olympics, an allegation China has denied.
What followed was an irrational unleash of anger by the mainstream Western media towards China in an attempt to force the country into the direction the Western media desired to see. The collective media assault on China, however, is more based on self-interests and ethnocentrism, rather than fairness, objectivity and independence which the mainstream Western media often preach.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone!
A recent issue of Newsweek carried an article, “Rise of the Sea Turtles”, that found “Westernized Chinese people” tend to be more resentful to the West. Although I wasn’t particularly impressed with its analysis of the root causes, the article does provide us with a good pointer to an emerging trend.
I can probably qualify as one of the “Westernized Chinese people” the article was referring to, although I prefer to identify myself as a Chinese American after becoming a naturalized US citizen for many years.
I think it is unfair and simplistic to conclude that the “Westernized Chinese people” are more resentful to the West, because the situation is far more complicated than portrayed. The resentments, in fact, are not the towards the West in its entirety but more targeted at the double standard and intolerant attitudes often adopted by the mainstream Western media and Western governments towards China and other non-Western countries. “Westernized Chinese people” tend to be elites who are educated in the West and their advanced training and intellect make them independent thinkers. They are sensitive towards the hypocrisies of the mainstream Western media which scrutinizes China with one set standards while closing its eyes to the same problems at home.
No one person or one country is perfect and the Bible tells us that everyone is a sinner. If we (Americans) can allow ourselves make mistakes and accept skeletons in our own closets, why should we dissect other countries under our tinted lenses and punish them for not satisfying the standards that even ourselves often can not meet?
We should pursue “constructive dialogues” rather than endless “regime changes” by using force – ironically both strategies were supported by President George W. Bush. I salute his newly-found wisdom which helped him reach a peaceful resolution with the North Koreans and hopefully the same can be done with the Iranians.
If we desire international solidarity against terrorism, why is the mainstream Western media always so reluctant to condemn those who terrorize China? Read its coverage of recent terrorist attacks in Xinjiang and you know what I am talking about.
If the mainstream Western media wants to be the role model for its Chinese peers, why does it conveniently distort facts, use phony pictures and brush away people who have different opinions and deny their right to have their voices heard? A Chinese American confronted a CNN journalist a few months ago in LA when she and many other pro-China protestors were denied chances to be interviewed, the journalist responded harshly – “don’t tell me how to do my business!”
We teach every citizen in the West to respect laws and regulations, yet the mainstream Western media participated in cheering the illegal protests and vandalism in Beijing.
Personally I had a painful experience demonstrating on London streets in 1989. It was cold in that morning and I stepped out of the picketing line for a few minutes to get some desperately-needed sunshine. I was subsequently handcuffed by force and arrested by the London police. When my petite wife disputed their action, she was also handcuffed and arrested. We were locked into separate cells for hours with no food and water, not to mention access to a phone and legal advice. We were only released after the demonstration organizer intervened and after being forced to sign the British equivalent of confession statements.
If being out of the picket line for some sun is a crime that deserves to be handcuffed and thrown into jail in London, why should the Chinese be criticized for expelling illegal protestors in Beijing who purposely climb lamp-posts, buildings and advertising billboards to display unauthorized banners?
Why should an American “pastor”, who proudly vandalized the two Beijing hotel rooms and then cowardly sneaked away, be cheered as a “righteous protestor” by the mainstream Western media?
If a Chinese protestor goes to the 2012 London Olympics to protest against the British suppression of Northern Ireland and hang banners on the Big Ben – can he or she count on the mainstream Western media for for the same “heroic” coverage? Should we also question the right of London for hosting Olympics and its commitment for press freedom if its police arrests the protestor?
Food for thought – “Do unto others what you wish to do unto yourself” (Confucius) and “let he who is without sin cast the first stone!” (Jesus)
Is Western-styled press freedom what China needs?
A highly-respected US scholar once told me that the Western media is founded on the spirit of challenging authorities and it is the media’s job to be cynical, vigilant, critical, defiant and negative.
I am a strong believer of the fundamental principles on which the US political system is founded. Besides many merits of the system, media stands out as an indispensable component designed to supervise, on behalf of the public, the three branches of the federal government. This is almost a perfect setup except three potential flaws – firstly, there is no mechanism in place for the supervision of the media itself; secondly, there are serious conflicts of interests between the two contradictory roles of media both as a representative of public interests and, at the same time, as self-serving profit-making enterprises; and thirdly founding media on the basis of cynicism and negativity has its own social costs.
For media to fulfill its role to supervise the government, it needs to serve public interests, rather than its own interests. It needs to be unbiased, objective and independent.
Nonetheless, it is well-known that the mainstream Western media has long blended its role for public welfare with relentless pursuit of ego, power and profits. As the world enters the information age, the mainstream Western media has become a new rising superpower with ever-increasing influence on domestic and international politics, economy, social structure, value systems and people’s everyday life.
Does Americans really have as much freedom as the mainstream media would like us to believe? As the mainstream Western media pursue freedoms in other countries, Americans are losing so many freedoms that once made them so proud.
In the past few decades, America has experienced a string of serious challenges and setbacks including the breakdown of family/social structure and value systems, falling religious influence and freedom, popular abuse and dependence of narcotics and prescription drugs, rising violence across the country, escalating racial tension and police brutality, widening gap between the rich and the poor, dropping standard of literacy and basic education, failing healthcare system that denies coverage of 23 million Americans, and a tendency of resolving international disputes with “regime change” by military force rather than diplomacy, violations of on constitutional civil and human rights under the cover of anti-terrorism, to name just a few.
Our children can no longer walk to the school bus by themselves for fear of drug pushers and child snatchers on the way. By the time they arrive in their schools, metal detectors await for them in some inner city schools. They have to leave their bags in lockers and no colored drinks are allowed for fear of bombs. Their teachers are not allowed to mention any religion or teach morals in schools. Even “Christmas trees” must not be called “Christmas trees” but “family trees”. They have to go through evacuation drills often to remain vigilant because school shootings are spreading. Now people are even more scared because a school district in Texas took the lead to allow teachers carrying guns to the classroom. But can we trust the teachers? Do we have to outsource our teachers from India or China one day?
As an American citizen, nothing is more valuable than my voting right. But even that has depreciated. Why? Because the mainstream media is not doing its job of dissemination of objective information. Instead it confuses me with a constant stream of selectively edited, distorted and manipulated information in order to advance its own preferences, agendas and commercial interests.
Let’s take a look at the tainted media pictures of presidential candidates. John Edwards is a wife cheater, but that has been kept from the public until now; Hilliary is a liar who believes she is entitled to be the President and her husband Bill is hostile to the mainstream press; John McCain is a patriot but a war monger who knows nothing about economy; and finally Obama, alas, is actually a celebrity, radical of racial politics, Muslim (not that there is anything wrong with it) and “Anti-Christ”! For God’s sake, stop harassing me with all this sensational talk designed to boost ratings and I want to vote for Paris Hilton, but unfortunately she is not on the ballot. So my pathetic one vote looks quite useless, well, at least for now.
Moving back to topic of Beijing Olympics. A Western journalist was quick to point out his disagreement with the slogan, “One World One Dream”, which is meant by the host nation to stress the commonalities all peoples share. Nevertheless, this reporter chose to emphasize the different values he has from the Chinese host.
Fine, let’s talk about the differences. If the mainstream Western media can acknowledge that peoples on this earth are different and that there are vast differences between them in the geographic landscapes, population structures, social-economic hierarchy, cultural values, beliefs, religions and ideologies, it should not be difficult to appreciate that their political, legal and media systems also need to differ from each other to accommodate for the specific needs of each country. It is dangerous to assume the systems of the West are somehow superior which can be transplanted to other countries.
Does China need a Western-style media system? I doubt it. While fundamental Western media principles of cynicism, defiance, negativity and confrontation may or may not work well in the Western cultures, they most-definitely will not be successful in the Chinese cultural environment which values hierarchy, harmony, benevolence and tolerance among people.
However, it is the Chinese people who should decide eventually what political, economic and media systems are the ones they need. I have faith that with five thousand years of civilization, China has the wisdom to draw from the strengths of the West, avoid its fundamental flaws and ultimately develop a positive-spirited media system with Chinese characteristics that is built on the basis of upholding public welfare and interests.
By blemishing a hospitable nation, which worked hard and sacrificed dearly to be a good host, mainstream Western media only exposed the self-interest and ethnocentric facets of itself to the whole world. Such irrational and frantic behaviors will only serve to bolster more media scrutiny by the Chinese government, further alienate the Chinese people and erase any remaining credibility and relevance of the mainstream Western media in the post-Olympic China.
I love the motto of Beijing Olympics – “One World One Dream” – the dream of the Olympic Spirit under which all peoples of the world will be united with mutual understanding, friendship, solidarity, fair play and tolerance to build a peaceful and better world together.
The author is an US-based independent business analyst supporting multinational companies that seek cohesive growth in China. He is a native of Beijing and a naturalized U.S. citizen. He studied in the UK in the 1980s and has lived in the US in the past 19 years.