Category Archives: propaganda

“China to NY Times: Plagiarise this!”

FT has a piece on the continuing fallout from NYT’s expose on Wen Jiabao’s family wealth:

The People’s Daily made a crude attempt at a hatchet job on the New York Times in a lengthy opinion piece on its website on Monday. The immediate prompt was clearly the New York Times account published last Friday of how Premier Wen Jiabao’s family has accumulated “hidden riches” of about $2.7bn, though the People’s Daily refrained from mentioning that specific article.

Instead, it chose to rehash the New York Times’ two biggest reporting debacles of the past decade and various laments about how it has lost its way under the headline, “New York Times: Scandals multiply and reputation deteriorates”.

Apart from the obvious irony in the fact that the People’s Daily is trying to pass judgment about reporting standards, there is another, even more basic problem with its criticism of the Times: its words appear to have been almost entirely plagiarised.

What the People’s Daily failed to mention was that virtually every last sentence in its opinion piece had previously been published. A quick search revealed the following:

1. The opening criticism of the Times’ fallen standards and the description of the Kouwe case? From a 2010 report by China News Agency.

2. The description of the Blair case? Lifted straight from two People’s Daily articles in 2003 (at least it is copying itself).

3. The account of “Journalistic Fraud”, the book? From a 2003 article by China News Agency.

4. And that final quote from the once-loyal reader? A translation by Dongxi (a now-defunct translation website) of a 2011 article that appeared on Splicetoday.com.

Even by the standards of plagiarism-prone Chinese media, it takes a certain brazenness to perpetrate such an extensive copy-and-paste job when preaching about journalistic integrity.

Par for the course, perhaps, but still pretty embarrassing.

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“China’s art world does not exist”

Another piece from an old standby- Ai Weiwei, who writes about art in China on pfsk.com:

What are we to make of a show that calls itself Art of Change: New Directions from China? I don’t think it’s worth discussing new directions in the context of Chinese art – there were no old directions, either. Chinese art has never had any clear orientation. Yes, the artists in this exhibition, which opened at the Hayward gallery in London last week, have struggled against the limitations imposed by the Chinese state more stridently than others. But that doesn’t change the fact that this is just another attempt to introduce western audiences to so-called “contemporary Chinese art”. How can you have a show of “contemporary Chinese art” that doesn’t address a single one of the country’s most pressing contemporary issues?

I am very familiar with the work of most of the artists in the show. Their work is certainly Chinese but, overall, the show casts no critical eye. It is like a restaurant in Chinatown that sells all the standard dishes, such as kung pao chicken and sweet and sour pork. People will eat it and say it is Chinese, but it is simply a consumerist offering, providing little in the way of a genuine experience of life in China today.

Widespread state control over art and culture has left no room for freedom of expression in the country. For more than 60 years, anyone with a dissenting opinion has been suppressed. Chinese art is merely a product: it avoids any meaningful engagement. There is no larger context. Its only purpose is to charm viewers with its ambiguity.

Last year, we saw China bringing its propaganda right into New York’s Times Square. In an advertising push that the state news agency Xinhua described as a “public diplomacy campaign”, billboard-size screens played videos that featured martial-arts movie star Jackie Chan, basketball player Yao Ming, astronaut Yang Liwei, and pianists Lang Lang and Li Yundi. Meanwhile Confucius Institutes, promoting Chinese culture, are spreading all over the world, as are Chinese traveling acrobatic troupes. To me, these are an insult to human intelligence and a ridicule of the concept of culture – vehicles of propaganda that showcase skills with no substance, and crafts with no meaning.

Although Chinese art is heavily influenced by contemporary western culture, it rejects the essential human values that underpin it. The Chinese Communist party claims to deliver socialism with Chinese characteristics, but nobody understands what this means – including the people of China.

Sounds like Ai is asking for another visit from the friendly folks at the local PSB…

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“Why China Is Weak on Soft Power”

Joseph Nye, the man behind the term ‘soft power,’ explains why China just can’t seem to build any in an NYT piece here. His conclusion:

But for all its efforts, China has had a limited return on its investment. A recent BBC poll shows that opinions of China’s influence are positive in much of Africa and Latin America, but predominantly negative in the United States and Europe, as well as in India, Japan and South Korea. A poll taken in Asia after the Beijing Olympics found that China’s charm offensive had been ineffective.

What China seems not to appreciate is that using culture and narrative to create soft power is not easy when they are inconsistent with domestic realities.

The 2008 Olympics were a success, but shortly afterwards, China’s domestic crackdown in Tibet and Xianjiang, and on human rights activists, undercut its soft power gains. The Shanghai Expo was also a great success, but was followed by the jailing of the Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo and the artist Ai Weiwei. And for all the efforts to turn Xinhua and China Central Television into competitors for CNN and the BBC, there is little international audience for brittle propaganda.

Now, in the aftermath of the Middle East revolutions, China is clamping down on the Internet and jailing human rights lawyers, once again torpedoing its soft power campaign.

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“Hurt(s) the feelings of the Chinese people”

There’s a funny post here from Language Log, which investigates the most widely-used phrase in the Chinese Foreign Ministry: “The President of [country X] has gravely hurt the feelings of the Chinese people by meeting with [person X].

Spokespersons for the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) often complain that the words or actions of individuals or groups from other nations “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people”. This is true even when those individuals or groups are speaking or acting on behalf of some segment of the Chinese population (e.g., political prisoners, Tibetans, Uyghurs, Falun Gong adherents, people whose houses have been forcibly demolished, farmers, and so forth). A typical cause for invoking the “hurt(s) the feelings of the Chinese people” circumlocution would be for the head of state of a country to meet with the Dalai Lama or Rebiya Kadeer. A good example is Mexican President Calderon’s recent meeting with the Dalai Lama, which the PRC government denounced in extremely harsh terms. The vitriolic rebuke led one commentator to refer to the PRC denunciation of the Mexican President as a kind of “bullying”.

I should note that the “hurt feelings” meme usually occurs in tandem with other standard kvetching: “grossly interfered with China’s internal affairs, hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, and harmed Chinese-XYZ relations.” Clearly, this is formulaic language. What is more, because it is used with such frequency in China’s dealing with other nations, it quickly begins to lose force and meaning, but amounts to mere blather and cannot be taken all that seriously. Still, its sheer ubiquity makes one wonder: why this obsession with damaged sensitivity?

Finding this expression — “hurts the feelings of the Chinese people” — so omnipresent in statements emanating from the PRC government, I wondered how it compares with the usage of analogous statements by representatives of other nations.

Here are Google hits for some comparable phrases involving other nations:

“hurts the feelings of the Chinese people” 17,000
“hurts the feelings of the Japanese people” 178
“hurts the feelings of the American people” 5
“hurts the feelings of the German people” 2
“hurts the feelings of the Jewish people” 2
“hurts the feelings of the Indian people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Russian people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Italian people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the British people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Swedish people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the French people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Spanish people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Turkish people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Greek people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Israeli people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Vietnamese people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Thai people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Egyptian people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Tibetan people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Uighur people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Uyghur people” 0
“hurts the feelings of the Mongolian people” 0

As ICT’s Todd Stein pointed out on twitter, how are these meetings hurting the feelings of the Chinese people? The state media is censoring the news, the vast majority of China won’t know about it unless Xinhua kicks up a stink about it. Realistically, we can see that it’s just a useful phrase to use- a specific yet intangible harm caused by the meeting, when pointing out something more real would be impossible. When the head of any state meets with the Dalai Lama, they normally just discuss preservation of Tibetan culture and whatnot, none of the separatism of which Beijing hysterically accuses them of engaging in. “Hurt feelings” then offer an excuse for the Foreign Ministry to be indignant, when they haven’t really suffered any harm.

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“China’s Tibetan Theme Park”

A month or two ago I had a post about Tibetan writer Woeser visiting Chengde, a city in northern China where a large-scale model of the Potala is a huge tourist draw. Woeser slammed the entire thing, noting the inauthentic aspects of the presentation and the highly inaccurate history being related by Han tour guides. Richard Bernstein has an article up in the New York Review of Books about the same subject, and slams it as well. Describing a ‘historical’ performance shown to tourists, he says:

In one scene, accompanied by a revolving, luminous model of the solar system, Kangxi learns astronomy from the Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci. In another scene, one of the show’s most lavishly produced, a huge procession of Tibetan lamas, marching to the music of rumbling bass horns and headed by the Dalai Lama, arrives to demonstrate their fealty to the Chinese emperor. Did these events actually take place?

The Matteo Ricci episode reflects the historical presence of the Jesuits at the court in Beijing at the time. But Western historians of the Qing and the Qing’s complicated relations with Tibet make no mention of such a visit by the Dalai Lama during Kangxi’s reign, although the 3rd Panchen Lama, the number two Tibetan spiritual leader and an ally of the Qing, did visit Chengde in 1779—shortly after the Little Potala was built—to help celebrate the 60th birthday of Qianlong. During that visit, Qianlong famously treated the visitor as an equal. The Panchen Lama did not, for example, perform the kowtow, which was required of other visitors from the “outer lands,” and he was recognized as a spiritual authority for China proper, the “inner lands,” as well Tibet. As the late historian of imperial China Frederick W. Mote concluded, “Tibet remained wholly independent of Qing China in all aspects of its domestic governing….Chinese control, something previously found not feasible, perhaps traditionally not held to be highly desirable, was in the end accomplished by modern military force”—led not by Kangxi or any other Manchu emperor but under Mao.

Both the [Tibetan-style temples in Chengde] were crowded with thousands and thousands of Chinese tourists, led by Chinese guides with loudspeakers, turning large bronze Tibetan prayer wheels, burning incense sticks sold to them by Chinese men and women wearing period costumes, and receiving instruction from Chinese temple staff in the proper prayer gestures to make before the Buddha images by Chinese functionaries. The tone is respectful, conveying the sense that the Tibetan culture, part of the great Chinese multi-ethnic family, is deeply respected in China and has always been deeply respected.

There is nothing heavy-handed in these messages—none of the ritual denunciations of the Dalai Lama as a “jackel” and a “splittist” that regularly appear in the Chinese press, no overt praise of China for having liberated Tibet from serfdom and slavery—and, of course, no mention of the bloody suppression of the 1959 rebellion in Tibet, one result of which was the flight of the present Dalai Lama to India. Yet the Chengde sights are a bit like exhibits in a Tibetan theme park devoid of actual Tibetans. In one room in the sprawling Puning Temple, several photographs of a handsome young man in safran robes were on display. This is Gyaltsen Norbu, now twenty-two years old, who was selected in 1995 by the Chinese Communist Party to be the authentic reincarnation of the Panchen lama, after the Chinese police took into “protective custody” the boy whose selection was approved by the Dalai Lama.

In the end, the underlying assumptions of the Chengde presentation are unmistakable: that Tibet has been governed by China since at least the time of the Kangxi emperor, that this had the ready consent of Tibet’s highest spiritual authorities at the time, and that the current Chinese government honors Tibet’s religious traditions—that reminder in the photographs of the “Chinese” Panchen Lama of the Communist Party’s intrusion into Tibet’s religious traditions notwithstanding.

The real story of Chinese-Tibetan relations would of course be vastly more interesting than Beijing’s version, but the narrative implied by the Kanxi Ceremony seems widely accepted by Chinese who in many other respects are skeptical of official Chinese history. In August in Beijing, I had a talk on this subject with a small group of journalists and academics of the sort who chafe under censorship restrictions and who are fully aware that on sensitive subjects the truth is what is dictated by the Communist Party. But they seem to feel that Chinese rule, especially in the past couple of decades, has greatly benefitted Tibetans, who show an annoying lack of appreciation.

When I brought up the case of the Panchen Lama to illustrate the harshness of Chinese control, the response generally was that, yes, that was a bit heavy-handed, but the government supervises the appointment of all senior religious figures in China, including, of course, Catholic bishops, and therefore the Panchen Lama incident was not discriminatory against Tibetans. As for the Dalai Lama, the general position during my conversation was that he is a socially retrograde figure who would restore the feudal system that Chinese rule has ended, such as requiring that 30 percent of all income go to the Buddhist establishment and that lamas have to provide permission for people to marry.

Such assumptions, which are contradicted by widely available facts, may seem all the more surprising since it is very easy to find a meeting of minds with Chinese journalists and academics on other subjects, including the notion that the ruling party has become a conspicuously corrupt oligarchy and is increasingly unpopular. But on Tibet, the version of truth that prevails is the version to be found in Chengde.

I’ve noticed the same thing in conversations with Chinese- even people who are at least vaguely aware of Tiananmen and the extent of censorship, for example, are still unlikely to realize that the history they’ve been taught about Tibet is completely inaccurate. The propaganda even primes them to ignore foreigners on that subject, because Xinhua claims that all problems in Tibet are caused by the Dalai Lama and by foreigners who have been ‘tricked’ by the ‘splittist’ Dalai Clique. The way this turns Han and Tibetan against each other is really poisonous, but that’s the only way Beijing can keep the majority on their side.

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“What happens when China’s president comes to dinner?”

The BBC has an interesting report today about the stage-managing of official visits, with details revealed by the wikileaks cable dump:

Communist party officials wanted the country’s top leader to meet the “epitome of a weathered Gansu farmer”.

Mr Hu offered a potato to the farmer’s grand-daughter, who told the leader of 1.3bn people that she was sick of eating them”

Seventy-year-old Li Cai was chosen – and told not to shave.

Local officials were instructed not to make improvements to his home by adding such things as electronic appliances or furniture.

Despite the warning, Mr Shi told US diplomats he had a stove and chimney installed in the famer’s house to cook the local delicacy – Dingxi potatoes, named after the local city.

He thought that TV footage showing Hu Jintao eating one of the potatoes was an advertising opportunity not to be missed.

Unfortunately, things did not go to plan. According to the cable, Mr Hu offered a potato to the farmer’s grand-daughter, who told the leader of 1.3bn people that she was “sick of eating them”.

In a recent publicity campaign, one local official said he wanted to turn the area into “China’s potato capital” because the root vegetable offered them “a more prosperous future”.

Fortunately, Li Cai’s grandchild was eventually persuaded to eat a potato, a scene that featured in the CCTV report of the visit.

But there was another food-related problem to overcome.

The Chinese president was to make twisted dough sticks, which are cooked by plunging them into a pan of boiling oil.

What would happen if the oil splashed Mr Hu and burned him?

“The solution… was to heat the oil to 70% of the normal temperature and give Hu an extra-long set of chopsticks,” says the cable.

The Chinese president was given another, already prepared, dough stick to eat.

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“China’s ‘Peaceful’ White Paper”

Trefor Moss at The Diplomat critiques the new Chinese white paper- here’s the introduction. The entire thing is worth a quick read:

China’s white papers are typically policy monologues in which the country’s leaders offer an air-brushed account of their intentions and practices, while studiously avoiding any mention of the many nuances, contradictions and zero-sum decisions that inevitably result from having to implement those policies, however well meaning, in the often cut-throat global arena.

The latest white paper on China’s Peaceful Development, released today by the Information Office of the State Council, provides the usual, pristine account of China’s international role. China aims to ‘develop itself through upholding world peace,’ the document says. ‘It never engages in aggression or expansion.’ The country always plays ‘a constructive role in addressing international and regional hotspot problems.’ And it pursues ‘a defence policy which is defensive in nature.’

Articulation remains Beijing’s weakest suit. By papering over the little cracks in its foreign policy approach, and by pretending that tensions with other countries don’t exist or are at least not of China’s making, the government undermines the honest and positive messages that 99 percent of the white paper conveys. A warts-and-all critique of China’s actions, trumpeting the successes while owning up to a few failures, would be far more convincing.

He goes on to detail five of the biggest omissions of the paper- check it out.

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