I’ve been meaning to get into the topic of fenqing here for a while. Fenqing are the hyper-nationalist youth, the young Chinese men who have taken up worship of China as their religion. I was on one of their main sites, Hidden Harmonies, just the other day. It’s a shock, to say the least. Normally you hear the Party line being endorsed by stiff figures at press conferences, dry pronouncements from the relevant government organs and white papers. To read these sites is a view at a crazy topsy-turvy upside-down world, where real human beings care passionately about the Party line. On Hidden Harmonies, a global conspiracy to destroy China is always working around the clock to embarrass the Middle Kingdom. The US is always seeking to subjugate her, the Dalai Lama is a globe-trotting James Bond super-villain, Rebiya Kadeer is an Osama-style terrorist, and the anti-China international media is cooking up their latest excrement bomb to soil her name.
Pretty much every event needs to somehow be fit into these narratives. If anyone anywhere says anything about China, that’s part of the conspiracy. If a Tibetan exile says something unrelated to China, that’s just a coded message to terrorists in China, an order for them to start butchering Han Chinese. And make no mistake- the fenqing view of China is that of China as a Han state, with some minorities there merely to sing and dance in pretty costumes. Han Chauvinism writ large. When the media started publishing stories about the Jiang dead/Jiang alive debate that was raging in China, you can bet that the fenqing interpreted that as an attack on China. As Peking Ducks notes, though:
Here’s the bottom line. Is there Western media bias against China? Absolutely. But here’s the secret, that I as a former reporter can state as a truth: All reporting about just about everything is biased. There is no person or nation or thing that is covered in the news that is always covered fairly. Every single person in politics in the US and just about every other free country will tell you the media treats them brutally. Ask France about Western media bias against them during the buildup to the Iraq War (remember Freedom Fries?). Ask any Arab nation what they think of Western media bias. Everyone’s hysterical about media bias. Hop around the US political blogs — all they are about is how the media distorts the news.
Maybe China feels there is more media bias against them because in recent years the flow of stories on China has exploded from a trickle to a tsunami, so there’s simply more likelihood of biased reports. But what they need to understand is that this bias is universal. And, hard as it is to believe, some of China’s own newspapers and other media are biased in their reporting. And we don’t make a big deal about it because it is universal, it is ubiquitous. (Although China’s media biases can’t be compared with the West’s.)
And I’m not saying journalism is bad. Far from it. There is a lot of great journalism out there. Good reporters always strive to tell the whole story, free of bias. Many succeed. But in the life of a story, from conception to publication, lots of things can happen, mistakes can be made, copy editors thousands of miles away can write bad headlines or cut the story in half, excising the most important part. And yes, there’s often bad journalism, too, stories that are written too quickly without enough facts and/or verifiable references. But again, these are spread out universally, covering all public figures and all nations. None are spared biased or mistaken reporting. The difference is, most are mature enough to realize that this is always going to be the case, and they don’t let it make them feel paranoid or inferior. This is just the way it is, boys and girls. You can always find media bias when you dedicate yourself to finding it, when it becomes a cult or a fetish. And yes, often it’s there, there really is bias. But that’s life. That so many young Chinese men are so invested in the notion that China has been picked out by some grand design to be mocked and suppressed and misrepresented says much more about these individuals and the environment that fostered them than it does about the Western media that, at the end of the day, is just doing their job the best they can.
I’d still say that there’s real room for improvement on the part of Western media. Even by their over-simplifying standards, they simplify China too much. And we do occasionally see pieces that for one reason or another paint China as a terrifying monster, like when their military picks up an aircraft carrier or builds a new plane or goes to the grocery store. But these are all critiques that are based on reality, a place where the fenqing don’t operate. Peking Duck goes on to note that there are also many stories which paint China in a better light than she may deserve. Are they interpreted as proof of an enormous Western conspiracy to help China and make everyone love the country? Of course not.
There’s one other thing about the fenqing: the Party should be careful in depending on them for support. I’ve met a fenqing who went from completely endorsing the government position on censorship to agreeing that it was bad and pretty insulting to Chinese people in the course of just a few minutes. I’ve met one who started out talking about how evil Japan and Korea are, but then went on to talk about how the Party destroys people who think for themselves. Their beliefs are the result of living in an echo chamber, one which doesn’t allow them to test their positions against anything except strawmen. They’ve never spoken with unhappy minorities, they’ve just read Xinhua reports about how ‘overseas organizations’ are stirring them up. If they should ever be confronted by something that decouples the Party from the nation in their minds, that partnership will end real fast.
Update: In the PKD discussion thread, it’s noted that many sites like HH are actually run by ethnic Chinese living abroad- some of whom have never even been to China. Getting into that is a whole different can of worms. I’ll just say that although the HH crowd and other English-speaking members of this group might not be based in China, it certainly reflects the mindset of the fenqing clique here in China. It should be noted that that the fenqing are far from a majority in China, and are actually reasonably rare. They’re good at making a lot of noise online, though- and certain parts of their narratives resound with the general public.