Recently in Media and Public Relations Category

In between the site being up and down in a kind of ongoing ping-pong game - I managed to grab a screen grab. And here it is.

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It may seem an obscure point to 'attack' - but one thing is for sure, it's certainly drawing attention.

The always excellent Imagethief has pointed us to an interesting article written by James Millward on OpenDemocracy.net called "China's story: Putting the PR in the PRC". Millward examines six areas in which China can improve it's PR. These include:

▪ Remember that what you say to a Chinese audience is heard by the world audience
Until recently, Chinese authorities viewed even local Chinese newspapers as "internal circulation" media which a billion-plus Chinese, but not foreigners, were allowed to read. Those days are over. Since broadcasts, newspapers and everything else are now online, and lots of foreigners understand Chinese, Chinese domestic news gets out. Even stories that are squelched in China get out. It is a cliché, but true, that we live in one media universe.
▪ Consider how your statements sound in English
Diatribes by hardline leaders may be aimed to satisfy a domestic Chinese audience, but such rhetoric sounds violent, even hysterical, when translated and broadcast in English. Zhang Qingli, first party secretary in Tibet, infamously called the Dalai Lama a "terrorist"; Xinjiang's first secretary Wang Lequan shouted at a press conference on 9 March 2008 that "those terrorists, saboteurs and secessionists are to be battered resolutely, no matter who they are!" It would have worked better if he simply said "stopped," or "apprehended": words like "battered" or "crushed" merely contribute to the impression that the Chinese government is inherently violent. (True, President Bush often sounds the same way, with his cowboy swagger - but here I rest my case. His world image is nothing to emulate.)
Also, be aware that many Chinese slogans sound quaint, or worse, in English. "The Three Evil Forces" is one example, "the Dalai Lama Clique," another. And don't call it "splittism"! That word, probably originating in a poor translation, is used only in the Chinese context, mainly by the Chinese government's English-language media. "Separatism" means the same thing, but is the term used when similar situations plague other nations.

The other ones are great, as well. Millward's last point is for Beijing to act with more confidence. Even if Beijing is telling the truth on issues like the arrest in Xinjiang over an apparent terrorist plot, westerners are skeptical because they aren't given the freedom to investigate for themselves.

One of the fundamental differences between the west and China is that people who grow up in western nations don't automatically trust their own governments. They are taught a healthy sense of skepticism; so when governments make claims, reporters need to check it. When they introduce a new policy, reporters and pundits often examine it and even criticize it. Westerners don't automatically assume the government is doing the right thing.

As Millward suggests, keeping one message that works for domestic consumption and a different one for overseas consumption may work. Because the domestic and overseas audiences are so profoundly different, this isn't a case of one size fits all.

The rest of Millward's suggestions can be found here.

Some interesting comments coming out of Xinhua today, and an even more interesting interpretation by Agence France-Presse:

China urges control of 'patriotic fervour' over Tibet


BEIJING (AFP) -- China has urged its people to contain their patriotism, in the first sign Beijing may be growing uncomfortable with a nationalist outburst over the Tibet issue that it has tacitly supported. A dispatch issued late Thursday by state-controlled Xinhua news agency railed against "despicable" Western media coverage of the unrest in Tibet and said resulting Chinese indignation should be "cherished." But it also said nationalist energies should be expressed in a "rational" way and focussed on building the nation. "Patriotic fervour should be channeled into a rational track and must be transformed into real action toward doing our work well," said the report. China's government and state media have repeatedly condemned what they call bias in foreign coverage of China's crackdown on Tibetan riots, which erupted in Lhasa on March 14 and spilled over into other Tibetan-populated regions. The government's stance appears to have helped fuel attacks on the Chinese Internet directed at foreign media. A number of online campaigns have been launched, including one calling for a boycott of French goods due to protests against China's Tibet policies that threw the Beijing Olympic torch relay's Paris leg into chaos last week. Web users also have set up the website www.anti-cnn.com that criticises the US-based news network's alleged anti-China bias. On Friday, the email boxes of major news organisations in Beijing, including AFP, were flooded with emails furious over "vicious distortions" in Tibet coverage. China's Communist Party government, which swiftly quashes any expressions of public opinion it does not like, has so far allowed the attacks. Xinhua's report appears to fit a pattern in which the control-conscious government has given free rein to such sentiments when it serves party interests, but curb them when they appear to be spiralling out of control. After US forces mistakenly bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, large anti-US protests were allowed in China before the government put an end to them. In 2005, protesters were allowed to throw rocks and eggs at Japan's embassy in Beijing, among other anti-Japanese actions, triggered by a range of grievances between the two Asian rivals.

The AFP's interpretation of the Xinhua comments is interesting. On the one hand I can't really disagree with the AFP's contention that the authorities might be getting worried about the anti-Western media campaigns spilling over into something more embarrassing or dangerous. But in the same respect, if it were really overly concerned, the government wouldn't be using terms like 'cherished' to describe Chinese people's anger and frustrations. Jiang Yu.jpg It also wouldn't be fanning the flames by having its Foreign Ministry spokesperson repeatedly going to the podium to demand a 'better' apology from CNN over Jack Cafferty's comments. The comments from Xinhua, in my estimation, are a preemptive way to cover its ass in case things do get out of hand. It can point to its comments and say to whomever: "look, we didn't sponsor these protests, and we told folks to be rational."

What will truly be telling is what the government line will be in the coming week. Emotions are running high right now amongst the Chinese population given what has been going on this week on the internet and in the media. If the government - AKA Xinhua - continues to report and write about the Chinese people's 'indignation' toward the western media next week, it will be clear to me that the authorities are in no way interested in keeping things in check. But, if this be the case, the larger question is what the motivation behind it is?

Events on Hainan Island this past weekend have created a potentially interesting international PR situation when it comes to Beijing's stance on its 'internal affairs of state.'

At this weekend's Boao Forum for Asia, Chinese President Hu Jintao met with Taiwan's Vice-President-elect Vincent Siew. Siew-Hu.jpg Both agreed that Beijing and Taipei would restart official dialogue when the new administration in Taiwan takes over at the end of May. These talks have been frozen since 1999.

But what I find interesting, and something that the anti-Beijing establishment might be able to key on, is Beijing's willingness to open up political discussions with the leadership in Taiwan, while at the same time refusing to meet with the spiritual leadership of the Tibetans. Why has Beijing become so steadfast in its unwillingness to sit down with the DL, while at the same time enter into talks with the same political organization, the KMT, which was bent on destroying the CPC until it was chased off the mainland in 1949? I'm looking forward to hearing some of the arguments on this question. And, just for fun, I'm going to try to presume and respond to the one I think would be the CPC's argument to this point:

  • The Dalai Lama is a 'splitist,' bent on Tibetan independence. So why should Beijing negotiate with someone who wants to break up the country. The people of Taiwan want to reunite with the mainland, so we're willing to talk with them.

Here's my two cents on this one: The Dalai Lama has been on record numerous times as saying that he just wants more autonomy for Tibet, not independence. Perhaps this is just a nefarious attempt to subvert Beijing's authority to the point where eventually independence will be reached for the Tibetan people. Who knows? But on the surface, the DL seems to be willing to make concessions to Beijing, so why not sit down with the guy and hammer some things out. And if it turns out that he was lying - and Beijing can prove it - then it's won. It's got its PR victory, and can just throw that in the face of anyone who says otherwise. And if it turns out the DL is as good as his word, then Beijing has still won, because it will likely quell any sort of complete independence movement within its borders, and can use the good will gesture to the Tibetan people as a PR victory to the world. But by not meeting with the DL and stoking up talks with Taipei, the anti-China establishment can use any forthcoming negotiations between Taipei and Beijing as a way to point out that Beijing says one thing and does another when it comes to its 'internal matters.'

Here's hoping so.

There is a big chasm separating China's view of itself, and the way it's viewed outside of its borders. This discrepancy was highlighed recently with the Tibetan dispute, and now the Chinese government appears to be understanding that playing the PR game is important when trying to get its message out.

The Financial Times is reporting the Chinese government has been meeting with international PR agencies to try and repair China's tattered image:

Several British and US agencies were invited to interviews with Chinese officials to discuss a contract, which includes pre-games PR strategies, media training and market research on western perceptions of China. The winner has not yet been announced, said a person familiar with the talks...
..."This is a cry for help," said a Beijing-based PR executive. "They need to understand what people think of them and how they can effectively get their story into the media."

I would love to be in those meetings. While I'm encouraged China is deciding to strengthen its own hand, I'm doubtful (read: cynical) that the Chinese authorities will actually listen to the advice. There is proof of this with BOCOG's continuing PR troubles, despite its relationship with the respected firm Hill & Knowlton. This is from Imagethief:

This is apparently not the fault of their widely respected PR agency (gossip has it that they've been told their job is to take orders, not to tell BOCOG what to do), but simply Chinese bureaucracy doing what it doesn't do best.

I also recall some of my first days as a China Radio International news host. We were told that international reporters, with journalism backgrounds, were being brought in to help improve the station. Similar lines are fed to foreign staff at CCTV 9. The problem is rarely is the advice given actually accepted and used by staff. More frequently, it's frowned upon as the "western way" of doing things or dismissed out-of-hand.

I don't disagree with this position. In the end, the Chinese government and Chinese media can do what they like. That is their right. My point is only to say that claiming to be open to advice, constructive criticism, or critiques is much different than actually implementing changes.

Playing the PR game, and playing it well, will only be to China's advantage. Here's hoping they earnestly listen to the advice they are apparently seeking.

Beijing is facing a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't scenario right now in southern Africa, and one that threatens to bring more heat on a central Chinese government already struggling to paint a positive image of itself in the midst of international criticism over the situation in Tibet. At issue is the election in Zimbabwe.


Zimbabwe Flag.jpg

As it stands now, the people of Zimbabwe are waiting to find out whether President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF will maintain its 28 year hold on power, or whether the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) will take over. Governments the world over are watching this situation quite closely, and none more than Zimbabwe's largest investor, China. But rather than having any sort of concern over losing investment in Zimbabwe, the central government is most likely concerned about what a Mugabe win will do when it comes to public relations on the international stage.

In the lead up to the British handover of Zimbabwe back to its people in 1980, two Marxist factions within the country warred with one another for ultimate supremacy. The then-Soviet Union backed the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), while China put its support behind Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU). China bet on the right horse, with Mugabe's ZANU sweeping into power in the 1980 elections. From that point on, the Chinese government has been one of Mr. Mugabe's strongest supporters, and continues to heap aide and investment into his country, despite numerous sanctions levied against the Zimbabwean government over alleged human rights abuses. As such, these elections in Zimbabwe this weekend couldn't have come at a worse time for China.

Many observers believe that Mr. Mugabe will not release his grip on power, even if the polls show that the MDC has won victory. Thumbnail image for Mugabe voting.jpg And, given previous election controversy in Zimbabwe, even if Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF does win, it's highly likely that the results of the vote will be condemned by the majority of the international community, given consistent allegations of vote rigging. Hence the bad PR situation Beijing finds itself in.

If Mr. Mugabe is declared the winner, Beijing will be obligated to sanctify the election results and continue to throw its support behind Mr. Mugabe's government, which will fly in the face of the vast majority of the international community, and will give more fuel for those who would use China's actions as a reason to boycott the Olympics. If Mr. Mugabe loses, but still maintains power, Beijing will be called to the carpet to justify allowing Chinese companies to continue to do business in a country with an illegitimate government.

Tsvangirai voting.jpg The best case scenario for Beijing is the election and safe transition of power to Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC. Whether or not that will happen is anyone's guess over the coming hours and days. If it does, the CPC might lose an ideological partner, but will avoid giving more political ammunition for the anti-China ideologues around the world.

By Hugh Jorgen

I'm no angel; my parents will regrettably attest to that. Taking the family car out for a late-night joy ride when I was 12 years old and getting caught by the cops was probably one of the higher profile moments of my childhood that will forever exclude me from owning my own pair of wings. But if I had to describe myself as either a bad boy or a nice guy, I guess I'd have to put a tentative checkmark in the box next to the latter. So I was somewhat heartened to come across this article on a Harvard University study. This is another one of those "human nature" experiments that tests our innate tendencies toward niceness or nastiness, punishment or rewards. In this particular experiment, researcher Howard Nowak focused on human behavior in brinkmanship-style situations. Essentially, his findings indicate that punishment by adversaries may not be as effective as incentives. More interestingly, adversaries who lean toward offering incentives tend to get what they want. In other words, nice guys do finish first.

It's with this tiny bit of scientific enlightenment that I dare to draw a parallel with the current Tibet conflict in an attempt to glimpse the big picture. In this case, the game would be the "Court of Public Opinion" and the players are obviously native Tibetans vs. the Chinese government. In my humble opinion, regardless of what the magnitude of these protests is or the reason behind them, the Chinese government has lost this round. There are plenty of deep-seated, historical reasons for the protests and the debate continues about who the real victims are. But in a wider context, the reasons for the unrest may not be as important right now as the results of it. The reality is that the damage has been done. Those results, and the opinions and sentiments of the international community, stem, in large part, from credibility - and China's central government has been running low on that for a long time.

Credibility is something that takes a long time to earn, and, like trust, can be lost in an instant. But credibility, and having more of it than your adversary, comes in extremely handy in the court of public opinion. It can make the difference in swaying public opinion in your favor. The Dalai Lama, for instance, has for decades built up vast amounts of international credibility. For starters, he does not and never has advocated violence. He is charismatic and inspirational. He is a man of peace and compassion whose message of mutual respect has been embraced by people and governments from around the world. He welcomes other points of view. He does not seek independence for Tibet. He has repeatedly stated he only seeks a degree of autonomy for Tibet. The Dalai Lama meets with world leaders and average people regularly and - more importantly- he speaks to them in words and language they can understand.

By contrast, the Chinese government is afraid of words. It believes words can somehow lead to destabilizing its grip on power, and as such, it expends colossal amounts of energy and resources to control words. The evidence of this fear is endless. Youtube is blocked, website access is squeezed, foreign reporters are barred from Tibet, and international news broadcasts are censored incessantly. But it goes well beyond just suppressing freedom of speech. It relentlessly propagates its own message through state-run media. Whether it's protests in Tibet or the recent snow job during the spring festival, the message is always the same and always one-sided: the government is in control and the government is doing a wonderful job of looking after the welfare of the Chinese people. Several of my younger Chinese friends, who come from various regions of China, tell me younger generations are becoming increasingly disaffected by what they call empty words from their government. For historical reasons, they say, Chinese leaders have always felt compelled to consistently preach morality to the people. The problem is the message has never been updated and it no longer resonates with large segments of the population. One friend recently told me that the inability of the government to speak to and connect with the people is leading to an ever-widening chasm between Chinese leaders and the younger generations. To achieve the same old predictable message in English, state-run media like Xinhua and CCTV consistently roll out a dusty old basket of archaic phrases. Chris Obrien, a former Xinhua editor, has written a great piece on the garbled language that is constantly churned out by state-run agencies.

This political terminology even has a Chinese name: ti fa. "Unswervingly promoting a moderately prosperous society", "deepening trust in an all-round way", "extending bilateral cooperation for win-win results", and "vowing to strengthen strategic ties with country X" are vague, stiff phrases that are rolled out daily on the propaganda conveyor belt. They sound important, but really don't mean anything.

Let's be clear: every government does propaganda. But there is a difference between effectively controlling the message, and floating out the same old crap. In this case, the PR folks in the central government could use a refresher course on getting their message out to the international community in the 21st century. Wagging your finger at a deeply religious man who has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and is looked up to by billions of people and trying to convince the world that he is the nefarious mastermind of a "clique" that was instrumental in promoting unrest in his homeland is absolutely pointless. In fact, it makes you look foolish. And how was this menacing "Dalai clique" conjured up? Has the Dalai Lama, as the central government would have us believe, been parading around a Beverly Hills mall with a bunch of valley girls saying things like "That's sooo whatever"? The bottom line is when you try to feed the world and your own people the same old tired one-sided lines, sooner or later most everyone catches on and changes the channel. Bye bye credibility. So when an inevitable crisis comes along and the foreign media smells blood, who are you going to believe? The Nobel Peace Prize winner or the folks who are unswervingly vowing to suppress other points of view, in an all round way? My guess is the score in this latest round is Dalai Lama 1, Chinese central government 0.

The solution to these recurring dilemmas is to start allowing more access to both sides of the story - and there will always be more than one side of the story. If a thinking person doesn't get more than one side of the story, the reaction will always be one of suspicion about the messenger. Stop looking like you have something to hide. If you look like you have something to hide, you probably do. Take your itchy trigger finger off that censor button. In the case of Tibet, open up a dialogue with the indigenous people to find out what they need beyond a flashy new railway and flush toilets. (Had Serbians done a better job of this earlier, cartographers could put their markers and maps back in their desks). Instead of expending vast amounts of energy on trying to convince the world there is no problem in Tibet, use that energy to preempt the inevitable flare-ups. Stop demonizing their spiritual leader and learn what it will take to the ease this simmering resentment. And while you're at it, start talking with the Dalai Lama. He's not such a bad guy. More importantly, he's got international credibility - and he's nice.

It's important to note that the Harvard study focused on individuals, not countries, ethnic groups or governments, but it is not unreasonable to extrapolate the wider implications of this study. As the study's co-author, David Rand, notes from the results: "In general, the thing that is most, sort of, rational and best for your own self-interest is to be nice." That's the kind of message anyone could believe.

Hugh Jorgen works in Chinese state-run media. Zhongnanhai welcomes submissions at cam@zhongnanhaiblog.com.

Gobi Desert.jpgI've thought to myself in the past that I'd rather eat sand than watch a Chinese government news conference. Well... thanks to today's sandstorm and the end of the NPC session, both have become a disturbing reality.

Beijing's proximity to the Gobi Desert aside, what's really got my dander up today isn't the fact that Premier Wen Jiabao spewed a boatload of nothing for an hour to the foreign media news conference...it was the phraseology that this government has adopted when it comes to the situation with the Tibetans, and in particular with their spiritual leader. The Dalai Lama's supporters have now become a 'clique.'

Unlike many of my fellow Westerners, I have very little interest in the Tibetan independence movement. Call it apathy if you will, or perhaps a lack of understanding, but I've become somewhat jaded by the fact that many a self-righteous wanker has jumped onboard the Tibetan cause because it seems like the cool thing to do. I don't begrudge the Tibetans for doing what they think they need to do. Give'r. But don't start preaching to me about the right to freedom and all this other kind of crap because you watched Richard Gere Richard Gere.jpg on Barbara Walters and thought that he made a lot of sense and you really, really liked him in "Pretty Woman." But what I find more highly condescending is the Chinese government's coining of the 'Dalai clique.' I'm sorry...what??? Spiritual Buddhists who are shooting for their autonomy aren't a bunch of 8th graders sitting around at the mall trying to conjure up theories as to how they're going to get someone to pick them up a 12 pack of Schlitz. Call them rebels, traitors, malcontents or whatever. But don't equate these people - the same people you're claiming to want to help - to a high school 'posse' who want to chill in their 'crib.'

I've seen the Dalai Lama speak in person. I'm not religious by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, if it turns out there is a god, he/she probably has me on the pious version of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List. However, watching him speak, at the time side by side with the Bishop Desmond Tutu in a stadium in Vancouver, I couldn't help but be impressed with the ease in which he cavorted with his religious counterpart and avoided the temptation someone in his position might have had to politicize his speech, instead talking about how love for one's fellow human being is going to be the key to world peace. Dalai and Desmond.jpg I found what he said simple, yet profound in its simplicity. I left the event (which I was covering for work) with a new found respect for a man I really had little knowledge about. So, when the Chinese government starts throwing around juvenile, school yard language to describe those who have respect for the Dalai Lama, I can't help but be personally offended. If I ever happen to cross paths with the spin doctor who coined this distinction, I would have two words: Grow up.

This week's work on the news beat (and I use the term 'news' somewhat sheepishly) has given me an opportunity to reflect on how the lines can often become blurred when it comes to politics, people and our perceptions of both.

Earlier this week I had a chance to go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building here in Beijing (a building that must have cost a small fortune, judging by the elaborate art work on display in the lobby) to interview a man by the name of Liu GuijinLiu Guijin.jpg. For those who are not familiar with the name, he is the man that Beijing tapped last year to be China's special envoy to Darfur. As such, Mr. Liu has been the subject of a lot of intense scrutiny and has been labeled by many people as the poster boy for China's involvement in Sudan. (which, as we all are pretty well aware, isn't looked upon very favorably by a lot of folks around the world) I'm not going to bother going into a lot of what Mr. Liu had to say during our 30 minute interview (complete with video, much to my embarrassment, on this link),me and liu guijin2.jpg mainly because it was all on message and never strayed from the Chinese government's consistent stance, which is that China is being unfairly criticized in the media and by foreign governments for not doing enough to stop the fighting. And, I don't really want to bother getting into the debate over whether or not this contention is correct. (but you folks go right ahead, if that tickles your fancy) But what I did find somewhat interesting was our chat after the microphone was off.

Because I've been in the media for over 10 years now, I have rubbed shoulders with my fair share of politicians and diplomats. Of course, most often this has always been in an official capacity. Generally politicians and members of the media rarely go beyond the politician/reporter relationship, mainly because the politician is worried about the reporter writing about the man behind the message, and the reporter is worried that if they get too close to the politician it will obscure their objectivity. That being said, I've come to know a good number of politicians on a more personal level. Some are generally good folks, others are complete wankers. And in the case of Mr. Liu, I have to say that I found him to be in the former. Mr. Liu knew that I am Canadian, and was quick to point out that his wife was one of the first students in China to be allowed to study abroad in Canada in the 1970's. (He said she studied at the University of Ottawa and at UBC in Vancouver) He also revealed that his own university education in Shanghai was cut off after one year by the start of the Cultural Revolution, and that he was one of the thousands of 'rusticated youth' who were sent out the countryside - as Mr. Liu somewhat dismissively and, with the ever so slight tinge of distain, said was - to further reduce their bourgeoisie tendencies. He also admitted that while he's happy to be serving his government, the Darfur gig is something he won't want to be doing for the foreseeable future. Bottom line, I would add Liu Guijin to the list of politicians that I wouldn't mind sitting down and having a beer with.

My interview got me to thinking afterward, though, about how often times we perceive politics as personality. I have lost count of how many times listeners to the various radio stations I've worked at will call up and criticize either myself, my colleagues or the people we interview in personal, and often scathing attacks because they didn't agree with how the story was portrayed or the politics or message that said interviewee was putting forward. Same thing happens all the time in the blogosphere as well. And, to be honest, being in the public spotlight, if these types of things don't roll off you, they'll eat you alive. As such, you just learn to accept that people consider you a free public service or tool at their disposal to treat as they will. So this leads me to my main question for you: Can, or should, we separate the message from the man, or is the man's (or woman's, of course) character invariably linked to the message they put out?

This week has seen a new first for me here in China, and one that I'm actually hesitant to admit: I was actively captivated by something on Chinese television. I know, I know... it's hard to imagine, but it's true. But before you start calling me a sellout, a turncoat, mindless or downright insane, allow me to explain. I was about to pop in a DVD on Wednesday evening when something on the tube caught my attention. No, it wasn't CCTV's rousing coverage of 两会 (the CPPCC and NPC sessions) or some scantily-clad woman belting out Mando-pop. It was actually a documentary on CCTV 6, the movie channel. Wednesday, March 5th, happens to be the late Premier Zhou Enlai's birthday. zhou older.jpg (Rather than going into the details of his life, if you're interested in learning his past, I'll direct you to the Granite Studio for Zhou's past particulars) As such, CCTV 6 aired a retrospective of his life. And while watching, a couple of things really stood out in my mind. Firstly, it's amazing how little the propaganda has changed on CCTV from the 60's, through the Cultural Revolution to today! Though it was all in Chinese, and despite my somewhat limited comprehension skills, I was able to glean enough of what was being said to realize that this was an unabashed, glowing review of the late Premier's life, which included film of him meeting the masses, who all wore broad smiles and clamored to shake his hand and be next to him, along with soulful discussions about how he adored his wife, Deng Yingchao, and how, though he and the missus had no children of their own, the late Premier was like a father to the children of China. deng yingchao.jpg While trying not to wretch and throw my shoe through the TV because of the language being spouted, I did find it really interesting to watch the old footage of China during the Great Leap Forward, much of which I had never seen before. And watching it, all I could think was 'Damn that must have been a crappy existence for the average person back then!' The other thing about the documentary that really jumped out at me was there was - during the hour I watched at least - no film of him with Chairman Mao. The only time you saw Mao at all was if there was footage of Zhou Enlai standing in front of Tian'anmen, in the Great Hall of the People or in some peasant's house where a picture of the Helmsman was mandatory art work. Now I don't know if the people who put this documentary together did this intentionally or not, but it got me thinking about both the perceptions and the realities of Zhou Enlai as the Premier of China.

Talk to the average Chinese person today and they'll tell you that while they respect Mao Zedong for one thing or another, most will freely admit that he wasn't the greatest guy and that he made a number of mistakes along the way. But ask them what they think of Zhou Enlai, and virtually every one of them will have nothing but glowing praise for the man. As has been put to me on more than one occasion, 'Chinese people are often quick to question the top leader (obviously, not publicly very often) but almost always adore the Premier.' But when I ask these same people about why they revere Zhou Enlai so much, I'm generally never given anything more than 'he was a good man.' The question I have is: Who says? What do we actually know about Zhou Enlai? Sure, we know his official biography. And yes, the propaganda newsreels in the aforementioned documentary show a gleeful peasantry hanging off his every word and looking upon him like a 6 year old daughter does her father. And sure, international leaders of the day were quick to call him one of the best statesmen they have ever met. zhou and nixon.jpg
But what don't we know about him? This is the same Premier who - along with the rest of the CPC - blindly followed down Mao's destructive paths of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. This is the same Premier who stood by while massive government and non-government purges were taking place across this country. This is the same Premier who, while moving to save dozens, perhaps hundreds, of cultural relics during the height of the Cultural Revolution, also allowed thousands more to be forever lost to history. So were his hands really tied during these times by a repressive Mao Zedong? Or was he complicit in helping Mao screw up 30% of the time? (Official CPC figure) Is this the reason the makers of Wednesday's documentary kept Mao out of the film? Does the CPC not want to paint Zhou Enlai with Mao's somewhat tarnished brush?

I freely admit I'm somewhat arm-chairing this particular post, mainly because I don't think I've done nearly enough reading about Zhou Enlai. As such, I implore all out there to give me your thoughts on this man, good or bad.

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