Media: April 2008 Archives

The Olympics and You

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Come tomorrow we're going to be inundated with all things Olympics here in China yet again. Big celebrations are being set up here in the capital and in other parts of this country as well to mark the 100 day countdown to the Games. As such, the media organs are going to be going non-stop trying to show what a glorious set of Games China is going to be putting on. And it's through the lead up to this media blitz that I got thinking about what the impending Games are going to be all about for people on a personal level.

I was asked by a friend of a friend to be interviewed by the People's Daily last week, because the paper wanted to get some foreigner's reactions 'in the can' about the 100 day countdown and the Olympics themselves for tomorrow's edition. The questions, which were emailed to me, were fairly generic in nature, but one of them did force me to think for a bit. The People's Daily wanted to know what the Olympic Games mean to me on a personal level. It is an interesting notion. We're consistently bombarded on the web and through the Chinese media about just how much these Olympic Games this summer mean to China and the Chinese people. And the foreigners living here and abroad all like to speculate about just what the Games will do as far as China's public image is concerned. But I have to admit I've never really given any thought to what the Games mean to me. I've never attended an Olympics before. Sure I've watched them on television and have rooted for my own country, even though Canada never really does very well in the Summer Games. I even have a bit of a personal, albeit very minor, connection to the Olympics, given that my sister narrowly missed out representing Canada in the Olympic Marathon in Seoul in '88. But the more I thought about the People's Daily question, the more I realized that I don't care about the Olympics at all. At worst for me, this summer's Games will mean thousands of people jamming up the subway system and my neighborhood, along with inflated prices for all things laowai as the local retailers do their best to take advantage of unsuspecting foreigners. At best, I'll be able to look back afterward and say that I was in Beijing when the Games took place. But as far as any sort of soulful connection to the Olympics in one form or another, it's just not there for me. But, in the end, that's me. As for the answer I gave the People's Daily, you'll just have to buy a paper (though I don't really know if it was for the print or online version, or both).

He Zhenliang.jpg On the opposite side of the coin, I had a chance to sit down for a one-on-one interview with China's Mr. Olympics, He Zhenliang. He's the guy that most people credit for getting the Olympics here to China. He's a very amiable and accommodating fellow, and an interesting guy to chat with, given that he was - in his early years - a translator on numerous occasions for Premier Zhou Enlai. But if anyone out there in China had an excuse to wash his hands of all things Olympics, it would be him, given all the crap that he had to deal with in trying to actually get the games here to Beijing. He Zhenliang Headshot.jpg But in chatting with him, you couldn't help but realize that this guy really, really thinks the Olympics are going to change this country. Sure, he's a diplomat and gave all the 'correct' answers, but still, you could tell that he believes in these Games to the very core of his soul. To me, it sort of epitomizes the feeling I get from most Chinese people whenever they talk about the Olympics. For whatever reason, there seems to be some sort of collective agreement that these Olympics are going to kick ass and prove to the world that China and the Chinese people aren't getting the respect they deserve. As such, Chinese people have really taken these Games to heart and have developed an almost intimate and personal connection to them. Hence the anger surrounding the torch protests and the like. But the one thing I can't really put my finger on is whether it's the actual Olympics themselves that the Chinese have come to love or whether it's the Games' ability to put China under the global spotlight. A term I hear being kicked out a lot is that these are 'China's Olympics.' You hear it so often that you almost tend to forget that the Olympics are 'the world's' Games and that China just happens to be the host this year. So what will be interesting to see is just how much the Olympics mean to Chinese people 4 years down the road when London is the host. Are the Chinese people having a May-December romance with the Games or are they willing to take the five rings and put them on their fingers and commit for the long-haul? Olympic Rings.png
Who loves ya, baby...

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.

Picture 1.png

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

In the latest article filed to the Victoria Times Colonist, "Rising anger as Chinese feel under attack," I take a look at how far apart the pro-Tibet and pro-China sides are, and how this divide (and lack of understanding) has played into the anger surrounding CNN pundit Jack Cafferty's remarks:

On Tibet, both sides have completely different narratives. Westerners generally believe the Chinese military invaded sovereign territory in 1950, forced the Dalai Lama into exile, began a system of "cultural genocide" and eliminated religious freedom and human rights. To many westerners, this is black and white.
The Chinese see it in black and white too. They believe they liberated Tibet from a backward feudal system and have invested in economic development to lift many Tibetans from poverty. They also believe Tibet has historically been a part of Chinese territory and that foreigners have caused China endless suffering (the Opium Wars, annexation of Hong Kong, foreign settlements in Shanghai, Tianjin and elsewhere; burning and looting historical sites in Beijing).
And they believe that as China's one moment to shine -- the Olympics -- approaches, foreign powers are again trying to rip the country apart and keep it from succeeding.
China has a victim complex. Talk about severing part of its territory is like ripping open a still-bleeding wound.

The article was published in the Times Colonist on Sunday April 20. If you are having trouble with that link, it was also posted on the Puget Sound Radio Guide.

sleeping anchors.jpg This is a nice break from the back-and-forth on Tibet.

CCTV 1 anchor Wen Jing was caught by a sharp netizen yawning on air, obviously not aware the camera was focused on her. The netizen also posted a second photo, which appeared to show the anchor shortly after she realized the camera was on.

The photos have drawn a number of comments online, with many people blaming the director. This is the second CCTV mix-up recently, as the state-run network accidentally broadcast an anchor having her make-up applied.

CCTV spokesperson Mrs. Liang lept to her producers - and Wen Jing's - defense, saying, "This is an obvious mistake. But we want the audience to understand these anchors are tired, and have to arrive at the station at 3am. Maybe she was too tired."

She said fines for these kinds of mistakes range from 50 to 200 RMB.

The original story was published in Xiandai Kuai Bao, a newspaper owned by Xinhua that is published in Jiangsu Province. It can be found here.

sleeping anchors2.jpg
Well, at least she wasn't blushing....

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?

An interesting new development in the internet world when it comes to Chinese nationalism and the anti-Western media campaign that seems to be growing.

msn名字后面请加(L)CHINA 代表一个中国 让全世界看看华人团结。请发给您msn的朋友。


Heart China MSN Pages.jpg

This message has been making the rounds today via MSN. The basic translation is: "Behind your MSN name, put (L)China. It will show the world that the Chinese people are united. Please forward this to your friends' MSN."

Basically this is the Chinese netizens response to the comments by Jack Cafferty on CNN about China from April 10th seen here:


It's an interesting scenario that seems to show no signs of abating. Because CNN is prevalent here in China, being the major foreign media source available on the television, anything that is said on that particular network related to China comes under intense scrutiny. As such, many Chinese seem to be keying on CNN as the benchmark for Western media coverage. And it's somewhat understandable, given that basically the average Chinese person has most likely grown up hearing from only one basic source for their information, Xinhua, and is not accustomed to having someone on television have an opinion that goes beyond the government line. As such, when an 'influential' television personality like Jack Cafferty makes comments against China, the Chinese people are going to take notice. Is it wrong for Cafferty to make those comments? No. That's his right as a television personality in the West. As for the substance of his comments, I'll leave that debate for the blogosphere. Anti Japanese protest.jpg But what is interesting is how these types of comments seem to galvanize the Chinese people. There's been endless discussion on the internet about the 'Western media bias.' But this latest MSN campaign, while unobtrusive on the surface, disturbingly smacks of the nationalistic SMS campaign that swept across the capital in 2005 that launched the anti-Japanese protests at the embassy here in Beijing. The question to ponder now is just how much more fuel can be added to the fire before we see an explosion?

GOOD is a Los Angeles-based magazine geared towards people that "give a damn." Their latest issue is dedicated to China and features a series of articles on issues of import in and outside the Middle Kingdom. One of them lists ten reasons why China matters. Top ten lists make me cringe, especially when they choose to lead the story with a poorly chosen image. But they get things started a little differently than I expected:

Don't be scared of China--the country is perfectly positioned to be our most powerful ally (lack of democracy notwithstanding, of course). But if there is anything to worry about, it's not China's massive military; it's the economy, stupid.

What's this!? No mention of the--gasp!--Olympics? And--my goodness!--it's the country's economy that's a major concern?

why_china_10.jpg

Given GOOD's choice of a list format, I also expected little would be offered in way of explanation. I was again surprised: each reason links to more text, offering fairly concise backup. Let's take #10 as an example:

Why China Matters #10


Because Nixon went to China and your world was born.

Words By Thomas P.M. Barnett

When President Richard Nixon reopened diplomatic ties with Mao Zedong's communist China in 1972, he enabled the most profound global economic dynamic of the last half century: China's historic reemergence as a worldwide market force. Nothing shapes your world today more than China's rise, and nothing will shape our planet's future more--for good or ill--than China's ongoing trajectory.

After centuries of relative isolation, China's rapid reintegration into the global economy transformed globalization from its narrow Cold War-era base (the West) to its current "majority" status, whereby two-thirds of humanity now enjoys deep and growing connectivity with inter-national markets and the remaining third works toward it. China's decision to rejoin the world was globalization's tipping point, meaning--absent global war--there's no turning back now, only adaptation.

If Nixon opened the door, then Mao's successor Deng Xiaoping led the Chinese people through it. Unlike Mikhail Gorbachev, Deng chose wisely: By tackling economic freedom before political liberalization, Deng kept China stable during its tenuous first years of market reform. Although Deng is correctly labeled an autocrat (he ordered the bloody suppression of the Tiananmen Square democracy protests in 1989), he is also correctly identified as a modernizer who unleashed a generation's immense creativity.

A grand bargain was struck: Deng won military support for further market reforms so long as a lid was kept on political change, and the army was afforded enough of a budget to modernize. The Party would remain supreme, but state involvement in the economy would shrink and private business would be encouraged along with investment from, and trade with, the outside world.

Read the rest of the entry here. Link to the list of ten reasons here.

You can read more of Thomas PM Barnett's opinions here. Thank you for calling them jackasses, Mr. Barnett.

I'm not a huge CNN fan, although I think some of the over-the-top criticism of the network recently was unfair. I've also written many times in this space defending western media from Chinese critics, mainly because the situation appears black and white to this writer: a monopolistic state-run media machine has very little credibility in critiquing the journalistic values of a free-market, free-press journalism environment in the west.

Despite this, there are problems with corporate ownership and consolidation of media properties in western countries. I am a firm believer that the more voices, opinions, and points of view that can be aired, the better. So I was saddened - although not totally shocked - when I read that the venerable CBS News may contract out its news gathering operations to CNN:

Over the last decade, CNN has held intermittent talks with both ABC News and CBS News about various joint ventures. But during the last several months, talks with CBS have been revived and lately intensified, according to the executives who asked for anonymity because of the confidential nature of the negotiations.
Broadly speaking, the executives described conversations about reducing CBS's news-gathering capacity while keeping its frontline personalities, like Katie Couric, the CBS Evening News anchor, and paying a fee to CNN to buy the cable network's news feeds.

This would be a sad development. While CBS News lags behind the two other major networks, ABC and NBC, in the nightly news ratings, millions of people continue to tune in. It's always better to have more voices than fewer ones, so here's hoping CBS decides to maintain its independent news coverage - and its integrity.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Media category from April 2008.

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