Chinese wonder how to improve media for foreigners

Man, I wish they had invited me to this conference:

Chinese communication experts convened at a forum in Beijing on Saturday to discuss ways of improving the reporting of domestic affairs for an international audience. “The Chinese should develop more efficient ways of communicating with the outside world,” said Wu Jianmin, president of the Foreign Affairs College and former Chinese Ambassador to France.

“An acclaimed foreign expert on China once told me China’s distorted image would be the largest obstacle for its further development,” Wu said. “Sometimes, even when information is reported objectively, it can still send the wrong signals.”

For example, some media focus too much on China’s GDP or exports growth, giving the foreign audience an impression that everything in China is rosy, but they forget the cost of the successes, for example harm to the environment, Wu said.

The Chinese media which provides overseas services include Xinhua News Agency, CCTV 9, China Radio International, China News Service and several other TV channels and daily newspapers, magazines and websites.

CCTV and Xinhua giving foreigners too rosy a picture of China? Perish the thought. Look, as long as these media so blatantly and embarrassingly sing the party line and regurgitate all the tired myths and slogans, foreigners will continue to see them as a joke. As long as CCTV-9 news begins every hour with fascinating stories of Hu attending some land-use seminar in Xinjiang, no foreigner is going to take it seriously. As long as Dashan is on the air, no foreigner’s going to take CCTV seriously. As long as Lei Feng’s birthday is celebrated in all the media like it’s the second coming, no one can take these media seriously. It’s not a matter of tweaking the foreign-language media. It’s about razing them to the ground and starting over.

The Discussion: 20 Comments

A few weeks ago, before my blog melted, I got a comment and exchanged emails with a Chinese journalist at China Daily claiming they were starting a publishing house to do English translations. He asked me “what Chinese books do foreigners want to read?” I wrote back explaining that “foreigners” does not exist as a market, and that he would have to consider what market niches he would want to go after and how he would promote them, as well as what books he could acquire rights to.

He never wrote back. I spoke to Positive Solutions, and it is a real person at China Daily (we think). But the question “What Chinese books do foreigners want to read?” says it all, don’t it? You can’t say anything accurate about “foreigners” except they “aren’t Chinese”. And even then… Even if they kill the slogans and the good-news-only approach, they’ll still have the problem of only perceiving their audience as undifferentiated masses of stereotypes.

October 23, 2006 @ 2:54 pm | Comment

I think we need some perspective on the CCTV9 angle. I mean, if given the choice between CCTV9 and new episodes of Lost… I’m going with my Lost DVDs, but CCTV9 programming is getting better and better.

To put it in perspective, imagine you’re Chinese, can’t speak a word of English, somehow find yourself in the US, turned on regular cable… think you’d find a devoted Chinese language channel?

I agree though, the credibility of foreign distributed news is fundamentally limited by party agenda, and if they want some sort of legitimized wire service, fair enough, they’re going to need some core changes on the content they’ll allow.

October 23, 2006 @ 3:16 pm | Comment

I’m happy you were not invited. Imagine yourself sitting there shoulder to shoulder with MAJ, trying to make Chinese a better liar.

October 23, 2006 @ 5:15 pm | Comment

Oh God, bellevue, why did you do that to me?

Your above comment immediately made me imagine MAJ dressed up as a CCTV dancing girl and enjoying it too enthusiastically.

October 23, 2006 @ 6:36 pm | Comment

(oops, sorry Richard; delete my above comment if you think I shouldn’t have mentioned him)

October 23, 2006 @ 6:40 pm | Comment

Humanaught, I too think it is getting better, but only very slowly. They still insist on opening the news with lethally dull stories of the most incosequential visits by Hu or Wen to some god-awful conference in some city no one ever wants to go to. I can imagine them on 911, startingf with such a story, then commenting, “In other news, thousands were killed today in America when three commercial jets flew into…”

Dave, spot-on about defining the foreigner market. This mentality, wherein they imagine a monolithic “foreigner” market is so painfully naive, not to mention kind of dumb.

Bellevue and Ivan, let’s move on to the next subject.

October 23, 2006 @ 7:23 pm | Comment

Humanaught wrote:
“To put it in perspective, imagine you’re Chinese, can’t speak a word of English, somehow find yourself in the US, turned on regular cable… think you’d find a devoted Chinese language channel?”

Where you from? 🙂

When I left San Francisco six years ago, it had *three* Chinese only channels. There was also a Hindi channel. I bet LA has at least one Chinese channel, if not several. LA probably has Vietnamese and Persian channels as well (O’Lisa???).

My students are always amused to learn I watched the famous series “Huanzhu Gege” in California. I think SF has five Chinese language newspapers and three Chinese language Yellow Pages. I love to point out that SF’s #2 newspaper (The Examiner) is owned by a Chinese family (the Fangs), and run by their openly gay son. I also like to tell them that my landlady was a gay Chinese woman who had a black girlfriend. 🙂

Oh, there are some things I *really* miss about San Francisco!

October 23, 2006 @ 7:46 pm | Comment

China Daily is a good example of how not to report China to foreigners. Like Dave said, they believe that “foreigners” is an ethnic group. I’m surprised that China is so good at copying western things except the media. They can knock off a copy of aToyota or a golf club, but when it comes to newspapers they’re still using the tuolaji.

October 23, 2006 @ 8:04 pm | Comment

And as for Chinese in America, well, sorry that this is so un-PC, but the reality is that English is the international language, and Chinese has never been one and never will be.

Hell, back in the 1100s, Abelard didn’t bitch about how none of his textbooks at the University of Paris were written in French. Latin was the international language back then, and not even the French complained about it, not even in their own country at the University of Paris. English is the international language today. Deal with it.

October 23, 2006 @ 8:18 pm | Comment

I think the best way to improve the media is one word: honesty.

October 24, 2006 @ 12:44 am | Comment

Back in the US my mom’s cable selection includes CCTV-9. It is basically the last channel among 250 others. But when I turn it on it seems different. Could that be true? It seems more toned down, not so Chinese nationalistic. Do you think they actually have two different CCTV-9’s? One for the Chinese market and one for the ‘foreign’ market?

October 24, 2006 @ 1:11 am | Comment

It should be the same CCTV-9. There is no Chinese domestic CCTV-9, it’s meant to be the international channel, which in fact means that virtually no one in China watches it. There is a CCTV-4 which I believe maybe the Chinese equivalent of CCTV-9 for Hongkies.

October 24, 2006 @ 6:24 am | Comment

richard – on 911, the cctv tactic was to pretend it never happened. in fact, all the mainland channels did this and did not report on the story for a good 24 hours. ultimately, as many chinese had already seen the pictures via phoenix or online, and as the government realised its national security was not threatened (?), it relented.

agree with the foreigners as a single group comment. but the attitude toward themselves (we chinese think…) is the same. and equally incorrect

October 24, 2006 @ 12:33 pm | Comment

@Ivan: Yeah… I realized that “international language” thing nearly as soon as I posted that comment. I agree, and I think the world is better for having English as a common language. Just as latin, or even French, before it.

@Bert: I watched CCTV9 via DirecTV when I was back in Canada in July and it seemed the same to me. I think it just looks different because it’s in a different perspective. In fact, I really enjoyed watching Culture Express and Around China while I was home… I was a bit homesick for this big rooster-lookin’ slab of land.

October 24, 2006 @ 12:57 pm | Comment

I’ve often wondered how a Chinese nuclear accident – similar to Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986 – would be covered on Chinese TV.

Then I realised: “Oh, it wouldn’t be.”

Russia had at least one other nuclear accident (in the Urals in 1957) which was hidden from the world for many years. Most of the world still doesn’t know about it.

I wonder how many nuclear accidents or other such disasters China has had, which have been hushed up all this time…

October 24, 2006 @ 1:57 pm | Comment

Shanghai Slim: The Fangs have already sold The Examiner after turning it into a tabloid (and pocketed the Hearst money); the Hearst circumvented the anti-trust law and became the owner of the only broadsheet SF Chronicle; SF legally became a one-newspaper city. It’s a corrupt, corrupt, corrupt world where no glass ceiling is overshadowing ethnic minority.

October 24, 2006 @ 6:48 pm | Comment

Bellevue, thanks for the update. I did not know the Examiner was sold! Losing touch with my SF roots … 🙁

October 25, 2006 @ 12:28 am | Comment

Shanghai, I just got back from San Francisco – how did you ever leave it?! My sister is living in Sunset District, I just loved it (haven’t been up there in years).

And yes, Chinese signs all over the place, and more Mandarin speakers than there used to be for sure.

We have Channel 18 in LA (all kinds of different foreign language programming), an all-Mandarin radio station, and I’m pretty sure there are cable packages, especially in San Gabriel, that offer a variety of Chinese channels.

My friend Susan (from Shanxi/Beijing) started a post-doc in Boston a couple of months ago. One thing that really surprised her was just how many Chinese people there were. I told her, “wait till you see California.”

I agree that making generalizations about 1 billion Chinese is pretty dumb, but how many times have you heard such generalizations coming from Chinese people?

And regarding all the rest of the world’s peoples as one undifferentiated mass of “foreigners” is even dumber.

October 25, 2006 @ 4:35 am | Comment

Bert: I don’t find CCTV9 nationalistic. But what annoys me is the pretentious image of China that they are forcing down the throat of their international audience. It gives me a headache each time I watch it. The only good thing about my CCTV9 experience is that at least I can still tell that they are telling lies and spreading propaganda. Wait till one day when this distinction between truth and lies becomes blur, then the world will be in real trouble.

October 25, 2006 @ 2:28 pm | Comment

read yet

October 26, 2006 @ 5:17 pm | Comment

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