From the inbox: Is it okay to love China?

I just got this email from a reader, and I wanted to share it, as well as my response.

Dear Richard,

This will seem like a strange email, but if you could answer my questions, then I would be extremely grateful.

How do you find a balance between liking China, for the good things you can find there, and hating China, for all the wrong things that are happening there?

I’m Chinese American. I was born in America, and grew up hearing toned-down, child-friendly, good, nice stories about China. So when I finally realized what was happening over there, I was shocked, and extremely conflicted between pride and disgust. On one hand, it’s where my family and culture came from. On the other hand, everything that happens over there conflicts with my values. I now read blogs about China, hoping to keep up to date about the country, to know everything about it, condemn it for what it does, hope for it’s future…but it seems there’s never anything good. China’s always getting worse, and by now, I’ve pretty much lost hope for the China.

It’s tempting to just hate the country and cut all my ties to it. Go to an extreme and wish for Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan, and maybe even Hong Kong and Macau to go independent when it can, and the blood of all its communist leaders. Call myself American and the only thing Chinese about me would be the cultural and traditional aspects of it. But I can’t do that, because that’s not really want I want or believe.

I’ve been reading your blog over two years now. You are disappointed at China, yet still happy whatever something positive happens. (Well, happy’s not the right word, but I can’t think of an appropriate word…) How do you do that? Keep hope that maybe one day, something would change, but for now, bear to watch the humiliation and horrible things China is going through and doing? (is it because you’re not Chinese, and if something happens, well, it’s not your country/group of people/identity that’s doing it? Forgive me if I’m wrong)

Thank you for your time. I eagerly await your reply.


Interesting email. It’s always a challenge, reconciling your feelings toward China, reconciling your knowledge of some of the darker things that go one there with your love of living there, reconciling your complaints with your admiration. Then again, how different is that from the US? Sometime I think it’s just a matter of degree (mainly because rule of law and freedom of speech make such a huge difference).

Anyway, here’s my sentimental response.

I love China. I am going there on a trip in two weeks and plan to move back to Beijing within the next two months. [Note: That is not written in stone.]

It’s the Chinese government and its culture of corruption and propaganda I can’t stand. But I first moved to China in 2002 and over the past 9 years I have seen the country make huge strides, socially and politically. It is a dynamic, vibrant, inspiring culture and there is nowhere else I’d rather live, except maybe NYC if I were a millionaire.

It’s normal to be conflicted about China because it is such a complex and often unusual country, a country in the midst of incredibly rapid change. No one can figure it out and there’s no way to define what China actually is, because it’s a work in progress and a phenomenon in motion. Lots of bad things happen there, but lots of good things, too. People’s lives are generally much better than 30 years ago. So don’t be afraid to love China, while accepting its faults and problems and strangeness. It’s still one of the greatest countries on the planet.

Thanks for writing and I hope that helps.


Sentimental, and I can catalog all the cliches. but it’s still from the heart. And for the record, I can’t stand America’s government either, especially now. (My faith in the US government has been in a free-fall since the day Gore lost the 2000 election; Obama has boosted my faith only nominally – at least he’s not a Republican.) Who can say they’re not conflicted about America, and about China?

I’ll arrive in Beijing on April 7 and will be visiting several cities. If anyone wants to get together let me know.


The Chinese and Japan’s Tsunami

I’ve been confined to my bed the past four days, unable to do anything but watch TV and I feel totally tsunamied-out. But I wanted to take a moment to point readers to an excellent post over at Granite Studio about how Chinese “netizens” are reacting to the horror in Japan, and why Chinese feelings toward Japan are so complex.

I am several days late with this, but there is also a superb post over at Shanghai Scrap on Chiness reactions, and how the expected fenqing who welcome the calamity with open arms are being countered with a lof of compassion by other, more mature commenters.

I understand China’s complex attitude toward Japan. There’s plenty of reasons for it. But I’m glad to see a lot of Chinese people putting these feelings aside and expressing their compassion for the innocent victims of this incomprehensible tragedy.

I’m also ashamed of some Westerners who are making jokes about the Japanese people’s suffering. Imangine cracking Jokes about September 11th as the tragedy unfolded. Reprehensible.



Totally out of it. Back in a couple days.


The Global Times on Charlie Sheen

[Update: See the Shanghaiist piece on the same article. Maybe the entire thing is a joke, along the lines of Ask Alessandro? If so, it’s amazing this got through the editors.]

I’ve been watching Charlie Sheen’s implosion with a mixture of bewilderment, amusement and horror, wondering how anyone could consider him a viable parent, and also wondering why anyone would choose to self-immolate in front of the entire world.

I felt the same three emotions when I looked at this Global Times op-ed on how Sheen is “not filial.” Here’s what jumped out:

Ignoring public pleas from his father, Sheen has continued a weeklong media blitz, exhibiting obvious signs of mania. With no firm hand to guide them, Western media has deliberately goaded him into making increasingly delusional statements, more concerned about “winning” higher ratings than Sheen’s own sense of pride, or the negative example his brash public admissions about his private sex life and unverifiable international conspiracies could be setting for society.

Oh dear. You see, the US media needs a “firm hand to guide them.” What does this mean? What “firm hand” is he referring to? I can only assume he’s saying the West needs some good old-fashioned Chinese-style censorship. They apply a firm hand, alright.

After cataloging Sheen’s sins and vicissitudes, the editorial concludes:

In Chinese society, these problems are dealt with delicately and privately. Sheen is like a typical Westerner throwing fuel on the fire with each interview and tweet. It is almost as if he feels no shame and is loving the attention.

Oy vey. As if this is typical of how “Westerners” behave. The news programs this week are all Charlie all the time precisely because his behavior is an aberration. In China there is obsession with celebrities as well, though the media there, guided by a firm hand, would never dream of giving them a platform as the US media has done for bad-boy Sheen. In response, I would say this writer is behaving “in a typical Chinese-newspaper way,” wagging his finger at the US and pointing to one idiot as proof that Westerners typically “throw fuel on the fire” with no shame or contrition.

It’s hilarious, and absurd.


The murder of college student Zhao Wei

If you search this site you’ll find many posts that mention Sun Zhigang. The story terrified me, and seemed to epitomize the dangers of total police powers and the lack of rule of law. A 27-year-old college student and graphic artist, he had the misfortune of leaving his home in Guangzhou without his ID card. He was arrested as a vagrant when a policeman stopped him and asked for the card, and he was brutally beaten to death in the prison infirmary. It was one of the first stories in China to cause a sensation on the Internet, and the wave of public outrage helped convince the government it was time to change their vagrancy laws.

And then I read this story, and it felt like deja vu all over again. From a letter written for his parents:

Zhao Wei is a senior student at Hebei University of Technology. He bought Seat No.45 on Car 12 of Train No. 1301 departing from Tianjin for Zalantun, Innor Mongolia on January 22, 2011. He also had a classmate in Car 11.

According to this classmate of his, after getting onto the train, Zhao Wei was scoffed at and ridiculed by a train attendant because of a seat-changing issue. Zhao made this issue known to the train conductor. At 10 p.m. or so, Wei Zhao brought his backpack to Car 11 and told this classmate that he might have offended the conductor. Then he changed seats with a passenger who sat next to this classmate. At around 3 a.m., Zhao was called away by the conductor. When the classmate next saw Zhao Wei, his eyes were black and blue, and he was no longer alive.

Go to the site to read the entire letter and, if you can stand it, to see graphic photos of the young man’s beaten corpse. The parents are now caught up in a bureaucratic maze of denial and passing the buck. No one will take responsibility, no one will even show any interest in investigating what happened. The story, needless to say, is being scrubbed from the Chinese Internet.

For an extraordinary analysis of how this hideous crime is being censored, you must read this post (be forewarned that it, too, contains graphic photographs). It reads like a suspense story, following the censors as they systematically cause the story to vaporize. Great journalism, great description of how the Chinese media and search engines work in cooperation with the censors.

There’s something about these stories that tugs at the heartstrings. Sun Zhigang was going out to celebrate (I forget what; maybe he had just graduated school). Zhao Wei had innocently tried to have his seat changed on the train he was taking to Inner Mongolia with friends. And each had his life snuffed out for what seems to be no reason at all. There was absolutely no need. So young and so senseless. So infuriating to watch the cover-up and hear the lies.

Murders happen everywhere. But in both cases the murders were carried out by the very people assigned to help the public. If they had been murdered in a robbery, or even killed by an insane gunman I would at least understand why it happened. In these two cases, the horror is that they died at the hands of people who are there to protect us. I think of the police in New Orleans who shot blacks in the back on a bridge after Hurricane Katrina, and I see similarities, and I felt the same sense of revulsion reading about that heinous crime. But it wasn’t scrubbed from the papers, and the officers were brought to justice.

Ultimately Sun Zhigang’s murderers were tried and convicted and the law was reformed, but one wonders if that would have happened had there not been an Internet firestorm. Let’s hope that the Zhao Wei tragedy generates a similar firestorm. As of this moment, based on these articles, it appears the government is pulling all the stops to keep the lid on and erase all remnants of the story. I am hoping tech-savvy Chinese will find ways to keep this story alive until Zhao Wei’s murderers are tried and convicted. Shame on all those who are aiding and abetting the cover-up of a fiendishly brutal, senseless and unforgivable crime.


Biased Western media coverage of the “Jasmine Revolution”

A story over at ESWN just caught my eye, and it cries out for comment. Roland, a blogger I admire tremendously, writes:

The website anti-CNN came into being because of the western media reporting about the Lhasa riots. Here is a post from the anti-CNN BBS about some western media coverage of the so-called Jasmine Revolution in China….

This definitely caught my interest because I’m innately suspicious of claims by anti-CNN, and I was wondering what “Western media” would be so stupid as to publish fake pictures of the non-revolution. Am I being overly suspicious? Am I being prejudiced against anti-CNN? Unfair and ignorant? Let’s take a look.

This is the very first “Western media” ESWN links to. Go there now. Its name is Online USA News. Sounds like a good catch by anti-CNN! What could be more “Western” than a site named Online USA News?

Only, if you take the time and energy to go to the About page, here’s what you find: is project of WebSols Pakistan. This website contains latest news updates from USA and all over the world.

Please, go there now. Look around. You’ll see that Online USA News is a third-rate bullshit blog, a pure and simple trash site from Pakistan that is in no way indicative of how the “Western media” are really covering the situation in China. It is not a “Western media.” Once again, anti-CNN gets hysterical over nothing, and uses this nothing to point hysterical fingers at “the West” without performing even the most cursory due diligence.

Another example he links to that anti-CNN has labeled an example of “Western bias” against China can be found here. Here is how the site describes itself:

Aredconsult, Inc. is an internet marketing company and outsource provider based in the Philippines.

Got that, everyone? This “Western media” that shows such bias is a BS Philippine marketing site. It’s bullshit. It’s not Western and it’s not real media.

Another example of “Western media bias” Roland sends us to can be found here. Go look it up. It looks to me like yet another aggregator posing as a news site – whatever it is, it’s obscure as hell and hardly offers a representative slice of “Western media.”

Also under the headline “Fake Western Media Coverage Of Jasmine Revolution In China” Roland offers links (from anti-CNN) to pieces from Liberty Times (in Taiwan), Next Media Animation (in HK/Taiwan), La Nueva Cuba (since when is Cuba considered “Western”?) and more. There’s one piece he links to from the Independent in Ireland which appears legitimate. but you get the picture: Out of a long string of links, practically none of the stories are in any way, shape or form “Western media.” Another link he offers actually has no photo at all (maybe they took it down?). It’s some Norwegian taboid (I think). Whatever it is, it’s not representative of “Western media.” No major Western media published fake photos of the JR, and if they did it was a mistake and they took them down. This is a fantasy, a canard.

I am not blaming Roland for this. He is translating something from anti-CNN. Maybe he should have checked the veracity of the links, but then again I know how busy he is doing translations and running the gold standard of English-language China sites. It’s anti-CNN that raises my blood pressure.

Every time you hear the battle cry “Western media bias” in regard to China you need to take a hard look at the accusation and at the source. Yes, there sure as hell IS Western media bias against China (though when you compare it to China’s media bias against the West it may seem relatively mild, to say the least). But in this case, there’s very, very little to see. anti-CNN, stupid and inflammatory as always, has chosen sites from the Philippines and Pakistan and Taiwan and pointed to them breathlessly as proof – proof, I tell you – of our awful Western bias against China.

Except it’s not true. It’s bullshit. anti-CNN is bullshit, a deceitful but highly effective propaganda machine that deceives its readers and, I suspect, itself. Take nothing they say at face value, and do your own homework. They’ve been debunked time and again, and I am always dismayed when my Chinese colleagues insist they’re a serious, professional organization. I tell them they should stop being so anti-CNN, and they just don’t get it. This has become their Truth. They’re painfully easy to expose as frauds and charlatans, if you bother to take the time. And sometimes I wonder why I even bother. I’m not going to convince their die-hard fans. But at least I can put their bullshit on the record.

(Update: A friend just complained that I use the term “bullshit” too many times in this post. All I can say is, if the shoe fits, wear it. Even if it has bullshit on it.)