Jiang Zemin and Western Media Bias

Nowadays I don’t bother much with the antiCNN clones — sites that are obsessed with the notion of Western media bias against China and that will go to whatever lengths necessary to prove it, even when it doesn’t exist. The topic is a fenqing’s wet dream, combining all the elements that make them thrive: The West (and usually that means the US) behaving as an unrestrained bully. China being victimized by former imperialists. China scorned and mocked and denied its greatness. A veritable conspiracy, rooted in the US, to suppress China and do it harm. This toxic brew makes this topic irresistible to fenqing; it washes over them with a sensual delight, confirming all of their accusations and justifying their outrage, accelerating their fervent nationalism and giving them a big high. And it’s highly narcissistic. It’s all about us. The world is against us. Our feelings are hurt. We are great and the world wants to keep its foot on China’s throat and keep us down. Yes, it’s intoxicating, and titillating. So much so that entire sites — entire lives — are dedicated to it. Each confirmation (usually imagined or exaggerated), like pornography or heroin, adds to the addiction and makes the victim thirst for more. There is no clear thinking in this intoxicated state, no rational thought, only the exuberance of an orgy of self-righteousness and self-pity, wrapped in a cloud of indignant rage.

I’d like to point out one post on perceived media bias against China and examine just how this process works. It’s a post attacking James Fallows for — and I quote — “regurgitating a provocative WSJ piece essentially rumor mongering Jiang Zemin’s ‘death.’” (Fallows’ innocuous article is here.)

After a few opening lines of praise for Fallows we get the stab in the back (“His perspective and narrative can be horribly wrong though about China”). And then he is condemned for writing these highly uncontroversial words:

For the past 24+ hours, anyone following various social-media feeds* about China has seen rumors, then official denials, then silence, about the possible demise of former president Jiang Zemin, shown in his prime at right. Jiang would turn 85 next month.

This incredibly innocuous observation, with no point of view or bias whatsoever, is cited as being insensitive. The blogger follows it with one of those assertions that make you roll your eyes in disbelief:

I would add, the hysteria as demonstrated in some Western media over this non-news is just mind-boggling.

Alright. This is one of the fenqing’s direst sins: the straw man allegation. Let’s take a look at a search of Google News for Jiang Zemin. Go there now, and tell me, where is the “hysteria” of the Western media on the topic? I’ll tell you: There isn’t any. None at all. Nothing at all “mind boggling.” Zero, zip, nada. Oh, maybe if you dig deep enough you can find an example of something you can argue seems a bit over the top, but I doubt it. Maybe you can find an excessive headline in Epoch Times or a pub like that. But the mainstream Western media, like James Fallows, have nearly all covered this story from one perspective: This is a story about censorship. It is not the West that has promulgated the idea that Jiang may be dead. It is Chinese people on China’s microblogging sites and other social media networks and on portals. And the Western media are commenting on this because the CCP is working overtime to delete all such references, and that is news.

In fact, this story exists solely because the Party has practically forced it onto the news pages by frantically deleting posts and messages and comments. Most of the Western stories covering this are about the CCP’s silence and their reaction online. This is not about Jiang Zemin, who is barely mentioned in these stories (because for now there’s nothing to report about him). These are stories about how China’s Internet works, of how creative Chinese Netizens can be, and how determined the CCP is to stamp out anything that goes against the party line.

So to reiterate, there is not a single Western article I could find that was in any way, shape or form “hysterical.” None. Straw man, pure and simple.

But let’s get back to the main source of the blogger’s anguish, Fallows’ “regurgitation” of a WSJ article. It must be awful stuff, no? Here’s exacty what they quote Fallows as saying:

An item two hours ago in the WSJ’s China Realtime Report illustrates the extreme heavy-handedness of the news control. For instance: Jiang’s name in Chinese is 江泽民, with the first character, 江, being his family name. That character, jiang, literally means “river” — and in the past few hours, any search for info about China’s big rivers on Sina Weibo (China’s Twitter counterpart, the real Twitter being blocked in China) comes up empty. As Josh Chin of the WSJ says:

In addition to “river,” the company has also blocked searches for “death” in various iterations as well as “301 Hospital,” a reference to the People’s Liberation Army General Hospital in Beijing where top leaders are often treated.

Beyond blocking searches, the service’s human censors have also been busy hand- deleting posts that mention the former leader.

Chinese microbloggers have employed a variety of tricks in an apparent attempt to get around the blocks. With Weibo censors blocking searches the word for “hung” (挂了), a common Chinese euphemism for death, users have been circulating an image showing an empty set of clothing hanging out to dry, pants hiked up to chest level the way Mr. Jiang preferred.

So now we all see what Fallows has “regurgitated.” Your typical Grass Mud Horse story about Chinese netizens coming up with creative code-names to evade the censors. What on earth is wrong with this? Why do they need to put up an entire post with the headline, “James Fallows should know better speculating someones death is cultural taboo”?

Always eager to suck the CCP’s dick support their government, the blogger goes on to say, with a straight face:

“I would not be surprised if people running the Weibo service were suppressing the rumors out of respect for Jiang. In fact, Chinese laws forbid citizens from spreading false rumors.”

Ah yes, the benevolent and protective leaders saving us all from false rumors. I wish I could count the number of false rumors that ricochet around China’s Internet ever day (just as in America), and the CCP does not go into overdrive to smother them. Only when it has something to hide or to fear. Period, full stop.

Our pugnacious blogger ends his post with a sagely question, “Imagine Chinese media outside Reagan’s home while he was ill asking “is he dead yet?””

Hate to tell you this, buddy, but reporters of all nationalities congregate around the homes or hospitals that house the critically ill super-famous like Reagan, and these reporters ask constantly whether there is new information, whether the person is dead yet, etc. Chinese reporters are absolutely free to do this. It may not seem tasteful, but that’s how journalism in a free society is, though I wouldn’t expect you to know about that.

Maybe this isn’t the worst example of fenqing making a storm in a teacup, seizing on a non-story and finding all kinds of implications that aren’t there. But it stuck out at me, maybe because I hold Fallows in such high esteem and I could find nothing to criticize in his post. I also urge you to go read the original Wall Street Journal article the blogger tars as “provocative” and tell me how this story in any way meets that definition. It simply reports what’s happening, and if you see anything there that’s awful or provocative please snip and paste it in the comments. I’m really curious.

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.

Back to Jiang for a moment, the same blogger tut-tuts that things are different in China and the West should be more understanding.

First of all, Chinese culture has a disdain for publicly discussing imminent death of a family member. Chinese believe it is bad luck to discuss someone dying. It is disrespectful to do so too. Death is usually announced after.

The West may be fine talking about someone who is old, ill, and dying as if it is some kind of spectator sport. For me, personally, I much prefer the ‘Chinese’ way.

Dude, Jiang Zemin is a highly public figure and still (if he’s alive) a major political force in China. His death or serious illness would be major breaking news. China can’t on the one hand try to be a global player and on the other remain in a cocoon. The Western media have done the same speculation over Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and many, many other leaders. Is China so thin-skinned it can’t deal with this speculation? And again, most of this speculation comes from within China, and that’s what the media are reporting on. China can nip this in the bud with a single official statement. Instead, as usual, it handles it in the most ham-fisted way and leaves itself once more open to ridicule and derision. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Update: Let me give you the latest and most disgraceful example I’ve seen of media bias against China in recent days. It’s a shocker. And yes, it’s an op-ed piece and not a news piece, but the antiCNN crowd constantly conflates the two. Go here now and take a look at punditry at its very worst. (For more, read this superb blog post about it.) This is bias and ignorance at its worst. But I excuse it, because the media give us the best and the worst. Get used to it, because it isn’t changing.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 47 Comments

Right on. I think also a lot of Chinese don’t understand that the media in the West is generally biased toward BAD news, no matter which country it’s in. It can’t all be busy leaders and happy peasants creating/celebrating success when you’re an independent commercial media outlet. Good news just doesn’t sell as well.

July 11, 2011 @ 1:58 pm | Comment

This thread post should be required reading for the bloggers in question, preferably accompanied by a mirror with which they can then take a long look at themselves.

“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.”
“it’s an op-ed piece and not a news piece, but the antiCNN crowd constantly conflates the two”
—Amen.

July 11, 2011 @ 3:37 pm | Comment

Just read the WSJ China Real Time report, Fallows’ Atlantic blog post, and the dubious antiCNN style blog post in question. No idea what the latter bloggers are all riled up about. The original WSJ piece takes no position on Mr. Jiang’s state of health. They are simply noting the behaviour of Chinese ISPs and search engines, who themselves are responding to the internet chatter of PRC users. The point of Fallows’ post isn’t about whether Mr. Jiang is dead or not; it is entirely to do with the reactionary internet censorship activities of the CCP, and on a more basic level about the CCP’s clumsy attempt to shape a message (and it’s still unclear what that message would be). The HH bloggers complain that Fallows is being culturally insensitive in speculating about Mr. Jiang’s death. Well, first of all, Mr. Fallows is not engaging in said speculation. But even if he was, he’s doing it in the US of A. By being a “China hand”, is he bound by Chinese cultural sensitivities when he is speaking to a different audience in a different country?

Ironically, the HH dudes offer their own speculation on why Weibo might or might not be suppressing what they may or may not be suppressing. They’ve done at least as much speculating as Fallows has done…but clearly the standards to which they might hold other esteemed bloggers do not apply to them.

Their final question is laughable. What if Chinese media was camped out for a Reagan “death watch”? As far as Americans are concerned, I suspect the response might be “get in line”. But clearly the same Chinese media would NOT have reported any news prematurely to their CHinese audience, since that contravenes Chinese cultural sensitivities of the media consumers in China. Had Chinese media camped out then reported (in China) on any such rumours, naturally I would have expected strong condemnation from the HH crew.

I don’t do HH. Made an exception here to see what all the fuss was about. But as their “western media bias” rants go, this one was rather tame (at least compared to previous iterations on other blogs). In fact, their main objections here seem to be with Fallows and WSJ. They actually resisted the temptation to smear all “western media” with one brush, which actually reflects better self-control than what they exhibit most of the time.

July 11, 2011 @ 4:16 pm | Comment

My blog got a brief mention in a James Fallows article, the following week has resulted in a spike of aggressive Fenqing comments. An interesting note is that they rarely claim that China is better than I have described, but instead opt to attack the west for being hypocritical. ie: If I question Chinese human rights, it becomes about how unemployment in the US is worse.
Great post. Great update. The quick visit is so dangerous.

July 11, 2011 @ 5:17 pm | Comment

Actually, I disagree with a lot that is written in the above post. The thing to keep in mind is that the HH crowd ARE NOT CHINESE. That is to say, they are not Chinese citizens, and at least half of them were not even born in mainland China.

Instead, as far as I have ever been able to ascertain, the overwhelming majority of them are American citizens.

Therefore, when you write that they are supporting their own country’s government, this is not true. Instead, they are supporting the government of what they consider to be their ethnic homeland, a homeland in which a good number of them have never lived.

Likewise, when you quote De Wang on the taboo on talking about death in the family in Chinese culture, you miss the obvious fact that this is written by someone who lives in the US but doesn’t realise that he is describing a universal taboo which is shared by his fellow Americans.

BianXiangBianQiao, the self-identified Japanophile US-based university professor who used to post on HH’s predecessor, Fool’s Mountain, showed a similar total ignorance of how his fellow Americans interact with their families when he wrote that “westerners” charge family members interest when they loan them money. De Wang’s writing is not dissimilar to BXBQ’s, nor are his personal attitudes. Personally, I’ve always suspected that they are the same person.

One can only feel sad that this group of people are so alienated from the society they live in that they do not realise that many of what they think of as exclusively Chinese virtues are shared by their fellow countrymen. It takes a special approach to life to fail to miss recognising this so totally, one in which every virtue is made a Chinese virtue, every vice is made a ‘western’ vice, one without any friends who might give insight into the home-lives of those all around them.

It matters little whether this isolation is self-imposed, or imposed on them by the society they live in, although obviously I suspect that their condition is caused mainly by their own attitudes. What does matter is that their response to it has been to glorify a society which they will never live in, and to ceaselessly condemn the country that they do live and speculate with barely-concealed eagerness about the eventual downfall of their country of residence.

In fact, I find HH to be a very American phenomenon, not really all that different from the German-American Bund, or the various ultra pro-Israel groups, as an organisation for Americans who in truth care little for America, but identify entirely with an ethnic/religious homeland in which they will never live, but only adore from a safe distance.

July 11, 2011 @ 5:42 pm | Comment

The thing to keep in mind is that the HH crowd ARE NOT CHINESE

That seems to beg the question as to how far the Epoch Times is Chinese, or American (or whatever other country and language enjoys one of their editions in respective languages. To me, they have usually looked like part of Chinese public life – a public which doesn’t exist in China itself, but which has moved abroad.

Definition time, please.

July 11, 2011 @ 7:24 pm | Comment

Well written as usual Richard,reminds me of the old days.I read one of your posts not long ago where you mentioned something along the lines that you felt out of place in today’s China blogging scene, well, let me say on the back of this, the “Man is back in town.” Good luck to you.

July 11, 2011 @ 8:31 pm | Comment

Post numero quattro is right. HH is as American as apple pie… or the Rosenbergs.

July 11, 2011 @ 9:36 pm | Comment

Speaking of the devil, I recently wrote a post about Levels of Understanding which included this part:

“Another myth many expat travelers hold is what I’ll call the “ancestral connection”. Someone left a country when they were kids or their parents/grandparents emigrated but they still harbor ties to the ‘old country’. Rather than realize they are a product of their nationality, they are under the delusion that their nationality is the country they left and think that because of this ancestral tie, they have some innate feel for the culture and imbued understanding of how things are over there as if this knowledge is spliced on to their DNA. They take a holiday there or visit relatives for a few weeks and now they “know” the country though they usually have an idealistic interpretation of that society. Any holiday or short period of time in a foreign land is exciting, fascinating and impressive. “Look at the way they do that, how clever!” “Wow, this food tastes nothing like the ethnic restaurants we have back home, it’s soooo much better!” “Everyone is very friendly here and the service is so much better than at home.” “I get a massage with my haircut???” New experiences can create a false impression of life in a different land. When you’re staying in 5 star hotels, eating out at every meal, getting the service you paid for and sightseeing most of the time, you’re not really living in a country as much as you are taking the ‘Disneyland’ tour of it.

I’ll use myself as an example. My grandparents on my mother’s side were both born in Italy and came over here as kids, one in the late 1800s and the other during WWI. While growing up I ate a lot of Italian food, went to Italian restaurants and was raised with that as my predominate “foreign” culture. In my adulthood, I’ve had the opportunity to travel extensively in Italy, spending about a month there. I’m comfortable in the culture and have no problem getting along with the people but I’m not Italian, I’m Italian American which means I’m American. They just think differently than I do, have a different attitude, different customs, cultural identifiers, tastes and fashions than do Americans. If I believe I really understand them, how they think and how they live, and have any comprehension of the political situation there, I’m just deluding myself. If I lived and worked there I’d understand it much better, but never like someone who was born and raised there. There would always be an “American” inflection in my thought process. Anyone who travels or lives abroad has to learn to accept that limitation, and anyone who emigrates to another country has to also accept the limitation that they will never been the same as the people who were born and raised there. This isn’t a problem, it’s just a reality.”

Though I may not agree with what DeWang wrote, I’ve met him in the past and he’s a very nice guy. I just think that he writes from a very “Chinese American” perspective and in fact, the views on HH aren’t really about China but about how some Chinese Americans view the American media’s perception of China. Of course, they don’t look at American media’s perception of any other country or issue since they are a one topic blog, though the style of reporting stays the same no matter who the subject and especially with their own government. That’s fine, but it doesn’t really relate to life in China per se. I do agree with SKC that by bringing up the subject, they are guilty of what they accused James Fallows of doing. I have a great respect for Mr. Fallows and his wife in that when I read his columns, I immediately recognize that he’s actually lived in China and got out and about. He didn’t just hole up in expat bars.

I’ve worked in the semiconductor industry for a few decades. When someone says they are in the same industry, within 30 seconds of talking to them any veteran can tell if they’re telling the truth or not. You either speak the lingo or you don’t, and it’s very, very obvious if you do not. It’s the same with China, even if I don’t agree with someone’s viewpoint, I can immediately tell if they’ve ever lived there (excepting childhood) within 30 seconds of starting a conversation.

I asked my wife (Hakka from Miaoli, TW) about the cultural taboo of speaking of an impending death. My wife comes from an upper class family and I’ve been told many times by both Taiwanese and mainland Chinese that she has perfect manners, so I trust her judgment in this. She said that’s correct when it comes to a family member or friend but not towards a public figure. Then she told me an interesting story:

Many in Taiwan believe that when Jiang Jieshi died, his death was not announced immediately as it wasn’t an auspicious moment. Officials waited until a big thunderstorm hit and then announced with the explanation that “The heavens cried over his death.” This was believed by the KMT crowd while the natives rolled their eyes. I hadn’t heard that one before, good story! ;)

July 11, 2011 @ 10:35 pm | Comment

That is to say, they are not Chinese citizens

Which would beg another question… I’m used to think of the Epoch Times as part of a Chinese public abroad (while a real public would be absent within China). If the Epoch Times were not Chinese – would they be American, British, French…? They have edition in each of these countries’ languages, and probably in many more languages.

July 11, 2011 @ 10:37 pm | Comment

@Steve – I hadn’t realised that blog was yours.

The CKS anecdote is a good one, and your wife is quite correct, there is a taboo about talking about the deaths of family members (as there is every country) but this does not include public figures.

You described the motives behind the HH crew very accurately here:

” . . . the views on HH aren’t really about China but about how some Chinese Americans view the American media’s perception of China. Of course, they don’t look at American media’s perception of any other country or issue since they are a one topic blog, though the style of reporting stays the same no matter who the subject and especially with their own government. That’s fine, but it doesn’t really relate to life in China per se.”

Absolutely spot on. HH essentially tells you nothing about China, only what the HH crew thinks about what people in the US media write about China.

@Justrecently – I think we are familiar with looking at Epoch Times as the flip-side of China Daily – the stories it pushes have little to do with China, and much to do with what its backers would like you to think about China. Their continual pushing of the idea that millions of people are quitting the Communist Party, when no such thing has happened, destroys any credibility they have. Their writers are idealistic, but largely ignorant of the actual situation in that country.

July 11, 2011 @ 10:55 pm | Comment

@Steve – Oh, and PS – is/was BXBQ really De Wang?

July 11, 2011 @ 11:01 pm | Comment

He didn’t die, he was just deleted….

July 11, 2011 @ 11:26 pm | Comment

As I always say whenever HH has a post that generates discussion beyond their usual hyper-nationalist circle-jerk group: “wow, people still read HH/ Fool’s Mountain?”

July 11, 2011 @ 11:39 pm | Comment

@ FOARP – No, BXBQ is someone completely different and I’ve never met him. DeWang is a nice guy and a gentleman. I like him personally though we differ in our understanding of China.

July 12, 2011 @ 12:09 am | Comment

What seems odd to me is the censorship of news about Jiang.
It’s not news that he is old and in poor health.
Nor is it really news that the CCP censors “State Secrets”
Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that Jiang is essentially out of the power loop in the CCP.
If this is true, it seems very odd to me that the CCP would go out of their way to block news concerning Jiang.
When I first read the rumors of Jiang’s death, and the censorship about Jiang, I wondered why they would bother to block searches on Jiang.
I suspect it has something to do with the CCP 90 year anniversary.
Perhaps some overly zealous bureaucratic CCP manager over reacted out of fear of making a mistake.
Still in the end it feels to me like a tempest in a teacup.
Yamabuki Zhou

July 12, 2011 @ 12:25 am | Comment

Richard, I’m not sure what you’re expecting from “Hidden Harmonies”. It was set up by former members of the Fools Mountain blog because they didn’t like the fact FM was open to people who didn’t share their views, eg. people who weren’t fans of the CCP, criticised China for human rights issues, wanted it to reform, etc.

I really wouldn’t give them any more attention – it’s not worth it.

July 12, 2011 @ 12:27 am | Comment

Thanks to everyone for the very intelligent comments. I wish every thread was this civil.

I know most of the Hidden Harmonies crowd are overseas Chinese, but I firmly believe they mirror, to a large extent, mainland Chinese sentiments regarding Western media bias in general and US bias in particular. Being in China during the Tibet riots of 2008 I can safely say that the messages of antiCNN resounded and stuck with many well-read, urbane Chinese people. My best friend at work was adamant that the US rigged the news to make China look bad. The German Bund tends to echo the views at home, as do most overseas national groups. The Bund in the US in the 1930s, for example, was stridently pro-Hitler. (Try to find newscasts from that time to see what I mean.) Maybe these overseas Chinese don’t mirror China to a tee, but they do mirror antiCNN, a Chinese homegrown organization, to a tee. Those people are every bit as fanatical about and obsessed with media bias as our friends at HH. From my troll comments we all know how deranged some Chinese living in America can be, wishing the worst for the country they’ve chosen to make their home. But I stand by my argument that they mirror at least a healthy chunk of mainlanders, mainly those who are susceptible to antiCNN.

I have no doubts that DeWang is a lovely person. He comes across as a nice guy, but one who is obsessed. BXBQ was a true fanatic and possibly the single most irritating blogger/commenter at Fool’s Mountain. He’s one commenter I do not miss.

July 12, 2011 @ 12:35 am | Comment

Yes, Yamabuki, a storm in a teacup. But it’s a recurring storm, one that rarely seems to abate.

Raj, as I said in the post, this one jumped out at me for its irrational criticism of James Fallows and I felt I had to counter it. The points I make about Chinese outrage re. Western media bias don’t only apply to HH, but to many fenqing both overseas and in China. This has been percolating in my head for quite a while, and the Jiang Zemin post let me pull it all together and speak my piece. The canard of Western media bias against China can be found in many other places aside from HH, even in a couple of blogs by Westerners in China. This misguided belief cries out to be countered by reality.

July 12, 2011 @ 12:41 am | Comment

I honestly thought I was looking at a Chinese nationalism parody site when I first saw HH. Their clueless is so perfect and their message so slavishly consistent.

July 12, 2011 @ 1:32 am | Comment

@Richard – Everything you say is true, but whilst the Chinese are given no choice in their media, the HH crew have a wide selection of information sources, and at least half of them have never lived long-term in China. The question is, therefore, why they choose to believe the fabricated story of a widespread conspiracy in the Euro-American press rather than the overwhelming weight of evidence.

In answering this question, I can’t help but think of this excellent article by Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates, in which he discusses his embrace, and then abandonment, of Black Nationalism:

“When I was a young man seeking some measure of maturity, I came upon something which I found hard to reconcile–my progenitors were sold into slavery by other Africans. I was about 16 at the time and fully invested in the arcana of black nationalism as well as the proclamations of Paris and Brother Jay. This was not a pose–I was raised agnostic in a city that was falling apart. You know it all too well–crack, murder, AIDS, teen pregnancy. It’s the headlines for late 80s urban America, and perhaps nowhere more so than in my native land of Baltimore.

The worst part of all the chaos was that I had no framework, no religion, no mythology to make sense of the mayhem. That was what black nationalism gave me–a means of understanding how we had all fallen into disgrace. So full were we on that notion, that we called it “Consciousness,” for if you did not know that we were Original Man, that we were the descendants of kings and queens and thus royalty ourselves, that our time would soon come again, than you were mentally dead and truly lost. If you’re snickering, it’s because you aren’t thinking hard enough. All of us need some sort of mythology and no group is immune to nationalism, to the need to believe that we are special.”

The nationalism of the HH crew is in the same vein – a desire to re-invent themselves and their origins, to explain whatever negativity there might be in that as the result of repression inflicted on a noble people. It is this spirit of re-invention, this lack of a central identity, that I find particularly and peculiarly American, although, I must admit, I have never been there.

July 12, 2011 @ 2:18 am | Comment

Their continual pushing of the idea that millions of people are quitting the Communist Party, when no such thing has happened, destroys any credibility they have.

I think it will depend on the targeted readership. I’m sure there are at least thousands of readers who are prepared to believe the nine-commentaries narratives – just as thousand on the other side of the divide will be prepared to believe that Falun Gong made commie Grandmas fly.

And both narratives will have many benevolent bystanders. In that sense, I truly believe that China’s 5000-yr+-old civilization extends across all the six continents, and the seven seas. ;)

July 12, 2011 @ 2:19 am | Comment

That WSJ editorial? Priceless. I left a comment on China Geeks after I picked my jaw off of the ground.

July 12, 2011 @ 2:31 am | Comment

The China Geeks post was as good as that WSJ editorial was bad. As a bonus feature, pugster was on China Geeks defending that WSJ op-ed, probably because the author could hardly contain his admiration of China (well, of Beijing and Shanghai anyway). The irony of pugster defending a WSJ op-ed will not be lost on those who are familiar with his work…although that irony may well be lost on pugster himself.

July 12, 2011 @ 7:47 am | Comment

The commenters in that excellent China Geeks thread continuously eviscerate pugster’s questionable comments, but he keeps on going. Excellent comic relief. I hope everyone has checked it out. Media bias in regard to China can work two ways.

July 12, 2011 @ 8:37 am | Comment

Crux is most of the HH crowd including me are ethnically ‘Chinese’ while you people are not, in this context, I would say you people understanding of China and Chinese is therefore difference if not bias.

I think TPD horde is just the reverse side of HH.

July 12, 2011 @ 8:40 am | Comment

To Rhan:
I too am “ethnically Chinese”. I can speak it (cantonese) and can read it/write it (traditional of course). All of which has absolutely zero (0) relevance to the logic and strength of my arguments. You don’t “understand China” simply by virtue of DNA. And one is certainly not inherently more qualified to speak upon all things China when said DNA is residing somewhere other than CHina. That characterization is, not surprisingly, also highly applicable to the HH crew. Sadly, it is the conceit inherent in the perception of DNA-rendered superiority of understanding that leads to things like HH.

No doubt that a bunch of Chinese-Americans can develop a good grasp of how a subset of Chinese Americans understand China. And when you think about it, that statement really says it all.

July 12, 2011 @ 11:04 am | Comment

[...] 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 [...]

July 12, 2011 @ 12:24 pm | Pingback

Richard, I do drop in on your site periodically but rarely comment but after reading this one these words came to mind, “beautiful, and spot on” I felt you really waxed eloquent. You are always welcome back in Taiwan. Jerome

July 12, 2011 @ 12:57 pm | Comment

Jerome, thanks and nice to see you here.

I hope everyone visits the trackback link two comments up. I like what he has to say about Hidden Harmonies:

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.

And it goes on.

July 12, 2011 @ 1:40 pm | Comment

My parents generation talked our heads off about the “bitter times” stories – from Allen (I think), or from the HH vicinity, in a comment on Foarp’s blog.

Now they are talking your heads off, if you care to read.

July 12, 2011 @ 2:41 pm | Comment

Great post… but I’d say that his most important point is that relying on hypernationalist youth (who aren’t equally devoted to the party) is a double-edged sword. My experience of young nationalist/fenqing types is that they’re often as lukewarm on the party and the current leadership as they are pro China, and I’ve encountered everything from pro-KMT nationalists to neo-Confucianists who think an emperor should be reinstalled (along with the usual pro-democracy crowd that doesn’t know much about democracy).

They are sitting on a bomb.

July 12, 2011 @ 3:18 pm | Comment

@JR – Allen (co-founder of Hidden Harmonies and main contributor) was born and raised in Taiwan before moving to the US, so no, I don’t think that comment was his.

July 12, 2011 @ 3:27 pm | Comment

@JR – In fact, judging from the comment above, it was always-logical Raventhorn.

@Nic – Which would be great if the Hidden Harmonies crew were real FQ’s, they aren’t, they are, in the main, middle-aged men living permanently in the United States.

July 12, 2011 @ 3:31 pm | Comment

Right, but I was responding to the article above, which was about fenqing… not about the Hidden Harmonies crowd as such. Not that I really have a problem with either one.

July 12, 2011 @ 4:26 pm | Comment

It seems to boil down between rating HH as a group of fenqings abroad, with U.S. passports for all I care, or as a group of middle-aged men living permanently in the United States, with big identity issues.

I can see points in seeing it either way. So long as you think Chinese, feel Chinese, and speak Chinese, you may well be Chinese.
Steve wrote that he is Italian American, i. e. American. And sure – technically, with an American passport (and without dual citizenship), you are just that – an American. But then, if you were all that agitated about Italy and its foreign relations, would you still be merely American?

In my country, many people wouldn’t refer to themselves as Bavarians rather than Germans or vice versa, Saxonians rather than Germans, or whatever rather than Germans. They will see no incompatibility there.

July 12, 2011 @ 5:05 pm | Comment

@JR –

” . . . a group of middle-aged men living permanently in the United States, with big identity issues.”

This is my interpretation. At final analysis, Hidden Harmonies, and the views of the vast majority of fenqing one sees on English-language blogs nowadays (many of whom are fen, but few of whom seem to be qing) is not a problem of people having been duped due to a lack of other sources of information. Instead it is caused by the needs of a sometimes-isolated minority to redeem themselves, to redefine themselves as something other than economic migrants from a country which, when they left, offered little in the way of options.

There is a power in this. In the Ta-Nehisi Coates quote above, he describes himself as having been transformed through Black Nationalism, through it he was no longer a descendent of slaves, but of Kings and Queens. If you can do this, if you convince yourself that you are no longer a powerless member of a fearful community, “the greatest people that have ever trod this earth”, the product of “100 years of Japanese democracy”, a member of the master-race, living in a world where god himself is an Englishman, then you can (at least in your own eyes) redeem yourself and your origins. Just like all these other nationalisms, Chinese Nationalism is not really about the Chinese nation, but about how Chinese nationalists see themselves in relation to the society they live in.

For Chinese nationalists in China, therefore, Chinese nationalism will always be in some ways at odds with the government, since it is in part a reaction to government oppression. Outside China, however, this component is missing.

July 12, 2011 @ 6:50 pm | Comment

@jr: We do the same here. If I’m overseas and someone asks me where I’m from, I’ll say California rather than the States, but one is still a part of the other. That’s a form of regionalism, not nationalism. To answer your question, if I’m living in San Diego and all agitated about politics in Italy, yes, I’d still be an Italian American all agitated about politics in Italy. There is no way I could possibly understand how those politics affect day to day living situations because the politics that affect MY day to day living situation depend on Republicans and Democrats, not the People of Freedom Party. This is a difficulty in understanding I could never overcome while living here.

As a better example, I’ll use my wife. She was born and raised in Taiwan, and came here when she was 28. She holds dual citizenship and three passports. (the third one is issued from the PRC) She will always have an accent and her thinking is a mix of Chinese and American. Yet, when she was at a night market a few years ago in Taiwan, one of the shop girls asked her where she was from because she could tell it wasn’t Taiwan. It didn’t come from her speech, it came from her attitude which is American after all this time. There’s a certain confidence in mannerism here that you just don’t see there.

One of my Taiwan colleagues once remarked that he was very annoyed with these Taiwanese Americans who interfere with Taiwan elections. They use their dual citizenship to go to Taiwan to vote in the election and give money, usually to KMT candidates because most Taiwanese Americans are descended from ’49 KMT refugees. He and the rest of my colleagues felt these people should worry about American politics and couldn’t understand why they would interfere in Taiwan politics because they didn’t even live there and the results of their vote would not affect their own lives but WOULD affect the lives of the Taiwanese who actually live in Taiwan. He said, “They’re not Taiwanese, they’re American.”

In the course of my work in both Taiwan and China, I had the opportunity to meet many hundreds if not thousands of people in the course of doing my job, which was developing a market for our products in the semiconductor manufacturing industry. I never met anyone who held the attitude of Chinese Americans, they were just different. Even the ones who were very nationalistic were very different. I personally ran into no fenqing in China. The attitudes I did run into were realistic and fatalistic. The fatalism surprised me because I thought people would be more optimistic about the future, but I picked up a feeling of ‘what could go wrong’ more than ‘what could go right’, and I got that from some of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known who were successful in their careers. But that’s an entirely different topic.

July 12, 2011 @ 10:54 pm | Comment

One thing struck me about the WSJ article.

Human Rights/Free Speech: In this area, our American view is that China has a ton of work to do. Their view is that we are nuts for not blocking pornography and antigovernment points-of-view from our youth and citizens.

So what’s the implication here – that the author is in favour of censorship of anti-government views? Well wouldn’t that extend to Herbold’s WSJ article? Either you have freedom of speech or you don’t.

July 13, 2011 @ 2:00 am | Comment

No one who has ever passed a history class would classify Chinese nationalism as paranoia – few rising powers have ever been tolerated.

July 13, 2011 @ 9:31 am | Comment

Maybe so. But those people who rant on and on about a vast media conspiracy against China are certifiably paranoid.

July 13, 2011 @ 9:47 am | Comment

[...] 北京烤鸭:江泽民和“西方媒体偏见”——从一篇博客看愤青对西方的有意误读 [...]

July 13, 2011 @ 12:31 pm | Pingback

“No one who has ever passed a history class would classify Chinese nationalism as paranoia”

That depends who is giving the class.

“few rising powers have ever been tolerated.”

I can name at least two rising powers that were shown quite excessive tolerance.

July 13, 2011 @ 1:28 pm | Comment

Enjoyable and educational thread to read. PK: getting its mojo back.

July 13, 2011 @ 3:18 pm | Comment

If China’s rise isn’t tolerated, I’m wondering which sinister schemes are going to stop it. So far, I haven’t seen substantial efforts to that end.

July 13, 2011 @ 4:49 pm | Comment

If China’s rise isn’t tolerated, I’m wondering which sinister schemes are going to stop it. So far, I haven’t seen too many efforts to such an end.

July 13, 2011 @ 4:50 pm | Comment

With all those rumours flying around, you’d think someone would set up a Chinese answer to the urban myth-busting website Snopes.com. However, I doubt this would never get off the ground because it would inevitably challenge many of the myths that Party rule is based upon.

July 14, 2011 @ 6:25 pm | Comment

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