Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Foreign Press' Coverage of China

Is the western media anti-China? A lot of Chinese people think so.

An editorial from Timothy Garton Ash in the Los Angeles Times does a nice job discussing whether there is any truth to this idea:

Photo found on

In China, there is a widespread belief that Western media give a distorted picture of what's happening there. There's some truth in this, but it's not for the reasons that Chinese Communist Party members or nationalist "netizens" imagine.


However, this slant is not because of "anti-China" policy or prejudice. Hard as it may be for many Chinese to believe -- because their own media reflect the policy of their party-state -- Western governments have almost nothing to do with it. The cause lies in the West's commercial news business, which is going through one of those "gales of creative destruction" that Joseph Schumpeter saw to be characteristic of capitalism.

As they compete fiercely for readers and viewers, mainstream Western media tend to stick with stories that are familiar and interesting to them.


Yes, their news stories on China's domestic politics tend to the sensational and the negative -- so do their stories about the domestic politics of their own countries. Those who edit and select these stories are just following the market-oriented rules of their trade: If it bleeds, it leads. Good news is no news. "Many Chinese city-dwellers moderately content with rising standard of living" is not a headline that would sell many papers.

The real problem with China coverage in the mainstream Western media is not its negativity; it's simply that there's too little of it, given the growing importance of China and the fact that Chinese culture and society is so different from ours.

Read the entire article
As you could guess from the frequency that I update this blog, I'm a hardcore China news junkie. I'm fascinated with China and what goes on in the country on a daily basis. There is no other country on the planet that has as many contradictions and nuances as China. It's really a joy for me to try to figure the place out.

One of the strange things about my China blog is that I rarely quote Chinese news sources. Nearly everything on here is from western media outlets. As an outsider, I'm using outsiders' writings on China to get to the heart of what is China. It's very strange.

The reason I can't quote Chinese newspapers very often is, of course, because of China's state-run media. Everything it prints comes with approval from above. Aside from not getting the important stories in the country, Chinese news outlets are mind-numbingly boring.

So it's just a fact of life that my reading of China on a daily basis and what I present on my blog (aside from the perspective I share based on my day-to-day life in Xi'an) depends on good journalism from western media outlets.

Overall, I'm pleased with the China news available. Agencies like Reuters, AFP, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Bloomberg, and a few others are getting a good pulse on China.

In a country as large and populated as China, there are going to be stories missed and mistakes made. Undoubtedly, China is a hard place to cover. But when I compare what I read from these sources to what I see and hear "on the ground" in Xi'an, I feel like there is a solid connection between reality and the things said about China in the western media. These outlets are doing well.

I'm worried about the current collapse of newspapers and the news industry though.

Bill Simmons, a wildly popular columnist from ESPN, has been talking about the death of newspapers a lot recently in his columns and on his podcasts. He's talked a lot about newspapers' problems in terms of sports coverage, but I believe what he's been talking about goes deeper than just sports coverage.

He has a nice section in his column from today about the mysterious end to Boston Celtics' forward Kevin Garnett's season:

There's a hidden sub-story lurking here: It involves the fall of newspapers, lack of access and the future of reporting, not just with sports but with everything. I grew up reading Bob Ryan, who covered the Celtics for the Boston Globe and remains the best basketball writer alive to this day. Back in the 1970s and early '80s, he was overqualified to cover the team. In 1980, he would have sniffed out the B.S. signs of this KG story, kept pursuing it, kept writing about it, kept working connections and eventually broken it. True, today's reporters don't get the same access Ryan had, but let's face it: If 1980 Bob Ryan was covering the Celtics right now, ESPN or someone else would lure him away. And that goes for the editors, too. The last two sports editors during the glory years of the Globe's sports section were Vince Doria and Don Skwar ... both of whom currently work for ESPN.

For the past few years, as newspapers got slowly crushed by myriad factors, a phalanx of top writers and editors fled for the greener pastures of the Internet. The quality of nearly every paper suffered, as did morale. Just two weeks ago, reports surfaced that the New York Times Company (which owns the Globe) was demanding $20 million in union concessions or it'd shut down the Globe completely. I grew up dreaming of writing a sports column for the Globe; now the paper might be gone before I turn 40. It's inconceivable. But this Garnett story, and how it was (and wasn't) covered, reminds me of "The Wire," which laid out a blueprint in Season 5 for the death of newspapers without us fully realizing it. The season revolved around the Baltimore Sun and its inability (because of budget cuts and an inexperienced staff) to cover the city's decaying infrastructure. The lesson was inherent: We need to start caring about the decline of newspapers, because, really, all hell is going to break loose if we don't have reporters breaking stories, sniffing out corruption, seeing through smoke and mirrors and everything else. That was how Season 5 played out, and that's why "Wire" creator David Simon is a genius. He saw everything coming before anyone else did.

Read the entire article

Informed people need quality journalism. China, which is covered domestically by state-run media, needs stories and information flowing out of the country from the foreign press.

If quality journalism starts fading away, the world as a whole is going to be a much more dangerous place.


pug ster said...

I totally disagree with you. The problem with Western Media always mentions in some negative report of China somehow correlates to the Chinese communist government. I have yet very little negative article without either 'communist' or 'government' in it. Many of these social and economic problems are not caused directly by the Chinese government.

The 'self critical' western media doesn't seem to be that critical of their government. How about headlines like 'US government regulations caused failures in banking industry', 'US government created massive unemployment because of its policy,' 'US government failures led to massive home mortgage fraud.' and so on.

pug ster said...

Speaking of 'quality' journalism and why China State Media is so 'boring,' China can run sensationalist, anti-US, propagandist, rhetoric attention grabbing headlines like:

'12 mass killing in Binghamton caused by US control of Guns.' 'Failure in US laws allow assult weapons to roam freely to mexico's drug war.' 'US government failure in drug policy caused breakdown in society.' 'Despite first Africian American president elected, US government fails to deal with Africian American poverty issue.'

And my favorite:

'Budget cuts within US government fails to feed its children.'

If the Chinese State owned Media keeps running these anti-US headlines, what are the chances that the Chinese citizens will buy more newspapers and be more critical of the US?

Thomas said...

Quote: "How about headlines like 'US government regulations caused failures in banking industry', 'US government failures led to massive home mortgage fraud.'"

Isn't that what lots of Americans - both journalists and "private citizens" are saying, though? It's not like America is still in denial regarding those things.

Thomas said...

Quote Mark: "Chinese news outlets are mind-numbingly boring."

Actually, I disagree (a bit):

The quality of China Daily has increased tremendously over the last 5 years or so. At least that's my subjective impression.

Sure, it doesn't compare to the international press, but these days they do run interesting articles, and apart from some "hot potato" topics, they can also be critical. Well, sometimes.

pug ster said...

Actually the media blames the bank failures on themselves. You probably read the complains by Americans about banks receiving bones giving out bonus money, if ever. You rarely see stories about about bank deregulation and the government failed to monitor the banks which caused the problem. That's what media bias comes in. This story could've been rehashed the 10 different ways. Besides blaming on the banks or the government, the story could've blamed on some of its citizens on irresponsible borrowing. That's why it is called media bias or propaganda.

Mark said...

Calm down, Pugster.

Your ideas of what the western media write about China are way off. How about you look at my blog a bit and see the articles that I've featured on here over the past few months. They're not all hit pieces.

And you don't think that the US media is writing negative headlines about the financial crisis and its people, its government, or its banks? Well, then you're an idiot.

If you want to read critical articles about the financial crisis, go over to

pug ster said...

Mark, tell me why of my idea of how western media write about is way off.

I can tell you otherwise:
Blame on China's one child policy.
"China growth slowest on record" says it all
Suggests that the communist party chief was responsible for this problem.
First sentence: "The head of China's Rubber-Stamp parliament."
Bibles & government, need me to say more?

Either I am really an idiot or maybe it is propaganda at work here.

Mark said...

I'm not going to get into an argument about every one of the articles written on China in the western media.

Like I said, look at the the news' posts on my blog and you can see that there are a plethora of articles on China that don't take the low road.

By the way, you prove your point with quite a diversity of sources - MSNBC, MSNBC, MSNBC, MSNBC, and MSNBC.

Sometimes when negative things are written about a person or an organization, that person or organization actually deserves to have those bad things written about them. You can't say that every negative article is propaganda or an unjustified attack.

And I didn't call you an idiot for thinking that the western media writes negative news about China. I called you an idiot for thinking that the western media doesn't write negative articles about America's irresponsible government, its irresponsible citizens, and its irresponsible banks.

The fact that you said the following:

You rarely see stories about about bank deregulation and the government failed to monitor the banks which caused the problem.proves that you have not been paying very good attention to the western media at all. Those stories have been everywhere in the US media.

In the West, the media can actually write critical stories like these. A big difference between the West and China.

Thomas said...

Quote Pugster: "Either I am really an idiot or maybe it is propaganda at work he"

Sorry, but if those are the only two choice, then you clearly are an idiot.

Mark already said it all, but after reading the links you offer as "proof", I have to add my two cents:

Have you actually bothered to read the second article you quoted (about low GDP growth)?

If yes, would you care elaborating what you consider to be the "China government bashing" element of this article?

The way it reads to me, this same article could just as well be carried by China Daily.

Mark said...

Thanks for helping me out on this one, Thomas.

I shouldn't have called Pugster an "idiot" though. I'm really trying to cut down on my abusive and patronizing language. So for that, Pugster, I apologize.

Thomas, I actually picked up a China Daily the other day for the first time in a long time and can see a bit of the improvement your talking about. The editorials in it are still pretty mind-numbing, but they're at least doing a bit better at writing interesting stories.

Thomas said...

I think the quality varies from article to article. I usually ignore the editorials, though, because I totally agree with you on that count. I suppose they somehow have to fulfill their "propaganda quota".

Have you read "Out of Mao's Shadow", by Philip Pan? There's an interesting chapter about a comparatively critical Guangdong Paper, the Southern Metropolis Daily, and how the kept trying to do critical and investigative reporting, and what happened to them when they went to far.

pug ster said...

First of all, I pulled off the stuff from msnbc because they usually have 'original' news articles where most of the articles from cbsnews, foxnews, and abcnews are usually rehashed AP stuff.
Some guy got beaten up for honoring Zao Ziyang.
Talk about Chinese hacking somehow linked to the Chinese government.

Second, I am talking about western Media and not Chinese media like happy news Chinadaily. I know that there's problems in Chinese media that is much different from Western Media. But I rather focus the issues on the Western Media that you talked about.

Sometimes when negative things are written about a person or an organization, that person or organization actually deserves to have those bad things written about them. You can't say that every negative article is propaganda or an unjustified attack.I think what you said is what essentially propaganda is. It doesn't matter if it is true or not or if they deserve it or not. But propaganda is essentially hitting the same theme over and over again to reinforce their message. According to Wikipedia, here's a quote on what propaganda is.

Propaganda is also one of the methods used in psychological warfare, which may also involve false flag operations. The term propaganda may also refer to false information meant to reinforce the mindsets of people who already believe as the propagandist wishes. The assumption is that, if people believe something false, they will constantly be assailed by doubts. Since these doubts are unpleasant (see cognitive dissonance), people will be eager to have them extinguished, and are therefore receptive to the reassurances of those in power. For this reason propaganda is often addressed to people who are already sympathetic to the agenda. This process of reinforcement uses an individual's predisposition to self-select "agreeable" information sources as a mechanism for maintaining control.In any case, I think your need to call me an 'idiot' is because it seems to me that you have an 'I'm right you're wrong' attitude. Somehow in your need to convince me that I'm wrong, you somehow have to call me an idiot. I'm used to that and I rather keep my personal opinion about both of you to myself because it seems to me that both of you can't 'respectfully disagree' on something. Despite that both of you provided these 'facts,' at the end of the day, I doubt that I will be convinced and neither will you, so let's keep it that way.

Unknown said...

Mark - Just admit it. The reason you ONLY use Western media is because you can't read Chinese.

Plain and simple. Don't try to make a virtue out of your weakness.

Vrani said...

"As an outsider, I'm using outsiders' writings on China to get to the heart of what is China. It's very strange..."

If you keep getting 100-plus hits a day and pi**ing people off like this, you won't be an outsider for long!

Mark said...

No Pugster, you haven't convinced me. And I understand that I'm not going to convince you in a blog post's comments section.

What I meant about negative articles being deserved sometimes is that if someone or some organization does something wrong, there will a negative article written about that person or entity.

Not all negative news stories are propaganda or hit pieces.

But considering what China often regards and doesn't regard as "news," I can see why Chinese people have trouble understanding this.

And dzere... whatever. I gave a pretty long explanation of why I like reading western news sources for China news.

Despite studying characters, true, I can't read a newspaper.

But as I've been saying, a lot of the stories that I'm going to find interesting aren't going to be written in Chinese newspapers.

Sure, that kind of stuff might be on China blogs. But I don't use blogs (western or Chinese) as primary sources of information on here.

Mark said...

After this lengthy combative discussion, it's probably time to bust this classic out.

Thomas said...


So what you are saying is: The Western media should not report bad things about China even if they are try, and even if the criticism has merit (is "deserved")? Or it should be careful only to report such news in moderate dosage?

Anyway: My reaction to your examples was triggered by the article about China's GDP growth.

I'm an economist. I read business news all the time, both China-related and otherwise. And in my very humble opinion, there is nothing unusual about this particular article. Of course China's GDP growth gets reported by the Western press. Just like Germany's, the UK's, Japan's, etc. What do you want the media to do? Not report it?

And as I already said, I'm quite sure that Xinhua would have no problem posting this same article on its website. Nothing offensive in there. How can it be "anti-Chinese propaganda", if it is worded in a way that China's own media wouldn't consider offensive?

Thomas said...


Sorry in case you wanted to close the discussion with your last post. But I am curious about Pugster's explanation regarding this particular piece of propaganda.

pug ster said...


What I see is that many of these stories are critical of Chinese government as many of these stories point out. Have you ever heard stories that is critical of democratic governments, not in the Western Countries, but in poorer countries like in some Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Bolivia? No. Many of these countries have the similiar social, economic, and environmental problems as China but their government failed to address these issues.

pug ster said...

As I said, I don't see a problem posting negative stories in China, but the problem the Western Media portrays China's problems to the government. The poison Milk Powder scandal was caused a company which used melamine because they think they can cheat the system. In contrast, the Salmonella peanut butter scare in the US was caused by the FDA failing to go after the company which is known to produce tainted products. How about the incident with Chinese hackers going after the US electrical grid? The Western media suggest these Hackers work for the government yet most of the time these hackers do this for economic reasons. There's numerous other examples but I don't want to go into detail.

Mark said...

It's OK Thomas, you guys can keep going with this. This is already the most commented on post I've ever had on my blog, so go ahead and set a high record if you like.

I'm going to try to refrain as much as possible, but I have to chime in on the claim that the western media is never critical of democratic governments.

That is just so off-base.

Type into Google News any country you like plus the word "government" and you are going to see articles critical of these governments.

I just tried it with the first country on your list: Thailand. What articles were in the first couple pages?

- Impotent Thailand Government Allows Anarchy
- Thailand Humiliated
- THAILAND: With Censorship, Thais Turn to Websites and Foreign Media

I didn't bother reading these articles, but, uhhh, they seem to refute this statement from Pugster:

Have you ever heard stories that is critical of democratic governments, not in the Western Countries, but in poorer countries like in some Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, Bolivia? No.It's also worth noting, Pugster, that Mexico and Bolivia are in the western hemisphere. That would, by my definition, make them western countries.

pug ster said...

Gee, where do you get those sources from? ipsnews and associated content from some Thai writer? That's hardly 'mainstream media.' I might as quote how Great China is from Chinadaily.

owltoucan said...

From today's news:

Guardian: Children in care: how Britain is failing

Times: Billions 'wasted' on education in Scotland

Telegraph: Britain's middle classes 'face stealth tax'
Britain's middle classes face a stealth tax due to the Government's failure to increase the income tax bands in line with inflation, accountants have said.

New York Times: Waterboarding Used 266 Times on 2 Suspects

Liberation (France):Joffrin: «J'attends les excuses de l'Elysée»
[I'm waiting for excuses from the Elysee (Government)]

etc... etc... Pugster needs to realise that in countries where newspapers are allowed to publish whatever stories they want, people are very interested in hearing about the bad things their governments and other governments do.

Good news is no news...

owltoucan said...

and indeed... this is the very useful role which a free press plays in a modern society. It plays a critical and supervisory role over government so that government can't get away with doing bad things.

Without this check on its power, what is there to stop governments from doing whatever they want and getting away with it. That is the benefit of a free press.

pug ster said...


I see several issues on your debate. 1) I am talking about how Western Media blames many of social, economic, environmental problems on the Chinese government when sometimes it is not entirely their fault. 2) The examples that you gave is how the its own Media writes about its failures of domestic policies. But as I mentioned that China Media has never wrote anti-western stories unless it is already mentioned in some foreign media already. 3) Most of all, I am also mentioning that problems in Western Media never have been critical of poorer democratic countries like Mexico, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

owltoucan said...

Ok, let's all be calm here and debate the issues like adults - we can assume that none of us has any anger towards China or the West, and we can all think carefully and rationally.

1) The Western Media certainly often paints an unfair picture of China. It over-emphasises the faults, ignores the good points and generally provides very simplistic news coverage of China.

I'm not saying that the negative points covered in western news are all made up - China, like every other country, especially as a huge, fast-developing country - has many problems. To say that there are no problems is unhelpful and even unpatriotic - if you follow the true meaning of patriotism. If you truly want your country to be a good place, you should try to find its problems so they can be solved. If you just blindly support things because you think you are supporting China then you are actually causing great harm to your country.

It is important to understand why the Western media paints this kind of picture. As i understand it, there are several reasons:

1) Some news agencies do have an ideological bias against China, for example Fox news, run by Rupert Murdoch. These are mostly politically expedient views which appeal to the viewership of these media outlets - China is taking our jobs. China is taking over american superpower etc. However, this category is the smallest category. Also, it is not controlled by western governments trying to bring China down - it is a simple product of market capitalism - there are people who want to read this stuff, so it is worth creating a product they will buy.

2) Category 2 covers the vast majority of western news agencies. These news agencies want to print stories that are interesting to their readership. Interesting stories sell newspapers. To create an interesting story, you usually have to find bad, surprising news. People are not interested in hearing normal positive news. When you watch TV in China or read newspapers you will often hear/read things like "Hu Jintao visited Mexico and confirmed that China has good relations with Mexico and will work together with Mexico." You never hear this kind of things in western news because... it is not news. No one is interested in hearing about the normal workings of government. Western media seeks to find the problems with government that will surprise people, anger them, and make them want to buy newspapers.

This has two benefits: a. Newspapers make money b. Problems with society and government are revealed, forcing government to try to change them. This is how a free press can help society to improve.

So yes, point 1 is correct. Western media provides a one-sided view of the Chinese government. However, western media also undeniably provides a one-sided view of Western governments and western societies - because that's what people want to read, and that is the news which is most effective in forcing governments to improve things. Don't you think it could be good if Chinese reporters could go out and do real investigations and find examples of corruption, crime, etc. which could be revealed and fixed? In the West these kind of investigations have led to thousands of corrupt businessmen being revealed, thousands of corrupt politicians, even American presidents have been brought down when the media has exposed what they did wrong (Nixon for example). Isn't this a good thing? Or do you think it's better that bad people can get away with doing bad things because no one is watching them. If a government is working hard for the people, why would they be worried about being monitored properly by the people?

Point 2) China has never written anti-western stories. This is because the Chinese media is controlled by the state, which has a policy of not wanting to offend foreign country governments. Also, if you encourage reporters to start investigating negative stories in foreign countries, maybe they will start looking for them at home.

3) The western media is regularly critical of poorer democratic countries like the ones you mentioned. If you do a google news search you will find negative articles about all of these countries. If the number of articles is not large, it is because the majority of people are not interested in reading about these countries, which they don't consider too important. China on the other hand is important. It is a big country which is potentially developing in a different, non-democratic direction to the western world. This is interesting news and people want to hear about it - in comparison the Philippines are irrelevant.

In summary, the reasons for the bias you talk about are much more complicated than most people think. They are not the result of some evil plan against China, but they do represent ignorance and misunderstanding. However, there is also ignorance and misunderstanding from the Chinese side, and it is important for us to all realise that we know less than we think we know. Only then can we work hard to understand other people and their points of view.

Mark said...

Excellent post, Owltoucan.

You covered all of the bases and got across, with much more coherence and clarity, what I was trying to say.

Thank you for putting the effort into such a well-thought-out response.

pug ster said...


Thanks for replying.

1) Yes there is certainly much bias over what kind of stories that is running over in the US. To take another example there is much uproar of what Jackie Chan's quote of 'Chinese needs to be control' quote. Of course, you have to understand Chinese in order to understand what it really means.

As I said, personally we do need a more critical Chinese press to root out corruption and other social problems. Even in the US press, the news organizations was urged to stop running so much depressing news about the economy and started running positive ones. However, it must come from within China and not from some Western countries, especially if it is unsubstantiated.

I believe you are wrong about US being critical of foreign media. I recall that during the months leading to the Iraqi war when France was trying to derail the effort and in turn US make jokes about France like renaming French Fries to Freedom Fries. And yes there's some invisible government organization which tells what they can print and can't print.

2) I agree with your assessment.

3) The reason why I mentioned the poorer Democratic countries like Mexico, Philipines, indonesia, Malaysia, India and so forth is that Chinese communist government was blamed for the social ills of China. Many of these poorer countries have similiar problems like human trafficking, corruption, environment, gaps between rich and poor, and so on and China's communism certainly can't be totally blamed on those issues because they are also present in democratic countries also. I also complained that western countries failed to complain how any weakness or failures due to democracy.

Thomas said...


parts of your post are a little hard to follow:

Can you elaborate what you want to tell us regarding France and the Freemdom Fries? That the American press also at times criticizes democratic countries?

As for the Bureau of International Information Programs: What is your point? Are you saying these guys control the American press?

And regarding the "poor Democratic countries":

I noticed you already took Thailand off the list. So I suppose you acknowledge that of late, the Western press has been much more critical of Thai politics than it usually is of Chinese politics. I don't know about the US, but in Germany and the UK, Thai politics has been front-page news many times over the last 6 months or so, and it certainly wasn't flattering in the least.

As for "democratic Malaysia": You are presumably aware that Mahatir had his main rival Anwar Ibrahim arrested on trumped-up charges, and he was badly mistreated in prison. And just a few weeks ago, the incoming head of government was linked to the murder of a Mongolian woman because she threatened to expose his role in a bribery scandal. Not to mention the various reports about Malaysia's religious police going overboard and arresting couples kissing in public places. All of which reported and criticized in the Western press, no?

And then there's India. Are you trying to say that the Western press never writes critical stuff about India? That it doesn't mention how corrupt Indian politicians are, that many of them are crooks and criminals?

pug ster said...


The Freedom Fries thing is about US wary of being criticized by other countries, not about democracy.

Speaking of democracy. I think we are brainwashed at the notion of why democracy is so great and why evils communist is at the opposite end of the axis. Freedom of religion certainly didn't apply to countries like India and what you mentioned Malaysia. Freedom of press was restricted during the riots at Thailand recently and about displaying flagged drapped coffins in the US. Human trafficking and child exploitation is happening in Philippines and Thailand. Human rights issues is happening in many of these poorer Democratic countries. Unemployment and standard of living in many of these democratic countries are certainly worse than China.

If Chinese government is blamed on many of the ills of the Chinese society. From what I wrote about, democracy does not fix these social problems. It only guarantees the right to vote. But sometimes your choice is voting for corrupt official A and corrupt official B and none of them will address the social problems that it has within the society. This is what the Western Press has been trying to hide. Blame it on corrupt officals, blame it on poverty, but Western Media don't want to blame it on democracy's failings.

This is what China's communist party brings, trying to address these social issues and it has largely delivered them. Are there bumps on along the road doing so, absolutely. I think the problem with democracy is that they are trying to please everyone, but ended up pleasing no one. Not alot of people want tax increases and decreasing on their benefits. As a result, we borrow money so that our sons and daughters will have to pay for it. We want to limit gun violence but we don't want to take guns away from people, meanwhile people blow each other brains off and America's guns fueling Mexico's drug war. We want to reduce the dependence on foreign oil yet we are not making it expensive for people to own a car. This is the beginning of the sunset for America's democracy while China rises. This is what the Western Media is not telling you and I find it disgusting.

owltoucan said...

Ok, so pug ster, you've now moved on from the question of press freedom it seems to democracy. These topics are interlinked it's true, but you didn't really account for the inconsistencies in your argument about a free press. Anyway, on to democracy...

You are right, democracy does not necessarily equal happiness, stability, growth, etc. A country's political system is the result of hundreds, and often thousands of years of struggles, power battles, sacrifices, wars, etc. You cannot just impose a political system on a country and wait for it to work. This is the same for democracy as for any other political system. No one (who is sensible) is saying that if China somehow suddenly introduced democracy, it would solve China's problems. Democracy needs to grow up over a long time, and needs to be accompanied by many other social institutions (like a free press, civil society, etc.) before it can succeed.

However, your criticisms of democracy aren't really fair. You say that with democracy, the choice is often between corrupt official A and corrupt official B. In fact, in mature democracies (I mean where democracy has not been forced on a country as a result of war, colonialism etc.) and where checks and balances such as a free press, civil society groups who monitor government, etc., have developed over time, levels of corruption are far, yes FAR lower than in China. When politicians are seriously corrupt in a mature democracy, they run the very real risk of being discovered. This is not the case in China.

Of course corruption exists in western democracies, but it is smaller by several orders of magnitude than in China. I know people who are Chinese government officials who literally claim EVERYTHING on expenses (baoxiao). Plane tickets, clothes, rent, even cars. This is normal for officials in China. It is not normal for officials in the West and when it does happen it is often exposed.

Take for example the MP funding scandals which have been unfolding recently in the UK. These have all been revealed by the UK press, and the expense excesses are far less significant than they are in China.

So, while China has achieved stunning growth (this is impressive, but not surprising given that China started from a very low level of per capita GDP, has a lot of people, switched to free market capitalism, has been feeding American consumerism, etc.), it has not achieved stunning levels of efficiency. Wastage in the system goes unseen and the people who are the victims of it have no way to 'feedback' through voting offending officials out of power. The major problem with the Chinese system is that a complex society is too hard to deal with unless you have some kind of system whereby problems can be reported efficiently to those who can make decisions and provide them with motivation to change things. Democracy provides this mechanism - if you don't keep your constituents happy, you get voted out - what greater motivation is there - if you fail to serve people, you lose your job.

You say that this is the beginning of the sunset for American democracy, and the start of the rise of China. In fact, China has developed impressively economically, but politically, it still has a long way to go. Even economically, remember that Chinese GDP per capita is $5000 per capita while US GDP per capita is over $45,000 dollars. China will almost certainly become the world's largest economy in the next few decades, but it has 1 billion people more than the US, so this is hardly surprising.

While democracy has many problems, it also has many benefits, which are often ignored by the Chinese media. The Chinese media portrays democracy as a simplistic, idealistic form of government, which would not work in China. In fact, it is an extremely clever form of government, which allows those who are governed to provide information to those governing, and motivate them to do their job.

In summary, I would say, don't get too confident too quickly.

Thomas said...


In your last post, you refer to Americans as "we". Does that mean you are a US citizen? If so, would you prefer for America to emulate the Chinese model?

owltoucan said...

This is a good article on perceived bias in western media:

pug ster said...


Now you are talking about the theoretical and realistic applications of democracy and communism. Check out the Corruption Perception index...

Some of the countries in the top 20 are NOT democratic countries like Hong Kong and Singapore. These 2 authoritarian countries are less corrupt than in the US. While you are talking about corruption in China, China (72) is less corrupt than Thailand (80), India (85), Philippines (141), even the cruel 'dictatorship' under Castro's Cuba (62) is less corrupt than the other countries mentioned. A corruption free government are as good as the people who are running it, and while democracy is an idealistically way to a corruption free government, it is not the only way. Am I saying that there is no corruption in China, of course not. There's alot of corruption in China and many people wish that the government do something about it. It is not to say that the government does nothing because there's many government officials that is being put in jail, demoted, kicked out from the CCP or even being executed for taking too much bribes.

I meant what I said "beginning of the sunset' for American Democracy. Sunset is not coming today, tomorrow, or 10 years from now. China has been becoming more influential economically and politically around the world. And yes, Thomas I think that the US should take a look at the China model and maybe even follow a few hints otherwise US as a political and economic influence will surely wane in the next few decades if they don't.

owltoucan said...

Firstly, let's remind ourselves that Transparency International's Corruption Index has a list of problems as long as your arm. It is relatively subjective and uses proxies like levels of foreign investment in a country (which will have increased China's ranking significantly) to determine how corrupt a country is.

If we do accept this ranking as being accurate, it doesn't help your argument at all. Of the top 50 countries in your list, only 6 countries are not formally democracies. These are:

Hong Kong, Macau, Bhutan, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain.

Firstly, Hong Kong and Macau are not countries, but let's pretend they are. The last time I checked, Hong Kong had leadership elections, a free press, freedom of assembly etc. In effect, Hong Kong is a democracy. Macau is the same.

UAE, Qatar, Bahrain. I have no idea why these are ranked so high, but I would question this ranking. Any ideas anyone?

Bhutan is a Himalayan kingdom, largely untouched by the outside world and with a strong religious government. It's not exactly a good example to prove anything.

Singapore, which you stated as an example of a non-democratic country with low corruption IS a democracy. See wikipedia: Singapore IS a democracy. See wikipedia:

Of the bottom 50 countries in the list, NONE are well developed democracies. Many have dictators or autocratic systems of government. Of those which are nominally democratic many are failed states, some have had "democracy" forced on them through American invasion, some just use democracy as a front for what is basically dictatorship. If anything, this list is a demonstration of the fact that well developed democracy is the best form of government.

Another point: I'm not saying that the Chinese government wants to promote or accept corruption. I'm well aware that officials are regularly jailed or executed for corruption, but in reality, this is the tip of the iceberg. Furthermore, these people often get caught because they haven't paid off the right people.

The real problem is that given China's political system, it is impossible to stamp out corruption, because it's impossible to monitor such a huge and complicated system. This is where democracy and a free press come in. The people monitor the government through the press and then they have the power to remove officials who are found to be corrupt. This is the main reason why the VAST majority of those countries at the top of your scale are democracies.

Thomas said...

The problem with comparing "democracies" and "non-democracies" is that there are all sorts of different variations, and no two democracies are the same, just as no two non-democracies are the same.

Take Singapore: It may like to call itself a democracy. But nobody with any knowledge of the country agrees. Singapore has no free press. It has no free independent judiciary. And while it does hold multi-party elections, it treats opposition parties in a way that is totally ridiculous. It also makes sure in all sorts of ways that the opposition parties never achieve more than a symbolic representation in parliament (and just about every high-profile opposition politician has been bankrupted by trumped-up lawsuits, thus disqualifying him from running for office). Great democracy indeed.

Thomas said...

Singapore is interesting in this context also because China likes to use it as a kind of role model.

Its economic success has certainly been impressive. But everyone who has Singaporean friends and knows them well enough to talk freely (politics is always a tricky subject) can testify that below the surface, many people would prefer a somewhat different approach. They would prefer a government that does allow a free press, that allows them more direct say in how they are governed, that doesn't treat them like children that need to be looked out for by a paternalistic government. They won't actively fight for it, because all in all, the government has done a good job, and it's not exactly an oppressive regime as long as you as you stay out of politics. Still, they would appreciate it if LKY and his son allowed them to live in a system that was just a bit more... democratic.

owltoucan said...

I fully accept that. But I don't think it seriously affects the argument I was making in my last post.

pug ster said...


What you mentioned about Singapore is what most experts conclude about China, that while China is a communist government by name but it is becoming more like an authoritarian government by nature.

Speaking of free press in China, during the last 30 years of reform in the first 8 years, there was certainly alot of free press in China where the past government policies are openly criticized, like the cultural revolution, maoism, and such. Which leads me to why the Tienanmen square incident happened in the first place.

Western Media wants to make it short and sweet by telling us of how China cracked down a democratic movement, but it is only half of the story. Many of the workers are protesting because they effects of the collapse of the socialist system like the iron rice bowl and guaranteed lifetime job. Intellectuals who had considered themselves a privileged class, a good education no longer guarantees a good job because China is trying to promote entrepreneurism. It is not to say that China does actually have problems of its own like rampant corruption, spiraling inflation and uneven distribution of wealth that many Chinese are fed up with. Although the students want 'democracy,' but their demands are not of a democratic nature, but they want changes in the government to be more fair.

Despite that the Tiananmen square protests came to a sad ending, its efforts was not a total waste. Over the years they did clamp down on corruption to a certain point and inflation was controlled. Unlike most western democracies, China's government is ever changing and evolving, and hopefully for the better.

pug ster said...

errr I should have said that during the 30 years of reform, there's was alot of freedom of press in the first 8 years, and not the last.

notesfromxian said...

I, in essence, agree with your very first comment Pugster, that Western News Agencies are two quick to give a lot of China related news a Communist Party, Authoritarian, Military twist. Although, as Mark points out, there are a plethora of stories that do not take that route, there are still too many that seemingly do so, and without justification. Owltucan offers the reasoning behind it, in his third post, where he mentions Fox News and how they offer the sensationalist and nationalistic headlines and stories that the masses desire. My concern is that these stories actually crop up across the media spectrum and prejudice an audience, quite often without justification, that I find very dis-heartening and dangerous. OT goes on to say: ‘Interesting stories sell newspapers. To create an interesting story, you usually have to find bad, surprising news. People are not interested in hearing normal positive news. When you watch TV in China or read newspapers you will often hear/read things like "Hu Jintao visited Mexico and confirmed that China has good relations with Mexico and will work together with Mexico." You never hear this kind of things in western news because... it is not news. No one is interested in hearing about the normal workings of government.’

First, Pugster is a little too quick to make sweeping generalizations, I understand that, and OT has attempted to give him a more nuanced perspective. However, I do not believe that the calling from the market-what the people want- is justification for the biased, mis-leading, often prejudicial media that can exist in the West. OT, I know you are not saying it is. In that sense, one mis-leading story is too many, and Pugster and others like him, or her, have every justification to get a little irate, and it is actually understandable why they sometimes go a little far in their interpretation. This mere fact that it can make people feel so violated is an indictment of our own media and more importantly society, and in my opinion is very worrying. Particularly so, with regard to China’s growing role in the world and many of our own nations growing weakness, and the consequential interpretation of these news stories in the minds of the masses. (I am fully aware that terms such as the West, Western or the masses have no subtlety as terms but they will do for now)

Secondly, with regard to OT’s view that good news is not news, again what a terribly sad indictment of our societies, if only negative, sensational, critical issues are news. I was chatting with a friend here in China recently and we were discussing how much we both enjoyed the simplicity, the innocence and the heartfelt honesty, whether of word or emotion, of many Chinese people. I absolutely disagree that good news is not news, it is just not true, even if it is in Britain or America, and even if news media outlets do of course need to keep tabs on the government. As you also added OT: ‘it is important for us to all realize that we know less than we think we know. Only then can we work hard to understand other people and their points of view.’

I think we, the Western we, have got to go a lot further in realizing we know less than we think we know. As our societies fragment ever further, with less and less funding going to places that desperately need it and with other countries around the world becoming more and more competitive, I believe our media and our governments need to think a little bit more carefully and thoughtfully about how they regulate each other, and thus our societies, and our societies views of themselves and of the ‘other’.

pug ster said...


You did bring up a very important point about US and in somewhat in Western Media is mostly fear driven in its message. Fear of communism, fear of terrorism, fear of China, fear of peanut products a month ago, fear of pistachios. Because of this fear, people make irrational decisions. The government exploits this fear when Bush feared us to attack Iraq or we will be attacked with a nuclear bomb. And this fear affects of what we perceive China, unfortunately in a negative way.

owltoucan said...

Firstly, pug ster, your responses are jumping around all over the place. Would you be able to address the responses to the points you actually made originally before jumping on to a random new subject from the "why China is angry with the West" umbrella? We've had free press, democracy, now tiananmen square - you haven't actually come up with any productive suggestions on how any of these problems you see can realistically be solved.

NFXA, you are right - UNFAIR negative news coverage of China IS an indictment of our society. Therefore we have to carefully analyse what we think of our system - is it a good system? Why do these things happen? Is there some simple way we can solve this problem? I would argue that while the 'Western' system is by no means perfect, it is the best system that has been found so far.

If we want a free press and all the enormous benefits that go with it, we have to accept that there will sometimes be problems such as unfair reporting. We can work to change this through advocacy campaigns, organisations which work for greater understanding between countries, media monitoring organisations, etc., but to advocate for greater government control of the media is VERY dangerous.

Furthermore, it isn't clear how further government regulation of the media would lead to an improvement in the situation. How do you know that the government wants to paint a positive view of China? It is often in a government's interest to direct its citizens' anger away from itself and towards other countries. Indeed, contrary to what pug ster has said, Chinese media regularly paints a biased and unfair picture of other countries. We see thousands of stories detailing the negative aspects of democracy for example, but rarely do we see an example of how it has solved a problem - so much for Chinese media only reporting good news.

To address NFXA's next point, I also agree that good news is news. However, what I'm saying is that a very useful role of the media is to uncover surprising, 'new' things, not to just give a running commentary on the mundane workings of government (such as my Mexican leaders example). I would argue that surprising/new positive news is reported in the western media, although I would say that the most USEFUL role of a free press is to monitor government and uncover the negative things which people in government try to do.

I also fully agree that we need to change the ways we consider our own societies and other societies, but it's easy to say this. Of course this is important and a positive thing. But how do you actually propose we do this? To say government needs to provide more regulation is a bit of a hazy solution. If you're saying government needs to actively control what gets reported in the media then I don't think I can agree with you, for the reasons set out above. If that's not what you're saying, then what are you suggesting?

Pugster, with your final message, you are going off track again and making more sweeping generalisations. Firstly, I totally disagree that Western media is 'mostly' driven by fear. As I said above, a small majority of news outlets base their stories on fear. The majority are driven by the will to provide interesting stories. Not many sane people in the west are afraid of communism, indeed anyone who knows anything about China knows that it is probably one of the least communist countries in the world. Do you not find it reasonable that there might be scares about Chinese food imports given the fact that China still lacks an effective food regulatory system, as objectively evidenced by the case of tens of THOUSANDS of children being poisoned by milk powder. How can you be surprised about that?

The reality is that western media plays a very powerful role in monitoring the governments of western countries. However, western media also publishes critical stories on other countries, and that is something which people in China find it hard to accept. Where those stories are inaccurate and poorly researched, I totally agree that they are harmful and it would be better if they weren't printed. However, I can't think of a good way of stopping them from being printed apart from the government taking control of the media - and that's not the kind of society I believe in. Where the stories are accurate and well researched I say fine - no lies are being told, nothing is being fabricated. Why should these stories be ignored just to protect the feelings of people who don't like the feeling of being criticised?

owltoucan said...

@pugster: "Unlike most western democracies, China's government is ever changing and evolving, and hopefully for the better."

The country I come from, the UK, has had basically the same form of government for over 500 years. It is not in need of serious 'evolution' - things work pretty well, and where they don't, they are changed - it is total rubbish to say that western governments just stay the same and don't change - take the house of lords reform in the uk for example.

China has moved from a very totalitarian oppressive political system which did not work properly to a more sophisticated and liberal system - it has evolved because it needed to. It still needs to continue to evolve.

notesfromxian said...

Owltucan, I am no expert on the western media and its regulatory bodies, though I do not accept that mis-representative reporting should be a natural by-product of a free press. But anyway, that is a point for those with greater knowledge and insight into the regulatory bodies involved, or not. I make no excuse for a lack of any detailed answers, I have none, as I believe these issues run so deep into the fabric and nature of our society, that has, as you noted, existed for all these centuries, as well as in the psychology of the western or even human mind.

What I do find intriguing though is your continual return to the role of the media, not as a source of current affairs in all its forms but as the regulator of government. This seems a greater indictment of our societies and in this case our government, our democracy, than anything else. That the media, so outlined above by Garton-Ash, as acting so blatantly on the basis of market principles and appeals to the lowest common denominator, should be our great saviour in terms of holding the government to account. That would be quite amusing if it was not so sad. I have no answers OT but I came to China to get a sense of what is going on here, tt is increasingly throwing a bright light back on my own country and its system.

The media maybe, and I say maybe, would be better to not think of itself as simply the regulator of government but as a key factor in the nature of our society. I don’t just mean one with a free press, but one with horrible atrocities that go on between people, one that has epidemic levels of ill-discipline in classrooms, a culture of shallow superstardom as motivation for a generation and a health service whose range and depth is being reduced by the week. Our media, our government, our economic system, our values are all in play here, but they are not working too well. What is the answer? I do not know. A government and a system we believe in would be a good start, and then it could do the job of governing. One of my professors at University once wrote:
“In my opinion, there is actually a profound tension, even contradiction between democracy (based on the postulate of equal power) and capitalism (which inevitably generates unequal wealth, and therefore also unequal power)...the modern Western polity, contrary to Fukuyama, actually contains a profound internal contradiction.”

Nietzsche once wrote:

“Democracy wants to create and guarantee as much independence as possible: independence of opinion, of mode of life and of employment... the three great enemies of independence... are the indignant [poor], the rich and the parties- I am speaking of democracy as something yet to come”.

Sorry to be a bit general Owltucan, but I do not have the answers. It was good to read your points of view; it has made me think the last couple of days. Now back to life. I wish you well.

pug ster said...


How can these problems can be solved? Even if every CCP offical woke up and supported democracy, problems in china is not going to be solved overnight. Actually, problems is going to magnify because many Western companies don't want to do business in governments which is not considered stable. Unfortunately, protest happy countries are not one of them. Look at Thailand, the although the government got back control, companies who are doing business there are already contemplating of moving their operations out from that country. China is one that country because they would clamp down protests if necessary.

Think about how Korean and Vietnam war started. No direct attack to the US, UK, Australia but somehow there's some kind of fear that communism is spreading. We all think that the those wars are stupid now, but somehow the people at the time are stooped to bring their troops to fight there.

You still blame on the government on the Sanlu milk powder crisis. Melamine was used to fool Chinese government's test to see if there was enough protein in milk powder. So it was mostly Sanlu's fault and not the government.

Your last paragraph of the inaccuracies of how of Western Media is no longer Media based on fact, but based on rumor, making a theme to fit the story and I considered this as propaganda.