By Karen Ye
Editor’s Note: Karen Ye is an international graduate student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, University of Maryland at College Park. She is a native of Chengdu, China, and is writing this article from the perspective of a Chinese national who understands many of the perspectives of both the Chinese government and of many American journalists. The viewpoints expressed in this article are not necessarily her own.
American reporters are viewed by the Chinese government as being biased, often focusing on topics and using facts out of context to depict China unfairly and inaccurately.
As a result, last year, over 20 international journalists were denied an extension of their visas in China.
The White House was upset at the visa denials and argued that American reporters in China should not be restricted.
From the standpoint of the Chinese government, and among many Chinese nationals, here are six commonly held concepts that are simply unknown or misunderstood by many American journalists:
1. Many Chinese, especially the Chinese government, view Tibet, Taiwan, Macau, Xinjiang province, Hong Kong and the area of the South China Seas as “historically inseparable parts of China,” much like California and New York are integral parts of the United States. And some Chinese believe Mongolia would still be part of China if it was not “unfairly taken” by Russia. They thus chafe when American reporters treat them as distinct political entities rather than just regions of China. They view such depictions to be Western interference in their internal affairs.
2. Chinese society values peace, harmony and stability more than civic participation, democracy and freedom of information. They resent when American reporters act like their values of democracy and freedom of expression are superior to Chinese values.
3. The Chinese view their culture to be much more “high-context” than American culture. High context cultures have significantly more ambiguity in their language and communications. In “Low-context” cultures like America, the value and weight of a single word is more important and people tend to be more direct and explicit in their communications. Knowing more about Chinese history, culture and language would help reporters contextualize their stories.
4. China is far more ethnically homogeneous than is America. Only 8 percent of the Chinese population is not of the Han ethnic group, while over 36 percent of the U.S. population is not part of the dominant “White” ethnic group. When American reporters focus on the treatment of minority groups in China, they are often seen as “making a mountain out of a molehill” and unfairly clouding the bigger picture of China’s progress. Generally, American reporters care about welfare and justice of minorities, gender rights, income equity, sexual orientation equality and other areas. In other words, American reporters value diversity, while the Chinese government focuses on the benefits to the mainstream overall.
5. The Chinese government and many Chinese nationals resent when American reporters blame China’s severe problems on inadequate or corrupt Chinese policies. They view the causes of such problems to be complex, global and interrelated with America. For example, American reporters often blame China’s smog-filled skies and heavily polluted rivers and streams on China’s failed domestic policies and lack of enforcement of pollution controls. From the Chinese viewpoint, Americans are complicit in their problems. Most of the cheap goods in America are made in China and U.S. corporations moved their heavily polluting factories to China to escape America’s expensive environmental laws.
6. In China’s eyes, up until the end of the 17th century, China was the largest, most populous and economically and culturally vibrant country in the world. Then, China was attacked, colonized and brutally partitioned by Western and Japanese powers. The Chinese have a collective feeling of humiliation and hurt and wish to regain their honor and rightful standing on the world stage.
So how do American journalists feel about this?
“If China wants Western/American reporters to understand China more, China should give the reporters the same freedom U.S. is giving to Chinese reporters. Allow them to be exposed to the whole deal, and to learn,” said Paris Huang, a reporter and television anchor at Voice of America.
“You can’t forbid American reporters to go to Tibet and then criticize the American media as being unfair because they didn’t report on the scene. Reporters all ask for the same thing – doesn’t matter it is from the U.S. government, Chinese government, or some corporation – and that is transparency.”