Media Manipulates your Perceptions, on China: Here’s How

Full disclosure before you read my writing about how I consider western media negatively influences the world. I live and work in China and I like it. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, it means it’s better than places I’ve lived before and gets better as each year passes. I was born and grew up in the UK in an era when the BBC was the world’s most respected news service. As an adult I moved to Australia and considered the ABC to be on par — that was 35 years ago. Almost 20 years ago, when I moved to China, I still believed it.

I had preconceived ideas about China, I didn’t plan on staying very long, it was a stepping stone to a larger plan. Suddenly, I found my pre-conceptions were wrong, the information I read, watched and researched was incorrect. A few weeks into living in China I noticed misinformation was, and still is, perpetuated by “white man’s media”. Much of it, at the time, I felt was not deliberate, but simply mistaken.

This was an era when the world respected China. Consider, 15–20 years ago: relations with Taiwan were at an all-time high; HK had recently been handed back and the fears of China “marching-in” were dispelled, 1-country-2-systems was well managed, trade deals were being done with North America, Australia was negotiating a Free Trade Agreement, Chinese production was high and growing higher every quarter and the world was looking positive — unless you lived in the Middle-East: WMD was trending, Muammar Ghaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden and Mohammed Omar in Afghanistan were gone, or going. These demises were brought on by western media, encouraged, supported and, in many cases, fuelled and funded by certain government agencies.

But that’s another story. Watching the world change; Japan descended from the number 2 economy while China ascended, it became obvious that Western reporting on China was moving from perhaps uninformed misinformation into deliberate disinformation.

I first noticed BBC reports became a lot more aggressive around 2010. The BBC started a campaign of reports criticising Chinese factories, specifically targeting Foxconn, a Taiwanese organisation making electronic items for many well-known brands such as Nintendo, Sony and Dell as well as many others but it was Apple that took the brunt of BBC’s ire.

Between 2007 and 2011, seventeen employees of Foxconn committed suicide. This was indeed a tragedy, but not so much when taken into context; Foxconn has more than a million employees. The city of Newcastle in Australia’s New South Wales has less than half as many people, 453,000 and, according to the region’s local newspaper, over the last 15 years 1,400 people in the region have committed suicide — that’s 93.7 a year on average. Foxconn, with twice the population had an average of 4.3 per year. Still tragic but sensationalised to create a bad feeling about a Chinese company (and American products).

It didn’t stop there. There were reports of salaries being as low as 2,000 RMB ($500 AUD) a month, without any reference to the fact that staff are provided living accommodation, canteen food, medical and social welfare and pension contributions. The local average salary was less, so, this was a good salary in a poor country. They also went on to state staff were forced to work 16 hours a day. This was immediately debunked by Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. Staff are encouraged to sign on for paid overtime within the confines of Chinese labour law. What’s never reported in Western media is that China has VERY strict labour laws and companies (especially foreign owned companies) are inspected regularly to ensure compliance. Staff may work 3 hours a day to a maximum of 36 per month[1]. Any company not complying will be severely punished. Further to government inspections, Apple, like all the other huge brands using Foxconn, conduct audits to ensure compliance — in this case, it wasn’t a manipulation of the truth, it was an outright lie.

People watching BBC’s report saw exhausted workers sleeping at their desks. This is a cultural norm in China, they aren’t exhausted, every Chinese student, every worker whether a professional in an office or a labourer on the factory floor gets a long lunchbreak, during which time, they sleep. Take a walk through any school, office or factory in China at 12:40pm but do it quietly or you’ll disturb them — it also accounts for why, after starting work at 8am, having an extended lunch break, sometimes 2.5 hours, they are still at work at 6pm. This is the foundation of the 16hr lie, workers take long breaks after meals so, with overtime are often in the company 16 hours, 11 hours paid working, 5 hours unpaid resting.

This was the first time I noticed how Western media manipulates opinions on China. I was in a position to see through it because of my experiences in the country but most of the world took it at face value.

Australia’s ABC have jumped on the same bandwagon with reporters who’ve never been to China telling you what’s going on. Based on information they receive from others who’ve never been to China.

A few years ago, the BBC “investigated” China’s Northwestern region of Xinjiang. Open-source information was “data-mined” and formed the basis of what is now known as the “Xinjiang Genocide Narrative”.

Apart from the fact that there’s not a single proven case of any individual being “genocided” by the Chinese government, the group of people BBC claim are victims, the Uyghurs, has increased in size faster than the general population of China. There’s not a single photograph or credible story written by anyone who has recorded any abuses. We’ve all seen photos of US torture and abuse of Muslims in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay where a few thousand people are employed, imagine the logistical exercise in moving the alleged one million people secretly into camps and try to convince yourself there wouldn’t be at least one or two whistleblowers in that group. Imagine further, if 1 million of your ethnic brothers and sisters were being herded into camps. The obvious thing would be to get away across the border. The region is huge, it borders 8 different countries yet there isn’t a single refugee camp in any of them. Now picture a refugee crisis, NGOs would be swarming all over it, yet not one of them has even visited the region, let alone set up any camps because they know there isn’t a refugee crisis in Xinjiang.

China has won praise from the World Bank for its poverty alleviation program, some of which was supported by Australia [2]. Massive new training schools were built, factories on the East Coast are incentivised to open in Western regions. Farmers and traders from previously impoverished parts of China are retrained, employed and, in some cases, relocated to places where they can find work. The GDP, life expectancy, infant mortality and the population have all grown — these figures are not China’s, they come from the World Bank[3].

How are these growth factors possible in a region that’s being repressed with “genocide, forced labour, religious and cultural suppression”? Either the world bank has it wrong, or mainstream media has it wrong. The World Bank, has been there and investigated the results, media is a hotchpotch conglomeration of articles written by so-called journalists, in offices around the world cutting and pasting reports from people who’ve also never been there.

An Australian “think tank” jumped into the fray with a widely reported exposure of a network of prisons and camps. As we’ve seen in early reports on the BBC, Chinese factories have large numbers of employees who migrate from place to place in order to find work. Those people often need training in the new training schools before finding jobs in newly built factories. Each of these schools and factories has dormitories, they also have canteen facilities, the staff wear uniforms and walk in large groups from the dormitory to the factory and from the factory to the canteen. It’s easy to see how an uninformed analyst in an office on the other side of the world can perceive this as something much more sinister. Reports are written and widely circulated in a media programmed and incentivised to misinform.

As in the Foxconn example, Western media creates fiction from sensationalising misunderstood facts.

People who live and work in China know the truth, people who visit with an open mind can find the truth but “white man’s media” in coordinated efforts to contain the growth of China, would have you believe otherwise.

[1] https://www.venture-overseas.com/blog/what-to-know-about-overtime-law-in-china/

[2] https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2007/05/29/restoring-chinas-tarim-river-basin

[3] https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/statement/2019/11/11/world-bank-statement-on-review-of-project-in-xinjiang-china

I’m British born Australian citizen. I live in Guangdong and have an MA in Cross Cultural Change Management. I write about China experiences on and off my bike