Western Media Madness
Take a look at any news headline referring to China in Western mainstream media (WMSM) these days and there will be some negativity. Interacting on social media with almost any person living in India, Australia, UK or US online and, when I tell them I live in China, they express first of all surprise (sometimes even shock) and then go on to lament how difficult life must be for us foreigners with all the surveillance and controls going on.
Surprisingly, when told that’s not correct, the immediate response isn’t one of relief for me, it’s more likely to turn assertive, potentially even aggressive, and to correct me, it’s impossible that I could know China as a nice place when it’s obviously so evil.
Every foreigner who lives in China and speaks positively online about the country will tell you this is true. Even English-speaking Chinese people, who interact with foreigners, get this; or worse, their responses are often much more vitriolic and hateful. We’re either lying, being paid, coerced or not even human, we’re bots. Let me stress, this isn’t something that happens from time to time, this is a daily occurrence, sometimes several times a day.
China isn’t a bad place; China doesn’t have bad people (well, not many) and China’s government isn’t bad. It’s all because WMSM is bad and I’m going to try and demonstrate that here.
I’ll be honest, I’m not an expert on China: no one is. I do live here, and have done for 17 years, I’ve also studied the Chinese National Cultural Identity at Master’s level, I’ve married into a Chinese family and I know for a fact that almost everything I read in WMSM is different from reality in China. I’m retired now but in my time of living here I’ve worked in business, education and in media. I’ve travelled to literally hundreds of cities, I’ve had extended work contracts in places as diverse as Harbin in the frozen north, Hohhot in Inner Mongolia as well as the megacities of Beijing and Guangzhou. I’ve cycled over 30,000 kilometres inside of China, including all the way to the Western border with Kazakhstan and the entire East Coast from Harbin almost to Hainan. I’ll repeat: I’m not an expert, no one is, but I do feel qualified and experienced enough to have an opinion worth listening to.
Just under 20 years ago, a book was written called “The Coming Collapse of China” the American writer Gordon Chang, wrongly predicted that China’s rise would, not only be over, but it’s collapse would be complete by 2012. Obviously, that was wrong. Yet, so great is WMSM’s desire to portray bad news about China, he’s still seen regularly on the US TV shows but his story has changed from China’s collapse, to an apocalyptic version of China’s murderous and evil world domination, which he then forgets and espouses that the Chinese people are just about to rise up in revolution. One of his more recent quotes being: “The Chinese people, like their Kazakh neighbors, are ready to take to the streets as they feel the ill effects of Xi’s ‘reforms.’”. Similarly, a retired British cold-war worrier (not a spelling error) called Roger Garside who served in the British Embassy in Beijing back in the 1970’s, predicted in his book “China Coup: the great leap to freedom”, that Xi Jinping would be ousted during the meeting of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (the CPPCC), although promoted as a work of fiction, the book was picked up by WMSM and lauded as a divinatory prophesy of what was to come, the rather confused author was seen on several TV interviews and touted as an expert. Once again, the prediction failed to come true yet the media still quotes Mr. Garside and regularly invites Mr. Chang to their shows.
China is a country that defies every visitor’s expectation. There’s a narrative that Chinese people are wonderful but need saving from their evil government. This is so ingrained in western perceptions that every new arrival to China expects two things immediately: the first being an officious and authoritarian police reception, the second being a population bent over by the yolk of oppression and itching for change. What the visitor finds is the complete opposite. People are friendly and happy, there are indeed police officers around but they are accepted and respected.
As a result of there being a lot of police officers, China’s crime rate is low, very low. The streets in every city I’ve been to, and that’s a lot of cities, are safe. People can safely walk home from restaurants, bars, theatres, nightclubs at night (yes, China has all these things). Gun crime is non-existent, major crimes are few and even murders are very low: 0.53 per 100k population which, if it weren’t so serious would be laughable when compared to the USA 7.8 per 100k population. Although there are some American states where it’s as high a 14.4, the shocking rate of some American cities is terrifying though, for example, in the city of New Orleans it stands at 35/100k. In other words, you’re about 70 times more likely to be murdered when you go out for a jazz night than you are when you visit a Beijing night club. And the BBC criticises the Chinese Embassy in the USA for issuing warnings to its citizens not to travel alone in some cities — this kind of stuff couldn’t be made up if we tried.
If we are to believe the BBC, we will learn that this low crime rate is a bad thing! Data is unreliable in China so it can’t be trusted, but strangely, even with unreliable data, China’s streets are safe. Guns are hard to get; seriously, they gave this as a reason. It seems the “aggressive Chinese police” seizing 146,000 illegal guns in 2018 is a terrible intrusion in China’s civil liberties — oh, the audacity!
The fact is, people who live in China are very happy with the police, don’t ask me, ask them. I know this for a fact because I was once a police officer in the UK and when I tell people this in the west, their reaction might be to step back, put their hands up or jokingly refer to some previous indiscretion. In China, their reaction, 100% of the time is: wow, really, and a discernible shift upwards in respect.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on the other hand isn’t just respected, its revered and loved. The PLA is one of the most integrated forces with the people it serves, they respond in large numbers to every event of a national or serious local emergency, they act swiftly and decisively when it comes to helping and saving people during national disasters, they are supported and widely loved, that’s not how the rest of the world see them, it’s how China sees them — and that’s what matters. They were out in numbers after the Sichuan earthquake, they were present throughout the floods of last year and they cleaned up the streets after the foreign influenced riots in Hong Kong in 2019, but restrained themselves and let the HK Police do their job (which they did marvelously and with great discipline).
The Chinese army hasn’t invaded another country since 1979 and that was a three-week incursion into Vietnam. Once they achieved their objective they pulled out, yet WMSM sees this army is as an aggressive and expansionist force. The PLA have only one overseas base in the Horn of Africa which helps with international shipping problems caused by piracy in the region. All other deployments outside of China are either short term training activities or United Nations Peacekeeping actions– there is no Chinese military presence anywhere in the world on any invasive, incursive or aggressive deployments. Yet, every day in media we see reports of China’s military aggression. In fact, it’s worth mentioning that China now represents the largest force of United Nations peacekeepers in the world, however, US “think tanks” even report this as a negative thing. Despite the fact that China is now the largest contributor of troops to UN peacekeeping missions and the largest donor of funds to the same cause, right wing pundits decry these efforts as focused on some unspecified economic policy, force projection or expansion of commercial interests. None of which is ever proven, just insinuated by an opinion writer. If you read WMSM, it’s hard to know PLA Peacekeepers are active and doing good works in many countries in the Middle East, Africa and, of course Haiti, the United States’ own backyard, at this very moment.
In the last 40 years, China has lifted more people out of absolute poverty than the rest of the world combined. Western media when commenting on this ask: is it cost effective or sustainable? They also, as in the case of a widely circulated AP article, criticise, the giving of new homes to ethnic minority villagers who were “forced” to put photos of President Xi on the wall. The writer of that article had obviously not been to as many rural homes as myself, because he would have been astounded by the number of Mao and/or Xi photos adorning rural residences in all parts of China, including but not limited to the ethnic minority regions.
China’s GDP has grown at such an extent that the middle-income earners now number 400 million. That’s more people than the US holds and still rising. When compared to the United States, and the UK where poverty and homelessness are on the increase in both places, this should be a good thing for China, but no, WMSM reports this as a bad thing as it now means China must fail due to a “middle-income trap” which, despite headlines stating is the end of growth, economists quoted in articles suspect might affect future growth. So, the enormous, globally applauded historical growth and poverty alleviation might slow, stop or even fail and that’s what gets reported, not the success, but the impending and predicted failure — Fialures which, as Gordon Chang knows, are not so easy to predict accurately.
China’s luxury brand market took off a few years ago and is disappointing according to WMSM because the growth was only 1.7% in 2021. You read that correctly, during a global pandemic with few people travelling, the luxury market in China still grew but WMSM found disappointment in it. Even a surprisingly positive CNN report found bad news, the growth in luxury goods inside China was at the expense of luxury goods in other destinations. In other words, China’s success during the pandemic has impacted on the poor retailers in destinations such as Dubai.
Car ownership in China shows a constant, steady and significant growth. Yet, once again, WMSM see negative headlines here because of the congestion and pollution which follow. Notwithstanding that many of the new cars are Electric vehicles and China has the longest network of freeways in any country in the world. These EV cars, of which the market share is about to hit 40% must be a good thing, right? According to WMSM, it’s wrong! They apparently come at an unacceptable cost to society and consumers. Without a single indication or sense of irony, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s media outlet used experts from the oil industry to analyse these “unacceptable” societal costs!
So, we can see a pattern; news on China might be good news, but the article will be strewn with words such as: however, although, nevertheless, conversely, in spite of, or despite.
This article doesn’t touch on many of the other positive aspects occurring in China: the incredible technology advances in space and communications; the massive investments in infrastructure; the positive steps to improve education; improve the environment; the sustainable development and massive renewable energy sources China is implementing. You can be assured, these are all positive steps being taken by the world’s most populated country for the benefit, not only of its own large population but the world in general. At the same time, pick up any news report about any of these topics and you’ll learn there is an article, probably many, on any of these topics with an “at what cost” headline somewhere to be found.
The last point where negative reporting seems to be endemic in relation to China, is, ironically enough, related to the pandemic. Since 2020 there has hardly been a positive word coming from any of the world’s media about how China has fought the pandemic. On this day of writing, China is probably the only country in the world that can say it has survived an entire year without loss of life. 25th January 2021 was the last death with or from Covid inside of Mainland China. While the US reports daily averages of over 2,000 deaths, the UK and Australian daily deaths in the hundreds and still rising and with India acquiring the bleak statistic of being the world’s No2 experiencing more than half a million deaths, China has recorded not one this year, nor for the last 11 months of last year. Yet, in the eyes of pretty much every WMSM outlet I’ve seen in the last few weeks, all this is bad.
“China isn’t prepared to face Omicron” states one headline, “China clamps-down and the world’s supply chain suffers”, say others, rather misleadingly since all the trade and economic indicators show otherwise. China’s people on the verge of revolt against the “authoritarian” or “draconian” measures scream the outliers with no supporting information to demonstrate that this is in fact the case.
To provide “balance” many articles give positives laced with negatives.  Britain’s The Guardian noted many of the successes but balanced them with social concerns of impending collapse. What’s worthy of note in this extended article is that the experts quoted in the article are all outside of China. None of the people predicting upcoming social disarray are here, inside the country nor are they even speaking to people who are. What they’re doing is, expressing opinions based on how they might feel if they were undergoing lockdowns and, more importantly, if all the horror stories being reported by these international media outlets were true, which they aren’t and, as our friend Mr. Chang can tell us, predictions of what might happen, when you get your information from WMSM and you aren’t speaking to millions of people on the ground, are notoriously difficult to get right.
So, when you next pick up a paper, click on a link, watch or listen to a report about China, please bear in mind: what you’re learning isn’t what’s happening, because what’s happening is not what you’re learning.
Before we get to the citations, here’s a link to Part 2: https://jerry-grey2002.medium.com/western-media-madness-part-2-17a36ec1b23f