China’s mouthpiece media lack social pain nerves

By He Qinglian on January 3, 2012
In late December 2011, the People’s Daily picked as usual the top ten news stories of the year. Unfortunately in that list I found that the social pain nerves of the most superior mouthpiece have ceased to function altogether. That newspaper would soon become rouge powder that Beijing uses to make itself look good.

Please let me first list out what the People’s Daily has included in its selection of the top ten local news stories. According to their importance, the ten stories are: 1) property market regulation tightened by “the State Council’s new eight decrees”; 2) the central government organized social management and innovation symposium for key leading cadets at provincial and ministerial levels; 3) the Socialist law system with Chinese characteristics has taken shape; 4) passage of the “twelfth five-year” guideline; 5) departments at the central government revealed for the first time the budget for “three public expenditures”; 6) grand gathering held to celebrate the 90th Anniversary of the establishment of CPC; 7) State Council investigated July 23 Hi-speed train crash and meted out punishment; 8) the Sixth Plenary Session of the 17th CPC Central Committee planned to forge a Socialist cultural power; 9) Tiangong-1 docked to Shenzhou-8; and 10) nationwide food production grew for eight consecutive years.

 Among these news stories, only the hi-speed train crash incident and growth in nationwide food production for eight successive years were related to the people’s livelihood. All the rest were events with which the party and the government entertained themselves. What’s more, the wordings “State Council investigated…and meted out punishment” were specially added to the train crash report, the People’s Daily seemed to have forgotten it was the parties affiliated with the CPC and the government that caused this in the first place.

Since other media in China apparently have yet to choose the top ten new stories of the year, there are only top ten military news stories, or top ten science and technology reports. No cross reference materials are available except the year’s top ten topics in “foreign media on China”, which the Translators chose by vote counts.

And these ten topics are: 1) Wenzhou train crash and the power of China’s Weibo; 2) self-immolation of a number of Tibetans; 3) Dongshigu adventure, visiting Chen Guangcheng; 4) Ai Weiwei’s detention, release, and borrowing money; 5) China’s economy on the brink of collapse?; 6) South China Sea disputes; 7) Independent candidates stood for local people’s delegate elections; 8) Pollution; 9) Recurring mass unrest; 10) Impacts the Middle East Jasmine Revolutions had on China.

Among these topics, only the reports on the train crash appeared also in the top ten news stories chosen by the People’s Daily, none of the rest was identical. And even on this issue, the foreign media looked at it from an angle totally different from the People’s Daily, which praised the government. The foreign media saw that Chinese netizens participated through Weibo, forcing the government to investigate the parties responsible for the crash.

The top ten news stories on the Translators’ “Foreign Media on China” presented the whole picture of China in 2011. 
First, monopoly and corruptions of State-owned enterprises that affect the country and the people (the train crash); second, citizens’ rights and human rights—recurring mass unrest, independent candidates standing for local people’s assemblies elections, visiting Chen Guangcheng and Ai Weiwei’s being forced to borrow to settle the tax evasion charge that the government framed him; third, people’s livelihood: pollution that seriously affected the health of the Chinese people, and top officials who arranged for themselves the privilege of purified air, discussions on whether China’s economy was on the brink of collapse, which included issues like the rupture of capital chain of the underground money lenders of Wenzhou, shares of Chinese companies listing in the U.S. stock market were being dumped collectively because of financial fraud charges, and the outlook of China’s real property market; fourth, issues of ethnic minorities: a succession self-immolation of Tibetan monks, causing grave concerns in international community; fifth, South China Sea disputes: though the topic was not a big one, it involved a re-shuffle of global geopolitics, it involved China's being isolated its bordering countries, it also involved the United States' return to the Pacific and so on. In particular, the United States' return to the Pacific signified that China's diplomatic strategies of peripheral diplomacy and “dollar-cum-great external propaganda” had become a complete failure despite years of hard work. Locally in China, the media outlets either reported these lightly or blamed them on the United States. Few in the country knew what the truth is; and, sixth, under the influence of the Arab Spring, a Jasmine revolution that originated from twitter spurred up in China. That virtual revolution had at one point got on the nerves of the Chinese government, which ordered arrests on a massive scale, effectively altering the lives of some of the detainees.

It should be said that it was the ten news stories selected by the Translators that genuinely reflected how China was in 2011. Judging from the top ten news stories chosen by the People's Daily, the newspaper was totally oblivious of the interests and demands of various classes and the rights propositions of the public, it showed off self-deceivingly in articles which were tantamount to empty official-speak the five-year plan, the forging of a culture and “accomplishments” that made things look better. Bearing almost no relevance to the people's interests, the way the People's Daily selected its top ten stories was in fact not only obscuring the reality, but also making history incomplete: since yesterday's news is today's history.

Renowned American Journalist Joseph Pulitzer had allegedly said that: “if a country is a sailing boat in the sea, then the journalist is the observer on the bow, he should monitor everything in the endless sea, pay attention to the unpredictable things and shallow reefs, and give warning in a timely manner.” The Chinese people have long been indifferent toward official newspapers that have completely severed their social pain nerves. When I was in the country (before 2001), subscription of the People's Daily was already a political task assigned by the Central Propaganda Department which must be fulfilled. Nowadays, anyone who is seen reading that newspaper in public venue would be laughed at—which was what Kato Yoshikazu, a Japanese young man, said to have experienced in a recent interview. Chinese netizens are also mocking the Central Television stations and QiuShi, a Party Central committee's publication, both serve as mouthpieces. The widely circulated comment that compared “the difference between computers and Televisions” was included in famous saying on the internet, used to create animation and ridiculed incisively and vividly. That comment went: as soon as you switch on a computer, you'd feel the darkness of society: corrupt officials, evil forces running rampant, widespread poverty, as though a [revolution] would soon break out; yet once you turn on a telly, you'd feel it's a harmonious society: everyone's happy, people are all singing and dancing, it's all peaceful, there's long-term stability, and nothing would happen in a hundred years. Computers are like real life snapshots, and tellies are like wedding photos. In China, we can't afford to use cooking oil, the walkway; going to school, seeing a doctor, or buying a flat are all above our means; we don't even have enough to get ourselves a grave! It's too costly to eat vegetables, to repay debts, to sue, to upset the officials, to rear a child, and to love. We couldn't bear our conscience or to help a stumbled elderly person. How amazing it is that we are still alive. Please forward if you agree. If you don't, go watch Xinwen Lianbo (News Simulcast)

I think, in future when people can write freely about China’s history of journalism, media outlets such as the People’s Daily would definitely be included to show the future generations this: how government-controlled mouthpieces talked black into white, paying no attention to the people's grievances and curried favor with those in power.