The “Double-faced characteristic” of Global Times and Huanqiu Shibao

Written on August 20, 2011
(translated by krizcpec)

The two papers mentioned in the title are actually two versions of the same paper, a key media stronghold that Beijing has given the crucial external propaganda missions of “shaping the national image and competing for the right to speak” abroad, and promoting the idea that “the whole world is jealous of how good we are” at home. It is because of something happened recently that I wrote an article specifically on this paper, something that Chinese media practitioners refer to as a reflection of the split in the character of that paper.

On August 9, 2011, the English version of the paper ran an exclusive: Ai Weiwei breaks his silence (authored by Liang Chen). That story did not appear in its Chinese version.

What that meant was, through that interview with Ai Weiwei, the external propaganda vehicle of Global Times was required to release to the world news that suit the needs of the Chinese government: Ai Weiwei is now “free to speak”; there is freedom of speech in China. At the same time, the paper attempted to use the “exclusive story” that the government has granted them to lift its own status among English newspapers. This is a trick Global Times often employs and to which the paper has got totally accustomed.

Not long ago on March 30 it also employed this trick. On that day, Global Times published an article “Three outspoken academics”(三个直陈时弊的学者)on Zhang Ming, Chen Danqing and He Weifang. In response to the Global Times report, He Weifang commented on Weibo, “Once again we see in this country the different sets of media control applied to media targeting market at home and abroad. How nice would it be if the Chinese version of that paper could be as frank, sincere, respectful to the facts and in compliance with media ethics.”

I see this remark of He Weifang as an indication that he doesn't have an in-depth understanding of the purpose of Great External Propaganda. Base on the true nature of this inconsistency, I would prefer to call it as the “double-faced characteristic”.
The paper caught my attention far earlier than that. Back in 2006 it fabricated a misleading lie. At that time, a documentary called Losers and Winners was released in Germany. The theme of that documentary was to compare the respective situations of the German workers and the Chinese ones working for Chinese businesses in Germany. While German workers have stronger awareness in their rights and get high pay, they increase business costs. Thus result in a mass exodus of businesses and have their jobs axed; their Chinese counterpart often work overtime, get low pay, and have to endure extremely poor working and living conditions – yet because of these, they get hired. The documentary then raised the question: German and Chinese workers, who exactly are winners, and who are losers?

On November 13, 2006 Deutsche Welle published an article about this documentary, which was “creatively” reproduced on Huanqiu Shibao later on. The article on Deutsche Welle bore the same title as the documentary; Huanqiu Shibao had changed that title into “Deutsche Welle: vigor of Chinese workers shocks Germans”, thereby transformed an article that compared the plights in which workers of the two countries are trapped respectively into one that showed the Germans commendation for the Chinese workers. The “loser” image of Chinese workers regarding their rights was swept away completely. 

In response to this, I wrote an article “Traps made by theChinese media (中国媒体制造的陷阱)”. In it I compared the differences between the original article and the reproduced one and then pointed out that by employing such techniques as clipping, quoting out of context, and studied distortion, Huanqiu Shibao made a documentary that revealed the low status and the exploitation the Chinese workers suffered sound like one that documented the Chinese workers who traveled great distance to Europe and deeply moved the foreigners with their willingness to cope with harsh lives and exhausting work. And at the same time through the mouth of foreign media Huanqiu Shibao expresses the idea that with diligence in arduous conditions, China can swiftly surpass developed countries.”

This wasn’t the only instance that Huanqiu Shibao told damned lies. In 2008, with respect to the incident about Zhang Danhong, deputy director of the Chinese department of Deutsche Welle at the time, Huanqiu Shibao often published only those one-sided statements that were in favor of Zhang, deliberately ignored the true reasons for Zhang’s dismissal: she lied and turned the public media vehicle with which she was in charge into a private tool to vent her personal anger; intentionally misled readers inside China into thinking that Zhang was sacked because of racial discrimination that resulted from her attempt to speak “fairly” on China.

The double-faced characteristic of that paper became even more obvious after its English version, Global Times, was launched on April 20, 2009. Since Global Times has the external propaganda mission of getting the world to know China”, its reports are not identical with Huanqiu Shibao. To obtain credibility, Global Times has to set aside its face of a mouthpiece, playing the role of “respecting the facts”. Therefore, reports that run on Global Times would either make no appearance on, or be published very differently on Huanqiu Shibao.

Finally the double-faced characteristic of Global Times and Huanqiu Shibao caught the attention of Chinese Media industry. In the year following the launch of Global Times, it and its Chinese version became a hot topic in Chinese media. A media itself became a hot topic in the media, that probably could be seen as extraordinary in media history.
Zhan Jiang, professor of Department of international media, Beijing Foreign Studies University, wrote an article about the differences of Global Times and Huanqiu Shibao, “the split of character of Huanqiu Shibao”. The example he cited was the reports from both on a report by the German Böll Foundation. On June 14, 2010, the German Böll Foundation published an overview of [basic situation of/ how] seven influential German media reported on China in 2008. After making a comparison, Zhan Jiang concluded that Global Times accurately reported the theme of the Böll Foundation report; whereas Huanqiu Shibao did it inaccurately, it even fabricated views of others and quoting the source out of context. Compared with other Chinese media, Huanqiu Shibao “went farthest in fabricating views of others”.
Because of its approach to report as “a horn of patriotism”, Huanqiu Shibao has been dubbed as “the base camp for Fenqing (Angry Youth)”, “the nest of patriotic thieves”, “commercial nationalism” and so on. Regarding this, Southern People Weekly had an interviewed with Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Huanqiu Shibao on June 11. That interview, entitled “Huanqiu Shibaois not happy”, revealed Hu’s philosophy of running a newspaper and the past and present of Huanqiu Shibao, and is worth keeping for research purpose.

Hu Xijin has very thoroughly interpreted the political mission of the paper: Global Times is to run Chinas news with a global perspective; Huanqiu Shibao, global news with a China perspective. In brief, this means playing the double-faced role. Editor Hu is a person with excellent psychological quality. He manages to switch back and forth two different drama settings without going insane.

The problem is, information sent doesn’t mean it’s received; information received doesn’t mean it would be interpreted in the way the sender had hoped. In Western societies, credibility is the source of life to media. But with Beijing’s strong backing, this double-faced Huanqiu Shibao doesn’t lack money, what it lacks is nothing other than credibility.