China Beat Archive



Timothy Weston

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May 31, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright May 31, 2008 Timothy Weston. Used by permission.


In recent weeks, the Chinese press has struggled to cover a series of major and difficult stories. Moreover the Chinese press itself is being watched and critiqued by the Western world with intensity and curiosity. What we are seeing in the Chinese press now is a world in transition and flux.

First was the Chinese press’ discussion of the Tibetan demonstrations, its virtual refusal to acknowledge the validity of any foreign criticism, and its exposure of a reflexive, threatening, and brittle nationalism, especially among some Chinese youth. However, that was followed by its honest and educational reporting during the hand foot mouth crisis in Anhui in April and May, and then, of course, came the biblical earthquake of May 12. The earthquake may well have shot fissures into the long stalemated relationship between the Chinese media and the Chinese Party-State. In the West, the earthquake—in large part because of the way the Chinese media reported it—opened up another Chinese face, one that, following on several months of largely negative coverage, can be loved. The news stories about the earthquake have been truly moving. It appears that the Olympics will not be the “It’s Legit to Hate China Games,” after all, and that is a good thing.

The Chinese government encouraged full coverage of the natural disasterdomestically and around the world (very different from the kind of “anti-coverage” it promotes in response to most human-caused disasters, such as mine collapses, about which I have written). The coverage in Shanghai on CCTV starting the day of the earthquake itself was much like it might be in the United States: the reporters wore resolved looks, humanized by a sense that they, too, were stricken by the sadness of the story. For what I saw, it seemed the network was truly trying to calm people, to be informative and to be caring. The loops on the videotapes from the earthquake zone that first night were tight. Not many images had come out yet, so the coverage was especially numbing. It reminded me of American disaster news coverage—such as of Hurricane Katrina– which panders to our prurient interests by showing us searing and horrific images of what most of us fortunately will never experience personally. Somehow, though, in China this amount of information—tragic though it was—felt like a healthy thing. Most important, it felt open and thorough.