China Beat Archive



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March 24, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright March 24, 2009. Used by permission.


(In 75 minutes)

It’s no small task to sum up the work of 53 separate authors but I gave it a go last Friday at the Virginia Festival of the Book when I spoke about China in 2008. I shared the stage (and live C-Span connection) with Susan Brownell (who gave a fascinating presentation on the Beijing Olympics and Olympic education in the Chinese schools) and our moderator, UVA professor of politics Brantly Womack. The session turned into a lively discussion with the audience of about 45 about how we can find ways to more accurately represent (and then hopefully understand) China in the U.S. Here’s a quick list to give you a sense of some of the issues that the audience raised (and since I don’t have access to the C-Span broadcast, I’m going to have to wing it from memory).

1. Best question on the Chinese internet: “I thought China was a closed society. But you seem to be describing a different kind of media environment. Can you give some more examples of that?” It’s easy to forget, living in a little blog bubble, that not everyone is keeping up with the excitement and subterfuge of the Chinese internet. I referenced China’s Censorship 2.0 by Rebecca MacKinnon as evidence of how patchwork internet censorship is in China. But this question is also a reminder that the media’s emphasis on the “Great Firewall” has skewed general understanding of China’s media environment as a blackout zone.

2. Most complicated question: “The picture of China you are presenting doesn’t seem much like what I read in the news. Why is that?”