Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Chinese Press

My Chinese has reached the point where I can read Chinese newspapers and understand them, albeit slowly and painfully. Before my language abilities reached this level, the only Chinese press accessible to me were the two Chinese newspapers published in English, in other words China Daily and Global Times.

So what is the press in Chinese like? The main thing I have discovered is that, just like in other countries, every newspaper is different. I have found two papers which particularly struck me, for opposite reasons. One is the 南方周末(Southern Weekly), a weekly paper published in Guangzhou. It is well known within China for being particularly serious, open and indipendent, and for publishing reports on sensitive topics, pushing the limits on free speech. It is no accident that it is published in Guangdong, traditionally the province where society is least affected by the central government.
I have found that it does indeed have a superior style to other Chinese newspapers, publishing serious reports on government corruption and discussions on social problems, with a complete lack of nationalistic rabble-rousing or towing the Party line. I also find it much harder to understand than other publications, since it tends to use more serious and literary language. I have heard from Chinese people that the owner of the newspaper has been put under great pressure by the government to moderate its publishing line. Recently, a stack of Southern Weekly newspapers was set on fire by some people in Taiyuan, who called it an instrument of US imperialism which denigrates China's government. I was also told by a Chinese friend that it contains "extreme" anti-government opinion, although by Western standards it is hardly revolutionary.

The other newspaper which has struck me is the Chinese version of the Global Times, 环球时报, which is very different from the English version. It is also well known for having a controversial approach, but for quite different reasons from the Southern Weekly. Basically, it focuses almost entirely on international affairs, taking a decidedely nationalistic and anti-Western line.
The front page headline is often something sensationalist related to world news.
For instance, today's headline is "Putin's victory makes the West unhappy", with an editorial inside the paper entitled "Break free from Western public opinion, look at Russia objectively". The articles are usually full of quotations from major Western newspapers designed to further the idea that the West is biased against the developing countries and China.

Another newspapers I sometimes read is 信报,the free paper they hand out in the subway. It is basically similar to such publications in other parts of the world, except that in the last week they have been going on about the government campaign on "the spirit of Lei Feng", in common with all other newspapers. I have never dared to buy a copy of the People's Daily, the official organ of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, which looks as boring as hell and probably is.

My general opinion of the Chinese press in Chinese is that it is not as censored and propagandistic as many outsiders probably imagine, with reporting on many national and international issues at the same standard as you might expect in the West. Even the Arab Spring has been reported on honestly and completely, in spite of the fact that it could be seen as a sensitive topic. Intelligent commentary on social issues can also be found.
However, it is clear that there are lines which cannot be crossed, and topics which cannot be mentioned. The famous events of '89, for instance, are completely off bounds. I have only ever seen oblique mentions of "the political disturbances of the eighties" buried in the middle of articles on China's recent history. Any reporting on the government's activities, Taiwan or separatism within China which doesn't follow the official line is also quite unthinkable, as are calls for a radical change in China's political system. Disturbances and protests (for instance illegal strikes) within China are sometimes reported on, but it is hard to know how much of it goes unreported.

I was also surprised at the way that the passing of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il was reported on recently. There was absolutely no mention of the fact that he was seen in most of the world as the leader of a particularly brutal regime and of the most closed country on earth, or of the famine which occurred in the nineties under his rule. Even the Southern Weekly stuck to a rather pointless article on a troupe of North Korean actors touring China who suddenly had to go back home because of their leader's death.
All this even though North Korea is generally seen as a poor, backward and ridicolous anachronism even within China. I can only suppose the press had received instructions to keep their reporting completely neutral and non-critical of North Korea, so as not to affect the two countries' relations at such a delicate time.


Tang Xiaoyan said...

I have never dared to buy a copy of the People's Daily, the official organ of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, which looks as boring as hell and probably is.
this sentence is so cool. In fact, you can find one local paper like People's Daily in each province,which serves as the mouthpiece of the government. Like in shandong province, we have 大众日报.
we also have some magazines. one of them is very very impressive, named as 半月谈。In my second year of my master, i want to participate into the entrace exam of Chinese official. During the preparation, i read a lot of this magazine. my god. it is so nationalistic rabble-rousing.
For Southern weekly, i think it is the unique newspaper deserving paying for and reading. it is 2.5yuan, a little bit expensive compared to others.
i think i have recommended this news paper to you.when we did language -exchange two years ago.
i am happy your language reach the level that you can read Southern weekly.

cheers up!

Ji Xiang said...

You are out of date, the Southern Weekly now costs 3 yuan.