Hat tip to Richard from Peking Duck for pointing us to this, perhaps the worst article I have ever seen about China in a respected Western news source. It should be noted that even before this, Richard noted that Shaun Rein’s column is often terrible, but this one really takes the cake. His greatest accomplishment: Rein comes off both as a government apologist and as an extremely pedantic Western lecturer. Impressive! The whole thing is worth a read, but here are some hits:
But life is getting better for the average Chinese. Much better. Real poverty is pretty much gone.
It’s certainly true that life has improved over the last thirty years for most Chinese, but poverty is gone? Really? Because according to an article in the Journal of Development Economics on China, about 10% of Chinese people still live in poverty, and poverty is technically defined in terms of living on 900RMB/year or less. My guess is that most people, including Shaun Rein, would be hard pressed to stomach living in China on 900RMB/month without calling it ‘living in poverty’.
The Internet is far freer than ever before […] Seven years ago Chinese citizens couldn’t access The New York Times. A year ago Wikipedia, the Huffington Post and WordPress were all blocked. All are accessible now. China’s government fears content less than it used to. It fears technology, like Twitter or Facebook, that it believes dangerous elements can use to band together for protests like those that have occurred in Iran.
What? First of all, why is Twitter “technology” but Wikipedia “content”? Both are user-driven web 2.0 concept sites. Second of all, how relevant is it to most Chinese that the Huffington Post or the New York Times or WordPress is now unblocked? At the same time, Chinese have lost several popular Chinese blogging sites like Bullogger, and increasingly popular microblogging sites like Fanfou and Twitter. These sites were important sources of Chinese language content; neither the NYTimes nor the HP offers any Chinese language content at all. There’s also talk of new censorship systems including a whitelist that would require any website that wanted to be visible in China to first register with the government. The Internet is far freer than ever before? Perhaps if you’re browsing primarily in English (or you work for the Chinese government).
His column isn’t just full of misleading things (and I should note I don’t disagree with everything he says), it is also terribly written. Consider his extremely awkward wielding of the China-as-teenager metaphor below:
Conversely, many in the world still look at China as a youngster playing with toy soldiers and cartoon characters. They don’t understand how it has grown, and they’re unsure how to deal with it. They blame it for things that happened decades ago, which is like yelling at an 18-year-old for having spilled milk when he was 4. So they treat it pedantically and get pushback. Yet they criticize it for not stepping up enough in multilateral situations.
Yes, it’s so frustrating when adults treat teenagers like children, but at the same time criticize them for not stepping up in multilateral situations. (Yes, I know what he meant, but he conveyed it very poorly).
There’s also the constant self-advertisement going on; according to Richard he almost always plugs his market research firm, and this column is no exception. Weak.
If Shuan Rein ever decides to move on to other opportunities, I have an empty beer bottle on my desk. Perhaps that could write columns for Forbes.
(The good news in all of this is that Forbes readers don’t seem to be being fooled. The comments on this column include allegations that perhaps Mr. Rein is blind, that he was under the influence of hallucinogens while writing, that he seems to have been living on another planet, that he lacks common sense and/or the ability to reason logically, etc.)