China’s Real Challenge is the Western Public

The following is a translation of this piece from Southern Weekend by Ding Guo. For the sake of time, wordiness, and my own sloth, some sections have been omitted or summarized in brackets where I felt they were unnecessarily detailed or non-essential.


As the world develops, communication improves, and the internet continues to widen its reach, the influence of popular opinion on public policy increases with each passing day, regardless of political or electoral systems. Accordingly, rulers are increasingly sensitive to public feedback. These deep changes are also being reflected in Chinese political life. For example, even though the scope and damage of the Yushu earthquake in Qinghai two months ago was not as extensive as the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, [for the sake of public opinion] Chairman Hu Jintao concluded an important summit in Japan and returned to China to direct rebuilding efforts, and Premier Wen Jiabao […] quickly went to the disaster area to observe.

This is a significant change from previous government thinking. In the past, if something similar happened, the Chinese way of thinking would dictate that the government persist in its foreign relations activities, “turning grief into strength”, they felt this was the best way to support the country. These days, putting the people first, when something happens national leaders are duty-bound to return home; taking on the duty of rescue and relief efforts is common practice in the international community, and is [therefore] the best form of diplomacy [anyway]. When leaders put the safety of the people first, that kind of politician and that kind of country is worth trusting. Taking responsibility [in a time of disaster] is the humanitarian way.

The problem is that while China’s leaders may have changed their way of thinking, in the diplomatic field, especially in the field of observing foreign countries, many leaders still cling to an outmoded “party jargon” dogmatic way of thinking. For example, when China and another country are having a dispute or when relations are tense, [they] often say that this anti-China politician is just stirring up trouble, the common people are OK, but the facts or lack of facts have led to an issue in relations. We can use Canada as an example of this:

One thing that got the attention of a lot of the Canadian media this year was [China-Canada oil deals], which needed to be approved by the Chinese and Canadian governments. The sale price [of Canadian oil fields to China] was higher than expected; good news for the Canadian economy. The problem is that while the Conservative Party and economic circles were enjoying a honeymoon in Canadian-Chinese relations, Canadian public opinion polls discovered that [Canadian people] were opposed [to the sale].

The Canadian Asia-Pacific association entrusted a respected polling company ((The Chinese is 安格斯列特, anyone know what the real name of the company is?)) to launch an internet poll, and discovered that [only] 18% of Canadians approved of Chinese enterprises investing in major local companies. The worst-off country was the United Arab Emirates, only 16% of Canadians approved of UAE investment in Canada, Singaporean investments won the approval of 20% of Canadians. But 53% of the respondents approved of investment in Canada by the UK, and 41% indicated they would support investment from the US.

This survey helps us clear up some longstanding blind spots and misunderstandings.

First of all, when China and Canadian relations hit a snag, it really isn’t because some government body or politician just doesn’t want to get along with China, and because of that misleading the people into disliking China. Actually, the dissatisfaction or “misunderstanding” of China lies deeply rooted in the Canadian people. Government policies that are unfriendly to China are just catering to the people, the Dalai Lama and other similar topics are all like this. And when carefully analyzing the source of Canadian people’s anti-China feelings, aside from historical anti-Communist and anti-China movements and the Cold War period, it mostly comes from a deep bias within the Canadian media. One Norman Bethune and one Da Shan aren’t enough to resist the massive power of the media.

Secondly, we often think Canadians are very anti-America, but this is also a misconception. When you’re just talking about Canada and the US, many Canadians are anti-US — this is a fact — but when you juxtapose the US with China or other Asian countries, Canadians still trust America. The reason is simple: Americans and Canadians have the same language and are the same race, they have the same system [of government], and they see China as another “country” ((No idea why this is in scare quotes.)).

So if we really want to change the traditional model of thinking about China in Canada, I believe we have to work on three fronts.

The first is China must continue development and reform to present itself positively to the outside world. China must actually change to change the opinions of the Canadian people. The second is that China needs to go outward, widen the opportunities for communication between peoples, and do everything possible to invite more Canadians to China to see it. The third is of course Canada’s million Chinese immigrants, they are an important asset in Sino-Canadian relations. They are a bridge, but they are also a mirror that allows those who can’t travel to China to experience the modest, polite, respectful, disciplined, diligent, and honest [nature of the Chinese people]. However, with the differences in behavior of overseas Chinese added to Canadians’ traditional perceptions of China, the picture provided is still poles apart from the real China.

This situation goes further than just Canada, these shortcomings appear in China’s relationships with Japan, America, [etc.]

In short, in a democratic society, if the public opinion changes thoroughly, if a politician tries to “stir up trouble” they’ll only be shooting themselves in the foot. A long period of peace between China and Canada comes from the people, comes from the electorate, and this is something everyone must face squarely.


Ding is correct in suggesting China do away with the worn and overwrought protestations from the Foreign Ministry that any anti-China decision made by a foreign country is the result of evil politicians, but he veers dangerously close to committing that exact same logical sin in his discussion of the people. Certainly, foreign perceptions of China are shaped in part by misconceptions, but Ding gives no attention or thought to the idea that sometimes, other nations are going to make decisions that don’t benefit China’s interests because China is wrong, or because they are other countries and they are more concerned with their interests. Ding, in his implications, has set up a false dichotomy in which people from other countries either agree with China or are being misled (perhaps by their anti-China historical traditions, or their love of racial solidarity).

Someday, China may have to come to grips with the idea that other people’s opinions, while certainly often biased, are not always based on lies. And furthermore, that other people’s countries are going to pursue their interests, regardless of how that looks to China or how it serves China’s interests. Is it really in Canada’s best interest to have one of its most valuable natural resources partially controlled by a deeply corrupt Communist ((Not that Communist countries are bad by default, but historically speaking, there’s some precedent for the idea that it may not be the stablest political system around, nor the one that’s easiest to work with commercially)) country on the opposite side of the globe? Anti-China or not, one could argue the prospect of accepting investments from the US or the UK is more appealing to Canada not so much because they don’t understand China but because they do, at least a little bit, and what they do understand doesn’t sound that attractive. Under the best of circumstances, working with China can be difficult. With inflating housing prices and other dangerous economic signs making even Chinese economists nervous, and deeply embedded issues with corruption permeating the government and State-owned enterprises like the one buying Canadian oil sands, is misunderstanding really the only explanation for why Canadians might be a little nervous about hopping in bed with China?

Similarly, it might be time to give up the big-bad-bully Western media trope, no? Biases do exist there, certainly — we’ve analyzed them with some frequency on this site, in fact — but the media in the West is down on pretty much everyone, not just China, and in the past few years the quality of China reporting has really improved. Anyway, one wonders if China might get better press out of reporters if it stopped arresting them.

That’s probably enough ranting. Anyway, I have been a little unfair. For one, Ding does say that China needs to develop itself before it can properly win the hearts of the Western masses. And what’s more, everything he says about Western misconceptions and the biased media is true — it’s just that he’s left some important other things out.

0 thoughts on “China’s Real Challenge is the Western Public”

  1. Hm… Most Canadians “Anti-US”? Sounds like someone hasn’t in the Windsor/Detroit area before. Got to love the P.R. Chinese press – they can only work with so much before snapping back to a party line.


  2. Considering the “Western public” is predominantly made up of 1) people bought and paid for/raised on anti-Communist propaganda or 2) unabashed white supremacists, Christian fundamentalists, or other morons, there is little hope of reaching them.

    A small minority of them are independent thinkers- but you can’t assume they will care about China either.


  3. Another way to improve coverage is to lift the ban in place on Chinese nationals working as by-lined journalists for foreign media organizations. It’s a rule that’s broken on occasion, but when it is the foreign ministry always calls the next day to remind the paper that “Chinese nationals may not write or conduct independent journalism and interviews for foreign media organizations.”

    If the government were really serious about improving the quality of information and coverage in the foreign media, they would lift this silly rule and allow people who “know China” do some reporting.

    But they won’t. Why? Because then they can’t whine about how Western journos are biased and don’t understand China if the writers are Chinese themselves. And perhaps they are afraid that Chinese journalists, operating outside of the state system, might actually know China a little too well…


  4. If they knew China “a little too well”, the truth is still a far cry from the acerbic anti-Chinese propaganda pieces that Western media megacorporations crap down the public’s throat.

    What they really need to do is to buy the corporate scum who run these lie machines.


  5. Jeremiah,

    You mean Western Media have people posting more ‘balanced views’ of China because of ‘free press?’ Western Media is already in perpetual motion in terms of China bashing. If someone tries to post a neutral argument that might be favorable toward China, this person is dismissed as some ccp apologist. Maybe the problem is not with China’s media rather than Western Media. Although Joseph McCarthy died but McCarthyism still lives on.


  6. Nice try Pugster,

    But nowhere did I use the words or discuss in other words ‘balanced views’ or ‘free press,’ despite your use of quotation marks…

    I was saying, why not have Chinese people actually write for The New York Times or Washington Post. Many want to — and many of these ‘Western’ media organizations want them to — but they can’t because of current media regulations in the PRC. I don’t know, I think having people from China writing the stories would be an improvement, but hey…that’s just me.


  7. Jeremiah,

    “All the news that’s fit to print.” Unfortunately, you ever hear them hiring people out from globaltimes or chinadaily and let them write what they want, let me know.


  8. Pugster,

    That’s the point. They can’t.

    There’s a regulation that Chinese nationals are not allowed to write or do independent reporting for foreign media organizations. Sometimes they do allow Chinese nationals to write a by-lined story, but it always results in a stern warning the next day from the foreign ministry. This is something I know a little bit about.

    Trust me, many of the “western media” including the FCCC, has been active in urging the foreign ministry to lift the ban, because they do WANT to hire Chinese nationals to do reporting for them or allow Chinese nationals currently working for them to do independent reporting on their own stories, only to get slapped down by the ‘relevant authorities.’

    Anyway to recap my basic points, since I don’t think anyone’s actually reading the comments.

    1) Reporting on China could be a lot better.
    2) Allowing Chinese nationals to do actual reporting would be an improvement.
    3) There’s a ban in place that keeps foreign media organizations from using Chinese nationals as by-lined reporters.
    4) I think removing the ban might lead to better (not perfect, just better) coverage.


  9. “I said better not “perfect”…”

    In reality though, the writers will simply be strong-armed by editors into being nothing but a Zhang or Li name tag to put onto anti-China pieces, in order to give these publications the illusion of nuance of balance.


  10. I doubt there is any medicine that China or any Asians can do. There is this perception or mindset in the Western eyes that other than having blue eyes or bloke hairs, the rest of the other races are equal or superior than them.

    China needs not do anything for it’s a wastage of effort and money. What needs to be done is to continue to grow and grow it must to beat all these Western countries. Then maybe there is a change they can see eye to eye with the Chinese.


  11. Truth Speaker on June 30, 2010 at 06:32

    “Considering the “Western public” is predominantly made up of 1) people bought and paid for/raised on anti-Communist propaganda or 2) unabashed white supremacists, Christian fundamentalists, or other morons, there is little hope of reaching them.”

    Hm… that sounds like a spin I constantly here over at the China Daily BBS. Sorry… but it appears that some folks are merely basing their opinions on the latest Hollywood offering. It would be interesting to see what they would really say if they had a chance to visit a place like Chicago, Detroit, or elsewhere in the U.S.

    Then again – the idea of speaking to someone face to face, instead of with a computer – scares the living hell out of most. {laughter}


  12. Jeremiah
    “Maybe, maybe not. Let’s lift the ban and find out.”

    You are suggesting we venture on a gamble, where the odds are you either win big or China gains nothing as far as I can see.

    The NYT can start by making me their head editor I suppose.

    “China needs not do anything for it’s a wastage of effort and money. What needs to be done is to continue to grow and grow it must to beat all these Western countries. Then maybe there is a change they can see eye to eye with the Chinese.”

    That will never happen. Chinese people worship the West. They will pay a high school drop out 100x a migrant worker’s wage and then line up asking them to marry their sons and daughters. As soon as a big shot earns any money he invests it all in flashy clothing and accessories designed in Europe, all of which have at least a 1000% profit margin. This is especially glorious when the official or businessman has earned this money by flooding or polluting farmers out of their home, giving them no option but to work in factories until they are maimed or killed.


  13. “Most Canadians are anti-U.S. – this is a fact.”

    The most recent (Sept. 2009) Pew research poll of Canadian views of the U.S. suggests that 68% of them hold favorable views, up from 2007 (i.e., W.) when just 55% held favorable views.

    The truth is, since 2008, global views of the U.S. have trended sharply upward, while views of China have tanked. Sad but true. And deserved too, I think.

    Finally, the author of this piece fails to point out that many people in the West are unlikely to have positive views of China so long as the core values of the regime remain so repulsive to us. The day that the CCP decides to get serious about freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association and assembly, and an independent judiciary, THAT’s the day that people in the West will begin to change their view of China.

    Many in the Chinese media/government appear to believe that it’s all about the message – that better p.r., a few billions of dollars invested in getting out China’s point-of-view, and a nice Italian suit will change everything. Not so.


  14. Jeremiah,

    Although there are censors in US media is less than Chinese Media, it seems that the American Media is hardly a model that China should emulate from.

    It is interesting from a harvard study that in NY times and LA times overwhelming says waterboarding is torture before the Iraq invasion and then waterboarding is not torture after the invasion. Imagine how the Media follows the government’s line.


  15. “The day that the CCP decides to get serious about freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of association and assembly, and an independent judiciary, THAT’s the day that people in the West will begin to change their view of China.”

    Do you really think so? 60% of Americans think China is the world’s strongest economy or some such, I doubt they know much about Chinese law or even bother to think about it.


  16. “It is interesting from a harvard study that in NY times and LA times overwhelming says waterboarding is torture before the Iraq invasion and then waterboarding is not torture after the invasion. Imagine how the Media follows the government’s line.”

    Harvard is a mouthpiece of the CCP, wumaodang! Enjoy your 50 cents!!!


  17. Protests and riots would have out broken if the same degree of censorship occurs in another country. However, the root of Chinese state power comes from the peoples desire for 統一 and 國家強大. These dreams forces Chinese to either keeping CCP or facing 分裂. The prediction of 分裂 while a strong government is not around is based on Chinese history.

    It is not possible to have freedom without risking 統一, Chinese can only pick one. If they are not determined to pursue freedom, it is better to stay like this now because going back and forth between the two options would waste a lot of time and energy, both of which are in great demand in China.

    It is amazing to see the difference between the Chinese and English version of this site. In the English version people holds negative attitude towards the government, because it is their cultural habits of thinking. In the Chinese version the most common word used to refer China is 中國 rather than 中國政府. The use of 中國 could means the people, the government, the nation, the country, the culture, the land and Sinoshere.

    foreigners often have difficulty reading Chinese information because they are used to either accept everything the media said or reject it all. With the existence of censorship, most people choose to reject it all and fantasize about rescuing Chinese by asking for freedom for them. However there are people who believe that CPP is the least worse so far for China, and they hope to improve it rather than replace it with something else. Also, there are Chinese people who believe that CPP do work for China’s interest, in terms of maintaining sovereignty, national unity, prioritizing social problems with censorship, securing resources, defences, and encouraging trade and development.
    Sometimes I think that foreigners forget that China is only 60 years old. Compared to a 60 years old America or other countries, China do way better no doubts. At leasts we don’t have slavery nor we invade anyone.


  18. My favorite line of the article is “The reason is simple: Americans and Canadians have the same language and are the same race, they have the same system [of government]…”

    What?! What does “the same race” even mean in the US-Canada context, and I only wish we had the same system of government….certainly would have made the whole health care debate easier here! Just as it’s important for “the West” (whatever that means) to not see China as a singular monolith, it’s important for the Chinese government and its mouthpieces to stop portraying it that way too.


  19. The older western people, have an aversion, to anything Fascist or Communist. I had 3 brothers and a sister, in the armed services, during WW11. We did not want, Communism or Fascism, in our countries. And we still don’t. Fadden, from Canadian Intelligence, says, we have, too much Chinese influence. Premier Campbell, has sold our province out to China. Harper, is bending over backwards, to accommodate China’s easy access across our country. And no, we don’t like that one bit. Gordon Campbell is a dictator, he is adopting China’s government and, forcing himself on people, who despise him for being a dictator, and a Communist. And as, Harper and Campbell have a very close relationship, we don’t trust Harper either. In the fall election, he will get very few votes from BC. Canadian people, don’t like to be controlled. The people of BC, will fight to the bitter end, to be rid of, Campbell’s dictatorship government, and his lies, thievery and deceit.


  20. @Jerem, if chinese nationals were “release” to work for foreign publications, what kind views are likely to find employment? Ultimately the people that do the hiring control the message, so do you think that is likely to be anything different from what we see today?


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