Guest Post: Yiyi Lu and the Flowers of Hypocrisy

The following is a guest post by Mark Connor.

Frequent readers of this website will already know of the bullhorn Chinese nationalism barked by many in the Chinese media. Recent tweeter Hu Xijin of the Global Times is one; so is Eric Li. But though these roaring ideologues are not much different to North Korean leaders in full battle cry, their writings are not exactly the most relaxing way by which to sample Chinese patriotic opinion on political matters.

So if you would like to enjoy your flask of tea while browsing a more restrained and nuanced practitioner of Chinese nationalism, consider the articles of Yiyi Lu, a sometime contributor to WSJ’s China Real Time Report. On occasion she will voice concerns about this or that policy in China, or the tone of Chinese diplomatic language, but in general she hews closely to what we might think of as the CCCP’s ‘core’ values: Tibet, Taiwan, strong government, and so on. One such ‘value’ is that Japan is a remorseless enemy who committed outrageous atrocities in WW2 but about which neither the Japanese populace nor the world at large has as much knowledge as many Chinese think we should.

recent article of hers – concerning western media’s unfairly (to her mind) harsh appraisal of Flowers of War, the gory Chinese war epic focusing on the Rape of Nanking – is a case in point. About the harsh appraisal, she isn’t wrong. The WSJ’s own China Real Time Report memorably claimed the Japanese in that movie were all shown as “monochrome monsters” (see Lu’s article). But to Lu’s thinking, this brought to light a double standard in the western media, and this was that (in her words),

[n]umerous Holocaust movies have been made that portray Nazis as evil incarnate, but one does not see western media describing them as anti-German propaganda that “lacks subtlety.”

Lu of course does have half a point. Japan did commit war crimes for which it has not apologized or made reparations with nearly the art or humility that Germany has. The right cultural pressure could – hopefully – lead to better acknowledgement of these, and might even bring about compensation payments.

Whitewashing history in Japan’s school textbooks

But before we look at her analogy and consider its suitability, let us look first at another of Lu’s examples of western media bias in her article, this time regarding Japan’s school textbooks. As you probably already know, several of these textbooks omit or soft-pedal many of Japan’s atrocities in WW2, the Nanjing Massacre being the most famous. Lu however has noticed that whenever western media write about China’s criticisms of these books, somewhere in the article there is frequently a mention of China’s own omissions and soft-pedalings of wrongdoings committed against its own people. She thinks this is like saying,

when discussing Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews…: “Yes, the Jewish people suffered a great deal during World War II, but Israel has also occupied Palestinian territories and killed innocent Palestinian civilians.”

But this analogy of hers plainly does not work. The reason is that there are two victims – Jews and Palestinians – while in the textbook debate there is only one. The Japanese insulted their Chinese victims by erasing the record; the Chinese government did the exact same thing, and the victims were once again the Chinese.

Lu therefore needs a better analogy – here are two. First, imagine if Saddam Hussein had criticized Turkey’s treatment of the Kurds? As Hussein himself had famously gassed them, the media would have been right to mention this detail in any article on Hussein’s denouncing of Turkey’s actions. Or again, what about when the USSR put in its textbooks harsh words on the earlier Tsarist regime’s mistreatment of the masses, when in fact many punishments in the Soviet Union were much more strict and cruel than those of the predecessor’s? Pointing out clear hypocrisy of this kind is a surely a basic function of the media.

So coming back to China, the real issue does not seem to be who lies about what bad things were done to the Chinese in their textbooks. No, the picture that presents itself is of China needing Japan as an enemy and being prepared to lie to do so. There is little else we can conclude.

Why do countries have or need enemies? Of course the enemies do bad things – this is not in question. But so often are these evil acts of the enemy chanted as mantras of hate by the victims that they come to seem more as deflections of this anger away from one’s own problems, and then on to an outsider, in this case Japan. (Keep in mind that all countries do this, but some are much worse than others.) And from this we could then ask, might not films demonizing a foreign country be performing much the same function?

Flowers of War and the Nazis

At one point in her article, Lu also claims that Flowers of War’s private financing is relevant as this shows it is not the voice of the government, even though just about any other kind of movie on the Nanjing Massacre could not have been made in China’s heavily censored movie industry. This is almost like saying that the man in the straightjacket just so happens to be most comfortable crossing his arms over his body like that.

Her main point, however, as quoted above, is that western critics have given Hollywood’s portrayal of Nazis an easy ride while having shown zero tolerance to how Flowers of Warrepresents the Japanese. It is a little strange that she does not name any of these Nazi-vilifying films, so I have come up with a list myself. Tens, maybe hundreds, have been left out, but most people will probably agree the below are several of the more well-known. (There are others here, too).

Casablanca: Nazis don’t commit atrocities and behave much like a strict, enemy, occupying army. It was also made during WW2, not sixty years later.

Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Nazis are clear monsters. But note that they get their faces melted off by God at the end, making the effect more kitsch than cruel. Accuracy and realism are not hanging out with the plot in this blockbuster. Also, the bad guys are generally Nazis, not Germans. They have a logo to indicate them which the Germans, though sometimes evil, do not.

Schindler’s List: Nazis are bad but some Germans are good.

Saving Private Ryan: Nazis are no more than enemy soldiers. Inhuman acts are committed by both sides.

The PianistOne of the heroes is a Nazi.

Of the five, Indiana Jones’ Nazis are the only true “monochrome monsters” – the Japanese in Flowers of War are comparable to these Nazis alone. And notice that of the other four movies –Oscar winners all – three have nuanced portrayals of Germans, and, sometimes, Nazis too.

But somehow it is not the lack of recent movies with monster Nazis that seems most to trouble Lu’s point. What no doubt really bothered western critics about Flowers was its pretence to high art. It was submitted as China’s hopeful Oscar nomination, after all. Critics duly applied higher standards.

Japan probably needs to have more pressure applied to it so that it faces up to and admits its part in WW2 atrocities. Unfortunately China is too flawed and unsubtle a cultural voice to effectively do this. No wonder the latest effort drew so much skepticism and even scorn in the west.

 

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0 thoughts on “Guest Post: Yiyi Lu and the Flowers of Hypocrisy”

  1. I beg to disagree. I am as bored as anyone with the yearly Nanjing rape movies that they try to push here, and I don’t want to see anymore of them and don’t plan to see this one either. But the main reason for me (and many others) to dislike these movies has nothing to do with politics. It is more simple than that: they are more boring than nazi movies, hollywood is a much richer and freer and developed cinema industry and it just does better movies, that’s all. The day the Chinese learn to captivate all the world with their narrative they might achieve the same success. But they should change the script a little bit, not redo the same movie a million times.

    Regarding the WSJ writer, I don’t think she is more nationalistic than the average american writers on WSJ. And I do completely get her complaint about the mentions of “China’s own omissions and soft-pedalings of wrongdoings committed against its own people.”

    This is an aspect of western “free” media that annoys me in the extreme. Every time they feel compelled to give us these lil brainwashing jingles. See, each time they mention India, “the biggest democracy in the world”, each time they mention China “authoritarian regime who killed hundreds in tiananmen”, and so on. In a context where where the main subject is the rape of Nanjing, this kind of comment is of the worst taste and completely unwarranted. Akin to the news:

    “11S 2001, terrorist have attacked the twin towers in USA, the country that killed a million in vietnam, tortured and raped in Nicaragua, “lit up” children and journalists in Irak”. I wouldn’t write that, would you?

    Whatever. Just for God’s sake get real. Do you even know how many people countries like US, India and many other democracies have killed in the last 20 years? But we still feel the need to add these jingles to reassure us in our faith?

    The chinese press should mention US crimes in Irak (order of magnitudes worse than anything the CCP does) every time they mention the word US. Then we would be even. Fortunately they don’t do that since they already have their own tools for mind control…

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  2. Yiyi Lu is taking media appraisal of a movie, and trying to extrapolate that to there being the presence of systemic bias against China in general. That’s apples and oranges.

    With regards to the Oscars, she also has no point. Many critics weren’t fond of the Hanks movie, yet the Academy nominated it nonetheless. To suggest that “media bias” against Flowers is what doomed its prospects at a nomination is unfounded.

    As Connor points out, her analogy to the back-and-forth about who is whitewashing which historical text is also flawed. If German texts glossed over the Holocaust, and Israel complained, then there would be a parallel for “western media” to admonish both sides to varying degrees. But the parallel is hypothetical only, since it hasn’t happened. So she really has no actual comparison.

    The tendency to “over-reach” when it comes to accusations of western media bias is certainly not unique to Lu. In fact, it sustains many a blog. THe problem with such a tendency is that it is easily and readily deconstructed, and ends up diminishing whatever point they were trying to make to begin with. In this case, if Lu was unhappy with the criticism of Flowers, she should have told us how those criticism themselves were unwarranted. To resort to the age-old stand-by of “the media are biased” sounds very much like the usual whining, and not very much like an actual argument.

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  3. ‘The tendency to “over-reach” when it comes to accusations of western media bias is certainly not unique to Lu. In fact, it sustains many a blog. THe problem with such a tendency is that it is easily and readily deconstructed, and ends up diminishing whatever point they were trying to make to begin with.’

    In many cases I suspect this may be true, but I would be highly amused to hear your ‘deconstruction’ of (just because it is the most recent example, not China-related at all) the AP’s reporting that the anti-Orange protests in Russia consisted of only 20,000 people, there under duress or because they were dirty lazy proles teachers, city workers and union members; when all of the photos taken of the event clearly show the protests filling the Polokannaya gora (and thus in excess of 100,000 people). In at least one case, the photos of the anti-Orangers were mislabelled as being anti-Putin protests; and the AP version of the story was picked up by practically every major TV outlet in the US as well as by several major newspapers and online news sources.

    http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/2012/02/who-ya-gonna-believe.html

    If a Chinese news outlet had given this sort of dismissive treatment to a domestic ‘mass incident’, it would very rightly be seen as self-interested official massaging, if not outright propaganda.

    Let us not apply double standards, please.

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  4. I appreciate your concerns about Yiyu Lu’s portrayal of the western media. Analysis of such an issue will of course be biased to some extent based on one’s own views, hence I will try to keep myself strictly on analytical arguments, instead of any other, including moral.

    1.
    “But this analogy of hers plainly does not work. The reason is that there are two victims”

    That’s an analytical error. The victim is the same in the Chinese case, but that does not mean that the claim lacks validity or the accusations lack hypocrisy. The accusation of hypocrisy is being directed towards one party – the western media (if one may allow oneself to lump it into one group, just for the sake of argument). That is the party that is the same in both cases. The point is the principle, not the actual example.

    2.
    “What no doubt really bothered western critics about Flowers was its pretence to high art. It was submitted as China’s hopeful Oscar nomination, after all.”

    Are you saying that western critics did not like Flowers because it pretended to be high art? How is a film’s claim to represent high art related in any way to whether it will win the Oscars or not? Does every film that pretends to be high art not deserve to win an Oscar?

    If a movie is bad, it should be criticized. This should in no way be related to the country where the movie originates, or the country which the movie is about. But that is not the case here, and that is Yiyu Lu’s point.

    3. Regarding your point about “monochrome monsters”, Yiyi Lu was quoting a post from another website, which she later then went on describe as “might be too harsh”. She then went on to use the word “numerous” to describe the instances of such representation of Nazis in Hollywood.

    4.
    “At one point in her article, Lu also claims that Flowers of War’s private financing is relevant as this shows it is not the voice of the government, even though just about any other kind of movie on the Nanjing Massacre could not have been made in China’s heavily censored movie industry. This is almost like saying that the man in the straightjacket just so happens to be most comfortable crossing his arms over his body like that.”

    That any other kind of movie on the Nanjing Massacre could not have been made in China’s heavily censored movie industry is neither here nor there, and it is not related to criticism or praise of this movie. A movie should be critized or praised on its own terms and its own strengths or weaknesses. That China censors some topics does NOT mean that whatever China does not censor is wrong or inconsequential or shouldn’t be believed. That would be like saying that China’s netizens should not search for the historical events related to the Bund just because China censors searches for the events related to Tienanmen square. Or that Chinese historians should give up studying history (that China does not censor research on) just because China censors research on the history of the Dalai Lama or Tienanmen square. Or that Chinese netizens should stop using weibo because they are not allowed to use twitter.

    “No, the picture that presents itself is of China needing Japan as an enemy and being prepared to lie to do so. “

    That’s a false conclusion. Tell me where China “lied” about Japanese atrocities.

    5.
    “But so often are these evil acts of the enemy chanted as mantras of hate by the victims that they come to seem more as deflections of this anger away from one’s own problems, and then on to an outsider, in this case Japan. “

    Another fallacy, and an all too common one. So common that I am thinking of writing a whole article about it. Explain to me how people’s anger can be “deflected” to a foreign country. If I am a Chinese citizen and say, that Chinese government forcibly grabbed my land, how is the fact that the Japanese committed atrocities against the Chinese decades ago going to help my case? Yes – I am angry at what happened in history at that time. But how does that help me RIGHT NOW? Why would I forgive the Chinese government for what it is doing to me right now based on what the the Japanese government did to my ancestors decades ago?

    “And from this we could then ask, might not films demonizing a foreign country be performing much the same function?”

    No – we may not. Flowers had nothing whatsoever to do with the Chinese government. The movie’s portrayal does not represent the views of the Chinese government. The theme of the movie simply happened to fall in that 99.99 % of topics that the Chinese government does not censor. Just because it allowed the movie to be made doesn’t mean that it endorses it, or uses it as propaganda.

    It would be worth your while to understand this very carefully – If a government censors something, it means that it is against it, but if it does not censor something, that doesn’t mean that it extols it or commends or glorifies or endorses it. It simply means that it ALLOWS it and is NOT against it. That’s it. Nothing else. Hence, the Chinese government is not against Flowers portrayal of the Japanese. It is mere coincidence that in this case, the governments’ portrayal and the film’s portrayal are similar. This will not apply to other cases. For example, the Chinese government allows foreign search engines to operate in China. It means that it is not against them. But would the Chinese government endorse them? Global times recently called for sanctions against the Philippines. That China allowed the article to be published does not mean that it is thinking about imposing sanctions.

    6. Note Yiyi Lu’s point about there being “an appropriate time and place for such discussions.”. She is not down-playing Chinese textbooks’ omissions of atrocities committed by the Chinese government on its own people, she is just saying that those omissions do not mean that the Japanese government’s textbook omissions should be given less importance in any way. “But no, the western media is reporting about that too” you say. Yes – it is, but it ALSO reporting something else. Something that is unrelated. Does a typical western media post about Nazi atrocities against Jews contain a sidenote or a mention about Israel’s Jews’ atrocities in Palestine? Does a typical western media report about Hillary Clinton criticizing on the Chinese government on human rights mention Guantanamo or Abu-Gharib? Does a typical western media report about Robert Gates’ asking why China needs an aircraft carrier mention America’s own military budget and no.of aircraft carriers? Does a typical western media article about China’s help to “dictatorships” contain a mention about US help to similar countries?
    “But two wrongs don’t make a right”, you say. Yes – they don’t. But in that case, the media should apply that principle everywhere, why only to China? That is Yiyu Lu’s point.

    7. The movies that you have listed have become famous and have won Oscars. However, that does not mean that Yiyi Lu’s point about the western movie critics saying that Chinese movies’ portrayal of the Japanese lacks subtlety is wrong. Those western movies that do portray the Nazis in a completely negative light are not criticized as “lacking subtlety”, then why should such criticism be hurled upon a Chinese movie? Moreover, that western movies portraying Nazis in a nuanced manner won Oscars does not meant that Chinese movies portraying the Japanese should be criticized as lacking subtlety. Now of course, if criticism were hurled on the movie itself, on the way it is made, on the story, etc. then it would be a different thing altogether. But that is not the case here.

    Hence, while there are many other points about the article and the issue as a whole, and while I do appreciate your concerns on the issue, all one is saying is that there is more to this than meets the eye. Your analysis obviously contains many right points, and so does Yiyu Lu’s. I always feel that when one starts analyzing something about China, one should try to substitute another country in place of China and see how our response will change, if at all.

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  5. Convenient that she didn’t mention “John Rabe” or “Shanghai.” Those were foreign-Chinese co-productions that portrayed the Japanese invasion and they were pretty well received by western audiences. I don’t remember the single-minded monolith “Western media” using those to attack the Chinese government.

    It’s funny to read the comments on that piece trashing the unmitigated western media bias. Do they realize where Wall Street Journal is from?

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  6. I’ve only walked out of a movie twice, the most recent being Flowers of War.

    I’m not surprised that it has attracted such critical review and I’m not surprised either that a chest thumping patriot wheels out the usual defensive tactic of blaming the naughty western media. None of it is actually that surprising – regular China watchers see this kind of thing regularly.

    What is surprising, though, is the dramatic drop in quality between To Live and Flowers of War. Either Zhang Yimou had a lobotomy somewhere along the line OR (and this is perhaps more likely) Flowers of War is yet another example of China’s censorship ruining what could have been a quite decent film. It has that CCP government feel to it – sort of like cheap sausages.

    The Chinese government has nurtured such a deep sense of hatred in China towards Japan that even if an apology and attempt at reconciliation were to begin tomorrow, it would likely be met with little more than incandescent rage. The healing process has yet to begin and Flowers of War is yet another part of the problem, not the solution.

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  7. Within japan the majority of people don’t see much of a connection between themselves and the war, or their history in general. Chinese schools steep their kids in national history. Japanese kids get way way less of a dose. This is partly due to war avoidance, and partly about simple cultural proclivity. There are groups with strong opinions about the war, but theyre pretty small. Some still believe it was a war of asian liberation. In terms of japanese war apologies, a few years ago i found the wikipedia page for it and it stood at 43 apologies in various venues by japanese politicians. One problem here is, a politician can sincerely apologize and another one can come right out and deny any japanese wrongdoing. Japan is divided over its history. I do think there is some substance to what lu yiyi said about western anti chinese subtext coming out in movie reviews. But this topic is complex and probably needs book length treatment to guide/progress the discussion.

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  8. @Maitreya

    1. See 6.

    2. Sure it makes a difference. Make a B-grade movie like this and it won’t even get reviewed in the western media.

    3. Not sure of your point.

    4. I just meant in the current system a movie that portrays Japanese significantly differently could not have been made, regardless of where the financing came from. And on your second point, the lie I was referring to was about was the CCCP’s portrayal of its own history to its own people.

    5. The head of a family secretly hoards that family’s food. It then blames the neighbours for stealing part of their land fifty years earlier for the shortage. This illustrates my point in general, for all governments.

    6. It’s plausible that a reader of the news about the textbook argument would not be aware of China’s own continued censorship. Is there a person alive who doesn’t know the US has aircraft carriers? Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib are recent and much covered in the western media. There are other good reasons besides these.

    7. “Lacks subtlety” is an appropriate criticism for a movie submitted for an Oscar. Otherwise, tell me of a western movie that won critical acclaim but which showed Nazis as monsters in a realistic way?

    8. Your last point I agree with – we don’t want to use criticizing China as an excuse to look at our own politics less carefully.

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  9. We don’t seem to be able to meditate on/consider the japanese invasion and occupation of china of itself, completely apart from the horrific unfolding of chinese history that happened post ’45. I suspect that one reason we find it hard to impossible to do so is that the demonic japanese turned out pretty good, whereas the raped and decimated chinese war victims turned out to be monsters.

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  10. To MFC,
    I have no idea who Patrick Armstrong is. So when he asks who I am gonna believe, I have no basis for deciding whether I should or shouldn’t believe him. Do the pictures he shows depict what he says they’re depicting? I don’t know.

    If AP grossly, blatantly, and intentionally low-balled the crowd estimate for a pro-Putin rally, that is factually and ethically wrong. If AP took a photo of a large crowd at a pro-Putin rally and tried to pass it off as the turnout at an anti-Putin demonstration instead, that is similarly wrong. And if other outlets ran with the AP feed without fact-checking themselves, then shame on them too.

    But if we’re discussing the presence or absence of some sort of “systematic western media bias”, I’m not sure where this factors in.

    I’m also not sure where double standards come into play here. If “western media” criticized Chinese government low-ball estimates of a domestic protest while remaining silent on a “western” government low-balling estimates of a civic western protest, that would be a double standard. But that’s not represented in your example. And that certainly has little to do with the topic of this thread.

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  11. To Maitreya,
    “the western media (if one may allow oneself to lump it into one group, just for the sake of argument)”
    —this sentence nicely sums up the entirety of the problem. There is no entity known as “western media”. So allowing oneself to use a non-existent entity simply for argument’s sake dooms said argument at or before its conception.

    I believe some journalists are biased against some aspect or aspects of China (just as some journalists are biased for some aspect or aspects of China). The way to counter that bias is to identify it when it occurs. THe problem occurs, as I said earlier, when people try to make unfounded over-generalizations.

    I agree with you that if a movie deserves criticism, it deserves criticism, regardless of its country of origin or who paid the bills.

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  12. Just wondering, in what ways, precisely, is the CCP the same as Sadam Hussein’s regime? More to the point, were the CCP, the GMD, and the Japanese forces one of a kind in the 1930s? All of them bent on the destruction of Chinese people?

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  13. How were the ccp, kmt and japanese militarists similar? That sounds like a good first year exam essay question. I’d say they weren’t bent on the destruction of the han people but they were all bent on things which would contribute to the destruction of the han. They were all postfeudal aspiring authoritarian regimes which had to beg borrow or steal legitimacy. They were all cynical in that the top leaders knew their propaganda about being benign and for the people was opposite to what the regimes really were about, which was self glorification for the leaders and pork for their circles. The comparative post history is interesting too. Those authoritarian regimes, postwar, went back to china, taiwan and japan to die. Taiwan’s died with the most dignity, in a repentant transition to democracy, though it threatens to resurrect, with kmt policies and vote rigging that are ‘best’ for the people even if the people don’t want them. Japan’s authoritarianism is dying the most convincingly, with anti nuclear marches really equating to anti showa paternalism marches. China’s authoritarianism is dying the most dramatically, like a plane engine, taking a hell of alot of people down with it.

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  14. Really, @Vam? This is precisely the kind of answer I would expect from a first year student. The claim that the 1930s CCP leadership was cynical in the way you describe is, frankly, absurd. Having said this, presentism is an error that can be committed by students and non-students alike, so I wouldn’t dock you too many marks for that. As to the last three sentences, I might understand better if you were to clarify the definition of the word “dying” f

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  15. Yeah i was pretty sure you would react to the notion of authoritarianism dying. It’s a pretty simple point, that the paint has come off all this ‘benevolent rule’ asiatic exceptionalist ‘our childlike subjects need a guiding hand’ rhetoric and it’s being challenged everywhere. Cos it’s kak. And, i know what you mean by the whole ccp romantic 30s thing, but there were monsters in the mix who were gaming the revolution, even that early on. Maybe that’s down to what fukuzawa suggested was a ‘native duplicity’ though to be sure there were plenty of qu yuans to be thrown under the bus. . . Or tank. At any rate, the ccp of the 30s was already a viper’s nest. It just had really good pr. I mean, you just have to look at how those dreamy utopians held on to oppressive institutions like the hukou system (japanese invented) or vagrants’ lockups (kmt) after their victory. Anyway. The blog post is about some journalist who got pissed cos western reviews don’t sufficiently bag the japanese imperialists of yore, and as i have suggested above i think her argument has legs but it needs serious thrashing out. So if i comment again i’m keen to get back to that.

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  16. @Mark

    “Sure it makes a difference. Make a B-grade movie like this and it won’t even get reviewed in the western media.”

    But in your entire post, you have hardly ever said that the movie was bad! The point you made comes out meaning like this – the critics didn’t like the fact that the movie pretended to be high art. (“What no doubt really bothered western critics about Flowers was its pretence to high art.”). You are not at all saying that the critics didn’t think that the movie was high art, they are saying that the movie’s pretense to be a movie of high art bothered western critics. And this, at least to me, represents only half the story and comes across a condescending. Now of course, if a movie pretends to be high art but isn’t, then it deserves to be panned. But western critics have not applied the same standards to this movie as to western ones. And that is Yiyu Lu’s point. And I also don’t see how all this seems to “trouble” Lu’s point in any way.

    “the lie I was referring to was about was the CCCP’s portrayal of its own history to its own people. “

    Well, you said. “the picture that presents itself is of China needing Japan as an enemy and being prepared to lie to do so”. Now explain to me how China’s lying about the cultural revolution portrays Japan as an enemy.

    “The head of a family secretly hoards that family’s food. It then blames the neighbours for stealing part of their land fifty years earlier for the shortage. This illustrates my point in general, for all governments. “

    Your analogy is false. For it to be true, the Chinese government would have to tell the Chinese people (whose land they forcibly took) that Japan is to blame and is the reason why the government took away their land.

    “It’s plausible that a reader of the news about the textbook argument would not be aware of China’s own continued censorship. Is there a person alive who doesn’t know the US has aircraft carriers? Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib are recent and much covered in the western media. There are other good reasons besides these.”

    Whether people know it or not is besides the point. The media never finds it amiss to mention things that people already know. For the matter of that – positive stories about China also appear in the western media (And when one uses that phrase, one is talking about the overwhelming MAJORITY of the reports, not EVERY report). But the point here is that US aircraft carriers and Guantanamo etc. are not mentioned in the same article/piece. Of course, the same media outlet might have separate articles about them, but then they have separate articles saying good things about China too. For example, a review about Flowers will contain mention of politics and Chinese censorship, but an article about Hillary Clinton’s preachy Human Rights speech will not contain a mention of US human rights violations.

    For example, if you read this: http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2011/12/12/china-zhang-yimou-flowers-of-war-premiers-in-beijing-sumptuous-but-selectively-nuanced/, the politicization of the movie can clearly be made out. Hence, Yiyu Lu’s point is that western critics say that the movie lacks subtlety not because it actually lacks subtlety, but because of political reasons. Whether one agrees with that point or not if a different matter. If you do not agree, you can say so and write a post about it. However, one needs to understand her argument first and what compelled her to say what she was saying.

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  17. There is certainly a heavy anti-China bias in the Western media, especially on controversial topics such as Tibet. I am thus a bit disappointed that the best evidence Yiyi Lu could give was Flower of War, which IMO wasn’t all that good.

    The author of this article asked a pretty good question regarding the need of a national enemy. Looking at the US elections buzz and the anti-China rhetoric in the debates, one could just as well conclude that the American public cannot deal with bad domestic policies (much of it self inflicted) which is resulting in a slow US decline. The US politicians instead of addressing the issues head on, instead channel the public’s general xenophobia into votes during elections. Politicians using xenophobia to stay in power, sounds familiar?

    BTW, this is happening all over the place too. Tokyo’s governor famously blamed all crimes in Japan on “foreigners” and goes on to win elections after elections. The Taiwan opposition government runs pretty much exclusively on a nationalist theme opposing China and won in 2000. Chinese nationalism can certainly be an issue, however the same people who are bashing Chinese nationalism are the often the very ones who are supporting Taiwan/Tibetan nationalism. The same people who are criticizing China’s xenophobia are often the sames ones who are xenophobia towards Chinese people, Chinese language, and Chinese culture.

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  18. @Mark: Check out the comments on Lu’s piece… they kind of prove your point…
    That said I don’t really get your point about ‘one victim’ of Chinese and Japanese crimes. It’s legitimate to bring up anti-Japanese propaganda in the context of Japanese war crimes because those crimes are a central part of that propaganda, which is a core part of the CCP’s legitimacy. Saying that the CCP reaps political rewards from highlighting Japan’s crimes and from airbrushing its own crimes doesn’t have anything to do with downplaying Japan’s atrocities. It’s just a completely separate point. Lu’s argument is basically that anyone who criticises China supports mass slaughter, which just doesn’t make sense in itself, regardless of who the victim was.

    Also I think you’ve missed the main problem with Lu’s article: her central claim that the Western media has universally accused flowers of being propaganda about japanese monsters simply isn’t true. The New York Times criticised it precisely for a ‘frivolous’, weirdly romantic treatment of the massacre, and actually recommended the far more gruesome ‘nanjing, nanjing’ as a better account of the event. The washington post said pretty much the same thing, that it was too pretty and not serious enough to be convincing. The top review on rotten tomatoes reads – ‘Human suffering reduced to visual showmanship.’ Variety gave it a positive review (weirdly, praising it for the exact same qualities the NYT derided). The LA Times seems kind of equivocal, but its main problem was that the characters weren’t fleshed out enough. I haven’t seen a single major publication accuse it of being propaganda (though I only looked at those listed above), though a few did cite ‘some critics’ as making that accusation, along with Christian Bale refuting it. At the risk of sounding patronising, don’t try to pick apart the logic of writers who denounce Western media bias, because there generally isn’t any. A bit of research is all it takes to make their arguments collapse.

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  19. Thanks for the clarifications, @Vam, but I think it’s not hard to see why I have problems with what you’re saying. I suppose you and I might think in similar ways in terms of what we would like to see in the world, but what you’re doing is fixing the facts to suit your hopes. Holding that what has become of the revolution is a result of “vipers in the nest”? This argument is of a kind that would have made Mao himself proud. I’d accept some kind of structural contradiction argument, but spotting the avaricious wolves in the early party is a bit much. Having said all of this, it occurs to me that engaging in all of this discussion over a movie that finds a love story between prostitute and priest in the midst of a massacre is a waste of time. More to the point of the post, the problems with the portrayal of the Japanese is one that is quite correctly identified in this and every other war movie (save for the exceptional All Quiet on the Western Front). Portraying the Japanese as amoral baddies doesn’t really help us understand anything at all about the atrocities of war. By way of contradicting myself, though, perhaps the priest-prostitute story brings some much needed moral ambiguity into the picture.

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  20. To Matreya,
    I don’t know which Hillary Clinton human rights speech you are referring to. But if it’s the one from December 2011, the transcipt is here.
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/06/hillary-clinton-gay-rights-speech-geneva_n_1132392.html

    It’s about LGBT rights. I’m not sure what “US human rights violations” would be relevant and warrant mention in an article covering that speech.

    I think a movie that passes for “high art” would, among other things, have treated all character portrayals with nuance. If Flowers treats Chinese characters with nuance but not Japanese ones, then it would seem to fail to meet at least that one bar. Is there a variance of standards there?

    As for the WSJ piece which seems to have initally rubbed Lu the wrong way, where is this “politicization”? “Mr. Zhang’s portrayal of the Japanese brutality leaves little to the imagination. Nuanced treatment of the Chinese characters is in stark contrast with portrayal of the Japanese as monochrome monsters. At one point, a Japanese soldier chasing the Chinese schoolgirls through the cathedral shouts: ‘Lieutenant come up here, we’ve got virgins!””. It seems their characterization of a lack of subtlety can be summarized therein, with no “political reasons” in sight. Lu fails to establish that criticism of Flowers is based on “politics”, rather than this lack of subtlety that was overtly described. I have no idea how she came up with her overarching opinion of “bias”, especially based on comments about Flowers. But it does make me wonder.

    It seems people will see what they want to see, the irony there being that what those individuals choose to see represents bias on their end, just as they’re busy accusing journalists of bias at the same time.

    The funniest aspect for me comes back to this: people get bent out of shape about “western media bias” when they disagree, but are more than happy to quote from “western media” when they are in agreement. When people see or call “bias”, all it really means is that they happen to disagree with what’s being said at that particular time, in that particular article.

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  21. To get through that amount of rape and murder you sort of have to be monochrome. There’s a book called sensoo which is a collection of letters to the asahi shimbun by people who lived through the war, and the refrain often comes up that we/they were monsters. One guy feared that his kids would be born deformed because he couldnt believe that someone as guilty as him could have normal kids. So, these monsters had many shades to their personality, but for those few weeks those young men behaved so outrageously that even the japanese government feared that the army was on the verge of collapse. In film we’re used to seeing, at the cartoonish end, colour-coded good guys and bad guys, and at the realist end, redeemable characters with rivers of nuance flowing out their ears. But in the heat of the moment, and nanjing was a long moment, that shit goes out the window and people are just plain dicks. So criticisms of monochromicity imho come from spoiled movie goers who want their movies morally tidier than life often is.

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  22. To Vam,
    the portrayal of Japanese characters was not nuanced because it would have been very difficult to portray them with nuance given the subject matter. I believe that is what you’re saying. That seems fair. So the critics are criticizing the movie for not doing something that would’ve been hard to do. Because of this, one might suggest that such criticism is unfair. But to go from this point to the point of suggesting systematic bias, and to suggesting that it was criticized for political reasons, as some have attempted to do, is quite a stretch.

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  23. Super Karate Cheung: yeah. Tho zhang could easily have added some humanizing touches to il giappos had he wanted. I respect him for not taking that option. His oeuvre clearly shows that he is anything but shallow about the human condition/ goodies and baddies. And YES youre right about the journalist taking her argument too far, but it begs the question of what is ‘the west’ in the popular chinese imagination? Cos there’s some kind of phenomenon afoot where PRCistas feel oppressed but also oddly warmed or nourished by this ‘the west’ thing – and this existential ‘the west’ is clearly a different but related thing to the west as it actually is. And PRC chinese feel more oppressed and troubled by their history with the west than the indians or certain africans i have met whose countries were colonised and far more intimately oppressed than anything our sinitic brethren or their ancestors endured.

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  24. A couple of commenters seem to have missed something important about my piece.

    It wasn’t about the movie Flowers of War – that’s why there are no examples from the movie mentioned.

    And it wasn’t even about whether the western media did or did not treat that same movie fairly. @Jackdh rightly notices the media’s overall response wasn’t what Lu thought.

    Both of these were assumed in my piece. Lu herself did something similar: she never asked, were all the Japanese in the movie really portrayed as monsters?

    There’s a good reason she didn’t. It’s because her real point was, nobody has the right to criticize China when it demonizes Japan. This also ties in with her second example in the article about the textbooks.

    And it is also why I didn’t care whether the media had on balance given Flowers of War a good wrap, or whether the movie itself in reality did or did not paint the Japanese with, say, the complexity of a character in Proust. She didn’t care, so neither did I.

    The thrust of this piece was that even with her assumptions, she’s still in no position to excoriate the western media.

    One other point, @jackdh again: the propaganda of the CCCP and the Japanese are not separate. You yourself wrote that propaganda is a central part of the war crimes. China is still making propaganda about its past – it focuses heavily on the Japanese while down-playing the havoc wreaked by the CCCP. Your point is only concerned with past war crimes. What about future ones?

    I know there have been other points made above by commenters besides these; I don’t have time to answer them all now, sorry. I’ll try tomorrow.

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  25. @Maitreya,

    Thanks for the rebuttal. Since I am too lazy to bother with this kind of post, I will make some comments by just piggy-bagging on your points.

    1.
    “But this analogy of hers plainly does not work. The reason is that there are two victims”

    – Only those who do not value the Palestinians’ lives as the same as Jewish lives will make such a claim. In the poster’s mind, Palestinians’ lives do not worth a damn. Otherwise, how can you make such distinctions on human lives? Note that this is a recurrent theme in some Western hypocrites’ arguments.

    2.
    “What no doubt really bothered western critics about Flowers was its pretence to high art. It was submitted as China’s hopeful Oscar nomination, after all.”

    Are you saying that western critics did not like Flowers because it pretended to be high art? How is a film’s claim to represent high art related in any way to whether it will win the Oscars or not? Does every film that pretends to be high art not deserve to win an Oscar?

    – Excellent point. How could the Japanese invaders be portrayed differently in a movie about Japanese atrocities?

    4.
    “At one point in her article, Lu also claims that Flowers of War’s private financing is relevant as this shows it is not the voice of the government, even though just about any other kind of movie on the Nanjing Massacre could not have been made in China’s heavily censored movie industry. This is almost like saying that the man in the straightjacket just so happens to be most comfortable crossing his arms over his body like that.”

    – Like this film’s financing and production really has anything to do with the Oscar.

    5.
    “But so often are these evil acts of the enemy chanted as mantras of hate by the victims that they come to seem more as deflections of this anger away from one’s own problems, and then on to an outsider, in this case Japan. “

    – Excellent points. The only “rebuttal” some Westerners could offer to “counter” the Chinese complaints about Japanese war crimes is to blame the victims.

    6. Chinese textbook about Japanese war crimes

    – Actually, no exaggeration is needed in the textbook. State the history as it was is more than enough to convey the cautionary tale about imperialism and Fascism. In fact, Chinese textbook is very refrained in describing Japanese atrocities in China, because the purpose is NOT to instigate anger toward Japan, as some China bashers like to claim.

    Japan probably needs to have more pressure applied to it so that it faces up to and admits its part in WW2 atrocities. Unfortunately China is too flawed and unsubtle a cultural voice to effectively do this. No wonder the latest effort drew so much skepticism and even scorn in the west.

    Yep, “China is too flawed and unsubtle a cultural voice to effectively” put pressure on Japan regarding its war crimes. An early film also directed by Zhang Yimou, “Red Sorghum”, in which Japanese invaders were actually depicted very unsubtly as the extremely violent barbarians who flayed the “flawed” Chinese alive, actually garnered some international awards. So much for the poster’s logic, which is difficult to find in this post to begin with.

    The whole post is full of unmitigated China bashing, an embarrassment for Custer’s site.

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  26. There are 2 things I would like to add to this article:
    1. We should keep in mind the perspective that most of the Chinese movies about WW2 represent – namely the Chinese. Most movies therefore then become an accusation of Japanese atrocities rather than a historical account of what happened. Nazi movies are different since most (definitely the ones quoted) are American. I am not in any way implying that the USA didn’t suffer from Nazi terror (I’m a German myself, so please don’t think I am downplaying anything here!!!) but they did arguably suffer less than the Chinese did from Japanese occupation. It would be more telling to compare Nazi movies coming out of Israel or other European countries.
    As much as it embarrasses me, I have to say that I cannot think of any such film here (please recommend some to me if you know any). But I am certain that if there is a (anti) Nazi film from Israel that depicted Nazis in the same way Japanese are depicted in Chinese movies, noone would criticise them.
    2. I haven’t personally watched Flowers of War yet but it saddens me that it is now the most commonly known China vs. Japan movie out there. From all the articles and comments it seems that it’s yet another movie in the long list of anti Japanese films in China and hence becomes little more than a propaganda instrument to divert anger away from internal problems in China.
    The 2009 movie Nanjing Nanjing! would have been a much better representative of Chinese war movies on the international stage. This movie is a proof that China is capable of more nuanced accounts of what happened during Japanese occupation. It is simliar to Western movies in that it de-nationalises the crimes and lets the sheer horror take the driver seat. Further, it allows (to some careful extent) some of the Japanese to come across as human beings that found themselves in this horrible situation and didn’t know what to do. It was actually for this reason that in China itself some concern was raised about the movie. But still, China should have aimed for the Oscar with Nanjing Nanjing! instead of FLowers of War. And by the same token, the West should focus more on that movie and apply their higher standards to it.

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  27. To scl:
    huh?

    1. “Only those who do not value the Palestinians’ lives as the same as Jewish lives will make such a claim. In the poster’s mind, Palestinians’ lives do not worth a damn.”
    —I see you are now into mind-reading. No idea how you took what Connor said and created that first sentence. Very creative reading indeed.

    2. “Does every film that pretends to be high art not deserve to win an Oscar?”
    —this was actually a silly question on Maitreya’s part to begin with. Quite literally, the answer would be “no”. Films that ‘deserve’ to win an Oscar should BE high art, and not merely have pretensions thereof. But the question itself misses Connor’s point, which he clearly stated. The movie sought high recognition, and so it was rightfully scrutinized under higher standards. In the eyes of those critics (and apparently of the Academy), those standards were not met.

    4. “Like this film’s financing and production really has anything to do with the Oscar.”
    —it doesn’t. But Connor wasn’t making that connection in his post. His paragraph concerning financing makes no reference to the Oscars. So one wonders why you would here.

    5. I agreed with Maitreya here. No idea where you came up with “blame the victims”.

    One thing that your comment certainly reaffirms as much as anyone else’s is that everyone most definitely has their own biases, and people obviously can’t read two words without their comprehension thereof being substantially coloured by it.

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  28. moritz,

    youre kind of right and wrong about chinese war movies chucking history out the window. these stories and histories become really stylized to the point that they stop being just history. but they remain responses to history. i think what happens is, you read the history, you take the valuable lessons out of it, then you write the history through the lens of those lessons. in that way, history loses its ambiguity. the thing that fucks up chinese ability to understand history is not their emphasis on the victimization, but that their history has been scrubbed clean of all references to their own victimization of others. but let me also say that i get pissed off by the western obsession with making everyone out to be equal, because histories told through that lense abuse the specificity of history. as in, we may be all capable of atrocity, but these guys at this specific time committed an atrocity, and lets meditate on that atrocity instead of rushing to subsume that atrocity and reducing it to something that we’re all guilty of. thats clearly what happens in alot of western liberal histories and stories – absolving guilt porn, taken like a purifying sacrament. everyone’s guilty so no one is. at least in the flowers of war, or any chinese war movie, the japanese can be straight out evil, just like they really were, without some good guy jap who gives a teddy bear to a chinese orphan, which is the kind of compulsive western tendency that reveals the fucking hideousness of western liberal idiocy.

    sorry this isnt so cogent a comment…

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  29. @The 2009 movie Nanjing Nanjing! would have been a much better representative of Chinese war movies on the international stage.

    As much as I admire Lu Chuan’s intention to educate Japanese about the massacre, the film is still banned in Japan from pressure of ultra-right wing Japanese nationalists.

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  30. I am honestly confused whenever I hear the “Japan should apologize” line. Do those who claim this actually believe what they say, or are they merely using such a statement to give credence to attacks against Japan?

    A quick Google search will yield Wikipedia article detailing the many official apologies over the years.

    In addition the “textbook controversy” is a non-issue cooked up by those who would vilify Japan for their own ends. The truth is the books were written, but have been rejected by nearly every school in the nation.

    Also ERIC X. LI has another poorly thought out pro-CCP piece here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/16/opinion/why-chinas-political-model-is-superior.html?_r=1

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  31. SK Cheung:

    ‘So when he asks who I am gonna believe, I have no basis for deciding whether I should or shouldn’t believe him. Do the pictures he shows depict what he says they’re depicting? I don’t know.’

    Well, as someone who has used Photoshop I believe I can say with some certainty that the photos haven’t been doctored, either by ER or by AP. And I believe that they do depict what he says they depict – the prominent Russian tricolours and posters saying ‘Путин Наш Президент’ (‘Putin, Our President’) that they probably aren’t white-ribbon types. And the Church is a readily-identifiable landmark for the Poklonnaya gora. So when the AP or anyone else claims that they are, there are two possible explanations: they are being reprehensibly lazy, or they are being reprehensibly dishonest.

    The ‘systemic bias’ part isn’t that difficult to see, either. It’s a bandwagon effect – the news report was reproduced massively and almost-instantaneously across the entire news media without any kind of institutional fact-checking. Whether or not it is deliberate is a separate issue indeed (and even though I don’t hold with the people who say there is some kind of conspiracy linking national governments with the agenda of media output, it is very rare to see a story gain any kind of profile or traction that portrays the US government in a realistic – let alone negative – light, even when they are doing something manifestly wrong), but it’s very easy to see how a bias can be introduced and adopted practically memetically across the entire news media system, driven as it is by the need to come out first rather than to come out right.

    Regarding Lu Yiyi’s commentary on Flowers of War, I do not think there is any kind of systemic Western bias against Chinese cinema here, particularly since I agree with Adam Minter that the film is simply in poor taste. Why turn one of the most horrific single events of WWII’s Asian theatre (with particular sexual violence directed by the Japanese against women and children) into a romantic drama? Ugh. No – Oscar material this is not, folks. I say try again next year, and try having some normative sensibility and delicacy regarding the subject matter you use.

    Interested:

    ‘I am honestly confused whenever I hear the “Japan should apologize” line. Do those who claim this actually believe what they say, or are they merely using such a statement to give credence to attacks against Japan?

    A quick Google search will yield Wikipedia article detailing the many official apologies over the years.’

    A big part of the problem is that many in China and South Korea and Taiwan feel that these apologies sound generic, insincere and ‘official’, very much like the language used by the CCP when they’ve been caught doing something they shouldn’t. And indeed, a quick scan of the official ‘apologies’ reveals a preponderance of ‘I believe’s and ‘I’m sorry your feelings got hurt’s which are not exactly sufficient in the eyes of many war victims. A single symbolic gesture (like the closure of the Yasukuni War Shrine) would make a much greater and lasting impact of the sort desired than any such ‘official’ apology or diplomatic smoothing-over.

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  32. To MFC:
    I certainly agree with the “bandwagon effect”…the whole WMD fiasco immediately springs to mind. And I also agree that, in the current environment, the need to come out first trumps the need to come out right. That is indeed deplorable. So there is certainly much that “media” can be legitimately criticized for. But that’s what makes the whole “western media bias” nonsense all the more unnecessary. Criticize the media for their actual failings, and that should keep one adequately entertained so as to obviate the need to manufacture imaginary ones.

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  33. To Interested,
    Eric Li likes to huff and puff, like many others of his ilk, and in his haste to do so, he again conflates the larger concept of “democracy” with the significant-but-nonetheless-smaller iteration of democracy as practiced in America. All he really does is argue against America’s version of democracy, and even then, he doesn’t do it well.

    I would agree that America sees democracy as an end of sorts, in that its existence is vital for everything else, and therefore must be attained. Life is no fun without democracy, so democracy must be there. But it is also the means and basis for achieving everything else that Americans hold dear. So it’s not as black/white as Li depicts for the convenience of his little narrative.

    I also highly doubt that Chinese people see authoritarianism as the sole means of attaining their preferred ends, which is a bustling economy perhaps first and foremost. It just happens to be what they’re stuck with. If actually given the choice, I suspect Chinese people would prefer the growing economy without the hassle of the CCP. The people who truly see the CCP as imperative to continued Chinese prosperity are the CCP themselves, self-serving as they are in such an analysis.

    His conclusion is ludicrous. When the Soviet “experiment” imploded, they adopted democracy instead. Does he honestly think that Americans in particular (and the democratic majority of the world) would soon opt for authoritarianism instead of what they have now? But Eric Li, not unlike Shaun Rein, probably knows which side his bread is buttered on, and is certainly not above the occasional public display of brown-nosing. What’s really surprising is that Forbes and NYT give these guys the soapbox upon which to publicly denigrate themselves, but I guess it’s all in the name of “fair and balanced” reporting.

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  34. SK Cheung:

    In that case, it seems to me like we were talking past each other a bit. I don’t think media bias is a sin that is particular to Western media by any stretch, but neither are they particularly exempt from the logic of power and of attaining market share which drives news media everywhere. It’s a problem, and it’s a problem the ‘West’ has, but it is not a problem which is specific to the ‘West’. Perhaps it is here where we both differ from the anti-CNN types.

    As per Eric Li’s piece: his point is overstated, and it is twisted to the political ends he wants. That shouldn’t come as any surprise. Also, he is engaged in opposing ‘democracy’ against what the CCP currently has, and he’s basically blowing the horn of the current administration in a way that is every bit as ‘faith-based’ as the ‘democracy and human rights’ ideology he claims the West has. The ‘scientific development’ model of the CCP is absolutely not the best possible contribution to political thought that China has on offer, and actually shares in most of the vices of the West without partaking of its virtues.

    I don’t believe it is right to say, though, that the former Soviet nations adopted democracy in any meaningful way (except possibly for the Baltic nations Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and that they did in stages, not all at once after the fall of the USSR). In other countries, you have varying degrees of plebiscitary authoritarianism (from the relatively benign sort in Belarus and Kazakhstan to the scary quasi-Stalinist cult of personality stuff in Turkmenistan) combined with varying degrees of top-down neoliberalism (from the reasonably interventionist market socialism in Belarus to modest, gradualist marketisation in Kazakhstan to the disastrous shock-therapy bullshit and gangster capitalism forced on Russia itself by the likes of Jeffrey Sachs, Boris Yeltsin and his Oligarchs). But even in countries which had ‘Colour Revolutions’, the new dictators looked much like the old dictators, except they put on a bigger show of pandering to public opinion before trotting out the tanks, the mortars, the tear gas, the kangaroo trials and the mysterious ‘disappearances’ of key people prior to elections. It is better, on the whole, to have clear institutions and a culture amenable to peaceful participation before putting in place a formal parliamentarian superstructure.

    And that’s precisely where Chinese political philosophy – particularly homegrown antiquarian Chinese political philosophy based on virtue ethics (Confucianism and neo-Confucianism), rather than the Western imports of Marx and Montesquieu – can really help matters. Building a consciousness of respect for others’ rights and human dignity isn’t done primarily through laws, but through building good institutions and (liberal) education focussed on cultivation of healthy habits and relationships. Gandhi realised this; given more time, he may have been able to transform India into an even healthier democracy than it is today.

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  35. To MFC:
    it does appear we are referring to “bias” in different ways. I definitely agree that media’s raison d’etre is to attract eyeballs. There is certainly at least the potential for a conflict of interest between what may be of business merit and what may be of journalistic merit. THis is precisely what gives rise to the “race to be first” that you alluded to earlier. I find that to be quite different to (my understanding of) “western media bias” as it is often bandied about. I neglected to add in earlier comments that I also find a significant distinction between the reporting of “news” and op-ed pieces. In the former, they are dealing with facts, and I would find any hint of bias to be objectionable; but in the latter, they are dispensing opinion, and the only thing about an opinion piece that would surprise me is if it lacked bias. But it is typically the op-eds where I find the usual folks getting bent out of shape over bias. My usual response to that could be summarized as “well, what did you expect?!?”. Even in the OP here, it refers to Lu getting hot and bothered offer criticism of a movie. To rant about bias from the comments of movie critics is to completely fail to grasp the concept.

    I also agree that democracy as a functioning system of governance is much more than simply one person/one vote and majority rule, and that democratic institutions and the rule of law need to be in place for the concept to be fully realized. And China is certainly missing all aspects at this point.

    You are right about the states of the former Soviet Union. Democracy has not come about universally in a uniform way in those states. What I tried to suggest was that, contrary to Li’s suggestion, democracy has far better Darwinian potential, since I don’t see people opting for authoritarianism of their own volition.

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  36. @S.K.Cheung

    1. I was referring to the numerous speeches given by Hilary Clinton and other US officials questioning China’s human rights record. When the western media reports about such speeches, 8 out of 10 such news stories do not contain a mention of US human rights violations.

    The speech that you are referring to is just the predominant one that comes up in a google search. 😛

    2.
    “I think a movie that passes for “high art” would, among other things, have treated all character portrayals with nuance.”

    Why? Why should a movie portray ALL characters with nuance? Why can’t a movie portray only SOME characters with nuance and not others? That is for the writer to decide, not you. There are many movies that have won oscars by portraying only a few of its characters with nuance, and not all of them.

    Secondly, just because a movie “pretends” to be high art (as mentioned in the original post) should not be (and isn’t) a reason to not give it an oscar nomination. A movie should be given a nomination based on whether or not it IS high art. If it is not high art, it won’t win a nomination. What the movie “pretends” to be is neither here nor there, and that does/should not be a factor in awarding or not awarding a nomination.

    3. As for the WSJ article I linked to, it mention other aspects of China’s politics and history which would not have been mentioned in an equivalent article about another country’s movie, for example. And that is what Yiyu Lu’s point is.

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  37. To Maitreya,
    1. In your previous wording, you were referring to one speech (“but an article about Hillary Clinton’s preachy Human Rights speech” — note your use of the singular form for “speech”) , and I happened to find the most recent one on Google. If you now say you are referring to multiple speeches by multiple people, well, let’s just say it’s unclear how you come up with the 80% number. And of course, it’s also unclear what you mean by “western media”, cuz where I sit, articles about US foreign policy still have frequent reference to the Gitmos and Abu Grahibs of the world, and I’m in a “western” country. And I think it is safe to say that Gitmo and Abu Grahib are in fact common knowledge for the average American, much more so than most facts about China would be. So a US article about China that provides a little more background about China for the US reader seems reasonable even if a US article doesn’t provide similar background about the US and assumes some more knowledge of the US among US readers.

    2.”Why? Why should a movie portray ALL characters with nuance? Why can’t a movie portray only SOME characters with nuance and not others? That is for the writer to decide, not you”
    —of course. That Zhang could make whatever movie he wanted to make is hardly the point of contention here, so one wonders why you would even bother mentioning it. But whether such a movie as you’ve described would pass for “high art”, which was the metric we were going by, would be judged by critics, and not you. Of course, I would be interested to hear about the cinematic circumstances under which less nuance is better than more.

    “A movie should be given a nomination based on whether or not it IS high art. If it is not high art, it won’t win a nomination.”
    —and it didn’t. So it isn’t…at least in the eyes of the Academy. Whether it had pretentions of same or not are of little importance now.

    3. What “other aspects” did it mention? Seemed like a pretty benign article to me. More importantly, how do those “aspects” add up to “bias”? And if you’re really feeling it, how does any such “bias” traverse across all of “western media”, as Lu tried to suggest, based on that one article? Like I’ve said before, people will see what they want to see, but it’s hilarious how they only see “bias” in others and not in themselves.

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  38. @ S.k.Cheung

    “I happened to find the most recent one on Google”

    Did I mention that I was talking about the most recent one? You just did what was most convenient? Yes – I mentioned one speech – singular – but where did I say that it was the most recent one?

    The use of the singular here was meant to be metaphoric. As common sense dictates, in 9 cases out of 10, one news report will refer to one speech.

    “would be judged by critics, and not you”

    But I didn’t judge the movie, you did. In the entire thread, I have never ever passed judgement on whether the movie itself is good or bad. It was you who said that “I think a movie that passes for “high art” would, among other things, have treated all character portrayals with nuance.”. You are passing judgment about a movie that passes for high art, not me.

    As for your point about common knowledge, I have already addressed that in a previous comment. China’s censorship rules are also common knowledge in the west, but newspapers never shrink from mentioning them again and again.

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  39. To Maitreya,
    “Did I mention that I was talking about the most recent one?”
    —no, you didn’t. Which is why I started my comment with “I don’t know which Hillary Clinton human rights speech you are referring to. But if it’s the one from December 2011, the transcipt is here.”

    If you truly meant it as metaphor, you might have said ‘any given article about any given Hillary Clinton preachy Human Rights speech’ rather than saying “an article about Hillary Clinton’s preachy Human Rights speech”. But whatever you say. And I still have no idea where you get the 80% claim from, since, at this point, you appear to have referred to no Hillary Clinton speech in particular nor any news report of same. Though people will see what they want to see, as I always say.

    “I have never ever passed judgement on whether the movie itself is good or bad.”
    —how is this relevant? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, of course. But the WSJ article you provided contends in part that the movie is flawed for the reasons already mentioned previously. So in their view, Flowers isn’t “high art”. I’m speculating as to what their criteria for “high art” might be. But to me, treating all character portrayals with nuance (rather than just some) might be one criterion. And as I suggested earlier, I can’t imagine a movie to be better with less character nuance than more…but admittedly that’s just me.

    You’re right that Chinese censorship rules should be becoming common knowledge in the west, if it isn’t already. So a few years from now, maybe news articles will feel less need to inform their readership of such a basic fact. And who knows? Maybe by then the CCP will feel less need for censorship. One can always hope, eh?

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  40. Lu Yiyi used to be a research fellow in our university. Once she gave a lecture seminar about “China’s soft power”. She asked how China could improve her image and ideological influence in the West. A colleague said: China could make significant improvements in this and that area and the West would respond positively. She replied: I am not talking about improving China, I’m talking about improving its image. Basically she was asking Western scholars for suggestions on how to improve China’s external propaganda (“make up”), expecting people to help her. She also argued that the Confucius Institute’s purpose it making good propaganda for China (the head of the CI and of the school, a conservative Chinese prof, disagreed with her).

    So I am not surprised. She is all about propaganda and spin, not a real media scholar or film critic. She is not interested in exposing media bias. She would simply use any trick to splash mud on Western media and make Chinese propaganda look “credible”, regardless of objectivity and argumentative pertinence.

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