The Journalism Department of BFSU, with the goal of turning out top-notch journalists and professionals with cross-cultural awareness and skills, is organizing a forum to discuss important questions. Invited to the gathering are China bureau chiefs of AP and Kyodo News. The discussion will be moderated by Dr. Qiao Mu and Mr. Zhai Zheng.
First I would like to express my thanks to the Journalism Department of Beiwai for inviting me to this discussion. I feel honored to be here participating in the occasion.
Perhaps I should give a brief introduction of myself. I have been here at Beiwai as a foreign expert for more than two years. Originally I came from Hawaii. My area is political science and philosophy. I have about twenty-year’s experience in the Unites States. I am quite familiar with the differences and contradictions between the media of the U.S. and China. When I was in the U.S., my experience told me that American media, TV programs and newspapers, usually all carry negative news about China. Indeed I often did not see too much news about China in TV and newspapers about China. Whenever there was something about China, it was simple and negative. It was a habit and I had got used to it. When the Chinese students overseas saw the negative coverage of Tibet issue, they got angry and protested, I did not feel very strange at all about the phenomenon. However, what really made me feel amazed at and strange was some of the positive coverage of the Chinese government’s performances in its dealing with earthquake disaster in Wenchuan, Sichuan Province. It was not to my surprise that the Western media are back in their negative coverage of China.
Since I am in the field of political science and philosophy – I earned my MA and Ph.D. degrees in Political Science and a MA in Philosophy – when I see the performances of American and Chinese media, what is interesting to me is not what the differences and even contradictions are – they are too much different, but what the problems are and mean to us, and how to understand and approach to the problems, or differences and contradictions. In addition, my interest is to consider the questions as regards the two parties from comparative culture perspective. I don’t really see the problem in the differences or contradictions between the American and Chinese media is a matter of democracy vs. non-democracy, or freedom of speech vs. no freedom of speech but a matter of cultural differences, differences in the worldview, modalities of thinking, and the two language systems; of course these are often political-oriented.
Perhaps let me first talk about the party of American media. One may find there are at least three dualisms that are often carried by the American media in their conceptualizing China’s issues, which are the dualisms in the conception of the U.S. or West vs. China, government vs. the individual, and We vs. They. American media, and the Western medial, generally speaking, are operated in the framework of at least the three dualisms.
As a dualism of the US and West vs. China, positive vs. negative concepts are often attached respectively to each party; for instance, the U.S. or West – democracy while China, totalitarianism or authoritarianism; the U.S. or West, developed, modern, civilized, while China, backward, seeking modernization, lack of civilization, etc. In a word, the U.S. or West, good; while China, bad, or not that good. This is not something that one finds in the Chinese thinking, though. The Chinese habitually see good and bad are mutually correlative and there are lots of good things and aspects in the American society and systems that they can learn from and they don’t see the U.S. and China in a clear-cut black and white manner but believe both have good and bad elements in their systems and societies.
The second dualism is the dichotomy of government vs. the individual, in the American media’s sense, it is they way of thinking that vies the two are necessarily a pair of the naturally woe and dual, who necessarily collide with each other. The government is composed of the same evil individuals who are thirsty of power, necessarily correct if in power, and infringe any other individual’s rights. Each individual not in that position of power has to be alert about and watch out always the behavior of the government. This is typically in a general sense of the pattern of American and Western view and the conceptual foundation for their media to be founded in the very beginning.
However, this is not the case in China. The Chinese would not see the relations of the government and the people as in a dualistic model and dual parties that go naturally and necessarily to contradict each other. Rather since very old times of the tradition, the Chinese conceive government and the people as correlative, interdependent, and inseparable from each other. Unlike the human nature as thought of necessarily bad and evil in the Western tradition, the Chinese, particularly through the eye of Confucianism, human nature is not naturally bad, but could be educated and cultivated good. It is possible for a person to grow up humanely and become a good example for human persons. These are the people the Chinese tradition has worked on to get them to the leading positions of the nation. In another word, in Chinese sense, there are good people and good government when good people lead. Government is not an independent and autonomous entity which seeks to gain and maintain power for its own interest, but depends upon and take the people’s interests as necessary conditions for what it is; the government and people are not viewed in the model of the governing and the governed with a single lineal and causal order from the government to the people. Of course corruptions do occur, but the corruption of the government only shows the corrupted officials have come to contradict with the naturally correlative relationship of the government with the people, and its having gone in the direction of a separation from the people, which was something that the Chinese politics has been traditionally fighting against.
The third dualism is more psychologically the conception of “We vs. They”. This is one of the big presuppositions Samuel Huntington’s argument in his famous “the Clash of Civilizations.” That is the dualistic view of the West and non-West, which includes China as a non-western Confucianist civilization. I would not like to talk much and discuss in detail of this dualist modality of thinking. If there is anyone here in this room who is interested in the argument may find the article and read it carefully.
I often think American or western reporters need to realize the necessity for and how to gain a better understanding of the situation of dualism, how these differences or contradictions of the American and Chinese media are due to their different worldviews, modality of thinking, and value systems, and why these dualisms have made things of China twisted and distorted.
The problem with the Chinese understanding is that, I believe, the people in China and overseas may not have been capable of comprehending the American dualism. They are confused, and get angered at the way in which American media treat (or outrageously distorted, in their word) China’s issues. It is high time that the Chinese understood American dualism, which is fundamentally and structurally different from Chinese correlative thinking, which views not “US vs. China,” not “government vs. the people (not the individual), and not “we [as the American] vs. they [as the Chinese]. Both American and Chinese parties need to understand, the American media’s treatment of China’s issues is not a question of fairness, not either democracy or totalitarianism (or more lightly, authoritarianism), not human rights, not freedom, etc., but rather that of worldview, thinking, values, language and conception.
In addition, I just want to mention, but not elaborating on a big and the most troublesome problem to the public, even if worthwhile a thorough analyzing, which is the hyper-commercialization taking place in both American and Chinese media; in this respect, ironically however, the American do not turn up their nose at their Chinese counterparts.
We have a long way to go to really get one party understand the other, even longer way to get two parties mutually understand each other. We have to work hard in this respect, since this is an appropriate way to reduce our distance and avoid more possible misunderstanding and conflicts under the conditions of globalization and a high frequency of contact among civilizations.