“I told them I would not change a word,”
December 27, 2015 2:49 PM   Subscribe

French journalist accuses China of intimidating foreign press. by Tom Phillips [The Guardian]
China is facing accusations of attempting to muzzle and intimidate foreign press after it said it would expel a French journalist who refused to apologise for an article criticising government policy. Lu Kang, a spokesperson for China’s ministry of foreign affairs, claimed Ursula Gauthier, the Beijing correspondent for French magazine L’Obs, had offended the Chinese people with a recent column about terrorism and the violence-hit region of Xinjiang. “Gauthier failed to apologise to the Chinese people for her wrong words and it is no longer suitable for her to work in China,” Lu said in a statement, according to Xinhua, Beijing’s official news agency.


- Après les attentats, la solidarité de la Chine n'est pas sans arrière-pensées. by Ursula Gauthier [L’Obs] [French]
Pour les organisations des droits de l’homme, la violence au Xinjiang est plutôt due à la radicalisation de jeunes poussés à bout par la répression impitoyable qui écrase tous les aspects de la vie des Ouïgours : culture, langue, religion, accès à l’éducation, au travail, voire à un simple passeport. Dernièrement, elle s’est encore alourdie.

Quelques exemples :

• une série de prénoms musulmans traditionnels sont désormais prohibés, ceux qui les portent doivent en changer...
• Les restaurants ouïgours sont maintenant tenus d’offrir à leur clientèle de l’alcool et des cigarettes...
• Les fonctionnaires sont tenus de manger publiquement pendant le ramadan…
• Tout barbu est bien entendu suspect d’extrémisme religieux, ainsi que toute femme portant le foulard islamique...
• Et maintenant, est suspecté d’extrémisme tout jeune qui arrête le tabac ou qui refuse de boire une bière…
- Double standard on terrorism is symptomatic of West's view. [China Daily]
The French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur (The New Observer) published an article on its website authored by staff writer Ursula Gauthier, which blamed the Chinese government's policies in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region for terrorist attacks in China. That's a typical example of the West's double standard, which is hindering global efforts to fight terrorism, says an editorial in the Chinese edition of Global Times: Gauthier's article claims that Muslim names are forbidden in Xinjiang and ethnic Uygur government staff must eat in public during Ramadan. However, Such claims are refuted by Uygurs as nothing but lies. After the terrorist attack in Paris on Nov 13 that claimed at least 132 lives, the Chinese government condemned terrorism and expressed its sympathy for the French people. Many Chinese people also expressed their condolences to the victims. Guathier has noticed these because she includes them in her article, but she does not show any sympathy for the victims of the terrorist attacks in China.
- Another Journalist's Effective Expulsion From China. by Tajha Chappellet-Lanier [The Atlantic]
Gauthier has called the accusations against her “absurd” and says she believes her expulsion is "only meant to deter foreign correspondents in the future in Beijing." The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China said in a statement it is “appalled” by the decision of the Foreign Ministry, and called the accusation that Gauthier supports terrorism “a particularly egregious personal and professional affront with no basis in fact." Gauthier, who has reported from Beijing since 2009, told the AP on Friday she is “prepared to leave China” — if and when she does she will be the first foreign journalist expelled from the country since Al Jazeera’s Melissa Chan in 2012.
- China expels French journalist for terrorism coverage. by Emily Rauhala [The Washington Post]
Gauthier is the first foreign journalist to be booted from China since 2012, when Al Jazeera's Melissa Chan was forced to leave after doing a series of stories on secret prisons. Journalists for the New York Times and Bloomberg News were also denied visas after publishing prize-winning stories about the wealth of China's top leaders and their families. (Both news organizations have since been issued new visas.) The Foreign Correspondents Club of China, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the French Embassy in Beijing have all expressed concern about the case.
- China Gets Even Colder for Reporters. by Andrew Jacobs [The New York Times]
In recent months, more than a dozen correspondents have been roughed up, detained or shadowed by plainclothes police officers as they tried to work in far-flung provinces as well as the heart of the nation’s capital. In October, one wire service reporter said he was manhandled, chained to a metal chair and held for more than 14 hours after he attempted to conduct interviews at the main petition office in Beijing. The reporter refused to strip down for a physical exam but was forced to submit to a drug test and then falsely accused of injuring one of his interrogators. As retribution, the Foreign Ministry issued him a six-month press card, not the one-year card that is usually pro forma. Many of those who reported harassment to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club requested that their names, and in some cases the names of their employers, be withheld for fear of angering the authorities.
posted by Fizz (21 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The Chinese government is the reason I've decided to excise "the West" as a term from my vocabulary - I know lots of people use it as reasonable shorthand, to capture a set of cultures with a lot in common, but to me it feels tainted by the way so many crappy governments use it to dismiss human rights arguments and to define their domestic critics as cultural traitors.
posted by Aravis76 at 3:56 PM on December 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

I should say that I obviously do use the term "the West" all the time, because it's convenient when talking about culture, but I've been thinking more and more that it's sloppy and vague when talking about politics and that I should stop using it in this way.
posted by Aravis76 at 3:59 PM on December 27, 2015

All this outrage... it's almost as if people forgot that China is a totalitarian regime.
posted by acb at 4:22 PM on December 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

Is totalitarianism, like, an excuse? No outrage, please, we're totalitarians.
posted by grobstein at 5:04 PM on December 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

"The West's view"

Criticizing the cultural blindness of others while being hopelessly immune to the variations of other cultures oneself. Perfect.

China is a non-free state. It doesn't even pretend to be free. I shudder to think what would've happened to the poor naive Chinese reporter who tried to write these same stories, what dark hole they would've died in.
posted by 1adam12 at 5:06 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

China is a non-free state. It doesn't even pretend to be free.

Hey, at least they're honest.
posted by Dysk at 5:49 PM on December 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

Yes, this... is not exactly news or unique. I would also question that 2012 figure. Whilst 2012 may be the last time visas were denied explicitly, the CCP has always exerted pressure on journalists by taking months and months to renew visas, saddling them with restrictive conditions, leaning on Chinese translators and other support staff to the point of jailing them, and more.

If you are not complimentary to the CCP as a journalist in China, you can expect life to get very hard for you. The outrage provoked when this happens (and it happens all the time, over and over again), is testament to the PR job the CCP does and the naivety of foreign journalists who think they have some kind of sacrosanct status. Crazy. The CCP has been taking down some of their biggest names with little difficulty; a foreign journalist is nothing compared to these people.

Spare a thought for the domestic journalists, for the foreign dual-nationals who get locked up when they fall on the wrong side of a corrupt business deal. The criminals whose organs are stolen, etc etc etc.

This is not to trivialise what's happening, but honestly, it's not shocking, and it's not new; it's part of China, and shame on anyone for forgetting it.
posted by smoke at 6:06 PM on December 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

Wholesale generic accusations ahead; sorry:

Muslims denounced by China. And the United States. (Ok, not official gov't policy, but, still...)

Christians denounced by Muslims (Middle East/North Africa).

Hindus denounced by Muslims (India, especially).

Muslims denounced by Hindus (India, especially). In these two cases, Kashmir included.

Hindus denounced by Muslims (Pakistan).

Hindus and Buddhists denounced by each other (Sri Lanka).

Sunnis and Shias denouncing Sufis, Ba'hai's and other apostate Muslims.

Muslims, Sikhs, Atheists, and etc. denounced by Fundamentalist Christians in the USA and elsewhere.

Jews denounced almost everywhere, as per usual.

And every "Other" denounced by every established theocracy everywhere. These theocracies are usually not legally codified. Usually.

This is just an off-the-cuff partial listing of some of the more prominent religiously-based persecution campaigns around the world as of the end of 2015. Thousands of pages would be needed to complete this random list.

Oh...and "denounced"?

That could be "fired," as per the FPP, or "head sawed off."

I don't have a beef with religion, myself. But when being religious requires hating another religion, I can see why so many Western thinkers (e.g. MeFites) are predisposed to cast aside not just religion, but its corresponding origins: mysticism.
posted by kozad at 7:49 PM on December 27, 2015

That seems like a fairly ignorant and simplistic reduction of multiple situations with at times radically different social, cultural, political, and historical contexts. Pretty silly generalisations, I feel.
posted by smoke at 8:00 PM on December 27, 2015 [9 favorites]

Simple fact is that a government is suppressing journalism. That kind of stain isn't easily whitewashed.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:54 PM on December 27, 2015

But when being religious requires hating another religion, I can see why so many Western thinkers (e.g. MeFites) are predisposed to cast aside not just religion, but its corresponding origins: mysticism.

Apart from parts of the US, the West has almost completely disentangled being a good person from being religious. A vast majority of the West doesn't need a sky god promising wrath and vengeance to be a good person. We've sort of outgrown a need for religion. Like god may exist, it may not, but we don't really need to care and the question is kind of academic and Christmas is still a fun time of year.
posted by Talez at 10:06 PM on December 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

China does persecute religious groups - Muslim Uighurs, Christians, Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhists - but it equally, and on basically similar grounds, persecutes lawyers, artists, and activists of all kinds. Their crime isn't theological belief, which the CCP doesn't care about, but invoking any sort of moral or cultural tradition that is separate from, and provides resources for criticising, the state. Lawyers in China are persecuted, for example, because they invoke the idea of "law" and "rights" as a constraint on the freedom of the CCP to do whatever it likes. That's got nothing to do with religion in its normal sense, unless you think authoritarian state-worship is a religion.
posted by Aravis76 at 12:55 AM on December 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

it happens all the time, over and over again

That's been my understanding of the situation for many years. It would be big (and welcome) news if it changed, but it's not surprising when yet another journalist is punished for writing uncomplimentary things about the Chinese government.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:46 AM on December 28, 2015

It's not surprising but it still annoys the Chinese state when these stories come to the forefront of the global narrative about China (as opposed to all the economic miracle / trusted partner stuff). The fact of their annoyance is good enough evidence that we should carry on talking about these things and not let it fade to the background of our understanding of China Our Great Future Partner and Investor.
posted by Aravis76 at 6:05 AM on December 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

Makes me think of a joke an actor friend once told in a play on power and totalitarianism:

"How are you doing?"

"I can't complain".
posted by Captain Fetid at 8:09 AM on December 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

A vast majority of the West doesn't need a sky god promising wrath and vengeance to be a good person. We've sort of outgrown a need for religion. Like god may exist, it may not, but we don't really need to care and the question is kind of academic and Christmas is still a fun time of year.

Even if most people don't need a "sky god", as you put it, morals in the West are still deeply rooted in religion, evolving from the OT basics (don't kill, don't steal etc.) to the more sophisticated NT mores (be kind to your fellow human beings, just like you want them to be kind to you).

I think a West without religion would be in many ways a lot more like China, and I'm not sure that would be a good thing.
posted by sour cream at 9:23 AM on December 28, 2015

On second thought, make that "a West without a religious tradition would be in many ways a lot more like China..."
posted by sour cream at 9:33 AM on December 28, 2015

China also has a number of long-established religious traditions - the oldest differ significantly from the Abrahamic tradition but they do cover the same basic "don't kill, don't steal, be kind" moral teachings as other major religions (and make some claims that seem problematic and weird to modern ears, much like some parts of the Old Testament). What's happened to the Chinese people isn't their inevitable cultural destiny as an irreligious people, lacking the New Testament; it's the result of a very particular twentieth-century political movement, and the institutions that it spawned. Russia is as deeply rooted in (Orthodox) Christianity as anywhere in Europe, but the historic and ideological commonalities between Soviet and Chinese authoritarianism are pretty hard to deny.

I'm sorry to sound so pedantic but I really hate this idea that some nebulous characteristic of The West - whether it's having outgrown religion or having the New Testament - is what explains the existence of democracy and human rights. It seems to me to be both inaccurate and dangerous, whether we are saying "the blessed West!" or, with the Chinese, "these are all foreign ideas". Authoritarian political systems, with their horrors, have not been foreign to Europe or other societies with deep roots in Christianity and the Enlightenment - see the 20th century histories of Germany, Italy, Spain, and Greece. Authoritarianism is a political nightmare that any society may find itself trapped in, and it looks pretty similar wherever you are and regardless of your cultural grounding in the New Testament. It's no one's special sacrosanct / regrettable cultural inheritance.
posted by Aravis76 at 11:12 AM on December 28, 2015 [5 favorites]

Thing is, this story of Muslim civil servants, teachers and students being "encouraged" to eat during Ramadan has been reported widely before, by BBC and France24, among others. There's even a thread on Quora full of apologists explaining why it's only "encouragement" and only for "health" reasons.

The irony is that the oldest mosque I've had opportunity to visit is actually in China (and I've been to Islam-heavy nations such as Iran and Turkey); the grand mosque in Xi'an was built only 110 years after Prophet Mohammed's death (or 120 years since the hijirah). From what I could tell, the mosque hasn't changed at all from its Tang-era roots; it's still full of Tang-era motifs such as lotus ponds, inscriptions in Chinese and Arabic scripts, and a well-tended garden.

I doubt any of the 50,000 Hui people in old town Xi'an would presume they need help in keeping up an unbroken tradition for "health" reasons, certainly not from the government per se. More to the point, I doubt the government would even "encourage" food during Ramadan; we went during Ramadan, and most of the eateries in the Muslim Quarter were indeed closed.

In short, I believe the government has indeed been making an excuse for Xinjiang province because terrorism. It's revisionist to suggest otherwise.
posted by the cydonian at 7:06 PM on December 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

I believe the government has indeed been making an excuse for Xinjiang province because terrorism.

posted by Aravis76 at 12:34 AM on December 29, 2015

There's quite some underestimation of how religious swaths of China are. While organized, hierarchical religion gets scrutinized by the government, temples and parks are a massive part of Chinese culture.
posted by halifix at 12:34 PM on December 30, 2015

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