"China's lumbering propaganda apparatus"
April 6, 2001 8:00 AM   Subscribe

"China's lumbering propaganda apparatus" may be an accurate description, but is it appropriate for the New York Times to use such a phrase in a news article, especially given the present crisis?
posted by jrbender (44 comments total)
The context:

"Today's 8 a.m. national television news broadcast did not mention Mr. Bush's gesture or the ongoing negotiations, instead describing international condemnation of the American position, but it may be that China's lumbering propaganda apparatus did not have time to issue new instructions to the media."
posted by jrbender at 8:02 AM on April 6, 2001

What are you saying: that media shouldn't aggravate the situation? Exposing, and even insulting a tyrannical, undemocratic government should be done as often as possible. The Chinese government is evil. And they should know we consider them evil to support democratic forces within China.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:08 AM on April 6, 2001

Newspapers print reports and opinion; they're not responsible for the actions of politicians.

Or they should not be. Who owns the New York Times? It's not Rupert Murdoch, is it?

But basically, if it's accurate and expressed in relatively impartial terms, it's appropriate.
posted by Caffa at 8:09 AM on April 6, 2001

Does anyone believe that their propaganda machinery is different than any other govt run organization and is not "lumbering"?
I think it is nice that there are Americans who can belittle our govt, Bush or Clinton, and do so in the media; can this be done in China?
Note: American military has put the 3.5 million black beret order on hold for the time being, lest we invade China wearing hats made in China.
posted by Postroad at 8:11 AM on April 6, 2001

Hmm... there has been something I've wondered about for a while now, how does the whole 'made in china' thing work? The factories and contracts and so on as well as views by the govn'ts? Anyone can provide links?
posted by tiaka at 8:12 AM on April 6, 2001

invade china.....
if you couldnt beat vietnam, i doubt if china will be any easier.
posted by chairman miaow at 8:14 AM on April 6, 2001

...as if the U.S. doesn't use propaganda too. Our media can only report what the government wants us to think about the incident.
posted by fleener at 8:14 AM on April 6, 2001

tiaka, companies have owners and can issue stock and in many cases operate independently. There is a taxation system in place. The Communist Party is still enormously important in getting contracts, finding factory locations and workers, and the like, but most Chinese have some freedom of movement and jobs. The biggest difference is that while there is nominal free speech you just have to be careful what you say and whom to. You can be arrested and yes, they still use "re-education" but afaik this doesn't necessarily involve crushing rocks like it used to; it may simply be house arrest.

Another big difference is that the People's Liberation Army is allowed to own properties and invest in businesses. This not only helps finance their modernization, it enriches top staff. But personal corruption is also watched closely.

Newspapers operate more on self-censorship model; editorial boards must be party approved but they don't get their stories fed to them. It's not that different from gung-ho Fox News in that regard.

My sense is that it's much more of an Asian authoritarian model, where the people generally respect the idea of having a strong leader calling the shots, and prefer to seem bound to the collective ideal, rather than the Soviet surveillance model where the government had spies everywhere. In Russia, your neighbor might turn you in, for a small payment and political favors. In China, your neighbor might turn you in, and get interviewed on television.

Disclaimer: I've not visited China; this is just from keeping a close watch on the news.
posted by dhartung at 8:31 AM on April 6, 2001

Paris: what's evil about supporting democratic forces within China?
posted by Mocata at 8:35 AM on April 6, 2001

Mocata, I think you misread my post (then again, I'm writing this in between elements of work, so...). Of course nothing is evil about supporting democratic elements in China.
posted by ParisParamus at 8:40 AM on April 6, 2001

The Chinese government is evil. And they should know we consider them evil to support democratic forces within China.

I don't think the Chinese government does support democratic forces in China; they have this kind of market-Stalinist system. But why would it be wrong if they did?
posted by Mocata at 8:45 AM on April 6, 2001

Propaganda? I loved the "surviving" pilot's recount of the collision. Here's my take on what he said on another mefi thread.
posted by tomplus2 at 8:46 AM on April 6, 2001

they should know we consider them evil to support democratic forces within China.

Paris probably means: We should tell China we consider them evil, so as to support democratic forces within China.

So... China, you're evil! Take that!
posted by kindall at 8:51 AM on April 6, 2001

Anyone got another link to the main story for those of us who don't care to register with the NY Times?
posted by starvingartist at 8:52 AM on April 6, 2001

Watch, you evil bastards, as we delink the renewal of your most-favoured-nation trading status from your human rights record!

That'll learn them.
posted by Mocata at 8:59 AM on April 6, 2001

The Chinese government is evil.

Quotes like that are what you get when you let children run amok on the internet.
posted by jpoulos at 9:04 AM on April 6, 2001

I don't have a problem with the 'lumbering' reference. The reporter is just using his experience to help the reader understand how information is disseminated in China. Of course this kind of thing can be a problem when a reporter makes assumptions about what he or she is seeing, and those assumptions turn out to be wrong.

The story now has an Internet angle, of course. NYT A1:

The Chinese pilot whose F-8 collided with an American spy plane six days ago had flown so close to American aircraft in recent months that he was photographed clearly. In one picture, he was seen holding a white paper with his e-mail address written on it.
posted by davidfg at 9:18 AM on April 6, 2001

Just twitting when I said "invade China." We could cripple the Chinese economy with 3/4 s of a year by simply not allowing any China made goods into our country.
Oddly, I have less conern with their leaders--they do what they seem always to do. The young ones, however, from what I have seen thus far on tv want more (but what?) than an apology. I am beginnign to suspect that they are not merely echoing what the govt says.
But the American folks can react by saying No more Chinese goods till we get plane and people back. This would impact on stores but then they would in turn tell those supplying them not to send Chinese made goodies cause they don't sell. That in not a long while would send strong signal to China about what is in their best interest.
But invade China? No need to.
posted by Postroad at 9:20 AM on April 6, 2001

"Quotes like that are what you get when you let children run amok on the internet."

Well then, what do you consider evil? Or is the concept just passé?
posted by ParisParamus at 9:24 AM on April 6, 2001

Dude, the US Government isn't exactly above reproach either. Chill your beans - the American flyers will be fine.
posted by Mocata at 9:32 AM on April 6, 2001

China has, of course, an oppressive government with an atrocious human rights record. But calling them "evil" and leaving it at that is completely counterproductive and, IMO, childish. Not only would it be incredibly bad policy, but even in casual discussion it misrepresents the situation, and leads us further away from an understanding. We had a discussion on a related topic last week. Please see my comments there.
posted by jpoulos at 9:33 AM on April 6, 2001

No one is proposing "calling them 'evil' and leaving it at that." I think that there is even great overlap between trade with China and undermining their government. And of course, using "evil" is, somewhat for effect: it's important for people, perhaps even people reading this in China (who knows?!) to understand that we're talking about a truly repressive government, and that there's no moral equivalence between China and the United States. And if you think there is, I pity you.
posted by ParisParamus at 9:49 AM on April 6, 2001

Well, the US Government certainly doesn't treat its own citizens as badly as the Chinese one does. When it comes to foreign policy, though, there's not much to choose between them. Furthermore:

it's important for people, perhaps even people reading this in China (who knows?!) to understand that we're talking about a truly repressive government

I'm sure all those Chinese readers will be very grateful to you for pointing that out; they probably wouldn't be able to notice on their own, poor lambs.
posted by Mocata at 9:54 AM on April 6, 2001

Mocata, do you seriously believe that average people in China have any coherent picture of the West? That would surprise me. They certainly must have less of a clue than Soviet citizens did.
posted by ParisParamus at 10:00 AM on April 6, 2001

Y'know, it might save some of you a lot of mental processing if you read through some of ParisParamus' previous posts. Or I could just sum them up for you: China = evil communist country; Chinese people (including Chinese Americans) = rude people.

Life must be so much simpler when you see things in black and white. Although, I must say, enveloping your xenophobia in um, concern for the Chinese people, as dumb as you apparently think they are, is quite a novel approach.
posted by lia at 10:10 AM on April 6, 2001

Well I'm glad our propaganda devices arent at all lumbering... The only problem I see here is we don't have any famour Chinese spies in custody to trade for these fliers a la Gary Powers and the U2.

The constant flow of xenophopic posts and embargo demands just shows how well our propaganda works.
posted by skallas at 10:36 AM on April 6, 2001

I don't have a problem with the 'lumbering' reference. The reporter is just using his experience to help the reader understand how information is disseminated in China.

It is disseminated on paper -- hence the comment about "lumber" is entirely appropriate, due to the involvement of wood in the distribution process.
posted by kindall at 10:53 AM on April 6, 2001

The Black Helicopter crowd believes that the whole incident was staged in order to facilitate the transfer of secret surveillance technology. This idea doesn't make any sense if you think about it for more than 30 seconds, but the conspiracy theorists always provide a fun read.
posted by Chairman_MaoXian at 10:57 AM on April 6, 2001

Here is a NY Times Op/Ed piece about apologizing to China. It relates, of course, to our earlier MeFi discussion.
posted by ktheory at 11:02 AM on April 6, 2001

thank you, lia. you said it better than I could have.
posted by jpoulos at 11:24 AM on April 6, 2001

If you're going to dis someone for his supposed simplistic views, you might do it in terms which are not equally simplistic and taken out of context. Not fair. Or accurate.
posted by ParisParamus at 11:36 AM on April 6, 2001

For whoever it was who wanted to get into the NYTimes without registering, you should be able to use login/password testtest/testtest. Worked for me as of 5 minutes ago, but as they say, your mileage may vary.
posted by zempf at 12:12 PM on April 6, 2001

Once you think about how governments have come to be in the west and east, the cultural and historical difference of about 4000 years, maybe you will see how the morals of both governments are obviously different.

No government is perfect, but it's the way it is for certain reasons. Forcing a democratic government in China is as silly as thinking you're saving third world countries by infusing them with consumerable goods. You can't force feed ethics and morals into someone, never mind a country.
posted by margaretlam at 12:54 PM on April 6, 2001

I used to know a guy who was heavily into Tibetan issues. A large part of his work involved getting ahold of the latest Chinese publications on Tibet and then deconstructing it, in plain English. It was pathetically simple work, for as you might expect, it *was* propaganda. No other word for it. Formulaic, predictable, narrow, one-sided, biased, deceptive, shallow, unlikely and uncreative. And lots of it. So yes, I think "lumbering propaganda appartus" is truth, not opinion, and a perfectly acceptable comment for even a newspaper.
posted by Mo Nickels at 2:41 AM on April 7, 2001

Forcing a democratic government in China is as silly as thinking you're saving third world countries by infusing them with consumerable goods.

Not sure what you mean by Forcing. I was just proposing the we aggressively point out to as many Chinese people as possible (and people around the world) that (1) they are oppressed and (2) we live differently than do, and can complain without being imprisoned or shot. At least most of the time.
posted by ParisParamus at 7:28 AM on April 7, 2001

Paris, sweetie, it's called irony. And by the way, you have called China evil, and you have called Asians rude, and I can prove it, so please don't talk to me about accuracy or try to hide behind context -- there are times when that's valid, and this isn't one of them.
posted by lia at 7:32 AM on April 7, 2001

Oh, and Paris, you might want to take note of the fact that for many third world countries the country you live in is The Oppressor. The US practices democracy at home (well, a representative democracy anyway -- at least my vote for President actually counts), but economic fascism elsewhere.

Let's not pretend that the reason your government is so touchy with China isn't that it's a communist country, but because it's the emerging economic superpower -- with a third of the world's population and growing -- and it's a country that's always going to think for itself and not bow to the will of the US simply because it's the US, unlike smaller poorer countries who get bullied into doing so in fear of economic collapse.
posted by lia at 7:45 AM on April 7, 2001

Calling China evil = calling the Chinese government evil. Get a grip!

I don't want to go into this, but the "rude" thing was a cultural reference to the fact that apparently, the Chinese do not have a concept of saying "excuse me" when they bump into you, or almost bump into you. Specifically, I was standing in line in the New York County Supreme Court clerk's office. Approximately 20 new Chinese immigrants were in an adjacent line getting passports or something. I was bumped into by no less than five such individuals, with no "excuse me" or anything in any language. I was both extremely annoyed and astonished. Later, a friend who knows Asia well told me that the cultural notion of saying "excuse me", as well as various other elements of Western politeness, does not exist in Chinese culture.

Give me some slack.
posted by ParisParamus at 7:48 AM on April 7, 2001

Let's not pretend...unlike smaller poorer countries who get bullied into doing so in fear of economic collapse.

Perhaps it's both? Perhaps it would be a lot less scary if China wasn't a place where a tiny percentage of the populous had the power, without any accountability, to go to war, or sell dangerous weapons to insane, even less reassuring governments? And to do whatever it wants without a non-underground press to reveal things?
posted by ParisParamus at 8:24 AM on April 7, 2001

So based on what some friend told you and the fact you got jostled in a line, you find it useful to suggest that there's some kind of truth to be found there about Asians? Y'know, I was in Kenya a few years back and noticed that everyone drove on the WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD! I guess Africans can't drive.

Or maybe the fact that not everyone in the world--or even (get this!) New York County--has exactly the same notions of what appropriate behavior is in every social setting means that you can't really generalize about the character of whole populations based on your bad day in line. And maybe your lingering resentment over your traumatic experience (touched by Asians!!) is really a stupid thing to use in any sort of argument about international politics.

Slack, indeed.
posted by rodii at 10:19 AM on April 7, 2001

I'm not sure what Paris's views on Chinese people have to do with whether China has an oppressive government that controls the media and a huge portion of the Chinese economy and what effect that has on Chinese citizens' perception of the US or how we can get past our cultural differences to resolve this hostage crisis. Why are we focusing on one person's alleged views (many of which were expressed in other threads and have nothing to do with his argument here)? There are much more interesting things to discuss.
posted by daveadams at 9:15 PM on April 7, 2001

You're right, I got all cranky and lost track of the issue, sorry.

(I was thinking of the way China is is using huge mechanical devices and cutting down their forests for wood, and how the use of those devices is starting to spread throughout Southeast Asia--you know, China's propagating lumber machine.)
posted by rodii at 7:27 AM on April 8, 2001

Thank you daveadams!
posted by ParisParamus at 1:26 PM on April 8, 2001

Prediction: this thing will be resolved by this coming Thursday, else it's going to get very ugly: just an intuitive feeling.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:29 PM on April 8, 2001

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