As a China watcher, the most remarkable aspect about the recent death of North Korea’s hereditary Dear Leader is the level to which it has exposed the Chinese media’s divorce from reality. Last night before bedtime, a CCTV news anchor read out a complete list of branches of the Chinese Communist Party, the People’s Liberation Army, Navy and Airforce, and all major government ministries, all of whom “stand in solidarity with our North Korean comrades.” Finally, as an afterthought, she mentioned that the Chinese people shared in the grief of North Koreans, and offered their condolences at the passing of their leader, and their support for his heir, a man qualified only in happening to be his predecessor’s son. How very socialist.
Two hours prior to the anchor’s emotively-worded but utterly deadpan performance (which, along with her tearfully hyperbolic North Korean counterpart, deserve Oscar nominations), I had been discussing humorous cat anecdotes with a few of the Chinese people at my local gym. One of them, coincidentally, was a CCTV presenter, who told us her cat had learned to move its feces from its litter tray and onto the kitchen floor, thereby incriminating her pet dog. My boyfriend joined in the discussion. That afternoon, he had stood up in his office to announce the death of Kim Jong-il, China’s great pal, the guy whom the CCP never gets tired of shielding, and was met with utter indifference. “I don’t care about him,” remarked his deskmate. “I’m busy.”
Niels Bohr once said, “Some subjects are so serious that one can only joke about them.” Certainly, humor is one way in which the Chinese public have chosen to deal with the Wenzhou train collision. I recently wrote an article for ChinaGeeks about the dual catchphrases uttered by ministry of railways spokesman Wang Yongping at a press conference after the Wenzhou train collision. His two phrases—”This is a miracle,” and, “Whether or not you believe it; either way, I believe it.”—have been co-opted by the Chinese public and raised to the apotheosis of humor: the Internet meme. But these Internet memes do more than poke fun at the governement—they prolong the public memory of the incident and undermine the government’s credibility.
There is a battle raging in Hollywood, and it’s getting ugly. The explosive growth of the Netflix customer base, which now has more than 24 million subscribers (more than any individual cable channel), has seen the Los Gatos, CA based company morph, in last ten years, from an under-the-radar DVD rental service into the distributor of movies online.
Yesterday was the seventh day after the Wenzhou railway crash that claimed dozens of lives and rocked the Weibo micro-blogging universe. The seventh day after a death in China is called touqi (头七) and is an important milestone of mourning. All across China, instead of paying respects to the lives lost on July 23, netizens were venting their fury at a system hellbent on burying all the facts under a mountain of oppression and obfuscation.
I’m a regular CCTV viewer. Hand to God.
However, most shows I watch grudgingly because I can’t avoid it. Living with a Chinese partner in a miniscule one-bedroom apartment has forced me to accept the ubiquity of the television in the Chinese household—it is switched on in the morning and in the evening, and left on at full volume. Why? Just because. It is only recently that I’ve come to see the striking similarity between the television itself and the programming it broadcasts.
Everyone is imprinting their hopes on the revolution in Egypt. China and America have both stressed the need for a peaceful and stable transition of power; and though both hope that this transition will swing conditions in the region in their favor, no one knows what the country or its government will look like after the dust settles.
The world portrayed in China’s official media has a certain disconnect to reality. Hence the joke from ordinary Chinese: “When can my life resemble the one on CCTV”? Recently President Hu visited a woman in Beijing who said that she paid just 77 yuan in rent per month for low-income housing. Netizens immediately smelled foul play. They postulated that she was a public servant and had gotten the apartment through political connections. In all likelihood the woman really did qualify for low-income housing but the story shows how little credibility official media has among the tech-savvy middle class and how harshly the utopian world it portrays deviates from the daily life of most Chinese.
James Zadroga was a NYPD officer and one of the police, fire, and paramedic first responders to the attacks at the World Trade Center on 9/11. He died in 2006; the cause was in dispute but is believed to be a result of toxic materials he inhaled while performing his duties at Ground Zero.
A number of his fellow first responders are too sick to work and are fighting with insurance companies for the funds to pay for their medical care. A bill named after Zadroga, intended to give financial aid and medical support to these people who have been lauded as heroes, passed the House but was blocked by a Senate Republican caucus that is fighting for the passage of tax cuts.
Picture this. A top official of a powerful state newspaper stands before a room of journalism students and flatly admits that their government has been lying to them, changing facts in the news or omitting them altogether. The hero of a dystopian novel? A whistle-blower who’s had enough?
Just the opposite. Xia Lin, the deputy editor-in-chief of Xinhua, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, was giving a lecture entitled “Understanding Journalistic Protocols for Covering Breaking News” at the Tianjin Foreign Studies University in which he defended the practice of massaging the truth when it comes to news, citing the critical role of media to maintain societal stability. The examples he gave were shocking, but only confirmed what most skeptical human beings believe: that their government lies to them on a daily basis.
The recent spate of school stabbings across China is further evidence of the increasingly desperate attempts by the downtrodden to draw attention to China’s vast income gap. While Zheng Minsheng, the perpetrator of the Nanping stabbing, appears to have acted independently, the subsequent rash of attacks have the unmistakable whiff of the copycat. While it may seem crass to label these grisly incidents as a case of follow-the-leader, the international media seem unable to come to any more satisfying conclusion.