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The Two Poles of Foreign Coverage

Posted on:2008-08-13     Posted by :芮秉游
After pouring over the online response to the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, I found two essays particularly irresistable. One, from Newsweek, was sophisticated and earnest; the other, from the Economist, out-of-touch and contrived. They both epitomize the two poles in tone of foreign media coverage of China.

The Opening Ceremony and China's Past , by Newsweek's Melinda Liu, is of the first kind. It peers past the choregraphed sets of the ceremony and both questions and embraces their historical anchors. Liu clearly took time to mediate on and digest the rich symbolism of the ceremony, and though she dishes out a fair share of criticism, she also gushes with appreciation of its visual wonder and appraises China's promise.

Let the Games Begin , an Olympic diary entry by the Economist's Beijing correspondent, is of the latter, less thoughtful form of China coverage.

The August 12th entry, which addresses the start of the games in broader terms, centers around an expat-obsessed art gallery in Beijing that is as remote from the Chinese public's consciousness and the spirit of the Games as possible. It makes unsupported generalizations, and accuses Chinese leaders of perpetuating Chinese stereotypes - ironically what the essay itself ends up doing.

Contrary to the writer's belief, Chinese officials are probably not in a "particularly prickly mood", nor does a "normally vibrant city" feel "stifled".

As I write this blog entry, a dozen of my Chinese colleagues - all journalists and editors - are on their feet across the newsroom, transfixed by Olympic gymnastics on a widescreen TV. They leap, cheer, and applaud in boisterous fits and bursts. Yes, they sometimes struggle to do thorough reporting in a country without a free press, but it doesn't saturate every facet of their lives, and certainly isn't dampening their urge to root for their home team now. I find it hard to believe that Chinese officials are not similarly stimulated and proud.

My greatest hope for the Beijing Olympics is that as they unfold, foreigners will see China as more than a corrupt, polluted, closed state populated by a homogenous blob of oppressed Han Chinese and fatcat communist cadres hell-bent on making a buck. China is a far more diverse, complex, and promising a country than that simplistic but frequently perpetuated view would have.

I once heard a Chinese colleague at the EO say, "In the West, there are too many journalists and too few stories. In China, there are too many stories and too few journalists." To foreign journalists who cling to the same dour Chinese meta-narrative, I say: Any takers?

We love comments. What did you think about the ceremonies? Is foreign coverage of the Olympics being fair?
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