Mass media helps make a nation real and tangible through depictions of images, symbols, and events. Information from within China, which had been cut off during the Mao regime from 1949-1976, is more open but still subject to government censorship. Without adequate or accurate sources, western media creates and disperses images of China based on journalistic interpretations of out-dated stereotypes and some outright errors. Confounding objective representation is the fact that China is geographically distant and diametrically different from the United States in her culture, language, history, politics and economics and nearly every frame of reference that might facilitate Western understanding. The physical and cultural distance, combined with the current political climate, makes China an easy target for stereotyping and “othering” in news and political rhetoric.
Stone and Xiao (2007) show that since the break-up of the Soviet Union, the American popular press has focused on China as the adversary. In a 2004 CNN and USA Today poll, more than 40% of Americans regarded China as a potential threat or even as an enemy. Journalists substituting narratives for facts perpetuate this view by making crises out of everything from trade balances, outsourcing, Chinese investment in United States companies (e.g., CNOOC’s attempt to purchase Standard Oil), to pirated DVDs (See Altheide, 2002, and Glassner, 1999.)
We received this YouTube link from a friend in China in response to the global press coverage of the unrest in Tibet. Our friend says: “I think this is pretty much telling others what the 99% of Chinese overseas students are thinking right now….ironically much of YouTube is banned in mainland China, and I hope our government can improve the communication skills and learn more about the crisis management.” The video is a little hard to follow except that it is very clear that they feel misrepresented. Also, note the assumption in the video that they believe no one is so stupid that they couldn’t tell a Nepalese soldier from a Chinese soldier and thus attributes Western misreporting to malicious intent. Is Western press guilty of “they all look the same to me?”
Altheide, D. L. (2002). Creating fear: News and the construction of crisis. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
Glassner, B. (1999). The culture of fear: Why Americans are afraid of the wrong things. New York: Basic Books.
Stone, G. C., & Xiao, Z. (2007). Anointing a new enemy: The rise of anti-China coverage after the USSR’s demise [Electronic Version]. International Communication Gazette, 69(1), 91-108. Retrieved February from Sage Journals Online.