A Few Thoughts on Yang Rui
The Ministry of Public Security is getting rid of foreign trash right now, arresting foreign scum and protecting innocent Chinese girls from them; but in order to do that, we need to focus on Sanlitun and Wudaokou, and target those who frequent the areas and its event organizers. Foreigners who can’t find a job in their home country come to China and get involved in illegal business activities such as human trafficking and espionage; they also like to distribute lies which discredit China to persuade locals to move abroad. A lot of them look for Chinese women to live with as a disguise to further their espionage efforts. They pretend to be tourists traveling around the country while actually helping Japan and Korea make maps and collect GPS data for military purposes. We need to take action, first kick that crazy foreign journalist from Al Jazeera out of the country and close their Beijing office, and then shut everybody up, all the members of the foreign press who demonize China.
Yang’s comments, while inflammatory and exaggerated, are unremarkable. Many Chinese people would probably agree with him, and the practice of media personalities demonizing foreign nationals is hardly exclusive to China. (Lou Dobbs, anyone?). Plus Yang, for all of his pretenses as an urbane, sophisticated journalist (check out this embarrassingly fawning profile of Yang by Philip J. Cunningham) has always been a reliable spokesman for Chinese conventional wisdom. Anyone who has seen an episode of “Dialogue” knows the drill: Yang harangues his foreign guests with an artfully packaged version of the Party line. (Here is James Fallows, himself a former guest on the show, with a version of this story). The whole charade becomes tedious after awhile and as a result, I have met very few foreigners in China who take “Dialogue” seriously at all.
So why would Yang Rui’s statement be a big deal? The answer relates to something international relations geeks refer to as “soft power”. CCTV News, the station that airs “Dialogue”, represents part of China’s strategy to sell itself to the outside world. China is keen to show that it can produce an international television network that can compete with CNN, BBC, and al Jazeera. The network would have a Chinese-centric viewpoint, of course, and would counter-act what China perceives to be negative and inaccurate coverage of the country in the “Western” media. But for that to work, it would have to maintain professional standards. By offending the audience that CCTV News purportedly seeks, Yang Rui undermined this goal and, by extension, China’s attempt to build its “soft power”.
The question though is this: is China capable of producing a television network as good as al Jazeera or BBC? This isn’t a question of resources, of which China has plenty, but rather of limitations within the Communist system. Television networks gain respect through their editorial independence, but no network owned by China can be independent simply because it would remain subservient to the Propaganda Department. No amount of journalistic talent can change that equation.
The Yang Rui incident also provides a glimpse into how micro-blogging has changed how the media operates in the country. In a previous era, Yang’s impolitic remarks would never have seen the light of day due to editorial constraints. With Weibo, though, Yang can simply take a deep breath and hit “publish” and make his ideas accessible to his more than 800,000 followers. The Yang Rui incident, thus, neatly illustrates how social media has thrown a wrench into message discipline in China. This lesson- rather than that of “soft power” may be what we take from this incident in the end.