Yang Hengjun: I Don’t Have To Rely On The Foreign Media To Understand China

(By Yang hengjun) In early 2008, I wrote a blog post entitled “Why I Don’t Criticize The United States” to explain to young readers that a nation is making progress or about to make progress when it allows criticisms. Two years have elapsed since and I have continued to regard being critical as my duty and work for progress in China in what I regarded as the correct way. But I can understand that many young people do not understand people like us.

In my blogs (note: Yang Hengjun has blog presence at many Chinese blog service providers), many netizens post “anti-American” materials. Whenever I praise America or criticize China, they would post stuff about how awful America or the west is in order to neutralize the influence of my blog post on the readers. After a while, some of the comments of my blogs are a contest between my criticisms of China and their criticisms of America.

But I don’t know if they realize that while they intend to criticize America and the western countries for the sake of China, most netizens get more depressed upon reading their comments. Instead it is my essays critical about China that often give hope to my readers. Many readers have told me that was how they felt.

Why is this happening? In very simple terms, we live in China and who could be so stupid as not to be aware of the problems in China? If there is no basis for comparison, we will feel that we are destined never to rise out of those problems. If a comparison is available, we will think: we still have hope in finding a way out. Most of those critics of America are almost without exception citing “black secrets” that Americans exposed about America. They magnify these flaws which cause certain Chinese people to think: Oh, there is corruption and graft in America too? So this is a universal phenomenon. If corruption and graft happen everywhere, then it is natural too in China. Is there any hope left for the people in a corrupt nation? …

China is obviously making progress. In China, thousands of official newspapers and other media are publicizing the tiniest progress. Therefore, there is no need for a blogger to pile on. But most of their praises of progress are actually cover-ups for the backwardness. They have failed to mention the true progress in China. I would like to tell you about a recent matter which impressed me greatly. I got this impression when I chatted with overseas media workers, and I got it again when I met with friends recently in Hong Kong.

Twenty years ago, I frequently traveled outside of China. At the time, it was not easy for Chinese people to travel overseas. Each time that I traveled outside of China (including going to Hong Kong), I longed to read the overseas media and publications because I wanted to understand the China in which I lived and worked. At the time, many of the “scandals” in China were reported first overseas and imported back into China. In China, you suffered from these problems yourself but you “were not aware” and you had no opportunity to openly study and eliminate them. At the same time, a principal duty of intelligence service was to collect the views of overseas important government figures on the problems that China faced.

After the 1990’s and especially with the advent of the Internet to mainland China, things have quietly undergone a drastic change. Twenty years ago, if the Chinese wanted to learn about the problems that China faced, they’d have to travel overseas or else use overseas media such as CNN, BBC and so on. Twenty years later today, if the Chinese want to understand China, you definitely cannot depend on these overseas media. Instead, you should be looking at the variety of news on the Internet, including blogs, BBS’s and netizen interactions.

More than a decade ago, I went to America and I listened to the experts, scholars and government information/intelligence officers talk about the problems in China. I was impressed about how reasonable and thorough they were. A decade later now, I am no longer willing to waste my time talking to them about the problems in China. On the contrary, if they want to understand China, they need to talk to me.

Twenty years ago, I left China to go overseas in order to understand China. Twenty years later today, you have to return to China in order to understand China. How did this come about? This is not about the progress made by one person. This is the progress made by the times, the nation and, more importantly, the Chinese people!

In an era without the Internet, the Chinese media reported only good news and skipped the bad news. They praised the good to make things look swell. But everybody knew that China had many problems areas that needed improvement. However, only foreign media and publications can freely talk about our problems and flaws. In that era, even our senior leaders had to depend on the foreign media to understand about the sufferings of ordinary people. They even had to rely on overseas intelligence experts to understand the social problems in China and the potential solutions.

With the Internet, the Chinese people have a platform for expression to expose the problems around us. So we began to change. This is not a case in which the overseas media began to misunderstand China and “distort” their reports on China. Rather, we understand our nation better and we become aware the inadequacy of the foreign media in achieveing a full and in-depth understanding of China.

This is the biggest progress that I have seen in China. This progress came as a result of criticisms and not because of the effusive praises. The true wonder of America and other western countries is that all their flaws and ills come from the facts that are exposed by their people and even the government itself.

I have thought about the day when all the problems in China were dug out by the people themselves. We may not have become rich or strong overnight, and we still lag behind the west by a far distance. But we will catch up or even surpass them sooner or later. Let us now review the history of the People’s Republic of China over the last 30 years. We ask ourselves which advancement did not depend on the efforts (or even sacrifices) of Chinese people who dared to expose and criticize problems …?

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