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An incredible lack of integrity

It’s no secret that journalists working for Xinhua, Global Times, and People’s Daily, are part of an effort to distribute messages from the Party. I read these sources daily, and have built up a degree of tolerance to articles about how America wants to separate Taiwan from the mainland (example), that China’s presence in Africa is always beneficial to Africans (examples 1, 2, 3), and the seemingly weekly calls for the Party to serve the people (Example). Let’s just say that my expectations for Chinese journalists in these publications is pretty darn low, yet from time to time, they still manage to surprise me with their total lack of concern when it comes to exposing the truth.

Yesterday’s post is a prime example. Not only did these officials take credit for a fairly implausible project, but Xinhua gleefully reported it without an ounce of fact checking. It took me less than 5 minutes on Google to find that the school was not yet open due to a lack of funding. This in itself is troubling, but again for Chinese media, I set the bar fairly low.

It’s likely that they were presented with a story that portrayed China as a global leader in education and as meeting goals set in the last five-year plan, and were overly eager to get it printed. Equally troubling is the quote from the girl who said Guangdong Experimental High School students were already at the top of her class, which is strange considering that there is no program. This shows quite clearly that Chinese journalists freely make up quotes (and occasionally entire stories) to meet their needs, and promote specific views.

Ultimately the result of this kind of story (if left unexposed) is that Guangdong Experimental High School and China get a boost to their reputation, and a few more parents send their children to questionable programs. While this is embarrassing for everyone involved, the damage is not very widespread.

That however is not the case with this inexcusable piece that appeared in the Global Times this week. The story reported that a foreign doctor had recommended people take precautions when heading outside due to very heavy air pollution, but insisted no action was actually necessary.

For reference this is the "slight" pollution they were talking about (source)

Here are a few quotes from the piece that left me gasping:

  • However, both Chinese doctors and environmental protection authorities regard his suggestions as unnecessary scaremongering.
  • “It was only slight pollution, which was not bad enough for people to wear masks,” said Du Shaozhong, deputy head of the bureau, who said Saint Cyr’s suggestions did “not reflect the real air conditions” in Beijing.
  • “The suggestion to wear masks will make trouble out of nothing, as we’ve had polluted air for a long time, and we shouldn’t be living with an American standard,” said an anonymous doctor at the People’s Hospital of Peking University, who specializes in respiratory diseases.
  • Ren Shaokang, a resident living in Huilongguan, Changping district said he would not wear a mask, although he suffers from tracheitis, a disease of the windpipe. “I believe in the Chinese official data and don’t think the air seriously affects us. Even when we can see the air is bad, white collar workers like us don’t have the time to think about wearing masks anyway,” he said.

This kind of deliberate misinformation literally puts tens of millions of people at risk in an effort to save face. Interestingly the word “slight” and the idea that Chinese people shouldn’t expect “American standards” also appeared in the Chinese media after the Shanghai Metro crash.

Ironically, People’s Daily published another article, on the same day,  that showed a rising risk of cancer in Beijing (over 105 cases are diagnosed each day). This included a 56% increase in lung cancer from 2000-2009, and specifically cited pollution as one of the factors. So despite the claims of one anonymous doctor (in fairness, he may not actually exist), Chinese people have not yet adapted to record setting levels of pollution. China Daily also reported that the air was unhealthy, and said that 95% of the pollution was respirable particles (which irritate the airways, and are connected with asthma, cancer, respiratory infections, and other medical problems).

In the hospital where I work, doctors have repeatedly told me stories of desperate patients leaving China in an attempt to help their children suffering with asthma (this is usually effective). Others have told me that the evidence of heavy pollution is clearly visible in cadavers of all ages that have blackish lungs. From personal experience, I know that even the pollution levels found in Nanjing (often less than half of what is seen in Beijing) are enough to leave me feeling miserable.

Spreading this propaganda as fact is part of why my Chinese doctors laugh almost every time I cite information from a Chinese news source. The media cares more about maintaining the Party line, than actually reporting useful information. While I have no research to back this up, from conversations I would not be surprised if over half of the population was highly skeptical of what they hear from the media.

As Fei Xiaotong said in his book, From the Soil, “For the sake of the party, they would sacrifice the whole nation.” This example of reckless “journalism” helps prove his point. Perhaps it’s time the gov’t issued a proclamation for journalists to serve the people, until then I guess I’ll try to hold my breath.


34 Comments

  1. Lao Why? says:

    Living in Beijing, this is an issue very dear to me. I check every day the US Embassy’s air quality index, which measures particles at 2.5 microns, smaller than the official Beijing measuring instruments can pick up. Not sure why Beijing can’t measure at this level but i suspect it is also the reason why the US Embassy reporting site is blocked to mainlanders without vpn.
    Based on my frequent checking i would say that beijing averages about 170 on the AQI. That would be 170 ppm particles in the air at 2.5 microns.
    In the US, many cities require “Spare the Air” at 100 or higher, whcih triggers voluntary measures like car pooling, no use of unnecessary combustion engines like lawn mowers and blowers. I would guess BJ hits 300+ probably 10 days or so each month and 500 once or twice a month. The instruments max out at 500 and last Saturday it hit 500 for a couple hours. The Embassy, back in 2008 programmed the instruments to rate anything over 500 as “crazy bad” probably assuming te maximum would not be hit. When the meter started maxing out, the crazy bad rating did not endear them to the Beijing authorities.
    Anyone suggesting these kinds of levels are not a concern is talking nonsense. It’s of great concern.

    • Tom says:

      Just for reference, according to the US standard anything over 15 on the AQI is considered unclean, and over 30 is unhealthy. The Chinese only measure pm10 instead of pm2.5 because this guarantees a lower reading, and masks the how truly awful the air is some days.
      There is some discussion as to whether or not Twitter was blocked in China partially as a result of the US gov’t AQI readings.

  2. mrchopstik says:

    Yeah, I’m thinking that part of the reason I’m in no big hurry to return to China anytime soon is the pollution issue. I can live with the lies (so long as I can gain access to news elsewhere) and other things but I literally think that pollution will kill people. It does make me wonder about its effect on my own family when we were there…

    I did find it amusing (in a sad, tragic way) that Chinese feel they shouldn’t be held to American standards. Yeah, I can see why they wouldn’t want that. After all, it would mean actual standards that would be adhered to and the possibility that you won’t acquire some disease because the gov’t cares more about maintaining power through whatever means necessary (yes, I used that term deliberately) – even at the expense of the people over whom it claims suzerainty.

  3. Yaxue C. says:

    Last time we visited, in 2004, my daughter who was three and half years old then, started coughing the very next day after we arrived in Beijing and didn’t stop until we left. …..On the other hand though I had never even heard of such a thing as pollen allergy when I lived in China—because they were hardly any flowers! Now I am miserably allergic to pollen but happily grow more than 20 species of flowers in my yard.

    • Bill Rich says:

      Flowers in the yard ? That’s another American standard China doesn’t need. This is, of course, to prevent hay fever, which is suffered by many Americans due to the high pollen count in their air.

  4. Baobo says:

    “Not only did these officials take credit for a fairly implausible project, but Xinhua gleefully reported it without an ounce of fact checking. It took me less than 5 minutes on Google to find that the school was not yet open due to a lack of funding.”

    I feel your pain. I have been trying very hard to expose some fantasies perpetrated by the American government. It’s agonizing to be dismissed as a conspiracy freak when you know something is wrong.

    • Tom says:

      If you read yesterdays post though, you would know that I then proceeded to contact all of the concerned parties to verify what I had learned online, a very important step.

    • Lao Why? says:

      Have at it my friend. Great to have freedom of speech and freedom of the press so that coverups amd mistruths can be exposed by the populace. At least in the US, you won’t risk breaking the law by “spreading a rumor” or exposing a state secret.

      • Jimmy says:

        Really?? Then what happened to Bradley Manning? I bet he is in jail and will be in it for the rest of his life.

      • Tom says:

        You can read all about Bradley Manning on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bradley_Manning
        As an enlisted soldier he was subject to different laws. He transferred classified information, which was illegal. He has more than 20 charges against him, and will likely be in jail for the rest of his life. It’s very hard to say what exactly what would have happened if he were a civilian. Unlike China, we’ve admitted that he has been arrested (Ai Weiwei), and if he were ever released, he would no longer face harassment from the local gov’t (Cheng Guangcheng).

      • Bill Rich says:

        Bradley Manning knew what he was releasing was confidential/secret. But in China, you won’t know until the arresting officer determined whatever he/she obtained is confidential, after they decided to prosecute. “Oh, you have your girl friend’s phone number. The brother-in-law of her second cousin once removed is a government official. So that is state secret.”

    • MAC says:

      The shotgun approach of your website doesn’t really help to make you not look like a crazy person.

    • Baobo says:

      (Reply to Jimmy)

      Manning was caught precisely for the reason stated on my website- Wikileaks is anything but anonymous. It’s a trap.

  5. MAC says:

    “Shouldn’t be living with an American standard,” classic. Enjoy patriotically chewing your air then, dumbass.

  6. Air quality is such a major issue for all of us living in non-rural China. Chinese friends are justifiably worried about it and would consider an article like the one you discuss in The Global Times a complete joke. What most people may not be aware of is that the worst ar-quality days may look relatively clear – it’s the PM2.5 which are highly dangerous as they can pass through alveolar membranes and are linked to increases both in respiratory and cardiac disease.
    As a doctor I completely agree with the US doctor quoted in the piece, and suggest you stay inside and avoid exercise on days when the index is >300. If you have to go outside on these days, wear a mask.

  7. sinostand says:

    Reminds me of a guy from the blog linked below who was an English polisher for China Daily. He came across this quote from a supposed American businessman:
    “Since I was in China I experienced the intoxicating and mysterious wonder of China’s long cultural history, although I am only a greenhorn I came to have a clear appreciation of the great depths of an illustrious civilisation”

    And this is how he handled it:
    “I could have left the quote as it was, and then anyone who read the article would immediately have known it was all a crock of shit. What I actually did was polish up the English and tone down the gushing praise a few notches, so the final quote read like a China savvy businessman giving grudging praise for an ancient culture. Much more credible, but still fiction. And it happens all the time. In the few weeks that I’ve been here I’ve come to realise that a lot of the words purportedly spoken by foreigners are just made up to suit Chinese cultural expectations. From vox pop interviews on the streets, to the reader’s letters and emails, even the words of some supposed experts, they’re all pure invention. But you knew that already, didn’t you?”

    http://leakingstatesecrets.blogspot.com/2005_08_01_archive.html

  8. […] 中国见红博客:令人难以置信的低劣——对于来自新华社、环球时报和人民日报的新闻和评论,作者一向有了心理预期。但是他还是会时常被雷到 […]

  9. Ten years ago, I arrived in Beijing for my first trip to China. I landed at 5:40pm and could clearly see the orange haze that was covering the BJ sky. As I went from the airport to my hotel by taxi, I was overwhelmed by the toxicity in the air. My eyes were burning and I was so offended by the smell of the air. Five years later, I traveled to Taiyuan for a business trip and thought I was going to die. The air there is among the worst in the world. Not only can you see the air, you can smell all the various chemicals and iron ore deposits floating around you. I could never imagine living there for any length of time and pity those who do.

    The Chinese people tolerate a tremendous amount of inhumane and dangerous conditions but really can’t do anything about them due to their lack of money and family ties that keep them in their hometowns. I have always said that China will not collapse by any outside force – war, political action, natural disaster, etc. – but by self-implosion. The Chinese have destroyed their country more in the last 50 years than they have in the past 5,000. They won’t be able to continue at this pace for another 50 years without some serious consequences to their land, people and air. Something needs to be done about it now. Wake up PRC!

  10. […] 原文:An incredible lack of integrity 作者:Tom发表:2011年10月14日本文由“译者”志愿者翻译并校对 […]

  11. Someone thinks this story is fantastic…

    This story was submitted to Hao Hao Report – a collection of China’s best stories and blog posts. If you like this story, be sure to go vote for it….

  12. MAC says:

    Hey now, the air in Beijing has actually improved a lot. I also first went there ten years ago, and the next morning I was spitting black crap in the sink and cleaning black particles out of my nostrils. Now it usually takes me a whole tens days to get sick.

  13. […] take the story from last week that claimed air pollution in Beijing wasn’t actually that bad, and Chinese people shouldn’t expect A…. This article was published in the Global Times English version, but no adjustment was made for the […]

  14. Michael says:

    You can access the Beijing US embassy AQI meter online without a VPN. http://iphone.bjair.info/

  15. But there are foreigners working in Chian’s media too. Richard Burger is an editor with Global Times and even has his own blog “Peking Duck” in which he tries hard to show he’s not working for the communist party ministry of propaganda. But in reality he is.

  16. chinren says:

    I’ve long since learned not to bother even reading the papers here, unless I want either a good laugh or to make myself angry.

    As for pollution, this year (2011) has been the worst since I moved to Beijing for sure. I have the pollution app on my Android phone and I’d say the average is about 180. As an example, as I write this (Wed 19th Oct at 2pm local time) it’s 176.

    I’ve lived in about six other cities in my time in China, and they weren’t as bad, with the possible exception of Haerbin in winter, when the coal dust… well, oh my.

    You can read more about my experiences over the past 9.5 years on my blog: ChinarensBlog.com

  17. […] 中国见红:西方不懂中国 0 条评论 2011/10/19 18:39 1 次阅读 原文:The West doesn’t understand ChinaPosted on October 17, 2011 by Tom经常有人不同意我对中国的一些看法。我欢迎有想法的评论,开这个博客的主要动机之一,就是了解人们对我的看法的赞同程度。话虽这么说,仍有一些说辞是我听腻了的。接下来的几天时间,我们一起来看看这些老生常谈。西方不懂中国要想读一篇人民日报的文章,却不碰到“西方”“霸权”和“西方人不懂中国”等字样,这似乎是不可能的。这种感觉出自中国的民族主义群体的优越感/不安全感。在谈到民主问题和其他一些令中国领导人烦恼的话题时,人民日报经常会反驳说,中国不同于(优于)西方,而西方记者根本不懂这一点,外国人不应该期望(在中国与西方之间)找到任何相似之处。像这样的观点在中国已经宣传了数十年,2008年西藏骚乱期间,随着 Anti-CNN.com 网站的建立,这些观点的受欢迎度上升到一个新的层面。这个网站鼓吹民族主义,对于广泛存在的抗议行动背后的原因却含糊其辞。考虑到那片地区才通电没多久,认为外媒(比如CNN)与当地抗议者有关联的想法就太可笑了,但是,西方媒体正积极尝试阻止中国崛起,这一反复出现的主题又在汉人当中流行起来。值得注意的是,三年之后,西藏的情况仍未得到改善,自三月以来,已有8位僧人自焚。可是,如果中国真的这么难懂,它何必又为了增进软实力,把大把的钱花在孔子学院这样的项目上?一些中国在软实力上努力却遭到挫败的例子,此前已被我们讨论过(《距离我们都唱京剧还有多久?》以及《中国电影的失败》),但是,一个最大的问题中国领导人却没能抓住,那就是,中国不曾真正理解西方。回顾上周那篇文章,他们宣称北京的空气污染事实上并不严重,还有中国人不应该期盼美国标准。这篇文章发表在环球时报英文版上,却没有为适应外国读者而做出任何调整。文章是为了挽回面子,面子观在中国文化里很重要。然而,对许多(当然并非全部)外国人而言,透明度和诚信远比面子重要。写一篇文章承认问题所在,并解释说明为了改善这种状况,正在采取哪些具体措施,这种做法也许有效得多。出于某些不为人知的原因,环球时报的编辑们却没这么做,他们以为他们的外国读者会去相信“医生”的话,相信严重的空气污染其实与健康无关。我希望看到中国(未必是共产党)在国际上扮演一个更重要的角色,因此,他们犯的这种错误让我感到尴尬。即使开设了多家英文媒体门户,西方人仍然“不懂中国”,这才是值得中国重点关注的问题。西方人不懂,当中国宣布新的航母完工,还向津巴布韦与利比亚这样的国家出售军火时,它怎么会是一个和平的国家,西方人也不懂,为何胡锦涛告诉他们党才是中国发展的唯一希望。如果中国的媒体能够真正理解西方人的想法,他们就会明白,为什么国有媒体的话语难以取得外国读者的信任。 […]

  18. Cax says:

    Could Richard Burger and the likes of him, Americans who work for Chinese Government controlled State Media, who push out a lot of anti-US print, could they face charges of treason back in the United States? Burger is an editor of the Global Times after all.

    • Chopstik says:

      It is a far leap to assume that just because someone puts out pro-Chinese propaganda that they could be charged with treason in their home nation (in this case, the US). There is a thing called freedom of speech in the US that permits such behavior (regardless of one’s individual feelings on the subject). Perhaps a better question would be whether someone who puts out anti-China print in the US could be charged with treason in China?

  19. […] I’ve discussed before, the government is often too concerned with its image (face) to take action. Often they much prefer denying problems, than working on fixing the cause. In this case they […]

  20. […] it our coverage of Chen Guangcheng’s case? Or was it my rant against the Global Time’s incredible lack of integrity which unintentionally went online the same day that Global Time’s called us one of the best […]

  21. […] such pollution, Global Times responded by saying it wasn’t that bad (read more in my post: An incredible lack of integrity). In short their argument was that the time was not yet right for Beijing to measure PM2.5, which […]

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