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.
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.