By Song Zhibiao, published: July 13, 2014
At the beginning of last year, a friend proposed that we conduct a volunteer project — we do a sustained exposure and critique of the false reports and fraudulent op-eds coming out of the Global Times (Chinese version). I can imagine that this would be an onerous task requiring updates almost every day. In the end, the proposal was shelved and became a joke between friends. After all, it’s no fun cleaning up filth every day.
Before, the Global times was something that was never discussed in my small circle of friends, and now, although we don’t talk about it that much, it has gradually become a topic that, like a piece of gum, cannot be easily shaken off. This in itself is proof of a kind of invasion. On social media such as Weibo, it is being discussed more and more, just like people used to talk about the southern newspapers, such as the Southern Weekend and other papers from the same lineage¹.
The Global Times has invaded circles of public discussion as an “alien object,” and the watershed event of this was the Southern Weekend New Year Editorial incident at the beginning of 2013. At the time, the authorities made the editorial in the Global Times the “standard opinion” of the Southern Weekend incident, forcing all newspapers across China to reprint it. Scattered resistance occurred in this process, and the futility of this resistance highlights the aggressiveness of the Global Times. Ever since, it has become this uncomfortable presence.
Even though it is laughed at as a joke, I have noticed that the Global Times is mentioned in more and more of my friends’ articles. This is like embedding a commercial for the Global Times in the text of a column. In the liberal-leaning discussion of media transformation, it will be picked out as an example to explain how the system is so barbaric, indicative how much deeper it has intruded and how ubiquitous it has become.
On just about all of China’s hot stories, the Global Times is not afraid to display its crude opinions: Chen Guangcheng, the Southern Weekend incident, Pu Zhiqiang, Hong Kong’s “Occupy Central,” Taiwan’s Sunflower Student Movement – the list is long. It never uses complicated arguments and does not care about logic, and some of its sentences don’t even make grammatical sense. Its points are easy to pick apart, but this in no way implies that it is easy to defeat.
The reason that the Global Times is difficult to defeat is not that it is truthful, but rather that it shows such contempt for the truth. The Global Times is hard to insult because it knows no shame. By tearing down the standards of what is right, it sets itself “free.” In short, the Global Times is always “victorious” not because it is correct, but because it does not apply the principles everyone else respects.
Many friends have made ample revelations on the Global Times’ publishing policies, editorial standpoints, and writing style, but it is impossible to rely only on these to defeat it. In the domain of China’s current public opinion, the organizations that have principles have been gradually cleared out, and they do not have the ability to contend against the Global Times. At the same time, the political environment has now become extremely crude and ugly. Where jackals and wolfs thrive, no pure voices are to be heard.
Furthermore, the Global Times’ vulgar articles and rude opinions go hand in hand with certain characteristics of the kind of education Chinese nationals have received. It is but the manifestation of the thinking pattern propagated by the Party for dozens of years and a fact not to be disputed. Other minds and thinking have been removed as soon as they emerged, and, having done so for decades, what we have is the invincible Global Times.
Those who criticize and expose the Global Time’s way of thinking are the “other minds” I am talking about. There was a time when these “other minds” triumphed over half a China. But after several rounds of expulsions, they have now retreated and become further marginalized in the market of ideas. The Global Times has become more and more “mainstream” as more and more of these “other minds” were eradicated.
It is difficult to defeat the Global Times relying on arguments and refutation alone. In a corrupted and dumbed-down public sphere, it has obtained a super ability to reproduce: The more one talks about it, the more it spreads. Discussion meant to expose its deception will not stop it; instead, it will be stimulated and spread via whatever carries it.
Generally speaking, the rise of the Global Times reflects the collapse of China and the increasingly nasty political trend. The values the Global Times represents is not of great importance, nor is it to be feared, but is that of a snobbish opportunist disguised in the role of a government hack. It will continue to cause confusion for some time, but the force that can overpower it eventually is hidden in the very contamination it spreads.
The evil is not overcome but overtaken. The most practical way to deal with it is to not talk about it. After writing this column, I will not mention it again. It’s like a virus thriving in a particular political eco-system, if we cannot stop it, we must then quarantine it. If we cannot quarantine the crowd, we can at least quarantine ourselves. That way, we will not become its carriers and unintended promulgators.
¹ The southern newspapers refer to media publications of the Southern Media Group in Guangzhou. These papers and magazines, including the Southern Weekend, are known for their liberal-leaning content and were a magnet for China’s best journalists in late 1990s and much of the 2000s. Several waves of Party-ordered purges have since driven out their best names, such as Chang Ping, Xiao Shu, and the author himself.
Song Zhibiao (宋志标) was a commentator with the Southern Metropolis Daily in Guangzhou and well received for his commentaries on current affairs in China until May 2011. He was suspended that month for his article commemorating the third anniversary of the Wenchuan earthquake. Now he describes himself as a media watcher.
Say What? By Donald Clarke, the China Law Prof blog
(Translated by Jack and Tom)