China reports by West are in need of reality check

Becky Cook
Over several decades, the world has looked on while China underwent some of its biggest changes of the 20th century.
Becky Cook

Over several decades, the world has looked on while China underwent some of its biggest changes of the 20th century.

Yet, despite the country’s prominence, there has been difficulty in having its rich and varied identity conveyed to the Western world in its authentic form. This is compounded by the clumsy attempt made by the West to understand and appreciate the Chinese perspective.

When presenting China, a hackneyed model is recycled that portrays the country as bizarre and uncouth. This potent mixture has unsurprisingly engendered distrust of the country, exacerbated by its place as the world’s most populous nation and second largest economy.

It is of note how the news cycle on China is often peppered with the outlandish and the strange, with several media outlets spotlighting peculiar stories, in part due to their eagerness to please their readers, a trend that has created clickbait fodder. In the past few weeks alone, the BBC China section prominently featured reports on the pole-dancer who was allowed to perform at a nursery in Shenzhen and a formaldehyde risk in a rented apartment. More positive stories, such as Shanghai’s launch of a visa for foreign entrepreneurs, were largely absent. Such limited reporting leaves a damaging impression.

The proliferation of such material has constructed a narrative of the Chinese as not only rather odd, but somewhat simple; they appear to be constantly making avoidable blunders. The repeated depiction of the vast and complex China in this vein clumps it into a single “silly lump.”

This skewed portrayal additionally moulds the Western readership into a receptacle that will believe whatever far-fetched account of China that is reported.

A predominant element in this debate is China’s attitude to pollution. In 2014, China declared a “war on pollution” after the previous year saw heavy smog in some big cities.

That same year, the Daily Mail published a report entitled “China starts televising the sunrise on giant TV screens because Beijing is so clouded in smog.” In reality, it was an advertisement for Shandong Province, a slim slice of which was the shot of the sunrise that was reported out of context.

However, the ongoing Chinese effort to tackle its own emissions problem has not been sufficiently reported in the West, which still sees the country as a giant smoking lounge.

There has been insufficient appreciation of the fact that the air quality has been improving, or that sanctions on factories and building sites that break the law show China’s proactive approach. Indeed, China is rapidly becoming a pioneer of renewable energy and home to some of the world’s largest solar plants.

A more comprehensive understanding of the priorities and beliefs of major players, such as China, would only serve to benefit global relations. Beyond this, it appears the Western media needs more Chinese voices in order to strip their depiction of the country of its reductive lens. Such a nuanced and intricate country deserves an equally nuanced and intricate coverage abroad.

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