Chinese journalists tire of Thomas Friedman

It's this flat!
Photo by Keso, see his photos, or his blog — Playin' With IT (Chinese)

New York Times rock star columnist Thomas Friedman has just concluded a speaking tour of China to promote the Chinese language edition of his book.

It seems that Chinese journalists and media people are getting a little tired of the Flat Earth Mantra. This is by Michael Anti, as translated by ESWN

In my mind, there are two Thomas Friedmans. The former is a veteran expert in Middle East issues, a three-time Pulitzer prize winner, my former model to emulate and my reason for entering journalism; the other one is the tireless evangelist for globalization, whom I admire greatly for his passion and speaking skills but I read him less and less often now...

...When he interviews people, he opens us his big Dell notebook computer and type in the other party's response, nodding occasionally. No other big-name reporter in the world will conduct interviews this way, because it clearly does not leave time to listen to others and think about the answers. But Friedman does not need to record the entire interview accurately. What he needs is an interesting quotation from the government official or CEO in front of him, so that he can suitably cite it in the column that he has already thought out...

The below is from a post by Undersound, who looks at two Friedmans — Thomas and Milton — and summarizes and translates into English various reactions from Chinese writers and bloggers to Thomas Friedman's recent tour, including this from Flypig (Chinese):

Is Mr Friedman a really good thinker? Maybe yes. Maybe not. This is something that can not be showed sufficiently within one day. How do you think if after one year you can still hear that he repeatedly and invariably cites his representative phrase:”Oh My God! The world is flattened! The world is flat!”? ...

... Whether from his book “The World is Flat” or his speech during the two days, it is not an easy job for negligent people like me to find some hints. What I learned at that day is the numerous way to express “Oh My God!”.

There are currently 11 Comments for Chinese journalists tire of Thomas Friedman.

Comments on Chinese journalists tire of Thomas Friedman

bought the book just last week and am having real trouble getting past the halfway point. talk about repetitive. glad I am not alone on thinking that. have been thinking about abandoning it and reading about the man who ate bluebottles.

I cannot even believe you are comparing Thomas Friedman to Milt Friedman. Thomas Friedman is a journalist, not a scholar or a great thinker. Milt Friedman is one of the greatest, most influential economists of all time. With all due respect to Thomas Friedman, I doubt anyone will know his name 100 years from now, but Milt Friedman will still be read.

Jealousy perhaps? Is this the same crowd who criticized Jonathan Spence for acheieving mainstream success?

A few points:

1. There is hardly a basis for comparison between Thomas Friedman and Milton Friedman. Yes, they share a long Jewish surname, but that's about it.

2. Thomas Friedman's NYT articles are mostly good; his books are too verbose and repetitive for my liking.

That said, I think that they are a good read for older people (50+) who want to understand what's going on with the world. For young people, who already live in a "flat" world, they have little news, certainly not enough to justify ploughing through 400-500 pages.


If you read the original post that Danwei excerpted from, you can see that the blogger Undersound was not comparing the two Friedmans. He just remarked that there "are two persons named Friedman in the news recently."

And he draws this conclusion:

"So, gone is the mastermind of Liberal economist and probably the person inadvertently pushing the market reform of Chinese economy, do people, specifically Chinese people, commemorate and remember him as a giant?

Not so, at least for the audience of mass media, mass consumption and mass culture. For this group of people, who worked in English-speaking multinationals and killed their time on Wifi surfing in Starbuck, Thomas Friedman is the only Friedman they can recognize, because his theory represented their dream of NASDAQ listing and overnight wealth, since in the flat world you would be equally cutting-edge and competitive with your American counterparts."

He is not comparing their value as thinkers, just commenting on Chinese people's awareness of the two.

You see, that's one more thing that China has in common with America: We're both already tired of Thomas Friedman.

Thomas Friedman had a similar problem in France recently. He had a hard time finding a publisher in France where he has just only been published in translation (2 years after the USA)... The issue is that more and more people in Europe are vocal against globalization and that Friedman is just describing a phenomenon which is no really new in 2006 and he doesn't discuss the future so his book seems a bit obsolete (in a country where people like well structured and written essays, his style also doesn't seem to please many critics as well)

By the way, for an excellent and fresh view on globalization, just read, if not yet done, this recent FT article, and in particular its amazing conclusion

Friedman and his flat earth theory has one major flaw, the world is only flat for the rich. If you are poor you cannot simply cross a border and work for more money because all the work is going to places where the cost is lowest.

We will see how flat the earth becomes if oil is traded in euros and not dollars. How flat the world has become when Halliburton moves its operations to the Middle East making it a foreign company in control of much of our military's food and housing.

Not to seem like I am defending Friedman, but I think one of the problems might be that 9 out of 10 writers out there right now are anti-globalization. Not only anti-globalization, but rabid in their decrees against it. This in itself creates a difficult environment and most writers are not be ballsy enough to write about it. For that I give Friedman points.

The other thing is that I think most people love him or hate him. There is not so much in between. The academics I have talked to either think he's a quack or really think he has some interesting ideas.

About the Friedman vs Friedman thing, anyway you slice it it is a ridiculous grouping and I think there is no defending it the way that it has been presented in your post. Flypig does not come off as much more than a Li Yang impersonator.

The excerpt you added to the comments is of quite a different nature and lends a lot of light to the original. I do feel that the comparison is a bit like comparing Dong Jianhua and Dong Zhuo because they have the same family names.

If you're tired of hearing Friedman's message I hope it's because you've GOTTEN the message and not just gotten TIRED of the message. The core of the message is that's it's happening and it's going to happen: nothing can stop it, so you better GET the message. If you've gotten the message, fine! Move on! But Friedman is still doing a great service to many, so lighten up!

thomas friedman and milton friedman both push the freemarket globalization greed fantasy to anyone that will listen. Lucky for the world there is only one of them left.

It's very easy to see the places milton's ideas influenced, you will notice over 50% of the population in abject poverty with the rest in bare subsistence living with a 5% to 10% ruling group of amoral criminal psychopaths who pander to multinational sweatshop owners. They auction off their peoples labor like you would a cow or horse.

thomas is nothing but an ignorant mouthpiece for the multinational companies that love playing puppetmaster to the world. Coupled with their other favorite weapon the IMF and world bank the average person in the world doesn't stand a chance.

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