Posted by Joel Martinsen on Monday, April 14, 2008 at 1:20 PM
There's a war going on over freedom of speech, democracy, and western "universal values."
In the above cartoon we see the forces of China.com (the patriots surrounding the sentry tower on the right) arrayed against the defenders of the Southern Metropolis Daily and liberal democracy on the left.
War was sparked by Chang Ping's essay of 3 April, "How To Find The Truth About Lhаsa," in which he discussed the recent attacks on the bias of the western media in the wake of the Lhаsa riots and applied the same reasoning to the domestic media (from ESWN's translation):
The China.com forums labeled Chang Ping a traitor, and started an assault on the Southern Metropolis Group, where Chang Ping edits the Southern Metropolis Weekly.
Things really got going last Friday with an op-ed that brought the ugliness of the forums to the pages of the Beijing Evening News:
Southern Metropolis Chang Ping and the Freedom to Rumor-Mongerby Wen Feng / BEN
A man named Southern Metropolis Chang Ping, who recently ran afoul of a group of netizens, might want to make another argument for free speech in the belief that the netizens have stripped that right from him. I do not usually concern myself with online forums, but the netizens' broadsides were so fierce this time that I took a look at the so-called speech of this Southern Metropolis Chang Ping. I noticed immediately that this individual had brought "free speech" to an appalling or even "terrifying" degree. The heart of the matter for which he was criticized was this: "Free speech intrinsically includes the freedom of mistaken speech and particularly the freedom to question authority. More frightening than rumors is the removal of free speech." And he openly held this up as a universal value. According to his logic, "free speech" means that you can muddy the truth, fabricate facts, indiscriminately distort history, speak irresponsibly, "freely" rumor-monger, "freely" smear, "freely" toss about labels. Just like the western media's hysterical performance on the issue of China's Tıbet. Was that free speech? That was violent speech. I have never seen the western media enjoy that kind of freedom of speech in their own country, because that would be an infringement on the rights of others, and it would trample social justice and betray fundamental ethical principles. If this is the "universal value" that Southern Metropolis Chang Ping wants to protect, then honor is the price he pays in return.
I did not know who Southern Metropolis Chang Ping was at first, but after a short investigation, he turned out to be a "trendy spicy chicken" at the Southern Media Group. Not surprising in the least, because the Southern Media Group, with ____ Weekly [Southern Weekly] at the lead, has always set itself up as China's most "western" newspaper, the "boldest," "keenest," and most "penetrating" newspaper, one that tirelessly promotes western "universal values" and "free press." It is no surprise that Southern Metropolis Chang Ping spoke in such a way. And the subsequent huge uproar was due to the western media's brazen rumor-mongering, smearing, and distortion of the Tibet situation. This leads one to believe that he (or they) are not merely seeking free speech; their last fig-leaf is about to be torn away.
For Southern Metropolis Chang Ping and his ilk, who seek so-called "universal values," only things of the west are universal and need to be upheld. Even the freedom to rumor monger needs to be protected. This leads one to wonder: throughout modern history, all of the colonization and wars were instigated by the west; is this a "universal value"? The very existence of the speech of Southern Metropolis Chang Ping and his ilk proves one fact, which is that those people today shouting and parading around "universal values" and "freedom" are nothing more than using a grandiose phrase as an excuse to achieve their own shadowy ends. But lies remain lies, and in the face of facts and the truth, lies only serve to allow people to perceive hypocrisy more clearly, so that the "universal values" of Southern Metropolis Chang Ping and his ilk are rejected by the people.
Blogger Ten Years Chopping Timber posted two responses: one post lamenting that the standard for frothing-at-the-mouth commentary had dropped in the 42 years since the attacks on "Hai Rui Dismissed From Office," then a follow-up that looked back at the "Evening Chats at Yanshan" affair in 1966.
The Chats were a series of columns written by Deng Tuo and published in the Beijing Evening News. Together with the "Notes from Sanjiatun," a column in Front Lines magazine written by Deng and a few others, the Chats were criticized by Mao Zedong and Kang Sheng in March of 1966, and ultimately the Beijing Daily was forced to put together a three-page spread of criticism which ran on 16 April, 1966. Other national national papers followed up in May with Yao Wenyuan's indictment of the articles as anti-socialist poison. The blogger's implication was that with such a history, the Beijing Evening News shouldn't be so quick on the attack.
Chang Ping himself responded in a blog post titled "I'm not your enemy," in which he deflected Wen Feng's overheated criticisms, suggested that he was beating a straw man, and urged more courtesy in future exchanges:
Perhaps all of this is a good thing. Taizhou-based journalist Zan Aizong suggested that even though Wen Feng and the anti-Southern Metropolis may mock Chang Ping's appeal to "universal values," at least they're having a discussion:
Update: Zan identifies "Wen Feng" as Mei Ninghua (梅宁华), president of the Beijing Daily Group, vice-chair of the All-China Journalists Association, and director of Beijing's Bureau of Cutural Relics.
Links and Sources
Jobs in China
Henry on The Eurasian Face
Caroline W on Big in China
Michael on Julia Lovell on translating Lu Xun's complete fiction: "His is an angry, searing vision of China"
Brandon K. on Clueless academic takes on popular fantasy novels
China Media Timeline
Major media events over the last three decades
Danwei Model Workers
The latest recommended blogs and new media
Books on China
The Eurasian Face : Blacksmith Books, a publishing house in Hong Kong, is behind The Eurasian Face, a collection of photographs by Kirsteen Zimmern. Below is an excerpt from the series:
Big in China: An adapted excerpt from Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China, just published this month. Author Alan Paul tells the story of arriving in Beijing as a trailing spouse, starting a blues band, raising kids and trying to make sense of China.
Pallavi Aiyar's Chinese Whiskers: Pallavi Aiyar's first novel, Chinese Whiskers, a modern fable set in contemporary Beijing, will be published in January 2011. Aiyar currently lives in Brussels where she writes about Europe for the Business Standard. Below she gives permissions for an excerpt.
Front Page of the Day
A different newspaper every weekday
From the Vault
Classic Danwei posts
+ Korean history doesn't fly on Chinese TV screens (2007.09): SARFT puts the kibbosh on Korean historical dramas.
+ Religion and government in an uneasy mix (2008.03): Phoenix Weekly (凤凰周刊) article from October, 2007, on government influence on religious practice in Tibet.
+ David Moser on Mao impersonators (2004.10): I first became aware of this phenomenon in 1992 when I turned on a Beijing TV variety show and was jolted by the sight of "Mao Zedong" and "Zhou Enlai" playing a game of ping pong. They both gave short, rousing speeches, and then were reverently interviewed by the emcee, who thanked them profusely for taking time off from their governmental duties to appear on the show.