Who shares Bai Yansong's Chinese dream?

Bai Yansong speaking at Yale

While in the US to film a travel program, CCTV program host Bai Yansong gave a speech at Yale University. Nimrod at Fool's Mountain translated Bai's speech, "My Story and the Chinese Dream Behind It," in which he talks about the changes he's within China over the past four decades, and how Sino-US relations have progressed during that time.

It was in this kind of forty years that I went from a far-away border-town kid who had no possibility of having a dream, to a newsman who could be at a big festival celebrated with all of humanity and who could communicate and share the happiness with them. This was a life story that took place in China. And in this year, China and America were not far apart. There was a bit of me in you and a bit of you in me, we needed each other. It was said that President Bush spent the longest time in any country abroad as President, and that was during the Beijing Olympics. Phelps took eight medals there, and his family was there by his side. All Chinese wished that extraordinary family well. Of course, every dream will pass. In such a year, China and America almost simultaneously found their new "I have a dream" moment, and it was so coincidental, and so deserving.

But this "Chinese dream" was not shared by all who heard the speech or read the transcript. Bai Yansong is a popular CCTV personality, but for his detractors, he represents the sort of insufferable, pretentious attitude that the liberal "elite" media take toward the rest of the country. And his public opposition to the Carrefour boycott last spring did not endear him to the members of China's more nationalist online communities.

Translated below is a response to Bai's speech by Wang Dashui, a blogger on the left-leaning Caogen blog host who sees Bai's dreams as lacking the qualities that a representative of CCTV speaking for his country in the United States should possess:

Bai Yansong Belittles China While in the US

by Wang Dashui / Caogen

On March 30, CCTV host Bai Yansong and a TV crew went to the US to shoot a feature, "Bai Yansong's Eyes on the US." On the 31st, Bai and his crew drove from New York to Yale University, where he gave a speech titled "My Story and the Chinese Dream Behind It" to Yale students and teachers. The speech was broadcast on CCTV on April 13 and afterward quickly propagated across the Internet, whereupon it became a major point of interest.

Reading the transcript of Bai Yansong's speech in the online media, this writer saw, after a moment's thought, that Bai Yansong had openly belittled China on at least four points while in the US:

First, in the first part of his speech, he bluntly stated, "For the past twenty years, China has dealt with three US presidents, but now that I have come to Yale I realize that it was actually dealing with just a single school."

Oh, Bai Yansong! Your journey and speech in the US, and your reporting, are not some private affair. A TV host went to America with a TV crew to shoot "Eyes on the US," and hence all public speech by that CCTV host represents not only the TV crew but CCTV as well, and in a certain sense, the will of state. You can't possibly be unaware of that basic knowledge. And because you're well aware of it, you have no reason whatsoever to apply some sort of literary or philosophical viewpoint to critique a decade of Sino-US relations, and you particularly should not have described a decade of bilateral relations using such an affront to national character and dignity as "a country's decade-long dealing with a school." Were the last ten years of Sino-US relations really as you described them? Everyone knows that China's foreign policy has never been anything of the sort, yet you undercut the voice of your own country in a moment of carelessness.

Second, he said in his speech, "In 1968, China and the US were separated by a vast distance, no less than the distance between the Moon and the Earth." But, one might ask, would the overall power of a China that already possessed the atomic bomb really be separated from the US by a distance "no less than the distance between the Moon and the Earth," as Bai Yansong said in his speech? Beginning from that time, US presidents would no longer dare to take a nuclear China for granted.

Third, he said in his speech, "The US is facing an extremely difficult financial crisis. Of course it is not only America's problem: the entire world is seriously effected. Chinese people today especially hope that the US will recover as soon as possible because we have hundreds of billions worth of money in America. We also have large quantities of goods waiting to be loaded onto freighters to be shipped over here. If the US economy sees improvement, then these goods mean raises for Chinese workers, employment opportunities, and family happiness."

For one thing, he is clearly ignorant of how much foreign reserves China holds in America. It's not "hundreds of billions worth of money," it is "more than one trillion dollars."

For another thing, this financial crisis was brought about by the long-term greed of America's financial system, and responsibility for its escalation into a global crisis lies with America; other countries are all victims. Continuing to buy US treasuries is actually a way to bring America back from the dead, certainly not because we would go bankrupt with nowhere to sell our goods. We can therefore see from his speech that he is ignorant of the actual situation and of basic facts, and thus in a moment of carelessness belittled his own country and brought a degree of harm to its prestige and credibility.

For yet another thing, we can take a look at his basic point: we have "hundreds of billions worth of money" in America, so what's bad for America is bad for China. In particular, if Americans don't spend, then we Chinese don't have any outlet for our goods, and hence some people will not see pay raises, nor will there be employment opportunities or happy homes.

Notice how important and lofty he sees the dependence of China's economy on America. Yet the US is a country where industry is an empty concept: a popular criticism goes, "I don't want to work, but I want to live in a big house." Particularly in today's global financial and economic crisis, if China does not continue to buy US treasuries, and if it does not provide the US with large quantities of consumer goods, the storm of the American financial crisis will only get worse.

Furthermore, don't the goods we produce represent wealth that we possess? And in possession of a massive amount of wealth, are we unaware of how to share it among the people? Heck, we're not the ones in debt right now — it's the US that's in debt to China.

Moreover, while the global financial crisis is still going on, China continues to export large quantities of goods to the US and continues to purchase US treasuries in order to support the US economy, not out of a form of economic dependence. If we were to adopt a policy of total economic conservatism today, the unemployment rate would only grow worse in the US, not in China.

During the storm of great international financial crisis, a famous media personality is not only unable to distinguish what's important or to identify causes, he actually interprets active assistance a passive, awkward situation. Is this mindset anything other than belittling his own country?

Fourth, he also said in his speech that he was once kid from a remote place who had no dreams because living conditions were difficult for the country at that time, but ever since the resumption of Sino-US relations in 1978, China's situation improved, and he later tested into Peking University, joined CCTV after graduation, and bought his first private car in 1998.

But why didn't he compare the second year after the resumption of Sino-US relations? In 1980, China's passenger jet "Y-10" had its wings clipped and went under. Twenty years later, in 2000, China needed to export 700 million shirts to the US to be able to purchase a single Boeing 737, rather than using the production power of 100 million shirts to manufacture its own 737-equivalent Y-10 jet. For Chinese industry, the Y-10 was our baby....

To further the idea, if the Y-10 project had not been discontinued, we may have already been able to take that 100 million shirts' worth of production power to manufacture a 737 equivalent. And China's auto industry could have been far more advanced than it is today. And perhaps it wouldn't have been anything out of the ordinary for the majority of the country's citizens to own their own cars, nor would that be anything to boast about.

When every individual's personal dream is intertwined with the dream of all of the country's people, that country and its people have immense potential. If a so-called famous media personality is ignorant of this basic truth, it's worth considering whether or not he deserves to remain in that position.

This is a smokeless financial war. CCTV talking head Bai Yansong, I ask you to strengthen your consciousness about the country and your nationality, and improve the quality of your politics, economics, and citizenship. It's probably best if you avoid narrow-minded "golden millet dreams" in the future.

Wang Xiaodong, who was on the opposite side of last year's Carrefour boycotts and who does not hold a high opinion of Bai as a journalist (see "Bai Yansong is no Song Zude"), wrote of a different kind of "Chinese dream" in one of the chapters of Unhappy China:

I believe that big goals are highly important for cultural originality. Big goals were present in the days of Mao Zedong — whether they were entirely correct is a separate issue, but after big goals vanished, listlessness set in, and it is impossible to bring forth viable cultural products in such circumstances.

Let me return to the Century of the Olympics. "The Olympics have been China's dream for a century," is a pretty awful thing to say. The Olympics are a good thing and they were carried off pretty well. The pride that the Chinese people feel is genuine. But to call the Olympics the dream of a century is factually incorrect. China's dream at the beginning of that century was to rescue the country, and for a time after the country was successfully rescued, the dream was to liberate all of humanity, to dispel the wicked so the good people of the world could live in peace.

Hosting the Olympics was China's dream a few decades later. Today, then, China needs big dreams, ten thousand times bigger than hosting the Olympics. The words of some officials are risible, things like "the Olympics were an unprecedented challenge" — starting when? How far do you go back? Yesterday? You may be correct if you're just counting yesterday and today, but if you go back eighty or ninety years, or even just fifty, then it's not really an unprecedented challenge for China. Domestically and internationally, China faced tons of challenges over the past decades that were ten thousand times bigger than the Olympics. I remember once, not long after China's bid for the Olympics was successful, a German reporter interviewed me and said in an extremely condescending tone: this time your bid was successful, so you've got to be really proud. I immediately pounded the table and said, "What do you know?! China has been a world superpower for thousands of years and has held tons of events larger than the Olympics! Set aside those millennia — even in the last few decades, China has done many things greater than the Olympics. Wasn't fighting the UN forces to resist the US and aid Korea bigger than the Olympics?" He was dumbfounded.

Wasn't the reform and opening up greater than the Olympics? And the Three Gorges Dam, and Shenzhou V, Shenzhou VI, and Shenzhou VII too? Wasn't the challenge of the Wenchuan Earthquake greater? Hosting the Olympics was a good thing and we're all pleased, but at the very least our elite should understand that it was just for fun — having fun and enjoying ourselves a bit is good, but that's all it is. To call that China's dream of a century is a little pathetic. This mindset of mediocrity, always moving downward into an ever lower and more vulgar position, is something that has to change.

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There are currently 15 Comments for Who shares Bai Yansong's Chinese dream?.

Comments on Who shares Bai Yansong's Chinese dream?

I didn't watch Bai's speech so was pretty surprised even shocked to find out what a fool he was at Yale. But on the other hand, I thought he didn't mean to attack sino-us relationship. I genuinely believe he was pathetically brainwashed by the powerful propaganda machine.

Granted, I am not so steeped in Chinese politics. Perhaps that is why I find the reasoning of two responses very overheated. The first more so. The reporter stated "In 1968, China and the US were separated by a vast distance, no less than the distance between the Moon and the Earth." To which the response is, in 1968 China had the atomic bomb, and being so very powerful, China and America are not so far apart. Huh? Am I missing something, or is this kind of logic really so unremarkable?

anyone know when they're going to unblock youtube ?

I know Bai, he wasn't brainwashed, he was just trying to appeal the Chinese audience because they love to hear about mighty motherland tales. In fact Bai is a liberal critical of the government on every turn, you need to watch his programs more.

@Mike: the essay by wang dashui and most of the posts on caogen and websites like it are similar to lots of right-wing blogs and am radio shows in the u.s. where even the most inane detail can be twisted to show someone as a traitor, fool, whatever. cf. obama bowing to the saudi king or shaking chavez's hand.

Unfortunately, but obviously, both comically overheated responses exhibit all the markings of a deep inferiority complex. Neither response shows good reasoning; they're the angry ravings of attention-starved children. China has better, more thoughtful, and more mature intellectuals than these.

In any case - thanks for putting this out there, Joel. Interesting, if not a little disheartening.

Just wanted to go on record stating that I am unconvinced by suggestion to the effect that: the majority of Chinese might own automobiles today if only the CCP had continued work on the Y-10 passenger jet in 1980.

And bocaj - excellent observation. Indeed.

The thing about blog hosts that have distinct personalities (as opposed to the general blog portals) is that they attract ideological hotheads as well as people who make considered arguments that happen to fall on one side of the ideological aisle most of the time. Caogen's home to know-nothings and blind nationalists as well as more thoughtful bloggers like Li Changping, just as Bullog (and De-Sci) host cogent liberal arguments as well as knee-jerk anti-government rhetoric.

I translated Wang Dashui's piece because it's a fairly restrained, coherent example of the mindset that China should not be accomodating at all as it claims a place in the world that has belonged to it for decades already. More petty nit-picking of Bai's speech can be found on forums like CCTV bigshot Bai Yansong shames China in "interview" with Yale nabs him for mentioning JFK's assassination in 1968 (given the benefit of the doubt, he probably meant RFK), laughs at his characterization of his hometown as out of the loop merely because newspapers took three days to arrive (didn't he have radio? Or local loudspeaker broadcasts?), and takes issue with the dollar conversion of his mother's salary.

And Anonymous, it's ironic that you see Wang Xiaodong's remarks as exhibiting an inferiority complex, because one of his main criticisms of China's liberal intellectuals is that their infatuation with western thought and "universal values" is a manifestation of their own sense of cultural inferiority.

I am shocked you had to give any **** about China military club's stuff, folks there are plainly retarded freaks and you know it. And "nitpicking"?? Bai went out there and got his voice heard which is more important than anything else, and yes he made mistakes but who doesn't??? We are not, and we are not supposed to be, superbeings, and if we are, we'd be colonizing other planets by now.

All in all, Bai has done a fantastic job sending his (personal) message, he said what he believed is right, nothing less and nothing more, I give him props.

“And Anonymous, it's ironic that you see Wang Xiaodong's remarks as exhibiting an inferiority complex, because one of his main criticisms of China's liberal intellectuals is that their infatuation with western thought and "universal values" is a manifestation of their own sense of cultural inferiority.”

I’m reading 中國不高興 right now (and actually think there are some surprisingly interesting parts to the book), but I think Wang Xiaodong’s articles tend to be the most ridiculous and least informative of the five, full of “Western” and “Chinese Liberal” straw men. In his views, all Westerns have never cared about understanding the Chinese viewpoint, and have constantly and arrogantly dictated the terms of the debate to them. (Ironic, since James Mann in “the China Fantasy” makes basically the opposite claim: that the US foreign policy elite has consistently kow towed to Chinese, or rather, CCP-defined “cultural sensitivities” and business interests). At the same time, Wang argues, where Westerns feel that they have “understood” China, it is only because they have a bunch of pro-Western sycophants around them, praising their every thought. This has a small degree of truth, but it generally insults the intelligence of Westerners in China (who can read Chinese and are well aware of vitriolic anti-Westerner sentiments or Chinese views on Tibet, which Wang seems to think that we aren’t), and it insults the intelligence of Chinese “rightists” or “liberals” who might think want they think because they have their own minds, and are not just blindly infatuated with everything Western, as some would stereotype them as a way of ignoring their actual points. Even worse, Wang basically belittles Sino-Western friendship and the concept of dialogue (exchanging opinions and contentious subjects by politely pointing out factual errors in the others thinking/reporting), and instead he just wants the West to understand China’s fury, which should be respected because China is a growing power.

Naive, gullible Americans will wake up one day and realize that their worst nightmare is real.

The " wang dashui's" are growing in number. China's military expansion is NOT for peaceful purposes.

The world is going to see a more aggressive, forceful, confrontational China as the economic crisis runs its course.

The PRC is preparing for a future war. Unfortunately, it will get it.

The current issue of New Century Weekly (新世纪周刊, #357) has a satisfying takedown of Wang Xiaodong's contributions to Unhappy China that picks apart his faulty assumptions, factual errors, and outright fabrications. I've been waiting for responses to the book that go beyond mere reactions to the hype surrounding its publication, and this is one of the first articles I've seen where the writer takes on (some of) the book's contents. Only Wang Xiaodong, though — Fangmeng Tian doesn't address the other authors at all.

My opinions about Bai Yansong:

He tries to appear to be knowledgeable and always criticizes others from his "notable" standpoint. Is there a more effective way to convey the your childhood impression? What a fool.


Thanks for the info, I’ll try to get that issue of 新世纪周刊. I’ve also been looking for thoughtful reviews that go beyond the “this represents the rise of Chinese nationalism” viewpoint. In other words, it’d be nice to see reviews of people who have read the book, rather than just people who are commenting on the phenomenon the book supposedly represents. For example, in all five authors first chapters, if I’m not mistaken, they all bring up corruption (三鹿…etc) and they all fairly directly go after the corrupt and elite policy making apparatus. And, for what it’s worth, 黃紀蘇’s article “神鬼莫測”, while certainly having some objectionable aspects from my admittedly liberal, American point of view, was one of the most entertainingly bold, pro-democracy articles I’ve read in the Chinese press in a long while. He points out many things that I’ve often thought: that people underestimate the intelligence of the so-called 老百姓 (after all, most are literate and have access to the internet and know where their interests are), the government policing itself on corruption isn’t going to be highly effective, and that many government officials and scholars have an Orwellian “triple think” in that they simultaneously argue that China can’t rush into the democracy process, that nowhere in the world is there really true democracy, and that China already has democracy!

Maybe it’s just me, but I think that the fact that so few mainstream reviews thus far have mentioned that the book actually has some positive merits shows that they’re just commenting on their own pre-conceived notions of the Chinese left/nationalism, which, at the end of the day, may contain accurate analysis, but they aren’t really adding anything new to the debate. As for me, I think I’ll finish reading before commenting any further.

I never think I, or we Chinese has been brainwashed so much as you guys thought.I never watch the national TV news, and I even do not like the Party until I grow up and be rational. I, and my schoolmates all watch American TV play such as Gossip girl, Heroes, Prison Break etc. If I am brainwashed, I think it is by American media. To be fair, the Party do bring us a better life.You guys never have an idea about how poor we are 30years ago. We suffer from starving, we live a very very poor life. The distance between America and China is far because of the life standard and that we normal Chinese are not able to get connected with Americans. America is a abstract word. But now, many of Chinese students can speak English, we have Internet, we go aborad. Compare our life with other countries that as poor as we are 30 years ago,what amazing success we achieved during the 30 years. We are almost as rich as Americans. There is a word in China: who can tell the fish is not happy if you are not the fish. You can not tell Chinese is not happy if you are not Chinese

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