Posted by Joel Martinsen on Sunday, April 19, 2009 at 8:10 PM
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.
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 USby 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:
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.