Official Chinese Propaganda: Now Online from the WaPo!

By James Fallows

As I never tire of saying, China Daily is my favorite newspaper in the world.

But it's conceivable that not every visitor to the Washington Post's web site would know the reason for my fondness and loyalty. China Daily is the state-controlled English-language voice of the Chinese government to the outside world. Sometimes this makes it a useful source of intel about the line the government wants to push. For instance, its recent revelation that "most nations" opposed the choice of Liu Xiaobo as winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Very often the hyper-earnestness of its approach makes it a delight. For example, here and here, or my favorite of all headlines, "Happiness abounds as country cheers."

Recently the Washington Post has started carrying China Daily's US edition as a physically separate advertising supplement to the printed paper, as described here. Fine: it's clearly labeled, and we've all gotta stay in business. But now the Post is doing the same thing on its website. Look at this part of the "Washington Post"'s site as it appears just now, and tell me how obvious it is that you're seeing a paid presentation of official Chinese government propaganda perspective:
 
ChinaWatch.png


I showed this to a seasoned world traveler a few minutes ago and asked what he thought it was. "'China Watch' ? -- The Post's blog about China?" Reasonable guess. In fact if you click on the image above to see an enlarged version, you'll make out the tiny words "A Paid Supplement to the Washington Post" in the upper right hand corner. To the wary reader, the content itself offers further clues. For instance, the item above: "Stop Telling Us What We Should Do," with "we" being China and the object of the imperative sentence being the nagging United States. Or this one and this, clarifying how unfair it was for foreigners to criticize China's "rare earths" exports policy. As a matter of fact, China's "actions taken in the past few months, and those to be taken in the months to come, are totally legitimate." OK! I've long been skeptical of the Chinese government's ability to exert "soft power" influence over outside opinion, precisely because of the tin-eared super-earnest "Resist Hegemony!" / "totally legitimate" approach. Getting the Post to present Chinese government material this way is a step I hadn't foreseen.

(I have spent the last 45 minutes on the phone trying to get a comment out of someone from the Post. I was eventually routed to a very helpful young woman on the foreign desk, who said, "It's just a paid supplement." OK again. Also, to be precise, if you start at the Post's world-news home page, you'll see China Watch set off in a box, as ads usually are. But if you got a direct link to any of the component stories, the URL makes them look like part of the "real" Post -- for instance, http://chinawatch.washingtonpost.com/2011/02/stop-telling-us-what-we-should-do.php -- and you have only the tiny-type indication that it's not "normal" news. Thanks to my friend Michele T for this tip.)

To end on a brighter note, and to explain why I'm popping up in the midst of a guest week: I wanted to thank and congratulate this week's crew of guests for entries that deserve careful reading. Xujun Eberlein has done an extraordinary series of recollections on a part of US-Chinese history virtually unknown in America (latest here, with links to preceding items); Bruce Holmes has given a systematic examination of what "Sputnik moments" and general national renewal might mean for the United States (here and here) and a wonderful bit of techno-porn here; Andrew Sprung has done a close, serial analysis of one of the major works in American rhetoric and its modern implications (here and here) plus this about America's current predicament; and Chuck Spinney has shown why he has been so influential as a budget and strategic analyst. My thanks for the ongoing quality of their work.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/02/official-chinese-propaganda-now-online-from-the-wapo/70690/