One more on China, India, and the Western media

In two previous posts, here and here, overseas Chinese readers have presented very different views on whether Western press outlets were ganging up against China, and whether India was by comparison getting a free ride.

As a worthy complement to these arguments, an email from reader Shreeharsh Kelkar, giving an overseas Indian perspective:

I was pleasantly surprised to read the email you published from an overseas Chinese citizen who thinks the western media treats China unfairly and that he would like to see China being treated the way India gets treated.  As an Indian who lives in the US, I have many many Indian friends who complain that the media here only talks about the poverty in India, that they emphasize only what's wrong with the country and not what's going right with it, that they talk only of the poor and not of the middle class.  Etc, etc.  

I think both these complaints -- the Chinese and the Indian -- are, in some sense, two sides of the same coin.
The key word, I think, is "threat".  At the risk of giving bringing in vague things like "feelings" into the explanation, I will say that the when most people -- Indians or Americans -- think of the Chinese -- especially the Chinese Government -- the word "threatening" is always hovering around, even if left unsaid.  There's always the sense that China wants to conquer the world.  Now, as you've pointed out infinite times in your blog-posts and articles, this is far from being the case.  China (like India) is a desperately poor country that has more pressing things than world domination on its brain.  But that vague threatening feeling remains and the fact that the Chinese possess nuclear weapons doesn't make any one else feel better.

And so it goes with the media coverage.  Many Indians living in the US hate the fact that Western newspapers often have photographs of slums and the almost mind-numbing poverty that exists there.  But as someone who reads a fair amount, I must say I have very rarely seen pictures of back-breaking poverty from China, the photographs I do remember are those of the huge factories, the magnetic trains, the Olympics.  I am not sure why this is so.  And feel free to point me to stories that do have such photos.  But I think when the public image of a country is associated with back-breaking poverty, the media can't help but be lenient towards it.  And when the public image of a country is a mix of the magnetic trains, huge buildings, the Olympics and Tibet, with nuclear weapons never far behind, then the media will tend to be a little harsh tending to, as your correspondent notes  not "tolerate the minor human rights problems and individual sufferings which are common in any developing country".  

It was funny for me to read that your Chinese correspondent actually wanted his country to be treated the way India is treated in the media here.  There are hordes of Indians who would wish that India was treated in the Western media the way China is: with a mixture of fear and admiration rather than what they interpret as condescending pity.  

I should add that I don't think it is the media's business to "positively represent" any country -- their business is to write good, interesting, powerful stories.  Those who don't like it should try and do something about it, rather than complaining.  But that's a topic for another day.