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Thursday, August 21, 2003

Blogland in China

T-Salon is back from her Rocky Mountains holiday and she has forwarded me links to two new China BusinessBlogs. Firstly Fons Tuinstra is a Shanghai based journalist working for Chinabiz. Last Friday he reflected on the state of business journalism in China:

In one of the standard phrases I use to introduce Chinese media to newcomers in this city, I tell them that reporting on economy and finance has gone up, both in volume and in quality, over the past few years but that none of the Chinese media would have an authoritative position as a leading paper at this stage ¨C making it very hard to follow all the information available.

Mostly my visitors take my input for granted and move on to the next subject, but last week one of those smartarses started to ask me questions. ¡°Who do you think is the leading English-language information source on China,¡± she asked after my introduction. I was lost for a moment. Since Chinabiz is running an English language headline service, I do see the most important news about China in foreign media and I could not come up with an answer. Up to five years ago, I would have probably mentioned the South China Morning Post, but I stopped reading that paper when it started charging for their online access and I have not felt I have missed a lot since then. This month I cancelled my subscription for the Far Eastern Economic Review, the last subscription I actually paid for. I can read their articles at the site of the Wall Street Journal for free so why should I pay?

Chinese English-language media might be offering more and more reliable information than in the past but at times when you really need it ¨C take SARS ¨C they would rather toe the official line than tell the truth. I can deal with that, since I have learned to read between the lines, but it will stop them from becoming really mainstream or even leading media. In Amsterdam and New York they can read the People¡¯s Daily online nowadays, but that does not mean they can make sense out of it.

Then there is Walter Hutchens a US academic who specialises in law and Chinese financial institutions. His material is technical (often linking to direct sources in Chinese) but he does promise to give an informed (and 'fair and balanced') view of what is happening as it happens:

PRC leaders constantly "zhi chu." The lead stories on nightly CCTV broadcasts routinely feature a top leader "pointing out" (Ö¸³ö, zhi chu) this and that. Stories in the print media also regularly have some official pointing out, emphasizing or "revealing" a litany of platitudes. In fact, the sarcastic piece that got the Beijing Xin Bao newspaper permanently shut down listed just this as one of the "7 disgusting things" about the PRC. It lamented the way top leaders "zhi chu" obvious things such as, "when you are hungry, you should eat," or "when it is cold you ought to dress warmly."

Lately Shang Fulin, the head of the CSRC, has been busy "zhi chu-ing." Often he points out that reform (gai ge) and cleaning up (gui fan) of the PRC securities markets must be kept in pace with development (fa zhan). I think these comments, though vapid on one level, do have some hermeneutic purpose. They are readable tea leaves. I take them to express that a different political or policy "line" exists under Shang than under Zhou Xiaochuan, the former CSRC chairman. Zhou sometimes expressed the idea that it is not the job of regulators to assure that investors profit. Rather regulators are simply to enforce the laws. Shang, I think, is saying that law enforcement has to be moderated so as not to disrupt the development of the markets or unduly affect existing share prices.

Obviously these blogs are only of interest to the dedicated China watchers among us, but I am posting in the hope that I may not be the only one around with sufficient curiousity. BTW, on the 'Fair and Balanced' front I am greatful to Dave for letting me in on the joke, which has lead me to pull some fairly silly comments I made in an earlier post, my only excuse for missing out on the action is that I must have been asleep on holiday. Only one quibble, wouldn't it have been better for everyone to put something like 'slanted and sensationalist' on their blogs. The 1930's surrealists had in this sense a much more effective idea of protest, and I have always been most impressed with their idea of using the vous form for their closest friends and children, while relegating the rest of the world to being the mere tu (the French for this being vousvoyer and tutoyer) so you put the 'other' in the ridiculous position of asking whether they can 'vousvoyer': lovely. By the same token if you call your blog superficial, ill-informed and inaccurate, then you sure as hell take a lot of ammo away from your critics in advance. Bottom line: I don't see any point at all in attacking directly certain kinds of extremely stupid media, I think it's better just to ignore them completely.

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