Friday, August 1, 2008

New Yorker on "Angry Youth"

I don't have time for a long post today, but there is something worth a brief note. Last week's New Yorker published a report by Evan Osnos titled "Angry Youth." This report is evidence that objective reporting about China by a Western journalist is still possible. Osnos also gives very good answers in his on-line responses to reader questions. At one point he says, "In fairness, other foreign writers I know in China profess no agenda beyond an intense curiosity about the place." I wish this were true, however in reality one does not see reporting like his very often.

It is understandable why Tang Jie's generation in Osnos' report adapts a less critical attitude toward their government than, say, people in my generation that are 20 years older. This is largely because the younger generation have benefited visibly from the economic reform during their lifetime. They certainly have a better life than I did when I lived in China, and the improvement relative to their parents is striking. Many of the people Osnos talked to are not yet "standing" (by Confucius' measure), and their views have holes and inconsistencies (whose don't?). Still they are understandable, even reasonable considering where they have come from.

One thing that they stressed again and again was the changes they have seen in terms of freedoms and civil liberties in their lifetime. I am always baffled by the failure of most Western commentators to acknowledge China's progress, economically and politically, during the past two decades. Don't they know such acknowledgment would make their criticisms more easily heard? Or, perhaps, they don't really care about results. To borrow from another writer, they may be just enjoying the sound of their thumbs on the keys.

A minor note: Tang Jie and his friends work hard to seek truth, and for this, despite the many flaws in their thinking, I do respect them. I got a real laugh, however, when Osnos quoted Grace Wang, basically an ignorant young lady, comparing herself with Deng Xiaoping. I am curious to know what Osnos was thinking when he wrote that sentence.

7 comments:

wuming said...

There are a few western journalists and academicians who knew just how vastly China has changed in last 16 years (or 30 years if you discount the spasm of 1989.) Most of them also understand the significance of it. But they either kept that to themselves or was ignored completely by the media establishment. When they are called upon by the same establishment to pontificate on China in a moment like this, they skip over (just pay lip service to) this basic fact, and go directly to the latest outrages of China. It is extremely frustrating when NYT have 2-3 articles a day on China, almost all critical, but very rarely allow an alternative voice to appear on its pages.

I hope blogs like yours are the start of the formation of independent, alternative voices on matters concerning China. But this is still very far away from the establishment.

Anonymous said...

It is extremely frustrating when NYT have 2-3 articles a day on China, almost all critical, but very rarely allow an alternative voice to appear on its pages.

I think complaints from fenqing and others about a lack of positive articles on China (or Russia for that matter, they've gotten similar coverage from the NyTimes recently) point to a fundamental misunderstanding and unfamiliarity with American media.

Stories gushing with praise and good news don't make it into American newspapers or news programs, regardless of the topic.

Xujun Eberlein said...

Wuming, thanks for commenting. An independent voice is indeed my intention.

Anonymous, I hope next time when you comment you'll leave a name or cyber name. It feels awkward talking to a no-name.

I think objective reporting does not have to be positive (or negative for that matter) in the tone of the reporter. When there are two or more sides to a story, revealing them all is preferred. This is not just about China. The New Yorker does a better job than most in this respect. I remember reading an article about Hillary Clinton and thought it was quite objective even though I didn't support her.

But of course the measure of objectivity is also subjective, and that's an irony of it. :-) Perhaps the New Yorker article I read is one that Clinton supporters are now holding up as an example of sexism in the media. I hope to post some more on this topic (objectivity vs. subjectivity, not sexism in the media).

bocaj said...

i posted under anonymous earlier today. i didn't see the option to just leave a name. blogger is blocked here, so don't feel it necessary to create a login.

obviously, someone from the ny times read my post and wrote a three-page article to make me look silly:http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/02/world/asia/02china.html?_r=1&hp&oref=login

btw, i enjoyed your post on danwei

Xujun Eberlein said...

bocaj, I like your humor.:-) And thanks for the link. It looks like the US media is finally doing some catch-up on China's real situation.

bien said...

I read Osnos's piece. I also felt that his report stood out from most of the articles about China's angry youth, netizen, ... I wish there are more reports like his, otherwise there are going to be more misunderstandings between the west and China.

I was wondering if you can translate Osnons's article into Chinese, so that perhaps more Chinese can read it too.

Xujun Eberlein said...

Interesting idea, Bien. A translation would require permission though. Besides, I'm not sure how many Chinese are reading this blog...