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CCTV Africa: The Frontline of Soft-Power Diplomacy

Since its launch in 2012, CCTV Africa has grown considerably in its distribution and programming. However, the central question remains as to whether or not anyone is actually watching, to justify the massive investment undertaken by the Chinese government. According to research by leading Sino-Africa media scholar Bob Wekesa, the channel is apparently building an audience on the continent through its coverage of so-called “positive news.”

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A China in Africa Podcast

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Eric Olander is the founder of the China Africa Project and co-host of the weekly China in Africa Podcast. He has over 25 years of journalism experience at many of the world’s leading news...
Cobus van Staden is the co-host of the weekly China in Africa Podcast and co-moderator of the China Africa Project’s popular Facebook community. He is a South African journalist and academic who...
Bob Wekesa is a Ph.D. candidate in International Communications at Communication University of China and a Research Associate at the University of the Witwatersrand University in South Africa. He...
Eric Olander, Cobus van Staden, Bob Wekesa
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Wealth and Power: Intellectuals in China

This week, Kaiser and Jeremy are joined by David Moser and Orville Schell. While long-time listeners will of course know of David Moser as one of our favorite resident sinologists, if you haven’t also heard of Orville Schell we think you should have.

Currently Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society, and previously an academic sinologist with an outstanding list of publications on Chinese politics and society, Orville has most recently authored Wealth and Power: China’s Long March to the Twenty-first Century.

Up for discussion: recent developments at ChinaFile (what the site has been doing and where we expect it to go), the state of modern academic and intellectual discourse in China as part of a broader look at Orville’s new book, and finally a closer look at the terror attacks in Kunming last week which have seized the global presses.

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Kaiser Kuo is Director of International Communications for Baidu. He is also co-host of the Sinica Podcast, a weekly discussion of current affairs in China, and is a guitarist and co-founder of the...
Jeremy Goldkorn is the Founder and Director of Danwei, a research firm that tracks Chinese media and Internet. Danwei has been publishing a popular website about Chinese media since 2003. After...
David Moser holds a Master’s and a Ph.D. in Chinese Studies from the University of Michigan, with a major in Chinese Linguistics and Philosophy. He was a visiting scholar at Peking University in 1987...
Orville Schell is the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York. He is a former professor and Dean at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate...
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Mao Zedong addresses a meeting calling for even greater efforts against the Japanese, at the Kangdah Cave University, 1938.
Kaiser Kuo, Jeremy Goldkorn, David Moser, Orville Schell
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This podcast was produced by Popup Chinese.

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Late to the Party? The U.S. Government’s Response to China’s Censorship

When China denied veteran journalist Paul Mooney’s visa request in November, neither the State Department, Administration officials nor anyone on Capitol Hill said anything publicly about a U.S. citizen appearing to be punished for his speech.

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Elizabeth Lynch
Jonathan Landreth

Why is China Still Messing with the Foreign Press?

To those raised in the Marxist tradition, nothing in the media happens by accident.  In China, the flagship newspapers are still the “throat and tongue” of the ruling party, and their work is directed by the Party’s Propaganda Department.  That’s the first reason why Chinese cybersnoops dug into the Times’ servers—to find out who had ordered a political attack on China’s premier and for what purpose.

The second reason is that China’s leaders, raised in a culture of extreme secrecy, cannot believe that a story like this could have been written on the basis of green-eyeshade sleuthing in public records. If unauthorized information about Chinese leaders comes out, it is normally the result of political infighting that generates leaks and rumors.  (That’s how the Bo Xilai scandal broke, as detailed in a scathing new book A Death in the Lucky Holiday Hotel, by Pin Ho and Wenguang Huang.)  The spies were directed to find out who gave Times reporter David Barboza the secrets he published and why.

A senior Chinese whose job it is to gather intelligence asked me both of these questions—why did the Times attack the premier and who gave them the information—and was incredulous when I answered that the wealth of Wen’s wife had been widely known for years, and this was a story just waiting to be written by a reporter with the skills to get the facts.  He must have thought I was either naive or a liar.  Such is the paranoia of the Chinese political class.

Let’s also give kudos to the Bloomberg news team who broke the story of the Xi Jinping family’s wealth even before the Times did the Wen story, and who also wrote a terrific story on the wealth of the third generation of Party aristocrats.  Chinese cyberspies broke into the Bloomberg servers too, no doubt looking for the non-existent answers to the same ill-informed questions.—Andrew Nathan

A ChinaFile Conversation

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Andrew J. Nathan is Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. He is also chair of the steering committee of the Center for the Study of Human Rights and chair of the...
Isabel Hilton is a London-based international journalist and broadcaster. She studied at the Beijing Foreign Language and Culture University and at Fudan University in Shanghai before taking up a...
Jonathan Landreth reported freelance from Beijing from 2004 to 2012 for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The China Economic Quarterly, The Los Angeles Times, The Christian Science...
Orville Schell is the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York. He is a former professor and Dean at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate...
Dorinda Elliott is Editor at Large at ChinaFile. In her “day job,” she is Global Affairs Editor at Condé Nast Traveler, where she spearheads coverage of global issues and corporate social...
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China’s President Xi Jinping viewed through a gap between a TV cameraman and his camera at the Boao Forum for Asia on the resort island of Hainan, April 8, 2013. Media reports, including investigations into Xi’s family wealth, have caused an official Chinese backlash against their foreign publishers.
Andrew J. Nathan, Isabel Hilton, Jonathan Landreth, Orville Schell, Dorinda Elliott
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China’s Cyberattacks — At What Cost?

James Fallows: Here are some initial reactions on the latest hacking news.

  • We call this the “latest” news because I don’t think anyone, in China or outside, is actually surprised. In my own experience in China, which is limited compared with many of yours, I’ve seen the omnipresence and intrusiveness of surveillance change. Back in the mid-1980s, there were still significant remnants of the Mao-totalitarian surveillance state. Few enough foreigners that you were always noticed; fairly ham-handed hotel and telephone bugging systems; even the excitement of sometimes being tailed. Then over the past decade, it seemed to me as if the system was generally too busy and decentralized to pay attention, unless you were doing something particularly attention-worthy. The big question about China in the late Hu Jintao and early Xi Jinping years is whether the overall liberalization of the past thirty-five years has gone into reverse—or is merely in a temporary slowdown. It’s the same question raised by this episode.
  • Many people outside China marvel at the suaveness and far-seeing strategy of its diplomatic and “soft-power” efforts. I more often marvel at the reverse. The treatment of the New York Times is a classic example. Arguably no handful of foreigners has more influence on how China is seen around the world than the NYT’s China team. And if not just them, then also the Wall Street Journal, the BBC, CNN, the commanding heights of the Western news system. A really suave Chinese system would engulf these people with love-bombing, a charm offensive, whatever you want to call it. But on the contrary, the more influential the foreign news source, the more likely they are to be reminded of the harshest aspects of the mixture of control and chaos in the Chinese state.
  • It’s a reminder of a darker reality for foreigners in these news organizations. They (we) may be annoyed, watched-over, and so on. But the people truly in jeopardy are the Chinese citizens who cooperate and provide information. In the particular case of Wen Jiabao, it appears that the formidable David Barboza was working strictly from official Chinese documents. More power to him. But the general moral complications of asymmetric risks remain, and are important.
  • General Theory Part 1: Every government, everywhere, is strongly tempted to go after leakers when some difficult/embarrassing story comes out. There are no “special Chinese characteristics” about that impulse.
  • General Theory Part 2: This effort usually backfires on the particular regime that attempts it.
  • Corollary 2A: When an entire regime relies on an information-control strategy, it is getting on the wrong side of a variety of modern fundamental forces. If China were a small country (like Cuba), or if it could still be feasibly cut off from foreign contact and information flow (like North Korea), or if information flow therein still relied on samizdat or even fax (like the end-stage Soviet Union), a strategy of maintaining legitimacy by not letting people know might work. Obviously none of those situations prevails in China.
  • General Theory Part 3: I hope that everyone participating in this exchange, or reading this exchange, practices good “password hygiene.” In particular, if you use Gmail please turn on its “two-step verification” system. It is a slight nuisance, but it makes it significantly harder for anyone to take over your account remotely. If you don’t use Gmail, try to find a system that allows similar two-step protection. (Though it’s not clear whether that would have helped in these attacks.)
  • General Theory Part 4: China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson yesterday came within an inch of saying that foreign criticism of these hacking attacks “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.” I still have hope that we’ll hear that phrase, perhaps in a Global Times editorial these next few days. Here is what Hong Lei of the Foreign Ministry actually said: “To arbitrarily assert and to conclude without hard evidence that China participated in such hacking attacks is totally irresponsible. China is also a victim of hacking attacks. Chinese laws clearly forbid hacking attacks, and we hope relevant parties takes a responsible attitude on this issue.”
  • General Theory Part 5: Go back to point 3.

Over to you, fellow panelists.

A ChinaFile Conversation

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James Fallows is based in Washington, D.C. as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine since the late 1970s, and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley,...
Donald Clarke is a professor at the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., where he specializes in modern Chinese law, focusing particularly on corporate governance,...
Orville Schell is the Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York. He is a former professor and Dean at the University of California, Berkeley Graduate...
Elizabeth Economy is the C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The author of The River Runs Black: The Environmental Challenge to China’s...
Dorinda Elliott is Editor at Large at ChinaFile. In her “day job,” she is Global Affairs Editor at Condé Nast Traveler, where she spearheads coverage of global issues and corporate social...
Xiao Qiang is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of China Digital Times, a bilingual China news website launched in 2003 to aggregate, organize, and recommend online information from and about China....
Bill Bishop is an American who lives in Beijing. He is the writer of the blogs Sinocism, where he collects links to news and interest pieces on China, and Digicha, where he writes about Chinese...
James Fallows, Donald Clarke, Orville Schell, Elizabeth Economy, Dorinda Elliott, Xiao Qiang, Bill Bishop
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