To be precise, the Chinese government just doesn’t want them on the front page.
If you haven’t been living under a rock, a string of school attacks rocked China recently, involving men crazy or angry enough to rampage through classrooms stabbing dozens of innocent children. The first one happened over a month ago in Fujian, with back-to-back knifings just last week in Guangdong, Jiangsu, and Shandong. The Chinese are not the only ones wondering just what the hell is going on as international media and plenty of foreigners in China have been openly asking as well.
While the Guangdong stabbings last week received front-page reporting, the Jiangsu attack didn’t. Instead, the papers and media featured reporting on new measures being implemented to protect schoolchildren. Then, a notice distributed to editors at Sina, a popular Chinese online news portal, suggested that front-page or home-page coverage of the recent string of school knifings should be temporarily halted “with consideration of the World Expo opening”. If Sina received these instructions, it’s reasonable to conclude that the Chinese media overall was instructed likewise.
Understandably, many people found such instructions from the powers that be to be disconcerting and offensive:
Of course a few students’ death is not worth as much attention as the splendid greatest party of the world that we threw billions $$$ into
Sarcastically remarked on Google Buzz.
There has been another incident in a different province of China today. The news was also shadowed by the opening of World Expo. The govt is so silly, just like an ostrich burying its head in the sand, acting like no one knows about what’s going on.
Analogized by another.
See? Freakin’ government doesn’t care about the kids. They care about losing face publicly. But I don’t even think this is shameful. Why would they need to hide it?
Declared triumphantly by a third.
My reaction: I’m not so sure I’d jump to these conclusions, that the government is shutting down reporting of the recent spate of school knifing rampages, that it is because some kids’ lives aren’t “worth” the public’s attention versus the World Expo, or that the government only cares about “losing face publicly”. I also don’t think this is a case where the Chinese government is pretending something isn’t there just by closing its eyes.
I don’t think the government is really that collectively stupid or heartless. Sure, we know that there are plenty of people who don’t put much value on human life, and we know there are plenty of genuinely retarded or insensitive people. However, I don’t think valuing the World Expo means not valuing the lives of the child victims. That’s a false dichotomy.
China’s policy on information control is multifaceted, with the two most basic general facets being that it is about suppressing some information as well as promoting other information. The motivations behind censorship and propaganda can be similar, but they can also be different. Values are ascribed to any bit of information and funneled through a human judgment of what contributes and detracts from the government’s long-term and short-term goals.
What’s the goal here? Or goals?
How are your tools going to help you?
It isn’t difficult to speculate what goals, both short and long-term the government censors have in mind when they issued this directive. What is difficult is getting past our propensity to assume goals that we view as negative because we have a negative view of the government overall. What is difficult is getting past that and actually seriously considering what other very plausible, understandable goals are at play here because we can identify with the goals the government has and consider all of the concerns the government considers. In other words, rather than assuming the worst because we already assume the worst, are we able to put ourselves in their shoes?
Yes, this theme again.
In simpler words: Have you ever de-emphasized something and emphasized another for any reason?
Seriously, pause for a moment to think this one through before trying to argue why you or anything else is different from the Chinese government, before responding with “but” this or “except” that. I know there are plenty of differences, especially in scale. Governments don’t have the burdens and privileges of acting as individuals do.
Other than apathy or face, what other reasons might the Chinese government have for saying “okay, let’s focus less on these school killings and promote the World Expo”?
Some of you are going to argue, “Well, why can’t both be reported in the news? They’re both news, right? Why must the school killings be swept under the rug?”
China’s government makes no apologies for seeking to guide the public opinion and sentiments of its domestic population. It does so with an arsenal of overt and subtle tools, many of which we collectively frown upon as insidious and exploitative. It does so, at times, to protect and even tighten its hold on power. It does so, at times, to save face or to glorify itself. Absolutely. We can already identify with these desires and compulsions as we do the same things all the time. But are we able to argue why the opening of the World Expo may be more important for the country than reporting another school attack?
I’m not being insensitive. I’m being realistic. Shit happens every day. Shit happens every day in China. Horrible shit. Information is powerful and the mass media more so. I don’t like being told what I should care about as much as the next person, but I definitely can understand how people use the dissemination or control of information to push agendas both noble and selfish. I can definitely see, for example, that encouraging the country to anticipate and celebrate the World Expo as a symbol of the country’s progress may be information that yields greater benefits for Chinese society as a whole than information about another instance of an epidemic of school murders. I can see how that doesn’t mean China or its government doesn’t care about kids dying. I can see how it isn’t about face. I can see how it is in pursuit of something it sees as greater. I can see how we can see it as being greater.
Not all of us may not agree with the values of the Chinese government or its propaganda arm, but it behooves us to seriously consider what they are and why they are if we want to understand and then if we want to influence change. No, it isn’t comfortable to think of excuses, reasons, or rationale for your enemy, but is keeping enemies really your goal?