China Dystopia Psyop Part II
Media Analysis: The Jingxi Public Shaming Case
View from China with an Austrian School of Economics Perspective
In Part I we focused in particular on the so-called social credit system as a key component of the psyop. In it, we mentioned some compelling evidence that the concept as communicated by Western media reflects Western government intent instead of Chinese reality. However, this is only part of a much larger media campaign to demonize China.
According to Nov. 2021 figures from a poll commissioned by the Reagan Foundation, 65% of Americans now consider Russia and China to be enemies. For China, that is up from 55% in November 2018, while for Russia the percentage is down a bit from 73%.
Nor is this a phenomenon limited to the US. According to a summer 2020 poll conducted by Pew Research, negative views of China are held by 86% of Japanese, 81% of Australians, 71% of Germans and 73% of Americans. The only country with positive views of China remains China itself, where according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, the government still enjoys one of the highest approval ratings in the world – around 72%, down from 82% in 2020.
This is a stark contrast, and considering the massive dependence of the entire Western world on China to keep its consumers supplied with consumer goods, arguably an ominous one. How can a country whose government is so popular at home be viewed so negatively by its customers?
In fact, this mismatch is so stark that it is hard to believe that it can be anything but the result of a coordinated propaganda campaign. Those familiar with the US Creel Commission and its highly successful campaign to propagandize Americans into supporting America’s entry into World War I should see a familiar pattern here1.
To be clear, this is not to whitewash China and the Chinese government. As we have noted in multiple previous articles, Chinese government officials, like all other governments, on occasion commit crimes. And on occasion, as for example in the recent Wei Ya case, they twist legal frameworks to get what they want. Chinese government officials are also guilty of all sorts of questionable behavior, such as the public shaming case we’ll look at in this article. Sometimes these result in punishments or sacking; sometimes they don’t. Moreover, both the Chinese government’s recent mass lockdowns in several cities as well as its increasing intolerance for the public expression of non-PC opinions are chipping away at its previous ample base of public support. However, these are rarely the issues discussed in Western media or on Western social networks. Why not? Perhaps it is for the simple reason that these rarely serve the black and white ‘good guy bad guy’ narrative.
The promotion of the China Dystopia narrative rests on three legs:
1) Major false narratives built up and transformed into ‘common knowledge’ over a period of years;
2) Distorted and dishonest reports broadcast through newspapers and television, many of which mention the above major narratives in passing, and
3) Stories and videos shared on social media.
In Part I we discussed we one of these major narratives: China’s alleged ‘social credit system’. Another one is the ‘Xinjiang/Uyghur genocide’ storyline. Reviewing this narrative in any detail would require a separate article, but readers may want to consider how it is possible that, with all of the spy satellites circling the globe, and the billions of video cameras in the hands of Chinese netizens, none of these alleged mass murders seems to be documented. Western media are also full of references to cases of gang rape, slave labor and forced birth control, yet curiously all of these also seem to lack video documentation.
In this article let’s however put aside the ‘big’ narratives and instead take a look at what the everyday propaganda campaign looks like in several Western countries.
On December 29, 2021, the UK Daily Mail published an article entitled:
“Chinese lockdown rule-breakers are publicly shamed and paraded through the streets carrying placards with their names on in bid to ensure Covid rules are obeyed.”
This headline was followed by five sub-headers in bullet point form:
· Police in Jingxi city paraded alleged violators of Covid rules through the streets
· The four suspects had to carry placards displaying their photos and names
· China banned such public shaming and parading of criminal suspects in 2010
· But the practice has resurfaced amid extremely strict lockdown controls
· It comes as 13 million in China were barred from going outside, even for food
In the middle of the attached article a video shows four people in hazmat suits being paraded through a street somewhere. In the video they are shown wearing placards displaying a photo and a name.
The London Mirror picked up the story the next day using a very similar headline:
“China lockdown rule-breakers paraded in hazmat suits through streets in public shaming”
Around the same time, the Daily Mail, RT (Russia Today), RFI (Radio France International English) and Le Parisien published similar articles, yet with different headlines. RT’s headline and sub-header read:
“Covid rule breakers publicly shamed in China (VIDEO). Four who helped migrants cross a closed border from Vietnam have been paraded through streets”
RFI’s headline read:
“Public shaming of alleged Covid rule breakers sparks backlash in China”
Le Parisien’s headline read:
“Chine: des suspects accusés d’avoir mis en péril les règles anti-Covid obligés de parader en ville avec des menottes.” (in English: Suspects accused of imperiling anti-Covid rules are obliged to parade through a town in handcuffs.)
Spot the difference? The RT, RFI and Le Parisien headlines mention “Covid rule breakers,” while the Daily Mail and Mirror talk about “lockdown rule breakers.” The difference is one word, but that word gives the content a completely different slant.
Here’s what the Chinese press (QQ/Tencent) had to say about it:
Authorities in Baise [Jingxi City] in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, are in the middle of a controversy after they paraded four suspects of illegal human trafficking through the streets as a punishment for violating anti-epidemic rules. Some experts and netizens noted that this violated Chinese law and exposed problems in grassroots management although the penalty may help deter lawbreakers. According to videos circulating on social media platforms on Wednesday, eight police officers escorted four suspects walking through a busy street in Jingxi, Baise, with a crowd surrounding them and watching. The eight police officers and four suspects all wore head-to-toe protective suits. Boards showing the suspects' photos and names hung on the suspects' chest and back. According to media reports, the four suspects helped others illegally cross Chinese borders while the country was under strict border management and required all international arrivals to quarantine amid the severe pandemic. Leading them through the street is a strategy by the local authorities to reveal the cases and warn the public [i.e. to deter similar crimes in the future].
The public shaming was likely due to the fact that one of the illegal border crossers tested positive for Covid-19, leading to the temporary closure of schools, more mass PCR testing and various other restrictions. It had nothing to do with lockdown violations.
Most of the articles continue on to note that while local news outlets echoed support for this public shaming of border smugglers, it was fiercely condemned by the Beijing News, a central government affiliated national news outlet. According to several articles, the practice of public shaming was banned in 2010. This is actually an interesting point, because it reflects the fact that local government officials don’t necessarily follow central government policies – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. While it’s unclear whether or not the responsible local officials will face consequences for this particular transgression, punishments would certainly not be anything unusual. As we reported just last week, recently several of the top officials in the city of Guangzhou (including the mayor), were sacked for chopping down a bunch of banyan trees.
Returning to the original Daily Mail article, of the five sub-headers there, two are more or less accurate, two are false, and the fifth one (the one about 13 million people allegedly barred from going outside) is both false and unrelated. The number “13 million” can only refer to the ongoing lockdown in Xi’an, which is of course a completely unrelated story. This claim is also untrue, because the Xi’an lockdown prohibits Xi’an inhabitants from leaving their housing subdivisions, not their homes.
Now guess which version of this story was picked up by the German Bild tabloid. Easy to guess, right? Their headline reads “This is how China punishes lockdown breakers – like in the Middle Ages.” (“Wie im Mittelalter - So bestraft China Lockdown-Brecher”) In the Bild version all mention of illegal border crossings was dropped. What remains is a complete fabrication.
To its credit, when CNN picked up the story the next day, it declined to refer to “lockdown rule breakers.”
Here’s a sample media scorecard for Russia, the UK, the US, France, Germany and Switzerland:
RT Covid rule breakers
The above case in point is quite typical of the tools and techniques used to manipulate Western opinion about China. Some of the major ones used by the Daily Mail in this case are:
· Outright lies
· Mixing of unrelated material, and
· Generalization of the actions of one official somewhere in China to all of China, as if it were a monolithic top-down entity where everything is decided centrally.
One might of course object that this is just one video and one article. But it isn’t. Distorted and dishonest reports like these circulate every day on Western social media, and frequently crop up in Western mainstream media sources.
Next let’s look at what happened to this story on social media.
It should also be easy to guess which version got spread around. In most cases the posts consisted of nothing more than a video plus a few short descriptive sentences about lockdown breakers. In at least some of videos, Chinese-language tickers at the bottom of the screen stated what was actually being shown, but of course few Western viewers can understand these.
Some of the most egregious versions were however spread by a Twitter account called ‘Songpinganq’.
This account was registered in March 2021. Since then, it has accumulated 17,300 tweets – approximately 60 tweets per day. Content posted there gets reposted on a Telegram channel called ‘TruthAbtChina’.
Here’s a recent tweet from about the shaming case in Jingxi City:
See any problems here? Yep, the reality is here inverted on its head. People are not trying to flee from China; rather, they are illegally crossing INTO China.
Here again, endless lies. First of all, no-one is trying to escape from China; the exact opposite is true. China is the one of the few industrialized countries in the world with almost no Covid cases and it severely limits the number of incoming travelers. There was never any order to “hand over passports”; this is all pure fantasy. Leaving China is not hard; it’s the coming back which is difficult to get approval for. Thirdly, as discussed in our previous background post on China’s Covid-19 regime, China doesn’t have a vaccine mandate or vaccine passports. No-one will ever ask you in China to show proof of vaccination to enter a building.
This Twitter account is so dishonest that it regularly posts links to completely unrelated Chinese news stories as proof. Unsurprisingly Twitter has no objection to all of this egregious lying.
Besides Twitter and Telegram, YouTube is of course also a major platform for videos about China. If we search for ‘Jingxi’ on YouTube, we find one reference to lockdown breakers in a video uploaded by the Telegraph, and one reference to “Covid-rule breakers” on France24 English. If we search for ‘shaming’, we get one video from the Hong Kong South China Morning Post with an accurate headline, plus a few others from Western mainstream media. However, we also find a video from a channel called ‘China Insider’.
There is nothing special about this channel, but merely as an example, here are a few of their recent video headlines (all in caps):
- CHINA’S CULTURAL REVOLUTION IS BACK (the one about the Jingxi incident)
- MILLIONS STARVING IN XI’AN LOCKDOWN
- HONG KONG ELECTION FARCE
- XI MAKES CHRISTMAS CELEBRATIONS ILLEGAL
- CHINA’S WHITE PROPAGANDISTS
- LEAKED DOCUMENTS PROVE UYGHUR GENOCIDE
This channel describes itself as specializing in “stories, news & reaction from the Chinese Communist Parties new Cultural Revolution.” It was launched in September 2021 and produces several such videos each week.
There are many such China-focused channels on YouTube, most of which seem to produce anti-China content as a full-time activity.
As mentioned in Part I of our China Dystopia Psyop series, perhaps the most successful of these are those operated by the duo Matthew Tye (Laowhy86) and Winston Sterzel (SerpentZA), who also operate the YouTube channel ADVChina. Despite having left China years ago, they still manage to keep producing videos by reusing old footage in combination with new voiceovers.
A YouTube comment by James Craven in May 2021 gives a bit of background on the two:
“I began watching Serpentza & Laowhy86 years ago and watched their transformation from an interesting site for learning a bit about China to their present anti-China views. I can remember being amazed at their transformation of philosophy. As I have a home in China, I can see how much of it is a lie, I assume there is more money in their new views now that they are in the west. Which makes them something of a Fox-news type entity. They will say whatever will bring in the most views and then the most money. No one who has watched them from their time in China to the present can possibly believe anything but that they were either lying then and telling the truth now or lying now and telling the truth then. In the end, they are liars and viewers would be best served to ignore them.”
Clayton Rabenda also reports a similar transformation: “When I first arrived in China I would watch these two because they legitimately knew some things, basic facts about china like "how to rent an apartment" or other practical things. I stopped watching Serpenza when he casually mentioned that Chinese parents don't love their children. wtf...”
Viewers are sold the standard full China Dystopia picture, complete with crumbling buildings, collapsing bridges, poisoned water, cowering citizens and an all-powerful state, in combination with frequent passing references to Chinese dishonesty or immorality. In Tye’s own words, China is “North Korea with money.” The constant threats emanating from the US and its media he brushes off as fantasies of the Chinese government.
In two videos Tye describes how an Orwellian social credit system has been rolled out in Rongcheng, Shandong – a city where some new credit assessment systems were in fact tested. He shows some old pictures of the town and provide a long list of details about the system allegedly implemented there. These include a mention of “AAA” and “AA” ratings in a country which does not use letters for anything but phonetics. In one of these videos, to his credit, Tye admits that he could not find anyone among his acquaintances in China who was aware of such a social credit system being in use.
The above examples can only give a taste of the depth, breadth and utter shamelessness of this defamation campaign. New articles and videos come out every day. An entire library would be needed to document it in a comprehensive manner. Nonetheless, though the details vary from day to day, the theme remains quite stable.
Historically, such massive campaigns typically led to war. Those who favor peace may want to consider attempting to get the word out that something very malicious is afoot.
The modern propaganda, aka public relations, industry has now accumulated over 100 years of practice. While its techniques are used throughout Western society, it should not be forgotten that its original purpose was the promotion of prejudices against foreign peoples in the interest of drumming up support for war. As Noam Chomsky relates:
“Let's begin with the first modern government propaganda operation. That was under the Woodrow Wilson Administration. Woodrow Wilson was elected President in 1916 on the platform "Peace Without Victory." That was right in the middle of the World War I. The population was extremely pacifistic and saw no reason to become involved in a European war. The Wilson administration was actually committed to war and had to do something about it. They established a government propaganda commission, called the Creel Commission which succeeded, within six months, in turning a pacifist population into a hysterical, war-mongering population which wanted to destroy everything German, tear the Germans limb from limb, go to war and save the world.”
Chomsky continues: “Among those who participated actively and enthusiastically in Wilson's war were the progressive intellectuals, people of the John Dewey circle, who took great pride, as you can see from their own writings at the time, in having shown that what they called the "more intelligent members of the community," namely, themselves, were able to drive a reluctant population into a war by terrifying them and eliciting jingoist fanaticism. The means that were used were extensive. For example, there was a good deal of fabrication of atrocities by the Huns, Belgian babies with their arms torn off, all sorts of awful things that you still read in history books. Much of it was invented by the British propaganda ministry, whose own commitment at the time, as they put it in their secret deliberations, was "to direct the thought of most of the world.” (Noam Chomsky, Media Control 2nd Edition, p. 3)
Since that time, no doubt the persuasion techniques have become sleeker, but the basic approach seems to remain the same.