As usual, some Western reporting on the Xinjiang fire is not very honest
How the anti-China agenda interferes with reporting the news
View from China with an Austrian School of Economics Perspective
As anyone following news on China probably knows, 10 residents of Ürümqi in China’s Western Xinjiang province perished in a high-rise fire on Thursday. These deaths were followed by millions of protesting voices and on social media and actual physical demonstrations in cities across China.
Many members of the Western print media reported fairly objectively on events, for example, this November 28th article in the British Guardian on the protests was mostly factual. There were a few questionable sentences (e.g. a BBC reporter in Shanghai was allegedly ‘beaten’) but otherwise it seems unbiased. This article in the German Spiegel also gets a passing grade. While neither the Guardian nor the Spiegel mention the parallels to similar demonstrations all across Europe in 2020 and 2021, neither article contains any egregious falsehoods or side references to other anti-China narratives.
Twisting events to suit the anti-China agenda
Not all media were so honest however. CNN could not resist repeating its obligatory Uighur genocide narrative. In its report on the fire itself – which was otherwise reasonably objective – the Washington Post also felt obligated to add in a genocide reference. The award for the least objective commentary goes to US right wing sources: specifically, Fox News / Tucker Carlson, though plenty of articles from the independent media also get an honorable mention. These took the opportunity to pump out another volley in their cherished ‘China dystopia ’ campaign. Their favorite words and phrases include: “genocide”, “brutal”, “starving/locking people in their homes”, “killing pets” and “concentration camps”.
This is not to say that Tucker Carlson is not to be trusted. Within American right wing circles, he is trusted for good reason, because he has a solid track record of calling out the US government and establishment for their many hypocrisies. Sadly, he uses this hard earned track record to help promote the ideas that (a) the Chinese government controls left-wing governments and leaders all around the world, despite offering zero evidence to support this, and that (b) the United States and China are enemies.
His most recent claim is that this applies to the Brazilian president-elect Luiz Lula da Silva – the same Lula da Silva who enjoys the enthusiastic support of the US government and media. Is this supposed to imply that the Chinese government also controls the current left-wing US government and media? The same media which have been relentlessly attacking China for 14 years? This does not seem very coherent.
To what extent this anti-Chinese agenda reflects some kind of understanding with Carlson’s employers, we can only speculate.
With regard to the Xinjiang fire, many of these Western sources claim that the “CCP” locked people in a building and condemned them to be burnt to death. 10 people died and 9 were injured due to the fire. But think about it, how much sense does that story make? This is a building 20+ stories high. Surely a lot more than 19 people lived in this building. If there really was no way out of the building, how did the others escape? I think we can guess that they didn’t fly.
This story does not stand up to inspection. Some bad things happened in Xinjiang, people died unnecessarily (we’ll get to that later), but these events are being twisted to further the anti-China agenda.
Additional antipathy against China in right-wing circles was generated by having villain figures like Anthony Fauci or Klaus Schwab publicly express praise for Chinese government policies.
In the context of much of this criticism there is another element worth mentioning. It is the implied underlying narrative that some Borg-like monolith called the “CCP” ruthlessly and highly efficiently rolls out its nefarious agenda China-wide – and sometimes even world-wide. Occasionally one can even see claims that China has troops in Canada and Mexico preparing to invade the United States. These narratives are ridiculous and have no relationship to reality. The reality is that there is something called the Chinese (national) government (中国政府), plus thousands of county-level, city-level and provincial level governments each with its own agenda and set of policies and each full of bureaucrats looking to get ahead in their careers and avoid making costly mistakes. There are also various groupings and agencies of the Party, whose name in English is the “CPC” not the “CCP”. A childish refusal to call a group by its actual name should be a tipoff to readers not to expect any kind of objectivity.
Despite the very real crimes committed by the Chinese government, the hypocrisy of its Western critics is often incredibly thick. Just to cite one egregious example, as Austrian ex-presidential candidate Gerald Grosz pointed out, the Chinese demonstrators are framed as being heroic, while the European demonstrators in 2021 against Europe’s far more sinister vaccine mandates were demonized as Covidiots.
All of us in China have some serious causes to be angry about the current set of policies imposed by both the government in Beijing and most especially by the thousands of local governments and low level officials all across China. They have led to deaths, injuries, restrictions on freedom of movement and the loss of livelihood. All for nothing.
Neither zero-Covid nor zero-speech is compatible with a flourishing society. Resistance to these policies has been continuous, widespread and in many cases successful. As we have said before, Chinese are a patient people, but their patience is not unlimited.
The above reality does not however make the Western propaganda any truer. Limiting travel in and out of Xinjiang province to those with access to special government permits, or to those who bought one of these on the black market is a crime. Restricting millions of people in Xinjiang from leaving their homes and/or housing subdivisions without the existence of any kind of emergency is a violation of basic human rights and of Chinese law. Endless references to a non-existent Uighur genocide and a non-existent social credit system are however also a crime – libel. The same goes for casual references to starving and locking people in their homes, as if this were some kind of Chinese government policy.
Of course some Western readers may say something along the lines of “but I saw this on a video.” That may well be so, but what exactly was shown on that video? What, where and when? Do you really know? Did some crazy official someone weld someone’s door shut to prevent the residents from leaving? This is an obvious crime, but China is a big place with over one billion people so it’s certainly conceivable. Do some officials get away with crimes? Yes, but sometimes they are also caught and punished, so it’s a risky thing to do.
Perhaps it is human to subject such stories to little scrutiny when they fit in with a narrative we have come to accept. But yielding to that perhaps understandable human tendency makes us easy targets for propaganda.
Masking & QR Codes
Another popular narrative is that pictures of masked demonstrators prove that the Chinese all are in great fear of the virus. Or that this proves their sheep-like nature. For example, Jordan Schachtel in his somewhat influential anti-China blog writes:
“One thing you can’t help but notice is that virtually all of these protesters are donning masks.”
He then continues:
“Yes, there’s the initial possibility that they are doing so to avoid surveillance measures, similar to the protest movements in other nations.”
But this can’t be so, right? This can’t be the reason since surely the demonstrators must know that the almighty “CCP” will ruthlessly hunt them down. No, he says:
The widespread mask usage is more so indicative of a people who have bought into the deadly virus narrative. It showcases subservience to both collectivism and statism. Already a pre-Covid staple of Chinese culture, the mask now represents obedience and compliance towards the “greater good.”
Ah yes, the subservient sheep, a favorite theme projected onto China particularly in US right wing circles as part of their demonization of China in the image of their domestic opponents.
This is insulting.
But that aside, does it make sense? If you were going to a demonstration and thought that a mask might help you avoid being recognized, would you wear one?
The take-away for many of his readers is that 99% of Chinese walk around all day masked. In fact, many in the West seem to believe that masking is a general rule in China. In addition, Europeans who are used to being fined for not wearing masks assume that this is the rule in China, as well. Here once again projection is at work.
The reality is that there was never a “general mask mandate” in China. It was always venue-specific. For example, office buildings may demand that people entering the building wear a mask upon entering. Most subway systems demand users wear masks. If you don’t wear one at all, you will have problems passing through the gate. If you are missing one in transit, you might get rebuked by some subway system employee but there is no fine. In the context of the Chinese cultural taboo against public conflict, a public rebuke is almost always sufficient to resolve the issue. Everyone understands this is just a matter of following an arbitrary rule and not because there is some principle at stake.
To our knowledge there has never been a mandate requiring people to wear masks outside or on private property not open to the general public. And even where there are mandates – for example in markets – the degree of compliance is highly variable. Government inspectors quickly lose their enthusiasm for enforcing such mandates when the threat is obviously almost completely imaginary. Some people in China believe that masks offer meaningful protection from THE VIRUS; others look at the evidence and are more skeptical. The true believers wear N95s but represent at most a small (though visible) minority. Most go along with the masking to an extent as a gesture to public harmony, but among the public, aggressiveness against the unmasked of the kind which was quite common in the United States in 2020-2021 is almost unknown.
The same is true of the QR codes. In the major cities, scanning the “site code” is theoretically required almost everywhere to enable the state to track viral transmission chains, but how many sites attempt to seriously enforce this? On average, very few. There are simply too many people; it’s not efficient or realistic.
Are some Chinese sheep? Yes, quite a few, just like their Western counterparts. But many are not, and there is in fact noticeably less of what in German is called “vorauseilender Gehorsam” (anticipatory obedience) in China than there is in the West.
In our next article, we will explore what actually happened in Xinjiang, what is happening on the Covid front in the rest of China, and what took place in the demonstrations which have followed.
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Very interested to hear your thoughts on this substack, if you have the time: https://open.substack.com/pub/amidwesterndoctor/p/the-current-protests-in-china-are?r=qsepa&utm_medium=ios&utm_campaign=post
ASS world - always stay scared. simple query - did that tall building have a fire suppression system as is required in western nations?