I hate discussing politics because discussing politics on the internet is akin to throwing away valuable hours, years of your life, and discussing Chinese politics is even more stupid because it changes so rapidly. I know this from experience, and I know a lot more about Chinese politics than I do Chinese entertainment. But I rather love Gong Li (more so in To Live, less so in Miami Vice) and was happy to see her become a Singaporean citizen, because I’m sure it meant a lot to her to share that with her husband who is a Singaporean. I didn’t post it on this site, because I was sure it was already translated to English and I don’t like to repeat what’s posted a lot unless I have something to add it. But then I was really surprised to the way this news was posted…instead of just reporting it, people were spinning a story, using Gong Li as some sort of way to critique the mentality of Chinese citizens, and doing it erroneously.
I’m rather bothered by western journalism so selectively using Chinese netizens for their articles, to the point of inaccuracy or rather, intentionally misleading. I noticed quite a lack actual fact-checking during the Olympics, whether it was about the fake fireworks, racial discrimination in bars, or the lip-synching girl and it was quite disturbing how much western news sources kept using the same poorly written news articles as sources, without bothering to check themselves…effectively spreading and distorting like a game of Telephone or propagating a meme.
For the Gong Li case, let’s look at the discrepancy between Western journalism and the Chinese journalism:
At Soompi, this article from famous UK newspaper Times was posted in the current events thread, from which I will quote their ambiguous wording.
Most Netizens voiced fury at her decision to take her husband’s nationality. Commenting in a chat forum on popular portal Sohu.com, one said: “All traitors will be nailed to history’s mast of shame. We should resolutely reject any further contact with such people.”
Another fulminated: “Traitors like this don’t even love their own country. These people were only fake countrymen of ours. Let them slink off to other countries and die!”
Most of the comments on another portal, sina.com, followed a similar tone, reflecting the strident nationalism that has dominated Chinese cyberspace this year.
A few, however, voiced understanding of Ms Gong’s decision, noting the pressure such stars face in China and making veiled criticisms of the constraints on life – particularly for artists – in the communist country.
Now let’s look at an article from CRIEnglish, which has actual numbers:
News that popular Chinese movie star Gong Li has taken Singaporean citizenship has lit up online forums in China.
A survey by Tencent.com found that while 42.4 percent of 6,580 respondents so far said they respected her personal choice and 30.3 percent said they didn’t care, 27.3 percent called her move “unpatriotic.”
Edit: Actually I saw that ZonaEuropa gives even more numbers after I posted this (of course…I don’t know why I bother…Ronald Soong at that site is so on top of everything)
The media cited survey results in order to show public opinion leanings. But Internet surveys can be very misleading. First of all, Internet surveys are self-selective as opposed to random sampling. Without random sampling, they cannot be representative of the population universe. Second, Internet survey results are reported based upon what happened at a particular moment in time. A short while later, the results may be completely different. For the QQ.com survey, Ming Pao and Xinhua (English) quoted 42.4% of the respondents respecting Gong Li’s decision, 30.3% not caring and 27.3% objecting. Meanwhile Sing Tao and Xinhua (Chinese) cited 9.17% of the respondents respecting her decision, 26.06% not caring and 64.77% objecting. The impressions of these results from the same survey at different times are radically different.
Worse yet, the media were reporting survey results that were obviously flawed. 60% of Singaporeans was reported to object to Gong Li getting citizenship. According to the Strait Times:
A Sunday Times online poll reveals that only 36 per cent of the 33 respondents think she should give up her China citizenship.
Thus, when the news report said that 60% of Singaporeans objected, it only meant that 21 out of 33 respondents thought so! One cannot even use ignorance as the explanation — the editor and the reporter were either lazy or did not care.
When newspapers cite public opinion polls, they are less than rigorous. As for these Internet surveys, I suggest that you all ignore it. It is too easy for the media to cherry-pick or misinterpret those results. For example, this sina.com poll shows that 83% of netizens thought that it was alright for Gong Li to get Singaporean citizenship. The sample base was 77 voters.
So why the discrepancy? One reason would be sensationalist reporting, which relies on sloppiness and ambiguous reporting to create stories, in this case, one that builds up fear of China’s “fenqing”. One reason that western reporting is so offensive to me in this regard is because of the fact that people in the West really have no idea what China is like. You can say bad things about America, but the world is so saturated with western media, that people at least have some idea of America. Whereas with China, her entertainment does not spread to even Taiwan or Singapore, her neighbors.
Even on Soompi forums, which is dominated by Asians usually, who have greater access to Chinese news and media, there are still comments like this:
Thats one thing I detest about China. It’s Gong Li’s decision. Does China have the right to criticize? I mean I personally wouldn’t’ want to be a Chinese citizen myself because the country is so very repressed. – cerys
That comment doesn’t even make sense…where’s the connection between netizens being vocal and repression of citizens? But is the intended effect of the article…to feed into already founded fears.
WOW! i think it’s so wrong to say that.
but then again, china is china. – manlytoe
So I think you get my point about why I’m so annoyed with the (intentional?) sloppy journalism of westerners who write about China. China’s a big topic nowadays, and there are always so many articles but if these articles are the only ones that are published, then people’s views of China will become very distorted indeed. During the olympics, this netizen thing came up again at ONTD, the gossip LJ community. Basically the Times of London (yes, again this newspaper) had an article quoting Chinese netizens who thought London’s bit in the closing ceremony sucked. Immediately people started the hating….the vitriol that is in post is quite astounding.
Whatever China. You have no room to talk.
Now ya’ll can go back to serving cat, dog & horse meat in your shitty restaurants. Oh, and don’t forget the way you treat your own PEOPLE like shit. – thelogicalone
Furthermore, the use of netizens, whether in good journalism or bad is sketchy in itself. When China has 500 million internet users, it’s far too easy to make mistakes in sampling of population and opinion.
EastSouthWestNorth wrote an interesting post about certain internet portals in China can quickly be dominated by one type of voice then change quickly to another population, and how when it comes to national identity, there are the right-winged and the left-winged that are most dominant in Chinese forums and bbs. The right winged like to criticize China’s social structure whereas the left are very supportive. This is an excerpt from the post.
The immediate news [about the VA Tech shooting] was that the killer was an overseas student from China. The “angry rightists” immediately started cursing on the Internet: “Only the Chinese educational system can produce such a student without any sense of humanity!” “Could this overseas student be the son of a corrupt government official?” “This person may be a special forces soldier sent by the Chinese Military Intelligence Unit, or else he couldn’t shoot that well!” “American universities will now refuse to accept overseas students from China!”
A few hours later, the case was solved. The police found that the perpetrator was a 23-year-old Korean male who came to America when he was 8 years old. All the accusations from the “angry rightists” were off the mark. Someone even collected all the posts made by the “angry rightists” over those several hours in one place and made an joint showing on the Internet. The effect was easy to imagine.
The famous “erroneous” forum post that destroyed the reputation of the “angry rightists” even more was published more than five years ago at Tianya Forum’s International Viewpoint section. The post was titled <The evidence for the mass weapons of destruction of Saddam Hussein will be located soon; please be patient>. For more than 5 years, someone brought up this post every day for amusement: “You take your time, because we are in no hurry!”
To a large degree, the presence of this post which now has 10,000 comments has made Tianya Forum’s International Viewpoint section the home for “angry leftists.” Many of the better known “angry rightists” have gradually left. When a single forum post can caused a piece of turf to shift hands, how many “Internet agents” and “fifty-cent gang members” would have to toil how many days and nights to achieve the same result?
I think that my final point is that any sort of article using netizens to try to characterize a country’s attitude is flawed due to various reasons, especially sampling population. 1) You can not ensure that you’ve chosen a an accurate portal that has a representative population and 2) the ones who are vocal on the internet are probably the angry ones, with too much time on their hands (ie me…although I’m working on that). People who do not care that Gong Li became a Singaporean citizen probably would nto decide to post their thoughts on the matter at all.Imagethief as well, has quite a long post detailing this skewed viewpoint, referencing the same subject of Gong Li, and actually gives a better demographic look at the online population saying:
This is particularly fraught in China, where Internet users are still only 19% of the population, and are demographically concentrated among male, urban youth (more here). So using Internet comments as a proxy for overall Chinese sentiment without some serious qualification, or even statistics, is dangerous.
I realize that I too have used netizen quotes, but I don’t use it to suggest a broad, sweeping generalization. Furthermore, is the fact that newspapers, the only source that some people have on China, are making such broad generalizations and trying to paint pictures of China that really fuel some people’s already biased views of China are the ones doing this that is quite disturbing. Newspapers are supposed to be reliable unbiased transmitters of news and most people in the western world are not skeptical when it come to newspaper biases unless it’s for things like their own domestic elections. For China, this skepticism disappears, and thus the power of a newspaper to spread prejudiced and ultimately hate-inducing views is quite formidable.
The London-based Times newspaper referenced twice here is a classic example…not only has it used “Chinese netizens” as sources for articles that draw a picture of Chinese mentality at least twice that I know of, but it was also the first one to used the words “chubby and crooked-tooth” for Yang Peiyi, the girl whose voice was used during the Olympics (no Chinese I know of has said this) and furthermore was the first one to misrepresent the riots in Tibet, using cropped images to fit their articles, fueling the emergence of sites like anti-cnn.com.
And just to keep this related to actual entertainment news: Still from the upcoming movie Shanghai featuring Chow Yunfat, her and John Cusack.
Oh and for any idiots who are feeling unhappy at the thought of Gong Li, gasp not holding a Chinese passport anymore, these are pictures of when she was an ambassador for the Olympics, and was there to celebrate when China won the bid to host in 2008.
Awww…this and the Jackie Chan post are really starting to make me miss the Olympics. Anyway, congratulations Gong Li!
thanks for the article!
Wow, very, very interesting. Then the captions under the Gong Li/Chow Yun Fat/John Cusack pics cracked me up.