Watching China Central Television’s Nightly News (新闻联播) on March 10, I was completely taken aback. The 30-minute newscast placed news of the earthquake in Yingjiang, Yunnan province — which happened that very day, with serious loss of life and property — way back at the 27th minute. What’s more, coverage slide by in a flash. The news story was given less attention than a forum on revolutionary heroes and Gaddafi’s victories against Libyan rebels.
The 27 minutes of content prior to the brief spot on Yingjiang was all devoted to National People’s Congress (NPC) delegates, who glorified our building of a socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics, and went on about how prosperous our people are, and how democratic the “two meetings” of the NPC and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference have been. What kind of journalism is this? I was truly shocked.
A number of friends have rolled their eyes accusingly, wondering why I bother watching the CCTV Nightly News anymore. Inevitably, I respond that, first of all, my writing focuses criticism on Chinese current affairs. If I don’t watch the CCTV Nightly News, where will I focus my research? When I watch American TV, my purpose is to reflect on America.
Secondly, if you don’t watch CCTV Nightly News, can you just pretend it doesn’t exist? In fact, it permeates every facet of your life, and it also influences your children and grandchildren. Even if you bury your head in the sand, this official news program is still out there, guiding you and everything around you. There’s nothing you can do about it.
Many of my friends say I’m just making a fuss. After all, many important news events in the past, such as the attack on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, and riots in Xinjiang in August 2009, did not make the headlines at CCTV Nightly News. It only makes sense, then, that Yingjiang didn’t have prominent play. But this is wrong, nevertheless. The earthquake is a natural disaster, without any political dimension whatsoever. Such events are generally regarded as the biggest of disasters, and most countries in the world put news about one’s own earthquakes in the headlines, particularly when there are deaths, injuries and loss of property.
The CCTV Nightly News showed NPC chairman Wu Banguo (吴邦国) saying: “Considering China’s national situation, we solemnly make clear that we will not implement [a system of] multi-party rule in turn, [we] will not implement diversity of guiding ideologies, [we] will not implement separation of executive, legislative and judicial powers, [we] will not implement federalism, or privatization.” He even announced that a socialist legal system has already emerged [in China]. I suppose with this news the delegates at the NPC could relax — they would have another opportunity next year to travel to Beijing and represent the people of the nation.
How did they represent the people this year?
As the focus turned to welfare issues, one delegate suggested ceasing use of the term “rural worker” (农民工). Another delegate suggested that favoring instead the terms “employee” or “personnel” would help eliminate prejudice and make “rural workers” feel a bit better. Will this kind of superficial change become part of their [project of] “making the people prosperous”?
Call public functionaries “public servants” and they will still be corrupt. I think the only right way is for us all to become full-fledged citizens, whether we are rural workers or public functionaries.
That the label rural worker is felt to be prejudicial is but a reflection of scorn for their status, treatment and occupations. When we say “thief”, it isn’t the word that grates but the conduct it implies. In the United States, farmers proudly identify themselves as farmers. So what we need are changes not in nomenclature but changes in the actual status and treatment of “rural workers.” Once rural workers receive fair and normal treatment, is there really any great difference between employees, rural workers, urban workers or public functionaries?
This piece originally appeared in Chinese on Yang Hengjun’s blog.