Yucheng Le, Vice Foreign Minister of China, addressed that China must resolve the issue of “being scolded” on the Third Chinese Think Tanks’ International Influence Forum & the Sixth Seminar on Novel Think Tank Development held by the Renmin University of China on December 5th, 2020.
(The original is as follows:)
“In an increasingly globalized world, communication between people and people, country and country, is more significant than ever before. The premise of communication is that you must be good at expressing yourself to let others know more about you.
We were described as the “yellow peril” and the “sick man of East Asia” in modern history because we could not express ourselves well. Until today, some countries still stigmatize and demonize China by taking advantage of the discourse power formed in history. That means while we have come a long way in expressing ourselves, we are not quite there yet.
Xi Jinping has pointed out that underdevelopment brings invasion, poverty brings starvation, and ineloquence brings scolding. Now that we have solved the first two problems, we must resolve to solve the problem of being scolded. This responsibility falls on the experts and scholars. They need to go out of school and share to media Chinese culture, Chinese stories, Chinese spirit, and Chinese contributions. The success of the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics has provided us with rich material to tell the Chinese story.”
As he said, since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, we have solved the problems of being invaded and starved. However, people may not know that eliminate stigmatization is still a challenging problem for us.
In the world’s public opinion, there are many negative reports about China, such as violations of human rights in politics, misinterpretation of The Belt and Road Initiative in economics, and problems of illegal wildlife products and environmental destruction in environmental protection.
So, how should we deal with the problem of “being scolded?”
Over the past six years, China House has researched China’s image in dozens of countries and carried out public welfare projects such as animal protection and gender equality. We were on the front line of “being scolded”, and we also have done some attempts to change the situation. Here we hope to share with you our ideas.
First, we need to understand why we are “being scolded”.
Some people interpreted the main reason for being scolded as “Western anti-China forces stigmatizing China”, but this explanation is not objective. There certainly exist many people “stigmatizing” China, but to be honest, we do provide excuses for others to do that.
The fundamental reason we get scolded is that there is something we are not doing well enough.
Take animal protection for example – China usually had a bad image when it came to animal protection issues internationally in previous years. This is because we are indeed a large consumer of illegal wildlife products such as ivory, rhino horn, and pangolin. However, in recent years, the scolding has declined a lot because of the strict policies and restrictions.
We get scolded not only for things we are not doing well but also for “some good things we are not doing well enough.” There are massive international NGOs and youth volunteering doing works related to sustainable development all over the world, and they can bring a positive image of their homeland. For instance, local people can see both American companies mining gold here and volunteers to work at local animal protection. Therefore, they would realize that Americans are diverse: some just came here to make money, but others come here to help locals.
However, Chinese NGOs and young volunteers have been relatively absent on the international stage – even till today. Therefore, many local people can see merely Chinese companies destroying their homeland, which establishes the impression that the Chinese are here to make money and plunder natural resources. In these ways, we give some media a handle to smear China.
Through our past research projects, we realized that China’s national image is mismatching with our actual performance. Chinese companies and Chinese people are not as bad as the international public opinion holds, no matter in environmental protection, human rights, or other aspects. Many international scholars have proved this point through their studies.
A team of Chinese and American scholars from China House once conducted a study comparing labor relations between Chinese and American companies in Kenya. They published a research report “We Are Not Very Different” on the platform of Johns Hopkins University. The report pointed out that though some media have accused Chinese companies in Africa of treating local workers improperly, Chinese and American companies have performed very similarly in general. Workers’ labor conditions American Companies no where significantly better than Chinese companies.
So why is the national image of Chinaworse than reality? Why are the positive parts of us are misunderstood, and the bad parts are magnified? Some following problems appear in our study:
First of all, when dealing with people overseas, some Chinese are not familiar with international conventions and rules. As a result, there are immense obstacles in international communication.
For example, we once saw a Chinese enterprise leader speaking to his African workers that “We need to do more propaganda!”, but he didn’t know that the employees laughed at him because “propaganda” implies negative connotation in English. Some Chinese companies in Africa ask their local staff to do push-ups as an exercise, but it was regarded as “neo-colonialism” by local people.
Secondly, we lack the skills and experience to communicate internationally and change their impression of us.
There was a story: once in an international conference, a person who supported the independence of Xinjiang criticized Chin and said, “China does not allow minorities to speak their own language”. The Chinese delegate stood up and fought back, denouncing the other side as terrorists. However, this reaction is not effective since many countries named minorities as “terrorists” when they fight for their rights. In response, those announcements may make other representatives think that the Chinese government is the same as those that exploit the rights of minorities.
A Chinese woman with working experience in international organizations came to the rescue. Instead of accusing him excitedly, she calmly recounted her experience in Xinjiang, saying that when she was in Khotan, she could hardly order food as the locals could not speak Mandarin. The promotion of Mandarin, while retaining minority languages, provides local people with more opportunities for employment and communication.
The story she told was better than all the denunciations from official representatives present.
Therefore, to solve our “scolded” situation, we should take the initiative to respond; When others accuse us arbitrarily, especially when what they say is not in line with the facts, we have to react or even fight back. However, we need to pay attention to our techniques and words to obtain better results and change others’ opinions. Perhaps no matter what we say, we still can not change the views of those who scold us, but some of our attitudes and wording can change the other people present.
As Chinese citizens, especially a growing number of young Chinese who represent China, we can make some real efforts to address the above problems and change the situation of “being scolded”.
First, we can learn more about the world. Try to know how society works, how NGOs and the media work, and how foreigners view us. Understanding the world is the premise of influencing the world.
Second, we need to learn how to communicate and interact with the world in a way that we can win more recognization. The aim is not to make others define China as a perfect country, but only to let them realize that China is a country in constant progress but stigmatized by media manipulation of the mainstream media. We might make mistakes in the development process, but we would never become “evil” as some media smears.
Third, we should “go out” and see more about the world. Apart from traveling and shopping, we can also take part in more international public service activities. We can present an image completely different from the media stigma through vivid “Chinese stories”. We can also show that Chinese people are not only concerned about their national interests, but are also devoted to make the world a better place as well. We care about the world, and we have the ability to change the world.
In this way, “rumors will eventually be shattered by facts.”
Written by Huang Hongxiang
Translated by Carol