Egypt, China, and 1989

Prisms matter.  From which perspective are you watching the events in Cairo and across Egypt?  For myself, the vantage point this week has been Berlin, Germany, where the dominant hope, as the Berlin Taggesspiegel noted yesterday in a front page editorial, is that the Egyptian people will be able to establish a genuinely democratic regime.  Egypt as East Germany, 1989.

In China the perspective espoused by the state — demanded by the state — is far more anodyne.  Grudgingly, reports are published.  We might not be able to know what “the average Chinese citizen” thinks about the protests, but we can understand how the state wants folks to discuss — or not discuss — the action in Egypt.

Several excellent stories have appeared on this theme.  Most essential of all is this Wall Street Journal coverage ; The Guardian has also published a solid article on the theme of Chinese censorship of Egypt-related news.  Voice of America talks to Jeremy Goldkorn, founder of, about the issue, and Oiwan Lam at the increasingly-essential Global Voices Online parses further the Egypt-related Chinese internet censorship.

Danwei implies that a main theme of Xinhua’s Egpyt coverage has been to focus on the pleasant efforts to get Chinese citizens home to the motherland, in keeping with today’s Chinese New Year.  What is missing in the Danwei analysis is the extent to which that even this feel-good story is being controlled.  The Huanqiu Shibao’s usually vigorous chorus of patriots seems not to be allowed to comment on the story.

Indeed, the Huanqiu Shibao has been the least restrained of all the outlets in China for covering the anti-Mubarak protests, but within the strict ideological limits of a paper whose focus on foreign affairs is ultimately subordinate to the editors at the People’s Daily.

(Which begs the question: What is the utility of having a Xinhua bureau in Egypt if the reporters are so heavily fettered by their mother state’s restrictions?  And, although even Al-Jezeera was slow to really tackle the Egypt story for fear of aggravating its own royal hosts, doesn’t this kind of lame response by Xinhua reveal unmistakably that in spite of all the hundreds of millions of yuan thrown into the notion that a world empire of Chinese media is a kind of joke?)

Huanqiu’s complete coverage of Egypt protests is currently headlined “Large-scale resistance activities emerge in Egypt.” Given Xinhua’s penchant for flashy graphics and sensationalism when the occasion calls for it, the grey tones of the page and singular lack of graphics (apart from an Egyptian flag and an old-school map of the country, there are but a handful of photos of happy Chinese waiting in the Cairo airport) is striking.  As usual, we have to read for what is not there.  And when the Huanqiu gives a series of Life magazine photos of Spring Festival in 1946 about equal billing with what could be considered a rather earth-trembling revolution in the Middle East’s most populace state, what else are we expected to do?

Happy New Year, everyone.

1 Comment

  1. Huanqiu Shibao actually addressed the “big topic” of democracy very directly last Sunday (and apparently didn’t allow too many comments there either). Translation here.

    There was a editorial in English with some similar, and lots of similar content published by the Global Times, also on Sunday. No comments there.

    Why is there a Xinhua bureau in Egypt? Simple – because that belongs to the trappings of a modern, well-off society with modern media. A Peking Opera keeps to the same tunes all the time, too – and the costumes still matter, too.

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