Why are we so often disturbed by Western media reporting and analysis of
China? Why does reading commentary of China's economy, foreign
relations, politics, and society leave us feeling emotionally abused,
injured, or even angry and resentful?
I believe our reactions are a response to the pervasive, ugly, and
malevolent, but largely unnoticed element of schadenfreude in this
commentary. It is our natural revulsion to writing and thinking that is
anti-humanistic, hostile, and harmful.
Schadenfreude is a German-origin term defined by the Oxford Advanced
Learner's Dictionary as "a feeling of pleasure at the bad things that
happen to other people." Schadenfreude is rarely expressed plainly, or
in relation to a specific event or situation. Rather, it is an attitude
and bias that disparages achievements, discredits sincerity, and hopes
We see this vile sentiment often in Western media coverage of news
events, in reporting on Chinese business, and particularly in analysis
and commentary on policies, plans, and initiatives of the government and
the Communist Party.
It is not just reporting mainly "bad news," like tainted milk powder or
cooking oil scandals, although this feature is common too, particularly
in blogs and the popular press. Rather, it is reporting only of the
facts that support a narrative of endemic amorality or immorality and
government social irresponsibility, with a subliminal message that the
Chinese people or system are immoral, corrupt, and will or should fail.
The commentator most identified with schadenfreude in writing on China
is Gordon G. Chang. Chang, author of The Coming Collapse of China,
released in 2001, has turned apocalyptic predictions and ill-wishing
into a best-selling "brand."
在报道中国事物方面，这种幸灾乐祸式评论的典型就是章家敦（Gordon G. Chang）。他是2001年出版的《中国即将崩溃》一书的作者；这本书已经变成世界末日式的预言，并有望成为畅销书的品牌。
On cue, writing on Forbes.com after Alibaba's world-beating IPO in New
York, Chang was quick to predict, and seemingly to hope, that the
company's ambition to surpass Walmart as the world's largest retailer
would be unrealized.
Indeed, at every major juncture on economic and social China's
development path, from WTO accession, to coping with the global
financial crisis, to economic and financial system reform, to the
current anti-corruption campaign, Chang has been predicting, and
seemingly hoping for, massive failure and systematic collapse.
Chang has been consistently wrong on matters large and small. Instead
of failure and collapse China was achieved successes, advancing to a
new, higher level of development and prosperity. Chang's errors reflect a
fundamental incapacity, and psychological unwillingness, to understand
China and its people, their feelings, aspirations, and loyalties.
Chang's brand is emblematic of the negative bias toward China, tinged
with schadenfreude,that is more common than uncommon in the Western
Today this bias informs reporting and commentary on China's top
leadership's two towering visions and initiatives: realizing a "China
Dream" and rooting out endemic corruption. Both visions, and the actions
being pursued toward their realization, typically receive cynical,
unsympathetic, skeptical, or derisive treatment in the Western media.
The success of the anti–corruption campaign is of existential importance
to China's future, which is to say to the safety, security, and
prosperity of the Chinese people. So is the vision of the "China Dream."
Yet in publications like The New York Times, The Washington Post,
Bloomberg, and The Wall Street Journal, the sincerity, or even the moral
authority, of China's leaders in pursuing these visions is regularly
impugned or denied. Some reporting has seemingly aimed to undermine the
authority of leaders, so as to complicate or derail related initiatives.
The government of China has felt obliged to protect the people's vital
interests by blocking publications like The New York Times that had
acted as though its purpose was to sabotage those interests. This point
was made by former Shanghai mayor, and now deputy head of the Chinese
People's Political Consultative Conference, Xu Kuangdi, in answering a
member of the America Chamber of Commerce after the speech by former
president Jimmy Carter in Shanghai on September 9.
That the government of China should take measures is understandable.
That China has blocked such internet search portals as Google (while
affording open internet access to its citizens through portals like
Sohu.com) is also understandable and justifiable from the standpoint of
the interests of the Chinese people.
China's citizens nevertheless enjoy essential access to a range of
domestic and foreign media that has not adopted an anti-China bias.
Such unbalanced reporting is itself a expression of a biased,
schadenfreude media mindset.
A pervasively biased Western media unfortunately plays into the hands of
persons seeking to characterize China as posing a security "threat" to
its neighbors or to the United States. Possessing an attitude of
schadenfreude, the media not only dismiss, but would seek to impugn and
deny China's leaders' sincerity when they express the Chinese people's
vital need for and yearning for peace and harmony with their Asian
neighbors and with the United States.
China's actions, often in reaction to provocations of other countries
(notably with Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, and with Vietnam
and the Philippines in the South China Sea) are described as
"aggressive"–therefore requiring counterforce–when in fact they are
defensive. The reality of China's long-standing policy of patience,
restraint, and dispute resolution through bi-lateral negotiations is
What to do about foreign media schadenfreude toward China? It is too
serious, malevolent, and potentially harmful a problem to ignore.
The most important counter-measure is to shine a light on this vile
attitude, to sharpen readers' and listeners' perception of its presence.
The second is to call out and condemn instances (and their authors)
that are clearly malevolent in intent or effect.
The third is to join with and to support, through loyalty and goodwill,
the efforts of persons in China and the United States, within and
without government, working to further peace, harmony, mutual respect
between our countries, and better lives for both our citizens.
Stephen M. Harner is a former Foreign Service Officer (U.S. Department
of State), international banker, and consultant in Japan and China. He
is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced
International Studies (SAIS).
Stephen M. Harner 是美国国务院前外交事务主任，国际银行家，中日问题顾问。他毕业于约翰·霍普金斯大学高级国际关系研究学院（SAIS）。