10 min read

Poor China Reporting

In the late 1700s, European writers on China, in their spirit of Enlightenment humanitarianism, made arguments for Chinese barbarism.

One barbaric act was the supposed prevalence of infanticide.

The problem was that many Western "China experts" at the time spoke of "Chinese infanticide," but none apparently saw it with their own eyes.

The reports of infant exposure traced back to the Jesuits in China. The fathers were startled when they discovered their reports were embellished, exaggerated and ultimately used by polemicists back in Europe.

We now know the rate of infanticide in China back then was no higher than in other parts of the world.

This case shows that poor China reporting is not a new problem; it has been an enduring problem that has shaped Western perceptions of China for hundreds of years.

Today, there is a daily deluge of poor China reporting. And they are affecting our understanding of China.

Below is an example, along with my annotations.

China’s Xi goes full Stalin with purge

In a sign of instability in Beijing’s top ranks, foreign policy and defence officials are vanishing as Xi roots out perceived enemies.

Since his reign began in 2012, Xi’s endless purges have removed millions of officials.

Millions have been investigated and received some punishment, but these punishments range from a tap on the wrist to being kicked out of the Party and locked up. There is no evidence that millions of officials have been "removed."

Anti-corruption efforts have intensified under Xi, but most investigated and punished are not Xi's political enemies but rather low and mid-level cadres suspected of a variety of wrongdoing, including misusing their powers.

The article reifies all the complexity of the Communist Party's disciplinary system and anti-corruption efforts down to "Xi's endless purges".

Something is rotten in the imperial court of Chairman Xi Jinping.

While the world is distracted by war in the Middle East and Ukraine, a Stalin-like purge is sweeping through China’s ultra-secretive political system, with profound implications for the global economy and even the prospects for peace in the region.

"Stalin-like purge" conjures the images associated with the Great Purge of 1936 to 1938 that took the lives of a million people.

Summary executions, massacres, ethnic cleansing, gulags, state violence on a mass scale...these are the images we associate with Stalin's Great Purge.

Are any of these things happening in China's "ultra-secretive political system"?

Xi's political purges are targeted at the Party elite, with a level of violence incomparable to Stalin's Great Purge.

This article misuses historical analogies.

The signals emanating from Beijing are unmistakable, even as China’s security services have ramped up repression to totalitarian levels, making it almost impossible to know what is really happening inside the country.

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