The Audacity of Independent Viewpoint

Here is my translation of the essay:-

“Recently there have been some criticisms of Southern Weekend’s reports on several incidents that took place after the Wenchuan earthquake. In the first of such reports with the headline ‘Wenchuan Has Not Died; Wenchuan Is Still Alive’, there was a description of an incident in one of the town’s largest supermarket stores: ‘The crowd scrambled to get in and initially grabbed all the bottled mineral water, bread loafs and biscuits; then all the merchandise shelves were wiped clean.’ ‘People were starting to snatch things from one another.’ The second report was headlined ‘The Many Faces of Humanity in Wenchuan, An Isolated Island’ and told a story of a man nicknamed ‘Old Blackie’ who led a gang to start robbing. The third report was headlined ‘The Cruel Side of the Beichuan Aftermath’ which described the incidence of special police agents arresting over twenty suspects who allegedly took part in robberies. This latter article deliberately focused on the dark side of human nature with descriptions like ‘’save me first’; ‘I’m Secretary Cheung’‘.

The critics remarked that Southern Weekend chose not to look at the glory and the greatness of the rescue and relief efforts; ‘Despite the seemingly calm, neutral and original way of reporting which fits in with Western journalistic style, there exudes from the article an intention that’s eccentric, a viewpoint that is dissenting and a psyche that is dark’. The critics further pointed out that the problem with Southern Weekend has a long history: ‘In retrospect, during the recent snowstorm and Tibet incidents, on the past issue of Taiwan independence, the weird interpretation of several serious criminal cases, Southern Weekend has been taking on an air of one looking down from above, and has been using the pen as a sword to attack shameful and evil doings outside of the Guangdong Province. Occasionally there may be a righteous essay or two, but in general the publication has always been biased, and one can hardly see it give praise to any of the good deeds about improving peasants’ living standards and social progress, especially where it concerns efforts to reduce poverty in the peripheral areas.’

At the end of the day, what is deplorable about Southern Weekend is its habitually biased reporting. This habit exhibits itself in its disparate and independent line of thinking, always depicting the dark side of events, always using the pen as a sword, and never uttering a word of praise.

But the strange thing is: despite all the criticisms against Southern Weekend, no one has deliberated on the truthfulness of its reports. While the nation’s media groups focus on reporting the emotional and sensational stories of heroic feats in the disaster areas, reporters from Southern Weekend alone chose to report in a cool-headed way on events that took place on the disaster scene and which were hardly known to the public. Indeed such reports were not the mainstream, yet these should not be ignored either. From all readers’ standpoint, without knowledge of such side-tracking events, they would not be able to grasp the whole picture of the rescue and relief operation, nor would they be able to thoroughly understand the complexities of society and human nature. From the government’s and relevant authorities’ standpoint, access to information disclosed in a timely manner would enable them to come to grips with the actual situation and to efficiently handle security problems. For example, when all levels of society are scrambling to hand out donations, there appear articles that point out the unreliability of certain charity organizations, reminding the authorities of the need to monitor the usage of donated money and materials, and to ensure the transparency of the charities’ operations so as to prevent corruption or charity money embezzlement. Needless to say, such kind of reports and comments target the other side of ‘positive’ and will be disliked by many. But because such kinds of reports are so important but so rare, they are therefore that much more precious.

We know that in order to get the full picture of a thing or event, one must get to know all the facets, sort the wheat from the chaff, purge all falsities and retain the truth. Since humans and society are far more complex than a thing or event, the process of observation and study from different angles to arrive at the truth is all the more imperative. Yet for a very long time, we have been inclined to listen to one-sided praises and one-sided voices; we never get tired of accolades and applauses, but we tend to shun all negative reports or criticisms; we even put aside the high principle of ‘truthfulness’ in news reporting or at least let it play second fiddle. In the last few decades, China’s society has progressed, but such a mindset seems not to have changed much. This phenomenon is worth more in-depth study.

Lu Xun once told this story in one of his essays: ‘A baby was born to a certain family and on his first month birthday celebration, relatives and friends came to offer good wishes. Some said ‘This child will one day become a court official’. Others said ‘This child will be very rich’. These guests were all treated cordially by the family. But when someone said, ‘This child will die one day,’ the speaker was at once given a good beating.’ In actual fact this is customary of Chinese behavior since historic times. It is never easy to speak the truth and this story can be compared to what is happening in today’s media. If you want to be accorded cordial treatment, you naturally need to say auspicious things like wishing your host prosperity and good luck. Who would want to be scorned and beaten?

Therefore, I applaud the tenacity of Southern Weekend and others like it. They deserve applause for being able to insist on their unique viewpoint against all odds, to observe what others fail to observe and to speak the truth when others recoil from it. As for the critics, I would borrow a saying from the West: ‘I don’t agree with what you say, but I vow to defend your right to speak.’ Besides, there is one sentence in the critics’ essay that is worth noting: ‘Southern Weekend is always using the pen as a sword to target shameful and evil doings outside the Guangdong Province.’ The staff writers of Southern Weekend had better take notice: your pen should not only target things outside Guangdong – you should not let up easily on shameful and evil doings inside your own province.”