Posted by: Third Tone Devil | 13 November 2007 on foreign media’s “demonization” of China

On 6 November, published an article entitled “Foreign media attacked for smearing Chinese: Chinese in Germany plan to sue Spiegel.” The article describes three incidents. First, the influential news magazine Spiegel published a 14-page report entitled “Die gelben Spione” (The yellow spies) on Chinese industrial espionage in Germany, accompanied by a cover showing two Asian eyes peeking out from behind a Chinese flag. Second, a “not made in China” movement directed against Chinese goods in the U.S. is supposedly trying to “demonize” China. Third, a New Zealand paper published an article associating Chinese students with cheating on exams.

The article is interesting for a number of reasons. On the one hand, it does broadly reflect a growing anti-Chinese discourse. On the other hand, by lining up these three stories into a seamless “bullying” narrative (and not caring to provide any details), it mixes up events that probably have very different motivations, unequal significance, and come out of quite divergent local discourses. It seems that the reporter is not really interested in what is happening, but prefers to furnish generalized evidence of efforts to “contain” China.

We get no information on the content of the Spiegel article, only that the Chinese are planning to sue the magazine. (But for what?)  Nonetheless, the title does have a racist flavour, and the fact that it is published in Spiegel  suggests that it may reflect a trend. The U.S. “not made in China” movement, on which we find out nothing except that a Los Angeles housewife named Wang defends Chinese goods by loyally buying them, is probably a marginal phenomenon that can have little impact on “demonizing” China. The New Zealand story — where the Christchurch paper, identified as “Evening News,” described Chinese students as “the biggest cheats,” showing a photo of Chinese students copying exam papers and asserting that “cheating is part of Chinese culture.” Nineteen Chinese organizations in Christchurch issued a protest and the paper apologized.

But this last story, ironically, may reflect less a demonization of China than anxiety about what is perceived to be dropping university standards and their association with the rapid growth of Chinese students (the same in Australia). No doubt, the quality of Chinese students who come to these universities (they are mostly the ones who couldn’t get into a good school in China) leads people to erroneous conclusions, but they are often well-intentioned. I remember a professor at Heidelberg, Germany’s most famous university, asking me whether it was true that in China, copying another person’s text was not considered wrong.  This seems more an example of the well-intentioned “intercultural communication” orientalism than an act of political demonization.

As for the Chinese organizations described in the paper, they seem more interested to show their “patriotism” to the media back home than anything else. A spokesman for the New Zealand Chinese organizations said it was important to ‘closely rely on the embassy’ in dealing with the case, and to prevent students from taking uncontrolled action — very much mirroring the rhetoric of Chinese officials when dealing with nationalism.

The original story is here.



  1. Chinese industrial espionage is on the discussion table again because of the public warning by MI5, the British intelligence agency, to 300 British companies they believe are vulnerable to Chinese hacker attacks. Yesterday, on 1 December, BBC World had a programme in which — very unusually — a Chinese embassy representative in London was asked questions about this; though he did not answer them he was polite and said that industrial espionage and hacking are illegal in China. (But see the material about hackers in the chapter on the Internet on this site!) At any rate, it will be curious to see how Chinese media responds to this. In the outrage on the Spiegel article, there was no reference to its actual content, let alone merit.

    The MI5 warning is reported at

  2. I came across another typical response to Western media “demonisation” in a China News Agency report entitled “Chinese community in France opens blog, records entire process of rights-protection protest against media’s tarnishing” (Faguo huashe kaitong boke, jilu kangyi meiti mohei weiquan quan guocheng). The report was published on p. F10 of the 19 December 2007-3 January 2008 issue of Xin Daobao / Uj Szemle (, a Chinese-language weekly published in Hungary.

    The article first states that a French TV station and a radio station aired programmes that slandered the Chinese people in France on 27 and 29 November 2007. Without specifying the nature of the slander or the contents of those programmes, the article goes on to state that several Chinese organisations protested against them. (It is likely that the programmes were either belabouring the spy theme or talking about local opposition to the spread of Chinese shops in some neighbourhoods of French cities.)

    It then quotes a statement by the director of the consular section of the Chinese embassy in Paris (i.e. the section that deals with local Chinese migrants, rather than with French media), Shi Yuegen, that the untruthful reporting has seriously damaged the image of the Chinese people. Shi further said, also without responding to the allegations or even describing their nature, that Chinese migrants were an “industriously, friendly, and peaceful group” who have “made enormous contributions to the local economy through their diligent labour.”

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