By Wenhao Ma
Yu Fu, an international journalism major, stood erect, eyes staring down at her presentation, in front of an audience of her peers and 11 other visiting U.S. students. She only looked up to glance at her professor, seeking approval.
Such a performance is typical of classes held at Communication University of China and at most Chinese universities, which emphasize rote memorization and obedience to professors over inquiry.
In journalism programs, Chinese students and professors often believe that journalists have the duty to help the nation improve. Classes, such as this one at CUC, teach techniques needed for constructing a national image and protecting national interests.
“The media should guide our society,” said Fu’s classmate, Qian Mo. “Media should encourage heroic actions. They should lead mankind to a common view.”
Some of the students in the class, who have been taught first to love their country, believe government should control information around an emergency, such as a terrorist attack, for the benefit of society.
For instance, one group of students praised the government’s restriction on information about the March 1 terrorist attack in Kunming that killed 29 people and injured another 143.
“We don’t want to release too much detail because we don’t want to let the terrorists know too much,” said Zhao, an international journalism student who preferred not to reveal his first name.
In his class presentation, Zhao spoke highly of the actions taken by Xinhua.net, China’s largest state-run news agency, on reassuring people after the attack.
“We didn’t want people to panic, so we didn’t post pictures of bloody scenes,” said Zhao. “Our emphasis was not on how bloody the attack was. It was on how the government had been helping the victims.”
Many Chinese journalism students don’t see this view of news as propaganda. Rather, they see it as giving people the proper way to understand an important event. “They create a understanding of the story for the readers,” said Wei Han, the deputy managing editor of Caixin Weekly magazine, one of the few liberal news outlets in China,
Han and his Caixin are among a handful of Chinese media that believe the government should neither control the definition of what is news nor how it is reported.
At the CUC class, the visiting American students asked questions about censorship and propaganda that surprised and perplexed their Chinese counterparts. Zhang Kai, the class’ professor, jumped up to help her baffled students.
“The media in China is the voice of the government and the voice of the people,” said Zhang in fluent English with a British accent. “It doesn’t represent the party.”
Zhang also said that the Chinese media had much more freedom when not covering politics.
“The media can say whatever they want when reporting things like entertainment and education,” said Zhang.
Zhang, a well-traveled professor who has been at CUC for twenty years, studied English literature in College and wrote several papers on journalism in China. Zhang attributes China and America’s differing perspectives of journalism to cultural differences. For example, she said, that Chinese writers could call an ugly girl “ugly.” In contrast, American writers would use description to show her as ugly.
Add Zhang, “Chinese people don’t know the difference between fact and opinion.”