Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Taipei Times Channels Me

The Taipei Times makes many of the same points that it has, and we bloggers have, before on the way the foreign media treats the China-Taiwan relationship....
Reporting by international wire agencies on Taiwan is often nuanced in a way that backs Beijing’s claims, even if inadvertently. This can mislead readers about everything from the reasons for tension between Taiwan and China to basic facts about Taiwanese and Chinese history — and there are no signs that sloppy reporting will end any time soon.

Careless wording in wire reports can lend credence to Beijing’s portrayal of Taiwan as a “renegade province.” Although a reporter may sidestep the word “country” to avoid taking a stance on Taiwan’s status, alternative phrasing may instead suggest that Taiwan is part of China. Frequent references in wire articles to China as “the mainland” and Taiwan simply as “the island” do just that.

An Associated Press (AP) report on Monday offers an example that is hardly limited to that agency. The report on the Strait Forum in Xiamen, China, said “mainland purchasing groups” would travel to Taiwan to buy agricultural products and mentioned “President Ma Ying-jeou’s [馬英九] policy of allowing more investment by mainland Chinese in the island.”

That wording suits Beijing. While the term “mainland” is appropriate to denote China in the context of Hong Kong and Macau, in an article on cross-strait relations it is misleading. More than geographical proximity, it implies a political link similar to that between China and its two former European colonies.

Wire reports also often contain straightforward and recurring factual errors. The same AP report recycles the claim that “China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949,” which also appears in an Agence France-Presse (AFP) article that same day. Read in combination with the terms “mainland” and “island,” the risk of misleading readers is considerable.

This error reduces the historical gap between Taiwan and China, suggesting the two were unified until 1949. That is a version of events that Beijing and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) have both insisted on and that can be dismissed as propaganda. Coming from international media, however, the effect is disconcerting. Independent media enjoy added credibility by virtue of their neutrality on cross-strait developments, but unfortunately what they are reporting in these instances is wrong in fact.

As news agencies often reuse these snippets as inserts, their inaccuracy is all the more unacceptable. Agencies need only get the background information right once, then draw upon it as needed.

Just as disturbing in the AFP report is its unqualified citation of a poll conducted by the KMT-friendly, Chinese-language China Times as showing that “a record number of Taiwanese believe traditional rival China is friendly.”

As a backdrop to this, AFP explains: “Relations between Taiwan and China, which split in 1949 at the end of a civil war, hit rock bottom due to the pro-independence rhetoric of Ma’s DPP predecessor [former president] Chen Shui-bian [陳水扁].”

This has the effect of sweeping under the carpet decades of aggression during which the KMT’s goal was to “retake the mainland” and Beijing’s was to “liberate” Taiwan through force. The blame for cross-strait tension is placed squarely on the shoulders of a president who never advocated aggression. This suits Beijing, which branded Chen a provocateur.

Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) may have claimed to rule all of China for decades at the UN, and China may have bombarded Kinmen in 1954, but AFP suggests Chen’s presidency was the nadir of cross-strait relations. Such reports may be laughable to informed readers but others have no cause to doubt them. Professional journalists are obliged to avoid such nonsense.
I have no idea why people continue to use the "split after a civil war in 1949" formulation. Consider -- if you read "Vulgaria and Narnia split in the tenth year of Caspian's reign after a civil war" the plain language meaning of that text is that the war was fought between what is now Vulgaria and what is now Narnia. But if you know Taiwan history, you know that Taiwan and China never fought a "civil" war, hence the claim is false -- doubly so because it was the KMT and CCP which split, not Taiwan and China. In other words, if you know enough history to understand it, you know it isn't true, and if you understand it in the plain language sense, you learn false history. No one could read that and learn anything. So why continue to use it?

Speaking of channeling me, this blog carefully calculates the crowd on Sunday must have been around 450,000. Interesting! The 100,000 police estimate is an absurdity.

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28 comments:

竹板凳 said...

say... that looks like a section of fossilized spine in the picture you took

Anonymous said...

Most Taiwanese people (that I know anyway) refer to China as Dalu, or mainland China.

It's a bit much to expect the international media to stop doing it when the Taiwanese themselves do.

EdG said...

Why do you have a hang-up with the term "civil war"? The very definition of "civil war" is a war between factions in the same country. Many consider the KMT-CPC split around 1927 to be the start of a "civil war" in China.

Michael Turton said...

LOL. Anon, I decided to leave that point for you guys to make. People have to make a conscious effort to stop using the terminology handed to them by the KMT.

Michael Turton said...

it's actually a trilobite, I think, the fossil....

Scott Sommers said...

I think we should start making the distinction between 'Mainland Taiwan' and 'Island Taiwan'. Or would this be the same distinction the KMT used to make when the PRC was still the enemy? Oh...this is so confusing...

Anonymous said...

I just so happened to have this book on the table. Excellent for understanding the propaganda used by the KMT.

p.58

" ... using 'Taipei' instead of 'Taiwan' is another example of the KMT regime's act of self-contempt, lacking the the courage and self-respect to call Taiwan 'Taiwan'. The confusion seeped into the international broadcasts of Radio Free China. Scripts for news reports following the death of Deng Xiaoping were edited by hand to read ROC rather than Taiwan or Taiwanese, and the word 'mainland' was added to precede 'China'. The wheels of diplomacy frequently turn on such subtleties. "

Rawnsley, Gary D. 2000. Taiwan's Informal Diplomacy and Propaganda. New York, NY. St. Martin's Press, Inc.,

Dezhong said...

People have to make a conscious effort to stop using the terminology handed to them by the KMT.I agree and the same is true for "Zhongguo ren" as in "women Zhongguo ren [...]" which I hear frequenly, even by people who consider themselves to be die-hard DPP supporters.

But there seem to be some other hurdles than just "self-incurred immaturity." At least someone preparing for the official's examination told me, that you have to use terms like "dalu" or "Zhongguo dalu" when refering to the PRC during the exam. Whereas if you just said "Zhongguo" it would actually be counted as a mistake.

Michael Turton said...

Why do you have a hang-up with the term "civil war"? The very definition of "civil war" is a war between factions in the same country. Many consider the KMT-CPC split around 1927 to be the start of a "civil war" in China.

Yes, and who could deny that?

Did Taiwan and China have a civil war? No.

Michael

Anonymous said...

Anon, the pro-Taiwan news channels SET and Formosa TV avoid Dalu as much as they can. Most everyone else says Dalu only out of habit. So you're incorrect.

It's disturbing how lazy some of these commenters seem. So basically, if you didn't want to think about it too hard, you can continue using the terminology of the old KMT propaganda machine? Great!

無名 - wu ming said...

anon. 6:15 -

i had always assumed that the GMD's use of "chinese taipei" grew out of a contempt for everything outside the city limits and southwards, more than self-loathing per se.

Anonymous said...

As I'm know you've noticed, Michael, sometimes a reporter will use both better and worse formulas within the same article--as if he didn't give a shit at all. NYT's Jonathan Adams (May 13):

"The bulls are running hard in Taiwan as the island prepares to open its doors to mainland Chinese investment for the first time since breaking from Beijing in 1949."

Obviously this is misleading crap of the sort that you're always pointing out--made even dumber by the alliteration (which Adams probably regards as touch of "style.") But then, a few paragraphs later, we meet with an improvement of sorts:

"Beijing officials have viewed Taiwan as a renegade province ever since the Nationalists retreated to the island when they lost the Chinese Civil War to the Communists 60 years ago. Though not formally independent, the island has had its own government, economy and currency. For most of this decade, Taiwan was led by a pro-independence government that increased some cross-strait ties, although not nearly as quickly or broadly as business interests and investors would have liked."

Question: What nine-word formula would best replace the "China and Taiwan split amid civil war in 1949" tag? (Something handy to e-mail editors with the advice, "Next time, use this.")

Richard said...

My story with "dalu" is that when I was a child, I'd hear my parents/aunts say it in Taiwanese, "tai-liok." Until maybe 3-4 years ago, I did not know what "tai-liok" was until I realized dalu = mainland = what most people in Taiwan refer to China as. From that point on, I've always used 中國 and "tiong-gok" in Taiwanese when referring to China. Yes, you have to make an effort to do it at first, but as with everything- training yourself makes it come naturally eventually.

Some may say these small things aren't an issue-- but I think they actually can become a large issue eventually. Recognizing who we are and who they are is an important, big first step that I believe many young generation people are missing. We should not just say, oh, 隨便 about it and be like, "Oh, who cares, you know what I mean, and I know what you mean."

Jade said...

Whenever someone refers to China as Dalu in a conversation I always correct him/her to say Zhongguo. We should make that a habit to change the mentality of most Taiwanese. It would take a while but someone has to start.

Anonymous said...

On the one hand, you complain that the "media" isn't accurately reflecting the state of affairs. On the other hand, you grand-stand and claim that people "have to make a conscious effort" to change their reality in order to match your ideology.

You, and your blog, reek of desperate hypocrisy.

FOARP said...

@MichaelTurton - I don't think anyone would simply assume that Taiwan seceded from China as a result of the civil war from reading the AP report, the meaning conveyed was that Taiwan was involved in the civil war. This is undoubtedly true: Taiwan served as a KMT stronghold after the Japanese surrender, and following the fall of Hainan was the only turf remaining to them. Saying that the KMT defeat in the civil war was the cause of Taiwan's rule being separate to that of Mainland China (which infuriating term also includes Hainan, an island with roughly the same area as that of Taiwan) is not out of line. Had the KMT won, they would have done their utmost to hold on to Taiwan, and judging by the present state of affairs, would have succeeded.

As for 'mainland' being a KMT-sourced phrase, didn't the Taiwanese born Hakkanese author also use the phrase 'mainland' in his book 'Orphan of Asia'? I suppose this does not necessarily mean 'mainland China', but didn't colonial-era Taiwanese also use this phrase?

Once again, I just think that insisting that foreign media stick to one particularly contentious version of history (i.e., Taiwan has been stateless territory since 1952) is illogical given the lack of consensus on this subject in Taiwan. AP doesn't have a political dog in this fight the same way TT does.

Anonymous said...

It could also be reference to "the continent".

Anonymous said...

"You, and your blog, reek of desperate hypocrisy."

It's so true. Watch out, because Turton is going to call you a Blue Troll. He is very immature in that way. :)

Anonymous said...

Michael is whining. If he doesn't like the international news wires, he can always read the Taipei Times, which is very popular in a small group of foreign TI supporters. This is Free media. There is no single truth on the status of Taiwan. If international news wires would adopt Michael's stance, they would be very biased and POV towards TI, just like Michael. Clearly, Michael's view is not the popular view. Not in the West, not in Taiwan. Just give it up!

Thomas said...

On the one hand, you complain that the "media" isn't accurately reflecting the state of affairs. On the other hand, you grand-stand and claim that people "have to make a conscious effort" to change their reality in order to match your ideology.The media isn't accurately reflecting the state of affairs. Quite simply, Taiwan and China did not split in 1949 after a civil war. The construction is a factual error, so naturally it should not be included in a news story. And I believe the point about the term "mainland" is that it originally did not match reality. It is a KMT/CCP propaganda construct that many Taiwanese use out of habit rather than using it to declare that they are part of the country across the strait.

Linguistic habits often do not reflect reality. Why can using Xerox to mean "photocopy" earn you a lawsuit by Xerox? Obviously Xerox cares about the terminology that someone else is incorrectly using out of habit. Here is another example: All real Panama hats are actually made in Ecuador. We still call them Panama hats. This is a linguistic habit that does not reflect reality. Why doesn't anyone change it? Because nobody really cares in either Panama or Ecuador or anywhere else that the term is used.

The use of "mainland" is quite different. It is a conscious choice of a particular group of people that is used to denigrate Taiwan, AND it does not reflect reality. Why shouldn't we ask others to change it?

Frankly, the media is goofing and since the words DON'T match the reality that you, falsely, imply exists, I fail to see the hypocrisy you are referring to.

Michael Turton said...

It's so true. Watch out, because Turton is going to call you a Blue Troll. He is very immature in that way. :)Naw, I feel no need to point out self-identified blue trolls.

Michael

Michael Turton said...

If international news wires would adopt Michael's stance, they would be very biased and POV towards TI, just like Michael.I'm not demanding a pro-TI stance, just historically correct presentations.

Michael

FOARP said...

@MichaelTurton - On the other hand, just what is wrong about saying that Taiwan's current status was created by the Chinese civil war? Terms like 'split' might imply a conscious attempt at secession, but Taiwan is not ruled from mainland as a result of the communist victory/nationalist defeat, it was not Taiwan which did the 'splitting', but the two sides of the civil war.

Moreover, quoting a Chinese newspaper survey, so long as it is not a reader survey or internet survey, is not incorrect, nor does the political affiliation of that newspaper necessarily need to be described. Frankly, you'd think people would guess it from the name of the paper.

It is a bit of an exaggeration to talk about relations hitting 'rock bottom' during the Chen administration - especially given that 1996 was far more of a 'rock bottom' than 2000-2008, but given the short memory of the media, there is nothing surprising in this.

Crowd figures are always disputed. Anyone who remembers the 80s in the UK remembers how events like the CND marches, the miners strike, the so-called Poll Tax revolt etc. all managed to have totally different estimates. In fact, I can't ever remember a large demo where that didn't happen, even if the demonstration was to support something like the pro-fox hunting Countryside Alliance marches - this doesn't mean that the figures are 'wrong' but it does mean that you should probably quote both of them - and AP did this.

Finally - a rectification campaign to change people's speech? I just can't see why you think that would be a success. It smacks of political correctness - not that the KMT don't have their own political correctness, but doing the same thing back is childish.

Thomas said...

"If he doesn't like the international news wires, he can always read the Taipei Times, which is very popular in a small group of foreign TI supporters."

According to that oh so perfect source of news, Wikipedia, TT has a circulation of over 285,000. That's hardly piddly.

How about China Post? Over 400,000. Yeah, more than TT. But...

How about Taiwan News? Over 250,000. Also not piddly.

So in terms of major English-language newspapers in Taiwan, we have a total of over 515,000 aligned with the Green camp and 400,000 aligned with the Blue.

Even if it were just the 285,000 of the TT, that would still be a better distribution than most US newspapers. So what is the point of your snide comment?

One more observation. I find it quite interesting that every opposing comment in this thread is from an "Anonymous". How interesting! Tell me, all you anons, if you are not trolls, then why can't you ever comment under a pseudonym like almost everyone else? Hmm... enter, make bitchy, misleading and poorly researched comments under no name, then exit... you sound pretty trollish to me.

Michael Turton said...

....it was not Taiwan which did the 'splitting', but the two sides of the civil war.Hey no shit. That's exactly what I'm saying. [clap clap clap]

Moreover, quoting a Chinese newspaper survey, so long as it is not a reader survey or internet survey, is not incorrect, nor does the political affiliation of that newspaper necessarily need to be described. Frankly, you'd think people would guess it from the name of the paper.No, it doesn't necessarily need to be described. It invariably never is, however. Why is that? In fact, from the foreign media, you'd never guess that the local media even took sides.

It is a bit of an exaggeration to talk about relations hitting 'rock bottom' during the Chen administration - especially given that 1996 was far more of a 'rock bottom' than 2000-2008, but given the short memory of the media, there is nothing surprising in this.You mean, there is nothing surprising about the media not getting it right, and getting it wrong in such a way that makes the Chen Administration look bad? You are absolutely right! I love the way you keep making excuses for the laziness of the media that always follows the same pattern.

Crowd figures are always disputed.You're right again! Let's refrain from discussing crowd figures, since they are disputed. Let's also refrain from trying to figure out how many were there, since they are disputed. Let's not check with persons present, photos, videos, and so forth, because the numbers are disputed. Instead, we can just call whoever and get a number and run with that. Because the numbers are disputed, we need not attempt to construct a viable and reasonable figure. We don't even need to think.

Finally - a rectification campaign to change people's speech? I just can't see why you think that would be a success. It smacks of political correctness - not that the KMT don't have their own political correctness, but doing the same thing back is childish.See? When the KMT churns out political phraseology, that's not childish. But when we turn that shit out its head, we're "childish."

You're not a troll, you're just someone with vapid justifications for whatever is happening in the media that favors the pro-China side. But you're not a troll, no.

Michael

FOARP said...

@Michael - You seem to have a hard time recognising someone agreeing with you. You also seem to have a hard time recognising that someone who neither supports nor opposes Taiwanese independence is not necessarily pro-China. I don't support either side, the only thing I support is the right of the Taiwanese people to make the choice between them.

The fact that crowd figures are disputed means that anyone who is reporting on it will usually go with the figures of the organisers and the figures given by officials. It is not AP's business to start playing statistician, and it is pointless to criticise them for not doing so.

I said nothing about the KMT's semantical games not being childish, in fact, as you could have easily guessed from what I wrote, I think they are childish also. And yes, doing childish things back to someone who has done it to you is most definitely childish. As I pointed out above, as far as I can tell the usage of the phrase Dalu as a name for mainland China has been a common one in Taiwan for a long time, and pre-dates the arrival of the KMT on the island. As such, you wouldn't be 'rectifying' the language by insisting on calling it China, you'd be altering a long-standing usage for ideological reasons.

Feiren said...

@FOARP, I'd be curious to know what your source is for pre-KMT use of 'dalu' to refer to China. I was under the impression that during Qing, China was often referred to as Tangshan, and during the colonial period, people said 'zhina'.

In any event, language changes. More and more people now refer to Mandarin as 'huayu' instead of the reflexive 'guoyu' universal 20 years ago. Shandiren has now almost completely disappeared from polite conversation.

There is no reason that people can't stop saying 'dalu' Although far worse is the rebarbative 'taiwan diqu' (Taiwan region). This last term truly is an example of groveling to Chinese sensibilities.

FOARP said...

@Feiren - As far as I know 'Zhina' is a Sinification of the Japanese term 'Shina' as written in Kanji, and that phrase is itself a Japonification (is that the word?) of the English term 'China' - and I know of is no indication that it was a common usage in Taiwan outside of the Japanese. I'll admit 'Tangshan' is a new one on me, all I'm going on is Wu Zhuoliu's (a Hakkanese Taiwanese) use of 'dalu' in the Chinese version of his book 'Orphan of Asia' (which was itself originally published in Japanese). I personally wouldn't say anything but 'Taiwan', and dislike the pointless politically motivated usage of phrases like 'China's Taiwan area' (or even 'our country's Taiwan area') and the like. I still say 'dalu' though, even many of the pro-TI people I know use it, and many of the ones who don't tend to say 'China' in a pointed and artificial way.