Westerners are so convinced China is a dystopian hellscape

I first notice, from a friend who works in the United Nation of China, the spread of news about Chinese government using a giant LED screen to show the sun because it cannot be seen due to air pollution.

Below is one of the reports:

China starts televising the sunrise on giant TV screens because Beijing is so clouded in smog
PUBLISHED: 19:04 EST, 16 January 2014 | UPDATED: 11:29 EST, 17 January 2014

The smog has become so thick in Beijing that the city’s natural light-starved masses have begun flocking to huge digital commercial television screens across the city to observe virtual sunrises.


The futuristic screens installed in the Chinese capital usually advertize tourist destinations, but as the season’s first wave of extremely dangerous smog hit – residents donned air masks and left their homes to watch the only place where the sun would hail over the horizon that morning.

Commuters across Beijing found themselves cloaked in a thick, gray haze on Thursday as air pollution monitors issued a severe air warning and ordered the elderly and school children to stay indoors until the quality improved.


Being observant, she noticed that in the news report which claimed such ridicule, there was a small logo of Shan Dong Tourism at the lower right. And it turns out that giant LED screen was merely an advertisement from the Shan Dong.

Chan Lai
January 18 · Edited
(感覺我說有關污染的事有點太多,自己都覺得自己煩,但在”show less about” me 之前,讓我多說一次,而其實要寫的也不完全和污染有關)

昨天share了Daily Mail的link,說它們下了一個不負責任的標題和圖片caption, 後來我在TIME, Shanghaiist和在新聞工作者呂秉權以及朋友的FB Page分別看到他們的share,他們都偏向相信照片中屏幕上的太陽是中國正府因污染嚴重而播放了日出錄影帶。
然而,實情我相信那只是一個山東旅遊局的廣告(証據是屏幕右下寫著小小的”Shandong”字樣,正是山東旅遊局的logo,看其他照片,顯示的是山東全景,右下是同一個山東旅遊局logo)。我在Daily Mail、呂先生和朋友的page無力地說了一下「實情」。覺得很無力是因為其他留言者都選擇相信Daily Mail, TIME和他們(以為自己)看到的所謂事實,無他,這些報章這些人是authority,何況一句”Even the sun is made in China”有500個LIKE,要幾cynical有幾cynical。 無力如我,comment時也其實不敢用「 不負責任」(irresponsible) 這個字,我只說misleading(誤導),畢竟「 誤導」可以是它對了,我get it wrongly的意思。好卑微的讀者。

其實憑comment看 也不只我一個留意到,只是數目共三人,以這些報張這些人的Page的流覽量來算,此數目少得可憐,而且comment一下子就沉了。我不是想說我認出那個Shandong logo有甚麼厲害,我真的是只是「看到」而已。

我明白,我知道,現在污染很嚴重,我日日戴N95都覺得喉嚨很辛苦。沒錯:政府無改善,市民健康受威脅。但總不能拿著「中國造假事件頻繁」和「中國空氣污染嚴重」兩件無關的事做一個這樣的故事。你不是在寫fiction你不是在寫Onion的 fictional news。


這年代興 citizen journalist,令小眾聲音可以被聽見,小故事可以被發現,但偏偏記者們都要依附在大型傳媒機構,說大眾想聽的故事。陳曉蕾叫自己獨立記者,有幾多人可以?
我不是傳媒人,但幸運地有一些非常 inspiring, enlightening, 有趣、有火、富正義感的年輕journalists朋友,希望你們keep住團火,because we readers care。

Then this clarifying news finally came through, and yes, the western media indeed would jump on any chance to paint China with the worst possible color.

LED screen of Sun

Westerners are so convinced China is a dystopian hellscape they’ll share anything that confirms it
By Gwynn Guilford @sinoceros January 20, 2014

When it comes to China stories, people will believe almost anything. Take, for instance, the reports about pollution being so severe in Beijing that residents now watch radiant sunrises broadcast on a huge screen in Tiananmen Square.

So, that never happened. As Tech in Asia flags, the sunrise is a clip from a tourism ad for Shandong province, in China’s northeast; it’s on screen for maybe 10 seconds or so per loop.

But that didn’t prevent a slew of prominent media outlets—including Time, CBS News and the Huffington Post—from running the story, which originated in the UK-based Daily Mail, each taking their own liberties with the truth. The “glorious sunrise was broadcast as part of a patriotic video loop,” explained Time.

How do stories like this happen? One reason is shabby journalism, something for which the Daily Mail is renowned. As TIA points out, the originator, a writer named James Nye, is based in New York (as is this writer, for the record). Nye surveys a wide range of click-bait topics that fall between morbid and Kardashian. The discovery of that post-apocalyptic photo may have had something to do with the photo search for an article Nye had written earlier that day about severe turbulence in a flight bound for Beijing. The leap to making up news based on a photo isn’t hard, particularly when you crib a quote from an unrelated Associated Press story to round it out.

But more to the point: Western readers eat this stuff up. Based on Quartz’s experiences, Western audiences generally love Chinese “airpocalypse” stories. It’s not only on Quartz that they tend to attract readers; a friend and editor of a China-focused news site told me last summer that he’s equally baffled by the enduring popularity of air pollution stories. And by interweaving the themes of pollution and the government’s Orwellian-tinged attempts to control daily life, the Daily Mail offers a double-whammy of Western reader stereotypes about China.

But how do relatively respectable outfits like Time, HuffPo and CBS jump onboard with circulating fake stories? Simply by not checking, for one. You can be pretty sure if that really happened, there would be some report in Chinese about it (and while there are blog posts and Chinese translations of the Daily Mail story, there aren’t any original reports from Beijing).

What’s more unnerving, though, is that while several of the media outlets updated their posts already, none has changed the headline or noted that the story isn’t true. Does that mean that accuracy and accountability don’t matter for click-bait pieces about China that “feel” true? Unfortunately for readers, that seems to be the case.

This entry was posted in China, Disaster, Economics, Media, Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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