July 22th 2001
A wake-up call from China
Like it or not, the economic and social transformation that is taking place in China will impact greatly on Singapore, and attention must be paid to it.
THERE is a clear rule in print journalism, or at least in The Straits Times, that a news report should not also be a commentary on the subject being reported.
The reporter may feel strongly about the subject, but she should not inject her own views into the report, or slant it to suit her bias. She may, if she wants to, articulate her personal opinions about it in a separate article that is signalled clearly to the reader as a viewpoint or commentary piece.
She should put her byline to that piece. As former Cabinet
Other papers don't have to abide by this rule, but I believe it makes for sound and fair journalism. It's different on the Net, of course, where anyone with an opinion can simply shoot from her hips. There is no accountability, but as a result, no trust either.
So I was most disappointed by the page one
report in the free sheet Today, last Saturday,
which announced that
""But all those simplistic notions about how this would change China's face into a gentler one and pontifications about how the world's most populous nation has finally won global acceptance are just romantic daydreams,'' she pronounced by the third paragraph of what was supposed to be a news report.
There are as many supporters of
And in what we in the trade call a kicker, a punchy summary
to round off a piece, he was allowed to expound: ""What they'll
gain is international credibility, which is invaluable... this is the
final green light for China that they can act and do as they please.''
I was disappointed by that report - it was really a bald
commentary, but not sign-posted as one - because it wasn't written by
some hackette, but by a young, bright, articulate reporter who
has shown that she has the ""write stuff'' to become a very
But why the simplistic - to borrow
her word - report, and the quick, summary judgement?
And why the hostility towards a country which she obviously
does not know enough of? Judging by that report, what she knows
Was my once-mentor and good friend P. N. Balji,
the CEO of the paper, not around to clear it? Because as a sharp veteran
with ink in his veins, he should have known better than to have allowed
a piece like this through, especially on page one of a commuter paper
which boasts a circulation of 250,000.
And it looks set to do so for the next 20, if not 100
years, even if there will be the inevitable convulsions and chaos that
come with rapid change in a society, especially in such a huge one like
China's, and one which had essentially not seen much change – at least
in terms of widespread hardships - for the last 400 years, since the Ming
emperor recalled Admiral Zheng He's bold naval expeditions and closed the doors of
the Middle Kingdom to the rest of the world.
Conghua Li, a leading China
strategist in the international consulting group, Deloitte & Touche, who has access to both the Chinese mindset and the
Western one, suggested in his 1998 report, China: The Consumer Revolution,
that the country's GDP (Gross Domestic Product) will surpass that of the
United States by 2015, without even taking into account Hongkong's
and Macao's economic strengths.
Despite the global slowdown this year, the latest despatch out of
The economic turnaround now taking place in
All media reports of alleged human rights abuse in
Does making better the livelihoods of tens of millions
of Chinese, including those of the minority races, not count as much as
the supposed rights of a bunch of cultists headed by a wealthy, manipulative
leader who lives in luxury abroad?
I am not a Buddhist scholar, but I know enough of Buddhism
to be certain that Falungong is not part of
that contemplative way of life as it claims itself to be.
Tibet is a different story altogether, which I shan't
go into here, except to say that, as pointed out by the author Lynn Pan
in her book The New Chinese Revolution (1987), the desecration of its
Buddhist temples and monasteries was carried out largely by the Red Guards
during the Cultural Revolution years, when no other Chinese province was
In the last year, I had taken my 78-year-old father to
The changes I have witnessed in the Chinese cities -
the toilets in many of the tourist destinations, for example, have become
shiny examples of cleanliness, as if overnight - are astounding, if not
But the elite must pay attention to this social transformation
A younger colleague told me that as a Singaporean, her
terms of reference are global. She is a citizen of the world. But the
citizen of the world is nobody's child, a bastard, to use an unkind word,
and global terms of reference are really a set of ever-shifting values
shared only by a small mobile, global elite who sample cultures the way
a rapper samples music - superficially.
Every society's elite must care about its own people
first, and then the world - global warming, etc - if they have the energies
left over to do so. And at this point, in Singapore, to care means you
had better pay attention to China and India, instead of worrying about
whether Ally McBeal will find her elusive Prince Charming or not.
And it is critical, now more than ever, that the English-language
media cover not just the politics and economics of both countries, but
also their social transformation. Forget about writing like Paul Theroux.
Write like Colin Thubron - honestly, sympathetically.
Bring back vivid pictures of the changes and explain what they mean to
the larger public.
The people must be made aware of what is happening, because their future, or their children's, is at stake.
22/07/01 A wake-up from China