bjbjLULU JEFFREY BROWN: Next tonight, the
debate in China over the growing influence of Western culture. It comes as China’s vice
president kicks off a trip to the United States this week, one designed in part to head off
mounting tensions between the two countries. Kathleen McLaughlin is a Beijing correspondent
for our partner GlobalPost. She has this report. KATHLEEN MCLAUGHLIN, GlobalPost: From clothes
to coffee, to food and movies, Western culture is big and getting bigger in China. KFC is
the country’s most popular restaurant chain. A Buick is the top-selling car. At a public
square in Beijing, 35-year-old Hou Xiazhou and friends show off moves they learned from
watching their American idols on the Internet. HOU XIAZHOU, skateboarder (through translator):
The West influences us a great deal. For example, those of us who skateboard now are all learning
from the West, from America. We watch how their professional skateboarders practice,
and imitate their methods. The way they dress influences how we dress. We imitate how they
skateboard. Watching them inspires us to think about how skateboarding should be. KATHLEEN
MCLAUGHLIN: Western culture swept into China when the country opened to foreign trade 30
years ago. Western brands and ideas have exploded in the past decade, as economic boom expanded
the country’s middle class. Now the government is pushing back. President Hu Jintao says
China’s culture is being infiltrated by hostile Western forces. And the government has set
new limits on Chinese mass media. First, they issued edicts that killed some racy and wildly
popular TV shows and pushed others out of prime time. Xu Fan is a professor at the Communications
University of China, the country’s top training ground for budding TV journalists and hosts.
XU FAN, professor, Communications University of China: The rules are meant to restrict
two types of programs. The first is crime programs that show audiences how crimes are
committed, how to steal and rob, criminal techniques and scenes of the crime. This is
what ordinary people like to watch. But these types of programs are against law and order.
Second are dramas with contents of immortality, moral and ethical betrayals. KATHLEEN MCLAUGHLIN:
What’s allowed and what is not is murky. Take “China’s Got Talent.” In one episode, a poor
man who sells duck necks for a living dresses up like a suicidal pig to try to earn money
for a karaoke parlor for his wife. In the end, the man’s wife comes on stage to for
the judges and wins both their tears and approval. Regulators deem this show has a social value.
But they threatened to cancel China’s hugely popular version of The Bachelor, If You Are
the One. In one famous episode, the bachelor asks one of the female contestants to ride
on his bicycle. She replied, “I would rather cry in the back of a BMW.” To stay on the
air, producers eradicated content with a negative social impact, brought on older contestants,
and added a professor from a Communist Party school as the third host. Xu Fan says producers
are finding it difficult to figure out what might offend regulators. XU FAN (through translator):
There are good intentions behind the regulations. But then the rules become very complicated.
And people down the line still have to carry them out. KATHLEEN MCLAUGHLIN: But many of
China’s culture consumers disagree with the government’s very premise. Wang Tingting,
who works for an insurance company in Beijing, is certain that Western culture isn’t taking
over China. WANG TINGTING, office worker (through translator): I feel both cultures are very
good. They should be mutually beneficial, and not replacing each other. KATHLEEN MCLAUGHLIN:
Chinese culture often takes Western influences and makes them its own. Walk into KFC, for
example, you will find an egg tart, rice porridge, and a menu almost unrecognizable to someone
in the States. That fusion has happened on the Internet, too, which, with more than 500
million users, is even more popular than television. Kaiser Kuo is an American who has lived in
Beijing for 16 years. He’s a spokesman for Baidu, China’s top Internet site, and a well-known
local rock musician. KAISER KUO, Baidu: A lot of the memes that have become popular
in China are kind of indecipherable to Western audiences. And, of course, that’s because
they’re sort of irreducibly Chinese. So I think the idea that Chinese culture is in
some way becoming Westernized is a little misguided. I think that these are — there
isn’t a strict, you know, sort of dichotomy between Western and Chinese culture. KATHLEEN
MCLAUGHLIN: The government, however, has also begun Internet crackdowns in the name of fighting
off Western culture. They started by forcing people who use Chinese versions of Twitter
to register under their own names. But these restrictions could stifle the very creativity
the country needs to develop. KAISER KUO: In recent years, we ve seen the Internet really
blossom into — well, it’s fully — it’s the crucible contemporary culture in China. KATHLEEN
MCLAUGHLIN: That contemporary culture may be precisely what the government is worried
about. Over the next two years, China will change power at the very top and get a new
president. The last thing it wants during this rare and secretive transition is the
kind of freewheeling discussion that’s now happening online with its Internet users.
While many topics like China’s power transition are being banned on social media, posts about
pollution, corruption and government negligence spread like wildfire. Last summer, many Weibo
users criticized the government after a notorious high-speed train crash that killed nearly
50 people. Before censors deleted it, one offending post read — quote — “China, please
slow down your breakneck pace. Wait for your people. Wait for your soul. Wait for your
morals. Wait for your conscience.” Recently, China’s netizens attacked Beijing’s government
for withholding the truth about air pollution. They reposted and discussed at length the
U.S. Embassy’s independent air data. In the end, Beijing’s government caved and started
publishing more pollution stats on its own website. Jeremy Goldkorn, longtime China media
watcher and founder of the online magazine “Danwei,” says the government clampdown likely
has more to do with posts like that than with Western culture itself. JEREMY GOLDKORN, “Danwei”:
I think the real concern is a loss of control. And presenting this as a pushback against
Western culture is a way of talking about control that doesn’t have to use those words.
KATHLEEN MCLAUGHLIN: The government may find it hard to take back control. Doudou Song
works for a Japanese car company. Her favorite TV programs, the social issues talk show “Day
Day Up” and “Happy Camp,” a variety show, were removed from prime time. She now mostly
watches TV clips online instead. DOUDOU SONG, office worker (through translator): Every
day, especially now that I’m working, when I drag my tired body and mind home, I really
want to have a moment of relaxation. I want to laugh out loud. But I can’t be as easily
satisfied as before, so I feel a bit disappointed. KATHLEEN MCLAUGHLIN: She misses her shows.
Doudou was even more offended by how the rules were rolled out, with no public input. DOUDOU
SONG (through translator): I feel perhaps they have good intentions, but their methods
are very undemocratic. They’re too forceful. It feels like a monopoly. KATHLEEN MCLAUGHLIN:
This generation of Chinese wants a voice. Freedom is what Hou, the skater, talks about
when asked what he likes about Western culture. HOU XIAZHOU (through translator): It attracts
and interests me a great deal. I think it’s very free. And that really attracts me. Their
thoughts are very open-minded and positive. KATHLEEN MCLAUGHLIN: The government may find
it very difficult to change his mind. gd#Z gd#Z :p#Z urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags
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place JEFFREY BROWN: Next tonight, the debate in China over the growing influence of Western
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