18 April 2008

Via Imagethief, Xinjiang scholar James Millward has some PR advice for the PRC. As Imagethief points out, good PR is 90% commonsense, which why I feel that for Professor Millward’s six points for China, there are six corollaries for the rest of the world:

▪ Remember that what you say to a Chinese audience is heard by the world audience

Likewise, remember that what you say in English is often heard by a Chinese audience. I’m looking at you, Jack Cafferty.

▪ Consider how your statements sound in English

I’ve previously written about how Steven Spielberg missed an opportunity to address the Chinese public in Chinese about his concerns when he withdrew as an adviser to the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony Committee. Similarly, Twofish has pointed out the language used in the English version of Dalai Lama’s appeal to the Chinese people has alot of conversation stoppers in it. The Chinese version doesn’t, but see Rule #1. If the two contradict one another, you’ll look like a hypocrite.

▪ Don’t employ ancient or strained historical arguments about territorial questions

Here we start to drift away from literal reversals of these rules. Western critics typically do not cite medieval princesses when giving its perspective on Tibet or Xinjiang. There isn’t a Western “5,000 years of separatism” argument. But if you buy the China “dog years” theory, then in the hyperkinetic temporal distortion that is China, a dude in the street in 1989 is ancient history. And we all know that image is burnt into alot of skulls. It’s not in China. So either you’re going to have to go through the enormous effort of convincing these people that something they never heard of happened the way you say it did, or if they have heard of it, they’re gonna say that was sooooo 19 years ago (approximately 163 China years).

▪ Do consider more recent and more realistic historical precedents

In the case of something like the Lhasa incident, it would serve Western critics well to place it in a contemporary Chinese context. For instance, there has been plenty of other riots and demonstrations in China the past few years. Had the emphasis been on this being yet another in a long string of mass incidents, except that it had Tibetan citizens instead of Chinese ones, rather than placing it in the context of independence, a narrative that everyone in the West knows implicitly but in China is not only offensive but completely unknown, perhaps it would’ve found more reception (as opposed to the current 37 Chinese people in Shanghai and Beijing who agree with external perspectives). It also makes more sense; Tibetans in Lhasa face a political environment and injustices closer to those in rural Sichuan than anywhere else in the world, save maybe Xinjiang.

▪ Don’t deny that China has problems; instead, see how they resemble those of other countries

I actually believe the opposite advice applies outside of China - stop thinking China’s communist government parallels the Soviets. Learn some specifics. Stop generalizing based on some shallow surface similarities.

▪ Let reporters report: transparency engenders credibility

On American television and the like, I would suggest focusing more on Chinese voices. How about fewer really pale thinktank analysts and a few more Chinese-American community leaders? How about some more voices from the sea turtle community? Make a bigger effort to have Chinese people representing their own people rather than non-Chinese China Hands.

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