BIZCHINA> Review & Analysis
Media must update on countryside
By You Nuo (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-04-10 08:48

For a couple of weeks now, it seems that the subject of the "new countryside," with all the grand investment and building plans, has not occupied the front pages of the Chinese press as much as it did in mid-March.

It is not hard to understand why. As one national newspaper editor told me, April and May are China's diplomatic season, when leaders and the press are busy visiting foreign countries and signing big orders for international purchases.

But it may reflect a flaw in the execution of the "new countryside" programme, especially on the national level. A consistent effort is important to ensure that promises are kept, and money committed  no matter what specific issues leaders are engaged with at the moment.

Right now is a time when readers are waiting for fresh news from the countryside, concerning what is being done and how local communities are being strengthened and revitalized. All who care about China's future and sustained growth based on sound social foundations, are eager to listen.

But, thumbing through all the Chinese newspapers in Beijing, which I happen to have access to, it is hard to find any clues as to where the money pledged one month ago has gone, how it is being spent, and what kind of arrangement is there to ensure the best possible results.

The most mind-boggling fact is that the few leading Chinese economic newspapers appear to have almost lost their interest all together. They are back to their old business of reporting big policies, and playing at guesswork concerning their relative merits, which is what they are good at.

They would rather lavish space on new novels, new management books, and new arrivals in the luxury goods market, while dispatching few reporters to cover the stories in villages and rural townships.

What Chinese intellectuals have vehemently condemned since the 1980s, is the so-called dual society that artificially separates the urban from the rural. This ironically remains still vivid in the very products they are currently churning out.

They tell everyone that they are yearning for changes in China. But they cannot update their audience about the actual changes, however little, that are actually happening. This only betrays an old thinking habit that stubbornly refuses to change even when official policies are showing signs of reform.

Occasionally, when there are articles about the new countryside, like the one I read over the weekend, they are just about vague ideas  like a boring introductory course to political science. Such articles are either written by scholars who have not been to the countryside for years, or by those who are incapable of thinking in any kind of operational detail.

This is not the kind of press that will help China build the new countryside. Those who habitually talk big ideas should not forget to learn from the realities  not only to save their brains from gathering mould, but to learn how to render a useful service to society.

Those who are good at dropping names such as Warren Buffet and Jack Welch should not forget that there are more than 600,000 villages in China. Except for enterprises, which make up the largest part of China's social institutions, each village needs good management.

Converting rural townships into modern communities and business centres will need even greater management expertise.
I read recently that there is a programme for graduates from national universities to staff the administration of rural townships, to both learn and hone their managerial skills.

I wonder why the national media organizations do not send their young reporters to stay in the countryside for a sustained period of time to find out, and tell us, what's really happening out there.

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