Conspiracy of silence by US media network
By Norman Levine
Updated: 2008-01-10 07:18

My second visit to booming Beijing in October last year clashed with my recollections of the city during my first visit in 1998.

Beijing transformed itself during this decade and the city is a symbol of booming China that is also remaking itself, and one of the engines of this transformation is China's active participation in the international exchange of ideas.

Unfortunately, the American mass media is blind to the dialogue China initiated between itself, the United States and Western Europe, and how this free movement of thought is restructuring Chinese society.

The reporting of the US mass media on China is almost totally negative, focusing exclusively on the problems relating to the import of Chinese goods, such as toys tainted with lead, foods infected with potentially harmful chemicals, pictures in newspapers of the urban inhabitants of Beijing wearing face masks in order to combat the dangerous effects of air pollution

What the American media purposely ignores is the fall of the second "Iron Curtain", which was constructed after the victory of the Chinese Revolution in 1949.

On one hand, China wanted to quarantine the country from the ideological pollution of the capitalist culture of the US and Western Europe; but on the other, the West also erected its own barrier to prevent what it called the domino effect of the revolution.

Deng Xioaping's policy of "opening up" demolished this second "Berlin Wall", and now China is a part of the international cultural network. Just as China is a member of the World Trade Organization so the nation is a member of the world transmission lines of ideas.

I am an American scholar of Marxism and my own views on the philosophy of Marx differ from the interpretations of communist theory generally held by Chinese academicians.

Profossor Yi Jiexiong, chairman of the Academic Committee of the School of Marxism, Peking University, invited me to lecture at the university. I was asked to speak on the nature of Marxist studies in the West so Chinese Phd candidates could inform themselves on how the thought of Marx was comprehended in the West.

Even though my views on Marx largely contradicted official textbooks, I enjoyed total freedom of speech, and this was a demonstration of a deep respect for the sanctity of the classroom. No effort was made to limit any of my thoughts, and in my lectures I exercised total freedom of conscience.

Twenty students attended the lectures and they were bright and inquisitive. They were free to ask any questions that came to their minds, and when my formal lectures came to an end many students bombarded me with questions on how they could continue their research in the US or countries within the European Union.

Now that I am back in the US I remain in contact with four students in order to help place them in American or EU schools of higher education.

One student is already enrolled in an American university in Michigan, another is seeking admission to a college in England, a third is pursuing plans to study in Berlin, Germany, and a fourth hopes to go to the University of California Los Angeles and specialize in cultural studies. Three of these four students are women, a testament to the achievement of gender equality in China.

At present several thousand Chinese students are engaged in doctoral studies in the US and EU. Under a government-sponsored program, students receive financial support from the government. This program is a tribute to the internationalization of Chinese education.

When these students return to their homeland they will act as Internet monitors disseminating a thorough knowledge of the ideas and values of the West to their fellow citizens.

The American media is completely silent about these Chinese government educational programs. These programs prove that the Chinese government is a partner in the global intellectual network, but this achievement is obliterated from the American press and TV.

When I was a resident in the foreign faculty hotel at Peking University I wore no face mask and I listened to the English language TV station CCTV-9.

The Frankfurt Book Fair, the most prestigious book fair in the entire world is normally held in Frankfurt, Germany. But I learned from CCTV-9 that in 2008 the Frankfurt Book Fair will be held in Shanghai. In the world of publication the Frankfurt Book Fair is equal to the Olympics.

This book fair will not only give Chinese publishers a chance to acquire translation rights to foreign books, but also provide the unique opportunity for Chinese citizens to buy any book they want from any part of the globe. The Shanghai Frankfurt book emporium is a website to the cultural discourses of the planet, but the American media is absent of any mention of this free flow of ideas.

CCTV-9 also informed me that a Chinese cultural festival was being held in Shanghai and would continue for many weeks. Cultural organizations, ballet, opera, concerts, rock bands, folk dancers, from around the planet would perform there.

I was mostly interested in how the China cultural festival furthered the process of cultural integration in this vast country. CCTV-9 broadcast the performances of many ethnic minorities from western China.

Bordering on Central Asia, China's west is inhabited by many ethnic minority groups, such as the Uygur, Tajik, and Tibetan minority ethnic groups.

In terms of ethnic groups China is 90 percent Han, but the CCTV-9 broadcast from the Shanghai cultural festival telecast artistic performances of these various religio-ethnic minorities.

This festival was an exhibition of cultural integration, an esthetic laboratory for the advancement of multi-cultural equality. It was a statement of the efforts the Chinese government is making in order to facilitate religio-ethnic assimilation.

It is exactly similar to the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s in the US. During these two decades the US concentrated on the elimination of the religio-ethnic divisions in its society, and the Shanghai festival is a Chinese civil rights assimilation movement.

It is reasonable to assume that the Shanghai festival would attract the attention of the US print and TV outlets given the similarity between the Sino-American civil rights march, but disappointingly the American media has not written or spoken a word about this event and its global significance.

On my return to the US, I had a conversation with Sereywath Ek, the Cambodian ambassador to the US.

"Everyone knows that China is now an industrial powerhouse," Ek said. "However, there is a silence about the cosmopolitan nature of contemporary Chinese culture. China is not only exchanging industrial goods, but also is an active participant in the import and export of ideas from and to the international community."

China is a voice in the international communication of ideas, but this part of the reformation of China is a black hole in the American media.

The author is an American scholar of Marxism

(China Daily 01/10/2008 page9)