Deciphering the Myths about China

Dick Cavett: You had quite a trip. Can you, uh, tell us, uh, what was China like?
Forrest Gump: Well, in the land of China, people hardly got nothing at all.
John Lennon: No possessions?
Forrest Gump: And in China, they never go to church.
John Lennon: No religion, too?

-From the 1994 film Forrest Gump

TWENTY YEARS AGO, the Hollywood blockbuster Forrest Gump’s memorable dialogue had struck a chord with many Chinese people about the West’s perception of China. The words of the somewhat mentally-challenged character Forrest Gump resonated with many superficial ideas held by some Westerners. Gump’s description of China indeed surprised and also impressed many Chinese students in the late 1990s. It reflected a humorous but uneasy commentary on China, the communist country, easily associated with a ‘myth’ created and perpetuated by Western media.

“The media are disseminating perceptions about China that the general public assumes to be true. Which of these are just that – myths – and which are indeed reflections of reality?” These were the stimulating opening questions of a panel session at the 10th Horasis Global China Business Meeting, which took place on 13-14 October 2014 in Italy. In my capacity as Editor-in-Chief of Global China Insights, I was invited and honored to chair this particular session titled Deciphering Myths about China. Amazingly, each panelist approached the topic from a very different perspective and understanding that ensured a lively discussion on a variety of points. The five panelists, business elites from Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Australia and China all had their unique story and insights to share. Yet they agreed on one point: there is a certain gap between what is depicted about China in the Western media and what they themselves have observed and experienced in the country.

This naturally prompted the participants to raise key questions: why does the gap exist and how to fill this void between media reporting and the reality in an attempt to better understand China? These are persistently relevant questions in my mind. Disregarding fake content or distorted media reports (another important discussion topic in its own right) and presenting objective news remains a major challenge. Even when the media strive for objectivity, subjectivity is unavoidable—from the decision about what event to cover to choosing the angle from which to tell the story. Besides, news media reporting on the latest news and events cannot alone feed people’s need and interest in understanding a foreign culture. Assigning newsworthiness to more typical and common aspects of Chinese life may also contribute to this purpose.

The ever-increasing worldwide curiosity to understand China definitely encourages us at Global China Insights to continue our unceasing efforts to offer a balanced coverage in sharing knowledge and revealing typical, up-to-date and multidimensional facets of China, hopefully to help close the gap and understand the real China.

Liu Jingyi