Cominform in Taiwan’s Press: many Cents

Advertorials placed in the press by Taiwan’s government on all levels blurred relations between the media and the government, and were becoming the main source of revenue for media, former (Chinese-language) China Times senior editor Dennis Huang (黃哲斌) warns. Huang resigned his post with the paper last month, the Taipei Times wrote on Tuesday.

China reportedly adopted the practise, too:

Antonio Chiang (江春男), a consultant for the Chinese-language Apple Daily, told a panel at the “Democracy Building in Interesting Times” conference in Taipei that the most serious threat to the independence of the Taiwanese media was advertorials placed by China under the guise of news reports.

Chiang said this phenomenon was a concern because China was willing to put ads in Taiwanese media to promote its image, media outlets that receive funding for such placements then “self-censor” their news coverage to avoid embarrassing or angering Beijing.

A visit by China’s negotiator Chen Yunlin to Taiwan is a less open affair than were certain Soviet propaganda events in non-communist countries during the past decade. Chen travels, smiles, and offers “opportunities”. If he was asked embarrassing questions, the way Soviet delegates and their fellow conferees were during the Waldorf-Astoria “Peace Conference” in New York, in March 1949, one may wonder which Taiwanese papers would cover the event extensively, if at all.

Just as Moscow rallied Western intellectuals to its cause of “peace” in the early days of the Cold War, a Congress for the freedom of the Culture, an organization sponsored by the CIA, rallied Europeans to its agenda. Not every supporter of the Congress was reportedly aware of its funding. Heinrich Böll, for example, is said to haven’t known.

The way China works its way through free societies isn’t harmless. Different from the USSR, it successfully presents itself as a honeypot for business. This is probably the main reason why the question if the CCP is an authoritarian or a totalitarian party isn’t even seriously discussed. The USSR offered barter trade opportunities at best.

But there are parallels between the Cold-War competitions for hearts and minds, and the current one made in China. In 1950, North Korea invaded the South. Soviet efforts to present itself as a power for peace suffered corresponding setbacks. China’s role as an Asian neighbor, beyond its support for Pyongyang, hasn’t looked too peaceful either, since last year. Beijing’s advertorials in the Taiwanese press, which reportedly began to appear in 2008, may be viewed as a game played by China’s propaganda departments and some not-too influential ministries, while the politburo is playing the more defining, and much less appealing game. When facts speak a different language from propaganda, the effect of propaganda itself is hampered.

Media which report about these issues most openly could be seen as more trustworthy than those who treat it as a rather small issue. But what really decides the matter is a judicious readership. If the markets refuses to buy bullshit, you won’t even need legislation. The editors themselves will then become the best guardians of good practise.


Hong Kong: How to Corrupt an Open Society, Aguust 29, 2009

7 Responses to “Cominform in Taiwan’s Press: many Cents”

  1. “This is probably the main reason why the question if the CCP is an authoritarian or a totalitarian party isn’t even seriously discussed.”

    How so within the context of this article and interesting op piece?

    I would be focussing on the fact that while China pays lip service to free trade it is in fact a practitioner of that 17th/18th century doctrine Mercantilism, but with a modern twist in a world with global institutions like the UN, etc.

    The vast wealth accruing to the State (and not percolating down to the average Chinese worker bee) can be employed to peddle influence among smaller nations around the world – Oceania, Africa and South America.

    Even provide an old fashioned paper reference. E S Furniss 1920 reprinted 1957 The Position of the Laborer in a System of Nationalism.

    There was a strongly coercive repressive component within Mercantilism, a fact ignored by most historians of economics.

    Okay, this seems like an off the wall post,….


  2. Mercantilism doesn’t make China stand out, in Asia’s recent strategies of development, does it? It’s been part of Japan’s, South Korea’s, Taiwan’s, Singapore’s etc. development stories alike.

    I agree that this post as a whole isn’t very coherent, but my referral to totalitarianism isn’t out of context. Even if I had wanted to focus on China’s mercantilism, there would need to be a discussion on its motivation. The CCP’s choice of “Confucianism” as a state philosophy is an ideological lining of mercantilism in the sense that it should help to keep workers’ role small. Mercantilism can, at a certain stage, be useful in economic development – but that has been the case elsewhere in East Asia, too, and there was no need for governments to advocate it. In an economical and personal sense, Confucianism has always been around, and has – indirect quote here – beeen referred to as a “local resource of wisdom”.

    A politicized kind of Confucianism (or what the CCP is making of Confucianism) does need to be systematically advocated and propagandized. Last year, a Humanities professor from Zhejiang described how he understood Tu Weiming’s take on Confucianism as follows:
    Tu believes that Tu believes that a thoroughly politicized Confucianist society would be more into persecution and coercion than a purely Legalist society, because Confucianism didn’t only dominate peoples’ body, but also wanted to control peoples’ minds, whereas Legalism only wanted to control those who didn’t obey the law. The legitimate king or emperor had to be both a sage, and an emperor (or king). “Monarch guides subject, father guides son, husband guides wife.”
    No wonder that within China, the greatest threat to the CCP’s legitimacy would be corruption. It’s threatening the unity of their ideology of choice, and its actual practise.

    An organization which is into mind control at home, will apply the same toolkit abroad, unless it comes across something more useful. That’s how I understand the advertorials in Taiwan’s press. It isn’t just propaganda – propaganda can be aimed at friends, enemies, and neutral stakeholders alike. It may be meant as a means to drum up support for ones own stance or interests, or to encourage or discourage other peoples’ ways.
    China’s advertorials however are meant to be guidance.

    I’m better at writing about economic and livelihood stuff – if there is a discussion about totalitarianism / authoritarianism elsewhere, I’d go there before discussing these issues here.

    Guest posts are welcome here too, of course.


  3. Great read and thanks. I was simply recalling past research into Western mercantilism and trying it on in the Sino-context. With my very limited grasp of Confucianism, I can see the fit between the two doctrines, but crikey, what an ideological and economic quicksand upon which to erect a modern nation state in 2010. (The empire viewed as an enlarged household economy with maximum leader Hu as patriarchial sovereign ruler, or at least the politburo performing the same managerial function.)

    That aside, it seems that the US is in for a bit of advertorial guidance when Hu visits Washington.

    I look forward to seeing how far the visit arrangements go in shielding Hu from all those pesky protestors such as Tibet, FG, etc.

    If he doesn’t set eyes on them while motoring down Pennsylvania Avenue, they don’t exist sort of thing. Pity he wasn’t visiting Paris which, by and large is quite accepting of very muscular political protests.


  4. Just between you and me, my grasp of Confucianism is limited, too. Well-meaning Chinese friends encouraged me to study lunyu cartoon books, which was indeed kind of helpful.

    Actually, if Hu gets into a situation in America where he can hear and see protesters, he’ll take note of them, but without letting on. He’ll look straight ahead, rather than to where the unharmonious elements are making noise. Unruly children are the maximum credible accident to their daddy. (Of course, an unruly wife wouldn’t be great either.)

    Anyway – what I wrote yesterday is my theory, and it doesn’t fulfill scientific standards. But I do think that full-time sinologists should pick up this and similar subjects and research them without being afraid of appearing unruly to those who guard the entrance to the CCP’s archives.

    Thanks for the link!



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