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Ideological gap – an inevitable misunderstanding

This contribution has been submitted to Webdiary by a student in the Online Journalism unit for the Masters in Media Practice and Masters in Publishing courses at The University of Sydney as part of the unit's assessment. The topics covered in the pieces awaiting publication are interesting – and diverse. We hope that Webdiarists will enjoy reading them, as well as giving these aspiring journalists plenty of constructive commentary.


Ideological gap – an inevitable misunderstanding
by LiYing Zhang

Because of the recurring of Chairman Mao’s headshot and The Little Red Notebook on the Sydney Morning Herald every day during the Olympics, I post a commentary on Open Forum arguing that the Chinese not as ideologically stubborn as the West thinks. In China, since the 1980s, we seldom mention Mao. He has not been a national icon for near three decades. But in Sydney in the past year, I often heard people mentioning Mao when talking about China.

Yes, besides economical connection, there is an ideological gap between China and the rest of the world.

When we are talking about globalization, ideological gaps are ubiquitous. When and how to fill them? We are certainly too close to the history to see for sure. Dr Antonio Castillo, a veteran journalist and Senior Lecturer of the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney, agrees with me, saying that most western media don’t take an objective position when reporting China. “Some even hate China,” adds Castillo. Originally from Spain, he is a fanatical exotic-culture-digger. He has travelled China several times. His comprehension to the Chinese culture is more than the average westerner.

I did a quick research on SMH’s coverage on China over the past year and I could find very few positive stories. Stories in the past six months mainly include baby milk scandal, lacking media freedom, Tibet riot, Olympic torch hit by protests, earthquakes, flood, autocracy, corruption, propaganda machine, human rights issues, pollution, etc. I could imagine the impact of these stories on the audience’s understanding to China especially in a lack of interest in approaching other information sources.

Meanwhile, Dr Yingjie Guo, an expert in Chinese Studies at the University of Technology Sydney, argues that this gap is natural and unavoidable. “I just don't think 'China' and 'the West' can be taken as unifying, homogenous collectivities.”

“I'm not convinced though that it's simply an ideological gap between China and the West - How many family members understand each other? I guess I'm trying to say that the lack of understanding is commonplace in every day life. Facilitating understanding is all the more important for that reason.” says Guo.

Quite often what people need is accurate information. Some deliberately get things wrong or create misunderstanding. I don't think there's much one can do about that. In any case, I've learnt to concentrate on facilitating understanding between individual Chinese and Australians through providing reliable information and explaining things whenever I can.


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Chairman Mao

I speculate, Liying Zhang, that you are indicating something equivalent to the resigned frustration that Australians feel when they are referred to, as they are not uncommonly,  as descended from convicts:  which is actually quite rare, (and indeed somewhat valued).  This is particularly irritating when it comes from US citizens, who apparently don't know that this is a part of their own heritage.

For the SMH to do this Chairman Mao/little red book angle is glib, populist and ignorant, but you may be able to connect it from comments on this site  (and elsewhere) to a contempt for the manner in which  the paper has been travelling an apparently downward path.

Good point

Hi, dear F. Kendall, i remember, before I came to Sydney, that  a lot of my European friends told me that the Aussies are of not a good blood tribe because they are descendants of convicts. I could clearly feel their contempt when talking about the Aussies. It is so sad and bad.

Your point really hits the core of what exactly exists.

Comment on Lily Zhang's article

I agree that the West don't have a justified image of PRC. I think the gap not only exists at ideological level, but also at political level.  Think about  other communist countries ( Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, and Laos), I hardly read any positive news on those nations from western media. Instead, more often,those nations are linked to proverty, refugees, and disasters etc. Moreover, two of the five communist countries are on the US' terrorist countries list (40%). clearly, that's why  the public in the West has a negative impression of China, and other communist countries. 

that reminds me of the critics on the $700 billion aid -money from Bush Government, for the govt is acting in a 'communist way'. those comments represent the fear of communism  in the west. 

Just wonder what image you will use to illustrate the issue. 


Gee, just spent quite some time preparing a comment disagreeing in part with above and thing disappears beyong recovery on preview?

Sh-t on it!


Ian M (Ed): Paul, it's a good tip to always do a select/copy on every comment before pressing the preview or the post button. For readers unfamiliar, select by holding the right mouse button down while scrolling over the text. Control-c[opy] then copies puts it onto the clipboard (for Windows anyway. I don't know what the procedure is for a Mac.)

Hope to see your comment

Dear Paul,

I am looking forward to your disagreeing voice with my comment. Whenever you have the mood to re-type it:)

The other side of the river

Liying Zhang: Newspapers the world over make their money from reporting conflict, strife and disaster.  If it's dramatic, it will sell. Horror sells. Shock sells. Hence the liberal use of headlines like 'HORROR SHOCK DRAMA!', particularly in the tabloids. Conflict is the essence of drama, and conflict sells; the more dramatic the conflict the better for sales. Ultimately, that is why a good half of any tabloid paper is devoted to competitive sport.

A friend recently lent me a copy of Bomb, Book and Compass: Joseph Needham and the Great Secrets of China, by Simon Winchester. As the title suggests, gunpowder, paper and the compass, arguably the three most important Chinese inventions, have had an enormous impact on the world. You might read a review of Winchester's book in a broadsheet newspaper, or an article about China's economic development, but it would be far more likely published in a news magazine like Time or Newsweek, The Economist or the Far Eastern Economic Review, than in the tabloid or even broadsheet press. Stories like that carry more depth of information about China.

Here are some paragraphs copied from your linked article, which I have numbered:

1. "China had a splendid economic and cultural history until 1840, the infamous First Opium War. However, from then to 1949 when Mao received his mandate, China was continuously invaded by foreigners. There was a ubiquitous feeling that the Chinese nation was subjugated, repeatedly, by everyone in an entire century.
"Not because of Mao's position as a prominent Communist but his uncompromising stand in kicking out all the foreigners, Mao was respected as the symbol of dignity of the Chinese nation."

2. "Political revolutions generally bring more confrontation than peace. And peace brings prosperity. This understanding of peace is the essence of Chinese culture.
"Moreover, with a series of successful reforms under the name of Socialism, the non-democratic Chinese regime works far better than the US-dominated so called "democratic system".

3. "After three decades of isolation, the Chinese suddenly realized the wide economic gap between the East and the West. On one hand, it was once a shock to the Chinese and the only reaction is to adapt as soon as possible."

4, "On the other hand, the west has been used to ignoring the existence of China for a long time, let alone the change of thought of the Chinese."

There is a lot in these statements. You could expand any of them into a full article, for say an online publication or website. Perhaps Webdiary.

Relevant links

Hi, dear readers, this is the link of my article posted on the Open Forum that I mentioned in the first paragraph.


And besides, I'd like to post a photo for this entry but don't know how to do it.

Scan and email

Liying Zhang: Unless informed to the contrary by the editors, to get a photo into a post all you have to do is scan it and email it to the Webdiary editor email address. At least that is what I do and so far they have been able to insert it.

Interesting post. I recently watched that program on SBS Wild China, and had no real idea about the geographical diversity of the country. So vast, so unusual in so many ways, so stunningly beautiful.

I also recently read China's Last Dancer, one of the most beautifully told stories I ever read but it did not paint a very nice picture of life under Mao. I think the great Chinese philosophers would not be too impessed with the little red book. Only when Mao's policies started to be rejected did the family of that man have any sort of decent life. Prior to that they lived not knowing where the next meal was coming from. That is still true I believe for many Chinese in impoverished villages around the country and those displaced by developers.

One can build a powerful nation through favouring one section of a large population and building military power, but how much greater would China be if the authorities took away the shackles that bind so many of its people and their creative minds, and took real steps to help those who are not currently sharing in the economic boom.  

The scenes of old people being forced from their homes so that developers can take over is not something that would be tolerated in Australia or most democracies.  If China is to have respect as well as wealth, then it has to do more to respect the rights of the individual.

I found those scenes more lasting in my mind than the display of unbridled excess at the Olympics. 

However, Australia also has a long way to go to clean up its act. The images last night on 4 Corners of the indigenous people forced out of housing to live in abject squalor in shanties near the WA mining towns- due to rents of $1,500 a week being charged - is a total disgrace. Those were some of the worse images I have seen, similar only to those garbage dumps kids live on in the Phillipines. No wonder they are taking a stand in relation to that proposed gas development off the Kimberley Coast.  Time someone pulled up those mining executives and a spear and a woomera might just be the answer.

I like that don't you?  Bulldozers driven by white men, blocked by black blokes with spears.  Lovely turnaround for the history books of the future.


Ian M (Ed): Photos filed on a hard drive (eg in a My Pictures folder) can be sent as attachments to emails.

Call for convenience

I am really confused why Webdiary doesn't allow posters to blog immediately?


Ian M (Ed): I take it you mean 'why do we have moderation?' If I am right, the answer is simple. We have to check that standards outlined in 'About Webdiary' (see top of the Home Page) are met.

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