March 6, 2015, by Editor
Reassessing Diasporic Chinese Media in the Wake of China’s Rise
Written by Wanning Sun.
A decade ago, I edited Media and the Chinese Diaspora, a volume which examines the formation of Chinese diasporic identities through media production, content, and consumption in North America, Australasia, and South-east Asia. A decade later, my colleague John Sinclair and I are assembling a sequel to this volume. This forthcoming collection Media and Communication in Chinese Diaspora: Rethinking Transnationalism aims to extend the research on the media and the Chinese diaspora to places hitherto explored in the English-language literature, including Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, and South America.
While wanting to fill some geographical gaps in the study of Chinese-language media in diaspora, we have found that the new volume also has to take into account a number of important new developments over the last decade. First, the size and demographic composition of the population of Chinese-speaking migrants and sojourners have grown exponentially due to the growing presence of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in businesses, resources and property investments, education, and tourism outside China. Second, in recent years, especially since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China has more explicitly and concertedly articulated and implemented a “going global” policy, which has resulted in a full-scale push for the internationalization of Chinese media and culture. As a result of this, diasporic Chinese media organizations have developed myriad location-specific strategies in response to China’s overtures of collaboration. Third, due to the proliferation of technological platforms and modes of media usage, the collective diasporic Chinese identity is becoming further deterritorialized and refashioned in multiple and contradictory ways, and this is being played out in a wide range of global and local contexts.
An obvious question concerning all authors in the book is this: has China’s soft power push had an impact on the nature and operation of media in the Chinese diaspora, and if so, how? Has the diasporic Chinese media’s coverage of China become more pro-China in recent years? It is our intention to provide locality-specific evidence in order to test the hypothesis that China’s efforts have already begun to bear fruit. But above all, we face the inevitable question of whether emerging diasporic Chinese media are able to maintain their ideological and political distance from the PRC. Or, to put it in another way, has China’s political agenda infiltrated the diasporic Chinese consciousness?
The other side of this question is the impact that the ‘going global’ project is having upon the existing diasporic Chinese media network. These global media networks with headquarters in Hong Kong and Taiwan had existed in parallel with local Chinese-language media in various Chinese settler societies for many decades prior to the recent era of mass arrivals of immigrants from the PRC. Despite internal differences, it is safe to say that traditionally these Chinese-language media outlets had maintained a guarded—if not hostile—distance from Communist China. So, are they able to maintain their independence now?
It is quite clear from research in this volume that old media forms such as well-established newspapers are being given a new lease of life due to the widespread transition to online publishing. Most of the Chinese newspapers in diaspora – be it in Johannesburg in South Africa or São Paulo in Brazil – have developed an extensive and interactive online presence, thus enabling those dispersed Chinese readers who live outside metropolitan areas to access their news content, as well as be exposed to the advertising of services and businesses that is part and parcel of the content provided by these media outlets. This is a common business strategy adopted by the Chinese-language papers in major world cities such as Sydney, San Francisco and Paris.
Our volume suggests that Chinese-language media continues to serve a number of purposes. First, the Chinese-language press reflects, represents, and often advocates on behalf of the political, economic, social, and cultural interests of Chinese communities in their host societies. Second, it plays an irreplaceable role in communicating crucial economic, legal, and educational information—the policies, rules, and regulations of the host country—to Chinese-speaking citizens and residents. Third, it serves the practical function of maintaining migrants’ command of the mother tongue through regular exposure to Chinese-language cultural products, and facilitates the identity formation of ethnic subjects in multicultural societies.
What has changed is the PRC’s recent strategic goals vis-à-vis the diasporic media. From the point of view of the Chinese Party-state, given the inherently “hostile” nature of foreign—especially Western—media, it seems logical to try and use ethnic Chinese communities and their media enterprises as a platform to access overseas Chinese audiences and, through them, mainstream society. It is China’s hope that overseas Chinese media will bridge the chasm between China and the West, help China promote its culture and values, and lobby for Chinese political and economic interests in migrants’ host countries. “Jie chuan chu hai” (to borrow someone’s vessel to go out to sea) is a metaphor that is often invoked by Chinese policy-makers to encapsulate the role of overseas Chinese media and organizations in China’s going global efforts.
The Chinese government’s interest in mobilizing diasporic Chinese support is evidenced in a series of regular forums it organizes. The China News Service (CNS), China’s official news agency for external communication, operates under the auspices of the State Council of China’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office (OCAO). Since 2001 CNS has hosted a biennial International Forum of Chinese-Language Media. In 2013, the new Director of the OCAO, Qiu Yuanping, used the seventh forum to explain Chinese President Xi Jinping’s concept of the “Chinese dream.” The concept, Qiu said, was created not only to encourage the citizens of China, but also for all overseas Chinese. “The same ancestry and affection shared by the Chinese media worldwide are the foundations of their solidarity, influence, credibility, and right of speech.” She also hoped that the Chinese media abroad would publish objective reports on China and become “storytellers of real Chinese stories”.
Writers in this volume seem to suggest that both Xi Jinping and Qiu Yuanping’s wishes are coming true to a considerable extent. Although not uniform and unanimous in their findings, most chapters in the volume clearly point to a process that testifies to the rising influence of the Chinese Communist Party’s vision of China and the world, albeit with some notable exceptions such as the Epoch Times. There is ample evidence in this volume suggesting that current diasporic communities’ discourses, though by no means homogenous, are being significantly influenced and shaped by those from the PRC.
While this development fills some people with pride, to others, it represents a worrisome trend.
Wanning Sun is Professor of Media and Communication Studies at University of Technology Sydney (UTS), Australia. Image credit: CC by Corie Doctorow /Flickr