With just four full days left in Beijing, I know I need to get the last week and a half of experiences down before I’m consumed by laundry, cleaning a way-too-full apartment, packing and goodbyes. In between this past week and my last post, I visited Hong Kong, went to Beijing must-sees like the Summer Palace and Beijing Zoo, and spent a Fourth of July full of shenanigans in Shanghai. While those fun adventures seemed hard to top, the last 10 or so days in and out of the office has been filled with what seems like one cultural exchange after the other.
First up, it was our turn to be interviewed. As someone who is used to asking questions, without a camera present, getting asked to be part of a taped interview for china.org.cn along with my fellow interns made me a little anxious. The video was essentially about how Americans view China, and this fact was somewhat disconcerting – we knew “the boss” had asked for it, and couldn’t help feeling a bit like we were being put on display. “Look at how much the westerners like China!” But, with questions sent to us beforehand and time to talk them over as a group, we obliged.
The morning of, I complained the whole subway ride to work. “I don’t want to do this”; “what if we just dip.” Then we get into the studio and find out it’s too small for all five of us to do one interview, and we have to split into groups. Cue more anxiety. Luckily, I cajoled Ben and Tori into going first, so Jason and I could watch and have another minute (thirty) to formulate our answers. When it was our turn, we answered simple questions like what we were doing in China, why we were interested in coming, what our dream job is and which jobs are deemed most prestigious in America, and then slightly tougher questions – our thoughts on the differences in family structure and values in the U.S. versus China, what our impressions of China were before coming and how they were met, and whether we thought Chinese knew more about America or vice versa. It was done in 20 minutes, and wound up being pretty painless.
What it did do, interestingly, was offer an insight into a topic that’s come up quite a bit this summer: self-censorship. Working at a state-owned news agency, the state being the People’s Republic of China, it’s a concept we’ve been subtly introduced to every day. From what we’ve learned through talking to co-workers and by seeing what articles come through, we’ve gathered this much: there’s not someone from the Party saying publish this, don’t publish that. But are there investigative pieces coming through on any probing topic? No. Pretty much anything resembling hard news is republished from other news outlets (who also have ties to the state) after being translated into English by us, while the bulk of original content is made up of covering events usually sponsored by the government or cultural happenings around town. The news is reported, but it’s done in a certain light. The goal of the news organization is to introduce China to the world…and like an Instagram profile, it’s showing the best of what it has to offer, and putting a filter on the not-so-pretty parts. In a way, that benefits the employees as much as the state.