Once upon a time recent enough for the editors at China Economic Review to remember, parents, teachers and sweet-shop owners told kids not “to believe everything you read in the papers.” So why does everyone these days seem to take headlines as gospel? When did we all adopt the mindset of Chinese history students that if it’s written in a book then it must be true?
The past week has seen some frankly absurd notions on China thrown about, generating more noise on the internet and social media channels than usual. Worryingly this includes people who should know better. Because the Communist Party has achieved so much in such little time any ideas no matter how bizarre that come out of Beijing these days are given some credibility, under the pretext that China has proven people wrong before.
Example One: China is planning high-speed rail link to the US. Supporting evidence: Article in state run Beijing Times citing one expert and a report. Likelihood: Are you seriously countenancing this?! Slightly more likely but still highly tenuous was a claim by boffins at the World Bank that China’s economy now equals 86% of that of the US because they pressed some different buttons on their supercomputer. Cue an internet frenzy that China watcher James Fallows has helpfully cut down to size like a seasoned butcher at work on a prize hog.
Apparently all Chinese hate Japan. That’s what we’re being told. Rumors abound they’re secretly pouring toxic waste from factories into a giant pond to grow a new Godzilla that will crush the historical enemy (which would explain these giant sludge pits in Inner Mongolia). But surging sales of Toyota and Nissan cast doubt over the extent of such animosity among the people. Likewise there’s lots of happy talk of Chinese exports rebounding in April after a dodgy start to the year. On what basis such positivity? Nobody really has any idea of what is going on just yet with trade. Nobody.
We don’t do “Lessons for the Week” at CER. But if we did, it’d be to apply some critical thinking, that once cherished but now seemingly maligned process, to the news coming of out China.