Don’t believe what you read in Western media when it comes to China
Published: Jan 30, 2023 09:43 PM
Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

How many times have you picked up a newspaper and read something on a topic you're familiar with and realized that you're reading something which isn't true? Annoyingly, it happens to us all. 

When the news reports something we know is untrue and then reports on something we don't know about, why do we believe that must be true? Well, it's a real thing and Michael Crichton, the famous doctor, writer, scientist movie maker among many other things, gave it a name - the Gell-Mann Effect.

I've said it before and will no doubt say it again, when I arrived in China, I had a very different perspective on what I was seeing to what I thought I knew about China. It really didn't take me long to understand much of it was wrong; probably about 24 hours. 

What I was seeing in real life didn't matter at that time because my media consumption was telling me China was slowing, China was collapsing, China was a bad place to be and it must have been true because even the BBC said so. But… China didn't collapse when they said it would.

As my years of living in China extended, I started to notice things: China said it would build a bridge to Hong Kong, they said they would put two high speed train stations into the city where I lived, they said they would build a new university and another hospital in downtown and I've seen many governments promise to do things like this; but then China actually went and did them all. 

In the UK, back in 2013, I read about a high-speed rail link that will be completed by 2045 and, if it ever finishes, it will be a total of 530 kilometers. Most of it is still being planned and much of it is still unapproved by Parliament - it might be finished in 2045… We shall see!

China, while in the process of a reported collapse, has put 4,100 km of new railway lines into operation across China in 2022, including 2,082 km of high-speed tracks.
Australia's Western Sydney was promised a new Airport in 1946, yet the work finally started in 2022 and it's scheduled to be completed in 2026. China opens an average of eight new airports a year, while reportedly collapsing.

Why is my news telling me one thing, when my ears and eyes are showing me something completely different?

I also noticed that the standard of living has improved. When I came here, almost no one had a car, now almost everyone does. Corruption, pollution, and crime are almost non-existent. Education, health, and the economy have all improved and yet, everything I read in the news about China says the opposite. 

I witnessed how life in China has improved, it was clear that people in the West were being misinformed about this one topic that I actually know about. But I still wanted to believe the rest of the things I read were true - that was the Gell-Mann Effect.

I started to question the things I don't know about. Why are Australians sure that China is a threat when China has never uttered a threatening word against Australia?
Why do people think China is waging a trade war on Australia when Australia was the country that had almost 100 items of trade from China blocked before anything happened with Barley, coal, lobsters and wine? Go look it up, it's true.

What's going on in Ukraine and why can't I easily find information from both sides of this conflict?

Why did the US invade Iraq when there were no weapons of mass destruction there but that was their reason for doing so?

It's simple, we're being misinformed about almost everything we're reading, hearing and watching in Western media. From time to time, we know we're being misinformed but we continue to believe it when we don't know. That's the Gell-Mann Effect in action. We want to believe something is true when we want it to be so.

If you want to believe China will collapse soon and you want to believe China is a threat you can read that every single day in your media but think about the logic of that. How can a country that's been in decline for dozens of years build all that infrastructure. How is a country that has never invaded or attacked another in your lifetime be a threat. Think about this: who is telling you these things?

Remember the expression: "if you don't read the papers you're uninformed, if you do, you're misinformed" and we're all told it was said by Mark Twain, well, once again, we're misinformed even about that - there's no record Mark Twain ever said it but there is a similar quote from Thomas Jefferson who, in an 1807 letter said "nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper" and went on to say that "the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them." 

So, this is not new, consider who owns or controls your media. If you believe your government and you believe your news then that's great for you. But please, read wisely, be critical and don't believe everything you read - I can't say for certain about much else, but I can absolutely and certainly say, most of the things you're reading about China is wrong.

The author is a British Australian freelance writer who has studied cross cultural change management in China and has lived in the country, traveling extensively for 17 years. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn