I was as appalled as anyone at reading about the forced abortion of a 7-month old fetus in Shaanxi. The only good thing perhaps is, as The Economist reports:
Even three years ago, Ms Feng’s suffering might have gone unnoticed outside the remote village in the north-western province of Shaanxi where she lives—just another statistic in China’s family-planning programme. But her relatives uploaded the graphic pictures onto the internet, and soon microblogs had flashed them to millions of people across the country. Chinese citizens expressed their outrage online. It is not just the treatment of Ms Feng that they deplore. It is the one-child policy itself.
The Internet has become a true force for disseminating information of all sorts that calls out government misdeeds. But, does the government care? Turns out, yes.
On the heels of reading this, I came across a truly enlightening article from the ever excellent China Media Project, ‘Where Does Soft Power Begin?’
The article riffs on and explains (and translates) a recent piece in the People’s Daily, ‘The Government Must Consider the International Implications When Dealing With Domestic Issues,” which takes that forced abortion on head on:
Then there is the example of a woman in Ankang, Shaanxi province, who was seven months pregnant and forced to have an abortion. How can you calculate the kind of adverse impact a story like that has on China’s international image?
Regarding the impact of such a story, the China Media Project suggests:
Leaders, particularly at the national level, seem far more sensitive now to the international impact of domestic stories than they have been in the past. And many seem to understand that in this age of rapid, decentralized sharing of information, it is difficult to separate domestic public opinion (and the project of information control) from the issues of foreign news coverage, China’s international image and — yes, here comes that magic word now so cherished by Chinese leaders — soft power.
What saves the China Daily’s piece from sounding like ‘soft power’ is just one more cynical mode of manipulation is:
Against this backdrop, where is the key to the “ability to engage public opinion”?
Faced with complex changes in the public opinion environment, the first thing many people might think of is how they can “say the right thing”, how they can improve their ability to use the microphone in their hand, or how they can make their voice more readily heard.
This so-called “ability to engage public opinion” should first and foremost be about the capacity to negotiate the contrasts between public opinion and reality — and not just the ability to utilize public opinion sphere and command discursive power. For those who lead, what is most critical is how to support the conceptual through pragmatic steps, using facts to win understanding, using action to preserve one’s image [and that of the Party]. It should not be just about ways of dealing with the media, of reining the media in, or simply about handling all aspects of any given sudden-breaking incident. [emphasis mine]
That of course doesn’t mean that Central Government’s exhorting ‘soft power’ domestically, which in turn affects it internationally isn’t cynical. But, somehow I feel that something is changing in the Party. Perhaps the realization that, as many inside and outside of China has said, if it doesn’t honestly reform, it will join the ranks of the past dynasties.