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Xu Tianran: "An invaluable and interesting experience"

25.02.2013

Thanks to the support of the Robert Bosch Stiftung I was able to once again visit Germany, this time as a member of the “Media Ambassadors China – Germany” program.

My three-month-stay in Germany was largely composed of lectures given by German scholars and media researchers, workshops and discussions with our German counterparts and German experts in different areas and field trips across Germany. The content of the lectures and workshops was comprehensive, providing a general view on the history and current situation of the German media, German society and political structure.

Among the talks between Chinese and German media workers, how to report on each other's country without prejudices and bias was a major topic. I found it an interesting issue involving different perspectives. First, it is also important not to judge a country by using only one set of standards. This kind of value judgment is too close to ideology, which excludes any possibility for discussion and analysis on individual cases. Stereotype judgment without consideration on fundamental geographical, cultural, national and political traditions and differences is pointless.

On the other hand, as most of the Western media are market-orientated and, as a long-standing and fundamental tradition, problem-centered, they like to report on scandals in any country. And their reports on China might seem too critical for Chinese readers, who are accustomed to the old-fashioned reporting style, which focused more on bright sides. For this reason it would be childish to accuse Western media of reporting on dark sides of China if these sides do exist.

As Chinese media are also getting more and more market-orientated, the number of domestic reports exposing scandals is increasing significantly. Personally, I think there is nothing wrong with the "negative stories" on China as long as their research and evidence chain are solid. In some sense, they can be positive factors contributing to China's progress, especially in promoting social equality and justice.

Due to the complicity of this issue, "Against clichés and expectations: Working as a foreign correspondent in China and Germany" was decided as the topic for the first public lecture & discussion event of the German-Chinese Media Network this year, which was scheduled to be held on August 26. We hope this event will help the understanding among media workers of the two countries and improve the quality of our reporting in the future.

As mentioned in my application letter for the fellowship I saw the project as a chance to observe Germany with the eyes of a journalist. Frankly speaking, compared with my one-year study in Germany back in 2006-2007, I did not see dramatic changes taken place in Germany. The economy situation is getting gradually better, and the country is as democratic, green and clean as it was five years ago. By contrast, what struck me the most is that compared with my previous stay in Germany, China has become richer and more modern in many ways, a fact easy to be ignored when one was busy reporting on the problems back home.

As an employee of a state-owned media, I cannot deny I profited from China's growth. As reporter I know that this growth came at the huge cost of the rights of many individuals, victims of the shining ascendancy.

As BBC puts it, the Chinese leadership, in the past decade, has made the country four times richer in terms of national wealth, creating a middle class of 300 million people, while somehow managed to maintain stability. However, on the other hand, the rule of law and social equality never reached a satisfactory level. Dissatisfaction and factors for social unrest are mounting and it is yet to see how the next leadership of the CPC is going to handle this contradiction.

Intrigued by these discussions and the concerns of senior German media workers, political and foreign affair scholars I met in Germany, I planned to write a piece on China. But it turned out that no media was interested to print it.

Besides these activities mentioned above, I was very lucky to have a two-week field job with the German magazine Stern. For me, it was an invaluable and interesting experience to learn the workflow of this prominent magazine and see how people worked there.

As the Syrian civil war grabbed most of the media attention, it was bad timing for my proposal on writing the China story. Besides, given the requirement for perfect German wording, huge amount of research and fact-checking and discussions with editors on the articles, which are necessary for a Stern-quality article, the timeframe of two weeks was also not enough to realize the idea.

However, I did have the honor to write a caption for the important picture section of the magazine, Bilder der Woche. It is not much, but considering even Stern's own stuff need to try hard to have their stories printed, I am grateful that the chief editor of the foreign desk, Peter Meroth, gave me the chance to work on the caption and helped polish it.

Mr. Meroth was also kind enough to allow me to quote him about Western media's coverage on the Syrian civil war, which, combined with my interview with NATO and German think tanks, enabled me to write an article about the crisis with a German/ European perspective for my media back home. I am grateful for his help.

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