China Power

Jiang Zemin and Superstition

Speculation over the health of Jiang Zemin has too often been an embarrassment for the foreign media.

The news that Jiang Zemin has been seriously ill has been widely reported by the foreign media. However, the reporting by some outlets has left much to be desired, while that of others is simply comical.

For a start, I’m not sure where one news agency got its information after reporting that a decision had been made to build a huge mausoleum at the top of Mount Taishan in Shandong Province, where a statue of pure gold is supposedly going to be constructed.

The two alleged initiatives would cost about 880 billion renminbi ($136 billion). But such a figure simply isn’t credible, especially when considering that this would have been about one-fifth of the province’s total GDP last year. Perhaps this particular media agency is getting China and North Korea mixed up.

In another ‘interesting’ bit of reporting, New Tang Dynasty TV used analysis produced by a Falun Gong member, who linked the issue of Jiang Zemin’s serious illness and the flooding in Beijing following heavy storms. This person stated that Jiang had been reincarnated as a toad, and that the recent flooding in Beijing was the toad expressing its emotions.I was both bewildered and angry when I saw that airtime had been given to this kind of ‘analysis,’ which is only likely to increase resentment of Falun Gong.

I’m an advocate of free speech and press freedom. But I also believe that the media should be socially responsible and try to ensure its sources are reliable. At the very least, editors should exercise common sense, and not report any old gossip as fact.

I understand Falun Gong’s and some foreigners’ anti-China’s sentiments. However, their criticisms should have some basis in reality. If news reports are run that are so clearly false, and if superstition can be used as a source, the credibility of reporting more generally can be hurt.

In China, views on Jiang are divided. Some feel that during his 13 years in power, China became a stable country, improved people’s daily lives and raised China’s international standing. Jiang also set a precedent when he transferred power to Hu Jintao, as it was the first time in the ruling party’s history that there had been a peaceful transition of power between the top leaders. At the same time, a retirement system was also established. These are indeed remarkable achievements.

But as I said, some people are less impressed with Jiang, arguing for example that when China and Russia signed a border treaty, he effectively ceded part of China to the Russians. Others, meanwhile, have said that he loved being in the spotlight a little too much.

Regardless of people’s opinions, though, they should make up their minds based on reality, not superstition.