"Pay close attention to that man behind the curtain!"

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

George Kerr vs. Robert Ross et al

Formosa continually betrayed
Fellow blogger Michael Turton alerted me earlier today to a pure propaganda piece disguised as a Forbes Magazine "Special Report." Within this filially pious "report," author Robert Ross kisses the asses of China and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) until everything above his shoulders is brown. Turton tears Ross a new one with his own analysis:
Wow. Among the hundreds of articles on Taiwan I have discussed on this blog over the last couple of years, this piece of dreck from Robert Ross, For China, How To Manage Taiwan?, represents the absolute nadir of writing on the island and its future in a major media publication.


[...] it flows like sewage going downhill [...]


In [Ross'] la-la land, Chen Shui-bian provokes; missiles and threats do not. [...]


[W]hy should China turn its propaganda machine on Taiwan, when it has Robert Ross to do its work for them? [...]


[...] Ross simply reproduces the standard China/KMT line on Taiwan politics [...]


Ross again reproduces standard KMT propaganda -- the "polls" are all pro-KMT media polls [...]


Ross simply takes the Chinese position. [...]


Above all, Ross accepts that it is OK for a Communist dictatorship to suppress a democracy. What more can be said after that?

This is a very sick article. Please take a moment and write in to Forbes: readers@forbes.com
Indeed, it's a sick article, and I strongly encourage readers who care about Taiwan to take a careful look at it and write to Forbes about the many distortions and outright falsehoods within.

Clairvoyant critique?
More than 40 years ago, in his book Formosa Betrayed (被出賣的台灣), George Kerr noted how this kind of Chinese propaganda was achieved here in Taiwan (still known as Formosa at the time of the book's writing) in the early days of KMT occupation. These excerpts are from pp. 153-7 (pp. 170-4 in the PDF version, pp. 164-7 in the Mandarin translation):
[...] The world had changed, the United States Government and people were entering upon the long cold war of words, ideas, and human emotions.

We were reminded soon enough of this when we began to see the pattern of Chinese reaction to the presence of prying, spying foreigners on Formosa.

Chinese Reaction to Foreign Critics:
"Getting the Facts Straight"

Chen Yi's men resented the presence of foreigners, for it gave them a double task. On the one hand they had to persuade the world overseas that despite occasional unfriendly news reports, they were doing a magnificent job, rehabilitating the economy and leading the Formosans back from Japanese servitude to full and happy membership in the democracy of China.

On the other hand, they had to undermine and destroy, if they could, the high prestige of Americans on Formosa, and the emotional trust with which Formosans were turning to foreigners with tales of woe. [...]

[...] And what if unfriendly press notices abroad prompted the United States Congress to demand an investigation?

Anticipating this challenge, Chen Yi reorganized the Provincial Government Information Service. All references to the "provisional" character of the local government began to disappear from official and unofficial documents and from public statements. All foreign visitors - and especially American visitors - were smothered with evidence of progress, presented by men who knew how to flatter Americans. Steps were soon taken to lower American prestige among the Formosans and to discredit Formosans in the eyes of foreigners overseas. [Maddog note: This is precisely the type of "ethnic divisiveness" (族群分裂) that the KMT constantly accuses the DPP of currently.] Something had to be done to check this dangerous talk of local appeals to the United States or the United Nations.

A graduate in journalism from the University of Missouri (Stanway Cheng, M.A., '37) was placed in charge. Huang Chao-chin (M.A., Illinois, '26) became "Foreign Affairs Representative" or front man. The Central News Agency of China opened a Formosa office on March 16. A private, confidential press-clipping wire-service in Cheng's office kept the Governor's men abreast of published American comment on Formosan affairs.

Visiting Congressmen, the Administration's agents, and other unwary guests who came to Taipei were at once taken in hand by Cheng and Huang or their deputies, to be given flattering V.I.P. treatment. For visiting "fact-finders" it was a great convenience to be handed up-to-date statistical summaries which could be read at any time on the homeward journey. These made tedious on-the-spot investigations unnecessary, and left time for delightful suburban tours, hotspring outings and gargantuan Chinese feasts. Over-crowded scheduling for the visitors ensured a maximum insulation from reality and prevented any unfortunate straying from well-marked paths. [Maddog note: Actual walls are currently being built in Beijing to ensure the same thing with Olympic visitors.] If a visitor insisted upon talking to Formosans there was always ex-Mayor Huang, a native of the island, and Chairman of the People's Political Councils, to satisfy their curiosity. Delays in transportation, far from Taipei, or mechanical difficulties with cars within the city became standard means of forestalling undue meetings with independent and articulate Formosans or long conferences at the American Consulate. Creating insulation for visitors was a fine art, pursued by talented men.

Manipulation of the news to show "progress under Chen Yi," and America's hearty support of the Chen Yi regime is illustrated in this example, published in Taipei, which purports to have originated in Washington:

(UP) Washington, Aug. 5, Relayed by Central News Agency.
United States economic officers [Maddog note: unnamed] who have just returned from a tour of the Far East do not fall in with the general belief that the Chinese administration on the island of Formosa is inadequate and that there has been large-scale looting and ransacking.

They saw marked improvement in rehabilitation work in the regions they visited where the Chinese Government seemed to be exercising an adequate management of all industries and local affairs with every possible technical assistance available.

Except those who were retained as technical experts and their families, totalling about 28,000, all Japanese on the island have been duly repatriated. [2]
The Newton articles were not forgotten. To smother unfavorable impressions created by one man's dispatches, Chen's Information Office invited twenty-six correspondents to spend the week of August 31-September 6 on Formosa, with lavish entertainment and all expenses paid.

The bona fide correspondents knew that their press credentials for long-term work on the mainland might be lifted if they were too outspoken. They could merely hint that all was not well. For example, Ronald Stead of the Christian Science Monitor wrote that "Chinese Government officials and Taiwan provincial administrators say the number of dissidents is very few. So far our time has been so occupied in eating our way down and up the island, receiving the most lavish hospitality everywhere, but making only a wide, superficial inspection, that there has been little time to weigh the situation."

A few foreigners were assumed to be well-paid agents hired to steer the group toward a proper understanding and reportage of Chinese achievements on Formosa, and some frankly confessed (privately) that they were "free-loaders" professing assignments -fictitious or self-devised - from local papers in the United States. Temporary press cards had been issued to them at Shanghai.

Transients could be handled by Chen Yi's agents with marked success, but the presence of UNRRA and Consular people remained always a problem. In a move to concentrate the foreigners' evening activities at one spot, Cheng and the Information Service arranged (behind the scenes) to open the Lucky Bar, thoughtfully designed to appeal to American patronage. Here the Chinese Information Service could keep abreast of day-to-day affairs within the foreign community.

I had doubted the accuracy of the report which told of the origins of the Lucky Bar, but one summer evening, after drinks and dinner at my house, the mysterious Admiral S. Y. Leigh (T. V. Soong's man, Li Tsu-i) asked me why I never went to the Lucky Bar, adding, indiscreetly, that whenever he wanted to know what Americans thought of the situation in Formosa he simply went to the Bar and took the booth next to that habitually occupied by the American Consul, his wife, and their friends, or sat near the favorite booths and tables of the UNRRA members drifting in and out.*

* Thus in the Lucky Bar we had the forerunner of Madame Chiang's clubs, The Officers' Moral Endeavour Association (OMEA), a series of hostelries which catered to foreign correspondents, businessmen, diplomatic service underlings, and minor military observers, all taken in at a distinctly favorable rate. To the charitable OMEA establishment there were added in due course the Friends of China Club, the Taipei Guest House, and the Grand Hotel, all of them listening posts - Lucky Bars - on a grander scale, befitting the "temporary capital of China."
Is Robert Ross merely one of the "unwary guests" mentioned above, or is he something of a more sinister nature? It would be a rather difficult stretch of the imagination to believe he could be among the "bona fide" correspondents -- or anything close, for that matter.

Through an RSS reader, darkly
This is good description of the type of lens through which I have long viewed people like Ross, Keith Bradsher, Mike Chinoy, Edward Cody, Peter Enav, Caroline Gluck, Kathrin Hille, Jane Rickards, and so many others when it comes to writing about Taiwan and many other subjects. I hope that you, too, will question what you read even more deeply from this point onward.

* George Kerr's Formosa Betrayed [PDF, 1.1 MB]
* Alternate link to Formosa Betrayed (Note: The file you will see there is a zipped PDF -- not a video file. Click/Right-click the book cover, download the file to your hard drive, decompress it, and get ready for some heavy reading.)
* Michael Turton's earlier takedown of Ross' schizophrenic manifestations: "Taiwan's Fading Independence Movement? Or Robert Ross' Fading Understanding?"
* My video of the supposedly "unpopular" Chen Shui-bian at the "915 UN for Taiwan" rally in Kaohsiung, September 15, 2007.

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Cross-posted at Taiwan Matters!

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