“O, would some power the giftie give us
                                               To see ourselves as others see us…”               (Robert Burns)


Saurabh Kumar, Adjunct Professor, NIAS 

Anchor “India in the Chinese Media” project



Background and Rationale: Public opinion in India has, at present, no way of figuring out how the country is viewed and assessed by its important neighbor to the North, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) , the country with a kindred civilisation and the only one in the comity of nations that comes close to being a peer, its contrasting political system and distinct cultural profile notwithstanding.

Coverage of India in the PRC media, which is still overwhelmingly State controlled, could provide a reasonably reliable (if rather rudimentary and rehearsed) picture of official China’s perceptions. The media is, after all, the channel through which the Chinese leadership communicates with its citizenry, so the considerations and calculations underlying their projection (of India) to their people in their (official) media domestically (as indeed of any other country or subject) cannot but come to the fore in the process – they lie embedded in the mainstream media projections, in fact, and have only to be discerned.

(That — State controlled — aspect of the overall media and political scenario in China remains unchanged, in spite of the sea-change in the media scene in that country over the three decades plus of “reform and opening up”, post-1978, which has witnessed the emergence of a vibrant commercial press and digital media alongside the official one.)

However, this readily available source of insight into Chinese  perceptions and predilections is not tapped into at present. It is a very basic gap in the study of China in the country – and, in fact, in the India-China interaction itself. (Official interaction is outside the purview of this formulation since it is conducted by expert diplomats well versed in affairs Chinese.) And, possibly, an important reason for the wide-spread lack of understanding in the Indian polity about the ‘reality’ of China and for the volatility in the India-China relationship. A pity, especially in this day and age of digital and social media.

All too often, English translations of stray excerpts from commentaries or statements emanating from China — sometimes not more than a sentence or two (or even half) — form the basis of much animated chatter on digital screens in the country. Given that television has to function under pressure of ever-shortening deadlines, it may not be an exaggeration to say that a premium on superficiality is built into the medium in a way. (More often than not, however, the deadlines are self-imposed ones, stemming from nothing more important than the desire to cater to TRP ratings or to outdo a competing channel, i.e. lack of professionalism.) Contextual understanding, so essential for in-depth analyses, becomes a casualty in the process, invariably.

This sad state of affairs is all the more unfortunate because it is readily remediable. Just a handful of translators proficient in Chinese and English can make considerable difference. The conception of this project owes its origin to that reading. And to a long felt need, separately, for a more factual basis to attempts to gauge (official) China’s perceptions of India than is commonly the case in the public sphere in the country. 

The project is a modest attempt to address that situation. By striving to feature complete translations of news items, reports and commentaries etc. on India in the Chinese press. That should help in overcoming the above mentioned limitations. Enabling the Chinese commentaries etc. on India to be read in original, virtually, should facilitate their being understood better, in context and in perspective. Also in fostering a more nuanced appreciation of official China’s projection of India to its people. And intelligent (but hopefully not wildly speculative) reading between the lines. Thereby contributing to improvement of the quality of public understanding of the India-China interaction and raising the level of rigour in the national discourse on  China.

This is in keeping with  the founding vision of NIAS as a national leader in fostering ‘evidence based enquiry into national issues’  cutting across rigid boundaries between disciplines and methodologies, as appropriate for policy problems, so as not to lose relevance in the pursuit of rigour.

Beginnings: The project got off the ground at the time of Prime Minister Modi’s visit to China in May 2015, with a compilation of translations of items on the visit in the important official newspapers in China during that month. (As well as some from the semi-official and commercial press.)

That compilation was then expanded to include all other items on India, during the month of May, also (i.e. on topics other than the visit), and further expanded soon thereafter to cover items on India in the English language Chinese press (on-line editions) and news platforms as well (to serve as a reference point for the coverage in the Chinese language press).

Subsequent Progress: That expanded scope has been maintained since then on an on-going basis. Thus (translations of) all items on India in the leading official Chinese dailies (listed under “Explanatory Notes”) since May 2015 are now covered, without exception. In addition, coverage of India in the on-line editions of the English language newspapers and news platforms is also featured in toto. (The latter is by no means a ditto version of the former and, in fact, a comparison of the two reveals non-trivial insights into the larger design.) From January 1st, 2016, it started covering items on all neighboring countries in the SAARC region too.

And all this with a gradual reduction in the gap between the timing of publication of the original items in China and featuring of their translations on this site to no more than a few days, for the official press and not much longer for the semi-official and non-official press.

Current Concept: The project thus seeks to serve as a one-stop reference for all coverage of India and its neighbouring countries in the official and semi-official Chinese press, in Chinese as well as in English. Plus a sprinkling of items from the non-official Chinese media, as much as possible with limited resources, to give a flavour of that segment as well.

It is hoped that in so doing the project outcome would help spawn new strands in research in the country, based on Chinese language source material (as opposed to reliance on information available in English at present, which is at best partial). Apart from analyses of what is said (identification of themes, trends, patterns and connections etc. to bring out the design underlying the projection of India in the Chinese media, and the political/psychological filters mediating that projection), access to source material in the mainstream Chinese press should enable attention also to what is not said (but might, plausibly, have been said) as well. That comparison should be instructive. And also foster examination of other, novel, themes that would be enabled by the data base (of all references to India in the mainstream Chinese press) that builds up in the process by and by. Severally and independently by different China study centres in the country, as deemed appropriate and plausible by them on the basis of their own reading of Chinese intent and design.

A scenario in which ‘a hundred flowers bloom, and a hundred schools of thought contend’, in the colourful Chinese metaphor, in other words.

Future Directions: There is virtually no limit to the extent to which the project can extend itself in the endeavour to promote a more emperical approach to comprehension of Chinese perceptions. The scope of the translations could be expanded to include more journals and more themes. More importantly, qualitative extension to include TV and other digital media, social media above all, could be considered. That is a goal which has been on the anvil right from the start but has had to await augmentation of resources at the disposal of the project. Still newer areas, such as translations of books on India published in China, could also be thought of.

More broadly, study of the media (of any country, even a one-party dominated and controlled State like China) offers immense potential for ‘prying’ into its domestic polity and society and getting  a handle on its ‘way of thinking’ in general. The long term goal of the project can, accordingly, not be anything less.  This — study of Chinese society and its domestic political processes and their inter-play with that country’s foreign policy —  is an aspect which has not been attempted in the China discourse in the country. Not, at any hand, on the basis of any independent sources or standpoints separate from the preoccupations and concerns of established China watching centres in other countries, mainly in the industrialised world. Approaching study of the Chinese polity and society from the perspective of its media coverage of India and its neighbouring countries offers one such independent ‘peg’ for making good that omission.

Acknowledgements: The initial compilation (of items on Prime Minister Modi’s visit to China in May 2015), crucial for any ‘start-up’ venture to take-off (as the core that is a pre-requisite for further accretion), was made possible by the generous support of a number of well wishers, and voluntary contribution of their services by quite a few students, teachers and others with bilingual felicity (both Indian and Chinese, located in India and abroad). Their readiness to spare time and energies, especially those who contributed translations and proof-reading advice gratis or at nominal rates, needs to be acknowledged with gratitude.

Feedback on any aspect of the project — from its conceptualisation and design to execution – would be most welcome. Particularly criticism and suggestions — specific alternatives — to correct and improve the quality of translations so as to better capture nuances. (The scan/URL of the original text in Chinese is provided with that end in view – of open ended participation in the translation enterprise .) Likewise in respect of any inadvertent omissions of news items and commentaries.