- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2003

Axl Rose had planned to name the next Guns N' Roses album "Chinese Democracy," but Offspring beat him to it. The mosh-pit punkers recently announced they had nicked the title for their forthcoming release.
But don't expect MTV to air anything about said album when the network boosts its activities in China this month; the words "Chinese" and "democracy" in the same sentence are strictly verboten.
Viacom, the company that owns MTV, inked a deal in late March to launch a 24-hour music-video channel in the Guangdong province in southern China, which includes Hong Kong.
While the English-language MTV China has been beaming into hotels and foreign compounds since 1995, according to the network's online news outlet, the agreement with China's State Administration of Radio, Film and Television will pave the way for more locally produced music television programming.
That's where the thorny business of democracy comes in.
China's state censors can tolerate MTV's being broadcast into hotels that cater mainly to Western journalists and businessmen, but cultural programming outside of elite enclaves is another question altogether.
Bill Roedy, president of MTV International Networks, recently told the South China Morning Post that he wasn't worried about being censored by China's communist government because the network would broadcast only songs that "reflected the local culture."
"The gap between what the government thought was appropriate and what the people want is not as big as you might think," said Mr. Roedy, whose office failed to return several calls seeking comment.
Translation: MTV won't associate itself with dissident artists.
It's a curious position for a network that, at least here in the States, fancies itself a beacon of countercultural attitude amid gray horizons of conformism and complacency. Far from reflecting the country's regnant culture, MTV, since its 1981 inception, has always sought to "disturb" and "provoke" America's moral norms and mores.
That's not how business is done in the People's Republic of China.
Ethan Gutmann, a visiting fellow at the Project for the New American Century, a Washington-based think tank, isn't surprised at MTV's newfound deference.
Mr. Gutmann, who is working on a book titled "Losing the New China" that details American companies' "cultural capitulation" to the Chinese regime, lived in Beijing from 1998 to 2001.
As a consultant to an independent production company affiliated with Beijing TV, a flagship network in China's capital city, he saw firsthand the way state-run media already were using the MTV brand.
"They used to have a kind of rock video that really didn't have musicians, but what it had was a pastiche of documentary clips, and they called it 'MTV for War,'" Mr. Gutmann says over the phone.
The video was pointed and quite sophisticated anti-American propaganda, interposing American flags with Nazi swastikas and cutting quickly between menacing U.S. soldiers and shrieking Chinese children.
MTV is the latest in a growing list of U.S. companies that seem to rationalize their dealings with the Chinese government in terms of short-term expedience with the hope of long-term social payoffs. Eventually, the cultural cross-pollination and financial linkages will liberalize China, the thinking goes.
"Every time someone has done that, they've ended up compromising at a critical point," Mr. Gutmann contends.
He points to Yahoo, the Internet portal company that proactively thwarts searches for phrases such as "Taiwan democracy" on the Web.
Moreover, Washington Post foreign correspondents Steven Mufson and John Pomfret reported in August 2001 on an AOL Time Warner memo recommending the following answer to a hypothetical demand by the Chinese regime to fork over names of political dissidents:
"It is our policy to abide by the laws of the countries in which we offer services. We will work closely with government officials and our partner in China to understand and comply with the regulations that govern online services in China."
Mr. Gutmann says MTV must have undergone similar internal deliberations about its agreement with China and what it would entail.
In fact, he says, the concession to "reflect local culture" couldn't have been merely tacit: The network must have explicitly agreed to play ball with the regime.
"It's not possible to make a deal like that without discussing censorship," he says. "The Chinese government representatives tell you exactly what they need," namely, no Falun Gong, no mention of Chinese democracy or Taiwanese independence, no talk of human rights or political reform.
It's obvious to Mr. Gutmann what China gets from its deal with MTV: another token of global integration. "A strong part of the Chinese government's legitimacy is that it looks like a modern state," he explains.
Young urban Chinese, increasingly wealthy and materialistic, pride themselves on being hip to pop culture and dressing fashionably. But they're politically apathetic the Tiananmen generation is gone.
Essentially, the regime is buying off young Chinese, Mr. Gutmann says, allowing Western cultural goods to pour into the country as long as they contain no political content. The more the younger generation consumes, the less isolated it feels and, crucially, the less it itches for political reform.
This result is exactly the opposite of what many in the West predicted a globally integrated China would yield. American businessmen made a gross miscal-culation because they looked at China through the prism of communism, according to Mr. Gutmann.
China isn't communist not exactly, not anymore.
"It looks an awful lot like a fascist state," he says. Though the Chinese regime doesn't precisely match Europe's 20th-century police states, it has all their trappings. It's obsessed with propaganda and robust displays of nationalism.
MTV may have just played into the Chinese government's hands.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide