Chinese State Newspaper Faces Backlash Over 'Dishonest Americans' Articles

People's Daily China HeadquatersThe unfinished People’s Daily headquarters in Beijing.

China’s People Daily is on the defensive after outrage over its “Dishonest Americans” column.

The state-run newspaper, with an estimated circulation of around 3 million, has published three stories in the series starting in March, each designed to show a “more objective picture” of how Americans behave.

One looks at a New York City locksmith who demanded $800 for changing two locks, another looks at a payroll company that stole a client’s money, and the final tells the story of a member of United Airlines’ staff who blocked a passenger from boarding an overbooked plane.

The articles — which were also translated into English — ran under the following introduction:

Peoples Daily Dishonest Americans

The Chinese version, which was notably titled “Immoral and Dishonest Americans,” took a harsher tone, according to a translation from ChinaSmack:

Editor’s Note: In the impression of the overwhelming majority of Chinese people, Americans are all people who are honest, reliable, and of good moral character. However, once you’ve live in the country for a while, you’ll discover you’ve been misled. Today, we launch a new column, titled “Dishonest Americans”, which is not to say all Americans are lacking integrity and are immoral, but to present to everyone the other side of the Americans and incidents that we have encountered in the United States, to help everyone fully understand the United States and Americans. Readers who have had similar problems/issues are welcome to email us your story [email protected], or you can also send us a lead on a story, and our reporters will conduct further investigation.”

Despite running since March, it was only recently the series began to go viral. The South China Morning Post reported that the series “baffled and shocked people in China,” while one Chinese web user quoted by the New York Times said “I think it should be called the Dishonest People’s Daily.”

People’s Daily backed down from the controversy, first switching the name of the series to “The Americans You Don’t Know,” and finally removing both the name of the series and the editors note.

How should Americans interpret a column titled “Dishonest Americans?”

It seems likely that the editors at People’s Daily may have been responding to what they see as American media’s hypocritical focus on Chinese corruption and immorality stories — and it’s worth noting that amongst the Chinese responses there were those who seem to uphold this view (“I hope this column can persevere/continue for the long-term, so all Chinese can see clearly the true character of Americans, and not see Americans as saints,” one social media user quoted by ChinaSmack wrote.)

It is also possible that Chinese state played some role in it. People’s Daily was one state outlet that attacked Apple earlier this month in what many suspected was a coordinated smear campaign.

The backlash against the article, however, seems to come less from ideals of America and more from a general feeling amongst Chinese citizens that their own society is getting less trustworthy.

For example, the Blue Book of Social Mentality, an annual report on the social mentality of China, found that in 2013 only 30 per cent of people trusted strangers, and that China’s overall levels of trust had dropped from 62.9% in 2010 to a record low of 59.7% this year. Concern about corrupt officials has jumped from 39% in 2008 to 50% in 2012, according to Pew Research.

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