My WILD summer
Whiling away hazy, lazy days listening to broadcasts of China Radio International on a local AM station
How are you spending your summer? Watching the wildly overhyped fourth season of “Breaking Bad’’? Fretting about the fate of your 30-year Treasuries? Me, I’ve been catching up on the two greatest history writers of the 20th century, Fawn Brodie (“No Man Knows My History’’) and Cecil Woodham-Smith (“The Reason Why’’). And listening to Red Chinese propaganda, of course.
Not enough people know that WILD-AM (1090) has stopped broadcasting the loony rants of the Rev. Al Sharpton and is now airing a variety of loony, semi-normal, and just plain odd shows emanating from China Radio International in Beijing. The locution is dodgy - John Boehner is often “Boner’’ or “Bonner’’ - and the politics are occasionally suspect.
Yes, I was listening when the State Council Information Office released its Assessment Report on the National Human Rights Action Plan of China. “Thirty-five percent of the binding targets and over 50 percent of the targets concerning the people’s livelihood had been met ahead of time or exceeded,’’ I learned. Pip, pip!
Yes, they have been savoring America’s embarrassing flirtation with default, but let’s be truthful - who hasn’t? And yes, the world’s next superpower can’t be blamed if a hint of triumphalism permeates its broadcasts. China refits an aircraft carrier, China launches its own network of GPS satellites, China’s growth rate “slows’’ to 9.5 percent. It ain’t bragging if they done it.
Did I detect some schadenfreude in CRI’s announcement that disgraced US Representative-sexual miscreant David Wu - the first Chinese-American to serve in the House - was born in the renegade republic of Taiwan?
Chinese agitprop, you say? Sure. But what is propaganda, really? The United States spends $200 million a year blasting the Voice of America all over the world. So is the VOA desperately needed enlightenment for a world floundering for truth, or US propaganda? Have you ever read a corporate annual report, where the white guys in suits explain that their bonuses were necessary for the betterment of mankind? The State Council Information Office has nothing on them.
CRI, intended for foreign audiences, plays it, well, almost straight in reporting on events in China. For a while, they were my only source of information about the July 23 bullet train crash that killed at least 39 people. CRI has returned to the story again and again, ridiculing government spokesmen and questioning the ultramodern technology of the country’s high-speed rail system. “You don’t hear about bullet trains in Europe getting stopped by lightning and thunder,’’ announcer Brandon Blackburn-Dwyer said on “Beijing Today,’’ alluding to the reported cause of the deadly crash.
On the other hand, it was China’s blogging community that reported many details left out of CRI’s version of events: That the government had attempted to bury the defective rail cars to thwart an investigation; that the propaganda authorities told media: “Do not report on a frequent basis. . . . More touching stories are to be reported instead, i.e. blood donation, free taxi services, etc. . . . Do not investigate the causes of the accident,’’ and so on.
Then there was the gonzo round-table discussion of Rupert Murdoch’s transgressions, in which one participant claimed that NBC never reported on the “Egyptian spring’’ because its corporate owner,
What else? I haven’t mentioned the “strange news’’ segments on such subjects as hermaphroditic butterflies, human predation in capitalist countries, and the Crowne Plaza hotel chain’s new “snore patrol.’’ CRI also serves up bizarre musical interludes, including samplings from Chinese pop hits, as well as the Velvet Underground, Michael Jackson, and Pulp.
“China Studio’’ offers five minutes a day of free language lessons, and yes, I have been brushing up my Mandarin. A recent dialogue took place on an airplane, and we learned to ask the “air hostess’’ for a beverage. I would prefer a more useful phrase: “Is there any way to explain Air China’s appalling safety record?’’ Perhaps that will crop up in the next lesson.
I also haven’t mentioned the unexplained hours of dead air, the lack of a program schedule, and the nighttime broadcasts of
Perhaps they are awaiting media guidance from the central authorities.
Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is firstname.lastname@example.org