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China Daily Under Fire for Misleading Op-Ed About Egypt

Acclaimed American journalist Peter Hessler has called out a state-run Chinese newspaper for taking his comments on the differences between Egypt and China out of context, and publishing a piece suggesting he'd written it.

Acclaimed journalist Peter Hessler is on a mission to clear his name as a Chinese news website China Daily released a piece entitled “US observer: Comparing Egypt with China” which took his words out of context, while giving the impression that he wrote the misleading piece.

Taking to Facebook to cry foul, Peter Hessler admits being approached almost a month ago and was asked questions about comparing China and Egypt, but stresses he had nothing to do with the writing and that his words were taken out of context. Hessler reported in China for a decade before moving to Cairo.

Twisting his words, the editorial focuses on driving home Communist Party talking points, while omitting the main comparison points that Hessler stressed in the interview.

The editorial reads, "I think I have a better understanding of how essentially stable the Chinese system is....It reminds me that in China, even in a tiny village, there was a great deal of government activity. The villagers were very clearly connected to the larger political systems and issues of the country."

These statements came as a shock to Hessler who explains that the questions asked of him were about reflecting on the past year. "It omitted crucial parts, including the most important point: that I believe it's harder to make a political change in China, where the system is deeper rooted than in Egypt, and thus the flaws are also more deeply rooted," Hessler wrote. "I said that this is the reason why the current anti-corruption campaign will be a failure, because China is not addressing its systemic flaws."

Caught off guard, one of the China Daily editors admits that she didn't have details about the dispute but would make further inquiries into the matter. Soon thereafter the newspaper removed the online piece in English, however it still remains published in Mandarin.

As it stands, Hessler is demanding a full retraction but at this time the paper is still refusing. We guess one can argue that China and Egypt are similar in respect to creating misleading news.  

Here is what Hessler posted to Facebook on the matter:

A message from Peter:

Earlier this month, a reporter from China Daily approached me with a request to do an interview, in conjunction with Li Xueshun, a former colleague from Fuling who has translated the mainland editions of my books. Li and I were told that this was part of a year-end special, and many of the questions were around that theme: what was your top achievement of the last year, biggest regret, and other questions. Li was asked, for example, for his opinion of the translation profession in today’s China. One question asked me to compare Egypt and China.

Yesterday, China Daily published an article under my byline, presented as an article that I had written solely about Egypt and China, and including much of my response on the question about post-revolution Egypt. But it omitted crucial parts, including the most important point: that I believe it’s harder to make a political change in China, where the system is deeper rooted than in Egypt, and thus the flaws are also more deeply rooted. I said that this is the reason why the current anti-corruption campaign will be a failure, because China is not addressing its systemic flaws. This material, among other things, was not included in the published article. (Nor did the paper print any of Li Xueshun’s answers, of course.)

After the article appeared, I asked China Daily to remove the article from their website and issue a retraction, because it should not have been under my byline and it did not accurately convey the substance of the interview. I offered to participate in a proper Q&A, provided that they made a statement disavowing the earlier article, and allowed me to approve the final edit of the Q&A before publication. China Daily removed the article from the English website, but Chinese translations have been picked up by various outlets. And the paper has refused to issue a retraction.

I want to emphasize that this article does not in any way represent a comprehensive picture of my views on China and Egypt, and I never would have agreed to such a story. And I want readers to understand that the terms under which I was approached – that this was a year-end interview with my friend and colleague Li Xueshun, on a range of topics – are completely different from being approached for an article specifically about Egypt and China (especially when my byline will be used, not to mention with key material removed). I believe that a proper comparison between Egypt and China is extremely useful, but it requires more space and focus than such a format.

I also want to note that this incident has not been representative of my recent experiences with Chinese journalists. Over the past two years I’ve had many interviews with the Chinese press, including a book tour last fall. I’m well aware of the pressures that journalists face in China, especially in the current climate, where there is a risk that words can be twisted or taken out of context for political ends. I’ve appreciated the fact that so many of the Chinese journalists that I’ve met have been sensitive to this, and in some cases have worked with me directly in an effort to find the best way to convey ideas responsibly and accurately.

Peter Hessler


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