The media and China

The predominant coverage of China in leading German media is determined by a Eurocentric perspective and is characterized by stereotypes and stereotypes, some of which still stem from colonial times. This is the conclusion of a study commissioned by the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung that examined the China coverage of German leading media in the first eight months of the corona pandemic. The current study confirms an earlier analysis by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, which had already established in 2010 that German leading media promoted a "denouncing image of Chinese society".

"Mission instead of information"

The Heinrich Böll Foundation last dealt with the German China coverage in 2010 in a comprehensive analysis. The party-oriented foundation of Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen evaluated six leading print media and public television, including the Tagesschau, and came to the conclusion that a "core agenda" prevails in the representation of the People's Republic in Germany, which is noticeably determined by a "Eurocentric perspective". In most cases, "the critical information is postponed in favor of a kind of mission". All too often, "certain, obviously socially inherent ideas and stereotypes about the country are being colportated unreflectedly", with "normatively pejorative images" shaping the discourse.

One had to speak "of a continuous dissemination of existing stereotypes through the media", "which were oriented more to socially anchored symbols and phrases" than to a differentiated view of Chinese reality. There is "the danger of a consolidation of these mostly extremely simplistic and shortening stereotypes in the German public due to the amount of contributions that spread these impressions". This promotes a "very stereotypical and sometimes also denouncing image of Chinese society".

"Not equal"

The Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, which is close to the Left Party, has now presented a current, very detailed study on German China reporting. The study analyzes seven leading print media and focuses on the period from January to August 2020, during which reporting was strongly influenced by the Covid-19 pandemic. It comes to similar results as the Heinrich Böll Foundation eleven years earlier. According to this, the representation of the People's Republic in the leading German media is "characterized by an increased take-up of stereotypes and stereotypes, some of which still stem from colonial times". Although racist resentments are "predominantly rejected", they are "subtly integrated into other stereotypes" – for example, into what is "connoted as disgusting ... Eating wild animals".

The thematic agenda, on the other hand, is "not very differentiated overall and is also mainly determined by the perspective of German interests," according to the study. This involves "a quasi-systematic "measurement of " China with German, European, Western values", whereby "the contrast of "we" and "China" is "emphasized" as "the other". In many cases, "the other" is then presented as not of equal importance". This leads "to the transmission of stereotypes and fears".

"Threat scenarios from colonial contexts"

Overall, the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung notes, "negatively connoted statements ... on almost all topics, but especially with regard to the characterization of Chinese domestic and foreign policy". It rarely "addresses the historical and current complexity of the conflicts" that preoccupied Chinese politics. The study substantiates the one-sidedness of the reporting by stating that 88.4 percent of all contributions to Chinese domestic policy are "critical" or "very critical" in the assessment. Only 9.4 percent of the contributions were neutral, and there were only four contributions "in which the common practice of "measuring" China's political and social system with the West is not observed", but in which the country is "given an intrinsic value taking into account its cultural background and social reality". Most of the time, "the influence of the USA is evident ... china is a threat "not only to the leadership of the United States, but to the entire world". This would clearly "revive threat scenarios that stem from colonial and anti-communist contexts".

The colonial governor as an opinion maker

The Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung study also points out that Western politicians and specialists from Western think tanks are often cited as leading authorities; statements by Chinese politicians are "usually neutralized with those of German actors". From the Chinese "civil society", therefore, only exposed opponents of Chinese government policy have their say. "For example, "three Hong Kong activists" acted as opinion makers in relation to Hong Kong – and apart from them, above all Chris Patten, the last governor of the British colony of Hong Kong.

Employees of four think tanks, including the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), are considered "dominant". The GMF is one of the most influential transatlantic think tanks. The MERICS brings together in its Board of trustees, among others, the head of the Planning staff at the Federal Foreign Office, Sebastian Groth, and the Head of Foreign Policy at the Federal Presidential Office, Thomas Bagger. Bagger recently accompanied the work of a group of experts who recently presented a strategy paper for a more aggressive, risk-taking German foreign policy. The project was funded by Stiftung Mercator.

The Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung predicts the consequences of the one-sided, stereotyped and partly colonial stereotypes of German China coverage: "The further media construction and deepening of the enemy image of China ... one-dimensional and Eurocentrically shaped facets are becoming the skeptical-negative attitude of the intellectual and political elite towards China, which can already be observed now ... strengthen."