A high school student in China reflects on journalism, media, art and philosophy

After reading some parts of my four-volume journalistic book America in the Eyes of Yong Tang, a high school student in Chengdu, China wrote a letter to me. She wrote in English. The young student reflects on journalism, media, art and philosophy in her short book review. From the article, you can see how the younger generations in China think about journalism and communication.

Below is the full text of the article:

Dear Mr. Tang,

Before reading, although I’ve always considered the term media as a neutral vessel, which pours out objective information over the public, I never imagined the function of media could be so powerful that it’s regarded as the “fourth force” of western societies, as you mentioned in Chapter two. From the events you illustrated as a reporter, sadly, I found an astounding truth that sometimes, unsuspecting viewers are won over by the wire-pullers, without ever realizing what’s happening to them. Western journalists, as I perceived from your depiction of their roles in the society so far, are incredibly skeptic, prudent, yet a little cynical. Different from journalists in China, they are genuine critics who keep a respectable distance from patriotism. According to a few social reports I read on TIME, these reviewers seem to be inclined to drawing ironies so intensively that it makes me doubt whether they are personally loath to politicians and celebrities.

From the reactions of American journalists towards crisis and social issues, I learned the effects of examining the truth beneath the surface of events in a critical attitude. However, after reading your book and knowing more about the power of journalism and mass media, a couple of questions started to haunt me as I tried move deeper to the essence.

Firstly, is neutrality or objectivity really achievable for journalists? “They sometimes judge an event based on their own assumptions before unveiling the truth.” I remember one of your interviewees, Jane Zhang, said about a common flaw of western journalists as she observed. In China, our government or partisanship has rarely been criticized acerbically by newspapers or television, while in the USA, the thing goes in an opposite way where politics is usually labeled as something “supposed to” be mocked or criticized. As a result, on one hand, people in China complain the lack of truth from the “selected” information our social media provides. On the other hand, some unjust indignation towards government and politicians in the US, might result from exposing truth that are too much yet too harsh for the public to take in. Which one is better, or worse? I can’t define.

Secondly, is it possible for journalism to achieve an artistic value? It might sound silly to made comparison between journalism and art, since the former is closely related to reality and the latter is about creativity. However, as a girl who is interested in both journalism and filmmaking, I have a dream of helping people to live in a beautiful world in a conscious manner, as if they are enjoying fairly lands in Disney movies while still aware that they are in a cinema. The balance between truth and fantasy is vulnerable. But people need both of them to live a balanced life. Can journalism also be an art? I guess I’ll do some experiments later in life.

Philosophers once made a metaphor that the world resembles a white rabbit, taken out from a magician’s hat. Most people live within the soft furs of the rabbit, busily dealing with trivial issues as if they were lice on the rabbit’s skin. Unfortunately, those people are too busy living to get the chance of knowing the broad universe outside the rabbit furs. The role of media, in my opinion, is a force that brings people crawling on the rabbit skin, to the top of the rabbit fur. There, they can feel the breeze of the outside world.

As an ancient Chinese poet said, “look up, discover the infinity of the universe; look down, explore the vividness of daily life.” Somehow, I believe that our social media could reach an ideal point when it managed to deliver something close to Confucianism, an equilibrium between mediocrity and pointedness. As about how, I’d like to search for the answer in the rest of my life.

Yours,

XXX

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