Chinese State Media Not Impressed by Tom Friedman's Recent Column

The Atlantic
Chinese State Media Not Impressed by Tom Friedman's Recent Column
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Chinese State Media Not Impressed by Tom Friedman's Recent Column

Thomas Friedman might have thought he was being creative--even, perhaps, persuasive--in his latest New York Times column. But China's state-run Global Times thinks he was just being "weirdly amusing." And that's putting it nicely.

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On Sunday, Friedman turned his column into a memo on the Arab Spring to Chinese President Hu Jintao from China's Ministry of State Security. The letter was vintage Friedman; he spoke of a "hyperconnected" world of smartphones and social networks in which "nothing stays hidden anymore," and recommended that the Chinese government grant its people more freedom and dignity to nourish "bottom-up" innovation and ward off a destabilizing revolution. In an editorial today responding to the piece, the Global Times also does a bit of role playing, assuming the identity of Tom Friedman's editor. What are the paper's grievances with the piece?

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  • Too Many Clichés  Friedman, the paper notes, "offers nothing new" and instead dips into the hackneyed themes of hyperconnectedness and technology from his book, The World Is Flat
  • Sloppy Writing  "Frankly, it was a mediocre article for a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner," the editorial declares.
  • Didactic Tone  "Friedman does not shun from his inclination to be a teacher of Chinese leaders," The Global Times observes. "In fact, the US as a whole has the tendency to teach other countries what is best for them. Many Americans think they are qualified to do so."
  • Poor Perspective  "Globetrotting, best-selling authors cannot see the world from an ordinary person, say a farmer in a developing world country," the paper writes.
  • No Investment  The "fate of China is actually irrelevant" to Friedman, the editorial adds. "After all journalists always yearn for the dramatic, or better, the thrilling tale. If China took the wrong route and suffered unpredictable consequences, this would mean nothing and is not something they really care about."
  • Generalization  Friedman, the editorial explains, thinks "what happened in Egypt is bound to happen in China, and it should embrace that change ... It sounds very easy, hardly like a process that would affect the lives of 1.3 billion people."

It's worth recalling that Friedman's pretty infamous for his China commentary, previously drawing lot of criticism for praising Chinese autocracy. Also, this isn't the first time that even folks in China have had difficulty understanding what he's talking about.

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