Media Culture of China – correction, conditioning, censorship, and collaboration (Part 1) Investigative Journalism

**Disclaimer – From the perspective of a Singaporean Chinese who has visited China for a holiday, the observations, views, and analysis I shared in my article would be subjected to my personal bias, lack of residential experience and in-depth understanding towards how the country – China actually functions. I have added in my online research to make it more substantial. However, please read my article with a pinch of salt, as it most likely lacks accuracy and objectivity towards the role of China’s media, and the purpose/elements of it’s media landscape .

Correction (To attain perfection)

# Case Study 1 ~ National image over performance authenticity

Lin Miaoke had lip-synced to Yang Peiyi’s pre-recorded voice during the Beijing 2008 opening ceremony.

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(Left: Yang Peiyi, Right: Lin Miaoke)

Picture Credit: lovepeiyimiaoke.blogspot.sg

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(Left: Yang Peiyi, Right: Lin Miaoke)

Picture credit: cfensi.wordpress.com

Chen QiGang was the music director of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. During a post-Olympic interview..

Chen Qigang: …The request from the director was that, first the appearance must be good, and of those, the one with the best voice and ability to sing should be picked...make recordings. It was felt afterward that Lin Miaoke’s voice wasn’t exactly suitable in terms of tone control, range and depth.We thought it was in the national interest to put the one with the best appearance and expression on the stage. Lin Miaoke was a very good choice for this role.

But in terms of the music, we all felt that Yang Peiyi had the flawless voice...It was a last minute, tough decision. We went through multiple practices and reviews. We played Lin Miaoke’s recording during one joint practice. Many reviewers, particularly someone in the Political Bureau of the Central Committee [of the CCP], made comments that it must be changed. We had no choice...

We have a responsibility to explain this to the Chinese viewers. I think the viewers should be able to understand that, in the national interest, for the perception of the country, it was an extremely important and serious matter to present the flag [in the best possible manner]. We made a decision, which I think was fair to both Lin and Yang. We felt the coupling of a perfect voice with the best appearance produced the most optimal result. From Lin Miaoke’s point of view, she might not even have realized it. We had two recordings from both of them and they didn’t sound very different.

From the above interview, it seems to suggest for national interest sake, China felt Lin Miaoke would have made a more visually-appealing  “national image” to broadcast to the world, which was why she stood in to perform with Yang Peiyi’s voice. 

[Relevant videos]

Lin Miaoke’s lip-syncing performance during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony 

Yang Pei Yi’s singing for a short while                                                                                                                                                                                                  (*Quoted from the Youtube account – I have tried to upload this video to http://www.youku.com,China’s youtube, but was rejected due to “relative stipulations”.)

Ode to the Motherland (Yang Pei Yi)

Food for thought:

The issue here is not about lip-syncing, as it happens during concerts. The issue here is whether ghost singing is ethical? China knowingly led global audience to the false impression that Lin Miaoke was the one providing the vocals for the song, when she were merely a visual stand-in for Yang Peiyi’s voice. Another matter would also be due credit not given to Yang Peiyi’s vocal ability.

# Case study 2 ~ Dubbing of mainland Chinese television shows

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Picture credit: VIKI

Quite a few of China’s ancient television dramas, and films are dubbed.

[Examples of Chinese dramas in 2015 that were dubbed]

Destined to love you 

Cruel Romance

A different kind of pretty man  

The journey of flower 

Food for thought:

China is a large country with many dialects, and even people in the same city will have very different tonal/dialect variations of speech. It can take a few minutes for your brain to re-tune, before you can understand them. It is also because of background noise and clarity reasons. When they hire actors that have all the different dialect/tonal variations, it becomes very  hard/painful to understand the film/series. They do it by “normalizing/standardizing” their speech. 

Voices are dubbed in sound enclosed rooms using voice actors with very clear, precise, & standard Mandarin. So, as to provide the largest audience. Also, subtitles are almost always included so that certain Chinese regions will understand the true meaning behind the speech.

Also, it saves productions from having to use really good sound equipment on site. Another thing is that set movement, camera movement, machine-created effects, etc. that are often used in Chinese productions can be loud and you don’t really want to be hearing noises in the background of nice scenes.

# Case study 3 ~ Fine-tuning of contestants’ voice during televised singing competitions

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Picture credit: Fashionide.com

E.g. If you watch the Voice of China, Sing my Song, I am Singer – the contestants’ voices are technically enhanced too blatantly for my taste. Though they are singing LIVE,  the contestant’s oral movements are not aligned to the sound output. I have no exact proof that their LIVE voices are being technically enhanced during the post-editing period, but base on my listening e.g. the sound resolution, and contestants’ tone quality are too good and precise to be unedited, or not enhanced in any ways, and even more ironically, they sound better than what you hear in a recorded album single.

*Evidence to back up my claim*

Examples of the difference between how a Singer sounds like during televised singing competitions (with post editing audio enhancement) v.s. Reality (without audio enhancement)

*It was hard to source for examples of non-celebrity-status singing contestants, as their lower popularity level means fewer online videos and media exposure..

Proof #1 碧晨 – 我只在乎你

Voice of China  v.s.  Televised china show

[Sang “Hurt” by Ali *Featured in a Korean Show, her voice is beautiful without the fine-tuning]

Proof #2 曹格 – 背叛

I am a Singer v.s. Televised Taiwan concert

Proof #3 Kit Chan – 心動

I am a Singer v.s. Televised Hong Kong show

Proof #4   G.E.M – 泡沫

I am a Singer v.s. Televised Hong kong show

Proof #5 Shilah Amzah – 我只在乎你

I am a Singer v.s. Televised Malaysia show v.s. Televised China show 

*Chinese media reports had quoted a music critic Deng Ke, who was present during the recording, saying that Chan was off-key throughout her entire song and listening to it felt like his heart was being “cut by a knife”. He claimed that the show corrected Chan’s key..during post production. This is a verbal account, which we might not know the validity of it’s claim.

However, it seems like the recent seasons of American Idol also sound enhancement to the contestants’ voice. Thus, such voice modification are taking trend not only in China, but around the world. The difference is the extent and amount of modification.

Food for thought:

In a bid to achieve the clear, crystal-like pitch of singers, the downfall is that the their raw sound, tone quality, and vocal essence is greatly lost and undermined, especially for singers with raspy, or rough voices e.g. 曹格. That is something sound editors have to find a balance in e.g. not have to compromise on a singer’s vocal essence, when focusing on achieving clarity in the production’s audio output during the post editing process of televised singing competitions.

Conditioning (Shaping content to shape your mind)

# Example 1 ~ “Flux of emotional weepy faces/accounts in reality TV shows”

I’ve watched different China-made reality/talent shows e.g. finding a missing relative, Voice of China, China’s Got Talent, Sing my Song. There are always contestants/guests that will share a sad or touching story, and eventually cry. Some regular themes includes e.g. struggling, and still holding on to my dream even though of all the challenges, coming from a very poor financial background / from the village /  but hoping to make it big so that I can help my family get out of the poverty cycle, wanting to find my long-lost loved one.

Food for thought:

The accounts and emotions are most likely real, but I wonder why the scriptwriters like to always structure the direction of the shows towards a weepy or sad direction? A diverse spectrum of emotions would provide a balance of mood e.g. both happiness and touching moments. Are the stories of the underprivileged individuals, or they themselves being manipulated like pawns by China’s media companies to sensationalise their shows?  

# Example 2 ~ Types of Chinese Television shows

As a tourist in China, I once had the chance to surf through the many local Chinese channels in my hotel room. I observed a significant number of ancient, or traditional military – style Chinese dramas. I also observed quite a few dating, or romance-reality shows.

Food for thought:

The former may be subtle propaganda to promote the country’s military and political party, but I believe it is to also showcase the depth, and rich history of china for it’s people to appreciate and learn, while the latter is aimed at increasing the prospect of marriage among the younger Chinese generation. This is so, as more young people may place it at a lower priority, or interest compared to other life aspects e.g. career progress.  Singlehood or later marriage may be gaining social normalisation in our generation. 

Collaboration (For Diplomacy and Economic gains)

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Picture credit: Fiestar International fan base

 Asian pop culture 

 China collaborates with Hong Kong, Taiwan, and even Korea in dramas, with the latter groups participating in their reality shows. China also do engage non-local Asian spokespersons for their homebrands.

To name a few, some examples include Rain promoting China’s brand of drink – LAviva Iced Tea rain, Haichang contact lens company recruiting diva Jolin Tsai as a model spokesperson in the past, Show Luo in Go Fighting! (China variety game show), China buying over the Running Man franchise, with a special episode where the China and Korea celebrity team compete against each other.

The recent Chinese version of We Got Married paired Korean and Chinese celebrities together. It was to to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of South Korea’s diplomatic ties with China. And even more recently, Cao Lu (a Chinese member of the K-pop band FIESTAR) was paired up with  Jo Se Ho in the original Korean version of We Got Married. Super Junior’s Siwon was also once paired up with the Chinese model – Liu Wen.

The cast of Running Man China once included Wong Cho Lam, a Hong Kong actor. Hidden Singer (China variety show), is hosted by Taiwanese Mickey Huang, with celebrity/musician audience guests coming from Hong Kong and Taiwan. All Men Are Brothers (2011) featured cast members from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Prince of Lan Ling (2013) featured a mix of Taiwan and china cast too. Braveness of the Ming/ Silk Night (2016) featured Park Min Young (a Korean actress).

Food for thought: 

This is a smart move, as China-made shows that showcase artists from familiar Asian countries shows may ignite interest, and lead to broadcast of the very same shows in other Asian local TV channels. The same goes for advertisements. When China buy over television franchise from neighboring countries, they can also tap on the hype e.g. Kpop fever – Korea Running Man.

Not only are these moves economically-beneficial, it leads to higher overall viewership with  increased attention from global audience. It could also be a way of fostering positive relations with neighbouring eastern countries through the means of media and pop culture, and commercial diplomacy.

Cheap labour is common in China. Baidu is like the extremely affordable Chinese version of America’s Ebay or Amazon, which makes it cost-appealing to their local mainstream population. Hence, the economy would continue to be sustained by its big consumer population, alongside global spenders who also visit these online Chinese shopping sites.

Censorship (Banning content and communication platforms to prevent political critique and western exposure)

China contained in a bubble of it’s own?

As much as China collaborates hand-in-hand with various neighboring countries, they are far from being a globalized media state. I yahoo searched for words like “China Corruption” and “China Communism” in my hotel room. The search results were quite limited, with abnormally few relevant articles in both the web, and news feed.

When I searched for exactly the same content back in Singapore 2 days later in Singapore’s Yahoo search engine, it still remained with limited news, though it’s results was definitely more than China’s Yahoo search engine.

This might mean that not only do China censor sensitive content e.g. critique about the government/it’s political ideology (usually written by western press, which might have their own agendas too, and lack objectivity)- in their country’s own Yahoo search engine, they might also do the very same for Yahoo’s global search engine (though with lesser control).

Fun fact:  In 2005, Jack Ma chairman of China’s Alibaba Group,sold a 40% stake in the fledgling Alibaba to Yahoo in exchange for $1 billion and control of Yahoo China.

Thus, anyone from any part of the world who uses solely Yahoo as their search engine may be kept inside China’s bubble.

Putting aside political censorship and state’s media control, China also BANS GOOGLE, TWITTER, FACEBOOK, AND YOUTUBE.

Google is a globalized search engine with vast amount of information that Yahoo cannot compete with.

Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are prominent and common in many cosmopolitan or developed countries for people to interact and post pictures of their life online.

YouTube shows many different types of videos of any language from various countries.

Though China do create their very own versions of these communication and social media applications for the Chinese people to interact amongst themselves, it can never replace online globalisation which the Chinese citizens are losing out in.

Food for thought:

The Chinese are very connected amongst one another the online world with their own local social media and communication applications. However, it seems like the government do not provide the outlet for it’s citizens to be exposed to the global online world with such stringent bans.

Why is that so? Is the government wary of the possible impacts  e.g. fear that – spreading of western ideals, and other political ideologies to the Chinese citizens could lead them to lose their roots, or the incumbent government might lose political control when it’s citizens are more educated, and opened to questioning status quo, alternative views, ugly history, and global perspectives?

Political matters in China

Tiananmen Square massacre: Look back on how the crackdown unfolded

China Bans These Weird Words From Search Engines Because Of Tiananmen Square

Ai Wei Wei – Political activist/artist

The list of blocked websites in China

Some citizens/activists in Tibet, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan fighting for independence from China.

Torture of Falun Gong Practitioners.

In part 2, I will make a comparison between China and Singapore in regards to both country’s  media landscape/styles, and the impact it has on their people.

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Main photo credit: Mashable (* Chinese kids at Tiananmen Square protest, I wonder if they are aware of what they are doing?)

Written by: SY

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9 thoughts on “Media Culture of China – correction, conditioning, censorship, and collaboration (Part 1) Investigative Journalism

  1. Because I watched Voice of China and I am a Singer when they were televised locally, I thought I would put in my two cents.

    First, I don’t think the singers lip-synced. Too much at stake, esp for I am a Singer, with it’s audience voting format. Also, in that show, there was once when GEM actually stopped singing midway her performance (because of some issues with her monitor feed), and, rightfully, no vocal output at the instant when she stopped. Granted, your charge of lip-syncing was at Voice, but that particular incident with GEM was relevantly illuminative. That a song sung live could sound good as well. Which brings me to….

    Good sound quality could be due to a number of factors.

    1. Good acoustics.
    2. Good sound production system.
    3. Good live recording system.
    4. Good quality of broadcast format sold to telecasters.
    5. Post-production. Extent thereof. It’s important to note though that unless factors 1, 2 and 3 are fulfilled, post-production can only do so much.

    For a period of time when Voice of China was shown on Channel 8, at the same time, Channel U was showing a Taiwanese variety show featuring singers (some quite established) competing with each other, and judged by a terrace of radio DJs, and the sound quality was inferior to that heard in Voice. Rightfully so, because Voice had a bigger,much bigger, budget.

    Really, if Voice contestants had lip synced, folks in China would have been all over it, and there would have been a huge backlash. So I soku-ed 中国好声音对嘴, but nothing.

    Anyway, just my two cents. And thanks for the thinking trigger.

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    1. Yo sheldon, just to clarify, it was the phrasing of my words. I will change it. What I meant to say was that they sounded too “perfect” to be singing LIVE without any audio enhancement, not that they were lip syncing. I was emphasing on the fact that the audio enhancement was too much, it took away the realism of what they were supposed to sound like when they sing LIVE 🙂

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    2. And in the title, I placed “fine tunining of contestants voices”, not lip syncining. For the American idol part, I meant they also seemed to audio enhanced the contestants live performance during the post-editing process.

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      1. I hear you. It’s the enhancement. I do remember though, while switching back and forth the channels during that time, I kept thinking ‘ Wow, they sound really good,’ referring to Voice. They sounded fake to you? Guess I got the better end of the deal. 😁

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  2. It seems like you’re trying to attribute everything to a government motivation when in fact, Chinese entertainment consists mostly of private companies and individuals with their own (often financial) goals.

    For example, on ancient series as propaganda. That’s like the equivalent of saying British adaptations of Shakespeare are signs of British propaganda.

    SARFT has actually said multiple times they want to see more modern and future TV series and less ancient ones, and has at one point tried to limit the number of ancient series shown on TV to 15% of a channel’s primetime episodes per year. Unfortunately, the audience eats ancient series up. Almost all of China’s highest rated series are ancient series.

    As for the Korean aspect. That has less to do with China’s ambitions than Korea’s. A large majority of TV series or programs with Korean actors are co-produced by Korea. Every single show you mentioned has a Korean production team. And we know that the Korean government has subsidies for the Korean entertainment industry while the Chinese government has close to none for the Chinese equivalent.

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