The human face of China

I was wondering today whether people’s attitude to China might have changed in the last couple of days in the aftermath of the earthquake in Sichuan. Seeing anxious parents watching rescuers digging in a pile of rubble that was once a school, they look just like any other parents in the same situation. And when bodies have been found, their grief’s just the same as that of anyone, anywhere. The pictures could’ve been from earthquake sites in Iran, Turkey or Pakistan.

I think there’s a real danger when covering China that the old ‘evil empire’ prejudices come out. For so long China has been a closed country, where little news came out and little cultural exchange took place with us in the UK. And there are so many people in China! I think there’s a tendency to see the Chinese people, all 1.3 billion of them, as an amorphous mass rather than a nation with millions of individual people.

I hope we’ve been careful at Amnesty to avoid this prejudice. We’ve got nothing against the Chinese people. We have got something against the Chinese government – the way it has treated those people – and we want them to start respecting human rights. That’s all.

I hope that we will see a bit more balance now in some of the reporting from China, at least as far as ordinary Chinese people are concerned.

Amnesty certainly won’t let up on our calls on the authorities for human rights, though.

I watched a great film at the BFI last night, Manufactured Landscapes, which was mainly set in China. It’s all about the work of Edward Burntynsky, who takes beautiful photos of man-made landcapes: factories, mines, quarries, shipyards. It’s not a preachy film – he makes no political comment on what he sees and lets the images do the talking – but it does blow your mind a bit. Especially the enormity of the kilometre-long production line in a Chinese factory or the endless expanse of coal that’s used to fire China’s industry. Worth a watch.


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