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China Is Too Big, Vast, and Complicated For Singular Media Narratives

I recently reported that Christianity is thriving in China and the government is taking a much more hands-off approach, then a Christian bookstore worker gets thrown in jail in Shanxi. China is a vast menagerie of contradiction, and to report on it properly you need to embrace this reality.

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The owner of a Christian bookstore in Beijing tried to move his operations out to Shanxi in an attempt to spread The Good News to a new part of country. The local authorities didn’t like that too much,  busted up his shop, said something to the effect of don’t “dare bring Christian culture here. This is our turf,” and threw him in prison on charges of “illegally operating a business.” Apparently proud of themselves, Taiyuan officials then released a press release entitled, “Yingze District successfully clamped down on a case of Christianity.” For the past three months, Li Wenxi has been illegally detained in Taiyuan, where he claims that he has been having great success converting his fellow inmates.

Source: South China Morning Post


I don’t bring this story up because I intend to report on this case — I don’t know the full story or even a tenth of it — but because I published an article last Sunday that claimed that Christianity is thriving in China and the government is taking a more hands-off approach. I still stand by my previous article, as I believe it’s mostly a correct portrayal, and this incident shows the Catch-22 of journalism very clearly:

There is no single narrative that can contain and accurately show complex social or political issues. If you take one side and consistently report the same angle, you sacrifice the whole picture. But if you flip-flop your angle you will look like you’re full of shit.

Journalism demands the simplification of complex issues, but all too often simplification means cutting complex stories in half and only showing one side.

China is too vast for this kind of story telling — the world is too vast for these selectively chosen narratives. There are various lenses through which to view this country, and to even attempt to see it clearly you need binocular vision: you need to be able to tell all sides of a story, even when they sometimes contradict each other. To discus China, you need to embrace this contradiction — there is no single narrative here, and mutually exclusive angles need to be the rule.

When it comes to religion, China is both becoming remarkably more open as well as being completely authoritarian. It all depends on where you are, when, and what the situation is like. To say that Christianity is thriving here is the truth, but it’s also the truth to say that Christians are being persecuted. The answer is both A and B, and the truth lies on an inconsistent gradient between these two extremes.

But sticking to one singular narrative means holding strong to one set of truth at the expense of another, and produce a result that’s akin to a lie. To accurately report on the world you can’t be afraid of contradicting yourself. In an attempt at simplification major news agencies chose their narratives and stick with them, and sacrifice any shot at honest reporting in the process. I saw this clearly in my ghost cities report.

Western culture demands consistency, even at the expense of truth. Contradiction is a no-go of logic upon which arguments are lost, political candidates are measured, and the media is picked apart. But contradiction is often necessary to truly attempt to explain the complex and infinitely vast world we live in. The answer can be both A and B, truth can be both black as well as white.


Filed under: China, Media Analysis, Religion

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 90 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3691 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: Trenton, Maine

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