B-Side China: “The China Narrative” with Yan Cong, Emma Sun & Krish Raghav

Photojournalist Yan Cong, video producer Emma Sun, and music promoter/comic book artist Krish Raghav talk about the need for nuance in shaping the irreducibly complex "China Narrative" for overseas audiences

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9:56 PM HKT, Sat November 17, 2018 1 mins read

B-Side China is a podcast monitoring the flip side of cultural stories in the PRC, initiated by Josh Feola for RADII.

What do we talk about when we talk about China? Obviously the “we” here is highly contingent, and different institutions frame different narratives for different consumers and stakeholders. Foreign news media operate with great difficulty and under great scrutiny in China, and are often presenting stories to an overseas audience with little preexisting knowledge of the place. Foreign advertisers and brands producing content aimed at the Chinese market might be presenting their narratives to an audience with a more thorough knowledge base, but at the same time they tend to overemphasize visual cliches alluding to China’s ancient culture meeting 21st-century urbanization (e.g., that lightrail passing through a Chongqing apartment building everyone got obsessed with about a year ago, or dusty Shanghai lane houses quick-cut against the Pudong skyline).

Meanwhile, “softer” cultural topics (rock music and rap, for two), if they get covered at all, tend to be inappropriately connected to narratives about social protest and political activism.

Ultimately, different outlets have different limitations and goals, and are bound up in a complicated network of writers, directors, editors, corporate clients, subscribers, and advertisers who determine the stories we see. Still, there’s room for more nuance in shaping the irreducibly complex “China Narrative” for overseas audiences.

On today’s episode I talk with Yan Cong, a photojournalist from Beijing whose work has appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post; video producer Emma Sun, who has produced advertising and branded content for brands like Ford, Chanel, and Herschel Supply Co.; and music promoter/comic book artist Krish Raghav, who has a background in journalism and recently pushed across a very nuanced portrait of the avowedly asocial (or ; sang) Fuzhou rock band THE 尺口MP. We discuss stereotypes shaping the different “China narratives” that dominate overseas news media, corporate branded content, and music journalism, and explore ways these might be deconstructed or annotated.

Find B-Side China on iTunes or Stitcher ( or here), and more RADII podcasts here.

Cover photo: THE 尺口MP pose for a portrait in Cangshan, Fuzhou (photo by Yan Cong)

Opening track: “夜光” by THE 尺口MP; Closing track: “碳酸女孩” by THE 尺口MP

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