Media Coverage of C.N. Yang's Marriage

It said that there are three places across the Taiwan Strait: China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.  Inasmuch as there are different Chinese dialects being spoken in these places (and also within each place), they all share the same written Chinese language.  Thus, people can read each other's newspapers and websites.  For historical reasons, these places have been separated from each other and therefore their cultural practices have evolved differently.  So it is an interesting exercise to compare the styles and contents in the three places.

While a general comparison is quite broad and abstract, the translated article below refers to a specific instance in which the cultural differences are highlighted, in media coverage as well as civil behavior.

(New Century Net)  Psychology and Culture in Greater China Over C.N. Yang's Remarriage.  By Li Dali (李大立).  This article originally appeared in the February 2005 issue of Open magazine.


The recent re-marriage of Nobel prize winner C.N. Yang was a big news item in Chinese communities, with many reports and comments from mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.  If you look at the coverage carefully, there is an interesting phenomenon.

There is no freedom of press in mainland China, so the opinions there can be classified into official reports and civil reactions, and they are at extreme opposites: the official media "blindly applauds" while the civil opinions were "filled with abuses."  In Taiwan, the opinions were "sincere congratulations".  In Hong Kong, this was treated as gossip news.  You can see how the three places of Greater China have three different psychologies and cultures.

The official media in mainland China were filled with platitudes over Professor Yang's re-marriage, including some goosebump-creating phrases such as "shining with human glory ... the courage to succumb common beliefs ...", "a sentient Professor Yang is more worthy of admiration than the purely academic Professor Yang" and so on.  As everybody knows, such articles are created by official hacks in order to meet the political needs of the Chinese government.  The citizens criticize the coverage: "Looking at all the Chinese media, except for some unintentional slip in the spirit of fun, there was not a single word of disrespect for Professor Yang.  Why?  Under the tight control of the government, the media must respect this most respected guest of the government.  Only on the Internet can the voices of dissent be heard."

So what is heard on the Internet in mainland China?  Because Professor Yang has always be sympathetic with China, and the Communist Party needed the reputation of Professor Yang to decorate its fašade, those two are like political lovers.  Perhaps it is the case that the heavier the pressure, the stronger the reaction.  The citizens of mainland China do not have freedom of speech, so that used the occasion of Professor Yang's re-marriage to express their anger by attacking the surrogate viciously with nasty words, which are sometimes quite unreadable.  The more common sayings are about "the old lecher" and "the little seductress"; overseas Chinese students wrote: "I don't oppose this legally, but morally speaking, I look at this marriage with contempt ..."  There were even those who said that this was a trap set up by Ms. Yong and her secret boyfriend.  This author believes that the mainland Chinese are not reacting to the "May-October" marriage, but to Professor Yang's support and sympathy for the Chinese Communists.  Still, no matter what, the psychological and cultural quality levels of mainland China must said to be far and away behind those in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Professor Yang has maintained contact with Qinghua University as well as the Chinese Academy of Science in Taiwan, and many of his former students are in Taiwan.  Thus, his marriage also generated plenty of responses in Taiwan.  The mainstream opinion in Taiwan were positive.  The United Daily and Chinese Daily both issued editorials of congratulations.  The chancellor of Qinghua University Shen Junshan said: "This is an encouraging piece of news."  The outspoken Li Ao said humorously: "That's quite normal.  This is the common wish of all 82-year-old men.  Professor Yang's student Zheng Guoshun is the assistant director at the Chinese Academy of Science and he offered his teacher his blessings.  Generally, the society's reaction has been positive.

Hong Kong is a tiny piece of land without any high technology base.  Although Professor Yang is an honorary professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the common citizens do not know much about him.  On the matter of Professor Yang's re-marriage, there is not too much fuss.  There was none of the platitudes from the official press on the mainland, nor the harangues from the mainland netizens, nor the popular response from Taiwan.  Here, the newspapers treated this as a gossip item just like those for movie/television entertainers or social celebrities.  Hong Kong is a place with the rule of law, and the citizens realized that this is a private matter between Professor Yang and Ms. Yong.  Outsiders have no need to comment and definitely no right to condemn.

A continuously oppressed society is bound to result in an abnormal psychological culture.  On the matter of the re-marriage of Professor Yang, the one-sidedness of either the official media or the civilian sector is clearly seen.  This author understands that the people of mainland China detests the totalitarian system of the Communist Party which controls everything.  It is right for the people to protest and resist the official propaganda.  

But this type of resistance must be based upon democratic and legal principles, and it must respect human rights.  You can attack Professor Yang for supporting and consorting with the Communists.  You can criticize the totalitarianism of the Communist Party.  But you should not interfere with the private affairs of Professor Yang.  You should not slur the characters of Professor Yang and Ms. Yong.

Legally speaking, Professor Yang and Ms. Yong are single and unmarried.  As long as they consent, there is no age restriction in the marriage laws.  On the so-called moral issue, it cannot be defined in terms of age difference to the point where a large age difference is equivalent to immorality.

Professor Yang said: "We knew that we can contribute in many different ways to our union."  Since Professor Yang and Ms. Yong are so optimistic about their union, why should anyone else worry about them?  If a couple is in love, nobody else (including the parents) should interfere.  To make 'moral judgments' on someone else's union is just as immature and pointless as the propaganda.

No matter what a person's political position is, his individual human rights must be respected.  Among the human rights, a basic right is to be able to love and be loved, and this should not be stripped away on account of being too old.  It does not matter who it is, what the reasons are or what the methods are, no one can violate other people's human rights and intrude upon someone else's privacy by means of "opinion assaults" and "moral condemnation."

Over the past decades, the Chinese Communists have taken away the basic human rights of the citizens.  But if one can see the citizens being stripped of their basic human rights, one also sees that the victimized citizens are consciously or unconsciously using the methods of the Communists to take away the human rights of other people.  This is truly heartbreaking!  Democracy must be obtained through democratic methods and the rule of law must be achieved according to the rule of law.  There should be no exceptions for anyone or anything, and this is the way to finally realize democracy and the rule of law.

Finally, let me quote a couple of comments on by overseas Chinese people on overseas websites, so that the mainland Chinese citizens can see the difference in psychological cultures of people coming from different kinds of societies.

A Chinese in England named Jesse wrote: "I believe there is something between the two that we as outsiders don't understand or reasons that we don't know yet.  No matter, because this is their decision.  I don't know why we should care.  Why are people unable to refrain from interfering with someone else's private lives?  No one can judge anyone else's life."

Another Chinese in England named Heidi wrote: "What can we outsiders say about a marriage between two consenting persons?  We should be criticizing the problem of the Chinese people wanting to probe and comment on other people's privacy.  Furthermore, can we really be happy in a country where we don't respect others and we like to talk about other people's private affairs?"