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Thomas Friedman: I only deserve partial credit for coining the 'Chinese dream'

This week's Economist cover story is about Xi Jinping's catchphrase "Chinese dream," which symbolizes the aspirations of the Chinese people and nation. The magazine suggests, bizarrely but convincingly, that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman is responsible for the slogan now known by hundreds of millions of people across China:

Where did the slogan come from? Quite possibly the New York Times. Last October, in the run up to Mr Xi's ascension, the Times ran a column by Thomas Friedman entitled "China Needs Its Own Dream". Mr Friedman said that if Mr Xi's dream for China's emerging middle-class was just like the American dream ("a big car, a big house and Big Macs for all") then "another planet" would be needed. Instead he urged Mr Xi to come up with "a new Chinese dream that marries people's expectations of prosperity with a more sustainable China." China's biggest-circulation newspaper, Reference News, ran a translation.

According to Xinhua, a government news agency, the Chinese dream "suddenly became a hot topic among commentators at home and abroad". When Mr Xi began to use the phrase, Globe, a magazine published by Xinhua, called Mr Xi's Chinese-dream idea "the best response to Friedman."

I asked Friedman whether all this was true, and he responded by email:

"I only deserve part credit," he noted. "The concept of 'China Dream' was created by my friend Peggy Liu, as the motto for her NGO about how to introduce Chinese to the concept of sustainability."

Friedman's "China Dream" column references Liu and her NGO JUCCCE. In his email to me, he wrote, "I adapted her concept in the column below and just took [it] all the way to [the] top and made it a challenge for Xi Jinping." "I just took it to a higher level -- put it right in his face so to speak -- in hopes of making it scale by challenging the next party chairman to adopt it," he added.

So there you have it. I doubt Xi Jinping -- or anyone familiar with his thinking -- will ever deny this account, and perhaps it will take hold. (James Fallows at the Atlantic points out "the idea of a 'Chinese dream' has been around for a long time," but Friedman's China op-ed appears to have done what he tries to do in many columns -- repackage an old idea and sell it to his readers. If the Economist's theory is right, Xi bought it.)

Journalists love to hate on Thomas Friedman -- see here, here, here, and, well, Twitter -- but the man has influence.

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Britain burnishes Bahrain's record on press freedom

In an article for FP this week, Freedom House Vice President Arch Puddington laid out the 10 worst countries in the world to be a journalist. The list contained well-known dictatorships such as North Korea, Syria, and Cuba -- and also the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain.

"Restrictions on the press have steadily worsened since pro-democracy protests began in 2011," Puddington wrote on Bahrain. "Many domestic journalists have been arrested and detained without warrants and confessions have been extracted through torture."

The British government, however, takes a sunnier view of its longtime ally's attitude toward the media. On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, the British embassy in Manama published two articles on media freedoms -- one written by the editor-in-chief of a Bahraini government-controlled newspaper, and the other by a political group sympathetic to the ruling monarchy.

Unsurprisingly, both articles find little wrong with the Bahraini government's crackdown on domestic unrest in the past two years -- and find a great deal wrong with Western coverage of their country. "So-called human rights organisations, which unfortunately are largely administered by ex-ideologists and even terrorists, today propagate their own version of the word 'freedom,'" griped editor Anwar Abdulrahman. "[I]n today's world there is a frequent tendency for the press to brand those in power as 'baddies', and the real wrongdoers as victims."

The other article, written by an advocacy group called "Citizens of Bahrain," directly questioned the value of a free press. "Those of us who have lived through [the recent domestic turmoil] would tend to believe that freedom of the press has limits," the article argued. "When it comes to fabricating stories and using terminologies that polarize society, freedom of press should be looked into as a more complex matter than we may first realize."

During an event in December, Bahrain's crown prince praised Britain's support for Bahrain, saying it "stood head and shoulders above others." If there ever was any doubt, it should now be clear why the kingdom's royals are so pleased with the British embassy. 

 

JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images