About five months ago, mixed with the regular mail Macon City Council members receive, something new started turning up: regular copies of China Daily, the 30-year-old newspaper that generally presents the official English-language voice of the People’s Republic of China.
Council members have expressed puzzlement at why they all suddenly started getting the paper -- no one could recall anybody requesting it.
Dorothy Tuggle, assistant clerk of council, and Mary Lee Rogers, records and minutes clerk, said they’ve been putting it in council mailboxes once or twice a week, like any other mail; but from there, it’s usually a short journey to the recycling bin.
They fished one recent copy out of the can, bearing an address label for Councilwoman Nancy White.
White said she’s never bothered to read the unsolicited paper. If it came from one of Macon’s international sister cities, she might have more interest; but her household’s regular reads are The Telegraph and the Wall Street Journal. A paper on her doorstep in the morning is much more likely to be read than one occasionally stuffed in a mailbox, White said.
The paper is China’s largest English-language paper, with a circulation about 500,000. With increasing business and political ties, there’s a push to increase American familiarity with China through a greater flow of information, according to Derek Hafner, circulation assistant at China Daily’s United States headquarters in New York City.
“We’ve tried to increase our readership in the United States,” he said. “We’ve been running a free trial in different parts of the country, and most likely you’re receiving one of our free trials.”
Trial subscriptions are being sent at random around the country, focused on areas near local China Daily distributors -- and there’s one in Georgia, Hafner said.
Still, those promotions usually run for six weeks, so it’s “odd” that Macon City Council has been receiving copies for months, he said.
Councilman Tom Ellington occasionally carried a copy of China Daily into council committee meetings with other mail, and commented on it there.
“I’ve glanced at it a couple of times, but usually now it goes straight into the recycle bin,” he said. “It’s just one of those things that’s not a productive use of my time. It’s not even very amusing like, say, Pravda would have been back in the old days.”
The weekend edition sent to White on Dec. 11 focuses heavily on business conditions in China and its eagerness to work with the United States. Most of the few feature stories play up some U.S.-China link.
Unlike American newspapers, the issue carries the full text of an official speech. It’s headlined “China fully committed to democracy.”
And though the paper usually follows official Communist Party policy, the first advertisement is a full page of George Clooney hawking Mercedes-Benz.
Ellington said he saw China Daily before, during a trip to Hong Kong. Then he noticed that a story on the Spratly Islands, which are claimed at least in part by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China, gave only the mainland Chinese position, not even acknowledging that other opinions existed.
That’s still better than pronouncements from the North Korean official news agency, which Ellington characterized as “straight-up crazy.”
“Whereas China Daily has a definite viewpoint -- I would question their editorial independence -- it’s not hit-you-over-the-head propaganda,” he said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.