Chinese Jоurnalists Get An Exhilarating Lооk At The U.S. Electiоn

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Voters casting their ballots in New York City on Tuesday. A Chinese journalist observing the election expressed surprise at how seriously Americans took their votes.

George Etheredge for Newspaper Post

American democracy, as the past few months have shown, can be a messy affair. In a one-party state like , the elections-equals-chaos narrative has been avidly embraced by the state-run media, which sought to paint this year’s hurly-burly presidential race as evidence that the American political system is deeply flawed.

“All this weirdness not only clearly shows the predicament of the U.S. political establishment, it also points straight at the corrupt practices of the U.S. political system,” People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, said in a commentary last month. “For a long time, the United States has boasted about how its extremely lively election is a sign of the superiority of its system, and has even used this to willfully criticize the vast majority of developing countries.”

Over the past week, however, a small coterie of Chinese journalists has been traveling across the United States, courtesy of the , as part of a program that seeks to give foreign journalists an up-close view of the presidential race in the hopes they will send home dispatches that depict the process, both warts and glories.

For Effy Zhang, a 24-year-old reporter for one of China’s biggest online news portals, the past few days have been exhausting, exhilarating and nerve-racking — because she is never sure her articles will pass muster with Beijing’s censors. Along with 47 other visiting journalists, three of them from China, Ms. Zhang has attended a Hillary Clinton rally in Miami, interviewed die-hard Donald J. Trump supporters at Trump Tower and waded through enthusiastic voters at a polling site in Lower Manhattan.

“I’ve been surprised, because, before I came here, I thought the U.S. elections were chaotic and crazy,” Ms. Zhang said on Tuesday afternoon. “I’ve come to discover that Americans are actually very serious about the whole election process, which is really well organized.”

The Foreign Press Center Election Program, which was established at the close of World War II, has been sponsoring the four dozen journalists for the past week, many of whom are visiting the United States for the first time. They are from Kazakhstan, Venezuela and Morocco and a score of other countries where the idea of unfettered elections is an exotic — and at times, a dangerous — concept.

The reporters have been ferried to battleground states like Ohio and New Hampshire, shown the inner workings of the balloting process in the Bronx and given background briefings by policy experts from both sides of the political divide. The all-expenses-paid tour culminated Tuesday night at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, where Ms. Clinton gathered with her supporters to await the final vote tally. (A request to bring some of the journalists to her opponent’s election-night venue in Midtown Manhattan was nixed by the Trump campaign, the organizers said.)

A Chinese journalist, Effy Zhang, with cutouts of Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump at a briefing on the election at a Manhattan hotel.

Andrew Jacobs/Newspaper Post

Richard Buangan, a State Department official who oversees international media outreach, said most of the participants work for news outlets or blogs that are independent of government interference — many of which cannot afford to send correspondents to the United States. Some, like a reporter from Swaziland, an absolute monarchy in southern Africa, are frequently harassed for their work.

“These journalists are grateful to be given the opportunity to talk directly to American voters and get beyond the official narratives and confusing spin back home,” Mr. Buangan said.

Ms. Zhang, too, faces some peril, and she asked that the name of her company be omitted from this article lest it draw unwanted attention from the authorities. In recent months, Chinese propaganda officials have issued directives barring independent reporting on the United States election, and they have ordered news outlets to use dispatches from Xinhua, the state news agency, or CCTV, the state broadcaster.

“What we are doing is forbidden,” Ms. Zhang said with a sigh.

To get around the election-season restrictions, her editors omit her byline from her articles and then cross their fingers, hoping they will be overlooked by government censors. Ms. Zhang has lost count of the articles that were spiked after an editor received the dreaded call from the Cyberspace Administration.

“We live in fear, but we also cheer when an article survives,” she said. “And you never know why.”

In recent days, Ms. Zhang has been surprised by many things: the devotion of voters who stood in the rain for hours awaiting their candidate at a rally, the bark of an election worker who screamed at her for taking photos at a polling place, and the four Latino men who stopped her in front of Trump Tower and asked that she take their photo.

The men smiled and then projected a middle finger toward the gaudy skyscraper behind them. To Ms. Zhang, their crude gesture seemed to sum up American democracy.

“I couldn’t believe how happy they were,” she said. She added, “You’d never see that kind of behavior in China.”


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