The Chinese people I know couldn't be described as barbaric or inhumane. Far from it.
China is not a place where you routinely come across random acts of violence towards other people - in fact the streets of Hangzhou are undoubtedly vastly safer than the streets of Liverpool.
I still believe that the average 'westerner' probably doesn't have much of a view on the Chinese as a people although this will change as China's growing economy means it attracts more and more media attention. So, with all this new found attention, why does China do little to stop the western media portraying an image of China as a barbarous and uncivilised place where life is cheap and unrespected? China does do a fine job of presenting just enough material to the outside world to allow itself to be portrayed that way - mostly by not even thinking about it.
No country stands in isolation on the modern international stage and China could do well to start taking account of critical opinion from other quarters. So why isn't China more responsive to these criticisms and why do some things seem to be getting worse?
This week I've come across some great examples (in no particular order) and it seems unlikely that these things fall under the oft-used (by many countries) category of "how dare foreigners tell us how to run our country. We've been running it this way for (insert time period here) and we're not going to change just because outsiders tell us to" - all of the things highlighted below are new phenomena that are being held up by foreign media as examples of China's 'barbarism'.
1) Shanghai Zoo's Animal Olympics
This is only the 4th annual event and is attracting headlines such as "China's cruel animal Olympics reach new heights".
2) Changchung Wildlife Park
Shoving a goat into a cage with a lion and a cow into a cage with a tiger to 'hone their hunting skills'?
3) Selling the organs of Death-Row inmates
Again, organ transplantation is too new to make this a 'cultural' issue.
4) Execution Buses
The figures bandied about by the media are that China executes more criminals than every other country in the world put together. Faced with external concerns that some of these may be unjust, this is clearly a PR disaster in the making, let alone compounding it by creating a "Death Bus" brochure that can get into the hands of the foreign media. Anything that enables the finger to be pointed to say that the process is being changed to make it even faster and therefore more likely to be open to injustice is surely not worth it, whatever the internal justification for doing so (Sky actually claims it is to speed up the organ removal so that just compounds the PR problem).
It seems entirely incongruous that parts of the government clearly care a great deal about China's image - there's an awful lot (and certainly billions of dollars) riding on the Olympics to bring a positive spin to China's 'face' - yet doesn't seem to focus on curbing things that get reported negatively. With this increased positive attention comes a large number of journalists looking for a sensational story.
There's been a lot of flak in recent years about the roles of spin doctors in the west, but is that exactly what China needs now? Perhaps China really should sign up a good PR agency so that they can start pointing out that when it comes to a evaluation of the facts from the perspective of non-Chinese, you can't hide behind "culture" and "tradition". Trying to get Chinese tourists to behave considerately is a small step in the right direction.
Like so much in life, perception is king. China could do worse than to start off by cutting down the amount of ammunition it hands to the foreign media to enable them to do it harm. Fair enough to tell the US that China's currency valuation is an internal affair and they won't back down to external pressure - that's the job of government - but death buses, honestly...