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LinkAsia | Mar 4
A side effect of rapid industrialization and few regulations, China's rivers are often treated as little more than sewers. But as LinkAsia contribu...
Last week the blind dissident lawyer Chen Guangcheng was given refuge by the US embassy in Beijing. His move ignited a diplomatic crisis between the US and China. But in China, the government used its influence over the mainstream media to push its message, but it didn't fool social media. As David Bandurski tells us, micro-bloggers just weren't buying what Beijing's propaganda machine was selling.
May 4, 2012 may go down in media history as the day Chinese state propaganda unraveled on a major international story. It all began in the morning newspapers in Beijing. Four scathing editorials run in four papers, including the Beijing Daily, the official party mouthpiece of city leaders in the capital. The Beijing Daily editorial said Chen Guangcheng had become a pawn used by the US to blacken China's image. It singled out Ambassador Gary Locke, accusing him of using "little tricks", like personally pushing Chen's wheelchair at a Beijing hospital. More of a surprise was an editorial attacking the US in The Beijing News, a market-driven newspaper known for its strong professional tradition, including investigative reporting. The use of Beijing city-level newspapers was a deliberate tactic on China's part. Leaders wanted to criticize the US on the Chen Guangcheng case, but avoid the appearance of national-level confrontation while Hillary Clinton was in town. But leaders certainly did not gamble on what happened next.
By afternoon, the Beijing editorials were being ridiculed on China's social media.
"Every sentence in that stupid editorial in the Beijing Daily is full of blather," said one user on Weibo.
"Just great!" said another. "It seems the Cultural Revolution is already being replayed at the Beijing Daily!"
Suddenly, editorials meant to make a strong point to the United States were an embarrassment. Before long, censors turned on their own propaganda.
Posts like these, caught by our deleted posts archive at the University of Hong Kong, were removed. Even this post, just sharing the Beijing Daily editorial. And searches for Beijing Daily were disabled. The culmination came at midnight, as The Beijing News posted an oblique message of defiance at having been forced to run one of the propaganda editorials. The post was a photograph by Bruce Davidson of a clown smoking alone behind the big top.
The text said:
"In the still of the deep night, removing that mask of insincerity, we say to our true selves, 'I am sorry.'"
The Beijing Daily editorial warned the United States that China's 1.3 billion people could not so easily be deceived by its little tricks. But the failure of China's propaganda on the Chen case suggests another message. In an age when new media are in the hands of ever savvier Chinese, the bigger bogus messages are, the harder they fall. In Hong Kong, I'm David Bandurski for LinkAsia.
Thanks so much David. You can learn more about David Bandurski on our 'experts' page. As for Chen Guangcheng himself, he says he's in limbo, and that there's been no progress to get him and his wife and children out of China. He has not met with any Chinese officials about renewing his expired passport. And for several days, he has not seen any American officials, but he has talked to them by phone from the Beijing hospital where he's confined. The latest deal worked out by US and Chinese officials is that Chen will be allowed to study law in New York.