Clowning around in the media
On Friday May 4, the Chinese media dramatically broke its silence on the saga of blind activist Chen Guangcheng with a series of opinion pieces, some sniffy, and some laced with the toxic vocabulary of an organized campaign. The Beijing Daily, which is controlled by the Beijing city Communist Party authorities, accused Chen Guangcheng of being a tool and a pawn for American politicians. The article also calls U.S. ambassador Gary Locke a troublemaker who tries every way at his disposal to sully the Chinese government’s reputation, citing his nefarious Starbucks-drinking, backpack-wearing, air-quality-testing habits as examples of his plot to foment social discontent in China.
Even the Beijing News, a paper known for its independent mindset, published an editorial condemning the U.S. Embassy’s role. David Bandurski writing at the China Media Project website calls the Beijing News “a paper with a proud though brief tradition of professional journalism”. He also notes that the Beijing News editorial uses “less severe language than the Beijing Daily editorial”. Bandurski’s excellent summary of Chen’s dramatic entry into the Chinese establishment press is titled Behind the Beijing editorial onslaught.
The editorials, which were all published in top newspapers under the control of Beijing’s city leadership, should be understood, in our view, as China’s attempt to send a strong message on the Chen Guangcheng case while dissociating this criticism from the Chinese state per se in the midst of bilateral meetings.
China Media Project has also published a good summary with translations of “a touching plea for forgiveness” for publishing the editorial that the Beijing News “posted on its Sina Weibo account late Friday night, which has more than 1.38 million followers”:
The Beijing News: a clown with a conscience
The post was accompanied by a black-and-white photo of a circus clown taking a sad and solitary drag on a cigarette, and read:
In the still of the deep night, removing that mask of insincerity, we say to our true selves, “I am sorry.” Goodnight.
The editorials were certainly noticed by many people in Beijing. This writer at least overheard some old men I pass every day in hutong on my cycling route to work discussing the case on the morning of Friday May 4.
They may also have seen it on TV: at least some news programs broadcast footage of Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Liu Weimin talking about Chen, including Liu’s memorable assertion that “China is a country under rule of law” (中方强调，中国是法治国家). This statement was roundly mocked in various places online, including this Netease page (screengrab at left), which gives Liu Weimin a ‘ordinary youth’ hero award for the rule of law remark. Netease also has video of Liu’s statements as shown on Dragon TV (东方卫视).
For an explanation of the ‘ordinary youth’ joke and reference, see this post on Ministry of Tofu: The Ordinary, the Artistic and the Idiotic (Putong, Wenyi and Erbi) – the hottest Internet meme happening now in China.
Links and sources
The Beijing News
The Global Times
Beijing Youth Daily
US embassy in a quandary over Chen
China demands US apology on Chen Guangcheng’s entering US embassy
US to arrange for Chen to pursue overseas studies
Chinese media takes nuanced view of Chen case
Chen trump for US in human rights game
The Daily Show
Jon Stewart on Chen Guangcheng