Tom Miller of the SCMP has been the center of many heated online discussions of late as a result of his article last Friday on bar owners in Sanlitun being asked to deny service to black patrons. What looked like an attempt to add credibility to his anonymous claims, he followed up with an article on Saturday claiming another anonymous source, this time a police officer, who denied that bars were instructed to deny service to patrons of African descent. His article though, still maintained that:
…another bar owner had been verbally warned by Public Security Bureau officers not to serve customers of Mongolian and African descent, while other bars had been ordered to sign chopped pledges to keep to curfews, not allow the illegal sale of drugs, and refuse certain customers.
According to Beijing Boyce, who has reported his independent findings about the SCMP claims on his blog, this might be just a case of miscommunication. Through his investigations, his sources tell him that bar owners were indeed asked to:
monitor black patrons. He [the bar owner] said the police told the reps that drug dealers are predominantly black in the area. He said the police did not ask bar owners to ban blacks.
As you can imagine, the story has spread like wildfire across blogs as well as more established media outlets. Even Shanghaiist’s story was echoed verbatim on a Chinese blog. Not surprisingly though, while news outlets like The Age and Financial Times picked up the story in the context of the Beijing Olympics being “no-fun”, latter commentary was less about the likelihood of Africans and Mongolians being turned away from bars but more about the SCMP‘s journalism.
Jeremy Goldkorn of Danwei comments:
…it seems highly unlikely that anyone with any real authority would “secretly” plan “to ban black people” from the city’s bars.
The sources of the South China Morning Post are anonymous, and the paper does not seem to have any physical evidence to support the article.
Liam Fitspatrick from Time (in association with CNN) also recognises that:
The story, by Tom Miller and Peter Simpson, quotes an anonymous bar owner as saying that security officers forced him to sign a pledge that required him to prevent black people from entering his premises. A nameless “black British national” is also quoted, expressing his shock and disappointment.
The anonymity of the sources is also noticed by veteran blogger and China watcher Fons Tuinstra in the China Herald:
The proof of this was pretty flimsy: one anonymous bar-owner at Sanlitun.
I found the article remarkable for two reasons. First, because of its firm anti-China tone, while the South China Morning Post had adopted (as far as I could read them) since 1997 a pro-China tone that would even be considered nauseating by the editors of the China Daily.
Second, it fitted nicely into their old tradition in coming with firm allegations, based on nothing, so they could sell the next day their paper again with a firm denial of a false rumor they had created themselves in the first place.
Fons then continues to post his FriendFeed conversations with other China netizens who also find the SCMP report a little hard to swallow.
The most convincing debunking of this story has been the hard work of Beijing nightlife blogger Beijing Boyce who actually went bar to bar to to speak to bar owners about this potential ban. Boyce suggests that the “black” referred to may not actually be about skin color but “bad elements”. The Chinese term for organized crime syndicates or the triads is 黑社会 (literally black society).
In his latest entry Boyce also comments on the SCMP’s lack of transparency in reporting:
Apparently the policy [to ban patrons of African descent] is so secret that the police are keeping it from all but a few bar owners who can be trusted to reveal it to foreign journalists.
Unlike the Hong Kong daily newspaper, Boyce manages to name the bars that helped him debunk the SCMP report.
Photo from xiaming: “These signs, each with a different neighbourhood police officer, are posted around a few square kilometres north of Beijing’s Sanlitun area. I’m guessing that they were proposed and paid-for by the law firm. Each police officer seems to have around 200 households under his responsibility.”