By Michael Ardaiolo
Photo by China Media Project
On Friday morning, four of China’s prominent state-backed newspapers released scathing editorials of the United States’ involvement in the Chen Guangcheng case. As the clock struck midnight that very same day, one of those papers, The Beijing News, succumbed to online criticism and offered a brief apology on its Sina Weibo account.
The four newspapers who printed the coordinated editorials included the Beijing Daily (the official channel of Beijing’s Municipal Party Committee), the Beijing Youth Daily (published by the Chinese Communist Youth League), the Beijing Times (affiliated with the People’s Daily, the voice of the Central People’s Government and the CPC Central Committee) and The Beijing News. It is more surprising that the lattermost ran their editorial in the first place than that it issued the apology. The Beijing News was launched in recent years with liberal, reformist ambitions (read: proper journalist techniques). Last September, however, it was taken over by municipal authorities in Beijing, effectively demoting their stature and content maneuverability. Some journalists suspected it was due to their
proper coverage of the fatal high-speed train crash in Wenzhou last July.
The apology by The Beijing News was posted on their Sina Weibo account in the form of a one-line statement accompanied with a large black-and-white picture of a withered, old-fashioned clown taking a lonely drag of his cigarette. The China Media Project (CMP) translated the text:
In the still of the deep night, removing that mask of insincerity, we say to our true selves, “I am sorry.” Goodnight.
The lone apology was in reaction to the public outcry that erupted on the web. The commentary and microblogging backlash to the editorials became so fierce and numerous that searching “Beijing Daily,” who was responsible for the most over-the-top of the articles, in Chinese returned a response of “These search results cannot be shown according to relevant laws, regulations and policies.” The editorials may have been meant to send a blanket message to the U.S., but there was evidently a gross miscalculation of the domestic audience’s response.
In an article by The Washington Post, media analyst David Bandurski of the CMP at the University of Hong Kong proclaims, “The move to arrest conversation of the Beijing editorials could point to what might be characterized as one of the most high-profile failures of Party propaganda we have on record.”