Image credit: Trevor McGoldrick.
After groups campaigning for the reinvestigation of the 1995 attempted murder of Zhu Ling attracted a great deal of (foreign) media coverage by petitioning the White House, netizens have flocked to the site to ask US president Barack Obama for favours, both serious and absurd.
You only have to glance at the recent petitions to see that the shark has been jumped on this issue, but that’s mostly okay, since the White House petition site is pointless and stupid in the first place. As the SCMP reports:
“Send troops to liberate the Chinese people,” reads one petition.
The headline of another petition reads, “We request the United States government will tofu curd official taste is sweet”.
Another petition reads: “Send troops to liberate Hong Kong”, while the petitioner adds that: “Our reason same as ‘The Declaration of Independence’ ”.
Offbeat China has more.
What all the reports covering the Zhu Ling petition ignore is that, beyond being pointless (countries don’t make a habit of investigating crimes which don’t involve their citizens and took place in a different country) petitioning the White House was a stupid thing to do.
If there’s anything the CPC hates, it’s outside interference, especially outside American interference. If you want to guarantee that authorities don’t look upon your case favourably, tell them that the Americans are on your side. As Bill Bishop commented on Sinocism, “this is not helpful in the long run, plays right into the hands of those who see hostile foreign forces attacking China”.
This was a publicity stunt you might reasonably say, and it worked. Well, it worked at getting the attention of the foreign media, which is useless because: (a) the CPC doesn’t care what the foreign media thinks, and (b) the case didn’t need the attention of the foreign media. Calls to reinvestigate Zhu Ling’s poisoning were trending on Weibo even though both ‘Zhu Ling’ and ‘thallium’ (the poison used) were blocked.
Since the initial uproar, authorities have backed off censoring the subject, and state media echoed campaigners’ concerns about the initial investigation (which was plagued by irregularities).
The White House petition blew up on foreign media around this time but we shouldn’t mistake correlation for causation, while it will be entertaining to see the Obama administration make a statement about a criminal case in another country, particularly one as touchy as China, the petition itself had no impact on the censoring or not-censoring of the issue.
Public uproar over the Zhu Ling case had simply reached a level where censorship was counterproductive. Both Yao Chen and Kaifu Lee, who between them have over 85 million followers on Weibo, discussed the case online. A translated version of a New Republic piece about the Zhu Ling case was retweeted over 100,000 times. If the poisoning of Zhu Ling is reinvestigated, either by police or by extension of the media circus currently surrounding it, it will be one of the few examples of (solely) online activism being successful, but let’s not kid ourselves that the White House had anything to do with it.