In defense of the Benjamin Joffe-Walt report from Taishi

AsiaPundit offers us some much needed clarity in what has become a messy, emotion-ensnarled controversy. It is an important antidote to the nonsense spewed by blogger Michael Anti in one of the most irresponsible posts I’ve ever read anywhere.

A journalist himself, AsiaPundit offers essential insights into how Joffe-Walt’s story is anything but damnable. (And as an ex-journalist myself, I can confirm this.)

Although I cover finance and would never likely be in a similar situation, AsiaPundit believes he would have done the same as Joffe-Walts in the same situation. Protecting sources is important, and I have in recent months, to my shame or credit, asked a Chinese-national source to review some of his on-the-record comments that were highly critical of the central government. He did and it almost ruined a great story, but I feared they were a risk to his livelihood, albeit not his life.

I would never put my staff at risk, but I’ve personally always ignored the most-sound advice and taken insane risks (usually with my own life and typically during leisure activities). And it seems from Joffe-Watt’s account that the risk was taken willingly by Lu and not taken at the correspondent’s request. Indeed, it was after his repeated objections.

Read every word. The knee-jerk reaction to Joffe-Walts’ misunderstanding of the extent of Lu’s injuries, while wholly predictable, is a chilling reminder of how sensible discussion and enquiry can be subverted by exploiting emotional trigger points. Whether the trigger point is Taiwan, Japan or “foreigners treating Chinese people like dogs” (to paraphrase Anti’s deranged assessment), the result is the same, a meltdown of reason and a return to sloganeering, insults and irrationality, all justified by an insistence on victimhood. A never-ending cycle of pointless rage with no healing, of accusation with no resolution, of anguish with no consolation.

Go read AsiaPundit’s post now.

The Discussion: 33 Comments

I read it, but it doesn’t read as much of a defence…. He wasn’t responsible for allowing a headstrong journalist to put himself at danger. But noone really commented on that. What is needed is a defence of an article that clearly described someone mutilated beyong belief through one of the most vicious maulings recorded in a British broadsheet, which claimed Lu’s eye was left out of its socket (I could defend this after seeing swollen eyes from boxers which do appear to be jutting out the socket), a head supported in such a way to resemble a rubber band, tongue cut (how he got so close as to see this I’m not sure) et cetera.
I would defend it as written by one in shock, but as anyone who reads my comments here, when I write in the height of passion I tend to blow things up. There was no time to cool down; ususally the Guardian publishes reliable facts then, a few days later, an opinion piece or additional reporting is allowed.
But regardless: As long as news is censored by the main suspects, we have no choice but to believe outsiders. As I have always maintained: maybe the People’s Liquidation Army ‘only’ killed 256 people and the western sources are exaggerating. As long as the CCP prevents any independent investigation and throws people in gaol for trying to find out the truth, the can’t help but have the worst believed about them. Something in the West which is called “conflict of interest.”

October 11, 2005 @ 7:18 pm | Comment

By the way, I never did get that rebuttal from ‘liuzhou laowai’ (of the one where I called him “sonny” which reflects what I had referred to above) despite his repeated promises to do so, even after asking Richard if it was indeed OK to do so.
His last words in fact were “Will get back to you.” October 9, 2005 08:50 AM.
But then, as it’s yet another fake name (guess who!) I assume he simply conceded quietly and is now continuing his trolling campaign under another alias.

October 11, 2005 @ 7:29 pm | Comment

The beatings will continue until morale improves.

October 11, 2005 @ 9:38 pm | Comment

I can’t even believe that some people get so angry about an honest mistake in reporting. It was obviously a stressful situation.
If the story had been about a foreigner beating a Chinese, these people would still be believing it was true.
But this is how things operate here. Distract people’s attention from the truth (i.e. hoodlums cooperating with the govt, beating people, denying the people of taishi their rights), and meanwhile these people are busy getting angry over “the bias in the western media.”
why not stop blaming foreigners for everything, and think about the fact that Lu really was beaten? Maybe he still has his eye, but he was beaten. The situation in Taishi is still the same. Are people really that ignorant and xenophobic that they get off on saying “oh look at the west and the western media, blah blah blah.”
As if that’s a plus for the world’s largest manufacturer of BS, Xinhua.

October 11, 2005 @ 11:55 pm | Comment

This doesn’t sound nice, but really no wonder China’s still a developing country. There seems to be a real inability to face problems head-on, with everyone instead looking to “blame the foreigners for everything.” How about honestly facing a situation in your own country instead of brushing it off and focusing on other pointless things?

October 11, 2005 @ 11:58 pm | Comment

Are people really that ignorant and xenophobic that they get off on saying “oh look at the west and the western media, blah blah blah.” As if that’s a plus for the world’s largest manufacturer of BS, Xinhua.

Unfortunately, the answer to your question is a resounding Yes. Especially when by doing so, they change the subject, diverting all the attention away from what lies at the heart of the matter (corruption, thuggery, attempted murder) to the very least important aspect of the story. But it deflects attention from the crime, and that’s exactly what some parties want to see happen

October 12, 2005 @ 12:02 am | Comment

Sorry, the comments above might seem a little “grumpy” or “extreme” but I really believe the way that this story has developed in some people’s eyes. It is beyond ridiculous.

October 12, 2005 @ 12:06 am | Comment

Keir, about your earlier comment – I don’t think Liuzhou is you-know-who. He has a blog that seems pretty intelligent; I think he just lost his temper and then felt a bit embarrassed.

About your earlier comment, I agree that the Guardian has some explaining to do about the reporter getting Lu’s condition wrong. But to those who start chanting that he’s lying and that he’s an imperialist dog, all I can say is, think about it: The reporter would never make up such an intentional lie, because it is so easy to fact check — either Lu’s neck was broken or it wasn’t; either his eye was hanging out or it wasn’t. Lying about it would be insane, as the chances of being exposed are literally 100 percent. I think he saw Lu bloodied and with a bulging or battered eye and, in shock, exaggerated what he saw, consciously or unconsciously. Not good journalism, but hardly an act of malice or mischief. But I’ve seen this kind of reaction so many times, and it seems to surge in a tidal wave, where any hope of logical rebuttal is all but futile, especially with little blogospheric elves fanning the flames. (You know who you are.)

October 12, 2005 @ 12:09 am | Comment

The Guardian today has a follow-up article in which Lu is quoted as saying:

“Benjamin insisted that he wanted to go so he could see the real situation in the village. He told me to stay behind. But I insisted I would go with him. I felt that if a foreigner was ready to help the village, then I as a Chinese should do the same.”

It also acknowledges that ‘his injuries were not as extensive as first reported’.

If anyone who wants to complain about the original report by Benjamin Joffe-Watt, the best course of action would probably be to write a polite email to the Reader’s Editor.

October 12, 2005 @ 5:18 am | Comment

Thanks for the link Richard. I’ve made a brief update that addresses some of the concerns here and elsewhere, I’ve reposted below.

October 12, 2005 @ 5:46 am | Comment

“A never-ending cycle of pointless rage with no healing, of accusation with no resolution, of anguish with no consolation.”

That’s sounds haughtingly familiar. Chinse society never lets wounds heal and it never forgives or forgets.

October 12, 2005 @ 5:57 am | Comment

I am certainly not “in the know” of the Sino blogosphere, but considering the known existence of Sino Cyber Cops “directing public e-opinion”, could it be likely that certain comments blaming Joffe-Walt originate from propaganda officers?

October 12, 2005 @ 9:09 am | Comment

Is this any different?

Two elderly ladies were killed.

One of the ladies was over 70 years old, and one was over 50 years old.

A witness said on the Internet, ” The policemen there today beat up everyone, men, women, old, and young, without mercy. These are definitely no “people’s police”. I am unable to describable the scene of police brutality that I saw, it is absolutely beyond what you can imagine. They were simply cruel, and they were simply bandits!”

“I saw with my own eyes that dozens of policemen surrounded an over 60 year-old lady, struck and kicked her, and within seconds the old lady fell down on the ground motionless. This occurred only because she said a few words scolding the police.” I was not sure if she was dead or alive.

The reporter was told through the Internet chat room, ” A 7 or 8 year-old boy came to watch the excitement with his grandmother, when he saw the police battering a person and asked his grandmother: ‘Why does uncle policeman want to strike others?’ Immediately the boy was beaten by several policemen. I heard, the boy’s face was full of blood and he lost several teeth.”

October 12, 2005 @ 9:25 am | Comment

sniff, sniff…..

….I smell provacateur….

…tian li asks “is this any different” and then cites from the FLG rag “the Epoch Times”, whose record of credibility is far, far less than the Guardian’s.

Thus, an attempt to confuse the Guardian’s credibility with that of the FLG nuts.

Also, preceded by standard provacateur fare of trying to sound critical of cyber-cops.

sniff, sniff…..something doesn’t smell right to me…..

sniff, sniff….

October 12, 2005 @ 9:35 am | Comment


just want to point out that Japan blames sh*t on foreigners all the time too, as a sort of natural knee-jerk reaction, and they are anything but a (economically) developing nation. They’re pretty much on top economically, even if there are a few things we Westerners might consider a bit xenophobic.

Likewise, in the states there are always cases of people ragging on foreigners as the cause of problems.

so China’s not really different in this regard. what’s different is the fact that the authorities sanction it. Again, I think we’re best off focussing on the actual problem and not the fallout – that there are some really messed up, corrupt ways of doing things in parts of China.

October 12, 2005 @ 11:11 am | Comment

>Lying about it would be insane, as the chances of being exposed are literally 100 percent.


In reality, not all people act in this logic. For example, many guys in the administration probably knew that it was very likely that Iraq had no WMD, but they still used it as a justification to go there. And the chance of being exposed is even bigger than the case for this reporter.

October 12, 2005 @ 12:07 pm | Comment

Yknow, the Guardian has sensationalized stories before. They had one article I blogged on, Pentagon releases badass screenplay. Turned out the “secret” Pentagon report they cited was a public study commissioned by the Pentagon… and published in Fortune a month before. Boing Boing had a few good links on it.

October 12, 2005 @ 2:35 pm | Comment

To be honest I was surprised that Peking Duck blogged about this story in such a prejudiced and anti-China way without any prior thought or objectivity, purely on the strength of the first article (from the Guardian) that popped up on the Internet.

I understand that we have all heard worse events in China and things like this do go on but it was very sloppy to take that first article as gospel and also add a load of other writing talking about the mafia-ization of China.

If you are going to publish stuff on even a blog then you should be objective and not just be shrill about the first thing that appeals to your own prejudices.

October 12, 2005 @ 2:57 pm | Comment

I just saw that other lisa published it. [edited by Richard – don’t be an asshole]

October 12, 2005 @ 2:59 pm | Comment

The Guardian is my paper of choice, and am grateful it’s free online (unlike the NY Times now). But I prefer the way it was 20 years ago. Compare the archives and you read in dispasssionate articles just the facts. Now it’s all written in opinion-piece style.
I agree with Tian Li’s point. Ivan’s probably right, but the point remains.

October 12, 2005 @ 4:33 pm | Comment

Epoch Times is free on Chinese supermarkets in my area. I read the paper for a few months but I stop reading it now. The paper is single-mindly against the Chinese government.

October 12, 2005 @ 6:02 pm | Comment

[Edited by Richard – Sorry Dave, I don’t want stuff like that (Brian’s snipe) on my blog. And I agree with you 100 percent.]

And you’re so polite about it too, Brian.


October 12, 2005 @ 9:03 pm | Comment

I think the key difference here is that when the authorities sanction distracting the focus from the real problem to “some foreigners,” there is no other voice around to say “hey, that’s not right.” So I’d say that although blaming foreigners occurs in every society of the world, there are usually those who point out the wrongheadedness of such ideas and encourage self-reflection. Unfortunately, that is lacking in China.
On top of that, both Chinese and quite a few foreigners living here buy into and perpetuate the myth that somehow Chinese are “just different” from the rest of the world, and that it is impossible for the West to “truly objectively understand China.” only when this myth is dismantled, the sense of victimhood in Chinese society is minimized, and more diversity of opinions is permitted in the press, will there be true understanding of the problems facing China and their true causes.

October 12, 2005 @ 9:21 pm | Comment

Keir, I agree about newspapers getting too “personal” in their coverage, focusing on the reporter’s own emotions and not on the issue. CNN’s hurricane coverage and their coverage of Pope John Paul’s death are great examples of this. The Guardian’s definitely guilty.

Xing, I won’t quote from Epoch Times, which is as bad as China Daily in terms of reliability and fact checking.

October 12, 2005 @ 10:05 pm | Comment

The sense of victimhood of Chinese people today is much less than before, say 15 years ago. With the rise of China, many people have a sense of confidence.

I remember most China’s youngs of my generation looked to the west for China’s future. A lots have happened since 1998. Chinese can give many examples that the west tried to keep China down (particularly during the first 4 years of Clinton administration). I think, in some sense, this attitude change is inevitable. China is a big country. The country is rising fast under the communist rule, and the US has its own interests. So you have this competitive relationship. At the same time, China has changed a lot and most people found the government more acceptable than before. I think it is hard to find a government in history which did as reasonable well as China is doing now and got overthrowed.

October 12, 2005 @ 10:35 pm | Comment


I mentioned Epoch Times as I saw a few links from someone’s post.

October 12, 2005 @ 10:38 pm | Comment

Hi, my name’s John, I’m 25, from Vancouver, Canada. I’ve been
living and working here in Guangzhou for nearly four years now, save a year in Hangzhou. I’ve been following the Taishi situation on the EastSouthWestNorth ( blog and after reading about what happened on Saturday to the Guardian reporter, I decided to take the morning off work and go
down to Taishi and see for myself what was happening there.

After being dropped off at Yuwotou by a friend, I took a bus which stopped right at the entrance to the village. I popped into the supermarket and asked one of the staff there what I could see in Taishi.
She said not much, just pointed further down the main strip.

At the first small intersection I looked to the right and saw a large group
of factory workers going through their factory gates. I went to the end of the road, past the factory, and into a residential part of the village,
continuing in the same direction as the main strip. I passed a primary
school but I didn’t go in. Deep inside I saw a public notice board which
had a large ripped piece of red paper, about 1×1.5 metres with well over a hundred names on it. Also on the bulletin board were several white A4-size sheets of paper, several of which announced the resignations of several
members of the village council, all citing health reasons.

Further down in the same direction, still in a residential area, I crossed
a small road and stopped to buy some bottled water. I asked the shop keeper what there was to see in Taishi. He said there was just a large factory and the village council office, both further in the same direction, on the right at the next road. I asked if there was anything else going on, and he just shook his head, saying he didn’t want any trouble. I got the feeling not that he was hiding anything, just that he didn’t want to get involved.

During my four years here, I’ve become completely fluent in Chinese and don’t speak with any discernable accent. Not to boast, but I’ve found
myself in several situations where people refuse to believe that I’m not
“Chinese”, insisting that I must be from Xinjiang. I continued walking for
about three more minutes and came to the aforementioned road. I asked a motorbike driver what there was to see nearby, he just mentioned the large Fu Liu factory. I asked where the village council office was and he pointed further down to the right. I walked up to the gate but didn’t go inside.
The gate was open, but no security guards were posted immediately nearby, just two sitting in the shade across the street. I looked at the large public notice board facing the street, all financial records dating back to June this year. I turned back in the direction I had just come, going further down the road towards the intersection, intending to turn left and back to the ‘downtown’ area I had left when I walked towards the first factory.

When I got to the intersection, with banana trees on my right and
‘downtown’ on my left, a few guys on motorbikes pulled up and asked where I was going. I said I had gotten lost and was now looking for a place to eat.
When asked what I was doing in Taishi, I said I was just looking around and minding my own business. A stream of several hundred middle school students
on bicycles came towards us from down the road cutting through the banana trees. I went to go down the road but they blocked my way and told me I had to leave. I went to go back towards ‘downtown’ but they blocked me again. I asked who they were and what authority they had to make me leave. When they said they were local villagers, I told them they had no right no block my way or make me leave, that only police could make me leave. They told me to wait. Around ten more people came, asking me similar questions, and gave me similar non-answers to my similar questions. I asked if they were police and when they declined to reply, I told them they had no right to make me leave, but if my presence was a problem, they could escort me to a restaurant and watch me eat, and I would leave when finished eating. They told me to wait.

Approximately ten minutes later an expensive-looking minivan pulled up and one well-dressed gentleman stepped out and asked me what I was doing in Taishi. I told him I had come down from the city and was hoping to stroll around their village and enjoy their clean air for a while and then go eat some lunch. He told me I had to leave immediately. At this point there were around thirty men gathered around me, five of whom kept repeating the same
questions simultaneously, but not giving me a chance to answer any of them clearly. I was feeling quite nervous being stuck in the slightly hostile crowd, but kept repeating my wish to go eat, and then leave. One man further back on a motorbike said out loud several times that he wanted to hit me. Another man standing nearby walked over and told me that ‘us’ foreigners have made a big mess here and that I was not welcome in the village. Given my understanding of the situation, none of them appeared to
be local villagers, but I could be wrong. The five or so men continued
trying to talk over each other for a few more minutes and I repeated
several times that I would like to answer their questions again, but I
could only answer one person at a time.

One man grabbed my arm and tried to force me to walk. I struggled free and began ignoring the bystanders and directing my attention towards the well-dressed gentleman. He asked again what I was doing, and I repeated that I was just walking around and repeated several times that everyone I had come in contact with thus far could attest to this fact. I voluntarily opened up my bag to show that I only had some papers, no pens or cameras or recording devices. It was getting quite tedious at this point repeating simple answers to their repetitive questions. I restated that I was simply looking to walk around and would promptly choose a place to eat lunch and then I would leave as I had to be at work soon. The well-dressed gentleman asked me to get in the van, an offer I quickly refused, pointing out that I didn’t know him or any of the five to six men still inside the van, all dressed in plain clothes. He pointed down the road which led into the banana forest and said I could go eat down there. I joked that I didn’t like fried bananas all that much. He asked me to get on the motorbike of one of the five or so men who were repeating their questions, and I again refused.

Finding ourselves at a bit of a standoff–they wanted me to leave
immediately and I wanted to eat–I proposed that they escort me to a
restaurant towards the ‘downtown’ direction, and that upon having finished my meal, I would then leave. The well-dressed gentleman didn’t answer, only made several phonecalls while we all stood on the road. After about an hour of this, he said that he alone would show me out of town. I said that I was
going to go eat something and he was welcome to join me, and that upon finishing my meal I would immediately leave. He made some more phonecalls and said that I could leave now. We had a decent discussion as we walked,
talking vaguely about the situation in the village. He told me several of
times, half threateningly, half matter-of-factly that if he were not
accompanying me I would be in great danger and should thus leave
immediately. I asked him several times to clarify what sort of danger I was suppposedly in, and he responded only by restating that I was not welcome in the village and should leave immediately. I repeated that if he were not a police officer, I didn’t see how he could force me to leave. As we walked a white car followed about ten metres behind us.

Coming to the very edge of the village, almost where I had gotten off the bus, I saw a Lanzhou-style noodle shop and said that I would be eating there and that he was most welcome to join me. He repeated that if he left my side I would be in serious danger. I asked again what sort of danger he
was referring to, but again he refused to explain. Once seated in the restaurant, I told him what I understood of the situation and that I was not involved in any pro-democracy activities, I was just coming to look around, after reading about what had happened to Lu Banglie. He seemed quite interested in hearing about what I had read on the internet, but claimed to be uninformed about what had happened just three days earlier
(on Saturday), stating that he had just been transferred to the village
just the day before (Monday). He made some more phone calls and told someone where he was. Halfway through my noodles, another well-dressed
gentleman came in and sat down at my table without introducing himself. He asked where I was from and what I was doing both in Taishi and in China. I gave each of them my business card (I manage a Western food restaurant in Guangzhou). He left, I finished my noodles and the first well-dressed gentleman escorted me to the busstop and watched me get on the bus.

I didn’t go to Taishi to stir up shit or anything, I just wanted to see what was up. Four years ago, I was willing to leave my political consciousness at LoWu, but after four years of paying taxes to the GZ government and politely keeping quite non-vocal about everything that I believe in from back home and disagree with here, and thinking that as a white Westerner, I wouldn’t be harmed, I decided to go as a neutral observer.

Prior to arriving, I had two plans of action: a) fake a cold and try see a doctor in the local hospital and see what was up there and b) drop into a local eatery and order lots of food and let the locals start staring and chatting with me (which would happen in any normal village) and see what they would say. I only saw the hospital as I was getting on the bus to leave, and by the time I was being escorted by the well-dressed gentleman, I decided to drop plan B and eat something quick then leave.

My guess is the guys who crowded around me were mainly comprised of the original (corrupt/incompetent) village councillors, their hired thugs and probably a few undercover pigs. Given what I’ve read about first the Taiwanese person buying the protesters food in July and the way they were either brutalised or imprisoned or both, I highly doubt, as my mob claimed, that they were representing the villagers’ shared opinion that given the recent events, foreigners were not welcome in Taishi.

It’s tragic that the original village councillors’ and their hired thugs’ intimidation tactics succeeded in bringing down the number of petitioners to below the required quota, nulling the recall procedure. I can’t imagine that anything else relevant will come out Taishi in the near future.

October 13, 2005 @ 1:04 am | Comment

Hate to toot my own horn, especially since I haven’t posted much for so long on my site, but thought about this whole thing in the shower this morning and figured i’d share:

October 13, 2005 @ 1:20 am | Comment

{From Richard: Look Brian, Martyn, Lisa, Jerome, Bill and others do me a great service contributing to this blog. I won’t tolerate their being insutled. Comment on their viewpoints if you’d like, challenge their assertions, etc. But to toss out pointless insults isn’t acceptable. I appreciate your comments, but please try to understand where I’m coming from, and let it go. Okay?)

October 13, 2005 @ 8:16 am | Comment

Xing said, “The paper is single-mindly against the Chinese government”

As much as Xinhua, the world’s largest “news agency” (LOL), is single-mindly against the U.S. and anything related to freedom and democracy?

Ivan & Richard

Can you specifically point out any article published in the Epoch times that which is patently false? Please be prepared to provide, sniff-sniff, facts to prove it.

BTW – have either of you ever met a single person that practices FLG?

One final point. The Epoch Times initial report of this incident was far more reserved (careful?) than the Guardian report and did not mention anything about anyones death. A far more responsible report as it turns out.

October 13, 2005 @ 10:27 am | Comment

Lesson Learned?
“The events of the past few months in village of Taishi have wiped out the stream of Communist lies about “village elections.” What began as a ruse to fool the Chinese people and the Western world into thinking the Communists were amenable to democracy has become yet another example of Communist deception, corruption, and brutality.

“Why would the Communists be so determined to stop this small village from following the very laws they put in place? Radio Free Asia revealed the answer.

‘The truth is that a victory in Taishi would have thrown into question the legality of a whole slew of similar property deals right across the Pearl River Delta region. Because an awful lot of property there is built on illegally acquired land in which the original land-rights holders—the farmers—had not consented to these transactions. The fierce reaction by the Guangdong authorities to the Taishi campaign shows just how clearly they realize that the Taishi issue is not an isolated phenomenon.'”

October 13, 2005 @ 11:04 am | Comment

Tian Li,

Then, you seem to agree that it is fair to put China Daily and Epoch Times in the same catergory. And the last time I read China Daily is more than 10 years ago.

October 13, 2005 @ 11:25 am | Comment

Frankly Xing, with so little “free” reporting coming out of China, I read as many sources as time allows and don’t try to catagorize any one. They each have their value in one sense or another. But, that doesn’t preclude me from taking mental notes of which seems most accurate. Having said that, I would trust a FLG based source far more than any state sponsored reports.

Xinhua has a clear agenda. As do many other sources. Certainly Epoch Times has its agenda. The question should then be asked is its cause noble?

When I see the CCP deeply concerned about the reporting by Epoch Times I pay very close attention to what they are reporting.

October 17, 2005 @ 11:10 am | Comment

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