I was (am) always curious about the seemingly opposing forces at the Global times. Often I was amazed at how far they would go allowing commentators to criticize the CCP, even columns mocking China’s navy and arguing it was hardly ready to participate in any conflict in the South China Sea. So many examples like that. There was a 2009 op-ed praising Deng Yujiao, the karaoke waitress in Badong who stabbed a lascivious government official to death. And a lot more. These were balanced, of course, with xenophobic outbursts, sabre rattling and incredibly paranoid/irrational arguments about the West and the Western media. But still….I was amazed
at what got past the censors at what the censors let through. But I never doubted that it was strategic. Nothing got through by accident. Give the people some space to vent, as long as they never cross the line, the fat red line between acceptable criticism and advocating for democracy or for greater freedom in Tibet or for referring to a massacre in 1989.
I wondered about this same thing tonight as I read this piece on the one-year anniversary of the Wenzhou train crash. It’s actually a damn good article; it’s real journalism. Paragraphs like these just pop out at me:
At the scene of the accident, wreaths for the deceased have been removed, memorial poems written on the viaduct pillar have been scrubbed off and there are no signs of the crash. Everything seems to show life has returned to normal. But the local villagers still remember the tragedy vividly.
“I will never forget that night, even now when there’s a thunderstorm and lightning, I am little worried about the viaduct, and worry that such accidents will happen again,” a local resident, who refused to disclose his full name, told the Global Times.
And then there’s this:
Although boasting one of the fastest high-speed trains in the world, the way the Ministry of Railways (MOR) disposed of the wreckage and delayed the results of an investigation into the crash sparked public fury and widespread doubt as to the wisdom of the massive investment in high-speed railways….
Though unwilling to discuss the past, Wang Jian still complained about the MOR. “After the memorial service, the MOR officials fled and have never contacted us ever since. The investigation result was delayed, and the complete name list of all the passengers on the trains has still never been released,” he said.
“The MOR did punish someone, but nobody was even jailed,” Wang complained.
This doesn’t sound like state-controlled propaganda. But maybe it is; maybe it’s doing exactly what the party wants it to do, placing the blame on a specific group of bunglers. I honestly don’t know. The one thing I always thought when I read articles like this, hypercritical of the government, was that it somehow fit within the approved party discourse — that the government was willing to let the media go this far and even encouraged it to do so in some instances, especially when reporting on corruption and local malfeasance.
Is this an example of opening up and greater freedom of the press? Or is it the same old propaganda, disguised as a watchdog media, that is actually planting exactly the stories the government wants it to? I wonder.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.