Killing the chicken to scare the monkey

Melinda Liu, Newsweek’s Beijing Bureau Chief highlights the growing dangers surrounding Chinese journalists and activists who choose to get involved with foreign media organizations both in China and overseas. The names of several are well known to us, names like Zhao Yan, the NY Times researcher detained on charges of “revealing state secrets” – a crime punishable by death in China; and Chen Guangcheng, the blind forced abortion activist from Shandong Province who officials threaten to prosecute for “providing intelligence to foreign countries.”

The latest incident involves Chinese activist Lu Banglie who was beaten in front of The Guardian’s correspondent, Benjamin Joffe-Walt, in Taishi. The article also reports that, in a further incident, Taishi thugs roughed up another two Beijing-based foreign correspondents over the wekend. This story has provoked hot debate among the China-related media and China bloggers regarding, particularly, where the blame lies:

The incident sparked outrage, but also a huge debate among China watchers, mainland bloggers and journalists themselves. If a foreigner brings a Chinese acquaintance into a potentially dangerous situation, who’s to blame if the local gets beaten or detained? Some Chinese bloggers insist the foreigner is at fault. “As for the guardian’s Benjamin Joffe-Walt, how the f— did he still have the nerve to write [his report]?,” one said. “Why didn’t he insist on rescuing Lu Banglie? Or is that Chinese person just a guide dog?”

China’s dark underbelly of rent-a-thugs, official intimidation, journalists’ news assistants invited for “informal chats” about what their foreign bosses are up to. Mobile phone signals monitored (that’s how Zhao Yan was caught). Mainland authorities perfecting the art of intimidation, co-opting, detaining and allowing attacks against local people who help foreign journalists. Melinda Liu admits that all of this has a chiiling effect on the foreign journalist community. She describes this kind of tactic as “killing the chicken to scare the monkey.”

UPDATE: Following the latest incident in Taishi involving the reported beating of a Malaysian (SCMP) and French reporter (Radio France International), the Hong Kong Journalists’ Association condemned the attack in a protest letter to Guangdong governor Huang Huahua.

Thank you to the reader who sent this link to Richard. He, in turn, sent it to me as he didn’t have the time to post it today.

The Discussion: 13 Comments

Frankly, I think all this hand-wringing by journalists is condescending and self-indulgent.

Your “fixer” either knows what he/she is doing, or they don’t. If they don’t, then as a journalist you should be looking for another fixer.

If they do know what they’re doing, they know it better than you. All of the people mentioned in Liu’s article are activists who know far better than us the line they toe going up against the people they confront. It’s their country and their fight.

To not associate with them for fear of the consequences is to treat them as naive children, who can’t make their own decisions. All this self-reflection makes for a big ego stroke to journalists my god, I wield so much power. People can die just by talking to me. These people are already living at risk and they know it. Show them some respect for it, and stop thinking you hold the power of life and death over them. Because you don’t. You’re not that special.

October 13, 2005 @ 1:54 am | Comment

Does anybody remember the last line of the document that Shi Tao was detained for sending to that website. It ordered Chinese journalists to inform on any of their colleauge who had relationships with foreign media groups.

On the issue at hand of who’s at fault when a Chinese is beaten while acompanying a foreigner, well… isn’t it obvious, its the thugs who do the beating.

Saying that the journalist is at fault for being hurt for doing his job is like saying that it is a woman’s own fault for being raped if she dresss like she’s turning tricks.

October 13, 2005 @ 2:20 am | Comment

One should have no illusions that “foreign” jounalists are deserving of “respect” just becasue they are “foreign” and work for what many people think is a “respectable” media source.

“Respect” is something earned by an individual over time based in large measure on repeated good performance.

Is Benjamin Joff-Walt deserving of respect? I think not. Google his name and find out more about him – make sure you read the link to Michelle Malkin.

All around the world we can see “journalists” and Main Stream Media losing the respect of their readers. At the same time we see the growth of blogs – there are many many more sources to check the truth of any story.

This trend will spell the end of many so these so-called journalists… and good riddance.

They bring discredit to themselves and to anyhing they involce themselves with.

October 13, 2005 @ 3:05 am | Comment

There is a story.
my friend who works at a main stream newspaper had told me that her colleague was fined because of a article concerning why the oil price, which fluctuates worldwide, keeps going up in China. the newspaper office received a call claiming of “leaking country’s secrete” just after the publication of the article, and thus the poor guy was kicked out for nothing.

why email is a must.

October 13, 2005 @ 3:08 am | Comment


What about Joff-Walt. I don’t know a thing about him but the Guardian is one of my favourite newspapers. What did you mean about the Michelle Malkin link? Can you paste it up here?

October 13, 2005 @ 3:37 am | Comment


Welcome back if it’s the same Henry I’m thinking about. Hope your exams went well.

October 13, 2005 @ 3:38 am | Comment

Thank u, Martyn, i was not leaving, rather, i always keep an eye on here, just speak a little.

October 13, 2005 @ 4:41 am | Comment

I feel the same way sometimes!

October 13, 2005 @ 5:18 am | Comment

If the CCP is killing the chicken to scare the monkey, then it sure seems like China has got a bird flu epidemic. Lot of killing going on and the monkeys don’t seem all the scared.

And I’m not clicking on anything written by Malkin. Speaking of discredited racist hacks that act as apologists for people like Steve Sailer and hate sites like

October 13, 2005 @ 6:35 am | Comment

I think Benjamin deserves praise for at least trying to get to Taishi. How many other foreign correspondents have been sitting in Beijing while these rural towns have been in turmoil? At the moment the best sources of information seem to be ESWN for his translations of what Chinese bulletin boards are saying, and, unfortunately, the Epoch Times. This FLG funded publication certainly has an agenda, but it is one of the few to have pictures and [English] stories from places like Taishi with plenty of local comment – even if it is with an axe to grind.
The foreign correspondents have one huge advantage over local reporters (not including their financial resources) – they can take risks and stick their noses in without risking seven years in prison for handling trivial information. They do have “power” and should use it as best they can – by getting out of the big cities and making more of an effort to report at the grassroots level.

October 13, 2005 @ 7:03 am | Comment

China has been using intimidation for decades. The glorious Chinese Communist Party, leader of a nation that supposedly 5000 years of history and civilisation is petrified of one thing, THE TRUTH, like a child is scared of the dark. You would think that the glorious government of such a large and proud nation would not jump at shadows and be scared of its own citizens knowing the truth about things but they are and the poor citizens mostly sit back and take it like a 2 bit ho.

October 13, 2005 @ 8:33 am | Comment

Nobody likes THE TRUTH.

Because THE TRUTH is in capital letters when it shouldn’t be.

October 15, 2005 @ 11:58 am | Comment

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