Hundreds of thousands of newspapers ordered to be destroyed in cover-up of corruption claim
A government official in Fujian province used his political clout to prevent hundreds of thousands of copies of a newspaper that portrays him in a bad light from hitting the market a thousand miles away. The magnitude of the censorship effort has been exposed on Chinese social media by renowned investigative journalists and astounded netizens who have long held aversion for corruption.
On the evening of October 8, Zhou Zhichen, the editor-in-chief of Yunnan-based Metropolis Times, wrote on his Sina Weibo without going into details that “As a media practitioner from Fujian province, I’ve never felt so indignant and ashamed.” On October 9, investigative reporter Wang Keqing from the Economic Observer confirmed that a story titled “Here Comes the Watch Uncle Bureau Chief from Fujian”, which would make public the fact that Li Dejin, the transportation bureau chief of Fujian province, sports a 50,000-yuan diamond-studded wristwatch and a 13,000 waist belt, was going to be published on page A30 of the newspaper that day. Hundreds of thousands of copies had been printed. But early in the morning, they were destroyed due to relentless pressure exerted several provinces away.
Top: The story “Here Comes the Watch Uncle Bureau Chief from Fujian” due for Tuesday’s Metropolis Times.
Bottom: Li Dejin, Chief of Fujian Provincial Transportation Bureau.
Zhou Zhichen, the chief editor, denounced the coverup in his weibo:
As a media practitioner from Fujian, I’ve never felt so indignant and ashamed. I abhor and despise the black hand coming all the way down from a thousand miles away. When I am looking at the blood and tears settling upon hundreds of thousands of newspapers, I consoled myself that only survivors can be constructors. I also believe that that leather belt tainted with a sugar daddy’s vibe and that timepiece with crazy parts are only the beginning of dark spirits’ karma. I firmly believe.
Deng Fei, reporter with Phoenix Weekly and organizer of China’s Free Lunch program, wrote:
While Chinese media have been subject to castration for years, this day is particularly a shame. After this defeat, how are we going to face the public? How are we going to muster up the courage and exercise our right of supervision?
Later, Global Times, a Communist tabloid, also confirmed that the copies that had been recalled were not reduced to pulp yet and were still at the printing house after being sealed off.
An insider with knowledge revealed that at 3 a.m. on October 9, just three hours before the newspaper copies would reach the distribution centers, the president of the media group that owns the paper received seven telephone calls from Yunnan Provincial Party Committee, from the Provincial Propaganda Department, the Municipal Propaganda Department of Kunming, all claiming that the Fujian Provincial Party Committee and government requested that the article be taken down. By the time, the newspapers had already been printed. The printing house had to replace the page with advertisements and reprint it.
The Chinese public and the media have been increasingly sensitive about the attire of public servants. It is almost a consensus that public servants, whose incomes look miserable on paper, must have received bribe or made ill-gotten gains if they wear a luxury watch or a belt. Several officials had come under intense public scrutiny because of timepieces they wear and were even fired due to mounting pressure.
Cross-province hot pursuit (kua sheng): A black hand extended from Fujian to prevent the publication of a story in Yunnan
Cross-province hot pursuit, (kua sheng zhui bu, or in short, kua sheng) is a recent phenomenon: local authorities in China send police forces in defiance of geographic distance and jurisdictional hurdles to arrest and detain petitioners, whistle-blowers and dissident authors who criticize the local government and law enforcement on the web but are based in another province. The term kua sheng is formidable in that it demonstrates the reality that the authorities can always reach you and punish you for what you say against it as long as you are within China. Kua-sheng is now often used as a verb by Chinese netizens before they leave a comment critical of the authorities, as in “Please do not kua-sheng me,”
Fear of Li Dejin, the Watch Uncle, that the story about his 50,000 yuan Rado and 13,000 Hermes belt may dent his political career is legitimate. But his knee-jerk reaction to kill the story at all costs, with his cross-province efforts, proved counterproductive in the age of social media. It only piqued media and netizens’ curiosity as to why his sphere of influence is big enough to employ the amount of manpower and pressure the authorities a thousand miles away into action. Just as media commentator Yao Bo puts it on his Weibo:
“The Watch Uncle stopped in his kua sheng action only hundreds of thousands of newspaper copies that report his luxury watch and Hermes belt, but followers of the big potatoes that shared this on Weibo total at least a 10 million. A gust of wind lifted his fig leaf, and his first reaction is to keep his hair in shape. How dumb is that…”
The editorial blog of the state-run Xinhua News Agency also commented, “If the lessons (officials) learned (from watch-spotting) is turn a deaf ear to censure or even single-handedly gag it, it will be a real tragedy. China has already become the number one country in microblogging. Officials in media maelstrom, please face questions directly.”