News readers in China today woke to a cannonade of coordinated editorial attacks on American “scheming” over the case of blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, much of it directed at U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke. The editorials, which were all published in top newspapers under the control of Beijing’s city leadership, should be understood, in our view, as China’s attempt to send a strong message on the Chen Guangcheng case while dissociating this criticism from the Chinese state per se in the midst of bilateral meetings.
Essentially, China wants to make a fuss, but prefers what you might call a “medium fuss” to a full-blown fuss through central Party organs like the People’s Daily or through the official Xinhua News Agency.
The “Why Beijing?” question also puzzled Chinese readers today, such as Sichuan television journalist Miao Hong (妙红), who posed the question on Sina Weibo: “What puzzles me is: why is it Beijing Daily?”
In total, four editorials were run today (we’re excepting the Global Times), all in paper’s formally overseen by city-level Party leaders. The most confrontational of the editorials came from Beijing Daily, the official mouthpiece of Beijing’s Municipal Party Committee and its top leader, Liu Qi (刘淇).
That editorial, which accused U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke of playing “little tricks”, said that blind activist Chen Guangcheng represented not ordinary Chinese but only his “backstage boss, namely the interests of the hostile forces of the West.” It said Chen had become “a tool and pawn by which politicians in the United States blacken China.”
Editorials were also run in the Beijing Times and The Beijing News — which came under the management of Beijing city leaders only late last year — and Beijing Youth Daily, which is published by the Beijing chapter of the Chinese Communist Youth League.
The inclusion of the Beijing Times and The Beijing News in the editorial mix today was of particular note, as until recently both papers, which have substantial circulations, were central-level publications — the former a spin-off of the People’s Daily, the latter under Guangming Daily. The Beijing News in particular has long had a reputation as one of China’s top professional newspapers, and its brazen use in today’s salvo was upsetting to many Chinese journalists.
Veteran news editor and former CMP fellow Gong Xiaoyue (龚晓跃) wrote on Sina Weibo: “The Beijing News has been raped. And Beijing Daily has again screwed out a climax. No one seems to have any shame.”
The editorial on page A3 of today’s The Beijing News, “Foreign Diplomats Cannot Overstep Their Own Role” (外交官不能逾越自己的本分), employs far less severe language than the Beijing Daily editorial, but criticizes the United States over the Cheng Guangcheng affair: “Over this incident, some American diplomatic personnel have beyond a doubt played a disreputable role,” it said.
The Beijing Youth Daily editorial, run on page 2, was called, “Making a ‘Show’ Does Not Serve the Preservation of the Overall U.S.-China Relationship” (“作秀”无助于维护中美关系大局). The editorial directly criticized Ambassador Locke for what it depicted as his willful dramatization of Chen Guangcheng’s departure from the U.S. embassy.
When Chen Guangcheng left the American Embassy in China on May 2, Ambassador Gary Locke was all drama and flair (大秀特秀). Not only did he “personally” escort Chen Guangcheng to a hospital in Beijing, but in the hospital he “personally” pushed Chen Guangcheng’s wheelchair, both of them appearing before the glare of the foreign media.
In fact, the real impact of the editorials within China is inconclusive. By the end of the day much of the attention inside China had turned not on the United States or Chen, but on the editorials themselves and what they had to say about China’s own message and methods.
Writing on Sina Weibo, one of China’s most popular social media platforms, one user remarked: “Beijing Daily can only represent the views of itself! What era is this we’re living in? . . . We still have these people trying to make personal political gains. They go against the arguments and ideas of civilization . . . The most apt market for them would be North Korea, not a modern-day China in which Deng’s reform and opening polices are advocated.”
“Every sentence in that stupid editorial in Beijing Daily is full of blather,” said one user on Weibo. They continued satirically: “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an article of such a high standard.”
“Just ace!” wrote one user on Sina Weibo before invoking Premier Wen Jiabao’s recent warning in the midst of the ouster of Chongqing leader Bo Xilai, in which Wen said China risked repeated the horrors of the Cultural Revolution. “It seems that it’s not just possible that the Cultural Revolution might be repeated. It’s already being repeated at Beijing Daily!”
A user listed as being from Liaoning province remarked snidely on a line from the Beijing Daily editorial meant to criticize American diplomats: “Beijing Daily says that the 1.3 billion people of China aren’t so easily deceived. I do agree with that sentence.” To which another user responded: “I hope that starting from tomorrow the Beijing Daily bears that sentence in mind every day: the 1.3 billion people of China aren’t so easily deceived.”
Another journalist writing on Sina Weibo today said that “the Global Times and Beijing Daily aren’t media but are clubs wielded by the Party, tools of the emperor, the watchdogs of certain groups.”
Caixin Media, the professional news outfit run by former Caijing magazine founder and editor-in-chief Hu Shuli (胡舒立), noted on its official Weibo account:
[Media Under Management of Beijing Municipal Propaganda Department, Beijing Commission of the Chinese Communist Youth League Criticize U.S. Conduct Over Chen Incident] Beijing Daily, the Beijing Times, The Beijing News and Beijing Youth Daily have issued relevant commentaries. For the commentaries see this link. Up to now, Chinese media and Chinese authorities have not reported the full sequence of events in the Chen affair.
The second link in the Caixin Media post directed readers to a full synopsis of the commentaries appearing today in Beijing media. In its pull-out summary at the top of the article, Caixin noted that the Beijing media had singled Chen Guangcheng out as “a representative anti-social and anti-institution figure” (反社会、反体制的代表人物).
While the Caixin piece sticks to the basic facts about today’s spate of editorials, its implications seem clear enough — that these editorials misrepresent the Chen case to the public, which has had no access to the full facts of Cheng Guangcheng’s case.
In clear contradiction to the inflammatory language of today’s Beijing Daily editorial, Jerome Cohen has noted repeatedly Chen Guangcheng’s explicit interest in resolving his rights concerns through China’s institutions.
You know, Chen Guangcheng said to me once, why can’t I go into court and settle these problems? Do they want me to go into the streets? I don’t want to go into the streets.
Translated portions of the editorial in Beijing Daily follow:
“Reading the Measly Performance of U.S. Politicians through the Cheng Guangcheng Affair”
May 4, 2012
. . . The United States and other Western countries have paid particular attention to Chen Guangcheng for some time. It is through the packaging of the United States and Western media that this so-called “rights defense hero” has been marked as a striking political symbol, and has become established as representative figure opposing society and opposing the system. But looking at again at the situation, it is clear that Chen Guangcheng cannot represent very many. Who he really represents is the backstage boss, namely the interests of the hostile forces of the West. Chen Guangcheng has already become a tool and pawn by which politicians in the United States blacken China. . .
. . . It must be said that for some time, the American Embassy in China and the new U.S ambassador to China, Gary Locke, have used various means that are incommensurate with their roles and responsibilities — their “little tricks” have continued unabated. This causes people to ask, is it the role of this ambassador to do his utmost to advance the U.S.-China relationship, bridge gaps and eliminate misunderstandings, or is it to hatch schemes and bound out into Chinese society to make trouble, manufacturing new and greater fissures between China and the United States.
. . . If the United States truly wishes to develop a good long-term relationship with China, then it must not persist in pandering to, and even encouraging, extreme language and actions from a few that damage the stability of Chinese society. By the same token, if Gary Locke wants to serve as a good ambassador then he must be more earnest and serious, not employing these under-the-table deals, these ugly little affairs that only bring disgrace to himself. . .
Today, the importance of the U.S.-China relationship cannot be over-estimated. But what is shot through with contradictions is that American politicians will so lightly make a show of these actions that show insufficient maturity and are insufficiently dignified, so that it seems they always are looking to upset China, so that it seems they are alway looking to seek trouble out in Chinese society. The Chen Guangcheng affair is one example. And for the discerning these kinds of actions are vulgar and clumsy. The facts show that the principles obstacle to the advancement of U.S.-China relations lies with the United States. The United State must learn to respect China’s core interests. It must learn to treat with China on the basis of equality. “Do unto others as you would have the do unto you.” Holding up the banners of “human rights”, “freedom” and “democracy” to make trouble will only expose one’s own ugliness, and will have no impact on China. Nor is it good for the United States.
In advancing U.S.-China relations, there must be equality and mutual understanding. As to the differences that exist, these must be resolved satisfactorily through dialogue and exchange, enhancing mutual understanding in order to avoid impacting the larger climate of U.S.-China relations. It should be said that in handling U.S.-China relations China’s attitude is consistent, candid and practical. For a win-win relationship between the U.S. and China, “the way to get along” must be through mutual respect and mutual cooperation. If American politicians can set aside their messy and twisted thinking (歪心思) and read up thoroughly on the canon of U.S.-China relations, then the interest of the people of both China and the United States can be satisfied.