May 4, 2012, was a day of feverish conversation on Chinese social media about editorials in four Beijing newspapers attacking the United States for its “scheming” over the case of blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng. Much of the response domestically to the editorials in China was negative, something propaganda leaders may not have adequately anticipated, and it appears that Chinese authorities responded late in the evening by launching a purge of social media posts about the editorials.
Here are several “permission denied” (forcibly deleted) posts documented in the Weibo archive at the Journalism & Media Studies Centre that offer of flavor of the response to the editorials:
Searches for “Beijing Daily in Chinese were also disabled on the evening of May 4, bringing up a message that read: “These search results cannot be shown according to relevant laws, regulations and policies.”
The move to arrest conversation of the Beijing editorials could point to what might be characterized as one of the most high-profile failures of Party propaganda we have on record, particularly as it happened in the midst of important U.S.-China meetings.
While the editorials were presumably intended to send a strong message to the United States of China’s unhappiness with the handling of the Chen Guangcheng case, domestic attention seemed to turn almost entirely on the tone and character of the editorials themselves, which many Chinese on social media clearly found embarrassing and exasperating.
Moreover, the editorials may have had the unintended effect of drawing more attention domestically to the Chen Guangcheng case than leaders wished.
One of the most surprising and powerful pronunciations on “Editorial-gate” came at exactly 00:00 today, May 5, 2012, as one of the papers involved, The Beijing News — a paper with a proud though brief tradition of professional journalism — posted a touching plea for forgiveness on its Sina Weibo account, which has more than 1.38 million followers.
The post was accompanied by a black-and-white photo of a circus clown taking a sad and solitary drag on a cigarette, and read:
In the still of the deep night, removing that mask of insincerity, we say to our true selves, “I am sorry.” Goodnight.
We encourage all to post their replies in support . . . before that post disappears.
Download a PDF version of the Weibo post from The Beijing News, with comments: Beijing News 0000 apology