This week we have a People’s Daily commentary from a former New Zealand prime minister (who did not actually write it), a social media controversy over freckles that some felt insulted women across China, and a senior editor at a Party-run news website suspended for running fake news about an official appointment.

To add a bit of extra fun, we even have an interesting social media post about two very bizarrely named official offices in China, reviewed by a WeChat public account linked to Beijing Youth Daily, including the ”Suzhou City ‘To Forge Iron One Must Be Hard’ Special Operation Leadership Office.” Just imagine that name card!

THIS WEEK IN CHINA’S MEDIA
February 16-22, 2019

➢ People’s Daily runs article attributed to former prime minister of New Zealand, who then denies writing it
➢ ZARA is accused of insulting Chinese model, state media say it is an unfair label
➢ “Mimeng” has her accounts shut down across several platforms in crackdown on “marketing of anxiety”
➢ Two odd new and unusual official phrases garner attention 
➢ Securities Daily deputy editor-in-chief suspended for writing fake news

[1] People’s Daily runs article attributed to former prime minister of New Zealand, who then denies writing it

On February 18, the English language website of People’s Daily Online, run by the Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper, ran an article under the byline “Dame Jenny Shipley,” the former prime minister of New Zealand.  The article was headlined “We Need to Learn to Listen to China” (我们需要学会倾听中国), and it spoke in lofty praise of China’s recent economic development. “The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) proposed by China is one of the greatest ideas we’ve ever heard globally,” the article said at one point. “It is a forward-looking idea, and in my opinion, it has the potential to create the next wave of economic growth.

The article created a firestorm in New Zealand, where Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters sharply criticised Shipley for “selling out New Zealand interests” by speaking for China at a period of heightening tensions between the two countries. But the story took an interesting turn when Dame Jenny denied having written the article for Chinese state media, saying that she had instead accepted an interview in December that had already been published. “It is important for the foreign minister and prime minister and others to understand that I would never think of getting into a public situation like this, at such an important time for New Zealand’s relationship,” she told the New Zealand Herald.

Dame Shipley claimed that the Chinese article attributed to her had in fact been manufactured from an interview she gave the People’s Daily back in December 2018. A Chinese version of the article, clearly attributed to Shipley, had in fact already been published on January 23, almost a month earlier.

In fact, such conduct by state media in China, writing interviews with sources as commentaries written by them, is not at all uncommon.

As the controversy raged in New Zealand, People’s Daily Online apparently added a line to the top of the article that read: “The article is based on the interview by journalist with People’s Daily in December 2018.” But the paper did not issue a former correction for what was clearly a blatant misrepresentation.

Asked about the incident on February 21, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Geng Shuang (耿爽) said he was unaware of the situation and advised the reporter to approach the “relevant media” for answers. Reuters subsequently reported that it . had spoken to the People’s Daily, which said the situation was being investigated and refused to comment. 

KEY SOURCES:
BBC Chinese (BBC 中文网): 中国《人民日报》“编写”新西兰前总理署名文章
Lianhe Zaobao (联合早报): 《人民日报》网站刊“新西兰前总理希普利”文章 当事人否认撰文

[2] ZARA is accused of insulting Chinese model, state media say it is an unfair label

After the European fashion brand ZARA released an ad in which a Chinese model is clearly shown with freckles on her cheeks, some Chinese accused the company of smearing Chinese women and insulting Chinese.

“Are you trying to uglify Asians?” one user posted angrily to the Sina Weibo platform.

Unlike the scandal last year involving Dolce & Gabbana, during which remarks made by the designer were labeled as “insulting to China” (辱华) by state media, the official Beijing Daily called the ZARA scandal a misunderstanding and said in an editorial that some people had become too sensitive when it came to questions of Chinese pride: “If we raise accusations of insulting China at every turn, we come off as petulant and this is counterproductive to our development.  In the case of this recent storm, if there is a real agitation to boycott this brand, affecting all of its stores in China, this will impact countless employees there, and the baseless damage to society will be substantial.”

KEY SOURCES:
Beijing Business Today (北京商报): ZARA陷丑化中国模特舆论风波
Beijing Daily (北京日报): 不宜动不动扣“辱华”帽子

[3] “Mimeng” has her accounts shut down across several platforms in crackdown on “marketing of anxiety” 

On February 21, “Mimeng” (Ma Ling), a blogger and entrepreneur known for her social commentary and clickbait headlines, had her WeChat public account and its subsidiary account, “Talent Limited Youth” (才华有限青年), shut down by the platform.  The same day, both Jinri Toutiao and Phoenix Online shutdown the “Mimeng” accounts on their platforms, saying that they were resisting “foul culture” (污文化) and “poisonous chicken stock” (毒鸡汤), the latter a term for content that on the surface seems to be wholesome but in fact is fraudulent and misleading.

On February 21, the official Weibo account of Weibo Community Management (新浪微博社区管理) made a post saying that it was conducting an aggressive campaign against what it called “marketing of anxiety” (贩卖焦虑) and other forms of negative and low-end content. Accounts shut down as part of this push, it said, included “@Mimeng” (@咪蒙) and  “@TalentLimitedYouth” (@才华有限青年).

Mimeng’s style of writing, which invites readers to vent their frustrations, has earned her huge commercial success. On January 29, a post on her WeChat public account called “The Death of a Lowborn Top Tester” (一个出身寒门的状元之死), an ostensibly non-fiction story about a gifted young man struck down by misfortune, drew widespread criticism, some charging that it was, though cleverly written, inauthentic and sensational.

KEY SOURCES:
Beijing Youth Daily (北京青年报): 别了“毒鸡汤” “咪蒙”微信公众号注销 公众号巅峰时头条广告80万 广告投放频率26.9% 商业价值随之受损
Netease (网易): 咪蒙被关不得转世:被那个5万月薪的实习生毁了

[4] Two odd new and unusual official phrases garner attention 

“Zheng Zhidao” (政知道), a WeChat public account under the banner of the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper, the official publication of the Beijing committee of the Chinese Communist Youth League, made a post on February 20 introducing two quite unusual Party and government organs (党政机构) inspired by equally unusual phrases.

The first was the “Suzhou City ‘To Forge Iron One Must Be Hard’ Special Operation Leadership Office” (苏州市打铁必须自身硬专项行动领导小组办公室). This office was set up almost three years ago, and the supervisory commission of Suzhou’s local office of discipline inspection (苏州市纪委监委) has said that the office’s primary task is to “strengthen honest work (廉政工作) within the discipline inspection team” in order to prevent “[doing] black under the lamplight” (灯下黑). The office, in other words, is discipline inspection for discipline inspectors. The office was set up at the behest of provincial-level discipline inspectors in Jiangsu as a provisional office without independent organisational status, with staff taken from the discipline inspection office. Many district offices in Suzhou have apparently also conducted “special campaigns” under the name “to forge iron one must be hard.”

The phrase “forging iron still requires one’s body to be hard” (打铁还需自身硬) first appeared in the political report to the 18th National Congress of the CCP in November 2012, and in the political report to the 19th National Congress in 2017, this was changed into a new official terminology, or tifa (提法): “to forge iron one must be hard” (打铁必须自身硬). 

The second office introduced by “Zheng Zhidao” was the “Only Run Once Reform Office” (最多跑一次改革办公室).

On February 11, 2019, the official Zhejiang Daily ran a commentary called “There Are No Protagonists in ‘Only Run Once’ Reform” (‘最多跑一次’改革没有局外人) which revealed that the Once Run Once Reform Office is an independent office setup by Zhejiang’s Party Committee in the midst of institutional reforms, and the only new institution to be overseen by two members of the provincial Party standing committee.

KEY SOURCES:
WeChat public account “Zheng Zhidao”  (政知道): 这些党政机构,因名称成为网红!
Zhejiang Daily (浙江日报): “最多跑一次”改革没有局外人

[5] Securities Daily deputy editor-in-chief suspended for writing fake news

After many self-media (自媒体) reported that Yi Huiman  (易会满), a Chinese banker, would possible serve as chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission (证监会), the Securities Daily website, operated by the central-level Economic Daily Publishing Group, ran a report on January 25 denying what it said were baseless rumours of Yi’s appointment, and emphasising that “relevant people point out that the self-media are not a land outside the law, and they must face legal responsibility for the transmission of fake news.”

One day later, Yi Huiman was indeed appointed as chairman of the Chinese Securities Regulatory Commission, and the Securities Daily came under sharp criticism.

The Securities Daily subsequently issued an internal notice in which it said it had found through an internal probe into the incident that its deputy editor-in-chief, Dong Shaopeng (董少鹏), had written the article without permission and without verification,  and had arranged for the new media centre (新媒体中心) to which he had been assigned to publish it. This failure to carry out proper interviews and go through the established editorial channels for such a major report on personnel assignments had resulted in a “major reporting error.” Because of this, the Securities Daily had decided to suspend Dong Shaopeng and order him to reflect (停职反省), as well as pay a fine of 5,000 RMB.

KEY SOURCES:
WeChat public account “Deep Blue Finance” (深蓝财经): 辟谣“易会满或任证监会主席”出错 ,证券日报副总编被停职罚款
Ce.cn (中国经济网): 易会满履新 8年来四大行董事长“轮流”当证监会主席