By David Bandurski — Last month Chinese media reported the transfer of Tan Li (谭力), the top-ranking party official in the earthquake-ravaged city of Mianyang (绵阳), to the island of Hainan, where he will serve as propaganda chief. The relocation is an upward move for Tan, who has been praised by party bosses for his rapid response to the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
Why should Tan’s good fortune mean anything to anyone?
Tan, as some may remember, was the focus of an Internet controversy last year after official news reports following the earthquake were accompanied by this photo, in which Tan seems to be smiling euphorically during what should be a solemn visit to the scene of the earthquake by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.


[ABOVE: Screenshot of recent news coverage of Tan Li’s promotion, with the photo that sparked last year’s controversy.]

Chinese Web users seized on the image of Tan and ignited a nationwide debate over the cadre’s impropriety, with some even suggesting angrily that he had responded too slowly to the disaster. Tan’s moment of glee earned him the unfortunate nickname “Grinning Tan” (“谭笑笑”).
This Internet firestorm was apparently generated first at Tianya (天涯), one of China’s most trafficked community Websites — and this is where Tan’s new 2009 appointment takes on particular relevance.
Tianya is based in Hainan and, along with the site Kaidi (凯迪), is a regional media jewel in a province where the traditional media have not been particularly influential.
Media sources in China tell us all eyes have turned with anticipation on Hainan and Tan Li. Will Hainan’s new media overlord let bygones be bygones?
For more background on the “Grinning Tan” case, see ESWN’s June 2008 post, “The Laughs and Cries of Secretary Tan,” a translation of this piece from Southern Weekend — or Jonathan Watt’s piece for The Guardian.
[Posted by David Bandurski, April 7, 2009, 1253pm HK]

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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