On June 10, the
website China Military (chinamil.com.cn), a news portal operated by the People’s
Liberation Army, ran an attack piece on the author Fang Fang, whose diary
documenting 74 days under quarantine in Wuhan during the coronavirus epidemic
was recently published in both English
editions. Fang Fang’s Diary, in English titled Wuhan Diary: Dispatches from
a Quarantined City, is an insider’s account of events in the city of Wuhan,
the epicenter in January this year of what would eventually become a global
pandemic, and it offers details about the crisis and the official response that
are highly embarrassing for China’s leaders.
The term “pot throwing,” or shuǎiguō (甩锅), which originated online in China, is roughly equivalent to the English phrase “shifting the blame.” The suggestion in the article is that unspecified “forces” in Europe and North America wish to use accounts like that of Fang Fang to blacken China’s name over the Covid-19 epidemic in order to direct attention away from the worsening situation in their own countries in terms of coronavirus infections and the epidemic response.
The article begins:
On April 8, the English edition of Fang Fang’s Diary that
was promoted chiefly by Caixin Online began online sales on Amazon, and the German-language
edition followed closely behind. Overnight, the public opinion maelstrom caused
by this “diary” based on hearsay grew more and more fierce. The entire process
of translation, proofreading and sales of the foreign language edition of this book
was completed within just over 10 days. Behind this “rapid publication” are the
obvious efforts of anti-China forces attempting to stigmatize the anti-epidemic
efforts of the Chinese people.
The key allegations
in the article are five-fold. First, that Fang Fang’s Diary is hateful
toward China and therefore an “anti-Chinese” work. Second, that Fang Fang’s Diary
was “promoted chiefly” by Caixin Online, suggesting that this widely respected
news outlet bears responsibility for the attention given to the work to begin
with. Third, that the “lightspeed” effort to translate the book reveals that it
is an attempt by “anti-China forces” to call into question the efforts of the
Chinese people to fight the epidemic. This third point is really about what is now
a key message in much propaganda in party-state media – that the CCP’s response
to the epidemic was an unalloyed victory. Fourth, the article disparages and
seeks to discredit Fang Fang’s work as third-rate and little more than gossip.
its attack on Caixin, the article suggests other domestic media were complicit.
Here is a translation of the relevant passage in the piece:
Who could have
guessed that this third-rate stage script could prompt such fierce attention
domestically and overseas, something that is inseparable from the hyping and
promotion done by certain bad domestic media.
These bad domestic media promoted Fang Fang’s Diary through Weibo and apps, and
even intentionally ran partial translations of Fang Fang’s Diary and interviews
with the author on foreign websites, and the editor-in-chief even for a while
promoted it once every day, fearing that traffic wasn’t yet sufficient, that
things weren’t yet sufficiently chaotic.
It is never clear in the article what other domestic media or websites are being referenced by this charge levied at “certain bad domestic media” (国内某些不良媒体). But the reference to the “editor-in-chief” is clearly a shot taken at Caixin Media founder and editor-in-chief Hu Shuli (胡舒立).
Such open attacks on domestic Chinese media are rare. One
of the last such attacks occurred in 2008 ahead of the Beijing Olympics and in
the midst of unrest in Tibet, as more liberal media in China were attacked
in commentaries and online as being unpatriotic for expressing more nuanced
views on Tibet. At that time, Chang
Ping (长平), a well-known editor at
Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis Daily, was roundly criticized for reacting
to anger in China over the alleged bias of news outlets like CNN by pointing
out the hypocrisy of Chinese state censorship.
Fang’s Diary was first published as a series of blog posts at
Caixin Online from January to April, with a total of 61 posts, most coming
in February and March when the crisis was at its peak. In one entry translated into
English at Caixin
Global, Fang Fang cricticizes the suggestion by leaders in official propaganda
that the Chinese people should be thankful to the government:
A word that crops up frequently in conversation these days is “gratitude.” High-level officials in Wuhan demand that the people show they’re grateful to the Communist Party and the country. I find this way of thinking very strange. Our government is supposed to be a people’s government; it exists solely to serve the people. Government officials work for us, not the other way around. I don’t understand why our leaders seem to draw exactly the opposite conclusion.