China’s Censors Misfire in Abuse-of-Power Case

The New York Times looks at the hit-and-run accident in which a girl from the countryside was killed in a hit-and-run accident. When the drunk driver of the car that hit her was stopped by security, he declared, “My father is Li Gang!” [the deputy police chief in the Beishi district of Baoding], thereby generating an Internet meme which has come to symbolize entitlement and privilege:

The tale of her death is precisely the sort of gripping socio-drama — a commoner grievously wronged; a privileged transgressor pulling strings to escape punishment — that sets off alarm bells in the offices of Communist Party censors. And in fact, party propaganda officials moved swiftly after the accident to ensure that the story never gained traction.

Curiously, however, the opposite has happened. A month after the accident, much of China knows the story, and “My father is Li Gang” has become a bitter inside joke, a catchphrase for shirking any responsibility — washing the dishes, being faithful to a girlfriend — with impunity. Even the government’s heavy-handed effort to control the story has become the object of scorn among younger, savvier Chinese.

“There was a little on the school news channel at first,” one Hebei University student who offered only his surname, Wang, said in an interview last week. “But then it went completely quiet. We’re really disappointed in the press for stopping coverage of this major news.”

In many ways, the Li Gang case, as it is known, exemplifies how China’s propaganda machine — able to slant or kill any news in the age of printing presses and television — is sometimes hamstrung in the age of the Internet, especially when it tries to manipulate a pithy narrative about the abuse of power.

November 18, 2010 12:22 AM
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