Evan Osnos: China: Truth, Rumors, and a Basket of Fruit

On his New Yorker blog, Evan Osnos comments on the recent riots in Xintang, Guangdong, the power of rumors in Chinese society, and the government’s powerlessness as a purveyor of truth:

The town of Zengcheng had erupted in protests, with hundreds of migrant workers tipping over police cars, smashing windows, and torching government buildings. Police responded with tear gas and armored vehicles. It began on Friday evening, when Wang Lianmei, a twenty-year-old pregnant street vendor, and her husband, Tang Xuecai, had a run-in with security personnel who suspected that the couple had “illegally occupied the village’s road to sell goods,” according to the China Daily, a state-run newspaper. Word spread that police had injured the expectant mother and killed her husband, and by the middle of the night a crowd was pelting police with stones and bricks. By Saturday morning, the Party chief Xu Zhibiao had visited Wang at the hospital, and “brought a basket of fruit,” the state media pointed out. “Wang and her fetus remained intact,” the mayor declared.

It’s barely the middle of June, and this is shaping up to be an especially long, hot summer in China. There was rioting in another Chinese city last week, unrest in Inner Mongolia, and—rare for China—bomb attacks in two other cities. While it’s worth pointing out, as Jeremy Page does in the Wall Street Journal, that these show no sign of coördination, it’s also worth asking: How did China come to find itself trying to outrun rumors with baskets of fruit?

Read more about the riots in Xintang via CDT.

June 14, 2011 1:27 PM
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