Ferrari Crash Alerts Censors

A Ferrari crash on a Beijing highway in the early morning hours of Tuesday may not have aroused much attention, until netizens suddenly found that searches for “Ferrari” were blocked on microblogging sites. Rumors started flying about the identity of the driver, who died in the crash, and why officials wanted the news covered up. Unconfirmed reports have said it was the son born out of wedlock to Politburo member Jia Qinglin. Two female passengers were taken to the hospital. Global Times English edition posted a story about the crash and subsequent censoring:

The crash, near Baofu Temple, Haidian district, in the early hours of Sunday killed the driver, reported the Beijing Evening News on Sunday. The two women were hospitalized.

A black Ferrari, driven by a man from west to east along the North Fourth Ring Road access road, crashed into the wall on the southern side of Baofusi Bridge around 4:00 am, then smashed into the guardrail on the roadside.

According to pictures posted online of the aftermath of the crash, the Ferrari was ripped in half, with the front portion crushed and the engine in flames.

The injured women were transferred to hospital by the Beijing Emergency Medical Center (BEMC).

And from the Globe and Mail:

That might have been the end of the story – another tale of reckless driving on Beijing’s roads – if China’s tireless censors hadn’t kicked in and raised suspicions. First, the initial report by the Beijing Evening News disappeared from Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging service. Then, other reports and comments on the crash started disappearing from other websites.

Soon, entering the word “Ferrari” on Chinese websites brought you to a dead end familiar to most of the country’s 500 million Internet users: “According to the relevant policies and laws, the search results are not shown.”

After years of living behind the “Great Firewall,” those 13 words are now read by millions of Chinese as code for “there’s more to this story than we want you to know about.” (The same 13 words come up in response to thousands of other searches, including anything related to the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, the persecution of the Falun Gong religious sect, and the Nobel Peace Prizes awarded to the Dalai Lama and Liu Xiaobo.) Why the secrecy surrounding the Ferrari crash? The assumption that quickly made the rounds was that the deceased young man must have been someone powerful, or at least someone with powerful connections.

And the Guardian’s Pass Notes series summarizes the issues involved in this story:


Hardly earth-shattering.
It has become deeply symbolic. Before the clampdown, the sinosphere was rife with rumour that he was the son of a party official. Bo Guagua, son of the recently disgraced Bo Xilai, was named initially; then speculation turned to the illegitimate son of politburo member Jia Qinglin. China’s middle classes, who earn about £10 a day, want to know how the children of party bosses can get a car worth $200,000 (£126,000).

All seems a bit dull to me. What sort of Ferrari was it?

Is that relevant?

I’d just like to know.

It has been variously reported to be an F430 and an F458 Spider.

Well we need to nail this.

I think you’re missing the point.

The F458 replaced the F430 in 2009. It’s sleeker and sportier, and has a 4.5-litre V8 engine with direct fuel injection. The Spider has a retractable hardtop roof made of …

Can you shut up please. This is a significant story about the faltering emergence of Chinese democracy, not Top Gear.

The Globe and Mail report linked above says the actual model that crashed was in fact worth closer to US$700,000 (4.5 million RMB).

Update: See also a list of filtered keywords relating to the crash, via CDT Chinese.