China’s fiercely vocal online community latched on to Zhou’s photo evidence, hyper-analyzing it and exposing it as a paper tiger — an old poster propped up among the trees.
But outraging the Internet activists even more were the local officials, whom they accused of supporting the doctored photos to boost tourism to the arid, poor province of Shaanxi.
“In my opinion, this is the struggle between the truth and government interest,” said Yu Hai, a sociology professor at Fudan University. “Zhou’s just a normal farmer who was inspired by money. The big boss behind this is, of course, the officials of Shaanxi province.”
The scandal reinforced popular disgust with government corruption and showed that public opinion, amplified by the Internet, can occasionally win out in authoritarian China.