For the Telegraph, Peter Foster writes about being wined and dined by local propaganda officials who interceded as he was interviewing farmers in Henan who were preparing to be relocated off their land to make way for the South-to-North Water Diversion Project:
Armed with three bottles of ‘bai jiu’ in gleaming silver and gold boxes we set off for a local eatery where a small banquet was served including very good ‘suan cai niurou’ (sour cabbage with beef), a ‘specialite de la region’, and a Wuchang fish (Chairman Mao’s favourite) which, our hosts informed us, came from the Danjiangkou Reservoir.
(This is the same water body which is being expanded to meet the needs of the North-South water project and where that fish’s brothers and sisters, uncles and aunties will soon be swimming over the bulldozed houses of the peasants we’d been talking to earlier in the day.)
I’m sorry to confess that we didn’t extract too much information out the officials to whom we fearlessly put the gripes of the villagers – leaking roofs in the new houses, broken promises on land distribution, allegations of embezzled funds – beyond some routine denials that the villagers were being moved according to ‘scientific principles’ and in a ‘timely, smooth and orderly manner.’
Long before Mao’s fish had arrived, the Xichuan County Propaganda Department strategy for dealing with the media became clear – shock and awe hospitality with the clear intention of inflicting ‘bai jiu’-induced amnesia.