Empty Chairs On the Cover of Southern Metropolis Daily Interpreted as Nobel Tribute

As has been reported, the term “empty chair” (空椅子) has become a banned word in Chinese cyberspace following Friday’s Nobel prize ceremony during which imprisoned Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo was represented by his empty seat. Some bloggers who have used the term have had their accounts blocked, and a campaign to post images of an empty chair on blogs and microblogs have seen the posts censored and images removed; some accounts have even been deleted for posting the image. But is this game of coded resistance only between a small group of online activists and Internet censors?

With “empty chair” as a hot term in Chinese cyberspace, the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily, one of China’s most popular and outspoken newspapers, chose an ambiguous cover image, which generated an online sensation of interpreting its symbolic meaning.

The front cover of the December 12th Southern Metropolis Daily featured a headline, “2010 Asian Para Games Are Ready to Start Tonight in Guangzhou,” but the background of the photo shows three empty chairs and five cranes.  In Chinese, “he” (crane) is a homonym for “congratulations” and the first character of “peace.”

Many netizens compared the picture of the cranes to the images on Liu Xiaobo’s actual Nobel chair. Here are those images and some of the netizens’ comments from a pro-free speech online forum, translated by CDT:



Three empty chairs – Liu Xiao Bo

Five “cranes”. — “Crane” (in Chinese) sounds the same as “Peace”. Meaning Peace Prize, also symbolizing those being forbidden to travel abroad to attend the Peace Prize Ceromony.
The man with a hat stopping cranes — representing a dictator banning democracy activists from attending the Nobel Peace Prize Ceromony.

– 同意楼上的解读。

agree with the interpretation above.

– 真理部这次肯定气得七窍冒烟,哈哈!

The Ministry of Truth will be really pissed off this time, haha!

– 哈哈哈,整得和行为艺术似的

Hahaha, this is like a conceptual art.

– 有意思


– 如果真有此寓意的话,我不赞成这样的行为。首先是风险太大(估计比潇湘晨报影射天朝那次更严重),而且也没什么效果(说真的没几个人能看懂)。

If this image really means this, I disagree with this act. First of all this is too risky (more serious than the other time Xiaoxiang Morning Post did their coded title.) and it will not have much effect. (The truth is not many people will understand it.)

– 其实只要知道空凳子事情的人都能看懂

Actually, anyone who knows the event of the empty chair will understand this.

– 顶南都!

Supporting Southern Metropolis Daily!

– 南都报人是真正的新闻从业人!致敬!

The staff of Southern Metropolis Daily are real newsmen. Salute!

– 牛逼的行为艺术

Damn awesome performance art.


– Southern Metropolis people are really talented.

The following comments are from a netizen’s post of this image on Flickr.

phpmUdw4H:Empty chairs appeared on today’s front page image of Southern Metropolis Daily. This really makes people wonder.

Das Lied von der Erde: is this intentional or unintentional?

grahamiao: very smart move.

呆呆兽: Intentional.

Li Hxaohan: absolutely intentional.

51zjjob: This is Southern Metropolis Daily.

cnmgcdr: If only one-tenth of the media under this regime was like Southern Metropolis Daily, the regime would have collapsed.

lanwuyou: Congratulations. Empty Chair. It is so obvious.

Fabregaswong : hahaha

qqxk 缱绻星空: Congratulating the empty chair???  This is fatalistic.  I love Southern Metropolis Daily. Very talented. But I am extremely worried how long [the paper] will last?!!

hvnwnd: [you] should worry about how long the government will last.

And more articles, blogposts and micro-blog posts about this front cover image by Google Search:

In responding to a call from a reporter from the Hong Kong newspaper Ming Pao, a Southern Metropolis Daily staff member named Ms. Zhang explained over the phone that the photo was taken during the rehearsal of the opening ceremony of the Asian Para Games.  “There is no other meaning [in the photo]. We hope there is no over-interpretation of the photo.


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