Chinese Media Muzzled after Day of Glory

The Wenzhou train crash has been used as an example by many of how Chinese journalists and netizens can and will defy government censorship orders to share information and emotion online in the wake of a national tragedy. Yet, as China Media Project reports, the noose around the media has now again been tightened:

Yesterday morning, July 30, CMP Director Qian Gang (钱钢) delivered a “letter from home” on RTHK Radio. Addressed to the journalists of China and Hong Kong, the letter looked back on a tumultuous week of coverage of the July 23 train collision in Wenzhou, full of victories and setbacks. The message of the “letter” was largely positive, remarking how July 29 had marked a rare high point for mainland Chinese media in particular, with bold and broad coverage of the Wenzhou crash and its implications.

But just as Qian Gang’s message was hitting the airwaves, he was watching the weather change online. Strict controls on China’s media had been rolled into force just the night before, with authorities saying that “public opinion inside and outside China has begun to become complex.” A notice demanded that Chinese media immediately cool down their reporting and commentary on the July 23 Wenzhou train crash, and scores of Chinese media had to move frantically to fill the gaps as planned reports on the crash were suddenly off limits.

Yes, as the China Real Time blog reports, not all media were cowed into silence. The Economic Observer prepared a special report on the crash over the weekend:

While many other newspapers obediently killed reports and took the train collision off their front pages in response to Friday night’s order, the Economic Observer devoted eight pages to its special report, entitled “No Miracles in Wenzhou,” and promoted it on its front page with a striking illustration showing the logo for the Ministry of Railways superimposed over a black-and-white photo of one of the ruined trains.

Beneath that image was an equally striking commentary on the accident titled “Yiyi, When You’re Older.” The commentary, which takes the government to task for its opaque handling of the accident, it written as a letter to Xiang Weiyi, a 2-year-old girl whose “miraculous” rescue has been widely trumpeted in state media.

Excerpts from that essay, translated by China Real Time:

Yiyi, when you’ve grown up and started to understand this world, how should we explain to you everything that happened on July 23, 2011? That train that would never arrive, it took away 40 lives that loved and were loved, including your parents. When you’re grown, will we and this country we live in be able to honestly tell you about all the love and suffering, anger and doubts around us?

Read the “Directives from the Ministry of Truth,” or censorship guidelines, issued to the media and websites after the crash, translated by CDT.

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