As close to 15,000 (and counting) pig carcasses are being pulled from the Huangpu River, the story has become a hot topic on weibo and elsewhere online in China, with cartoonists satirizing the scene and others questioning how the pigs had died. One blogger, poet Pan Ting, was invited to “drink tea” by security officials after she tried to move the online activities into real life with a call for Shanghai residents to “take a stroll” along the Huangpu. From Global Voices Online:
Outspoken poet Pan Ting was detained by police and banned from Weibo after she published on March 14, 2013 for her 50,000 followers a call for an organized walk along the Huangpu River [zh], although she mentioned that it was meant as a “pure stroll” without any banners or slogans.
Soon after, local police visited her home. Pan was forced to hand in all her communication devices and “drink tea” with police, a term used to describe interrogations by police about a person’s online activities.
In Chinese cyberspeak, “take a stroll” is often a euphemism for stage a protest. According to Global Voices, Pan wrote on weibo:
When I was banned on Weibo before, I used to call Sina customer service with anger and ask how long it would take. I also asked friends to spread the message on Weibo to support me. However, this time I didn’t do that. I feel very disappointed. You even shut out a voice concerned about local pollution and your own lives. I will see how long you will shut me out. At least the tea uncle said to me: I understand where you are coming from.
Elsewhere on the Chinese Internet, weibo users have passed around a poem by Xing Mie, written last year, which translator Martin Winter linked to both recent discussion by President Xi Jinping and others of the “Chinese dream,” as well as the Huangpu pig carcasses. Winter posted his own translation of the poem:
father likes to take a nap
father was born in 1949.
he always liked to fall asleep.
he dozes off all the time.
it’s like he never wakes up.
actually, mother says
when father was young,
he was very active at the unit.
went there early, came back late.
then, after 10 years of confusion
he never woke up again.
even when he sleeps
his eyes are half open.
Tr. MW, March 2013
A post on The Atlantic website argues that the government has taken a relatively open approach to covering the pig scandal:
China’s government-backed press is covering the dead hog disaster with something approaching an open and critical tone. The domestic media has not been given carte blanche to report freely. Still, the fact that there is no cover up is a positive step.
Compare that with the toxic milk scandal in 2008, which the government banned from the Chinese media for months. Ignorant of the danger, parents continued to feed their kids poisoned milk. Six babies died and hundreds of thousands more were injured. Or, for that matter, the cover-up of severe acute respiratory syndrome–better known as SARS–in 2003.
Of course, this does not signal an end to media censorship in China. The nation’s new leaders under President Xi Jinping remain enthusiastic media muzzlers (paywall). But it does show that Communist Party chiefs, instead of just fearing negative media coverage, are learning to use it to achieve political goals.
However, as CDT reported, propaganda authorities have issued strict instructions for media coverage of the incident and have forbidden reporting from the scene.