The Word of the Week comes from the Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon, a glossary of terms created by Chinese netizens and encountered in online political discussions. These are the words of China’s online “resistance discourse,” used to mock and subvert the official language around censorship and political correctness.
Sarcastic command to put the interests of Party officials before the needs of the people; quotation from an official during the horrific Karamay Fire of 1994.
On December 8, 1994, about 500 schoolchildren gathered in a theater in Karamay, Xinjiang to watch a variety show. Top students had been invited. During the performance, a fire broke out on stage. As it spread, a woman shouted, “Everyone sit down. Don’t move. Let the leaders leave first!” (大家坐下，不要动，让领导先走). Three hundred twenty-five people died, including 288 children. Twenty Party officials were said to have escaped, among them vice-secretary for educational training at the Xinjiang Petroleum Management Department Kuang Li, who was accused of giving the deadly command.
Then-CCTV president Yang Weiguang admitted to stopping reporters from airing a broadcast about the fire due to the sensitive nature of the tragedy and how it reflected on the Party. Yang also described how the Central Propaganda Department later gave orders banning coverage of the incident.
Ordinary people did not forget Karamay, however. Beijing-based poet and folk singer Zhou Yunpeng‘s song “Don’t Be a Child of the Chinese” (中国孩子) opens with the tragedy. Netizens invoke the command “leaders first” whenever disaster response seems to favor officials over victims.
In the aftermath of an earthquake in Yunnan in August 2014, Premier Li Keqiang reportedly instructed the injured to be evacuated first while on his visit of the area, an apparent attempt to prevent a repeat of the same criticism that the government received following the Karamay Fire. The premier’s attempt to make himself appear like he is on top of rescue efforts was greeted with skepticism by netizens:
Daian-Diane (@黛安-Diane): The wounded struggled to sit up from the stretcher as he called out: “Let the leaders leave first…” (August 2014)
News of a fire in Karamay on March 26, 2015 that claimed six lives was also suppressed, prompting netizens to post “leaders first” to Weibo and NetEase [Chinese].
Want to learn more subversive netizen slang? Check out Decoding the Chinese Internet: A Glossary of Political Slang. Available for $2.99 in the Kindle, Google Play, and iTunes stores. All proceeds from the sale of this eBook support China Digital Times.