The Clash of the 2022 Year-End Retrospectives

Recent year-end retrospectives and New Year’s messages published by various Chinese media outlets—including People’s Daily, Xinhua, Southern Weekly, and NetEase News—have offered vastly different interpretations of 2022, the year that was. The stark contrast between these retrospectives has inspired criticism and hilarity among Chinese netizens, with some members of the public offering up alternative lists of the key events and catchwords of the past year.

The battle of the retrospectives kicked off on December 24, when the People’s Daily official Weibo account launched the hashtag #12SentencesRecollecting2022 (#12句话记住2022), accompanied by a list of twelve sentences selected by the People’s Daily editorial team to illustrate the motto, “The Journey We Shared in 2022.” The messages from each month were uniformly positive, reinforcing a form of “correct collective memory” of the year: “February: The Beijing Olympics and Paralympics—together for a shared future!” and “May: Create a youthful China with youthful me!” and “July: Wishing Hong Kong a brighter tomorrow!” Many readers noted that there was nary a mention of any of the suffering and setbacks that marked 2022: not Shanghai’s city-wide lockdown or the banned “Voices of April,” nor increasing repression and censorship in mainland China and Hong Kong, nor high youth unemployment rates and stagnant economic activity due to extended lockdowns. CDT editors have archived and translated some of the comments about the 12 sentences offered up by the People’s Daily:

来的饭饭:What kind of imaginary peaceful age are you playacting in?

五九______:It’s like we’re living in two different worlds.

静静的举铁:See the comments section for the real 2022.

Achmatowiczzzz:What I want to say takes far more than 12 sentences. And every word weeps blood. [Chinese]

Other visitors to the comments section took it upon themselves to help out by adding their own “personal incorrect memories” to the list:

Okra不ok:We’re the last generation.

你好请打钱lIllIllllI:This world doesn’t want me!

瓶装焰火:“Stolen glee.”

Fae·yaa:“Their ability to save themselves was weak.”

用户Gongshu:“His son is his Achilles heel.”

旋转滴晴天:We’ll never forget “malicious homecomings.”

骜鳌螯:“Tangshan’s ‘Operation Thunder’ has come to a successful conclusion.[Chinese]

On December 28, the Southern Weekly published its customary New Year’s message, employing rousingly poetic language, and striking a more realistic balance of the positives and negatives. While acknowledging that 2022 had been a difficult year and that great challenges remain, it urged readers to have faith, tenacity, and the courage to rebuild and to continue to engage with the world and its eight billion people.

Even more striking was the “NetEase News 2022 Year in Review” video, which featured this text: “We accept reality too easily because reality is often so inauthentic. But we shouldn’t close the book on 2022, not like this—life is a garden with many divergent paths.” The video included clips about the chaotic pandemic lockdowns in Shanghai, Xi’an, and other cities; the woman kept chained up by her husband in Fengxian; the brutal assault of four women at a BBQ restaurant in Tangshan; the crash of China Eastern Airlines flight MU5735; the recent deadly fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang; and some stories of job losses and economic hardship. There was also a section about major public figures who died in 2022, such as former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Queen Elizabeth II of England, former Chinese leader and CCP Chairman Jiang Zemin, and Ni Kuang, a well-known Hong Kong novelist and screenwriter. The NetEase video caught the attention of censors and was quickly taken offline, but it was widely shared and reposted by netizens who attempted to preserve it. CDT Chinese editors have archived the NetEase video, and compiled a selection of comments on and reactions to it:

@直物桃: I teared up watching “NetEase News Year in Review,” but in the so-called real world, [content like this] is always 404’d [deleted].

@duanaaaaa : So why is that if you speak the truth, you’ll be hunted and taken down across the whole internet?

@Watermelooow: It’s not even expressing an opinion, just listing factual news events.

@白子画: “NetEase News Year in Review” was fairly restrained, and it still got censored? It didn’t even mention Foxconn, or those bank depositors [in Henan]. [Chinese]

Finally, on December 30, China’s state news agency Xinhua weighed in with a list of the “Top 10 Domestic News Stories of 2022.” True to form, Xinhua presented a hagiographic list of events that the CCP might consider major accomplishments—the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to the motherland, the resolute “smashing” of Taiwanese independence sentiment, Xi Jinping’s attendance at the G20 Summit, China’s space station construction, and the CCP’s 20th National Party Congress—but there was little mention of the events and challenges that affected the lives of ordinary Chinese people during 2022.


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