Tuesday, July 01, 2008

more on the Weng'an, Guizhou riots

Here's a short update to my post just below (a death in Guiyang). (I seem to be the only person refering to the event by the city where the riot took place, Guiyang. I've put the more common reference points in the subject of this post.)

There's still plenty of coverage in the news media, although it's not front page stuff. As Kenneth Tan says on shanghaiist, the best coverage of this story continues to come from the blog eastsouthwestnorth.

The ESWN bloggers are saying that Chinese web portals are deleting posts related to the event as quickly as they show up. On one forum it was estimated that Weng'an-related posts had an avererage lifespan of only 15 seconds. Because of this most discussion of the event appears as comments on the official Xinhua news reports.

Xinhua, the Communist Party news agency, is reporting that a high ranking official is investigating the death of the teenage girl. The report says the "incident was a simple affair that a small number of people with ulterior motives managed to manipulate and leverage, with the direct participation of organized crime forces, to provoke and challenge the Party and the government publicly." The blog comments on the Xinhua article: "The above Xinhua article is just about unreadable because it is just another stream of homilies without content. Is this how people really think and talk?"

ESWN also points out the confusion caused by government efforts to take control of coverage, to put their own spin on it, and give it the frame they wish it to have:
The second phenomenon was the amount of noisy chaff released. On one hand, there is the legendary "50-cent gang." These are supposed to be professional Internet writers who get paid 0.50 RMB for every post favorable to the government position. When yet another version of the Weng'an mass incident gets published as being the ultimate truth, the author is accused of being a member of the "50-cent gang" who is trying to confuse the public. Indeed, if you read through enough versions, you will probably throw up your hands and decide that you don't know what the truth is anymore. Instead, you change your investigation to questioning the motives of the people who are producing these versions.

On the other hand, there is the legendary "Internet special agent (??)." These are supposed to be professional spies who are paid by anti-China hostile forces to publish unfavorable information about China. For example, some of the posts mentioned that the People's Liberation Army has been dispatched to Weng'an with tanks and artillery, with the hint of a Tiananmen-like massacre to follow. Immediately, the other netizens reacted by pointing that these posts are coming from "Internet special agents." The netizens want to draw a very clear line: they may be protesting against what is happening in Weng'an but they will not serve the purpose of the anti-China hostile forces. This is very clear.
ESWN also provides a link to another blog site which gives a quote from a local Communist Party newspaper that is unaffiliated with Xinhua. In an editorial comment, the paper criticizes the response by government leaders and the national press, saying that there wouldn't have been a riot with great property damage and the rest if leaders had addressed the core element in the story. The editorial writer says:
But the actual fuse that led to this incident, the details on the actual case involving the death hasn’t been explained or described. The short description that “some people are dissatisfied with the determination of ’cause of death’” isn’t enough of a conclusion. This is no different than wrapping gunpowder with paper (ed: similar to the English idiom walking on land-mines), and will lead to guesses and assumptions, and the people’s dissatisfaction is completely understandable.
A comment on the posts in this other blog site says that Xinhua has now published a report by editor Yan Liang giving many more facts and indicating for the first time why local residents were so upset. The article says:
But the police account proved difficult to accept for the girl's family and their supporters. Li's classmates and her landlord said she was a good student and couldn't have killed herself.

"She was a quiet and nice child. She seldom hung out or played around. I don't think she killed herself," said landlord Liu Jinxue, who helped pull her body from the river. Li's hometown was a rural township and she lived in a rented apartment in the county.

Liu told Xinhua that the girl's uncle, Li Xiuzhong, had several serious confrontations with the police, and was beaten by unidentified men in the street.

The uncle was in a county hospital last week, but had since been transferred elsewhere, Xinhua learnt.

Li's grandmother Lu Xiuzhen said the girl's father had departed for provincial capital, Guiyang, to petition the government and could not be reached. The mother had "gone mad" since the incident, she said.

"I demand the government thoroughly investigate the incident and give us a justifiable explanation," she said.
What's interesting -- according to other commenters on the blog -- is that Xinhua put this up on the English-language part of its web site. The version of the Chinese-language side of the site is apparently much more bland:
The English one was written by writers working for Xinhua, and contains a fairly reasonable report of the incident with quotes from various parties. The Chinese article, however, comes from local Guizhou news report (????-????), and is, frustratingly, of the typical style of official non-sense and white wash everyone hated so much. That article basically reported that the party boss of Guizhou held meetings with local officials to discuss the incident, already casting it as mostly caused by misguided people incited by a few and laid only light blame on officials who “didn’t do a good enough job” locally.
Here's the blog post in shanghaiist:
More on the Weng'an, Guizhou riots

As usual, Roland Soong of EastSouthWestNorth is on top of the incident, busy piecing together all the information he can find. He informs us that Weng'an is now a sensitive word, the uncle of the female student is still alive, and the body of the student is still resting in a refrigerated coffin awaiting autopsy despite this popularly-believed story. Soong also observes that the Xinhua story (which all Chinese media are made to carry) opens more questions than it answers, paving the way for all sorts of unsubstantiated rumours to dominate public opinion.

An AP story has some photos by Andy Wong.
Chinese paramilitary police officers patrol in Weng'an county of Guizhou province, China, Monday, June. 30, 2008. Authorities detained hundreds of people suspected of setting fire to police and government buildings in southwest China in protests over a teenage student's death, a human rights organization said Monday.

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