The eye roll that highlights the depth of China’s censorship
Say hello to Liang Xiangyi. She’s something of a hero in China right now.
She was one of many reporters at China’s annual Two Sessions meeting, and one of two reporters in a scene that went viral in China. In the below video, you’ll see Liang react to Zhang Huijun, who’s in the process of asking a drawn-out, softball of a question to the chairman of the Assets Supervision and Administration Commission. You can really feel Liang’s disgust.
Here’s the rub: Journalists covering Two Sessions are encouraged to ask questions during “delegate corridor” events. Except these journalists and their questions are preselected, so only questions that government officials actually want to answer are asked.
Zhang’s question was designed to praise the government. Liang’s reaction is one many Chinese netizens could relate to, leading to instant internet fame.
“I think what we see in this clip, at one of the world’s most scripted and controlled events, is a brief and fleeting scene of raw human emotion, of eye-rolling disgust at a long-winded planted question,” William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International, said to CNET.
The internet fame was short-lived, however. China’s Great Firewall of internet censorship wasn’t having it. The moment, aired live on China’s state-run TV channel, was hotly discussed and promoted on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. Not soon after, Liang’s name became the most-censored term on the platform, reports the New York Times. The publication added that shirts adorned with Liang’s likeness quickly popped up on Taobao, an Alibaba-owned online marketplace.
Some of the Weibo memes, including the below imitation, were salvaged by journalists on Twitter:
The timing of the eye roll is key, as China’s lawmakers on Sunday amended the country’s constitution to allow for Xi Jinping, president of the People’s Republic of China, to rule indefinitely. Until Sunday, there was a two-term limit, with each term lasting five years. Unsurprisingly, internet censors have scrubbed disagreement of the ruling.
“We’ve seen unprecedented censorship regarding the move to amend the Constitution,” Amnesty’s Nee said, “and in some ways, the fact that this incident went so viral could reflect that many Chinese netizens are hungry for ways to mock this staid and overbearing political culture, while doing so safely and indirectly.
“The fact the censors went into overdrive to scrub this from the internet, is a vivid example of China’s determination to stifle freedom of expression.”
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