The central government did many things right in response to the Weng’an riots. Beijing’s campaign to treat “sudden incidents” with more openness was also obvious; a full news conference revealing the government’s version less than 2 days after the riot is pretty unheard of by Chinese standards. Reporters from around the country and world flooded into Guizhou without limitation (according to one reporter on site, as many as 140 reporters were present for a banquet last night). Citizen blogger/reporters, like Zola, also reported from the scene. Senior provincial leaders were also sent to Weng’an to provide high-level attention; Shi Zongyuan, the Party chief for Guizhou province, was on the scene leading that first investigation team within two days.
By anyone’s standard, these should all be considered positive steps in the aftermath of this type of crisis. But it didn’t completely work; for many Chinese, online tempers still flared. Here’s one key, representative quote behind the public frustration:
Shi Zongyuan pointed out, “6.28” incident started for a simple reason, but was used by a small number of people with ulterior motives along with the participation of evil, organized criminals.
This one little sentence has angered many Chinese. No one believes that “organized crime” is enough of an explanation for this riot; as many have said, a mob of Chinese don’t form up and stone a government building without some reason. In the mind of many, this one sentence is proof that the “cover-up” is on, that officials were now out to protect each other, and that the Communist Party had grown increasingly out of touch with Chinese society. Shi Zongyuan has been cursed with every slanderous name known in the Chinese language; many called him the “Shi Tiger” (in reference to the Zhou Tiger).
But what’s remarkable, what’s frustrating, is that this is all a crime inflicted by the state media itself. Here is what a Guizhou reporter, who also attended the meeting on June 30th (between 100 local political leaders) reported on his personal blog (连接):
… local political representatives first gave speeches with all of the standard political fluff: economic development had been disrupted, the great unity that had been established had been disrupted, calls for the government to severely punish the criminals, maintain social stability and harmony …
After listening to the comments of those attending, Shi Zongyuan said: Weng’an county has always had tense relations between cadres and citizens, police and citizens. Weng’an county has repeatedly had violent incidents of robbery, murder, rape which have gone unsolved. The people who live here lack a sense of security. The failures of the county public security ministry has made everyone in the local community angry. He advised that those responsible for county public security should be “dismissed from class”. Hearing this, all of the local political leaders (members of the people’s congress, political consultative conference) clapped in approval.
Shi Zongyuan also said that earlier this year (during the national party congress in Beijing), CCTV interviewed him for a program called “Peaceful Guizhou”. At the time, Shi Zongyuan gave Guizhou’s crime situation 60 points, a barely passing grade. After the incident on 6.28, he can only give Guizhou 50 points.
After this incident, all of the relevant departments in Guizhou must fully investigate this situation. If it isn’t handled properly and occurs again, he will voluntarily petition the central politburo and resign.。
None of the Chinese media carried the story in this passage, very few in China has any idea that Shi Zongyuan said these harsh words. Basically, the state media couldn’t break its bad habits: the reports instead tried to obscure negative criticism, downplayed the scale of the problem, tried to distract attention away from the local government… ultimately providing an extremely one-sided interpretation of the events. The cynical and increasingly informed Chinese can sniff out the lies in a second. In providing this Disneyland perspective, the state media has only damaged the credibility of Shi Zongyuan and the government as a whole.
There’s more, from the same blogger:
In my work, I like to discover minor details. When Shi Zongyuan was about to meet with the local representatives, the local prefecture and county party secretaries met first with the representatives and gave them notice, calling on them to behave properly in front of Shi Zongyuan, etc, etc… In reality, everyone has their own opinions on the issue, why should they have been given notice? Shi Zongyuan has brains, as soon as the meeting started, he started reading out loud from a print-out of Internet comments. In these were some very explosive claims; everyone there listened attentively, but a few began to sweat more and more.
Sadly, that’s a fascinating detail that the vast majority of Chinese netizens are completely unaware of. This is the sort of government, attentive to the words and demands of the people, that many Chinese demand and expect… and when it actually happens, we don’t even know about it.
The blogger gives us many other details unavailable elsewhere: he talks about clear evidence that rubber bullets were used, a fact he claims was also hidden from Shi Zongyuan by local officials. He talked about the county government’s rather weak attempts to control what the media would be reporting; he talked about the inconsistent story being forced on them by the local government; he also interviewed a 7-year old boy in the hospital, one of the “rioters”; he talks about positive impressions of the alert armed police, in stark contrast to the lazy local police in riot gear.
I hope all of this is a wake-up call to the right-minded leaders in the Chinese government, like (apparently) Shi Zongyuan. Their righteous actions are being corrupted and perverted by others. When the propaganda ministry is in effect hurting the government, you have to conclude the existing propaganda system is truly broken.
UPDATE (07/03): The state media is now reporting Shi Zongyuan’s harsh criticism of the county-level officials. Two officials have been sacked, and others are being investigated for violation of Party regulations.