How To Keep Information Out Of Newspapers In China

In The Shalan Flash Flood - Part 4, a Nanfang Weekend reporter found that his article was denied publication by unnamed authorities.  Then the reporter also found out that newsstands in Heilongjiang province were told not to sell Nanfang Weekend for a while.  The reporter called this a 'double-layered safety condom' to make absolutely sure that nothing got out in that area.

What if someone wants to suppress a story, but they are not high enough in the hierarchy to order the editors to stop a story, or the newsstands not to carry the newspapers?

This story appeared in Nanfang Daily on June 22, 2005.  On the day before, Nanfang Daily published an article on Dagang Town, Panyu City, Guangdong Province.  The story was about how 1,147 villagers filed a joint complaint to the National Land Administration Department to demand the return of 19 hectares of land that was requisitioned by the town government and real estate development corporation.  The villagers were aware that the most influential newspaper in the province was doing a report concerning their vital interests and was looking forward to read it.

On the day of publication, a number of villagers showed up at 6am to wait at the newsstand to buy the newspaper.  The newspapers arrived at 8am.  When the villagers got their copies, they went through the whole newspaper and found nothing.  They were quite disappointed.

Was the story pulled?  No.  It was indeed published.  So why couldn't the villagers find it?

A villager then noticed that pages A35 and A36 were missing in his copy.  This is the section for news in Guangdong province outside of Guangzhou City.  Then all the villagers realized that those pages were missing in their copies as well.  According to a villager named Chen, "I went to the newsstand at 830am and I found out that all the newspapers were missing those pages (抽水).  The newsstand owner did not know what happened.  Later, the villagers got someone to buy 470 copies from outside the area, but it would be after 11am before they arrived."

Meanwhile, the reporter also found out from the newspaper's distribution department that at a certain newsstand near the Cultural Plaza in Dagang Town, an unidentified person bought 300 copies of the newspaper.

All eyes looked towards the town government, since the article cast an unfavorable light on its actions.

When the reporter contacted the town government leader, the response was: "Dagang Town government cannot possibly buy up the newspaper copies.  Can buying those newspaper copies stop the villagers from seeing the report?  It is pointless.  The town government wouldn't do something like this!"

For once, there may be a point.  After all, the original story and the meta-story are both available on the Internet.  There are still some unclear points: for example, were the 300 copies sold to the anonymous individual a part of the 470 copies purchased for the villagers?  Whatever else, the meta-story was probably a lot worse for the town government than the original story.