Reading Nanfang Daily on Shanwei

The following translated article is a Chinese commentator's very close reading of a report in Nanfang Daily on the Shanwei incident.  The context is that this reading was comparative in nature, with the other two points of reference being the Xinhua report on the incident and also how something like this would be written up 16 years ago.  Of course, this may very well be over-reading and over-interpreting.

The fact is that the Xinhua report appeared on December 10.  Nanfang Daily could have just reproduced it, but they wrote their own story.  It is only too easy to write another old-style report, and it would have pleased the bosses.  The fact was that they didn't.  They wrote something different.  The discrepancies are small, but telling.  For example, Nanfang Daily reported on the detention of the police commander but Xinhua did not.

The Nanfang Daily and even the Xinhua reports were both different from what might have been written sixteen years ago.  There are no praises and medals for the police heroes, the dead and wounded were not blamed as counter-revolutionary rioters and there are no clichés about the importance of "stability" and "harmony."

I will also warn you that this article takes the official version of the story as factual, and the quibbles are over how to write it.  You may know of other facts (see, for example, The Shanwei Incident), but the point in the translated commentary is not to argue about the facts -- this is about how this version differs from the standardized version.  This is a media story, not a socio-political news story.

(  The first appearance of media maturity in the reporting of the major illegal incident in Shanwei.  By Gao Yifei.

[in translation]

On December 6, there was a major illegal incident in the Honghaiwan development zone in the city of Shanwei of Guangdong province.  Due to the incitement by a small number of people, several hundred villagers attacked, vandalized and set fire to the wind power plant and they even attacked the public security offices and militia violently.  On December 11, Nanfang Daily published a report titled: "A major illegal incident occurred in the Honghaiwan development zone in the city of Shanwei of Guangdong province."  This belated report exceeded my expectations, because it shows the gradual maturation of the media with respect to reporting mass incidents.  One can assume that this report was reviewed and approved by party-government officials at a certain level, and so it can also be said that this reflects the political wisdom of those leaders.

As for the definition of the nature of this incident, the Nanfang Daily report asserts that "the 12/6 incident is a major illegal incident in which assaults, vandalization and arson occurred due to the incitement by a very small number of people."  The whole article did not use words such as "disturbance" or "crime."  All the activities that occurred since June and prior to 12/6 were described as "they prevented work at the power plant, they blocked major traffic roads, they detained vehicles and personnel, they attacked government offices and workers and engaged in other drastic and possibly illegal acts." 

After these "drastic and possibly illegal acts," the villagers "surrounded and attacked the main control building at the wind power plant, they threw large numbers of fishing detonators and lit petroleum-filled bottles" and these acts were characterized as "making trouble."  So an affray was "escalated" into "trouble" in order to indicate the change in degree.  The report said that the principal elements "will have to accept legal responsibility for the serious consequences due to the assault, vandalization and arson that occurred at the wind power plant and the violent attacks against the public security officers and militia who were enforcing the law."  As to whether these were criminal acts, the report does not say.  In a society ruled by law, under the principle of presumed innocence, the media should not pronounce criminality until the law enforcement authorities have done so.  This report was objective and sober, and exhibits good professional qualities.

In terms of the political attitude towards this incident, the opinion was that it was an illegal act, but it was not labeled as either a distrubance or riot.  Even more significantly, although this incident was objectively a "mass incident," the term was not used anywhere in entire article.  The purpose was obviously to avoid using the term "mass incident" because it is too broad and ambiguous and to avoid mixing up the secondary acts of the ordinary people with the illegal acts of a small number of people.  It emphasized that the principal elements "should bear legal responsibility for the serious consequences of the incident" but it did not mention that anyone else has legal responsibility.  This is consistent with the related requirements of the existing law and it avoids escalating the incident indefinitely.

Also, the report did not bring up the "stability overrirdes everything else" clichés and empty talk.  It linked this incident with the improper ways of complaining about specific interest issues.  It just stated the matter and did not elaborate beyond that.  This is an appropriate way in news reporting.  Many illegal acts occur for cause and they do not represent opposition to the social system or central government policies.  In the past, certain local governments took a certain political stance with respect to handling illegal acts in order to use political correctness to cover up the responsibility of the government in the handling of the entire process.  This will only arouse social conflicts and expand the matter.  Furthermore, this works against the fair handling of the incident and it will deprive the people of their legal rights, as even lawbreakers have such rights too.

The description of the police-people relationship did not put the two sides down as opposing enemies.  The report objectively separated the common masses from the principal elements who made trouble.  The report also said "under the special emergency situation, the commander at the scene handled the situation improperly and caused unintended casualties, and the Shanwei City supervisory/monitoring organization has detained the commander in accordance with the law."  Also reported were "rendering medical help to injured people," "going into the scene of the incident to do ideological work," "performing the related work afterwards," "the investigation of the incident is in progress."  This is qualitatively very different from how certain local governments in the past describing the police as heroes worthy of praises and medals, the "rioters" being suppressed and this was yet another great victory in the class struggle.

It is usual for various kinds of social conflicts to exist.  No nation or social system can avoid that.  An incident occurs for various kinds of objective reasons.  Class-based analysis and political definitions are rash and simplified ways of dealing with the situation, and they do not reflect the actual situation.  Media must carefully and objectively observe the matter and fully report the reactions of all sides.  For news, one must not lie but one must also avoid partiality or withholding the words that need to be said.  Nanfang Daily's report told us about the police, the people and the third party "who rushed overnight to Shanwei city in order to understand the situation, and therefore gave the complete news."

Of course, this report on this incident did not happen in a timely manner and therefore caused many speculations in the interim.  In terms of the totality, there should be some report about what the villagers at the scene of the incident think and that would be worth summarizing.  In our socialist democratic society, the public has the right to know about major incidents.  As to whether future reports will be timely, truthful and neutral, that will be a test for the Guangdong media as well as the national media.