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Dutch China Correspondent Accused of “Fake News” by Former Assistant

The news assistant of a prominent Dutch China correspondent has lashed out against his former employer on Chinese social media, saying he has fabricated news stories about China during the time he worked for him.

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The news assistant of a prominent Dutch China correspondent has lashed out against his former employer on Chinese social media, saying he fabricated news stories about China during the time he worked for him. As the controversial story has since been shared by Chinese state media outlet Global Times, Beijing’s BTime website now says that “time is up” for the Dutch “story king.”

On September 4th, Zhang Chaoqun (张超群), the former assistant of China correspondent Oscar Garschagen, published an article on Chinese social media platform WeChat in which he accuses the Dutchman of fabricating news.

Garschagen is a well-respected Dutch journalist who has been working as a China reporter for Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad (NRC) for ten years. He previously also worked as a correspondent in the US and Israel. He is currently based in Shanghai.

Zhang, who says he worked with Garschagen for two years, first published his accusations in a Chinese WeChat post (“我炒了写假新闻的外媒记者“) via the ‘Foreign Media in China’ account (抢占外媒高地). After making its rounds in China’s journalism circles through the WeChat app, the story was also shared on Weibo and Twitter.

Zhang published an English version of his story on China Data Insider later on Monday and publicly contacted the NRC newspaper’s public advocate through Twitter, saying he wanted to expose “serious news fabrication.”

In his English post, titled “A Correspondent’s Guide to Making Fake News in China,” he writes:

“Being a news assistant who helps with pitching stories, conducting researches, conducting/arranging interviews, and translating any necessary Chinese materials but never gets to write a story or have a proper byline (not even a research byline), I dare not say I have mastered the dark art of making fake new. But I have the luck of working with one of the greatest masters of the dark art for two years and watching him fabricating, twisting and distorting stories on many occasions.”

In the article, Zhang then accuses Garschagen of bringing “fake news” in his reports on at least seven occasions. In one case, Zhang alleges that an interview included in a 2016 featured article about rising tensions around the South China Sea conflict actually did not take place at all:

“In June, 2016, as the South China Sea Arbitration Case became a global trending story, Mr Garschagen went to a small fishing town Tanmen, Hainan, with the hope of talking to Wang Shumao, deputy company commander of the maritime militia in Tanmen town. Mr Wang declined the interview request point blank. But why should a rejection get in the way of a good story? In the published story, Mr Garschagen said he waited for three days and finally “interviewed” Mr. Wang with the help from the provincial publicity department. Of course, the interview did not happen at all.”

In other examples, he says that the Dutch reporter made up names of persons included in his work, wrote about scenes he did not actually witness, quoted people saying things they had never said, or combined stories of separate individuals.

Zhang also alleges that for a report about the economically weakening coal city of Lüliang in 2015 – which was triggered by an initial story by NPR.org – Garschagen and Zhang visited three places together: the airport, a coal mine, and the ‘Zhongfen Liquor City.’

Garschagen’s later report about the trip, however, focused on a cement factory in crisis which Zhang says they actually never visited – only the reporter of the original NPR story of four months earlier allegedly had been there.

The NPR story of September 2015 by international correspondent Frank Langfitt includes an interview with a cement factory’s lower-level manager named Gao, while Garschagen’s piece of January 2016 also includes an interview with the cement factory’s former manager (and security guard) named Gao.

Both interviews show various similarities, and both stories include a fragment on a domestic appliance shop owner by the name of “Lei” (“Lei Lili” in the NPR piece and “Lei Li” in the NRC article), who says her business is doing bad because the people of Lüliang have no income anymore.

“I’ve fired my boss today and I’m proud of this decision,” Zhang concludes his online complaint. The news assistant confirmed to Chinese English-language news site Sixth Tone that he emailed his resignation to Garschagen on Monday morning.

In response to the issue, Associated Press correspondent Gerry Shih tweeted on Monday: “Be nice to your news assistant today. Especially if you depend on him/her for everything. And you happen to make a lot of stuff up.”

After state media tabloid Global Times reposted Zhang’s article on WeChat and Weibo, news outlet Beijing Time (北京时间 Btime.com) also reported the story under the title “Time’s Up for ‘Story King’ Foreign Reporter” (“外媒记者当“故事大王”的日子已经不多了”).

Although some Chinese netizens believed Zhang’s account and said that foreign journalists often discredit China for their own political agenda, there were also people who questioned the story and wondered why it was republished by the Global Times, an outlet owned by official Party newspaper People’s Daily.

“I started to wonder when I saw the source,” one person wrote on WeChat. Others asked if the author might have written this to “to highlight their own justice.”

On Btime.com alone, the story was viewed over 7,5 million times by Monday evening. Zhang’s original post was also republished on other Chinese news media sites such as Sina News and Phoenix News.

Beijing Time wrote that although the truthfulness of Zhang’s allegations had not yet been verified by a third party, “there are [indeed] some ‘story kings’ amongst foreign reporters, who are wasting their time relying on their imaginations and prejudice about China.”

Garschagen, who has an account on Twitter (@oscargarschagen) and Weibo, has not yet responded on social media to the allegations that were made against him by his former assistant. He did tell Sixth Tone that he was “surprised” and “did not understand the accusations.”

He also told Sixth Tone: “This attack on my integrity contains many distortions and untruths.”

In a 2014 interview with Dutch blog The Post Online, Garschagen said about his Chinese colleagues that he had a “very positive” view on them.

UPDATE:

By Manya Koetse

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China and Covid19

China’s ‘Sheep People’: The Stigmatization of Covid Patients

Has testing negative or positive for Covid become a matter of ‘good’ versus ‘evil’?

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As many people face Covid-related discrimination in China after testing positive, social media users are now speaking out against popular (online) language that refers to Covid patients as ‘sheep,’ saying the way people talk about the virus is worsening existing stigmatization.

As Shanghai is entering its sixth week of citywide Covid lockdowns, there have been over 60,000 confirmed cases of Covid, and more than 52,000 people have recovered. Meanwhile, other cities in China, including Beijing and Zhengzhou, are also seeing Covid cases rise.

Everyone who tests positive for Covid in China currently needs to go to a centralized quarantine location to ‘recover,’ even if they have no symptoms. Covid-19 patients are not allowed to isolate at home due to the risk of spreading the virus or developing severe illness.

Patients who have been discharged from quarantine locations do not always receive a warm welcome upon returning back to their community. They need to test negative for Covid twice in a row before being discharged, but then often face discrimination from neighbors or family members who fear they might still carry the virus.

In online conversations, people who have tested positive for Covid are also referred to as “little positive people” (小阳人). But because the Chinese (Mandarin) word for ‘positive’ (yáng 阳) has the same pronunciation as the word for ‘sheep’ (yáng 羊), the meaning has come to shift, going from ‘little positive people’ to ‘little sheep persons’ (小羊人).

Gradually, Covid patients have also started to be labeled as “two-legged sheep” (liǎngjiǎoyáng 两脚羊), with male patients sometimes referred to as rams (gōngyáng 公羊) and female patients as ewes (mǔyáng 母羊). On social media, netizens also simply use the emoticon for a sheep (🐑) to refer to Covid-positive people.

 

“Stop calling Covid patients ‘little sheep’!”

 

A recent WeChat article by the health and medical platform Dxy.com describes the trend of referring to Covid patients as ‘little sheep’ stigmatizing and disrespectful, calling on people to stop labeling (recovered) Covid patients like this (DXY 2022).

The article suggests it is harmful to discriminate against Covid patients, comparing the language that is being used to describe Covid patients to how people affected by leprosy have suffered stigma and discrimination throughout history.

Using the hashtag “Stop Calling Covid Patients ‘Little Sheep [Positive] People'” (#别再叫新冠患者小阳人了#), Weibo users are discussing the stigmatization of people with Covid, with many agreeing that the language used to talk about Covid patients needs to change.

“This is no different than when other countries talked about the ‘Wuhan virus’ at the start of the pandemic,” one commenter wrote. “I always felt puzzled when people would use ‘sheep’ to talk about infected people, it’s so disrespectful,” another person replied. “People are people, with feelings and dignity, it’s just inhumane to refer to them as ‘two-legged sheep.'”

In April, another online article – including a conversation with a Shanghai Disease Control and Prevention doctor – also pointed out the problem of Chinese Covid patients being stigmatized. Popular science author Wang Jie (汪诘), who is based in Shanghai, wrote that the misunderstanding and panic about the virus are actually more frightening than Covid itself and that the disdain for Covid patients is most harmful to them.

The article was controversial and ended up being taken offline from Wechat, mainly because Wang Jie stressed that in the midst of China’s zero-Covid policy and the Shanghai outbreak, the ‘cure’ against the wave of Covid infections seemed to be worse than the virus itself. In doing so, Wang also addressed that the way Covid patients are being treated is often based on fear and panic rather than science.

All of the panic surrounding the virus has placed those who are positive or even recovered under scrutiny. China’s low infection rates have also made persons who have tested positive for Covid an anomaly to many, and there is the simple fear the virus might be transmitted to them or their loved ones – a risk that would affect their family and might even have consequences for the entire community they live in.

In early stages of a local outbreak, some of the people who were among the first to test positive were also referred to as ‘spreaders’ (放毒). In many cases, their contact tracing records were made public to inform residents, leading to the entire country knowing a person’s recent whereabouts (in one case, this exposed the tragic story of a Beijing migrant).

 

“When did testing positive become a social problem, and not just a medical one?”

 

Despite using different vocabulary, Chinese state media reports on how to deal with discharged patients perhaps also do not help in fighting the Covid stigma. In April, Shanghai Daily reminded people that recovered Covid-19 patients won’t infect others after returning home, but at the same time, it also suggested that recovered patients should live in well-ventilated rooms alone and avoid close contact and meals with their family members, while also reducing contact with other residents in the community (Yang 20220).

The official guidelines for recovered Covid patients in Shanghai require seven-day home health testing (check temperature twice a day, another nucleic acid test on the seventh day), and also prescribe people to stay isolated at home in a room by themselves and keeping a safe distance from others.

“I talked to my neighbor who came back from the quarantine hospital. He said he felt that people were avoiding him, that he was discriminated against and getting stared at. He worried about how this might mentally hurt his daughter, afraid that others wouldn’t play with her anymore,” one Weibo commenter named ‘Walexandraw’ shared.

Another social media user nicknamed ‘Love is Torture’ wrote that the community where they lived did not allow them back in after returning from the quarantine facility, forcing them to stay at their company’s dormitory instead: “So what use is the government proof of recovery? Is it nothing but a piece of paper? I have a home I can’t return to, is this the correct way to handle things?!”

Recently, a photo showing a drawing on the back of the hazmat suit of an anti-epidemic worker also triggered some controversy online. The drawing shows a black and a white figure, and underneath it says “grabbing sheep” (捉羊).

The picture is based on Heibai Wuchang (黑白无常), two Chinese folk religion deities – the Black and White Guard, sometimes represented as one single person – in charge of escorting spirits of the dead to the underworld. Persons doing good will meet the deity of fortune, while persons committing evil will meet the malevolent deity (Eng 2019).

Many people condemned the drawing for the message it conveyed of wrong versus right, with the ‘sheep’ testing positive for Covid going to ‘hell.’ Some mentioned that this kind of objectification of people could contribute to a Lucifer effect where anti-epidemic workers actually start to internalize ideas about the people they are testing in terms of ‘grabbing sheep’ and ‘good versus evil.’

“This person is objectifying patients by referring to them as ‘sheep’ and using the Heibai Wuchang drawing along with it, really making people uncomfortable,” one person wrote, with another Weibo user commenting:

“Since when do you have to feel inferior and guilty about it all being your own fault if you get the virus? When did testing positive become a social problem, and not just a medical one? Why not give positive patients a respectful name instead of a wrong one like ‘little sheep person’?”

Weibo blogger ‘Directube’ also posted another digital art work highlighting this idea of medical workers fighting against the evil of Covid.

“Is this 2022 or 1822?” one person wondered.

Despite all the online calls to change the popular language related to Covid (“language is a tool for thought and shapes what we think all the time), there are also many netizens who find the nicknames funny and innocent, and continue to call Covid patients ‘little sheep’ and other related terms.

“I just thought the term was cute,” one person writes, with another netizen complaining: “We have another little sheep in the community – we’re in lockdown again.”

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

References

DXY.com. 2022. “别再叫新冠患者「小阳人」了 [“Don’t Call Covid Patients Little Sheep]” (In Chinese). Dingxiang Yisheng 丁香医生 WeChat Account, May 6 https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/XbqZpi0PlP55RFe8RLV_1g [May 7 2022].

Eng, Khoo Boo. 2019. Understanding Chinese Culture in Relation to Tao. Singapore: Partridge Publishing.

Yang, Jian. 2022. “11,000 Patients Discharged after Recovery.” Shanghai Daily 23 (7496), April 11.

Wang Jie 汪诘. 2022. “比新冠病毒更可怕的,是对病毒的误解和恐慌 [What Is More Frightening Than the Novel Coronavirus Is the Misunderstanding and Panic about the Virus]” (In Chinese). Sohu.com, April 3 https://www.sohu.com/a/535112126_120083328 [May 7 2022].

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China and Covid19

Chinese Netizens Respond to ‘Uplifting’ Covid News: “We’re Not That Dumb”

A viral WeChat blog criticizes Chinese journalists for ‘dumbing down’ and exaggerating Shanghai Covid news.

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Weibo commenters say they do not know “whether to laugh or to cry” about some state media news items that are desperately trying to turn news about Shanghai’s Covid situation into something ‘uplifting.’

This week, a WeChat article criticizing ‘uplifting’ news about Shanghai’s Covid situation has been making its rounds on Chinese social media.

“Sometimes, I really doubt the intelligence of some institutionalized journalists, I really don’t know whether to laugh or cry about it,” the author (大松子哟) of the Wechat article titled “Please Guys, Give Us Less Retarded News” (“求求你们了,少整点弱智新闻吧“) writes.

One of the recent news stories that is mentioned as an example of Shanghai blowing its own horn while also dumbing down news readers, is that of state media outlet Xinhua News about a drone flying over the Huangpu River to deliver priority life-saving medication to a cancer patient.

According to the state media report, the Shanghai local Committee of the Communist Youth League in Xuhui District received a help inquiry on April 27th from an elderly patient with advanced liver cancer who needed their emergency medicine from Shanghai’s Pudong District.

With the help of the fire and emergency department, the Committee immediately arranged for two drones to go on a mission over the Huangpu River to pick up and deliver the medicine, a journey of about 20 kilometers. The mission was reportedly accomplished in thirty minutes and the entire ordeal was filmed by the second drone for a Xinhua video.

“Such positivity,” one popular blogger wrote: “But what about just putting these medications in a car for transportation – they won’t go bad, and there are no traffic jams in Shanghai now. Transportation by car is a bit safer than flying them over the Huangpu river don’t you think?”

Another Weibo user wrote: “Shanghai bridges aren’t bombed, are they? The tunnels aren’t blocked, are they? Couldn’t the firemen just drive a car and deliver the medicine?” The idea that the two drones needed to fly out because the bridges and tunnels were bombed or blocked then became somewhat of a running joke on Weibo.

“This is all just to fit the propaganda messages, did you think people are stupid or something?” others wrote, with many commenters repeating the sentence: “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about it.”

“I’m laughing so hard over this, all this trouble with a drone delivering medication and then another drone following it to film it, they’re making things so difficult.”

Following online criticism, a hashtag page related to the news was temporarily disabled and later only eight comments praising the video were displayed below the Xinhua thread, which actually received nearly 5000 replies.

 

Grateful Sick Man in Wheelchair

 

Another example raised is a news story about an elderly sick man with an amputated leg living on the fourth floor of an apartment building (without elevators) who had to go downstairs for a mandatory Covid test. Unable to leave his apartment by himself, the old man was helped by five anti-epidemic workers who carried him all the way down in his wheelchair.

According to the original news report, the old man was moved and thanked the workers for helping him get downstairs.

“Wouldn’t it have been easier to bring the test upstairs?” many people wondered. “Wasn’t the news editor a bit entertained about this news himself?”

Others also wondered how and if the man in the wheelchair ever got back to his fourth-floor apartment again.

“So you think it’s not a good idea for one person to go to the house to do the nucleic acid test, but you do think it looks good for five people to carry the old man down with a wheelchair and take pictures of it?” the WeChat article author wrote: “And he was moved and actually thanked you? Are you sure he didn’t call you idiots?”

The blogger also wrote: “I understand the goal of these kinds of articles is to express positivity and to convey a feeling of urgency that ‘every second counts,’ but could you please also take our IQ into considering when setting the atmosphere?”

Adding: “I once heard a story as a kid about an Arab who had won a camel at a competition. When he got home, he wanted to slaughter the camel but discovered his knife was on the third floor, so he asked three of his neighbors to help him get the camel up to the third floor…” I always thought this story was just fabricated, but now I’ve come to realize I was just too naive.”

 

A Life or Death Mission

 

Another news story mentioned was originally published by Jiefang Daily (解放日报), the official daily newspaper of the Shanghai Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. It is a personal narrative of a Shanghai official who is going back to work ‘in the field’ for the first time in a decade.

This is how the story begins:

“On the evening of April 12, close to 10pm, I received a call from my unit that I would be part of a team of ten people as the first batch of cadres to get into the village. Actually, I felt afraid, I didn’t know what the situation would be like in the place where we were heading. What challenges would we face? Also, I have two sons in junior high school, I always help them in their schoolwork, I worried their studies would be delayed.”

“I told my sons to go up to the attic to get the biggest suitcase. They were stupefied, asking me: ‘Mum, how long will you be gone for? Why do you need such a big suitcase?’ I told them: ‘You can never be over-prepared. I don’t exactly know how long.’ I could see the panic in their eyes.”

“The next day, when my sons carried my luggage to the car, I turned around and hugged them both. I had never been so sad to part with them, and tears started welling up in my eyes. I held myself back and told myself: ‘You can’t cry, you need to be a good role model for your sons, when facing a catastrophe someone must stand up and bravely step forward. Besides, I’m not the one who is suffering the most – if others can do it, so can I.”

The WeChat blogger responds to the news article, writing: “I first thought the protagonist was leaving their family to go abroad for some secret all or nothing mission, moving heaven and heart, between life and death,.. but then I read on and, oh, my dear, it turns out to be an official who’s going to work at a neighborhood committee!”

The author criticizes the article for presenting the work of a local cadre at a neighborhood committee – doing simple work such as scanning QR codes and collecting PCR tests – as some life or death mission.

“Where does this kind of ‘self-moving’ [‘自我感动’, like stroking one’s own ego] come from? Isn’t it embarrassing?”

Meanwhile, on Weibo, the banter continues: “I remember someone saying that the person in charge of the Shanghai propaganda line came back from North Korea.”

This is not the first time that this kind of ‘positive’ reporting in times of Covid is deemed out of place and exaggerated.

In February 2020, Chinese media reports praised female nurses as true heroes for having their heads shaved before going to Wuhan to help in the fight against Covid-19. The reports and videos showed some women crying while having their hair completely shaved, and the media segment caused anger among Weibo and Wechat users who thought it was all about propaganda.

Gansu Daily report on women having their head shaved in preparation of their Wuhan mission, February 2020.

Many wondered why the women needed to shave off all of their hair while male nurses could keep their hair. Some experts chiming in claimed that having a bald head would not be helpful in the fight against the virus, as (short) hair also has a protective function, reduces irritation from wearing hats and masks, and prevents sweat from dropping into the eyes.

More recently, a CCTV video report on the situation in Shanghai went viral on WeChat after people thought the part showing a supposed Shanghai supermarket was “too fake,” with many suggesting it was filmed inside a film studio instead of inside an actual Shanghai supermarket in times of lockdown and grocery problems.

Afterward, a video made by social media users edited a Joker Xue song into the state media video, in which he sings about a relationship in which one person is faking it and the other just plays along and pretends not to notice for the sake of their relationship.

Official media then reported that the supermarket scenes were “authentic.” The very fact that state media outlets apparently felt the need to convince netizens that the state news program was legitimate, instead of being staged as some netizens suspected, says a lot about the current relationship between state media and Chinese netizens amid tensions surrounding the situation in Shanghai.

“These kind of news reports are an insult to my brain,” one commenter wrote.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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