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Dutch Newspaper Responds to Controversy over China Correspondent (Updated)

Oscar Garschagen has responded to the allegations that were made against him by his former assistant, which were republished by Chinese state media yesterday. “Pure nonsense,” Garschagen says in a NRC newspaper article – it allegedly is Zhang who is making up stories here. The recent article suggests that there was a lack of communication and trust between Garschagen and Zhang.

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Oscar Garschagen has responded to the allegations that were made against him by his former assistant, which were republished by Chinese state media yesterday. “Pure nonsense,” Garschagen says in a detailed reaction in the NRC – it is Zhang who is “making up stories” here. The article suggests that there was a lack of communication and trust between Garschagen and Zhang.

Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, whose China correspondent became a topic of controversy yesterday when his former assistant published a post online that accused him of creating “fake news,” has now responded to the issue.

The story became a hot topic when Zhang published his allegations on several social media platforms. An article about the issue by Beijing Time received nearly 12,5 million views yesterday.

In “About the journalistic integrity of our correspondent in China“, NRC’s Peter Vandermeersch writes that the allegations of Oscar Garschagen’s ex-assistant Zhang Chaoqun have deeply affected the China reporter and the editorial team.

The article states:

What’s going on? In the period leading to Oscar Garschagen’s holiday, some tensions arose at the NRC-office in Shanghai between him and his news-assistant Zhang Chaoqun concerning his research, and his lack of input.”

 

“He was unsure of whether or not Zhang had any connections to State Security.”

 

“Garschagen pointed out to Zhang that he had to improve his work. He found it especially problematical that Zhang was clearly unwilling to join Oscar to the upcoming 19th Party Congress, and that he lacked ideas.”

Vandermeersch writes that Zhang was initially recommended to Garschagen through a colleague at the American radio outlet NPR, but that he did not have any experiences as a reporter. This became a source of irritation, miscommunication, and mistrust between the Dutchman and his assistant.

The article claims that this was a reason for Oscar to often go out by himself without his assistant, “also because he was unsure of whether or not Zhang had any connections to State Security.”

This work situation made the Dutch reporter decide to change assistants during his holiday, Garschagen says, but Zhang apparently had already prepared an attack on his employer in the form of his post on Weibo and WeChat.

The NRC also quotes Garschagen when he says:

“The fact that the Party media encourages Zhang and is all too willing to republish his accusations is noteworthy to me- it suits the current media climate, that makes it increasingly difficult for foreign journalists to work here. I’ve been followed and stopped for a chat countless times.”

 

“It is just pure nonsense.”

 

The article addresses the separate allegations of Garschagen creating “fake news” one by one. Garschagen denies he has made up any stories and says that some names in his reports have only been changed to protect the identity of those involved.

About the 2015 NPR story that showed great similarities with Garschagen’s own 2016 report, he says that he did, in fact, visit the factory and that his former colleague who worked at NPR allowed their assistants to exchange information on places and persons to interview. Garschagen does not further address the similarities between the persons of “Gao” and “Lei” in their stories.

He says that there had been miscommunication about certain reports mentioned by Zhang, and that he might have had to be more detailed in how he formulated certain things.

About another allegation, one involving Garschagen allegedly reporting about a golf club which he never visited, the reporter says it is just “pure nonsense.”

 

“It leaves many questions unanswered.”

 

The Dutch detailed response to the allegations against Garschagen have not made headlines in Chinese media. On Twitter, however, not everyone is convinced with the explanations given for the “fake news” accusations.

China Reuters Consumer Correspondent Pei Li calls the article a “laughable response” that leaves “many questions unanswered.”

Zhang, who has reported his case to the NRC Ombudsman yesterday, has not yet responded to Garschagen’s denial of his accusations on his social media pages on Twitter or Weibo.

Garschagen says he has now contacted the Dutch foreign ministry in Shanghai about the claims made against him, and about the circumstances that make it increasingly difficult for him to do his job as a China correspondent.

Update September 6:

Zhang has posted a statement on Twitter in both Chinese and English, in which he expresses his hopes that NRC will still let a neutral third party investigate this case. (See embedded tweet below):

By Manya Koetse

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

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, Sino-Japanese relations and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Local News

Reporter’s Smiling Selfie at Scene of Horrifying Accident Triggers Anger on Weibo

“This is no laughing matter” – A happy selfie at the scene of a grave accident triggers anger on social media.

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A young woman smiling at the scene of a horrible accident in Anhui Province have left thousands of netizens angry.

Local media reports in China blame a “sudden fog” for a horrifying accident at an Anhui expressway that killed at least 18 people and injured 21 others on Wednesday morning. The multiple collision caused over 30 vehicles to pile up, NDTV reports.

Multiple collision in Anhui, November 15 (Image by CCTV).

Dramatic footage (CCTV video, Youtube) taken at the scene, near Fuyang city, shows that multiple trucks and cars caught fire after the collision and how rescue workers are at work to verify casualties.

A presenter poses at the scene of the accident with a big smile.

The gravity of the accident did not stop a local Fuyang reporter, however, from taking smiling selfies at the scene. The woman, a presenter at Fuyang’s Yingxiang Traffic Radio (@颍上交通音乐广播), makes a peace sign and holds her badge as she happily poses in front of burnt out cars. A man in uniform is standing next to her in one of the photos.

The photos were posted on Weibo by multiple accounts, one belonging to a female netizen who is a local resident from Fuyang, Anhui. She writes:

At 7.45 in the morning of the 15th, 30 vehicles collided, leaving 18 people dead and 21 wounded. Yet this Fuyang Radio presenter poses at the scene of the crash with a man in uniform grinning from ear to ear. Don’t you have a conscience? Don’t you have any personal integrity in your work?

One of the first people to share the photos on Weibo is a local Fuyang resident.

The pictures triggered thousands of angry reactions on Weibo. A typical comment by an anonymous netizen said:

She has no humanity at all. So many people have died, and she is still playing around with selfies, is that human? Just seeing this scene, my heart feels so upset. I hope the relevant authorities in Anhui will teach her a lesson.”

Many of the people commenting to the issue said they were also from Fuyang and grieved by the accident and the woman’s behaviour at the scene. Fuyang is a prefecture-level city in Anhui with more than 7,5 million inhabitants.

Scene of the crash, photos from Weibo.

On Wednesday evening, the presenter in question uploaded a video in which she apologizes for her actions. “Hello everybody I am Ling, and I want to sincerely apologize for what has happened today,” she says: “I’m sorry. I was wrong.”

The woman named ‘Ling’ apologized in an online video on Wednesday night.

In the morning of November 16, the Fuyang Traffic Radio station posted an announcement on social media denouncing their colleagues’ behavior, stating that her employment at the station has since been terminated.

The Fuyang radio station announced on Weibo that the woman is no longer working for them.

This is not the first time a smiling photo at the scene of a serious accident goes viral on Weibo. In 2012, a local Shaanxi official made headlines when he was photographed laughing at the scene of a traffic collision that left 36 people dead.

The photo of the “smiling official” instigated a ‘human flesh search’ with people on Weibo researching his identity and background. His expensive watches drew the attention of netizens, who eventually exposed him as a corrupt official.

The ‘smiling official’ at the scene of an accident that left 36 people dead. (Image via Chinasmack)

On Weibo, many people do not understand how someone can be smiling under grave circumstances: “Is she braindead? How could you ever laugh when 18 people just died?”

There are also a few people, however, who feel the presenter is criticized too harshly by the online community. One person writes: “Give the girl a chance. People make mistakes.”

Others remind the people discussing this issue to focus on the victims of the accident instead: “We hope they can rest in peace.”

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

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

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China Digital

Here’s Xi the Cartoon – Online Animations Are China’s New ‘Propaganda Posters’

Easy to click, view & share – short cartoons and gifs are the propaganda posters of China’s new digital era.

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In an era where China’s young generations are practically glued to their smartphone screens, China’s propaganda departments are stepping up their game. Online animated videos and gifs use bright colors, simple design, and a very likable Xi to deliver strong political messages.

The speech that was delivered by president Xi Jinping at the APEC summit last week made its rounds on Chinese social media this Tuesday – not as a video, but as an animated cartoon.

The APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting took place in Vietnam’s Da Nang from November 10-11, and was attended by international world leaders such as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, American President Donald Trump, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

As one of the keynote speakers to the APEC CEO summit, Xi talked about his views on the Asian region’s future. The speech was especially momentous since it marked Xi’s first public address at an international multilateral meeting since the conclusion of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.

In his address, Xi spoke about China’s commitment to regional multilateralism and open economic globalization, and the importance of promoting inclusive development.

The animated cartoon version of the speech presents China as a leader in the region, with Xi as the main cartoon character. It was widely shared on Chinese social media by state media outlets for the past few days, at a time when cartoons and gifs seem to have become the new way of communicating Xi’s important visits and speeches to the online population.

 

Xi’s Animated Speech: China Leads the Way

 

The recent APEC cartoon that made its rounds on Weibo this week summarizes Xi Jinping’s speech in a 3,5 minute animation. It first shows a group of cranes, flying from China to the coastline of Vietnam’s Da Nang where Xi is holding his keynote speech.

As Xi talks about the development of China and the start of the PRC’s “New Era,” this concept is visualized through a boat that is going forward under the leadership of Xi Jinping (see featured image).

The short animation video then shows another vessel by the name of “APEC” that is in rough weather, passing icebergs of “terrorism,” “natural disasters,” or “food safety issues.” But luckily, there is a lighthouse standing up to the huge waves – and it is marked by the flag of China.

APEC: Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

China is a stable lighthouse amidst the wild waves.

While the audio from Xi’s speech continues throughout the animation, talking about stability in the region, the cartoon presents the APEC group of leaders and Xi meeting with various leaders, leading to the final part that shows a world connected through boats, trains, airplanes, and the internet.

The very last fragment of the animation shows a fleet of boats going forward, “together building a better tomorrow for the Asia-Pacific,” with the leading boat carrying the Chinese flag.

The animation was shared on video platform Miaopai and Weibo by state media such as CCTV (@央视网), Global Times (@环球网), China Economy (@中国经济网), and others.

 

Xi Jinping the Cartoon

 

It is not the first time that the cartoon image of President Xi is propagated online by Chinese state media. Over the past years, various key political concepts, events, and ideological messages have been spread online through animations, with a central role for Xi Jinping.

This trend became particularly apparent earlier this year during the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative and during the 19th National Party Congress; both crucial moment for Beijing’s top leadership in 2017.

Xi Jinping was first launched as a cartoon image in 2013, when a video titled ‘How a Political Leader was Tempered’ (领导人是怎样炼成的) went viral online. At the time , Chinese state media reported that the identity of the video’s author “remained unknown.”

Xi first appeared as a cartoon in 2013.

But not long after this success, the first official release of a Xi Jinping cartoon followed. The series ‘Where did Xi’s Time Go?’ (习主席的时间都去哪了) was designed by media outlet Qianlong.com, and was propagated on major websites as well as new apps.

More attractive than text news, the comic graphic news could reach readers’ heart and it suits modern reading habits,” the chief editor of Qianlong proudly said about the Xi cartoon.

‘Where did Xi’s time go?’ was issued in 2013.

In 2014, another cartoon series of Xi Jinping was released by Chinese state media. According to People’s Daily, the image of cartoon Xi, drawn by cartoonist Jiao Haiyang (焦海洋), made it possible for the media to depict the country’s leader in a “fun and vivid way”, showing the President as “modest,” “approachable,” and “in touch with the people.”

Xi Jinping by Jiao Haiyang for People’s Daily in 2014.

Xi eats baozi with the people. By Jiao Haiyang.

Xi Jinping meets a sanitation worker. By Jiao Haiyang.

In 2015, Xi made another return as a cartoon hero fighting corruption. The cartoon, uploaded to Youku by the mysterious ‘Chaoyang Studios,’ was widely shared by state media outlets such as People’s Daily (Gan 2015).

The exposure of Xi as a cartoon image increased thereafter in 2016 and 2017, with China Daily even launching a ‘cartoon commentary’ section. The ‘cartoon commentary’ section posts short animations of Xi Jinping during and after important political events, such as Xi’s Europe-Asia tour in June 2016, the Central Asia tour in June of 2017 or the Hong Kong visit in July.

‘Cartoon commentary’ from China Daily 2016: Xi’s Europe-Asia Tour.

China Daily ‘cartoon commentary’ during Xi’s visit to Hong Kong in July 2017.

Most of the animated Xi cartoons that are widely shared on Chinese social media over the recent two years, including the official media ‘cartoon commentaries’, have been credited to a cartoonist named Liao Tingting (廖婷婷).

Xi Jinping by Liao Tingting.

‘Liao’s’ cartoons have a distinct style that is different from that of Jiao Haiyang or the Qianlong designers; Xi always has the same friendly face, which is relatively big for his body. The cartoons have bright colors and often have a simplicity to them which is comparable to the drawings in children’s books.

 

‘Propaganda Poster’ in the Social Media Age

 

Colorful images depicting important events or developments, often with a special focus on Mao Zedong, have played an important role in Chinese state propaganda since the founding of the PRC in 1949. The propaganda poster was an especially relevant medium within this type of state-sponsored propaganda art. With bright colors and powerful images, posters could easily grab the attention of the people, and could also transmit messages to the many illiterate Chinese (Landsberger 2001, 541; Van der Heijden&Landsberger 2008).

But in an era of fast online media and smartphone-scrolling youth, Chinese leaders are changing their propaganda tactics. As noted by Chow (2017) in The Diplomat:

China is hoping to reinforce belief in the Communist Party, Chinese nationalism, and socialist values through social media. The ruling party fears that it is losing the battle for hearts and minds – particularly among Internet-savvy millennials who have grown up with Western movies, music, and television.”

Besides other new ways to disseminate political messages (such as rap music, mobile games), short animated cartoons or gifs are now an important vehicle for propaganda; they can communicate strong audiovisual messages in bite-sized chunks, making it easy to digest for an audience that is overwhelmed by online information and is not interested in listening to hour-long speeches.

Although the step from propaganda poster to online animation seems big, the idea remains the same: using bright colors and simple design to attract people’s attention and communicate a strong message through a medium that can be easily placed in many locations, reaching a great number of people.

Besides communicating messages about China’s development and its role in the world today, state-sponsored Xi cartoons also convey a different message. Namely that Xi Jinping is a very likable and approachable leader.

The manner in which this message is conveyed matters greatly: the control should lie with Chinese authorities. When Chinese netizens compared President Xi to Winnie the Pooh, images of the friendly bear were censored soon after they went viral.

On Weibo, the animated cartoons of Xi’s speeches and important moments already seem to have become a normal part of the everyday social media landscape. While the reactions to the first series were generally positive, with netizens calling them “so cute” (好萌), the later videos seem to have become accepted as just another way for state media to communicate news to the people.

‘Xi the cartoon’ has become part of netizens’ daily online-scrolling routines. In this regard,  propaganda departments have succeeded in bringing a likable and approachable Xi “in touch with the people.”

By Manya Koetse

 

References & Further Reading

Chow, Eugene. 2017. “China’s Propaganda Goes Viral.” The Diplomat, June 29 https://thediplomat.com/2017/06/chinas-propaganda-goes-viral/ [14.11.17].

Creemers, Rogier. 2017. “Cyber China: Upgrading Propaganda, Public Opinion Work and Social Management for the Twenty-First Century.” Journal of Contemporary China (26): 85-100.

Gan, Nectar. 2015. “Cartoon Xi Jinping Returns in New Animated Adventures.” South China Morning Post, February 21 http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1719881/cartoon-xi-jinping-returns-new-animated-adventures [14.11.17].

Landsberger, Stefan R. 2001. “Learning by What Example? Educational Propaganda in Twenty-first Century China.” Critical Asian Studies 33(4): 541-571.

Van der Heijden, Marien & Stefan Landsberger. 2008. Chinese Propaganda Posters. Amsterdam: International Institute of Social History. Available online at http://www.iisg.nl/publications/chineseposters.pdf [14.11.17].

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

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

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2017

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