- By David WertimeDavid Wertime is senior editor of Tea Leaf Nation. David joins FP after having co-founded Tea Leaf Nation, a news site dedicated to Chinese citizen and social media, which was acquired by the FP Group in Sept. 2013. A former lawyer in New York and Hong Kong, David first encountered China as a Peace Corps volunteer. He has appeared on BBC television, Al Jazeera English, Public Radio International, Voice of America, and other outlets as a commentator on China. Originally from the Philadelphia area, David holds a law degree from Harvard and an English degree from Yale, where he was executive editor of the Yale Herald.
Now viral in China: A failed attempt at photo doctoring. On the evening of Oct. 29, Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, lit up with mockery at an image (above) posted online Oct. 12 by the government of Ningguo, a small city in China’s central Anhui province, purporting to show vice-mayor Wang Hun pay a friendly visit to an elderly woman. There’s only one problem: The image, which appears to show Wang floating above a particularly tiny woman, has clearly been modified.
That might not seem like much, but it’s manna for Chinese netizens, who feast on concrete examples of government dishonesty. In June 2011, officials from Huili county in Sichuan province were also spotted "floating" in a clearly doctored photograph that purported to show them inspecting a local highway. Web users reacted with derision and outrage, even though, as the Guardian wrote in June 2011, the visits were real; a photographer had decided one of the original images was "not suitably impressive." Photoshopping is such a favorite target that the term "PS" has even become a widely-recognized part of Chinese online slang.
It’s unclear who first discovered the image on the Ningguo government’s website, which features a series of (otherwise seemingly real) images depicting the city’s vice-mayor joining a bevy of other local officials to pay visits to women aged 100 years or older, in honor of the Double Ninth Festival, a holiday that honors ancestors.
Now that netizens have found a new target, they seem unlikely to let go any time soon — regardless of the motive behind the modification. Not only has the Weibo account of Communist Party-run newspaper People’s Daily joined in the derision, but some web users have pointed out that Yu Anlin, a local bureaucrat pictured standing (not floating) to Wang’s right, appears to be wearing, well, a watch. That too sounds innocent enough, but Chinese officials have become leery of being spotted with timepieces, lest online slueths discover them to be too expensive for an honest official to afford. That revelation felled the career of another provincial bureaucrat named Yang Dacai, an erstwhile safety official who was sentenced in September to 14 years in prison on corruption changes.
Now, Wang and Yu are famous too, and for all the wrong reasons. The impact of this snafu on their careers is uncertain, but they can be sure China’s social web will be watching them closely.
Isaac Stone Fish is associate editor at Foreign Policy. Previously a Beijing correspondent for Newsweek, he wrote stories on such subjects as the Dalai Lama’s effect on international trade, China’s love affair with rogue states, and crystal meth in North Korea. His articles have also appeared in the International Herald Tribune, the Economist, and the Los Angeles Times.| Argument |