Thank you, China, for reminding me

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Thank you, China, for reminding me

Around this time last year, a mysterious post appeared on Chinese social media sites. “Kang Shifu has disappeared from the shelves.”

The post received a multitude of replies, “Is it true?” “I’ve heard the rumors.” It was hot news, and shared and reposted over and over again. But when I looked it up again, the post had been erased. This mysterious phenomenon went on for a while.

Kang Shifu is a generic brand of instant noodles in China. But the Chinese use the phrase “disappeared from the shelves” to euphemistically describe high-ranking officials who have disappeared from the public eye, either after being arrested or for other reasons.

When I asked a Chinese friend about this post and pointed out that Kang Shifu noodles were still on sale at supermarkets, he smiled and asked whether Kang reminded me of anyone. Kang Shifu is also a widely used slang term to refer to Zhou Yongkang, a former Politburo Standing Committee member.

The post was basically a roundabout way to discuss rumors concerning Zhou’s arrest to avoid online censorship. His name could be openly mentioned, however, after authorities officially announced Zhou was in custody for investigation.

May 35th used to be a special day that only existed on the Chinese Internet. This date - against the rules of the Gregorian calendar - was conjured because “June 4th” was subject to deletion. That was the date of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, so now, May 35th is also censored and erased. Even so, the Chinese must have made up a new code name by now to secretly discuss the event. As June approaches each year, uniformed and undercover security police and armed police forces tighten their watch around Tiananmen Square, and online censorship is intensified.

Chinese newspapers are under tighter censorship. You could miss the real news if you fail to read between the lines. Intelligence authorities say 80 percent of the information needed is already part of publicly released material. But it does not apply to China.

I have worked in Japan as a correspondent as well, and I thought I was familiar with collecting news abroad. But being a reporter in China is a different story. Zhongnanhai, the Communist Party of China’s central headquarters, and other major agencies are off limits to reporters. Even after decades of reform, the Communist Party’s legacy of secrecy continues. News conferences almost never clarify or verify specific facts.

So in order to learn the facts, I need to meet more people, listen to more stories and confirm more with my eyes.

But that is just the iron rule of news reporting that I learned from my first day as a reporter. I am not sure if I should complain or be grateful for China’s unique situation for reminding me once again how to work as a journalist.

The author is a Beijing correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 30, Page 30


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