Chengdu school death sparks rare scandal in China

A weekly recap of the stories you should be following in China this week, plus an exclusive analysis. Delivered Wednesday.

May 12, 2021 at 7:18 pm

welcome to Foreign police‘s China Brief.

This week’s highlights: Protesters call for missing surveillance footage after a death of a schoolboy in Chengdu, Deposits in the United States show an increase Chinese influence spending, and the government is cracking down on fan culture.

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Protests challenge missing footage after school’s death

The mysterious death of a 17-year-old boy in Chengdu, Sichuan province, sparked a fierce protest at his school and outrage online. The student, whose last name is Lin, died at No.49 Middle School on Sunday. Authorities say it was suicide, but the boy’s parents denied the possibility, pointing out the autopsy and rapid cremation and lack of camera footage of where he allegedly jumped.

Parents, students and other residents gathered to protest outside the school on Tuesday chanting ‘Truth, Truth’ as ​​the news spread through online forums – though many comments were quickly censored . Nationalists accused protesters to be “hostile foreign forces” paid to smear China, but state media has now taken the matter into its own hands with online attention, which may have led to further investigation.

Local protests once had nationwide coverage in China, at least on social media, but censorship and police retaliation have recently had limited impact from these scandals. The boy’s death in Chengdu touched a nerve. It follows other suspicious teenage deaths in China, and there are likely others that have not made the news in China.

School suicide is a recurring problem in China, which the country’s official media attributed to pressure on students to pass exams or intimidation by classmates and teachers. Especially in rural areas, teachers are often inexperiencedand the children of migrant workers often end up in cheap private schools with even lower standards. Corporal punishment is always common, although new rules theoretically abolished in March.

The protests demanding the release of video footage in Chengdu are particularly telling. Prior to President Xi Jinping’s accession, under-surveillance – surveillance of authorities from below by an audience equipped with telephone cameras and online tools – seemed possible. Cases like that of Lei Zhengfu, a party secretary whose sex tape went viral, provided relief to the public and a way for senior officials to monitor lower-level corruption. But as the surveillance state developed, authorities severely cracked down on unauthorized reporting.

But when deaths occur in a country now more covered with cameras than ever before, the mysterious lack of footage may suggest a problem in itself.


Chinese influence spending is increasing. Chinese foreign agent filings, mandatory for state-related media in the United States, show a significant increase in spending in 2020: $ 64 million, nearly double the 2019 figure, compared to just over $ 10 million in 2016. deposits for Xinhua, China’s official news agency, says that while the company is state-owned, it is not run by it – a strange claim, given that Xinhua is run by party officials and Xi has repeatedly said that the media should take his orders. of the Chinese Communist Party.

The bulk of the reported funding went to CGTN America, a branch of the ubiquitous state-owned TV station in China. One wonders if this money buys anything worth it: although CGTN is available in 30 million households, its hearing is likely tiny. The Chinese state’s influence in the United States generally does not work through obvious propaganda, but rather through the gravitational pull of the vast Chinese market and the possibility of losing access to it.

It’s much more meaningful than Hollywood refuses to touch Human rights issues in China than what CGTN shows no one is watching.

Conspiracies against the coronavirus. A 2015 text that addresses the use of coronaviruses as biological weapons has received dramatic cover of some Western media and politicians, including being described as “bombshell documents” in Daily mail. But what is presented as secret documents is actually a published book providing a conspiracy theory on the United States behind the first SARS outbreak in 2002.

Although the author of the book is a veteran military doctor, Chinese press regularly produces equally paranoid texts. In the Age, read Anthony Galloway and Eryk Bagshaw on how the book, available online for 50 yuan, was presented as a scoop.

Population statistics published. The Chinese government has finally released its population figures for 2020, showing a slight increase Last year. But after recent leaks suggesting the population may have declined, the official figures have a credibility problem, not least because they have been delayed by several weeks. Even public figures show an aging population and an extremely low birth rate.

The statistics provoked the populist propagandist Hu Xijin to imply that new government measures to increase births are underway. What these policies will look like is pending. China could offer better financial incentives and childcare assistance, or it could restrict abortion and engage in anti-feminist propaganda. Meanwhile, a new report confirms that while birth restrictions have been relaxed for the Han majority, they have been tightened for Uyghurs, leading to lower birth rates.


Suppression of fandoms. The latest goal of the Chinese government is online fan culture, which he describes as chaotic and messy. It is true that Chinese fan groups, largely devoted to stars or groups, can be extremely dramatic online. But using the power of the state against them is like smashing a butterfly on a wheel. It is also economically risky: Fandom is a $ 16 billion industry in China.

Authorities have long been concerned about the influence of South Korean pop culture, but previous crackdowns have focused on images of stars rather than their fans. But one of the underlying causes of these exaggerated campaigns is that the state has built a huge mechanism of repression and censorship. With so many people already silenced, it still has to justify its existence.

Tesla in trouble. Electric automaker Tesla has seen sales slip abruptly in China after a wave of bad publicity and government control. April scandal in which a Tesla executive accused an angry customer of being part of a conspiracy against the company caused a public relations nightmare, and Chinese media told story after story about the company’s problems. Tesla has stopped a major land purchase in China, blaming the state of US-China relations, and could forgo further investment.

Owner Elon Musk’s perpetually eccentric demeanor probably doesn’t help the company’s image with authorities, who prefer sharper businessmen.

Xiaomi concludes agreement with the United States Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi has been withdrawn from the United States blacklists, following a series of court battles after the Trump administration listed it as a military-run company. The case was still weak and a bit strange, given that Xiaomi is not known for its high technology but for its cheap phones and good public relations. The move could encourage other Chinese companies to put more emphasis on their legal challenges to policies left behind by Donald Trump’s presidency.


A successful report by Robert Barnett in Foreign police shows that China has occupied a key territory of Bhutan for the past six years. Using Chinese documents, satellite images, and extensive research into the region’s history, Barnett and his team detail an attempt to force the tiny Himalayan country to make concessions that would improve China’s strategic position at the Indian border.




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