‘Benefits of Smog’ and 10 Other Absurd Claims by China’s Propaganda Machine
“Father is close, mother is close, but neither is as close as Chairman Mao.” So went the slogan ubiquitous during China’s “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution,” a time when the communist regime’s ten-year campaign to destroy traditional culture resulted in tens of millions of deaths, suicides, and cases of imprisonment, torture, or public humiliation.
Decades later, regime propaganda is still riddled with contradictions and fallacies aimed at buttressing the authoritarian state—”deliberate exercises in doublethink,” as George Orwell would have termed them.
Here are 10 of the most unbelievable things the Chinese Communist Party or state-run media have said in recent years.
1. Celebrating the ‘benefits’ of smog
While Chinese people lament the grayness of China’s skies and the stifling effects of air pollution, China Central Television (CCTV), China’s state broadcaster, conjured a list of five supposed benefits of smog.
- Smog unifies the Chinese people with a universal problem to complain about.
- It equalizes the populace, as both the rich and the poor are vulnerable.
- It raises awareness about the cost of rapid progress.
- It facilitates humor in the form of smog-related jokes.
- It educates people: “Our knowledge of meteorology, geography, physics, chemistry and history has progressed.”
Not much later, the Global Times, a state-run newspaper, reported that air pollution gives China a military advantage by blurring the line of sight from space, thus limiting the penetration of foreign spy satellites.
All in all, an excellent way of seeing the cup as half full.
2. The Tiananmen Massacre and an Orwellian Photoshop Job
Xinhua News Agency, the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece, tampered with history by photoshopping the famous “Tank Man” photo. The original image, heavily censored in China, shows a protester, Wang Weilin, blocking the advance of a line of tanks on June 4, 1989 prior to the Tiananmen Square Massacre in which thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators were killed.
Xinhua produced a doctored version of the “Tank Man” photo featuring thousands of people on the roadside, giving the impression that they are greeting the approaching tanks.
3. “Whether or not you believe it, anyways, I believe it,” official says
In July 2011, two bullet trains collided in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province. Six cars were derailed, including four that fell off a bridge. Lightning had hit the first train and forced it to a stop, causing the second train to rear-end the first. The crash caused the deaths of over 40 people; 200 were injured.
None of the major state-run newspapers mentioned the incident on their Sunday front pages. Authorities hastily crushed and buried the broken cars that had fallen to the ground, which Chinese netizens widely speculated as an attempt to cover up the evidence. Three hours after officials stated there were no more survivors, a young girl was found alive in the wreckage.
In a press conference the following day, the railway ministry’s spokesman Wang Yongping said, “They told me they buried the car to facilitate the rescue effort.” When asked about the rescued toddler, Wang stated, “That was a miracle. Whether or not you believe it, anyways, I believe it.”
Few others believed it.
Widespread outrage ensued as officials failed to properly investigate the incident. One user on Sina Weibo wrote,”This is a country where a thunderstorm can cause a train to crash, a car can make a bridge collapse and drinking milk can lead to kidney stones…China today is a train travelling through a lighting storm–and we are the passengers onboard.”
4. Rape victims should seek ‘discreet‘ treatment
After a teacher’s rape of six children was revealed, the Ruichang City Board of Education paid for their medical expenses. The parents also demanded compensation for psychological damage and attempted to sue the government. But the deputy mayor of the city criticized the parents, saying, “If it was my child [who was raped], I would take her for treatment somewhere discreet that no one knows of, and not ask for a penny from the government.”
5. ‘The government will take care of the elderly.’ Just kidding.
In Chinese culture, sons and daughters traditionally take care of their elderly parents. Thus, the common ideal for parents was to have a lot of kids to take care of them later on in life.
But to advance China’s one-child policy, the Chinese regime created a well known propaganda slogan in 1985 saying “Having one child is best; the government will take care of the elderly.” By 1995, the slogan had changed to “Having one child is best; the government will help take care of the elderly.” In 2005, it became “[You] cannot depend on the government to take care of the elderly.” And by 2012, the reality was “Postponing retirement is best; Take care of yourself.”
Thus, the young couples who obediently agreed to one child in 1985 have been left hanging without any rightful compensation.
6. State-run media say water filled with pig carcasses is fine
In March 2014, thousands of bloated pig corpses, reportedly killed by porcine circovirus, were found floating in Shanghai’s Huangpu River, and sanitation workers spent many days fishing them out. A Chinese farm admitted to disposing the pigs in the water, claiming so many pigs had died recently they could not bury them all.
While residents worried about contamination of the Huangpu River, from which Shanghai obtains most of its drinking water, CNN revealed that state-run Chinese news media claimed the water was fine and did not show any signs of pollution.
A flabbergasted Weibo user asked, “Since when is finding dead rotting pigs in a major river not a public health problem?”
Another added, “Since apparently, the water has not been contaminated, great leaders, please go ahead and have the first drink.”
7. People’s Daily claims deadly PX chemical has ‘slightly sweet’ taste
After widespread protests against the construction of paraxylene (PX) chemical plants in China in 2013, People’s Daily denied the potency of PX, saying it was “a transparent, colorless liquid with a fragrant smell” that “even tastes slightly sweet.” The newspaper also claimed the chemical was less harmful than coffee, which is “possibly carcinogenic to the human urinary bladder,” since there was not enough evidence to prove PX was carcinogenic.
Although it may not be carcinogenic, according to the International Chemical Safety Card for PX, inhalation of PX can cause dizziness and nausea, and ingestion can cause a burning sensation. Long term exposure can “have effects on the central nervous system” and possibly “toxicity to human reproduction or development.”
8. China’s manipulation of the Ferguson tragedy
After Michael Brown, a black man living in Ferguson, Missouri, was fatally shot by a white police officer, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf was asked in a press conference whether the U.S. welcomed criticism from countries like China or Iran. She responded, “As I said—and this is really a domestic issue—but briefly, when we have problems and issues in this country, we deal with them openly and honestly….I don’t have any further comment on a process that is a purely domestic one and does not involve the State Department.”
While Harf was saying domestic affairs have nothing to do with the State Department, which deals with foreign relations, CCTV reported “the U.S. said other countries have no right to interfere with its domestic affairs,” thus twisting her words. The Chinese regime has regularly opposed what it claims is foreign prying into the country’s internal affairs; portraying the U.S. as a hypocrite helps to deflect attention from China’s abysmal human rights record.
9. A Chinese earthquake hero story was fabricated by Chinese media.
In 2008, the Sichuan earthquake killed an estimated 90,000 people, including 10,000 schoolchildren who died when their schools, built with little observance of construction standards, collapsed. It is widely suspected that embezzlement by local officials enocuraged workers to use substandard materials in the construction of what are known as “tofu-dreg buildings” in Chinese slang.
Soon afterwards, a story emerged about a middle school teacher and Communist Party member, Tan Qianqiu, who gathered four students into his arms as the building crumbled, saving their lives in exchange for his own. Xinhua News Agency described Tan as “an angel from a fairytale.” The teacher was named an “excellent Party member in the earthquake and disaster relief.”
But a report by the Southern Metropolis Daily, one of the few newspapers in China willing to oppose the authorities, revealed details that contradicted the official narrative. Only one of the four students allegedly saved by their teacher actually survived. One named Fu Qiang, was killed by the quake, and two others, Tian Gang and Yu Jian, simply did not exist at all. Liu Hongli, the sole survivor, also denied the story: “There was simply not enough time for Mr. Tan to rush over from the front of the classroom to save me.”
The Southern Metropolis Daily editors responsible for leaking the truth were later arrested.
10. Google was blocked due to “newly emerged security reasons” claimed Global Times.
After a shutdown of Google’s Gmail service inside China, the regime’s English-language mouthpiece Global Times said that if China had blocked Gmail, it “must have been prompted by newly-emerged security reasons,” and that users must “accept the reality.”
The so-called “security reason” was probably Google’s threat to China’s censorship mechanism and its massive internet firewall.
11. The Chinese regime conjured a self-immolation incident to slander Falun Gong practitioners.
On January 2001, five individuals set themselves on fire in Tiananmen Square. Two hours later, state-run media outlets reported that they were 5 Falun Gong practitioners who had set themselves on fire in order to go to heaven. But closer examinations show the scene was a hoax staged by Chinese officials to rapidly turn public sentiment against Falun Gong, a peaceful cultivation practice persecuted in China since 1999. The International Education Development, an NGO affiliated with the United Nations, stated, “The regime points to a supposed self-immolation incident in Tiananmen Square on January 23, 2001…However, we have obtained a video of that incident that in our view proves that this event was staged by the government.”
China Uncensored, a popular Youtube channel on Chinese affairs, offers detailed evidence of the numerous flaws of the self-immolation news report, cited by host Chris Chappell from the documentary “False Fire.”
For instance, an investigation by the Washington Post revealed Ms. Liu Chunling, one of the immolators, had never practiced Falun Gong, and close examination of the video shows Ms. Liu Chunling died not from the fire, but by a blunt object, thrown by an unknown man, that struck her head. And a few weeks after the first report, state-run media raised the number of Falun Gong practitioners supposedly involved to seven individuals.
After the self-immolation incident, the Chinese regime also banned Yellow Peril, a 1991 novel by Wang Lixiong depicting a civil war in China that ultimately ends with nuclear apocalypse. Early on in the novel, the Public Security Ministry bribes a terminally ill patient to burn herself in Tiananmen Square to frame their political opponents—an unwelcome case of deja vu precipitating real life by a decade.
The Tiananmen self-immolation incident was used in the Chinese regime’s escalation of the campaign against Falun Gong.