Foreign media on China

Daily Telegraph hoaxed by spoof "character of the year" story

Messy reporting

An article in today's Daily Telegraph recapping the major problems that China has faced in 2008 leads with the following:

2008: China's character test in 'messy' year

Each year, China's intellectuals get together and come up with one Chinese character that sums up the entire 12 months. Last year, it was zhang, which means "prices go up". This year, the character is luan: "messy".

According to Yunnan-based blogger Hecaitou, these "intellectuals" belong to the China Committee of Chinese Aesthetics (中国汉语美学委员会), which revealed ("chaos") to be 2008's word of the year after it garnered the most votes out of 2,937 total nominations.

Unfortunately for gullible readers, there's no such committee in China. Hecaitou's blog post cites a joke news agency and describes a ceremony in which "abbot Hecaitou of Dali's Tianlong Temple" inscribed the chosen character.

The joke is inspired by an annual ceremony at Japan's Kiyomizu Temple, where a monk wrote out the character ("change") this year. Last year, Hecaitou chose ("rising prices"), and in 2006 he named (an obscenity) as the word of the year.

Ironically, Taiwan's United Daily News has just announced that 乱 beat out ("cheat") and ("tragic") to become the word of the year. However, the character was chosen by a public survey, not an intellectual debate, and this is the first time the paper has chosen a "word of the year."

The Telegraph is in good company: Xinhua's Reference News got hoaxed not long ago by a spoof German news story about poor migrant bankers in China.

Update (2008.12.17): The framing for the article has been reworked to eliminate the reference to the character of the year. A screenshot of the original article is available above.

Update 2 (2008.12.18): Hecaitou responds. ESWN translates.

Update 3: A mea culpa by the story's author, who keeps a blog at the Telegraph.

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There are currently 7 Comments for Daily Telegraph hoaxed by spoof "character of the year" story.

Comments on Daily Telegraph hoaxed by spoof "character of the year" story

Oh the celebrated Daily Telegraph. Thanks, Danwei.

To be fair to the Telegraph, the story itself wasn't actually about the 'word of the year', it was about the genuine chaos which inspired it. Sure, the opening paragraph implies that the journalist believed that the China Committee of Chinese Aesthetics was a real organisation, but this was really just a gimmicky intro to get to the real story: that China's year has actually been quite 'messy'. So, a prime example of a lazy journalist taking inspiration from a blog he's read to lure readers into reading his article, but not quite as ridiculous as Reference News taking an obvious spoof and presenting it as a real story.

Nice try Malcolm, you got had.

Anonymous, you comment lets me remember a proverb


Self-criticism here: link

I had high hopes for 囧 , but those boring people chose 乱 instead...

Thanks, Malcolm. I've updated the post (and subscribed to your blog).

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