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Letters to the editor

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In this day and age, why would anyone write a letter to a newspaper? Or, since writing letters to correct factual errors is still a useful practice, perhaps the question would be better phrased: what would drive a crank to write a letter to a newspaper these days?

Why submit an opinion piece to an institution that is concerned with column inches, when the Internet provides ample space for all? Blogs are free, plentiful, and easy to set up, and there's no gatekeeper with a vested interest in keeping the views of the common man off the printed page.

Perhaps one reason is that traditional journalists still have one thing that most bloggers do not: access. Sure, a resourceful blogger might be able to pull together more inside information than someone whose chief responsibility is massaging press releases for the business section, but bloggers are by nature solitary individuals and no match for the combined Rolodexes of an entire newsroom.

So suppose you are a crank in possession of critical information that absolutely must reach its intended recipient — in the business world, the entertainment industry, or the upper levels of government — why not ask your local paper to forward your letter? Besides, if that fails, there's always the chance that it will end up on the Internet, anyway, on the blog of some amused journalist.

Here are some examples, the first three from Zeng Pengyu of the Beijing Youth Daily and the last courtesy of Guo Guangdong of Southern Weekly:

1. A letter to Tie Ning:

Last year Tie Ning was selected to head the Chinese Writers' Association. One of our reporters conducted an interview in which the issue came up that she had never married (at the time). Her parents were very concerned about this, and so forth. Half a month later, a letter from a reader suddenly arrived at the department. The letter was addressed to the newspaper, and then had written "forward to Tie Ning."

The opening words of the letter were shocking: "Ms. Tie Ning: Of the three ways of being unfilial, not having children is the gravest..." And then it described the problem of filial piety in China over the course of several hundred words. Then it said, "Of course, if we want to solve the problem of filial piety, we must have suitable people to choose from. Myself, for example. Height: xx; weight: xx; age xx..." Oh, now I understand, this person was proposing to Tie Ning!

And it wasn't over, either. The second half of the letter went like this: "...nearly fifty but never having appeared on stage (出台, but probably 出阁 "gotten married" — [Zeng's note]), I seem to see a lonely woman who is waiting in the hope of a partner. For you are so outstanding that normal people aren't in your league. The person you have been waiting for all these fifty years has finally appeared: that person is me..." The inscription on the letter contained a detailed address for "Beibei," a 50-year-old resident of a particular town in Hebei.

There were copious typos in the letter, but when you think about it, the guy had to be gutsy to express his love to Tie Ning. So even though I was unable to put this declaration of love into Tie Ning's hands, I didn't think of pitching it into the garbage can, and instead, just kept it in a drawer. Re-reading it today, I chanced upon a line on the back of the letter: "Please forward this to Ms. Tie Ning. Should that not be possible, then please give it to some other woman of worthy qualities...."

2. A letter to Zhao Zhongxiang:

This is a letter we received from a reader about two years ago after the [Rao] Ying Affair" was exposed. It was sent to an upper-level leader, who passed it on to us after reading it.

This reader was apparently a woman, and in her letter she told Mr. Zhao very sincerely that she watched his Animal World program for many years and was in total admiration of his character. So she said, "I absolutely do not believe that Mr. Zhao have anything to do with [Rao]Ying," because "she's unworthy." However, the topic quickly shifted, and she wrote, "Actually, what makes me even more angry is that you [Mr. Zhao] have been charged with the crime of rape even though you didn't rape her. You should have raped her in the first place, and taught that cheating woman a lesson!"

At the end of the letter, after repeating her complete faith in Mr. Zhao, the reader left these harsh words: "If that woman [Rao] Ying ever harasses you again, tell me her address and I'll give her something to look at!"

Amusingly, that high-ranking leader added this line when he forwarded the letter to us: "The culture desk should take care in handling this; the animal world is indeed a ferocious place..."

3. A letter to Qin Shi Huang:

One year there was a problem with the Great Wall - one ancient section was pushed over. When we reported the incident, we received many letters from readers expressing indignation. This was not uncommon; what was unusual was that one letter was written to Qin Shi Huang.

The letter expressed immense sorrow over the state of the protection of the Great Wall as a cultural relic, and then went on to write out a calculation: if the bricks of the Great Wall were sold for US$100 apiece, then the entire Great Wall of 10,000 li could be sold for hundreds of millions of dollars or more. The present circumstances were tantamount to letting hundreds of millions of dollars sit there and go to waste!!

The letter also said that at present, the departments in charge of the protection of cultural relics were entirely unaware of the value of the Great Wall, and had completely betrayed the original intentions of the great Qin Shi Huang, who built it in the first place....so, he hoped that down in the nether-world, when he's not "fitfully sleeping," Qin Shi Huang would send dreams to the leadership of the departments in charge of the protection of cultural relics, warning them that they must not shortchange the Great Wall; they must exploit the Great Wall's economic and cultural value to the highest degree possible!

Ah, Qin Shi Huang hasn't got it easy — dead for two millennia, and still taken out and appraised in US dollars....

4. Finally, there are some things that even the mainstream media has no access to. Guo Guangdong posted this letter to his blog early this year:

Editor Guo

Greetings!

I am a devoted reader of your publication. I have just read the article "'Special Interests' are becoming the chief culprit behind environmental destruction," in the 18 January, 2007 issue (#1197) of your publication. I highly respect Director Pan [Yue], and I think he is an excellent successor to the communist endeavor. I want to recommend to the Party Central Committee that he be made a national leader, but I have no channel to do so. I would like to ask your publication to pass on my remarks. How about it? Previously, after reading your publication, I have sent a number of express mail letters to the central committee recommending individuals, but I have never gotten any word in reply. So this time I respectfully ask you to pass this on for me.

I trust that my words won't vanish like a stone in the ocean.

Regards,

A reader
2007.1.19


Standing Committee Members of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party:

I ask you to read the article "'Special Interests' are becoming the chief culprit behind environmental destruction," published in the 18 January, 2007 issue of Southern Weekly (#1197). Please see how vice-director Pan is thinking and working for Socialism with Chinese Characteristics. I believe that he is a worthy successor to the communist endeavor, and I recommend him for a national leadership position.

A 78-year-old retired party member
2007.1.19

Guo ends his post by saying that the majority opinion among his colleagues was that the letter was either a joke or written in the heat of the moment, so they did not pass it on. However, allowing for the possibility that it was sincere, Guo decided to post it on his blog rather than let it "vanish like a stone in the ocean."

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