Media regulation

Is the fake news story fake news?

Last week's Beijing TV story about steamed buns (baozi) made with cardboard instead of pork was picked up by TV stations around the world, but on Wednesday, Beijing TV issued a retraction and apology — the report had apparently been staged.

The police have arrested the journalist, and Chinese and foreign newspapers and TV stations have dutifully run stories about the report being faked (e.g. in the The China Daily, Associated Press)

ESWN has translated a Southern Metropolis Daily story that gives some background about the journalist and some of the people who figured out that it was a fake story.

What is not being reported in the press is that many people in Beijing believe that the news about the cardboard buns story being fake is itself fake (e.g. see these posts by Chinese journalists Ping Ke and Milk Pig). The way the authorities have gone about stopping the story is exactly the same way they clamp down on real news stories that they don't want circulating.

Another journalist who blogs at Pro State in Flames has written a post in which he sympathizes with Beijing TV's failure to discover the fraudulent reporting. The journalist had previously reported on food products with quality problems, and as everyone knows, there are plenty of such products in China, so the story is very believable.

This is one of the paradoxes of the government's tight control on news in China: against the never-ending background hum of happy and harmonious news, fake reports can tell as much truth as factual information.

UPDATE: On ESWN, Roland Soong looks at reasons why many people still think the cardboard steamed bun story is not a fake, and presents a comprehensive collection of photos and links about the affair: Why Do People Think That A Fake News Story Is Real?

On China Media Project, David Bandurski has translated an opinion piece from the Southern Metropolis Daily: Cardboard buns and China's crisis of public trust.

There are currently 11 Comments for Is the fake news story fake news?.

Comments on Is the fake news story fake news?

Reports indicate that the matter will be dealt with in accordance with the law. Does this imply that another execution might be considered? When the monkeys are all gone, the chickens might run wild.

I'm a Chinese and I feel compelled to speak up on this matter. I feel deeply ashamed not because of the "Cardboard Bun" incident, instead of the government declaration of so-called "Hoax". I'm not one of those anti-government activists you normally see on US streets, but I have the morality to stay away from blatant lies.

The whole thing has turned into such a political scandal that beyond blief, yet at the same time so ture and logical within my 30 years of life experience as a Chinese. It is bad enough that ppl would use that thing to make buns, which is a must-have on typical Chinese breakfast tables, but it's 100 times worse when a government for obvious reasons(export pressure, 08' Olympics) to distort truth like this and control its puppet media to spit blatant lies to the face of people.

I watched the original show on TV, the video was very authentic, I couldn't possiblly image that:

1) Some producer/reporter just come up with an idea this "original" all on his own, in fact many people claim this method of making bun has existed for at least 10 years.
2) and he would do it for no convincing gains (this is a show called "clarity", which is a show not being looked at with a fond eye by the government, it surely will never win awards, no bonus even it's successful, and it airs every week, why the risk? There are enough material to report on food safty in China even everyday);
3) The bun makers, unless they are professional actors instead of normal uneducated poor peasants living on the lowest social ladder in Beijing, couldn't possibally make such a convincing performance;
4) Most importantly, what is the bun makers to gain participating in this "Hoax"? For a couple of hundred Yuan, he would do it with the knowledge of knowing this would certainly bring an unpleasant encounter with the police? which did happen in the video shot just the day after.

And now, after couple of days of silence on the government side, though the TV stations had replayed it many times on different channels, and it DID became a big issue because everyone eat it. (It is true that this kind of show are deemed normal by TV stations nowadays and government usually Okey with it), in mere two days, the producer and reporters are arrested, BTV appologized, high level offcials ousted.

You know, this is China,
1) First rule: nothing happens this fast, with such force and resolute, unless it is political in nature, and you know what, the mayor spoke up in the matter with something like "Get the truth, or find the perpetrator";
2) Second rule: TV stations never apologize. You know TV stations in China are state owned, so they above anybody except the government. And in 30 years I've never ever seen TV stations apologizing for anything, because "they are the government", and government never wrongs.

So combine all the information above, I just couldn't find a trace of truth in the government handling of this issue. If you read Chinese, check up the internet, there are a lot talks, but obviouly being marginalized because CCP also controls this area.

3und: Is it your conclusion that the buns truly had cardboard, and the TV station is now claiming it was a fake story in order to chastise a rogue honest reporter and keep the situation quiet (or as we would say, "under wraps" (no pun intended, since these are baozi, not dumplings)?

Based on my judgement and experience, it IS my conclusiong that buns could very certainly have mashed cardbord(dissolved into pulp after treating with NaOH and pork flavor chemicals). Foodsafty has been such a notorious subject in China going on for so long that people actually stop "paniking" and the government stop pretending(when it's OK under circumstances). Just a few weeks back, a news breaking out revealing "stinky toufu" (a popular snack for some) makers use shit (yes!) to accelerate the manufacturing process,(just after the "cardbord hoax", the government also dismissed it as a 3-year old news, that no one is doing it anymore.) the long list of poisonous food goes on forever, just name a few truely original here: DDVP preserved Jinhua Ham(a very popular brand), fake egg(yes!) produced by using glutin and other industry chemicals, not real egg, but look 100% convincing(just found a link on your website, so you already knew it), and other numerous ways to use chemicals on vegetables and fruits to make them look better, brighter, redder, greener, whiter... Compared to them, the cardboard buns looks like green food. So what I'm saying is ANYTHING is possible in food in China nowadays, there's no prediction, as they say Chinese people are the most ingenious people in the world. And many people including me long ago since stopping eating anything on the street, only dine in someplace expensive occasionally and knowing still no guarantee that will be any safer. Long before the cardboard incident was reported, it is conventional wisdom that street vendors use deceased pig meat, or pig lymph, or even mice meat, or whatever cheaper ways to make "pork buns".

And back to the video, the reporter told audience that he was first tipped off by some informant, and went to check out, he even told audience that he did some experiment on his own but it didn't work, and then he went to the bun makers to ask them show him how this was done, of course under the disguise of a purchaser. Now the government's steel poofs of this so-called "Hoax" are two things:

1) The government did a quick checkup in the breakfast market and found the buns to be "100% clean and safe" (which I highly doubt, with or without cardboard, it couldn't be that clean), and who would be so stupid to continue selling cardboard buns after the big national news broke out?

2) The reporter took the cardboard to the bun makers and ask them do it. Well, even this was true, it doesn't prove the report was fake, because the reporter already told audience so. He disguised himself as some purchaser who knew they use cardboard to make buns, and he wanted they to show him, it's just logical he should bring the cardboard along.

So yes, I strongly believe the BTV station now claiming it was a fake story for some other reasons, but not really "in order to chastise a rogue honest reporter"(though it is the case), but to makeup for the bad publicity and image in the national and international eyes (particularly in the eve of the 08' Olympics). I don't have some agenda against the government, so I wouldn't go so far as to pick anything just to smear and to say they do something on such a large scale just to quench freedom of speech. I believe they do it in the belief that this is for national interest, or for government/Party interest to be more precise, and along the way, not only the reporter, but also the TV station are just scapegates that are dispensable, which in my point of view is much worse and hideous than what those bun makers did.

Here's part of the Cardboard Bun show replay on CCTV, not very easy to find anywhere except youtube. The original video lasts some 20 minutes.

Link: Using shit to make stinky Toufu


Also I want to show you the government declaration of the whole thing, which maybe you already read about, if you read Chinese that is. If you did read it, then you would notice the whole piece of work was roaring in plitical tones and typical CCP-favored vocabulary. "improve the ability to correctly direct the public opinions", "to enhance political understandings among media practice" and "to create a better environment for nation captial's industrialization construction"...

I don't know how to translate this, my English just isn't up to the task, so I just post the whole thing here. Only thing I want to point out is, in two days, beside the reporter named Zi who was arrested, three high level BTV officials including the head of the station, Editor in Chief, Deputy Editor in Chief all recieved "administrative punishment", and appologized deeply. The show's deputy director (there's no director for the show) and producer were relieved of their duties, and the editors responsible for the show were fired. The fate of the show itself remains unknown.


Much appreciate it, 3und.
Re: stinky doufu, I only thought it smelled like sh-t. Scary if some vendor(s) that really put that into it. Frankly, I could never get it past my nose to go down the throat. When I lived in the dorms at Columbia U., the administration issued orders to stop a couple of homesick students from making it in their kitchen. Chou Doufu certainly won't be a big seller among mainstream America; cardboard-mashed baozi, maybe.

Law Office of Todd L. Platek: I assume by mentioning "execution" you meant the execution of former head of SFDA Zheng Xiaoyu, and I want to give my 2c on this question.

First off, you've got to understand that Chinese government is unlike DPRK where Kim is essentially the king and also different from itself 30 years ago. It IS a authoritarian state but running on a huge political machine governing a huge country, no absolute power now in one single person's grip, instead, the Party's will has to prevail, and to ensure that they need to take public's opion (even to an extent manipulated)into consideration now. So any consideration, political consideration come first.

In Zhen's case, as well as the case of former Beijing mayor Chen Xitong, there are two contributing factors. 1) Is he connected well and connected correctly, in both cases they are connected well, otherwise they would not be put into these positions, then in Chen's case, power shift took place and of course he was corrut, then came his downfall.

Though Zhen's political affiliation is not clear to an outsider, there came the second consideration: Does situation rises demanding for an immediate political sacrifice? Yes, definitely. The health care reform which abandoned old national health care system and modeled directily after the American system left the whole country in agony with soring prices of medicines and health care, there are too many cases where patients actually died on hospital beds while doctors refusing to treat them because they couldn't afford the rip-off. And over 10000 new drugs are approved by SFDA yearly, almost all of which are just face-lifts of old drugs for a jump in the price. There's a mounting public fury toward government which poses real danger, so the fate of the scapegoat is sealed.(Most of the corrupt high offcials with triple even ten times amount of bribe than Zhen's recieved lenient terms.)

As to the reporter of Cardboard Bun case, is he well connected, of course not, then the political consideration, there's nothing to gain by executing him, the public already has their scapegoat and there's no need for catharsis of angry. Actually according to Chinese "law" (of course, with the legislative branch only meetup for two weeks a year, it is just words), the closest charge could be "disseminate falsified information to sabtage public safety"(though I have hard time image how they could pin this on him), which could result in punishment from below 5 years to 15 years even up to death. But as I said, death penalty in this case is highly unlikely, which could causes "backfire" both natioanlly and internationally.

BTW, Law Office of Todd L. Platek: I know it's a bit blunt, but do you guys have office in China, Beijing maybe? I've been a grad engineering student at Yale for a couple of years, and now I'm very interested in pursuing law pracitce. I took LSAT here in China and I think it will be just wonderful if it is possible that I could be of assistance in any way, and at the same time get to know more about the "real law". My email:

3und, I will email you.

A little thing to remind you about the "cardboard bun" incident, and its dire aftermath. This is a post supposedly by someone has recieved the order from the Propaganda Department (yes, it IS the real name, because they don't know squat about English), and his speculation of the impact on China's future media practice. I'm not sure about its authenticity, it is only for you to judge.

The post(in Chinese) :link

It is also said that in the serveral days after the incident, there were only one "negative story" among all media reports in Beijing, it was about a car incident. Again I don't know about its authenticity.

A blog revealing that the "cardboard incident" site is heavily protected from outside intruders and reporters.

Link (in Chinese).

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