Cankao Xiaoxi hoaxed by spoof migrant banker story

News from a reputable German source

A recent group e-mail sent to the foreign journalists' news assistants club by Chinese journalist and blogger Michael Anti pointed out that the November 26th edition of Reference News (参考消息, or Cankao Xiaoxi), which translates articles from around the globe, got something very wrong indeed.

The paper translated and reprinted an article entitled "Western finance sector stringers find it difficult making a living in China" from a German newspaper they referred to as the 法兰克福汇报: the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).

FAZ is a national newspaper of a classical liberal, sometimes conservative, pedigree. Anti and his colleagues at the Far and Wide Journal were a tad incredulous at the content of the translated article, and sought to dig a bit deeper.

The digging unearthed this: the article was actually from the TAZ: Die Tageszeitung, not FAZ.

TAZ is, according to Wikipedia, "Irreverent, commercially independent, intelligent and entertaining," an alternative to mainstream media. In Anti's words, the article from TAZ was actually "mocking" in tone and content rather than what Reference News had assumed: genuine.

The column in which the article appeared was Die Wahrheit ("the truth"), which "is reserved for satire and nonsense."

Below a translation of the article that Reference News ran on Nov. 26, with attribution to FAZ instead of TAZ.

In the links section below the translation you can find previous Danwei reports about Chinese newspapers translating reports from the spoof American news website The Onion and treating them as serious journalism.

Men wearing worn-out business suits have gathered in front of a shopping centre in the suburban area of Shanghai, inside a house like an old box. From time to time someone would walk outside and look from left to right.   
In the car park right next to the box-like house, rats are rustling in a rubbish heap. Four people have been very lucky today: someone called them away an hour ago. They have found work.

The others are sitting quietly next to a stove. One person is reading a Chinese textbook. They have decided to keep waiting, despite knowing that there is no hope of finding work that day.

These people came from Germany, the UK and America. They are stringers from the financial sector, and have entered China illegally. For several weeks they have been living in difficult conditions: never before have their lives been this hard. In their dim box-like house, Robert Wacken was the first to speak: "My wife calls me every day to ask me, where is the money? I know she needs money desperately, but I have earned almost nothing."

This 28-year-old ex-financial consultant is, like many others, a migrant banker. Ever since the eruption of the financial crisis, tens of thousands of bankers have been dismissed in the West, and they are coming to China’s prosperous cities to look for work. By 2010, there will be three million migrant bankers trying their luck in China. In China’s southern coastal cities, cheap Western financial experts are working in shifts at the window counter of banks. Although they are dealing in the riskiest and the hardest of financial transactions, there is still no guarantee of basic rights. Many of them are earning overly low wages, and they do not get medical insurance.

For bankers from the West, a daily income of two to three Euros is fundamentally not enough to live on. "This is only just enough for four bowls of fried noodles a day," said one bank manager from Dusseldorf. He appeared disappointed and thin. Included in the wages is pay for extra shifts and working holidays. Twenty-six-year-old ex-stock market manager Nadine Remmele has worked for nine different credit companies in 4 months. She describes her daily schedule as thus: "Every day I go to work at 8am, and the earliest I get off is 10pm. At 12pm I get half an hour to eat lunch and take a break, and then I have get back to work straight away. Sunday is the best day. We only have to work until nine thirty in the evening. We are simply exhausted everyday."

Many migrant bankers are residing illegally in private shacks, and many don't have labour contracts. They are at the mercy of their employers. "If you are so tired you can't get out of bed, then you ask for a day off. But only if you must, because you will lose the month's bonus, and the employer will punish you by taking four days' pay," said one foreign exchange trader from Frankfurt.   

"I didn't eat or drink in the hospital because it was too expensive. After a few days I no longer received medicine, because no-one was paying for my medical fees." For the migrant banker, getting ill is just too expensive. Many of them cannot afford medical insurance, and will only go to the hospital when they have no other choice. Expensive medical fees and a lack of medical insurance means that the majority of migrant bankers treat themselves – or try to endure the illness for as long they can.

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There are currently 10 Comments for Cankao Xiaoxi hoaxed by spoof migrant banker story.

Comments on Cankao Xiaoxi hoaxed by spoof migrant banker story

hoaxed by their own stupidity

That is a fantastic article. You kind of wish it could be true.

Maybe the paper should hire some of those migrant bankers to pick the articles that they translate. At least they'll understand the tone of the article.


I expect no less from these people working in Chinese media. They're so out of touch with the outside world it's sometimes hard to believe.

In this case, it's not the translators and researchers, although they're the first ones to blame since they're the ones supposed to know about their research area and know their target media enrironment like the back of their hand. The editors also carry huge responsibility for their lack of judgement. All of them should be ashamed of themselves for making this sort of mistakes.

i know of several jobless finance professionals here in NY who will be gravely disappointed to learn that this story was a lark.

"there goes my back-up plan," i can hear them saying. "."

Classic... one days are better than others in China for sure. I love this country, but the journalists here are f***ing hopeless. Not that your average American journologist is any more conscientious to the facts, but at least its entertaining. Chinese journos are just either dumb, bored, corrupt, so on

I thought only weshtern media were shupposhed to print half-cocked shtories with no background checksh? Shurely shome mishtake?

Brilliant! ...also typical that the chinese MSM would be clueless about the article's meaning.

more like lives of those millions of migrant workers in big city. Clearly this is another western media likes to China to look bad every possible way.

This is what investment bankers' lives really are like... Pretty much. Except they don't get off at 10pm.

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