When Ai Weiwei wrote an impassioned article in Newsweek last week calling Beijing a “constant nightmare” and likening the city to a prison, it was his first outright criticism of the Chinese government and defiance of the gag order placed on him since his detention in April. Many held their breaths for China’s reaction.
The government’s reaction has come, and it’s ... slapdash.
Tunku Varadarajan, editor of Newsweek International, told the Telegraph, “Journalistically, you know you’re doing the right thing when the Chinese censors tear up your magazine.”
China’s online censors, however, were unusually inattentive. The article on Friday was still available online for anyone who could read English. By Friday, the piece had more than 6,000 likes on Facebook, more than 2,000 tweets, and hundreds of comments.
One commenter, who seemed to be writing from China, wrote: “I don't really want to use the word. But I feel the author is a “fen Qing” [angry young man] when I read the article. If you have conflicts or outrage with the government or the party, don’t make the topic up to the city or the country. Please understand the difference.”
A commenter named “Roin” responded: “I don't really want to use the word either, but I feel you are a “Wu Mao” when I read...”
“Wu Mao” refers to a Chinese commenter who is paid by the government to guide hot topic issues online toward the party line. But if Roin is right, hardly any effort was made to control the story at all.