By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
BEIJING, Feb. 3 -- Chinese state broadcaster CCTV on Tuesday night aired the full news footage of a protester throwing a shoe at Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during a speech in Britain, an unusual step given the state-controlled media's routine censorship of incidents embarrassing to China.
A spokesman for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he regretted the incident, which occurred while Wen was speaking at Cambridge University. The shoe landed on stage about three feet from Wen, a reminder of the shoe tossed by an Iraqi journalist at then-President George W. Bush in Iraq in December.
The protester, who was held by security guards, had shouted: "How can the university prostitute itself with this dictator?"
CCTV initially aired the report without providing details or showing the shoe toss, instead displaying to viewers only Wen's surprised reaction before cutting back to a studio shot. This prompted online reaction praising Wen's aplomb.
"The premier is elegant," said one anonymous post on the Tianya bulletin board service. "I really don't understand, when China is getting better, why do foreigners always bother us? What kind of mental problem do they have?"
Most of the posts throughout the afternoon were calm, even if the Internet users were angry about the attack.
This was in contrast to the virulent nationalism displayed in response to Western criticism of how China handled the deadly riots in Tibet last March and to foreigners protesting during the Olympic torch relay.
It was difficult to assess the full reaction because thousands of posts had been deleted by government censors. At Sina.com, one of China's largest online news sites, there were 2,973 comments, but only 849 were visible. The rest had been blocked.
The Web sites of the official New China News Agency and the People's Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, said only that the premier's speech had been interrupted. Only the Web site of the conservative Global Times mentioned that a shoe had been thrown. Chinese media carried the Bush shoe incident in full.
"The Chinese side has expressed its strong displeasure over this incident," China's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
A fraction of online posts showed that a few Chinese citizens were aware that there might be alternate views of the Communist Party's grip on power. Some readers mentioned or linked in their blog posts to foreign media reports, such as the Chinese-language versions of the Wall Street Journal and the BBC.
"If China doesn't change the current situation, this is a beginning of the Chinese government deserving such insults. Chinese leaders will not get the least respect, no matter where they go," said a writer using the alias "Chinadongde."
Beijing lawyer Chen Fei, 31, first watched the television news and then checked wire service reports for the missing information.
"With a country as big as China, our leaders should have a broad chest and be able to face people with different ideas, especially different political opinions," Chen said. "Foreign officials always face protest, too. Bush was attacked by shoes, but he was still president."
But Wu Mian'ao, a 27-year-old researcher in a business consultancy, said he was shocked to hear the details of the shoe incident from a reporter.
"Before, when Chinese leaders visited foreign countries, the protests were not so serious," Wu said. "I'm very angry about this. Throwing a shoe at the Chinese premier is the equivalent of spitting on our face. Isn't this because the West is hostile to China's rise? I won't apply for Cambridge in the future."
Researcher Zhang Jie contributed to this report.