Ex-Google China Chief Lee Kaifu Under Propagandist AttackPosted: October 12, 2013
In a 9,000-words-piece published on the website of “Party Building,” a magazine that claims to be overseen by China’s Central Propaganda Commission, a self-proclaimed macroeconomics analyst unleashed an all-out attack on ex-Google China chief Lee Kaifu. Titled “Ten Questions for Lee Kaifu,” the article questioned Lee’s work experience and citizenship status, accused him of forging family history, and criticized his public commentaries and political leaning.
It went so far as to query if Lee, a Taiwanese who relinquished American citizenship in 2011, is in fact ill from lymphoma, and if the purpose of his stay in Taiwan is indeed medical treatment. Lee, 51, announced that he was diagnosed with lymphoma in early September and has since withdrawn from work to undergo chemotherapy in Taiwan.
The article was first published last Tuesday but only began to gain traction on Friday, after Chinese news outlets such as Sina.com, South China Morning Post and Xinhuanet.com picked it up. In just one day, the number of search results of “Lee Kaifu and Ten Questions” on Weibo has nearly doubled to more than 130,000. Whereas most Weibo responses stood behind Lee, almost all comments marked “popular” on Sina.com, which may be more strictly censored, supported the article or demanded Lee’s response. As of today, Lee has not made any mention of the article on his Weibo account. Phone calls and an email to spokesperson Wang Chaohui at of Lee’s company went unanswered.
Zhou Xiaoping, author of the article who has criticized western influence and Chinese public intellectuals on the Party newspapers Global Times, lashed out at Lee’s moral integrity and political views. Coming under attack are Lee’s advocacy for freedom of speech online, pro-America commentaries, endorsement of politically liberal writer Han Han and Weibo commentators, and support for Jet Li’s One Foundation, among others. “Many people that were originally objective and holding the middle ground became extremely anti-social, reverse racist,” Zhou writes, “whoever that came in contact with you in recent years, all look upon China with extreme hatred, and blindly worship America.”
Referring to Lee as “a man of failure”, Zhou also questioned the validity of Lee’s former vice president role at Microsoft MSFT +1.1% and the nature of Google’s activities in China when Lee was head of Google China’s operations. Lee’s Innovation Works, an angel investing firm that supports Chinese entrepreneurs in the IT industry, is accused of being a “pyramid-scheme-like” organization with “highly unified ideology.”
On the issue of Lee’s ailment, Zhou questioned how a weakened Lee is still able to update his Weibo account so often, and if his decision to receive treatment in Taiwan had business and political motives.
Zhou also pointed a finger at Lee’s friendship with a certain unnamed editor of a website that “frequently praises Lee Kaifu.” Based on other quotes that Zhou referred to, the editor appears to be Zhu Huaxin, a former People’s Daily reporter and currently the secretary general overseeing public commentaries at People.com, a website managed by People’s Daily. Zhu has published a series of online articles echoing calls by scholars and citizens for political reform.
Zhou’s piece may be easily seen as part of the recent crackdown on “Big-Vs”, a nickname for high-profile commentators with verified identities on Sina Weibo. However, Cheng Li at the Brookings Institution, an expert on Chinese elite politics, cautioned against quickly associating such a piece with signals from above. “I pay little attention to this kind of hurled invective, crudely churned out and with bad taste,” says Li, who believes that the article is most likely an act by the individual or “people at lower levels.”
Scott Kennedy, director of the Research Center for Chinese Politics and Business, echoes Li’s viewpoints. “I think we sometimes believe that everything published in every media outlet in China, except by Caixin and Southern Weekend, must be controlled by the propaganda department by Beijing,” says Kennedy, “I’m 100% sure that’s not true.” He adds that it is natural for a piece like Zhou’s to be picked up by social media, as it appeals to nationalistic sentiments in questioning Lee’s affiliation with the U.S.
In a vague response, a staff member at Party Building said the article was published with the approval of “the boss/es (ling dao).” That category encircles at least their chief editor Liu Hanjun, former director of the News Department at the Central Propaganda Commission. “It was definitely published with the boss’ intent,” says the staffer, last name Wang, “nothing can be published casually here, that’s all I can tell you.”
Yet that may still not be enough information to gauge the motive behind Zhou’s article. Chinese media is “far freer and undisciplined than most people imagine these days,” writes Anne-Marie Brady, an expert on China’s propaganda system at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, in an email to Forbes. “A wide range of perspectives are appearing in what once were authoritative websites or newspapers, but which do not represent an official perspective.”
Phone calls to the media department at the Central Propaganda Commission went unanswered.
Follow me on Twitter @Hengshao90.
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