Thursday, 18 April 2013

Taken for a Ride

Was a story of Xi Jinping taking a Beijing taxi a propaganda stunt gone wrong?
This morning I saw a story reported by Hong Kong-based Ta Kung Pao that was heating up mainland Chinese cyberspace -- President Xi Jinping took an incognito ride in a taxi cab in Beijing from Gulou Da Jie to the Diaoyutai Hotel.

The taxi driver, Guo Xin, 46, started chatting with the two men in the back seat and at first didn't look closely to see who his passengers were.

Then Guo got onto the topic of pollution and one of the men responded that the government was determined to deal with the problem, but that it would take time, as the most advanced economies in the world had to struggle with pollution. The passenger added people should also take note of social progress, such as higher life expectancy among Chinese people.

Surprised by such remarks, it was at a traffic light that Guo turned around to see who the speaker was. "Has anyone ever said that you look like General Secretary Xi?"

The man replied, "You are the first taxi driver to recognize me."

So-called taxi driver Guo Xin showing off Xi's calligraphy...
At the end of the ride, the cab fare was 27 RMB, and Guo was handed 30 RMB and told to keep the change. He apparently even got a saying written by Xi that said, "Best wishes" on the back of the taxi receipt. The story even had pictures of the taxi driver, the taxi receipt and even a map of the route they took.

Many internet users in China thought this was a fantastic story, how it demonstrated Xi was a man of the people.

But now we are informed the story was fake!!!

Ta Kung Pao is now apologizing for the false account of the taxi ride, even though it was the hottest topic on China's internet today.

"We deeply regret it," said the newspaper. "We should not have allowed an error in our work to lead to such incorrect news. We sincerely apologize to our readers."

What is intriguing is that before announcing the story was fake, Xinhua apparently confirmed the story, even checking with Beijing's traffic authorities and Ta Kung Pao before also publishing it.

But now the story has been deleted from practically all the news websites in China, making one wonder why the story was made up in the first place. The "ride" allegedly took place on March 1, before Xi was confirmed as president, and then why report it seven weeks afterwards?

It all seemed very strange, but still enough of a heart-warming story for the lack of timeliness to be forgiven.

Nevertheless, the news that the story is fake will probably heighten skeptics to be even more critical of the news coming out from China...

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