The New York Times Enrages Netizens, Part II

You may have seen our recent post about how netizens at Anti-CNN have been up in arms about the misleading captions of recent New York Times web slideshows. Yesterday, they dove into the text of an actual article, pulling it apart for its’ so-called unfair coverage.

Sentence by sentence, Anti-CNN questions the Times’s wording by inserting questions into the text. We’re copying a few examples below. The original text will be pasted as-is, Anti-CNN’s comments will be in bold.

1,000 rioters or protesters ? clashed with police and paramilitary troops after days of rising tensions between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese or clashed with police and paramilitary troops in order to provoke police and troops to answer the protest with force and violence? in the largest ethnic clash in China since the Tibetan uprising of March 2008 or the largest mass-mobilization of separatist terrorism to challenge authorities?

While we were accused of being CCP shills in the comments of our last post, this is where we get off the Anti-CNN train (and, probably, get accused of being anti-China). They had a solid point in the captions, but everything they’ve added into the Times’ story here is, at best, unsubstantiated, and, at worst, kind of ridiculous. For example, as far as we’ve seen, there’s still no evidence aside from a few vague Facebook posts to indicate that this was intentionally organized terrorism. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t, but a single “we need to be a little braver” doesn’t prove anything, and it would be misleading for the Times to state the riots were terrorism as though that were already a proven fact. What is proven is that the violence was mostly between Han and Uighur people, thus, the term “ethnic clash” is perfectly accurate.

Of course, some problems clearly arise from a less-than-perfect understanding of the complexities of the English language:

Early Monday, Chinese officials said the latest riots were started by Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur human rights advocate who had been imprisoned in China and now lives in Washington, Xinhua reported. The Chinese officials didn’t say that the latest riot were started by Rebiya Kadeer and I am sure that Xinhua wouldn’t report Rebiya Kadeer as “a Uighur human rights advocate” ! The author is forcing his own choice of words into Xinhua’s mouth!

It seems fairly clear that the clause between commas is meant to give further background on Rebiya Kadeer rather than be understood as part of Xinhua’s report. The wording could be better, sure, but calling this evidence of anti-China bias is a huge stretch.

Some of their other points are more convincing. For example:

The rioters threw stones at the police and set vehicles on fire, sending plumes of smoke into the sky, while police officers used fire hoses and batons to beat back rioters and detain Uighurs who appeared to be leading the protest, witnesses said.

It is interesting that rioters are doing the violent things, but Uighurs are being arrested for “leading a protest”. Interesting, but not damning.

The clashes on Sunday began when the police confronted a protest march held by Uighurs to demand a full government investigation of a brawl between Uighur and Han workers that erupted in Guangdong Province overnight on June 25 and June 26. The author was shifting the responsibility of the clashes to the police. He was ridiculing [sic] himself by implying that if the police didn’t try to disband these unlawful protesters who demonstrated without applying for a rallying permit, all the brutal activities of these outlaws against innocent unarmed Han civilians & passes-by wouldn’t happen. And the arson, and the looting, and the smashing, and the many more…. all of them were the police’s faults [sic]!

That wording does indeed sort of put the responsibility on the police for beginning the riots by “confronting” protesters. Still, we find this much less damning than their caption manipulation, given that there was no good reason for them to change the captions. This story, though, was written from scratch, probably on an extremely short deadline. While the author’s wording isn’t perfect, one can’t be expected to go through articles with a fine-tooth comb just to satisfy the 50 Cents Party folks on Anti-CNN. In fact, the same author (Edward Wong) has been continually covering the Xinjiang situation for the Times, and his later pieces. This story in particular, rights many of the “wrongs” Wong is accused of in his July 6th piece. For example, he defines the origins of the riot differently, placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of Uighurs:

The rioting broke out when the police tried to stop 1,000 Uighurs from holding a protest march over judicial discrimination. Uighurs went on a rampage, killing many Han civilians while fighting with security forces.

Unnecessary editing of captions is one thing, and it’s hard to excuse that. But not being entirely clear in one’s wording when filing an extremely complex story aimed at a completely ignorant public on a short deadline? That seems like the kind of thing that probably happens all the time. Furthermore, the Anti-CNN folks are, probably intentionally, totally ignoring Wong’s later articles. Even though the Anti-CNN post went up yesterday, they only discuss Wong’s July 6th story (he has filed 17 other stories on the riots since that one).

So, shame again, but this time only on Anti-CNN, for employing the same misleading techniques they’re criticizing in the Western media. They’re only destroying their own credibility here — not that they had a whole lot to begin with — and they even translated it into English to increase the damage. One can’t help but wonder why they didn’t stick to their much more legitimate photo caption complaints.

While we were accused of being CCP shills in the comments of our last post, this is where we get off the Anti-CNN train (and, probably, get accused of being anti-China). They had a solid point in the captions, but everything they’ve added into the Times’ story here is, at best, unsubstantiated, and, at worst, kind of ridiculous.

Art, Dammit: “Water Brain”

Every now and then we try to lighten the mood around here with a little feature we like to call Art, Dammit. Today’s piece comes to us via ChinaSMACK, it’s a beautiful short animated film supposedly made domestically (although its high quality has made some netizens suspicious). Watch the film before reading our comments below, as there are spoilers. Also note that you don’t need to speak any Chinese to understand it; there is no dialogue in the film.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=5197063&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1

Our Thoughts

The film is obviously a commentary on education; children are held in a gigantic, factory like environment and forced to study like slaves by their menacing monster-backpacks. This arrangement is interrupted only by mistake, when one child discovers the monsters can be reduced to much smaller, harmless critters (coughing out books as they shrink) if they ingest a paper airplane. However, this change proves only temporary, and the next day students are dragging their monstrous monster-backpacks as one imagines they always have. The protagonist breaks free and launches one last paper airplane, which floats over a dream like city and finally up above the clouds and into the sunlight before disintegrating in a burst of fire.

One netizen said the paper airplane represents dreams, but one could just as easily imagine it to represent creativity, individuality, fun…even, perhaps, childhood itself. We leave it open to you to interpret the meaning, but we did want to note the ways in which this reminds us of May Fourth fiction, specifically of many of Lu Xun’s short stories. The classic elements are there: Chinese society is portrayed as dark, almost dystopian, and a healthy streak of pessimism is balanced by a vague ending that leaves room, at least, for hope. The paper burning up above the clouds, especially, strikes me as very similar in mood to the end of Lu Xun’s New Year’s Sacrifice (the Chinese title of which is 祝福 but which most Chinese people know by the name of its most memorable character, 祥林嫂), where the protagonist, distracted by the pomp and bright lights of the New Year, forgets about the sad fate of Xianglin’s wife. The final paragraph of the story really evokes a comfortable, holiday feeling, just as the end of Water Brain gives us a previously-unseen dose of color and sunlight, allowing us to forget for a moment the dark world below it. Will anything change for the Water Brains, or for the small village where Xianglin’s wife lives? The reader/viewer is never given an answer. Sometimes, no answer at all is enough for hope.

What were your thoughts on the film? Did you enjoy it? What did you think of the symbolism? Does it remind you of anything else?

The New York Times Enrages Netizens

The Anti-CNN folks are up in arms again, so much so that their webmaster has written a news story about it in English. This time, the target of their displeasure is the New York Times, who apparently edited photo captions for photos of the riots in Xinjiang. The photos came with captions from the Associated Press, Reuters, and the Agence France Presse, but Anti-CNN has discovered that the Times edited those captions, in some cases giving the photos improper context and in other cases making them downright wrong.

NYT: Injured Uighur
NYT: Injured Uighur
For example, the New York Times ran this photo with the caption: “Uighurs injured at a hospital in the city during a media tour by the authorities on Monday.” When Anti-CNN netizens noticed the name tag (as well as the man’s face) clearly indicate that he is of Han ethnicity, they contacted Reuters, where a photo editor explained that the original caption of the photo was “People who were injured during riots in Urumqi, rest in a hospital in the city during an official government tour for the media” and further noted that Reuters cannot control whether clients change their photo captions.

Further accounts of NYT caption editing came to light in another Anti-CNN thread where users posted screengrabs and photos. For example, compare the captions of the following two images. The first is the original photo and caption as released by the AFP/Getty, the second is a screen grab from a New York Times website slide show:

AFP/Getty image and caption
New York Times image and caption

What was originally reported as a Uighur “riot” by the AFP was changed to a “clash between rioters and police” in the New York Times. Other examples in the thread do indicate that the Times appears to have been rewriting captions to play up the police vs. Muslims angle, and to play down the Muslim-rioters-killed-lots-of-innocent-people angle.

The most damning evidence, though, is probably these two photos, where it appears clear the New York Times is trying to use a rather shocking image to drive home the idea that the police beat and killed Uighurs, despite the fact that the original caption doesn’t indicate the photo is related to police violence at all:

Original AP image and caption
Original AP image and caption
NYT image and caption
NYT image and caption

Anti-CNN members have also written an open letter to the paper’s editorial staff:

NYT owes the public an explanation as to why its photo editor altered the captions in such a way to fuel the enmity between the Han and the Uighur ethnicities of China and to stigmatize the Chinese law enforcement. The caption manipulation has led the public to believe that NYT did so to deceive its readers. We therefore request that NYT publish this protest letter and withdraw or correct its captions. In light of the insults to the riot victims by NYT’s caption distortion, it is highly appropriate for NYT to apologize to the riot victims or issue a statement to that effect, in order to regain its credibility with its Chinese readers.

Pending any reasonable explanation from the New York Times, the netizens complaints seem entirely legitimate. Intentional or not — and it’s hard to imagine how one could change the caption to an already-captioned photo by accident — these captions are misleading at best, and destructively ignorant at worst. That this seems to happen every time unrest breaks out in China does also seem to indicate an agenda on the parts of some members of the Western media.

With that said, the conspiracy theories that have followed these revelations on Anti-CNN are equally ignorant. One netizen wrote, “I have finally realized why Obama had rushed to a decision of withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. It is a grand strategy to demolish China into pieces by redeploying them to join the NATO forces in Afghanistan adjacent to China!” Another wrote, “The ultimate goal of the West is to render China powerless forever, by fragmenting China, after USSR and the Yugoslavia, to as many small pieces as possible.”

This level of paranoia is — there just isn’t another word for it — stupid, but at least the people espousing these opinions aren’t employed by one of the largest and most respected media sources in the world. They, too, are spreading ignorance — perpetuating the somehow still-extant idea that the rest of the world (1) is basically just one big country called Foreign or The West and (2) cares enough about China to put an awful lot of effort into destroying it — but their stage isn’t as big, and they’re mostly preaching to the choir anyway.

In conclusion, shame on the New York Times, for writing the same old Tiananmen Square stories even when the facts clearly point in another direction, and shame on Chinese netizens for taking the bait and trotting out the same old tired generalizations about the anti-China West. This isn’t the way anything gets resolved, and the longer this crap keeps up the longer everyone in China and in the West is going to be uncomfortable about what remains a tenuous international relationship.

UPDATE: Part 2.

Guest Post: The Hunt for a New China Policy?

The following is a guest post from Elizabeth M. Lynch of China Law and Policy

The Hunt for a New China Policy? A Review of the Jon Huntsman Confirmation Hearing

Thursday’s Senate confirmation hearing for the next ambassador to China was a virtual love-fest from both sides of the aisle. Democratic senators gushed about Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s China background and Mandarin language skills and Republican senators John McCain, Orin Hatch and Bob Bennett attended the hearing to show their ardent support for the nominee. There is little doubt that Gov. Huntsman – a Republican governor, nominated as Ambassador to China by a Democrat president – will be confirmed on Tuesday when the full Senate meets to vote on his nomination. But his confirmation hearing still proved a telling sign of the Administration’s priorities in its relationship with China (nominees are always prepped for weeks prior to their hearing by Administration officials).

In his opening statement Gov. Huntsman stressed the importance of working with China on two high-priority fronts: first, repairing the international economy and second, maintaining peace and stability in Northeast Asia. In what was likely a nod to the Chinese government and an acknowledgement of the increasing tension with North Korea as illustrated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent trip to Asia, Gov. Huntsman highlighted China’s leadership in organizing the six-party talks and commended China on working closely, and successfully, with the U.S. and the U.N. Security Council in dealing with North Korea. Gov. Huntsman also mentioned other areas where the U.S. and China must continue to work together: advancing global counter-terrorism efforts, stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction, combating extremism and promoting stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and promoting better governance and development in places like Sudan, Burma and Zimbabwe.

Most people believe that President Obama nominated Gov. Huntsman solely for strategic reasons – to eliminate a strong Republican presidential candidate in 2012. But that could easily be only partially true. Another reason is that Gov. Huntsman is actually a very good pick to represent the U.S. in a relationship that has become much more delicate as it becomes more important. Gov. Huntsman has a strong China background, experiencing first-hand Chinese societies in Taiwan (during his time as a Mormon missionary) and Singapore (as Ambassador). Additionally, during the hearing, Gov. Huntsman supported continued human rights discussions with the Chinese, criticizing our current approach as too “on-again-off-again.” Instead he advocated for a regularized and systematic forum where issues such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, rule of law, and access to information can continuously be discussed. While some might argue that this was mere political posturing to secure votes from Congress, Gov. Huntsman’s statement is a noted departure from Secretary Clinton’s recent announcement that human rights cannot interfere with our handling of other crises. Such a departure provides credibility that Gov. Huntsman sincerely wants to make human rights issues a regular part of his dialogue with the Chinese. Also, his experience in Taiwan and Singapore provide him with the alternative perspective that economic development in a culturally-Chinese society does not necessarily require the authoritarian regime that currently exists on the mainland.

Although Gov. Huntsman’s approach to human rights is slightly different from the Administration’s, he whole-heartedly supports the Administration’s focus on climate change in U.S.-China relations, deviating from many of his Republican colleagues. In discussing caps on greenhouse gases, Gov. Huntsman maintained that the U.S. should support an agreement on climate change with China, viewing any agreement as an economic, exporting opportunity. The U.S. will become a leader in clean air and energy efficiency industries, industries that he argued would likely dominate the global economy for the next 20 to 40 years. Unfortunately, Gov. Huntsman did not address the intellectual property concerns of exporting U.S. clean energy technology to China, a thorny issue that will certainly prove tricky in any discussions on climate change.

The nomination of Gov. Huntsman is a telling signal that the Obama Administration perhaps grasps the realities of the new China. The China today is not the China that existed 30 years ago when the U.S. first normalized relations. In only the past few years, China has quickly emerged as a global leader with a strong economy, large militarily and significant influence on other countries. Today, the U.S. negotiates with a power that in many ways is its equal; one that can easily walk away from the negotiating table. For the next few years, the U.S. and China will have to be able to cooperate on a myriad of tough issues that could impact the future of our world order – climate change, trade, humanitarian crises, currency, terrorism, just to name a few. It is important to have a representative in Beijing who understands how to effectively negotiate with the Chinese and find common ground between our two nations, but at the same time is willing to stand his ground when our interests diverge, which, at times, will be unavoidable. Gov. Huntsman, with his knowledge of Chinese culture, language skills, and his courage to buck his own party and accept the nomination, could likely be the best person for the job.

“An Open Letter to the Kunming M.P.C. Secretary”

The following is a translation of this post by Li Yinhe.

Dear Kunming Municipal Party Committee Complaints Secretary,

I want to discuss with you the Kunming Elementary School student prostitution case, the Chen Yan prostitution case that followed it, and the father-accommodated prostitution case. According to my analysis of the interviews of reporters, there are large suspicious aspects of all three of these correlated cases, they may all be cases of injustice.

The first case: the prostitution of Liu Nuonuo (age 15), and Liu Tingting (age 13).
This case has already been judged by police as having been factually unsubstantiated, and as a result, six officers have been suspended from duty and a public notification has been made.

The second case: the prostitution of Chen Yan (age 16).
The Yunnan News reported on June 3rd that several days after the virgin girls [i.e. Liu Nuonuo and Liu Tingting] sold themselves, their father Liu Shihua asked for a large sum in compensation, enraging the police. Using the [alleged] prostitution of Chen Yan as an excuse, they brought the whole family into the police substation, and after extorting confessions for a week came to the result of Chen Yan having been a prostitute.

Why do I suspect that the Chen Yan’s prostitution case is an example of injustice? Because I saw this bit of dialogue between her and a reporter:

Reporter: Do you know what ‘standing in the street’ [i.e., prostitution] is? Have you ever ‘stood in the street’?
Chen Yan: Yes. I was waiting for friends. Sometimes we can’t all arrive at the same time, so I stood in the street to wait for them. Some times we walk in the street together, a large group of people, but when we stop to eat barbecue we are also standing in the street while we eat.
Reporter: Have you ‘had relations’ [i.e., had sex] with anyone before?
Chen Yan: I will have fun with friends from society, eat barbecue, sing karaoke, and have a lot of fun so I’m very happy. When I have an especially good impression, I have had relations but never accepted any money.

In my opinion, a 16 year-old who doesn’t even know what ‘standing in the street’ means is very unlikely to have engaged in prostitution.

The third case: Liu Shihua [the father] accommodating this prostitution.
On the morning of June 29th, a reporter accompanied two reporters in a visit with Liu Shihua as he was awaiting trial. He had already been locked up for three weeks and when he saw the lawyers he was “so excited his hands were shaking”. He told the lawyers he denied having accommodated prostitution. His deposition in the police station was forced out of him. He said that the police said if he just admitted to having accommodated the prostitution of his daughter, the whole family could be released.

Reporter: Why did you admit your eldest daughter had engaged in prostitution?
Liu Shihua: If I didn’t admit it, the whole family would be locked up. I don’t want my family to endure hardship.

From the above we can see that there are large suspicious aspects of these cases, and that they may be injustices.

Secretary, I have often heard you are known as an honest and fair official. If injustice happens under your watch, no matter how complex the details of the case, no matter the motives of the perpetrators, I think you will definitely investigate it until the end, and definitely have the ability to bring the truth to light in future injustice cases.

Right now, the nationwide media is all focused on this case. It has already gone from a small case of a small police station browbeating a small commoner to a big case that touches on the the fair administration of justice, the image of the police, and the image of the government. Please, even though you are busy, take some time to look into this case. I hope the case is dealt with fairly.

Li Yinhe, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

F***n G**g and the Hardest Thing About Studying China

Edit: This post is currently blocked in China (thanks to Kai for letting us know), so we’ve edited the title and permalink in the hopes that will shake off what we suspect is a keyword-based block.

There is nowhere on earth we can learn about or read about without bias, but even given the assumption that bias exists everywhere, China might be the worst country in the world to attempt to study if you’re trying to assess the veracity of anything remotely controversial.

Let’s take, for example, the most recent English language issue of the Epoch Times, sitting for free on a table near the entrance of Yale University’s Hall of Graduate Studies. This issue begins their series marking the tenth anniversary marking the outlawing of Falun Gong in China in 1999, and contains several articles documenting the events that led to the ban. Specifically, they say the regime “zeroed in” on Falun Gong after the publication of Zhuan Falun (Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi’s rambling treatise). They don’t mention why, what was contained in the book, or, for that matter, that their newspaper was founded by Falun Gong members. It is as though the CCPs banning of Falun Gong was a thunderbolt out of a clear blue sky.

Of course, it’s not really a secret that the Epoch Times has an agenda. At best, their reports are “difficult to corroborate” (Orville Schell), at worst, they are an embarrassment to journalism. Still, they have their supporters. UPenn professor Arthur Waldron said “foreigners (and Chinese) who want to get a sense of what is really going on in China should pay at least as much attention to The Epoch Times as they do to the People’s Daily.”

As far as we can tell, he wasn’t intentionally being ironic, but it’s actually a great point. People searching for information on Falun Gong are likely to find a long list of articles and websites run by supporters or a long list of condemnations, depending on what language they’re searching in.

And the truth is, it’s very difficult to tell what the truth is. On the one hand, Falun Gong sounds an awful lot like some of the crazy cults that exist in the US; In the Zhuan Falun, Li Hongzhi writes that:

He can personally heal disease and that his followers can stop speeding cars using the powers of his teachings. He writes that the Falun Gong emblem exists in the bellies of practitioners, who can see through the celestial eyes in their foreheads. Li believes “humankind is degenerating and demons are everywhere”; extraterrestrials are everywhere, too; and that Africa boasts a 2-billion-year-old nuclear reactor. He also says he can fly.

On the other hand, at least some of the reported rights violations — which include some pretty horrifying things — are probably true. After all, the CCP is willing to abuse other citizens with reckless abandon, so why would Falun Gong practitioners be any different? As is often the case, it seems the truth lies somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, but when it comes to China, the extreme voices are often so loud they completely drown out any moderates. Here, it’s People’s Daily vs. Epoch Times. A few weeks ago, it was People’s Daily vs. World Uighur Conference. Whenever the next issue comes up it will happen again.

The problem, of course, is that most people don’t care as much as we do, and aren’t willing to spend hours sifting through drivel and propaganda for the little nuggets of truth that accidentally got left lying around. So they end up believing that either one side or the other murders babies, and everyone digs in further. Falun Gong is an “evil cult” or China is an “evil empire”; there is no middle ground.

This kind of extremism prevents understanding when understanding is what we desperately, desperately need.

For the record, I personally think that Falun Gong is about as crazy as Scientology, and that China has every right to ban the spread of anti-science superstition as it leads to people making idiotic medical decisions; but I also think China could easily enforce this ban in a way that is nonviolent and that allows Falun Gong believers to think whatever they want (and do whatever exercises they want) so long as they stop telling people qigong can cure all of their diseases.

Also for the record, I’ll be monitoring the comments here pretty carefully as this has the potential to lead to its own idiotic screaming match between extremists. What we’re talking about here is how extremism prevents learning, growth, understanding, and intelligent discourse (or how it doesn’t).

China Actually Doesn’t Censor WoW

…at least, not they way you think they do. It’s a long story, so bear with us.

As we previously reported, the massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft was shut down completely in China, and then recently came back up. Sort of. Well, according to Kotaku, the game is now even more sort of back up. The government has found some questionable content in the game, which can’t be legally opened up again until the review and modification process is finished. However, in the interim, they have permitted the game to be relaunched for “internal testing”, but forbidden Blizzard’s China publisher NetEase to charge subscription fees during this testing. In essence, this means that starting July 30th, Chinese gamers with WoW accounts can get back online completely free of charge — the game generally charges a monthly hourly subscription fee — but new players won’t be able to register until the game has been fully approved. Again.

There was, some may recall, a bit of a to-do about this a couple years ago when the government mandated that skeletons in WoW be clothed in skin or replaced with graves. There were complaints in China, but perhaps the loudest wails were coming from Western gamers (who, of course, were completely unaffected). Still, some people were clearly upset. Destructoid won the hyperbole race, calling skeletons with skin “the ultimate paradox” and China an “awful country.”

Mention of the review process has brought the thoughts of Western gamers to bear again on China’s censorship of skeletons. Here are some of the more interesting and/or terrifying comments from Kotaku’s story today:

The act of thinking and having imagination is forbidden in china.

Blizzard is a company in a capatalist country. You can’t really be surprised they’d bow to Chinese censorship in order to secure such a huge player base.

It’s shitty that they’re supporting and legitmizing China’s assinine [sic] government, but all those rainbows in Diablo III don’t pay for themselves.

Blizzard actually makes much less money from the 5-ish million people in China than it would make from 5 million people elsewhere due to it being licensed through a third party, being charged differently, etc…

China’s censorship is also much, much more lenient than say… Germany. For instance, when you die in TF2-German edition you explode into gears and crap, instead of blood. It isn’t like game companies don’t make these concessions all the time.

Does there have to be a government to ban shit if the people can’t say anything about it?

Can someone explain to me why skeletons have to be changed? I mean this is just one of the numerous changes, but I just don’t understand why skeletons are outlawed in china, enlighten me please!

To which people replied:

Ancestor worshipping. Desecrating someone’s bones is a nono.

To put it simply, by making unacceptable things taboo, China can manipulate the feeble masses to do their bidding. They’re basically the ultimate Nanny State.

While it appears we may have awarded our hyperbole prize preemptively, one of the Kotaku commenters raises an interesting question. Why does the Chinese government mandate the censorship of skeletons in WoW?

The English language internet is pretty useless in providing an answer. Most news articles and blogs quote the same vague “harmonious internet” nonsense that gets spouted for most of China’s digital censorship, and English-language bloggers and journalists seem to be content to just assume the real reason is that Hu Jintao is the new Hitler (because truly, censoring a video game and orchestrating the mass murder of eleven million people is totally the same) or that there isn’t any good reason.

The Chinese internet didn’t prove much more helpful. Mostly through Baidu, we learned that there is (or at least was) a workaround that allows Chinese players to play the non-censored game. People are asking why the skeletons are being censored, but not in any great numbers, and there seems to be little in the way of actual answers, at least in terms of why skeletons specifically were banned.

What’s more fascinating is this article, which claims that the censoring of the skeletons didn’t come from the government, but from Blizzard’s previous regional publisher The9, and that that is part of what annoyed Blizzard enough to switch publishers and cause this whole mess in the first place. The whole article is worth a read if you read Chinese, but here’s the money shot, loosely translated:

The changing of “skeletons to corpses, bones to flesh” in [WoW expansion] The Burning Crusade has been a revision that goes against what many players wish — this was not one of the revisions originally requested by the [government’s] evaluation expert, The9 took the initiative in demanding this revision. […] a personal opinion: everyone who plays Chinese WoW […] has a good reason to spray The9 to death: the censorship was demanded by The9 themselves!

The author goes on to say that this reflects The9’s commitment to working together with government censors, but that when it came time to review WoW’s next expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard — perhaps unamused by their own partners forcing them to censor their game — put off the revisions and ultimately switched their allegiance to NetEase, which has led to the current situation.

The author wonders, with the game now in the hands of NetEase, “if we’re optimistic about it, might NetEase act as an agent to bring the skeletons back in? [Maybe,] but once water has been spilled, putting it all back into the bottle is very difficult.”

So, if this story is to be believed — and to be fair, it would be difficult to verify either way — the Chinese government itself didn’t actually stomp on WoW’s skeletons, The9 did. Now if only someone would tell all the people raving about how this is the Chinese government’s fault.