Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Bang a Gong
The editor at one of the Shenzhen Daily's sister papers, the Shenzhen Evening News is apparently out of a job and undergoing "re-education" after the Sunday News ran a photo spread about substandard rental housing in Shenzhen. His misstep, though, had nothing to do with libeling slumlords but with what most readers probably never saw unless they were intently scanning one picture.
It shows a man lying in a bed and behind him on a wall is a blurry picture and shelf with two books. The picture is of a leader of a banned-and-reviled-in-China religious group called Fanlun Gong and the two books are also Fanlun Gong-related.
I don't know much about Fanlun Gong except that they seem to be regarded here as a cross between the Moonies, Jim Jones' suicide cult and David Koresh's Branch Davidians with a little of the Manson Family thrown in for good measure. In the West they present themselves as very peaceful and very persecuted.
But, as I was asking fellow staffers about the picture and the editor's fate I realized that even saying the name "Fanlun Gong" in a tone louder than a whisper was a little like shouting "Hey, do you remember what time the NAMBLA meeting is tonight?" in a crowded American elevator.
The photo was taken by a freelance shutterbug and his fate is unknown, but several staffers have assured me that that he's undoubtedly a crafty Fanlun Gong member who set up the shot. "They are extremely clever and crafty. There is almost nothing they cannot do," a deskmate told me hushed tones, not daring to use the "FG" word out loud.
None of it makes much sense to me. Unless one really scrutinizes the photo - unlikely for most readers - and knows what the Fanlun Gong bigwig looks like (also unlikely given the media blackout) the offending portrait and books aren't noteworthy or particularly discernable. Why Fanlun Gong would go to the trouble of setting something like that up knowing that it would not be publicized if discovered baffles me. But if true, perhaps it was their version of subliminal advertising.
Still, someone noticed and now someone else is paying for the "error."
The editor, I have been told, will be "placed in a job of lower rank" after "several months of education."
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