How China's spin doctors bungled the latest Lee Bo script

March 03, 2016 16:23
Lee Bo (inset) sparked a flurry of negative comments on Weibo after he appeared on state media with yet another clarification. Photos:, weibo

Hong Kong bookseller Lee Bo shot his own story full of holes when he talked to Hong Kong police officials during an arranged meeting in Guandong on Monday. 

Whoever wrote the script knew it was an utter fabrication, but who is still surprised by a Chinese propaganda spin?

The gist of it is that Lee was not kidnapped by Chinese agents as reported; he spirited himself to the mainland, bypassing immigration authorities, to help in an official investigation.

It's a rehash of his previous "clarification" but it gets weirder every time the story line is repeated because it does not make sense any way you cut it.

If Lee is on official business in the mainland (to assist in an official investigation), why smuggle himself in?

The only thing that is new here is that Lee wants out of his British passport, saying the controversy has made life difficult for him and his wife, as if he was in trouble in Britain.

Yet, Lee paraded himself before state media with his tall tale and hewed to the script.  

The whole mucky episode begins to take on mythic proportions when you throw in the entire cast of characters.

It happens that three of Lee's colleagues in book publisher Mighty Current Media Ltd. are also "assisting in an investigation" after being reported missing last year and saying they voluntarily returned to China.

The target of the investigation turns out to be Gui Minhai, who owns Mighty Current Media and whose own story is the stuff of fiction.

When he surfaced in the mainland after disappearing in Thailand in October, he said he voluntarily returned to China to turn himself in for a 2003 traffic homicide.

To be fair, Gui and his colleagues are probably the last people to have a hand in all of this spin-doctoring.

The communist propaganda machine is known to stretch credulity and bend the truth for its own ends.

The truth is this: Gui's publishing company is a purveyor of unsourced damning books and articles about the Chinese elite.

It's the kind of gossip the Chinese masses love and the communist bosses loathe.

One such book satirized President Xi Xinping's foibles.

Thanks to a hole in the Great Firewall, China's infamous internet filter, the booksellers' saga has reached the Chinese masses.

Netizens who have been sharing Lee's cover story on social media are having a field day taking it apart.

"Even a fool won't fall for it," a commenter said.

"Is his brain filled with water?" said another.

One summed up the collective response of the online community, saying be doesn't believe an iota of what he read, even the punctuation marks.

In Hong Kong, reaction is decidedly mixed.

The government insists there's no evidence Chinese police took any one of the booksellers away.

Political observers expressed concern about the implications of the booksellers' troubles for press freedom in Hong Kong.

Commentator Lee Yee wrote that cross-border missing-persons cases will be harder to report to the police because this might mean trouble for the disappeared.

All of which remind us that nothing you see on state television in China is what it seems. 

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EJ Insight writer